The camera market has long been segmented into three basic categories: Cameras for professionals, models for the so-called “serious hobbyists,” and models for the newcomer. From DSLRs to action cams and point-and-shoots, most cameras are squarely aimed at one of these three markets. The market for aerial photography (aka drones with real cameras on them) is about 150 years younger, and therefore somewhat less segmented. Up until now, there have been only two categories: Professional drones and hobbyist drones.
Yuneec Breeze 4K
Automated flight modes make it possible to get good quality video and photos without the learning curve of more expensive drones. In-app sharing lets you send images and videos out to the world with little effort. Surprisingly fun to fly when you do decide to try manual mode.
Flight time is limited to about 10 minutes. Lack of stabilization for 4K video makes it next to useless for demanding shots. Follow-me mode produced jerky flight (and therefore video) at lower altitudes.
With the new Breeze 4K, Yuneec has launched a product into the previously-ignored newcomer market. This compact, low-priced ($500, cheap for a UAV) flyer is the drone equivalent of a cellphone camera, complete with an over-emphasis on selfies.
As someone who falls somewhere between the professional and serious amateur markets (which is to say I make money off drone cameras, but have not, thus far, felt the need for a “pro” level drone like the DJI Inspire 2) my first instinct was to scoff at the Breeze. But to tell you the truth, it’s a lot of fun. Would I bring it to a high-end real estate photo shoot? No, but it’s good at what it does: it’s loads of fun to fly and it produces the kind of images that will look good shared on small screens via Instagram and YouTube.
The Breeze is lightweight and designed to fit in a backpack, though at 13 ounces, it still needs to be registered with the FAA. The plastic body feels a little more fragile than that of the GDU Byrd, which I happened to be testing at the same time. The good news is that pretty much every part you’re liable to break is for sale individually, making it easy, if perhaps costly, to get your drone back in the air should you crash or otherwise break it. Also, it comes in a little suitcase that keeps it protected from drops while you’re carrying it.
The Breeze comes with a 4K-capable camera (30fps) on board, though there are several important caveats to bear in mind. First, there is no stabilizing gimbal, so the steadiness of your video is directly proportional to your skills as a pilot. Recognizing that the newcomer won’t have those piloting skills yet, the Breeze includes a host of preprogrammed auto-flying modes that go a long way toward improving stability and therefore video quality. There’s also some built in digital stabilization, but, and here’s the second caveat: digital stabilization only works with 1080p video, not 4K footage. While the Breeze clearly wants to tout its 4K capabilities, they’re of limited usefulness without stabilization.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the Breeze isn’t capable of capturing some great images. Once I got my hands on a device new enough to run the companion app, I had no trouble getting great-looking 1080p footage of the caliber that it took me months to achieve back when the first DJI Phantom was released. It was an eye-opening moment showing me how quickly the drone market has progressed.
But back to the controller, or rather lack of controller. Yes, the Breeze controller is a smartphone app. The controller consists of virtual joysticks that behave just like the real thing, minus all the tactile feedback that can help with your reaction times. But again, the manual controls are almost an afterthought here, the real selling point is the plethora of automated flight modes. You get the usual flight modes that every current drone has (follow me, orbit mode) plus a few others (selfie mode, journey mode, manual pilot mode).
Follow me and orbit modes work like they do in Yuneec’s larger, more expensive drones. Selfie mode ditches the control interface entirely and instead offers a slider for controlling the camera. Journey mode was the most impressive—it starts with a fly-away shot and then comes zooming back in. The resulting video is nice and smooth.
The image quality is surprisingly good for a $500 drone this small. Video can be a little soft at times, and stills probably won’t look good as 16×20 prints. For online sharing, it’s more than good enough most of the time. The one place I found it just didn’t work well was in follow me mode where too tight of a shot made for jerky camera movements as the drone tried to keep up.
Backing it up a bit in altitude fixed the problem, but highlighted the other big shortcoming: the Breeze really only stays aloft for about 10 minutes. Yuneec includes two batteries in the box, which doubles the flight time to 20 minutes if you switch batteries. That should be enough time to get all the selfies you need.
If the Breeze feels slightly overpriced at $500, there’s currently a price war going on between various retailers. I had no trouble finding the Breeze for $380 all over the web, and it was even less at some stores. At that lower price, I have no qualms saying the Breeze makes a great buy for anyone looking to get into drone photography. Welcome, newcomers.