Review: DROCON Monster Blue Bugs 3 and DBPOWER EX5000 action camera

The links first, as availability can get somewhat complicated, depending on where you are in the world. Here's the DROCON drone, on Amazon UK and on Amazon USA. and here's the DBPOWER action camera, also on Amazon UK and again on Amazon USA.

[And I also have some discount codes, which should save you 20% or so on each. No guarantees, but try ZE79A4G6 for the drone on Amazon UK, 3UE8L7BJ on Amazon USA. And for the action camera, try NO3S8T8W on Amazon UK and V5RFI43U on Amazon USA.]
These were sent to me for evaluation, I should mention. Total value £150, so not cheap, and there are quite a few caveats below. But I also want to emphasise that this is the very start of the 'drone' marketplace, even so. The really capable drones (auto-tracking, auto-homing) are of the order of five times more expensive. Yet we all have to start somewhere and, having gone through numerous remote control aircraft in the past, I know only too well that a lot of crashing and (sometimes) destruction is involved in the flight learning process, however 'smooth' the flight of (here) a drone.

I should also mention that the action camera here isn't specifically designed for this drone - the Blue Bugs 3 comes with a plastic harness for the Gopro Hero 1/2/3/4 models and the DBPOWER camera is just a little too large. Happily, the latter comes with a bazillion different adapters and fittings and a little carpet 'meccano' time resulted in a stable way of attaching one t'other, using the world standard of a camera tripod thread!
So - onwards and (literally) upwards. Building the drone took around 20 minutes, screwing on the props (you get a spare set of 4 in case you dent or break any of these) and screwing on the legs, then there was the aforementioned fiddling around time getting the camera up and running and slung underneath the drone.

The time taken to build pales compare to the charging times needed, mind you. As with RC aircraft, there's an awful lot of hanging around with this hobby. The largish battery that sits underneath the Blue Bugs 3 drone gives around 10 minutes of flight time in this weight configuration, and yet you're looking at several hours to recharge it from the supplied mains adapter, ready for the next flight. This, this is why professionals and drone old-hands have multiple spare, charged batteries!

The instructions for calibrating the drone (intricate sequences of button presses and joystick movements) didn't seem to work, but the factory calibration seemed fine once I finally plucked up courage to 'unlock' (power up the motors on) the drone and a push of the throttle sent it soaring into the air.
The marketing materials for the Blue Bugs 3 make quite a bit of the use of 'brushless' motors and indeed the power on offer here is impressive. Even with the legs, protectors and camera in place, there's no sense of struggling at all. Plus the brushless system is amazingly quiet, far less intrusive for passers by, in my opinion.

There's also no automatic control. Aside from the basic, pre-programmed 'flip' prop sequence, where the drone goes is all down to your stick inputs. So no 'stay where you are' mode (though it doesn't wander too badly once you've got things equalised), no 'fly back to me' mode, and definitely no 'fly back if the battery gets low', the features that you do have to pay five times the price for.

But the Blue Bugs 3 is a great learning platform at a cost that's bearable should things go pear shaped in a hurry. After a few weeks playing with this, you'll either conclude that you want more - in which case a serious investment is needed (this DJI drone is recommended) - or you'll conclude, sitting amidst a sea of broken propellors and shattered ego, that drones aren't for you and that more hand/eye coordination is perhaps needed!

The DBPOWER action camera is rubberised and cute and comes with a spare battery, which is a nice touch. The idea is that you can mount this anywhere, as evidenced by all the fittings supplied. Actual video quality is equivalent to that from only about a £100 phone, mind you, and there's no OIS, something of an issue when being shaken around underneath a drone (as here) or on a bike or motorbike. 

Something of a gadget from a different age, neither of these two serial/charge ports are standard! I was expecting microUSB or miniUSB at the very least!
Plenty of resolution options and the footage was easy to take off microSD, though steer clear of the recommended 'app' for your smartphone - it requires all sorts of permissions, including sending SMS! It was enough to put me off, anyway - maybe the manufacturers have done a deal with the app's developers for monetisation or some other scheme?


Anyway - take an environment that's shaky and with huge variations in light levels, try and shoot it hands-off (i.e. with no way to see what's on the viewfinder screen), and it's a recipe for some underwhelming drone cam footage.

Which is not really the DBPOWER cam's fault - it's designed more for canoe and bike mounting (though I still think it needs OIS). But a couple of degrees of pitch can mean the difference between pointing at a spot on the ground and pointing at a sunlit sky, so you get wild swings in the auto-exposure.
Note the time and date upside down at the top - my makeshift tripod mount attachment necessitated fitting the camera upside down - and then rotating photos and videos later on my Mac!
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Take my gripes with a pinch of salt though. The Blue Bugs 3 is a terrific way to have fun learning to fly a drone - mastering pitch, roll and yaw, all the while thinking your way around which way it's pointing in the first place (the lit headlamp helps here if the light conditions allow you to see it).

In fact, this has got me thinking now of other things I could hoist aloft which would record video - many modern smartphones have vastly superior optics and OIS, so a phone mount is the next logical step...(!)

PS. Drone tips for beginners: do NOT try flying this indoors. Do NOT try flying this in a garden. Do NOT fly this within 50m of trees, people, or a road. You have been warned. Best case, you'll break the drone or some of its props. Worst case, you'll lose the drone completely. VERY worst case, you'll distract a car driver or hit a pedestrian, with very serious consequences. GO. TO. A. PARK!

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