So I have had my eye on getting a drones (formally known as a quad copter) or UAV in FAA parlance ) for a while. I had started seeing the DJI Phantom series of drones pop-up here and there and had always been curious and intrigued by the flying camera. But I could never rationalize why I would want to spend $1000+ on a flying “toy”. But! when DJI (The “Apple” of consumer drones) came out with a compact version of their flagship product the DJI Mavic Pro I immediately snapped one up
Its checked off all the boxes that interested me, compact and portable, great camera and relatively affordable (I stress relatively, as spending $1000 on a flying camera is obviously not a necessity) .. and good thing I did as the demand for this particular drone was overwhelming and luckily I received mine before Thanksgiving and was able to play with it through the holidays including a couple of trips.
I also picked up a used Phantom 3 cheap, not sure why? but I just wanted a couple of drones, i’ll probably sell the Phantom when I get bored. Phantom 3 are a great way to start and affordable , new ones start at around $379 in different places like Walmart or Best Buy. They are a little more bulky than the Mavic, but photo and video quality is the on par.
Its all about the view!
That’s right the coolest thing for me (and many others) isn’t just flying the quad copter around, rather its the spectacular aerial footage and photos one gets from a a perspective 100’s of feet in the air, its the same reason people go up the Empire State Building or Seattle Space needle, the amazing view… Because its such a unique vantage point, and because now with a flying camera I can literally get the view from almost anywhere. Not only is the view amazing, but the real unsung hero of this drone is its gimbal technology which gets rock solid videos and photos, from a platform hundreds of feet in the air..
Drones are still relatively new, so every time I pull out the drone , people are always curious and intrigued by the little flying gizmo, they usually stop by and pepper me with all sorts of questions.. What is that? How high does it go? How far does it fly? How long does the battery last? Below is one of the first video’s I took with it..
Take a look at my recent Mexico trip (Riviera Maya) to get an idea of what taking your drone on vacation looks like..
Review everywhere for Mavic Pro…
I will spare the reader a long review of this drone as its gotten so, so much coverage from all the TECH Vloggers online , much more thorough reviews and coverage are linked here, covering different aspects of the mavic pro.. Best overall Mavic Review (Tom’s Tech time) , Case Neistat – Mavic , Flite Test – Mavic Review , and dozens of other ones…..
My overall impressions
The Mavic Pro being my first drone, are:
- It is very easy to fly: It’s really easy to fly literally once you get it up in the air it just stays put until you issue a command, as long as there’s enough battery you don’t really need to fly it it will just hover.
- You still need to frame good shots: Initially getting great photos and video will be easy because of the super stable gimbal and interesting perspectives, but over time, you’ll need to use it more like a camera and focus more on framing the kind of shots you want, I find I’m favoring the drone closer to its subject rather than up high.
- Caution with obstacles: Although the Mavic Pro has forward-facing collision avoidance sensors, its not foolproof and most accidents (of which you can find plenty examples online , just search Mavic crash) are caused because of it running into stuff. DJI has the most sophisticated sensor technology but even then its not foolproof, we’re probably still 3-5 years from a consumer grade un-crash able drone.
- Smart modes are not perfect: You will find that there are a series of smart modes, orbit, follow me, active track. The Follow me and active track modes are not perfect and you can’t just set it to follow you and forget it.. you always need to fly it
- Get DJI crash insurance: DJI offers for an extra $99/year crash insurance , which allows for a replacement/quick repair of a crashed drone, I recommend you get it , its 10% cost of the drone but it will save you $100’s
- Its another camera+: At the end of the day when the novelty of the drone wears off, you’ll realize its just another camera, with one big feature, the ability to place it almost anywhere in 3D space. And this is what makes it a great tool especially when traveling or for shooting 3rd person perspectives
- 23 Minute Flight time, long enough for most cases: IT seems short but 23 minutes (rated at 27 minute in ideal conditions) in reality is quite a bit of time.. Flight time should be pretty good for most video/photo needs, in fact,if you post videos you’ll find you may edit most of the video , to get a more streamlined experience.
- Still waiting for an autonomous “follow me” drone: Originally I had visions of having this drone follow-me during sporting events (running, cycling , swimming etc.), but although the Mavic is good as a camera drone, it’s not a true autonomous hands-free selfie or follow me done, you can’t just throw it up in the air and have it follow you around obstacles, like I mentioned probably 3-5 years away from that capability..But DJI hinted at it, in this concept video DJI Phantom X
Rules and Regulations
One thing most new drone pilots will quickly find out is that there are a bunch of FAA rules and regulations you need to adhere to (if you want to fly legally), first one is to register your drone. Complete rules re listed here FAA UAV WebSite .
Also there’s a burgeoning professional services and commercial drone market, now that the FAA approved Part 107, that provides drone operators with a regulatory foundation, to be officially licensed and fly (line of site) in US airspace many industries (photography, real estate, construction, farming) are starting to take note and apply drones. I expect we will see future regulatory developments, as major companies push for autonomous drone delivery and even more futuristic drone services. Expect to see in the near future more drones flying around as better autonomous systems and FAA regulatory guidelines are put in place (for non line of sight drone use.) . I guess we are living in the future.. .
Wrap up thoughts…
In conclusion I think its a fun hobby and I would almost consider it a must-have if your interest in photography or video is more serious..