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The Mavic Air: Thoughts from a Landscape Photographer

By on Apr 23, 2018 in Photography, Reviews | 0 comments

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After turning 40 and completing a major project, I felt that it was time to invest in myself. I had been contemplating buying a drone for sometime but held off for a year of so simply because of the multitude of friends and colleagues that had crashed theirs.  I was with my good friend Griffin Stewart when we lost connection with his drone shortly after hearing a ominous “bong~~~” that we later found out was the sound of one of the blades of a wind turbine smacking his drone into oblivion. Another fellow photographer crashed his drone repeatedly and this weighed heavy on my mind.

Is it worth it to invest in a piece of equipment that you know at some point you will like crash? Would it be better to put that money towards a new lens or camera body? Would I really use it or would it just be a toy? These questions had my head spinning for some time.

A different way of thinking

It happened one night when I went out and really wanted to get some rooftop shots. I went to my usual places and they were all locked. I managed to get into a new place only to find that the rooftop door was locked as well. I wasted the sunset trying to find a suitable place to shoot. I kept thinking to myself that there has to be a better way than this and then it dawned on me. If I had a drone, I could simply just fly it up (depending on the location) and get the shot. That was when I really started to change my mind about this new tool.

As a landscape photographer, I am limited to where I can physically be with my camera. With a drone, I can move the camera to where I need it to be and not actually have to be there. This opens up a great deal of new places that one could shoot from. Think about all those times that you need to get a little closer or wanted to get a better angle but were limited by your physical location. In my mind, this was a huge selling point.

This was also something that came about when I was shooting over the weekend. I was able to line up my shots better with the drone as I could fly it over the water and correct the angle.

The Mavic Air

After some consideration and research I went with the mavic air or the mavic pro and the spark. The reason being was that I wanted something small but still capable of taking 4k video with a the latest obstacle avoidance. From the videos that I saw, the Mavic Air was the clear choice. Not to mention that my wife found a great deal on the fly more combo here in Korea.

I am really loving the size and features of this little drone. So much so that my DSLR has been taking a bit of a rest recently! However, I plan to put both to good use very soon. The thing that I found was that with a drone of this size, it blends easily into the workflow. It fits in my camera bag easily and is not that heavy. Point being is that it is not a “one or the other” type of thing but something that can be used while on location if need be.


The Pros

There are a lot of good things about this drone but keep in mind that I have only had it for a week or so. At any rate, here they are:

Size: This drone can fit in the palm of your hand and even in your pocket. The other thing is that when you are flying it, it is not as noticeable as larger drones.  I noticed this the other day when I was flying it around. Unless it was directly above, people didn’t seem to notice.

Features: The hand gestures and intelligent flight modes are really cool. I want great looking footage and this is the easiest way to get those amazing shots. You know the kind that I am talking about where you subject is walking along a ridge or something and the camera is circling around them? This can be done simply by selecting the mode in the app and then selecting the subject and then off you go. There are so many cool features that are preloaded in the app that it really takes no time start making great shots in no time.

The App: This was one of the things that sort of shocked me. the DJI Go 4 app is pretty robust when it comes to apps. Not only does it control your app but it is also an editor. Through the app you can edit your footage and put the video clips into a montage with music and animations. This to me was great feature as you can edit on the go (pun intended) and make it look somewhat professional. When you get home, you can download the photos and edit them in lightroom.

The Obstacle Avoidance: One of my main worries is that I am going to crash it. When I heard about how good the obstacle avoidance was on this particular drone, it strongly influenced my decision. While I know that it is not going to save the drone 100% of the time, it is still nice to know that the mavic air has sensors front and back as well as down.  It can also choose the right path to fly for you. Which means that if you are getting too close to a wall or something, it will fly around it.

The Fun Factor: The more I flew the mavic air the more fun I started to have with it. It just adds a new element to photography. The images are great and the footage looks sharp and crisp straight out of the drone. It also just adds another level of excitement when you are out getting some shots.

The Cons

There are not many but this would not be a balanced review if I didn’t include a few anyway. So here they are:

The wifi interference: I want to able to use this in the city for some cool cityscape shots. What I found in some cases is that the signal gets a lot of interference and I have had the camera lose connection as well the range limit itself. This was a little frustrating do to the location as it was relatively open.

The Night time performance: I noticed that as the light drops so do the sensors and the image quality. This was something that I was not expecting but the app made me explicitly aware as it reminded me that the sensors were not working as I flew around the beach. The other thing was that the image quality decreases a lot as the drops. Now, this can also be adjusted a bit if you head into the manual settings but just be aware of that as you start to fly around.


Resources

Once I got my drone, I was a little nervous about crashing it but also really clueless as to how to effectively use it. Thankfully, this is 2018 and there are endless streams of content to help educate you on almost any topic. Here are a couple of good resources to get you up and flying.

Kelby One

I have had a membership with Kelby One for many years and it is always a great source of photography education. Terry White is a great instructor and in this course he takes you through every single step that you need to get your drone up and flying as well as what you need to know about everything else. This course is about an hour and 18 minutes that is well produced and shows you everything that you need to know. *link in the title above

YouTube

This one goes without saying but there are a lot of poor quality videos out there and I found a few that really help you get up and running.

Jevon takes you through everything that you need to know with great style and professionalism. I watched this great a few times just to get all the basics down pat. This is another well made video by a photographer that really knows their stuff and isn’t just unboxing a new toy and telling you about how cool it is. This is another video showing you what you need to get started.

This was another great one that I have found because there were some really great tips in here. Aldryn takes you through some essential start up tips including one really helpful tip for your memory card. Again, this is a really well made video that takes you more that just the unboxing and the oohs and ahhs.


The bottomline here is that drones are cool. The more that I use mine the more I like it. I feel that as the technology increase we are going to see a lot more photographers picking up drones are they would a new lens.  I am really excited about the possibilities of what I can do with this drone. I will keep you updated on my progress as I go.

If you have a drone, what tips do you have?

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