Flying the 3DR Solo is much like flying a Phantom. Out of the box, the controls are the same and you can fly it manually whenever you like. Since there’s GPS and a compass, it’s extremely easy to fly. When you let go of the controls the 3DR Solo hovers and you can set height and speed restrictions in the app which make it even easier to learn.
The killer feature, though, is Smart Shots. Tap the button at the bottom-left corner of the app and you get a choice of Cable Cam, Orbit, Selfie and Follow.
With cable cam, you fly to a start point and press the controller’s A button. Then you fly to a finish point and hit B to record that too. Then you press the play button and the 3DR Solo will fly in a straight line – as if it was on a cable – to the start point. It will smoothly move the camera between the direction it was facing at the start to the exact framing at the finish, including changing the tilt angle. This creates stunningly smooth footage that’s essentially impossible to capture when flying manually.
Orbit mode does what you’d expect. The neat part is that you can easily set the centre of the orbit by switching to a satellite map view in the app and dragging it until the focal point is under the marker. You can change the radius of the orbit using the forward and back control, while at the same time increasing or decreasing altitude. All the while, the camera will remain fixed on the centre of the orbit and you can use the paddle to adjust the tilt angle (by default the camera will centre at ground level). Again, the footage looks great.
Follow me is also self-explanatory. The 3DR Solo will remain focused on your position and move at the same speed as you move. Depending on its position relative to you, it could be following behind you, panning at the side, or even in ‘push mode’ when you’re travelling towards it. Another mode within Follow me is Watch Me. This means the Solo will hover where it is, but turn to face you at all times. You could use this, for example, at a racetrack or any location where you want the drone to stay in one place but keep track of you as you move around.
Last is Selfie. When you’ve fine-tuned the starting position in the air, you can use the sliders to adjust the speed and final height: press Play and Selfie mode sees the 3DR Solo shoot backwards and upwards – a camera move called a reveal in cinema terms. Once it has reached the furthest point, the Solo keeps recording and returns to the start position on the same trajectory. This move is relatively easy to do manually, but it’s still nice to have an automatic option especially as Selfie mode tilts the camera during the move to ensure you’re always the centre of the frame.
For all Smart Shots, you can use the satellite map view to check for obstacles (it has no built-in obstacle avoidance), or to make it easier to position the 3DR Solo. If you don’t have a cellular connection on your phone or tablet, you can use the app to cache satellite imagery of the area you’ll be flying in before heading out.
As the 3DR are no longer making consumer drones, the 3DR Solo is on sale since then which retails for $288. If you’re worried about the customer service, you could look at Phantom 3($499) which is a more tried and tested model and has better support.