Drone (UAV)

I always enjoyed watching aerial video but I was reluctant to get a drone myself because (A) I used to edit video and I knew how much effort (shooting and editing) and money (gear and storage) it would require, and (B) it is an expensive piece of equipment that can potentially be totaled every time you fly it. But I finally decided to invest in it in July 2019.

Do's and Don't's

  • DO buy a drone if you are going to a drone-friendly country such as Norway and Iceland. I highly recommend it!
  • DON'T buy a drone just before your trip and take it without practicing how to fly it in a safe area!
  • DO watch Youtube videos on how to avoid crashing.
  • DO follow the FAA rules and common sense. DON'T get close to people. DO find out where you can fly (Use AirMap and other apps).

Drone Buying Guide

I purchased DJI Mavic Air and didn't look at other models too much. But here is the general guideline.

  • <$100 Toy drones, perfect for practicing drone control
  • ~$100 Limited range and control; basically a selfie drone, but the technology and cost performance are getting better fast.  e.g., Ryze Tello
  • ~$400 1080p-2.7k video, under 250 grams and no need for FAA registration. DJI Mavic Mini came out in October 2019 and made a big splash.
  • ~$800 4k video, 12 MP image, fixed aperture, foldable/compact, front/rear collision avoidance sensors, e.g,. DJI Mavic Air, Parrot Anafi
  • $1,000 Skydio 2 - full collision avoidance and smart maneuvering
  • $gt;$1,400 Zoom, variable aperture, e,g., Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic 2 Pro

DJI Mavic Air

I chose Mavic Air because Mavic Pro 2 and Zoom would be too big and Spark doesn't shoot 4K video. (Mavic Mini was not out yet.) Here are the relevant specs and facts:

  • FOV 85° (24 mm equiv.), Aperture f/2.8
  • Flight time (specs) is 21 minutes but it feels like 15 minutes.
  • 1080p 30 FPS video is about 257 MB/min (4'04" = 1.02 GB). A full 21-minute flight (in theory) would be 5 GB.
  • 4K 30 FPS video is 740 MB/min, ~15 GB per flight
  • JPG is 5..9 MB. DNG is 16..24 MB. 4:3 is 4056 x 3040. 16:9 is 4056 x 2280 (simply cropped).

DJI provides one-year extended warranty/insurance for the drone called "DJI Care Refresh". You can sign up easily within 48 hours of first activation of the drone. However, since we missed that 48 hour window, we had to follow the instructions and submit this video to DJI to purchase it. It is a reasonable process but it took our team effort to shoot the video :)

Here are my first purchases:

    DJI Mavic Air ($720)
  • 2 units of Mavic Air Intelligent Flight Battery ($72)
  • DJI Care Refresh (Mavic Air) ($89)

As I suspected, I'm bleeding money purchasing accessories one by one.

  • Skyreat Mavic Air Pro Foldable -Alloy 4-12" Ipad Tablet Mount Holder for DJI Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom/Mavic Pro/Mavic Air, DJI Spark Accessories Remote Controller ($16.50)
  • PolarPro Standard Series Filter 6-Pack Neutral Density and Polarizer Filter Set for DJI Mavic Air ($69.31)
  • 2 of PGYTECH Extended Landing Gear Leg Support Protector Extension ($11.90)
  • MAS Upgrade Propellers for DJI Mavic AIR in Black - x4 in Set Sold by: MasterAirscrew ($25.00)
  • Fstop Labs Battery Car Charger Accessories For DJI Mavic Air with Triple Output (USB + 2 x Battery) With Safety Cover ($21.99)
  • Gimbal Protector Accessories Gimbal Cover Lock Camera Guard Protector ($6.99)
  • Threeking Foldable Parabolic Signal Booster Range Extender Antenna Extender ($8.99)
  • SanDisk 128GB Extreme microSDXC UHS-I Memory Card with Adapter - C10, U3, V30, 4K, A2, Micro SD - SDSQXA1-128G-GN6MA ($19.99)

Flight patterns

Since the flight time of Mavic Air is so limited, I needed to come up with a sequence of maneuvers to maximize the number of usable shots while conserving battery. (Kind of feels like Traveling salesman problem in a different format :) ) "1/11" through "11/11" are from 11 ESSENTIAL DRONE SHOTS TO TRY - Cinematic Drone Shot Ideas. "1/20" through "19/20" are from 20 ESSENTIAL CINEMATIC DRONE SHOTS!.

Camera →
Movement
Forward Tilted down Downward Downward → Forward Forward → Tilted
Forward 4/11Panorama (high alt.)
8/11 Approach (low alt.)
7/20 Daisy Cutter
15/20 Overtake
3/20 Coming into Shot
13/20 Surprise
6/11 Lookdown
5/20 Bird’s Eye
9/11 Reveal
18/20 Tilt Reveal
2/20 Tilt Down Reveal
Backward 1/11 Pull away
14/20 Vertigo
6/11 Lookdown Reveal (reverse) 2/20 Tilt Down Reveal
Sideways 10/11 Lateral (high)
9/20 Slider (low)
6/11 Lookdown
Upward 6/20 Look Up
10/20 Rising Shot
17/20 Walk Under
2/11 Gentrle rise
16/20 Rocket
Downward 11/11 Descent 3/11 Drop
8/20 Crane
Weave/Follow 5/11 Weave 7/11 Follow
4/20 Tracking Shot
Orbit 11/20 Panorama Curve (high)
1/20 Parallax (low)
Point of interest
19/20 Tilt & Pan
None 14/20 Tripod

Flight patterns
Click on the image to magnify.

Video

On my first day, I already "crashed" the drone into a tree. Here is a 2-minute video: