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Take Flight with the Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K Quadcopter Camera Drone

YUNECCLOGOEveryone wants a quadcopter drone. Over the past year or two, these small, multi-rotor radio controlled aircraft have hit the mainstream. There are tiny palm sized ones, giant professional camera ones, and then the middle of the road – the backpack-sized, easily flyable, fun-sized ones. The Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K fits right in there – it’s relatively compact, easy to fly, takes great video footage and stills with its CGO3 4K stabilized camera, and is high enough performance to really be fun to fly. Over the past couple months, I’ve put the Q500 to the test – flying it for many hours in a variety of weather, terrain, light, and flight conditions. I’ve crashed it at least ten times, broken a few propellers, and gotten actually pretty good at flying. Here’s my review of the good – and bad- of the Q500.

What It Is

maxresdefaultThe Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K is a quadcopter camera drone from Yuneec. It retails for about $800, and is intended for taking stabilized video and photos from aloft. The package includes the flight platform, CGO3 camera, ST10+ radio controller and video monitor, handheld battery grip for using the camera handheld, and a variety of accessories including charger, two batteries, hard case, programming cables, extra parts, etc. It competes with the likes of the DJI Phantom 3 drone, as well as a few others.

Capture every moment with highest quality on the market. Not only does the Typhoon 4K shoot impressive 4K video, it also captures 1080p/120fps slow motion video with the option of manual camera settings. Handheld SteadyGrip™ is included.

Yuneec Q500 4K Product Page

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Who It’s For

81Ks8WE9JKL._SL1500_The Q500 is aimed at the mid-market enthusiast flyer who wants a platform that requires minimal setup and maintenance, is easy and reliable to fly, and takes good quality, immediately impressive video footage. The aircraft packages goes a bit further in offering compelling features to more serious photographers, including the ability to shoot RAW photos, white balance control, follow flight modes, and of course a handheld camera grip for shooting with the CGO3 camera on the ground. The drone IS dangerous with its spinning propellers, requires a good bit of space to fly, is not suitable for flying indoors, and requires a bit of knowhow and practice to fly – and land- well. It’s not for absolute beginners or kids looking for a toy to play with and forget – it’s a bit too expensive and complicated for that. It’s also not for the pro photographer who needs custom lenses or cameras while flying, needs the flight redundancy of more than 4 props, long flight times, or extended range.

First Impressions

81m+tDXjv2L._SL1500_My very first impression on receiving the box was that it’s a huge package. The hard-sided case is huge, and filled with squeaky molded styrofoam for protecting the aircraft. It does protect well, but seems a bit overbuilt and huge for the purpose. I certainly would have preferred a backpack, or more compact package.

The whole kit is well-organized, and I was able to put the drone together myself without any instructions – camera snaps on, propellers twist on, battery slides in, and then you’re ready. The controller requires a bit of battery charging, and then comes on and connects easily.

On the first flight – I crashed hard, and broke two propellers. So there’s certainly a knack for understanding the flight controls and figuring out how to get it to take off and hover reliably. But once in the air, the Q500 does a great job of maintaining its position, and providing stable flight. Even in heavy winds, the aircraft fights hard to keep its location, and the stabilized CGO3 camera does a good job of smoothing out shocks and sudden movements.

Regarding flying the thing – it’s worth noting that there’s a layer of automation between the controller and the aircraft – which is great! The aircraft takes care of flying itself level and stable, and moving where you tell it to on the controller – but the pilot doesn’t have to actually “fly” it in that the computer is taking care of keeping it aloft. If you take your hands off the controller, the Q500 just hovers where you left it – you don’t have to keep hands on the controllers giving it micro inputs to account for wind etc. This is great

41gsRJ+3XgLThere are two flight modes – the smart and angle. Smart will follow you around, but also allows you to fly visually. If the Q500 is in front of you, facing any way, push the stick away from you, and it flies away from you. Push left, it goes left. It’s easy to look at it in the air, and control it. The angle mode gives you more traditional control, which keeps the inputs uniform to the actual aircraft. So if it’s facing you, push left, it goes right. But if it’s facing away from you, push left, it goes left. This is great for flying while looking at the screen, for a more “first person” view. I took the time to reassign the yaw and forward controls to the same stick, so i can steer forward while looking in the monitor much like flying an airplane – the yaw controls the turns, with the altitude and side to side on the other stick. Great for tracking somebody moving down a road, following geographic features, etc.

Landing is automatic, although it can be done manually – and I prefer to land manually anyway. If the battery is too low, or the signal is lost, or the pilot just gets lazy, you just flip the home switch, and the Q500 comes right back to you and lands automatically. Notably, while landing, you can still give it direction input to control exactly where it lands.

Q500

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The Q500 is a solid flying platform. After many crashes, and lots of flying, it’s held up well. Aside from a few cracked (and replaced for about $5/each) propellers, it’s survived really well – no cracks or breaks. It flys well.

Like

  • It’s easy enough to fly where you want it to go – automatic modes are useful, and the angle mode is nice for tracking while filming.
  • The lights on the bottom are good for assessing the state of the drone, and if its batteries are low. Also when flying at night, they’re bright enough to keep track of it easily.
  • After a bunch of crashes, I can confirm that this thing is well-built and strong – no cracks, besides the propellers.
  • Although the propellers are brittle and crack in crashes, they’re easily replaceable – just screw on a new one and tighten.
  • The battery is easy to replace in the field, and I love that it comes with two batteries.
  • While flying in bad weather or winds, this thing fights to stay flying! I’ve seen it way way way up there almost sideways as it fights to stay aloft – and it usually does pretty well. There have been few cases where it lots a lot of altitude very quickly, but it stayed flight, and went right back to where it was before it dropped.
  • In steady weather and on a flat surface, the automatic return to home and landing works well – it lands reliably, and shuts off.

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Don’t Like

  • Yes, while it’s easy to fly, there’s a LOT to be desired for flight modes and flexibility. It’s certainly not able to fly as fast as some of its other competitors, and sometimes has a hard time keeping a steady position for filming. I’ve seen it drift a pretty significant amount when hovering, even with no winds at all. So while it’s fun for basic filming and flying, its position-keeping doesn’t seem as fine tuned as it could be.
  • There’s no way to pre-program or record a flight. So while it’s fun to manually steer around to capture footage, if I wanted to rehearse a scene, and then go film it, I would have to manually fly the same course every time. For real filming, there absolutely needs to be a route programming/recording feature. Additionally, while the “follow me” mode is great, certainly there must be a bit more location-based modes, etc.
  • I usually fly this in open spaces, but during the times I’ve been flying it around buildings, or trying to get tighter shots, I’ve found that holding position using only the built in GPS isn’t as accurate as it could be. Ideally the drone would be able to use a combo of GPS, optical tracking, proximity tracking, and the IMU.
  • Although the hard case that it comes with is very protective, it’s huge and heavy too. For a drone that’s supposed to be used for filming cool locations, this one sure is hard to get to any location. I know there’s an add-on backpack for this, but even if you could strap it to the outside of a backpack, its rotor arms are still pretty big – ideally the “Q500 V2” could be downsized a bit, or made collapsible. After playing with a competing drone, the Q500 does indeed seem a little bigger than it needs to be for the features it offers. That being said, it is stable in flight – so maybe the larger size is good for that. But could stability be created from better flight software instead?
  • Four props in a square configuration are about the minimum for stable flight. And luckily, none of them have failed yet. But I’m waiting for the day when a prop hiccups in flight, and the whole thing comes out of the air. I’d love to see a 3-prop flight contingency mode, if that’s possible. Or perhaps add another one and rearrange everything for redundancy.  But that seems like a step into a higher end product.

CGO3 Camera

Typhoon_Q500_modular

The CGO3 camera comes with the Q500, and is the main and only camera of the drone. What’s unique here is that the camera can not only fit onto the drone, but also on its own handheld grip. This makes it a lot more useful for getting shots both in the air and on the ground, using the same gyro stabilized gimbal.

The CGO3 camera has its own wifi signal, which connects independently of the drone’s control signal. This means that in addition to downlinking live video to the controller, it’s also possible to connect to the camera with an iOS app. In fact, it’s even possible to view live video on both the iOS app and the controller simultaneously.

Like

  • The stabilization works well. Even when the drone is being shaken by violent winds, being flown fast by me, or being jostled on the hand grip, the picture stays steady. It even gracefully deals with smoothing out motion when it gets to the limits of its range of motion.
  • I really love the flexibility of the camera. It’s small ball-like shape fits neatly under the drone, but it also slides off and connects just as easily to the hand grip. There are three metal contacts in the slide on connector, which provides power while in flight, and minimal control of its tilt. There’s actually an auxiliary control cable that seems to connect between the camera and the drone body, but I’m still not sure what this is for.
  • The video footage it takes looks great. While flying and looking in the monitor, it’s hard to really appreciate how spectacular the footage is. But once I get it downloaded from the card and on my big screen tv, it really is stunning. Super smooth, good color in the default gorgeous mode, and a wide field of view.
  • It’s great being able to angle the camera down to the ground, or anywhere in between – the movement is slow and smooth, and combined with a bit of forward movement, really makes shots look amazing.
  • In addition to connecting to the controller, the camera can also connect to an iPhone or iPad running the iOS app – great for checking shots, sharing the live feed, and shooting with the handheld grip.

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Don’t Like

While the camera  does work in a basic sense under most conditions, it’s far from an optimized experience. I really think there could be a good amount of polish on this product to make it really great, rather than adequate.

  • The wifi connection is solid when it’s connected – but when connecting to my iPhone 6s, the wifi connection takes a solid minute to connect. No idea why it takes so long, but that’s certainly not normal.
  • USB Port on camera doesn’t appear to do anything – camera doesn’t show up at mass storage or anything. What’s it for? I have no idea.. but there’s no documentation of it either.
  • Rubber shock mount seems to bounce around a lot when camera is connected to SteadyGrip – This rubber shock mounting doesn’t seem optimal for handheld/walking footage. Although I love using the camera on the grip, it seems like there could be some more stiff rubber isolators that could be used when handheld – would prevent a lot of bouncing.
  • The camera has its own fan to keep it cool, but it’s loud. When using the hand grip and capturing video with sound, the fan noise definitely makes in it. Not a huge problem, but worth noting.
  • Shoots MP4 Files that Apple iMovie won’t natively import. The huge range of shooting resolutions is great, but I’ve consistently found that the files the camera produces are not the most compatible files. Maybe it’s because of the high quality codec, or other reasons – but these video files aren’t the easiest to work with. In fact, really the only way I’m able to watch my footage is to upload the files to YouTube, let YouTube process them, and then watch them online.
  • The gyro gimbal does work great – however lately I’ve been getting a weird drift out of the level calibration. Today while flying, the camera took off level to the horizon, but when it came back, it was consistently tilted about 30 degrees to the side. Weird.
  • The iOS app that works with the camera is fairly minimal – not a ton of options, basic user interface, and works just fine. But it’s not great. There’s certainly a ton of room for polish and shine on the app, including nicer menus, more diagnostic info about the camera, etc. Of note, there’s a “home” button in the app which simply crashes the app, returning you to the iPhone home screen – is that really necessary? This kind of weird nonsensical button really makes me feel like the app was developed as an afterthought, and not rethought at all.
  • What’s the connector cable for? I don’t know. The camera comes with a small connector cable that can be run from the camera gimbal mount to a port on the bottom of the drone. However, it seems like the camera works just fine without this cable, using the connection contacts inside the slide on mount. There doesn’t seem to be any mention of this in the manual, either. Another piece that makes it feel like they released a just “good enough” product, without the polish you’d hope for.
  • Stability in iOS App – if there’s no camera connected, the app crashes and exits to home screen, with no troubleshooting screens or anything.

CGO Steadygrip for Typhoon

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The CGO Steadygrip allows shots with the CGO3 camera from handheld. The grip provides power from a bunch of AA batteries, and allows both horizon level and tilt shooting. On the top it has a spring loaded plastic clip for propping up your smartphone, and relies on wirelessly connecting to the app for control and viewfinder.

Like

  • It’s simple and works. Load it up with batteries, slide the camera into the mount, turn it on, connect the wifi, and you get the great stabilization of the active gimble in you hand. Running around outside shooting such smooth footage is kind of an amazing feeling.
  • I appreciate the tilt wheel. This is a great way to be able to shoot stabilized footage looking down, or at other angles.
  • Using an iPhone as a viewfinder works well – the lag isn’t too noticeable, and the screen on my iPhone 6s makes the preview footage look great. I actually really wish that all of the drone control screens could be displayed on an iPhone –  or larger and nicer iPad display. Too bad you have to squint at the crappy, mis-oriented android screen on the controller while flying.
  • Battery life is great! Using Eneloop batteries, Im able to get a few hours of use. Additionally, housing the batteries in the bottom of the grip increases the stability lots.
  • Providing a solid camera like the CGO3 with only an aereal platform would suck – so it’s a great idea that Yuneec packages the handgrip in with it – way way more options for filming.

Don’t Like

  • Would be cool if there was a usb port for keeping smartphone charged from batteries in grip. There are a ton of batteries, and filming with my iPhone connected and screen on full brightness kills the battery – how about a connector there so i can keep my phone charged?
  • No battery level display, except when it’s almost out, and is the same flashing light as the mode change indicator.
  • I think it might be easier for filming and for keeping the camera inherently more stable if the whole grip was reconfigured to hang the camera below everything, much like other small camera stabilizers. The “pistol” grip here is ok, but kinda weird sometimes. A small issue though, and there might be the same issue either way.

Controller 10+

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The ST10+ Controller is both the flight control and live video monitoring platform for the Q500. It uses two radio links to connect to the drone – one for video, and one for flight controls. The controller includes all flight controls, video/photo controls as well as a good sized android-powered touchscreen interface for getting to all of the settings, viewing flight status, and live video. It’s powered by a rechargeable battery, and can use micro-usb for recharging. It also includes a micro-sd card slot under the battery, for saving flight data.

Like

  • The controller starts quick, and connects to the drone fairly quickly. I’m never really left waiting around for the drone to connect, and the interface loads nice and quick.
  • The controller comes with a nifty collapsible plastic sun shade that suction cups onto the screen – given the super shiny plastic covering of the screen, this shade is essential in bright sunlight.
  • The controls are laid out well, and the control sticks have a good grip to them, and good response. The drone response to control inputs, and I’ve never had the controller crash or have any glitches.
  • I appreciate that the start/stop button is red and protected – makes it a deliberate act to start and stop the drone.
  • I love the micro-usb recharging, and long battery life of the controller. No need to carry around an extra proprietary charger – just used your existing car charger or whatever. Easy!
  • Love that (when working) the controller saves flight logs and low-res received video to a micro sd card. Although the card that came with it failed, its nice to have this option.
  • Since it runs android, it’s easily software upgradable. Yuneec hasn’t really added any new features or polish to the controller interface via software update, but the option is there. The few updates that have been provide are merely bug fixes.

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Don’t Like

  • The first controller I was shipped was a complete lemon  – the touchscreen didn’t work, and it had many many glitches and errors. Luckily, the Yuneec customer support team was a pleasure to deal with, and quickly shipped me a new working controller.
  • As I’ve been using the controller, the rubber grip pads on the back have been slowly loosening and falling off – the double-stick tape that keeps them on is losing it stick, and the grips are getting slidy and gummy. In terms of overall build quality, the controller, including the grips, seem plasticy and cheap. It works, but it’s not the nicest to hold.
  • The android screen is TERRIBLE. First of all, the screen is oriented for you to look at it horizontally. However, the pixel alignment and polarizer are optimized for vertical viewing of the screen (like it was meant for a phone). So when you look at the screen horizontally, the brightness and colors seem a little off, and changes depending on which eye you’re looking at it with. It’s a small nuanced detail, but to me, it really matters in overall enjoyment of the screen. Seems like this screen is basically adaquate to get the job done – but not anything more. Just ok.
  • The screen has a crappy plastic covering over it which is EXTREMELY reflective. It’s just the plastic covering of the rest of the base of the controller – so every glint of sunlight reflects off of it, and its easy to scratch. For a screen acting as the primary flight display, I’d say this definitely needs an antiglare coating on it, if not even a matte coating. Seeing this screen is so important, it definitely needs way more attention.
  • The range of the video link kinds sucks. Sure, it works for basic flight around the parking lot, but for any real shooting at a distance, I’ve found that both the video and control links drop out way to easily. The video drops first, and not too long after it the control link drops. Luckily the drone will stay safe and return to home if the control link drops, so it’s not a critical flight risk – but given the flight performance of the Q500, i really think the range needs to be better. Additionally, there are no external antenna ports on the controller, so without hacking and modding the controller, there’s no better option than the somewhat basic built in antennas.
  • Given that this is a camera drone, there absolutely needs to be ability to have a separate pilot and photographer screen/controls – be it an included hdmi or usb link, or another controller that can be daisy chained – but this needs to happen for a drone like this to really be used for compelling footage short of demo stuff.

Should You Buy It?

If you’re looking for a good performance, easy to fly drone that takes really great demo footage, give a bunch of room for more advanced flight, and is sure to impress and delight friends, and you have around $800 to spare, then yeah, get it! It’s a good product, and does what it says well. It’s easy to get the knack for flying it, has enough automation and safeties to make it not too stressful to fly, and makes good quality footage. However, if you’re looking to get specific shots for a photo project, need to do live aerial surveillance over a large stretch of land, need repeatable footage results, need to fly in tight spaces where accurate positioning is key, or need to work with a larger crew (and need video outputs etc), then there may be other options from competitors our there that have more features in a tighter package.

Final thoughts

Flying the Yuneec Q5004K Quadcopter Drone is a ton of fun. It’s easy to setup and fly, has solid and stable flight performance. takes great stabilized footage, and includes everything you need to fly and maintain it in the package, plus a very nifty handheld grip for the camera. It really does to everything it’s supposed to, and it does it well. However, there’s a distinct lack of inspired polish and integration that prevents it from being a really truly great product – certain design, interface, and feature implementations basic, rushed, or not fully considered, and the lack of expandability is disappointing. But in general, it’s great to fly, and footage fantastic to watch. Go grab one and take off!

Find It Here

Amazon

Yuneec Direct

One comment

  1. Steve O. says:

    Jeffrey,
    You mentioned a few failings of this drone product.. range and camera/video glitches.

    There are a number of drones starting at the same price and some a few hundred dollars more that offer a lot more POLISHED features.

    Newer, more elaborate drones “2016 models” offer:
    1) better flight times,
    2) Recordable flight routes that can be flown again and again, autonomously
    3) flight ranges of upto 4 miles, and
    4) streaming of video 1080p that doesn’t drop out (video link),
    5) while simultaneously recording 4K video on an onboard SD card (Class 10 or better).
    6) Drone models range in size and stability. Larger drones (and those with more propellers) can handle strong winds, while flying close to level in extremely strong winds. Smaller drones, or those with 4 propellers, tend to drift during windy conditions.
    7) GPS Drift- earlier model drones were prone to GPS drift – This “drift” is purposely built into GPS signals by the US. Dept of Defense. Newer, more complex flying controllers can make up for this drift and keep drones rock steady.
    8) Collision avoidance – with a complex arrange of sensors and “internal camera’s”, these new drones can avoid colliding with any object or HUMAN it comes too close to (you can change distances of avoidance).
    For professional recording, I’d recommend looking into the more advanced drones with 6 Propellers. They can handle larger payloads and stronger winds…. in the $1,000+ price range.

    Any of the newer, 2016 models are likely to have more advance features than the drone you reviewed. The most recent advancements would surprise you! Please refer to the following Drones: XIAOMI MI drone (4k model = $539), DJI Phantom 4 (has 4+ mile range), and DJI Inspire, among others.

    My favorite is the the very compact DJI Mavic model the same size as your reviewed drone ($999). It is foldable down to the size of a travel mug and if you wear cargo pants, can fit in your pocket -And the controller is the size of a Smart phone but offers dual monitors, once you plug in your smart phone to use as a video monitor.

    The DJI Mavic is my favorite because of compactness (with a 4K camera)… but smaller drones become unstable in strong crosswinds. Despite that, it can fly up to 4 miles away from the petite controller and still not lose the video connection. AND it’s rock steady when hovering… all for about the same price as your reviewed drone.

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