3DR Solo Review
If you already own a GoPro camera then the 3DR Drone will be a serious contender for you… we take it for a full road test (erm… sky test)
3DR Solo Review
The 3DR Solo is a beast of drone. Simply put, we loved it. It is not cheap but if you already own a GoPro 3, 4 or 5 then this has to be a serious consideration. It competes with the Mavic Pro and Phantom when equipped with a Go Pro 5 giving you 4K video and photographs and more than competes with drones in the same price bracket when equipped with a GoPro 4. The real beauty of the Solo is the ability to upgrade your camera without changing your drone in the future - so in the long term it could prove to be even better value for money!
There are drone manufacturers who shout from the rooftops about their drones and make bold statements that don’t ring true when you get on in the open and take them to the skies, luckily 3DR is not one of these types of companies – instead, their 3DR Solo drone is about as solid as they come and in many cases actually performs better than 3DR say it does. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on the 3DR and take it for a test fly (or five).
The first thing to note about the 3DR Solo is that it fits in to that mid to premium range budget at around £750. That means it has some stiff competition from the likes of DJI (the new Spark is cheaper) and when you consider that it doesn’t include a camera and that you need to purchase a GoPro to take advantage of the aerial photography and videography potential of the Solo then it suddenly has to compete with the Mavic Pro and DJI Phantom 4 Pro.
If the 3DR Solo is to be a competitor in this tough drone market then we would have to be seriously impressed by what we saw… luckily – we were!
First Impressions of the 3DR Solo
Upon unboxing the 5kg 3DR Solo the first impression is that this is a serious piece of kit. It feels completely robust and has a look of sophistication to it. The controller has the same feel and is quite retro in its design which sits well with all of us in the office. Beginners and experience drone pilots alike will struggle to be unimpressed with this 3DR drone.
The first thing we did was charge the battery fully as we had heard about long charge times – we were glad we did – as 1 and a half hours of salivating later and we were finally ready to take to the skies. By this time we had already fitted our GoPro 4 and were good to go.
Flying the 3DR Solo
This is the point where we tell you how awesome the 3DR Solo is to fly.
No… seriously… it is amazingly awesome to fly!
No matter what your level of flying experience you will find the 3DR Solo a joy to fly with a range of options that are designed to make life as easy or as feature filled as you like. If you are more concerned about the camera work then you can have full control of the camera whilst the drone itself flies where you have asked it to.
The only drawback in terms of flying that we found was the lack of obstacle avoidance technology which we would have hoped for with a drone in this price range – but this is the only major drawback of this drone.
In terms of flight time we were told by 3DR to expect 25 minutes without the camera attached and around 20 minutes with it. We didn’t test the Solo without the camera but with the GoPro 4 attached we enjoyed over 20 minutes consistently throughout all our flights – except for when Mark took control with his 55MPH speeds. When compared to a gopro Karma with Hero 6 drone it compares very well indeed.
Talking of speed, the 3DR Solo can really pack a punch – with a top speed of 55MPH being perfectly doable this drone outperforms others in it’s price range in terms of speed. If you need to track fast moving vehicles or animals then the Solo is potentially going to be your best bet – add to that the stamina of an Ox and you have a top photography drone.
The drone as you would expect is filled with top flying features and it enjoys a range of around half a mile when you have a clear line of sight. The camera feed will operate at the same distance but is more reliant on the clear line of sight at the top end of the range. Closer to home it works flawlessly.
The 3DR is easy to control in the air via the remote controller and the majority of the camera work is controlled via the mobile app which means you have a dual screen controller and less clutter on the controller itself which we all loved. We will talk more about the camera in the camera section of the 3DR Solo review.
Flight modes include selfie, cable cam, orbit mode and follow cam as well as manual control which is very easy to control. These ‘smartshot’ features make photography and videography a piece of cake and you can expect to get excellent results in this respect.
The one button return to home is standard but works well and if your drone goes out of range then it will return to the take off spot giving you control upon coming back in to range if you so need it.
What about build quality and durability?
The 3DR Solo is extremely well built and will withstand a knock and a scrape. In fact, we (and when I say we I mean Mark) had a nasty incident with a tree at pretty high speed which then resulted in a 30ft drop to the ground. We had a couple of damaged propellers (which we soon replaced) but had no noticeable damage to the body or the camera and had the Solo back up and flying in around 5 minutes – after a lot of sweating, swearing and finger pointing.
As already stated, the Solo does not have collision avoidance as standard so you do have to be aware of your surroundings. Given the weight of the drone you could do someone serious harm if it were to fall on someone from height so whilst the build quality is great, it might not be so great if you were to hit someone with it – for their sake more than for the drone’s sake.
3DR are so confident in the software that is built in to the Solo that they will actually replace your drone if the drone is at fault for a crash and they will also give you a voucher to replace your GoPro if you have one attached at the time of crash. They determine the fault of crash thanks to a black box type receiver that records the flight log and in the even of a crash and a claim they will ask you to send them the files from this box. That is one pretty serious warranty!
3DR Solo and the GoPro 4
Some people see the lack of built in camera as a flaw of the Solo but for us it is a stroke of genius and it is no wonder that 3DR have marketed their flagship drone around this. For one, anyone who already owns a GoPro 3 or upwards will be glad to know that they don’t have to spend money on a new camera when they have a perfectly good one already. Secondly, even if you were to buy the GoPro just to use with the 3DR Solo, you can then detach it and use it on the ground for other shots with exactly the same camera – making your videos look awesome.
The other reason that the Solo having no camera is a stroke of genius is that it can be upgraded at a future date or if it is damaged it can be easily replaced without having to fork out for a whole new drone. This means that your drone (if being used predominantly for photos and video) is somewhat futureproof.
The GoPro4 that we used worked an absolute treat and was simple to set up and get going with. The reason it is so simple is that 3DR worked directly with GoPro to ensure that the drone was capable of exploiting all aspects of the GoPro tech. We added a gimbal to our 3DR which gave us super stable images even at high speeds and found that the 1080p HD 30FPS video output was excellent.
The video and camera controls on the app (which is controlled via the smartphone) were easy to use and features such as cable cam and orbit were very well received. Cable cam essentially means the drone will travel between two points that you set at a speed that you set and then allows you to control the camera without having to worry about piloting the drone.
Orbit is similar to cable cam in terms of the freedom to shoot video but instead of running between two points it will simply orbit around one central location at a set distance. The follow me feature worked well and the selfie feature means it competes with the Spark for the socially vain of you.
The only downside of the camera is that it means you need a mobile device to fly your 3DR Solo – which means it is hardly solo at all and instead gives you something else to charge prior to taking to the sky – but we love the dual screen and anti-cluttered controller too much to let that bother us.
Check out summary at the top of the review – but it is safe to say that we loved this drone, we just wish it was a few hundred quid cheaper to allow non GoPro owners to justify buying one.