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I’ve never owned a drone, but I’ve always been impressed with the people who go to the beach and return home with amazing aerial footage of their time there. And while I’m a semi-professional setting my iPhone at the perfect angle for capturing a delayed photo, that still means having something handy to prop the phone up – which isn’t possible in some scenarios. So the AIR PIX pocket flying camera ($ 118 with promo code MARKET15) – which the company boasts of being able to help you get the perfect solo or group selfie – intrigued me. I liked the idea of having a 12 megapixel camera for HD photos and 1080p resolution for videos attached to a drone, as well as an accompanying editing app and an automatic flight mode, which I think could be good for a drone novice like me. But, I was nervous about my inability to operate a drone.
When you take the drone out of the box, you immediately notice a few things: The body is super light (it weighs only 2 ounces) and tiny (it measures about 4 inches on its long side). The drone comes with a carrying case, a power bank that it uses to recharge its six-minute flight time, and four additional propellers. I also quickly scanned the specs online to remind me of what the drone is supposed to do: it has indoor and outdoor modes so you can fly it indoors and outdoors, launch buttons, and landing pad, the ability to take photos or videos, and the option to take multiple photos in a row. You use the app to choose how the camera flies and then you can edit the photos in the app and share them.
Part of the reason I’ve never pulled the trigger on a drone is because I’m afraid of flying it straight into oncoming traffic or crashing into it on its first flight. I’m not a gamer and the controls have always felt a bit foreign and difficult to navigate without breaking the airborne device. So when I received the AIR PIX, I called a drone-pro friend to come and help me install it. After downloading the app, setup and calibration takes about two minutes.
There is a QR code in the box that takes you directly to the AIR PIX app in the iTunes Store. After following a few prompts, your phone will connect to the drone via wifi, then calibrate the device. The manual flight feature is not designed for beginners, so I asked my friend to fly it around my house in manual mode lest I remove part of a chandelier or crash into a painting, or worse, the face of one of my children. Then we got together and posed for a few photos in my kitchen. The quality of those early photos was not as good as with my iPhone camera – but I was ready to practice more and stabilize the drone better for clearer images.
I then took out the AIR PIX and flew it in automatic flight mode, which turned out to be much easier for a beginner, until I lost sight of it from my balcony and the hears fall in my neighbor’s yard. Luckily my neighbor was at home and was able to retrieve the drone, and he commented on how small and stylish it was.
After piloting it several times, my learning curve has improved: my ability to control the drone and assess its direction is much more precise than at the beginning (I did not have to collect it from neighbors ) and my photos get brighter every time I use it, but not as good as my trusty iPhone. (See above for my drone selfie.) I’m not quite the next Gray Clever yet, but I’m working on it. Note that for extreme aerial photos, the drone flies up to 60 feet high, although the camera is located on the front of the device, so real aerial photos taken directly above cannot be taken.
What I like
There is a full suite of effects and ways to edit photos after taking them. The editing app is easy to use and you can apply text to an image or use filters, and they easily save it to your camera roll. The device, while tiny and light, also seems pretty sturdy: after crashing several times, there is no evidence of any scuffs or scratches or any indication that the AIR PIX is worse at the wear.
What I liked least
Image quality isn’t great (I’m spoiled for my new iPhone camera), although you can tweak the final product with their built-in editing and crank up sharpness, brightness and more. You will have more success flying the drone in manual mode if you are used to using a dual controller, otherwise you will need a bit of practice to become proficient.
At the end of the line
The AIR PIX is fun, so if you’re looking for a toy or gift for someone who is intrigued by drone photo shooting, it offers a portable, low-risk way to explore aerial photo shooting.