Drone The Rabbit Hole
I had to make a decision about this whole drone business, and if you feel like you've walked into the middle of the story, you have. Go back and read this blog to catch up; I'll be right here, waiting for you.
But trying to get my head around the possibilities, even as I practiced flying diligently every day, just working on the basic maneuvers and getting more comfortable with the controls, I did a lot of reading up on drones that were way out of my league. My buddy JT mentioned a couple that he was flying and I did a lot of reading on the 3D Robotics Solo Smart Drone. Definitely out of my league (and budget.) Just like the DJI Mavic Pro or the Inspire 1. Originally priced in a package at $1,900, the Solo has a short and dramatic history since it's debut in 2015, as detailed in this Forbes article, explaining why you can currently get it from Best Buy for $500.
Jae pointed out to me on one of her deal sites, not knowing anything about the manufacturer or fairly recent decision by 3D Robotics to get out of the drone business. It was slashed even more than the Best Buy price. But I'd made a decision already. Learn to fly the X8C, think of it like training in a biplane or Piper Cub before transitioning to the jets and rocket ships. That, and between Jae's Christmas gift, a Macbook Air and monitor to replace her ancient iMac, and my drone, plus a a pair of nano-drones, I had no business dropping that kind of cash on a beast of a bird. I told her it was a great price, but I should learn to fly what I've got first.
FedEx and UPS have been popping by with packages all week as we send out presents to folks. I brought two in off the lawn and left them with Jae, who said, "open them; that's your Christmas present."
They were pretty heavy boxes. What on earth? Carefully slicing open the cardboard with a boxcutter, I flipped back the flaps and gasped at the top of the box, depicting an aerial view of an island.
"What the -- ? No way."
And here I thought she believed I was losing my mind over this drone fixation, listing all of the ways that something like this could help with video production, heading out every morning at sunrise to catch the stillness of the breaking day for best flying practice. It was the second major surprise she'd lined up this week and I love that she encourages the 14-year old boy (with serious intentions of improving production values.)
There was quite a bit of prep out-of-the-box, much more so than with the Venture. The Solo is a beast in many ways, including its build; 3 lbs of machine. Not something you want to have landing on your head or crashing through your window while you're attempting to do homework. After watching some instructional videos and completing the prep, I headed back out to Eagle Nest Park and put the Solo through some paces.
Well, this changes everything.
Normally, in film and video production, you need cranes and dolly tracks, mounts and carts, people to pull down booms and push the cameras, just to get those swooping shots that crackle with energy. The Solo not only has the stability and smoothness to pull off those moves, but it also comes with a number of features that allow you to program the drone's motion like you would direct someone to push the camera down the dolly track. It has a Follow Mode that tracks moving objects, a Cable Cam Mode that shoots the drone down an invisible zip line that you can specify, an Orbit Mode that will literally fly circles around your subject and an über-dramatic Selfie Mode that not only flies away from you at high speeds up to 146 feet in the air, but also can swoop right back down at you for a close-up at around 10 feet.
I've always loved shooting video and the closest I've come to realizing any kind of fluid motion in shotmaking came with the Steadicam JR back in 1994 when I was shooting "Toastin'". But, this. Today's test flight really showed a sliver of what's possible visually with The Solo.
So, flight time has been boosted considerably now. When the Venture has burned through its three batteries, I can switch over to the Solo and get another 40 minutes of practice. From the biplane, improving my feel for manual flight, to the alien spaceship with sentient tendencies to start understanding and utilizing the technology of flying and shooting creatively. Even the egg-sizes CX-10s are helping me to get more at home with the controls. The CX-10WD-TX arrived today and it's a total hoot. Like an airborne hot rod for ants.
I fear that I've disappeared down the rabbit hole here and gone and gotten into something that's going to be as fun as it's going to be a challenge. It all needs to be managed so that the parts can come together as a whole, fortifying the foundation on which my art is built and taking it places that it's never gone before.
That's pretty exciting stuff. Sometimes, even with all of the weirdness going on in the world, sometimes, living in the future is fun.