On a sunny spring morning, a team from Make: headed up the hillside of the beautiful Kunde Family Vineyards in Sonoma, California to fly a variety of quadcopters and compare them side-by-side for our 2016 drone guide.
With the wide array of machines now available, we realized it was time for our first drone shootout. Focusing on camera-carrying quadcopters that range from $500 to $1,400, we applied the same methodology used with our 3D printer and digital fabrication reviews. We acquired brand-new rigs to compare the unboxing and setup experience, as well as ensure the same new-user look across all the systems. We installed apps and firmware updates on a picnic table in the shade of an oak tree, tethering to our cellphones for the necessary connectivity. (In real use, always check for updates before heading into the field.) And then we took to the air.
Our flight tests evaluated battery life, image quality and stability, flight distance, air speed, and handling. For battery life and image assessment, we filmed aerial time-lapse video of a fixed point to gauge movement while measuring overall flight time. For distance, we flew over the property’s grape vines and trails to determine where reception would drop. The air speed test involved measuring the elapsed time going from a hover to a point 400 feet away on multiple runs, then averaging the results. Drone handling leveraged the shared experience and expertise of the testers.
We learned a lot through the tests — including that manufacturer claims were almost always higher than real-world performance. And crashes were minimal and non-significant, showing the systems’ increased heartiness.
Overall, it was a great day of flying and data collection with just the perfect number of close calls to keep it all interesting. Now, on to the results