I have been using a DJI Phantom 4 Pro to shoot stills and videos for about 18 months. Much of what I am shooting is boats for brokers, web sites and magazines.
When doing these shoots I find myself having to concentrate too much on the flying process, especially when I’m trying to shoot fast moving motor boats. For example, when trying to get a 3/4 front on shot I may need to be flying sideways and backwards at 20+ knots while trying to frame the boat and fire the shutter at the same time. Synchronising my thumbs to fly the drone and frame the shot while also trying to operate the shutter and camera tilt with my fingers is just not natural to me. The flight controls are not intuitive and they’re not what I am used to. Using the little levers that are the norm for RC remote controls feels Akin to driving a car using the stereo buttons and dials. I’m sure if I practiced much more and was doing it every day I would get used to it but I’m not a full time Pilot, I’m primarily a photographer so I have plenty else I need to be doing. I’ve flown flight simulators a bit and the controls are more natural in those systems than they are for me when flying my Phantom. For flight sims I use a flight stick style joystick like you might see in a fighter jet or Helicopter. A single whole-hand Joystick that operates roll and pitch and incorporates various buttons at your finger tips. I have used foot pedals for yaw (the rudder in a plane to turn the aircraft) but I am also used to controls that incorporate yaw in the main Joystick as a twist function. This feels natural to me after years of muscle memory and synapsis mapping. In short, Push stick forward to go forward, tilt stick right or left to roll right or left and twist stick right or left to turn right or left.
Rather than retrain my ageing brain to operate the two little toothpicks that come as standard in most RC systems, I thought I’d have a go at rebuilding my Phantom controls to match my preferred method of flying. Plus I find it fun to problem solve, design and make stuff. So I am rebuilding my DJI Phantom 4 Pro remote to operate with a whole-hand right Joystick that controls Pitch, Roll and Yaw, and where the shutter is activated by the joystick trigger button. The camera tilt will be a thumb wheel mounted on a new throttle/altitude lever on the left side of the redesigned controller.
Below are videos of the thought process, design, build and testing of my new and improved(?) DJI Phantom 4 Pro remote control…
Episode 1.Voiding the warranty – The initial plan. – Cracking open the DJI remote and the donor USB Flight stick to see how they can be married together. – Designing and 3D printing the bracket that will enable the mechanics from the USB flight stick to be mounted to the right side of the DJI remote. – Designing, printing and incorporating a stiffener within the DJI remote.
Episode 2. – Designing and printing a new throttle/altitude control handle that incorporates the camera tilt wheel from the original DJI remote control.
Episode 3. The point of no return. – Moving the DJI Pitch, Roll, Yaw, throttle and camera tilt pots and the shutter button into their new homes.
Episode 4. Holding my breath. – Initial testing and simulator flight. – A few alterations from things learned in testing
Episode 5. Testing out in the wild.