Like most aircraft, drones are fragile things. Their components have to be both incredibly lightweight and exceedingly complex. And the rotors used on most consumer drones are the biggest failure points, and the main reason these robots should be encased in foam during transportation. This can lead to some unexpectedly annoying logistics, like lugging along a padded case on your hike, in order to avoid bending or snapping off the rotors on your drone.
So let’s not call ProDrone‘s Byrd a drone with a gimmick, but a robot with a solution. The quadcopter’s struts can fold in when it’s powered down, so the rotor blades rest flush against the fuselage. That simple design feature allows you to cart the 4.1-pound drone around in a standard backpack. With the struts unfolded, the Byrd functions like a standard quadcopter, capturing footage with an HD camera, a GoPro (supplied by yourself), or a 4K camera, depending on whether you pick the Standard, Advanced, or Premium model. The Standard runs $949, and is available to order now. You’ll have to wait until March to step up to the Advanced ($1,059) or Premium ($1,399) versions, but they also give you some of the best maximum flight times in any consumer drones, at up to 29 minutes per charge.
But the most innovative Byrd is still to come. Sometime in the third quarter of 2016, ProDrone hopes to start selling a version that can mount a standard mirrorless camera or DSLR on the drone’s actively stabilized, remote-controllable gimbal. Instead of taking serviceable stills from a GoPro or other video camera, you’d be able to snap aerial shots using stellar cameras with interchangeable lenses. That will include the ability to dive into the camera’s settings, even while the drone is hovering more than a mile away. You can also shoot footage remotely, but the real breakthrough here is combining the highest-quality lenses and sensors for still photography with the gimbal-mounted freedom of a high-flying drone.
The only caveat here is that, to start, only a select group of cameras will be compatible. According to the manufacturer, there’s no easy way to enable full remote control of every mirrorless and DSLR, so its engineers have to tweak the software for individual makes and models. It’s focusing on the most popular cameras first, such as Nikon DSLRs and Sony’s A7Rii mirrorless units. And if you can’t wait until the third quarter, a version with a static mount should be out in Q2. That seems to defeat the point of a drone-attached camera, though, since active gimbals reduce camera shake (and resulting blur), and give you more control over angles without having to pull fancy piloting tricks. The gimbal-mount seems well worth the wait. If and when Byrds take off, it could push the state of the art in drone photography, as well as push competitors to start mounting existing cameras on their own robots. And the Byrd will be a drone that not only fits in your backpack, but uses the camera you already love. [Pre-orders and price TBD; prodrone-tech.com]