June 14th 2015, the x10 is on sale for 62% off! $299. At that price, it looks pretty darn good. For the price of the average gopro you can have a brushless drone with a 1080 camera! Update 6/22: price now $599
Say the word "drone", and people know, or think they know what you're talking about. Some folks are sticklers for properly identifying them as quad/hexa/etc...copters, since drones are actually an entirely different military device.
But anyways, 'copters are everywhere now, and stirring up controversy over privacy and regulation. At this time the FAA has released proposals, but nothing in stone. It boils down to hobby vs commercial, you can fly as a hobbiest under 400', but no commercial use is allowed unless certified by the FAA as of April 2015. In the States at least, other countries differ.
All that aside, i was interested to start dipping my feet in the water, and it so happened that Adorama commissioned Aries to build a copter just for them. They were kind enough to give me a go at it.
First impressions on the unit are very nice, it feels premium. A plus and minus is the weight, it was more than i imagined, but gives it a solid feel. The overall fit and finish are quality.
The transmitter also feels very well made, and has an intimidating number of buttons and switches with icons i can only guess at the meaning of at first glance.
The one piece that didn't inspire as much confidence is the camera module, which is apparently suspended by some means inside for stabilization, and wiggles around when you touch it.
My biggest obstacle was the manual. This is my first copter, and i wanted to start off right, so i read through the manual completely 3 times over. There's a lot to absorb, it's absolutely not a plug in and go type of device.
You must start by calibrating device for the area you plan to fly in, which involves rotating the device in various ways. It will make you feel a bit like a goofball, but it's essential for stable safe flight. Despite the confirmation lights/beeps, i'm still wary if i got everything right.
I shouldn't have requested such a device in the dead of NYC winter. I waited and waited for calm weather, asked around for any large indoor space. A day here and there with clear weather i did a few short tests in my back area which is a long but narrow path. Overall the flight felt stable, but had some seemingly random jitters here and there. Could have been a gust of wind. A few walking forward/backward tests and i started to get a feel. I wasn't even bothering with the live view and camera yet, I wanted to build some flight confidence.
Finally a beautiful clear sunday, i took it to the open park. I still kept very reserved with my flights, i didn't want to return to Adorama with a box of pieces. The biggest challenge is directional awareness. When you turn, you have to tell your brain to use the controls in the new axis. It can be confusing, so taking it slow is an understatement. I only had the one battery, and drone's suck up batteries with their great thirst, so making use of that beautiful day was still very short. I at least got to fly it around the open area, raise it up a hundred feet or so, and try out the camera.
This is my primary reason for interest in copters, i may find joy in simply flying, but my passion and trade is for capturing images.
The blackbird has a built in full HD camera, along with tilt control to go from strait ahead, to strait down. It will also automatically try and maintain the tilt while you're flying, a bit like a gimbal does on one axis.
The overall image quality to me looks around what a gopro hero2 looks like. The bigger issue is that there is no gimbal or gimbal option. Gimbals are those wacky devices which actively re-position the camera independently of the copter movement to give you super steady video shots. Granted, at this price point it's rare to find a gimbal built into a copter, but this camera appears permanently fixed to the body, leaving no possibility for adding a gimbal or better camera. If you don't mind voiding your warranty, you could of course just cut out the whole camera assembly and add in your own. Just be sure to be safe and check the balance ;)
Another disappointment is that the auto tilt mechanism actually tended to ruins shots instead of improving them. It stutters as it tilts. I asked Aries if that was normal, and unfortunately the answer was yes.
The few videos did record are fairly terrible, but again i put that 90% on my shoulders as a novice flyer.
I think the camera debacle boils down to Aries putting a fixed solution on a drone in a price arena that appeals to many folks who would want to have the option to upgrade, but cannot with the blackbird.
I brought up such issues with Adorama , and i was very pleased to hear that they are already working on adding a gimbal to their next model, whatever it may be.
The race has been on to make the most easy to use copters. DJI has ruled that market, but not without plenty of reports of flyaways and such. It's still a fairly new tech, but is quickly being refined by all levels of manufacturers. This being my first copter i have nothing to compare it to with hands on experience. My observations of others flying DJI Phantoms has me thinking those are a step simpler and more stable than the aries blackbird, but i again have to point out that i had little time to get comfortable with the blackbird. In a short time flying around i did achieve more stable moves, so i would have to believe that a more advanced pilot would achieve much better results than i did.
If you are like me and new to drones, go buy a toy one for under $100 and practice practice practice. Nothing substitutes for hands on learning.
The most overwhelming part of the blackbird x10 is the number of switches on the controller. It took some time to get my brain wrapped around what each does and how to use them. Someone more familiar with hobby aircraft would likely be more at home, but my RC cars as a kid were simple compared to this. Other companies are trying ways to reduce the number of switches, including apps or screens with menus and controls. It's a trade-off no matter what, because there are just a large number of things you can/need to adjust. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next time around in the simplifying of it.
Like some competitors, there is a wifi extender box for the live feed, which is a bit of an added annoyance to separately charge and mount, Newer drones are building such stuff inside the controllers. The quality of the live feed looks good, but i did not test it extensively to see how it would hole up over longer distances.
Had the blackbird x10 been released a year earlier, i think it would have been a good bit more popular. As it is, i haven't heard any talk about it, meanwhile there are drones popping up left and right. Which one is right for you depends a lot of your needs, and you best do a lot of column A, column B comparisons to pick the right one for you. I would be on the fence about outright recommending the blackbird X10, it shows promise with its flight charactaristics, but as an aerial photo/video platform, in this crowded market i feel there are more refined performers.
The blackbird x10 is a nice first start, let's see what they come up with next.