The humble quadcopter, with its four rotors and distinct buzzing sound, has become synonymous with the word “drone”. Of course, any aircraft design can be a drone, as long as it’s unmanned and has some degree of autonomy. We have drone helicopters, drone airplanes and of course multirotors that aren’t quadcopters.
The hexacopter is a perfect example of this. Yes, it’s basically a quadcopter with two extra props, but that has a massive effect on the performance and feel of the drone. Hexacopters have a lot to offer, yet most people getting in to the hobby or even professional drone context seem to overlook them. So let’s look at why exactly you would want a hexacopter and what exactly makes them so awesome.
Hexacopter vs Quadcopter: The Pros
Hexacopters have several concrete advantages over quadcopter, besides just looking awesome. While they obviously carry a price-premium over quadcopters in the same size class, this is outweighed in many use cases.
The two additional motors means 30% (ish) more lift. That can make all the difference when you are trying to get a professional camera in the air. A hexacopter can get loads into the air that quadcopters only dream of.
Size-for-size, hexacopters can reach much faster speeds than quadcopters. This is a result of having more thrust, but it’s also thanks to better flight stability and wind resistance. Which we’ll get to next.
Unlike a quadcopter, with its four pillars of thrust, a hexacopter has six rotors spaced 120 degrees apart. This design makes it more stable. It’s like taking a table with four legs and adding two more. Much harder to rock.
OK, maybe that’s a dumb analogy, but hexacopters really do have much more stability, which makes them a good choice at the interface between prosumer and professional camera drones.
Having two extra propellers and motors also allows hexacopters to fly at higher altitudes than quadcopters. This isn’t something that matters to most people, since modern quadcopters and go pretty high already, but in some use cases it can make all the difference.
Possibly the most killer of killer hexacopter features is the ability to land safely even if one rotor were to fail. How is this possible? Well it helps to understand how quadcopters fly.
With a quad, the rotors work in pairs to cancel out one another’s torque. When all four rotors are spinning at the same speed the drone stays in position. Cause a speed imbalance in one pair and it will turn. So if a motor fails on a quadcopter, you lose the ability to maintain stable flight. Inevitably it will go down.
When a motor fails on a hexacopter, the flight controller can use the remaining five to balance each other out and maintain stable flight long enough for a safe landing. This is a great feature in drones that carry camera equipment worth more than even their own enormous price tags.
The Cons of Owning a Hexacopter Over a Quadcopter
Of course, there are some downsides to hexacopters too. Nothing is perfect after all. There’s also nothing wrong with quadcopters, and most of the time they are the sensible choice when looking for a drone. Let’s look at the main drawbacks of hexacopters.
Hexacopters need long arms to prevent props fouling each other and generally take up more space than quads in a similar class. This has several drawbacks as you can imagine. Folding designs such as the various compact DJI quads are impractical. You can’t fly in the same narrow spaces a quad can and for big drones transport becomes awkward.
You can’t just slap two more props on a quad and call it a day. There’s Hexacopters have a significant price premium over quadcopters. After all, they have more complex frames and flight controllers. You do however get a significant performance increase for the extra money. The next step up, octocopters, doesn’t provide the same bang for buck the hexacopter leap does. So they actually represent a decent price-performance compromise across the entire multirotor spectrum.
So, Who Should Buy a Hexacopter?
Everyone! OK, I might be a little biased. The real answer is that it depends on your needs. When we are talking about nano- and mini- scale drones it’s worth buying a hexacopter just for fun. It’s something different and the flight performance is a real thrill.
If you are looking for your next camera drone or other professional drone system the question becomes much more serious.
The robustness and lower chance of crashing inherent to hexacopter design is a really important fact to consider. Imagine what the cost of a crash would be and weigh that up against the extra money for a hexacopter. If it’s cheaper to buy the hexacopter than it is to replace the quadcopter and equipment you’ll lose in a crash, you should probably go with the six-rotor option.
If you need to fly in choppy conditions or lift heavy loads, a hexacopter should be your first stop. Only the most extreme use cases need an octocopter. Don’t go for those complex, expensive and bulky solutions if you can still get away with a high-end hexacopter.
Finally, if you really need cinematic-level shots with flawless stability and high-speed camera movement then you are squarely in hexacopter territory.
That’s enough talking about hexacopters, not let’s actually look at some of the finest examples.
Best Hexacopter for the Money: Yuneec Typhoon H
Yuneec has now established itself as one of the big professional drone brands. They went from being basically unknown to a real rival to the likes of DJI, in what seems to be an overnight rise.
The Typhoon H is a top example of the company’s drone range. A class-leading professional drone packed with features and sporting a price to match. Well, actually it’s priced to compete with quadcopters like the Phantom 4 from DJI. Which makes it a bit of a bargain.
The first thing you’ll probably want to know is if it has redundancy. Indeed, if one of the six props stops working for some reason your drone and camera are going to be just fine.
The Yuneec actually has more in common with high-end consumer quads than it does with professional hexacopters. Mainly because it’s designed as a integrated unit, with an OEM camera. You won’t be using this drone to hoist a third-party professional camera, in other words.
As a camera drone, you’re getting some amazing options and features. The Typhoon has retractable landing gear like an Inspire. However, it’s a much more stable platform than a quad of similar cost. To top it off, the gimbal that holds the 4K camera can turn 360-degrees, making shots possible that are simple not with other drones.
While you can have two operators each working either flight or camera duty, the Typhoon has a number of autonomous modes that make it perfectly feasible to operate it alone. You can set the drone into one of several flight patterns and then concentrate on getting the shots you want.
The camera isn’t cinematic grade, but more than good enough for some professional work and definitely good enough for amateurs. Flight endurance is estimated at about 25 minutes and a full recharge takes about two hours, which is on the long side.
There are two optional extras that also make this drone shine. One is a special carry bag that neatly accommodates the drone in its folded-down mode. The other is the “Wizard” remote that lets one person pilot and the other use the main remote to work the camera. The best feature is however the tracking mode. Whoever has the Wizard will be followed by the Typhoon. There are plenty more things to point out, such as the advanced obstacle avoidance and sophisticated software, but that’s all I have space for. Suffice it to say that the Typhoon should be on your shortlist in this price class.
The Typhoon H Pro bundle is available as a renewed product.
DJI Spreading Wings 900
The venerable S900 Spreading Wings from DJI is probably the most direct competitor to the Typhoon H. It’s generally a little cheaper, but it doesn’t look nearly as nice and put together. In fact, the design of the S900 looks a little rushed if you ask me.
Don’t let its industrial looks fool you though. The S900 has impressive specs under the hood and is still well worth the asking price. The drone is compatible Zenmuse gimbals and of course the matching Zenmuse cameras. The camera is sold separately, so you can choose which one suits your use case the best.
The S900 does fold down and weighs very little. It’s also pretty beefy, with a max takeoff weight just over 8KGs. You get up to 18 minutes of flight on a full charge and the assurance that the motors and frame have been brutally tested for reliability. The S900 is famous for its tethered tests that ran the motors for 72 hours straight with no issues. It’s a real workhorse. Just be sure that you check which parts are included in the bundle you’re looking at. Including the camera, transmitter and any accessories. Even the barebones kits are already pretty pricey and one wants to avoid the shock of realizing you’ve just shelled out a fortune for something that isn’t ready to fly out of the box.
DJI Matrice 600 Pro
The Matrice Pro has a relatively huge asking price compared to the Typhoon H and S900. This hexacopter is squarely in the professional arena. You can buy a decent used car for the price of a Matrice Pro before you buy a camera for it.
It has a maximum takeoff weight of 15.5KG and unloaded it weighs 10KG. That means a payload of roughly 5.5KG. It can resist winds of up to eight meters per second and will hit 40mph (65 kph) if things aren’t too breezy.
The Matrice supports a large range of gimbals and cameras. This means that you can start off with a more affordable camera for the drone and then get truly professional gear later when your budget allows. Since cameras like the RED EPIC are supported, we are talking about a rather large piggy bank.
Depending on the payload, the Matrice has some of the best flight endurance numbers in the business. With a light load and the larger battery options, a near 40 minutes flight is possible. If you’re using the Ronin MX gimbal and RED EPIC camera that drops to a still-respectable 15 minutes. This is the real deal when it comes to professional camera drones. If you’re working for a film studio or high-end production crew, this should be near the top of your list.
Best Hexacopter for Beginners: COOCHEER MJX X800
Not every hexacopter has to be a big, expensive camera drone. A toy-grade hexacopter will generally blow your quadcopter out of the sky in terms of sheer flying pleasure. Although they’ll still be more expensive than a toy quadcopter, at this scale the absolute cost difference is negligible.
The MJX 800 is a medium-sized hexacopter that gets recommended a lot. There’s a good reason for that, since by most accounts this thing is a blast to fly. It’s also good for those just starting out with any sort of multirotor, thanks to the addition of prop guards all round.
The MJX can do some powerful automated rolls in basically any direction. Plenty of toy quads offer this as well, but if you watch a video of this drone the rolls look more robust and stable.
I also like the motion mode where you can switch the controller to move the drone according to how you move and rotate the entire controller. It’s pretty intuitive and having the option is a nice add-on.
Flight times are OK at about 8 minutes, with recharges happening via USB. While that’s rather slow, you could also just buy a few extra batteries. It’s an all round fun drone and you can even buy an optional extra camera, although its probably not worth it.
If you are looking for bang for your buck, these are 6 of the best hexacopters right now.
I’ll admit that one of the main reasons I even care about hexacopters is based on how striking and cool they are. Now that everyone and their dog has a quadcopter stashed away somewhere it feels good to whip out something bigger. The advantages of hexacopters are hard to deny and as they become more popular, they should also come down in price. That can only be a good thing, since (if you need reminding) hexacopters rule!
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