There are plenty of accessories out there for drone pilots. We’ve been through many of them before.
Some are designed to prioritize practicality over aesthetics, like many of the travel cases on the market. Others, such as prop guards, are there to give you peace of mind in case the worst should happen.
Plenty aim to speed up your workflow and improve your end product, from LUTs to ND filters. And some are even designed to benefit onlookers and make you feel less awkward, like DJI’s low-noise propellers.
For the past week we’ve been testing out an accessory that seems to tick all of those boxes, even if it is probably as expensive as a drone itself. We’re talking about DJI CrystalSky, the dedicated monitor for drone pilots that launched last year.
It’s a Screen. What’s the Big Deal?
On the face of it, a powerful monitor really shouldn’t be a gamechanger for drone pilots. After all, the drone is the important part of this equation, along with your ability to control it and having a creative eye.
Flying with smartphones and, in some cases, a tablet, has never been that much of an issue. Sure, it’s a method of flying that has its downsides. But do they justify spending at least $469 on a specialist monitor?
In a weird twist of that famous phrase, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, when it comes to CrystalSky, you don’t know what you’re missing out on until you’ve taken it for a spin. Admittedly, that doesn’t trip off the tongue. But bear with us as we try to explain.
CrystalSky is the Solution to Problems You Haven’t Had Yet
There are a few issues when flying with a smartphone or tablet that all pilots will have come across at some point. If you haven’t yet, you’re one of the lucky ones.
First and most obvious is lighting. Shooting on sunny days when the light is at its brightest is generally the aim when you take your drone out. But sunny conditions come with the harsh reality of screen glare, which makes seeing what your drone sees difficult.
The problem then is that you’re not totally in control of your shots. What you thought looked good on a dimly lit phone screen could come back to haunt you once a shoot is over.
A related issue that comes with flying using a smartphone is scale. Just as with harsh light conditions, flying with a small screen as your only aide can make it difficult to have a clear picture of your shots as you film.
Again, the result could be a frustrating post-production session in which none of your shots is as steady, focused or nicely-lit as you were led to believe. Or there might be some guy standing in the corner of your epic sunset reveal that you failed to notice beforehand.
And that’s not all. There are more problems pilots run into when using a phone or tablet to stream the view from the drone. Have you ever received a call or got a notification while flying? It’s not ideal, tends to interrupt your flow and can even cause whichever app you’re using – Usually DJI Go – to crash.
At the foundation of that inconvenience is that you’re having to use your phone to perform a function it wasn’t really designed for. Sure, it’s supposed to run apps. But it was never supposed to be an effective monitor for serious aerial photography.
For obvious reasons, having a dedicated monitor means that none of those issues will bother you again.
For starters, CrystalSky’s ultra-bright screen is clearly visible in even the brightest conditions, giving pilots a clear view of all shots and, importantly, allowing you to notice and correct issues before they ruin whole filming sessions.
In fact, the CrystalSky’s 2000 cd/m² of brightness makes it over four times as bright as most mobile devices. It also uses optimized video decoding to produce less latency.
Second, CrystalSky is rapid. Unlike plenty of smartphones out there, it’s not going to crumble under the pressure of streaming your video feed or receiving your flight commands. It’s not going to receive a text message from your mobile network and freak out. A call from your grandma will not cause it to freeze for five minutes at a time.
In terms of connectivity, the CrystalSky has more ports than an average laptop computer and has slots for two micro SD cards, should you wish to edit your shots on the go using the device.
In our testing, we found the Android interface to be super responsive and the touchscreen worked like a charm. All in all, it really does feel like a huge step up in terms of performance.
And that’s before we get to the resolution of the screen and the CrystalSky’s battery life.
We were testing the smaller, $469 5.5 inch monitor, which has a resolution of 1920×1080. The picture was crisp, the detail was impressive and the battery life was staggering. We clocked over 6 hours on a single battery – more than enough for a day’s filming.
CrystalSky – The Downside
You’re probably thinking: that’s a whole lot of positivity coming from our side towards the CrystalSky.
And you’d be right. We took it flying in super bright conditions and it was faultless. Almost frustratingly so. This kind of thing should come as standard. Every drone pilot should have one. And maybe one day that will be the case.
But really we expected nothing less. Because here’s the downside: the price. At $469, the 5.5 inch version we tested is the cheapest available. For $699 you can get the 7.85 inch version. For $999 you can get the ultra bright 7.85 inch version.
At this kind of price, anything less than perfect was going to be a big disappointment. Nonetheless, DJI have delivered. Which leads to the only real question worth asking about CrystalSky: Is it worth it?
The answer to that will depend on how much you plan to fly, whether you’re doing so for fun or for a living, and, of course, how deep your pockets are.
We’d say that a CrystalSky monitor is a must-have piece of gear for any professional drone pilot or serious enthusiast. If you can afford it, you won’t regret it.
However, carrying around an expensive extra monitor when, for most enthusiasts, a phone will do just fine, will mean that for some the CrystalSky isn’t worth the hassle.
Whichever way you choose to go, we’re looking forward to the day when DJI slashes the price on these monitors and starts adding them to Fly More Combos.