Mark Houlahan
Tech Editor, Mustang Monthly
November 19, 2015

Aerial photography is a great way to visually show just how big an event really is. Even getting on top of a car trailer or building doesn’t often allow a photograph that can truly show the vast size of some shows. We’ve been involved in many large shows over the years and have even paid for aerial photography via planes and helicopters in the past. Now you or your club photographer can easily capture still photography and video from the air themselves using an aerial camera platform like Blade’s new Chroma series of quadrotor/rotorcraft/aircraft—more effectively known as drones.

We first tested Blade’s 350QX3 earlier in 2015 and have been enjoying using it for aerial event photos and video. You can read our review of the 350QX3 HERE. Recently Blade has revamped its line of camera drones, improving on the 350 series in every way imaginable and rebranding the line Chroma. The Chroma platform is available in four versions. Two include everything you need in one box to begin flying and taking aerial images/video. The other two versions are designed to work with your existing GoPro action camera and naturally have a lower price point, as you’re supplying the camera.

At the base of the line is the Chroma “bind and fly” with a fixed GoPro mount. This model uses a fixed mount for your GoPro and requires a radio transmitter. Next up the ladder is the Chroma with three axis brushless gimbal for GoPro that allows for smoother video and positioning of the camera’s tilt function via the ground controller. This model also comes with a standard DX4 flight radio like previous Blade drones. Moving up to the top two offerings Blade has continued the use of its own camera on a three axis brushless gimbal. The CGO2+ 1080p camera is still used, while adding the CGO3 4K camera to the top of the line model. Both of these top two models use a new radio transmitter (now referred to as the ST-10+ ground station) that includes an Android based touchscreen control area for video and onboard information like altitude, distance, battery life, and more.

Everything you need to get in the air and take great aerial photos and video is in this one box.

We were very interested in trying out Blade’s latest offering and traded up to the Chroma camera drone with CGO3+ 4K camera. Out of the box the Chroma is almost ready to fly and includes everything we would need to get in the air. The main airframe is fully assembled and even the 4K camera is pre-installed. Using the included charger we charged up the flight battery and the battery for the ST-10+ controller and we were ready for flight in less than an hour. The new battery for the Chroma line uses a molded case that slides directly into the main airframe and offers 30 minutes of flying. That’s double what our old 350QX3 was capable of! Other items of note include an easier to access power switch directly on top of the airframe (versus the old 350 series under the main body) and a tool-free design that allows removal of the props and landing gear without any tools for a smaller footprint for transporting or for storage.

The previous Blade drones required a small tablet or smart phone with app to control the included CGO2 camera’s recording capabilities. While this worked fine for most, not everyone wanted to use their phone for a display screen. With the ST-10+ ground station that is no longer an issue. The screen of the ST-10+ offers a wealth of information along with a near-real time view of what the camera sees for easy application of the camera’s recording abilities. We took our first flight in our backyard just to get used to the flight characteristics and the new controller. The large, easy to see, LED pods under each motor are quick visual indicators of battery life (upon start up), flight mode, and more once you get familiar with what each color LED represents.

Speaking of flight modes, the new Chroma series camera drones offer the traditional Smart Mode and Aerial Photography Mode of the past Blade camera platforms, but also offer two new modes, Follow Me Mode and Tracking Mode. In Follow Me Mode the Chroma follows you at a distance and altitude you set at the beginning of the flight so you can concentrate on the perfect image by only having to control the rudder and camera tilt controls. In Tracking Mode the camera drone will simply follow and position the camera at whomever is holding the ST-10+ controller, which is a great way to easily film yourself when you have no one else to do it for you. Of course the new Chroma line includes Blade’s SAFE technology, preventing you from flying the drone too close to yourself, and Return Home mode. With Return Home Mode you can easily return your drone to its point of takeoff via GPS control simply by flipping a switch.

The new Chroma series features all of the best attributes from the outgoing 350QX series with an easy to use controller, better camera, longer flight times, and more accurate GPS. If you’ve been considering a camera drone for aerial photography or video the Chroma is a great choice. The Chroma is available now through Horizon Hobby or wherever R/C products or drones are sold, and be sure to visit www.knowbeforeyoufly.org for information on where you can fly and more.

The interior features a molded Styrofoam liner that holds the drone and loose items, making the box a good travel item (backpacks and rolling hard cases are sold as accessories).
With the upper liner removed the main camera platform, controller, battery, charger, and propellers are all seen, nestled in their molded storage areas.
The included Lithium-Polymer (Li-Po) battery is charged via this E-Flite brand AC/DC charger. A laptop-style power supply is included for 110v wall charging, or the included 12-volt DC battery clips can be used to field charge the battery off of your car battery.
Each brushless outrunner motor features an etched A or B in the aluminum body along with a corresponding A or B on the motor pod extension of the main camera platform. These are used to designate which propeller to install at that location.
The propellers simply spin on by hand and are secured with a friction fit via an O-ring on the motor shaft. Match up the A propellers with the A motors and the same for the B propellers and motors. The propellers even have rotation arrows molded into them to aid in quickly threading the propellers on.
Once the included battery has been fully charged it slides directly into the rear portion of the main body of the camera platform. No battery doors to lose or electrical wiring to miss-connect when in a hurry.
The new CGO3 4K camera looks similar to the CGO2+ camera we’re familiar with on our previous camera drone. It includes the same protective cover for the gimbal that needs to be removed before flight. The CGO3 4K camera features 1080p video quality and takes 16MP still images as well. Though we didn’t use it in our test flights, the CGO3 has a built-in microphone as well, which we could see using with our Yuneec Steady Grip hand-held.
One nice upgrade for serious photographers/videographers is that the Chroma with CGO3 4K camera includes UV filters that easily attach to the front of the camera. There is a clear UV filter already installed on the camera and in the accessories box you’ll find this UV haze filter with cleaning cloth and installation instructions; truly a nice pro-level touch.
The included ST-10+ ground station features easy to reach controls for flying, camera settings, and more. The built-in touch screen is Android based and features additional settings at your fingertips.
Once the ST-10+ has booted up and connected to the Chroma flight system and CGO3 camera the display screen provides details such as battery life (for the controller and the Chroma), distance from the controller, altitude, speed, position, GPS settings, and much more. Through the touch screen interface you can control camera settings, calibrate the Chroma, and so forth as well.
The pods under each motor hold a multi-color LED that is much easier to see than the previous 350QX series. Upon startup the pods glow green to show remaining battery life. All four pods equal 100 percent battery life. Three pods lit is 75 percent battery life, and so on.
Taking to the sky in our backyard for an orientation flight, the Chroma’s large controller took a little getting used to, but we did like it better than the previous controller with our phone attached at the top (making it top heavy and tiring on the wrists). At your fingertips on each side of the controller are control wheels for drone speed and camera tilt angle.
We flew our first couple of orientation flights in Smart Mode (indicated by the white LED pods at the front and green LED pods at the rear). With Smart Mode it doesn’t matter which way the Chroma is facing. If you move the stick to the right, the Chroma will move to the right. Move the stick to the left, the Chroma moves left. It makes for very simple and basic flight, getting you in the air in minutes. Moving to Aerial Photography Mode opens up more speed and increased banking angle for better aerial photos/video, but you now also have to have the Chroma facing in the direction you wish to fly.
As we noted in the main story, the new Chroma series can be completely broken down for easy travel in a backpack or carry case without the need for any tools. The propellers simply unscrew of course, but the main landing gear and the camera/gimbal assembly are retained by simple push lock tabs. Push the tabs in and remove the camera/gimbal and then the landing gear for a nice, compact main airframe that is easy to store.
This aerial photograph, taken at the Ford out Front display at the 2014 SEMA show is just one example of how an aerial camera drone can make for some great photos and videos of your next Mustang event, cruise night, or show.