Back in March, I ordered a Ryze Tello photography drone. Why on Earth would I buy a toy drone for photography or video purposes?
Myself and many of my friends fly FPV racing and freestyle quadcopters. It is a ton of fun. Some of those friends have proper photography drones: a DJI Phantom 4, a Mavic 2 Pro, and a couple of DJI Sparks. These don’t seem to be any fun at all.
Especially the DJI Spark drones. They’re constantly requiring updates before they’ll allow you to fly. The updates often failed and needed to be retried. By the time they were done updating, they’d wasted half of a battery just sitting on the ground.
The DJI Spark was the only one of those drones that I’d be willing to make room for in my already overstuffed quadcopter backpack. I just didn’t want to spend $350 to experience the headaches my friends were having with their Sparks.
Why was the Ryze Tello interesting?
The Ryze Tello is $100 and makes use of some of DJI’s amazing software. It is also extremely tiny—it is the smallest drone in my backpack.
My needs are simple. I don’t need a drone that can follow someone around. I don’t need fancy panning shots. I just wanted an camera on a tripod, but I wanted that tripod to be 20 feet in the air.
I don’t need amazing video. I just wanted some B-roll for my YouTube videos. I figured I could put the Tello in the air, aim it at where my friends and I were milling about, and leave it sitting there pointing at us for five to ten minutes.
For the most part, I actually can manage to do this. Unfortunately, it is terrible. Worse than terrible.
I haven’t recorded a single usable video with my Ryze Tello
I’ve tried so many times. I don’t know why the Tello is still in my bag.
During the first few months, the biggest problem I had was lighting. The Tello is just an aerial webcam, so I didn’t expect much in the way of quality. In April, the average temperature here is nearly 80 degrees, so we almost always find a spot in the shade.
We don’t exactly sit in the dark, but it is dark enough that the Tello’s footage looks horrible. It does better if your subject is in direct sunlight on a bright day, but we don’t usually want to spend much time in direct sunlight. Spending hours in the sun is how we get burned!
When we had cooler days, I made sure to spend some time flying my FPV quads while I was standing in some good lighting. The video I recorded is almost worth using. Almost.
This is the biggest problem with the Ryze Tello. It doesn’t record to local storage. All footage is streamed over WiFi and recorded by your phone.
Don’t let the Tello get too far away from your phone!
The farther the Tello is from your phone, the more often it drops frames. It doesn’t just drop frames, though. Your bitrate gets lower as distance increases. When the bitrate drops, the video becomes a useless, blocky mess.
I’ve sort of gotten around this by planting the Tello in the air and leaving my phone directly underneath it. It helps with the bitrate, but it is still far from perfect.
When you’re playing back your video, you can see every keyframe in the video. That’ll be the frame where everything looks crystal clear. Then everything gets blurrier and fuzzier until the next keyframe. This repeats every few seconds.
The Tello is often bad at holding its position
I’ve flown plenty of toy quadcopters with tiny brushed motors, just like the Ryze Tello. They don’t do well in the wind. That’s fine. That was to be expected.
The Tello uses a camera on its underside to help it hold position. It needs something to focus on. If you’re out in a grassy field, you’re in trouble. Dropping something large under the Tello seems to help, but it isn’t perfect.
It drifts quite a bit while attempting to record 10 minutes of video. I’ll often find that it aimed at my friends and I for two or three minutes, then it starts to yaw to the right, and it continues to slowly yaw for the rest of the video. It doesn’t take long before we’re completely out of frame.
If you’re looking for a toy drone to fly around and play with, the Ryze Tello isn’t terrible, but there are much better toys. The Eachine E010 has no camera, but it is only $13. The Eachine E013 with extremely basic FPV goggles is about $60, and the bigger Eachine FlyingFrog with the same FPV goggles is $88. These are all a lot more fun than the Tello, and they’re much better stepping stones into the world of FPV racing or freestyle!
If you’re looking for a very basic, low-end photography platform, you should look elsewhere. I would be extremely pleased with the Tello at $99 if it recorded video to local storage. I don’t care if I have to add an SD card, or if it had a few hundred megabytes of on-board storage. Without local storage, the Tello is essentially useless for me.
The Tello’s ability to hold position outdoors is impressive considering its size—it would be difficult to do much better with this form factor. That ability is completely wasted if you can’t manage to capture a clean video.
Do you own a Ryze Tello? Have you managed to capture any compelling video with it? Are you using one of its competitors, like the Xiaomi MiTu? Let me know what you think in the comments, or stop by our Discord server to chat about it!