Wednesday, April 5, 2017

First flights: Xiro Xplorer G for Photography

I had wanted a drone for a couple years, and I had been eyeing the Splash waterproof drone with waterproof gimbal. I waited until the very last minute before we departed for the Bahamas because I had read some horror stories about Bahamian import requirements, duty levied to the tune of 70% (!!) and general other misinformation I found on the web and on forums. I ordered the Splash, waited for a week to get it only to find out that they were backordered. Not wanting to delay my trip any longer, I choose a cheap “starter” drone to play with. It was so much cheaper than the Splash that I immediately realized I could crash or drown 6 Xiros before I even spent the money of 1 Splash. The photographer in me really doesn’t see the difference, since they both fly GoPro cameras and the pictures will be the same! It seemed like the backorder was a blessing in disguise

Shots from my first photo shoot over Key Largo.
As my first drone to play with, I opted for the Xiro Xplorer G. The G model of the Xplorer series comes with a gimbal to hold your GoPro and offers iPhone integration for FPV flying. Other options are the Xplorer (no cameras or gimbals) or the Xplorer V with Xiro’s proprietary camera and gimbal. A 4K video option is coming soon. The Xiro ships boxed very nicely and everything is very well made. Being my first consumer drone I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was impressed with the cleanliness of the design and the ease of use of the controls and setup. Compared to the DJI consumer drones I’ve seen, the Xiro is sexy.

At this point, FAA registration is mandatory prior to the first flight. The process is painless and is all web based. $5 poorer and 15 minutes later, I have a FAA registration number and it is labeled on the Xiro.


I chose to make my first flight in a quiet park, with no camera on board, on a calm day. After having flown RC airplanes and helicopters, I was blown away by the stability of the Xiro. Hands off flying make it a perfect photography platform. If you are uncertain of your flight status, just let go of the controls and the Xiro stops and hovers where it is. Amazing technology!

Getting the Xiro setup and in the air was very painless. The Xiro is fully GPS enabled, meaning that it has auto takeoff and land and auto return home functions. I used these functions the first day, but my goal is to fly this drone from the boat which will require manual control to compensate for the boat’s motions. Even at anchor, the boat is likely to have moved from the position that the drone took off from, therefore the auto return home mode can’t be used.

For my training flights I purchased the Xiro Prop Guards for the drone to protect the propellers. I thought flying it would be a lot trickier than it is. Had I realized how easy it really is, I would not have bothered. The prop guards came off quickly once I began shooting with the drone because it’s nearly impossible to keep them out of the GoPro’s field of view.

The Xiro also includes a 1-2-3 toggle switch which allows the user to choose the sensitivity of the controls. Basically it’s a beginner, intermediate and advanced switch. It really does make a difference, and as your skills grow the drone grows sportier and quicker with you. It’s a very fun feature. 

Attaching the gimbal and GoPro and getting the system paired took a bit of time. It’s obvious that Xiro cut some corners here. The gimbal functions beautifully, but has a lot of exposed circuitry and is very delicate. It feels difficult to get the gimbal on and off the drone without breaking it. It’s also worth mentioning a fact that I really didn’t think through before purchase: you cannot use the Xiro gimbal with the GoPro’s protective cases. When I first purchased the drone with the intent to fly over water I incorrectly thought, “if it goes in the drink, at least the camera will survive.” Not so much. 

One other limitation that becomes obviously quickly but is not made clear in the Xiro documentation: when shooting with a GoPro, the app cannot control shooting from the ground. In order to record video you need to begin the video prior to takeoff and end it manually after landing. If the GoPro dies during flight you will lose everything. To record aerial photos, you will need to set the GoPro in time lapse mode, recording photos every 1 or 2 seconds. I’ve been using every 2 seconds with some success. The app basically functions as a simple mirror of the GoPro’s back screen, which will flash off quickly every time the camera takes an image. In hindsight, if the Xiro is your ultimate goal, I would highly recommend investigating the Xplorer V model with their proprietary camera to fully use all of the drone’s functionality. The cost is very competitive with the cost of an addition GoPro, with the added benefit of not risking your “good” GoPro to possible catastrophic destruction. Despite these limitations, I’m very happy with the drone so far. I’m looking to upgrade to a mirrorless system that I can fly from a hexacopter, so version 2.0 isn’t far off! Still thinking about the original Splash, I’m very happy that I went the route of getting a “starter” drone and growing from there. The goal of my next drone will be to get the highest quality camera and lens aloft I can.
Practicing "carrier landings" while underway...that was a bit tricky, but no damage done!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Washington, DC

We traveled so many miles and took so many photos last year that I am just now beginning to sort through everything to find the gems. At the apex of our journey north found us anchored in the Washington Channel, practically underneath the Washington Monument.
Metro station
Capital building from the National Gardens
National Mall from Lincoln Memorial
Anchorage on the Washington Channel
Dragon boat races in Washington Channel
Independence anchored in Washington Channel
National Gardens
National Gardens
National Gardens
National Gardens
Daytrip to Alexandria, Virginia

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Photos from the Road, ICW Northbound

We’ve been traveling up the east coast of the US by sailboat for the last three months. We've alternated hops offshore with motoring up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). Here’s a quick collection of my favorite photos from some of our favorite stops.

We spent most of May in Biscayne Bay and Miami. It's one of our favorite spots in South Florida: quiet places to spend peaceful nights at anchor, lots of scenery and fun sailing.




After a 72 hour passage offshore, our first new port was Fernandina Beach on the Georgia/Florida state line. We really loved walking this sweet town and exploring nearby Cumberland Island National Seashore.



After a two day passage we put into Charleston, SC. While getting ashore in Charleston was a challenge, we were rewarded with one of the coolest cities around.

Not exactly part of the boat trip, but a quick road trip out to the mountains of Colorado was lovely. We traveled the San Juan Skyway between Durango, Silverton and Ouray and visited Mesa Verde State Park. 




Cape Lookout in North Carolina was a beautiful spot. We love nice, secure anchorages in national parks where we can really get away from it all. 




Okracoke has been my favorite spot so far. We spent three weeks in the anchorage here, dinghying to town each day and exploring bit by bit. We watched some incredible storms roll through here and really got feel for life in the Outer Banks.








Monday, March 7, 2016

A Fresh Start


For the past eight years I have been working as a college professor and shooting on the side. Prior to that I worked as a full-time professional photographer doing portraits and weddings. I’ve gotten quite a few great gigs, worked with some great folks and done a lot of neat things. Lately I’ve specialized in promotional photography of aircraft and yachts, which has been a lot of fun. 








So it’s time for a change and it’s time to make travel, photography and art a bigger part of my life again.


Our floating home.



Last year, my wife Lucy and I sold our house, saved our pennies and bought our dream boat. We are now living aboard while cruising: traveling up the east coast of the US this summer and then back to Florida and the Bahamas after hurricane season passes. Long term plans? Not really sure! We are chronicling our nautical exploits on our ship’s blog: boatlifelarks.com. Check it out and join the adventure!







Ready to cruise!


Set sail with us!




With the change in pace comes this new website. MClaiborne.com has gone through a lot of revisions over the years, but I wanted to make a few changes and add a more personal feel. This blog is a place to share my portfolio and even some of the more techy aspects of travel photography while working from a boat. So sit back and follow along! 

--Matt