The drone market hasn’t quite reached the point where users can engage in the kind of epic Canon-vs-Nikon flame wars that have made the photographic Internet so entertaining (don’t lie, you love them too). But if we were inclined to start one, a Yuneec vs. DJI battle would be a good place to start.
It’s true that Yuneec is the David to DJI’s Goliath but the former has been steadily building a very respectable fleet of flying cameras. With the Typhoon H, they’ve embraced more advanced object avoidance technology to make the drone’s autonomous flying features that much safer. We paired up with N.J. photographer and director David Patiño to take it for a spin.
Our Typhoon H was equipped with the CG03+ 4K camera. The camera sits on a 3-axis gimbal and records 12-megapixel still images and 3840 x 2160 video at 30 fps via a ½.3-inch CMOS image sensor. Full HD can be recorded in several frame rates up to 120 fps. The camera sports a 98-degree wide-angle lens and stores footage and stills to a microSD card.
Object avoidance is now standard among a growing number of drones and Yuneec uses Intel’s RealSense 3D camera to help it navigate. The camera helps the drone avoid forward-facing objects and you’ll have a visual read-out of potential obstacle distance on the H’s controller during navigation. The sophisticated RealSense camera operates by building 3D maps of its environment and is able to store where objects are to avoid hitting them in the future (say, on a return trip).
The H also has its own retinue of intelligent flying modes. There’s Orbit Me, to command the craft to fly a circular path around a subject; Point of Interest, to send the camera to orbit an interesting object; Journey Mode, which commands the H to fly up and out to capture an aerial selfie (aka a dronie). There’s also a Curve Cable Cam mode, which lets you trace a path on the display to have the drone fly automatically while you focus on operating the camera.
Unlike DJI, which offers a remote that requires a user’s mobile device to stand in as the display, Yuneec bundles the fully functional ST16 ground controller with the H. The ST16 features a 7-inch touch screen Android tablet embedded amongst a host of tactile controls. The remote can receive a 720p video stream from the H from up to 1 mile away in optimum conditions.
Unlike most comparably priced drones, the Typhoon H has six propellers, not four. This makes it slightly larger and a bit more cumbersome to pack up and break down. You can’t simply pull it out of the case and let it loose: You have to push up each prop arm individually and click them into place. We do like that the H has retractable landing gear, enabling you to turn the camera a full 360-degrees for sweeping aerial panoramas. You have to manually retract the gear, though.
The ST16 remote is feature-rich but a bit bewildering if you’re used to, say, DJI’s rather lean, app-driven approach. Patiño liked the remote, despite the fact that it’s about two times the size of a Phantom remote. “I like not having to use my phone as a remote control,” he says. He also liked the fact that it had a removable battery—something DJI remotes don’t have.
The 7-inch tablet doesn’t have an anti-glare screen, but there is a glare shield in the box to help you see in bright light.
Image Quality & Performance
The ½.3-inch image sensor on the H’s integrated camera is fairly standard for drones in this price range. You can expect action camera-level performance as far as highlight clipping and crushed blacks but the 4K footage and RAW stills are still very acceptable for aerial footage, Patiño says.
The H is very stable—and very speedy. “Tight and responsive” is how Patiño describes flying it.
Battery life in general was shorter than the nearly 30 minutes advertised, though we were flying in colder temperatures (30-40 degrees F) which can shorten battery life.
If the H’s six prop design makes for a bit more work in setting it up and breaking it down, it also makes the craft much steadier in the air than a quadcopter. “There was much greater stability,” Patiño tells us, “it handles super well.” The object avoidance was first rate—in fact, indoors it was able to detect and avoid bright white objects (a cyc wall) that DJI’s Mavic Pro couldn’t detect.
Yuneec has flown under the radar as DJI has soared into the public’s consciousness as the leading drone maker. That’s a shame, because as the H proves, Yuneec also makes excellent drones.
At $1,300, the H is stacked up against the $1,200 Phantom 4 or the slightly more expensive $1,500 Phantom 4 Pro. If imaging is your primary concern, we think it makes more sense to spend up for the Phantom 4 Pro, which offers a larger sensor, greater resolution, and higher frame rate 4K. The P4 Pro is also a bit more compact and easier to travel with than the H, but Yuneec’s model makes a great choice for those who need rock-solid stability in the air and a robust controller on the ground. Hopefully subsequent iterations of the H will focus more on image quality, with a larger image sensor and better lens being high on our wish list.
Yuneec Typhoon H
PROS: Feature-rich; excellent controller; object avoidance; nice selection of autonomous flying modes.
CONS: Battery burns quicker than advertised; six-blade design means more time in setup and breakdown; camera tech is getting old for the price point.