Whilst often prone to impulse buys, I’m not usually an early adopter of technology, indeed the only example I could come up with in my entire adult life was the Canon 5D MkIII DSLR camera back in early 2012. Ten years later though I’ve repeated the phenomenon.
It’s only a few months since I upgraded my Mavic Pro camera drone with the DJI Air 2s and also added a lightweight Mini 2 drone to the mix. Two drones that nicely complement each other and if we are honest, together they meet all of my aerial photography needs admirably. So, why have I just taken delivery of the latest small drone, the Mini 3 Pro, from DJI?
Well partly the influence of other people on the drone fora I frequent to be sure. Partly fear of missing out. Partly because by chance I happened to have funds available at this time. But mainly because I need* it.
So, what do I think of it?
Fabulous in a word.
Seriously, I was very impressed with the way it handled straight out of the box. I couldn’t get out for a full flight yesterday but wanted to try it so I took it into my front yard (very tiny) and placed it in the middle of the yard which is only two to three feet from the wall of the house). It acquired the requisite number of satellites very quickly to enable me to take off and I was very impressed with how smoothly it responded to the sticks as it rose up through the gap twixt house and trees. It was rock solid and didn’t drift at all, a major consideration in such a tight space.
Flying is not my hobby, I‘m a photographer who also uses drones, so the most important factor will ultimately be image quality and that too looks promising. As anyone who’s followed my blog for a while will know I am predominantly a film photographer and I’m used to working with black and white film. Many of my drone images end up in mono too, so the response of the Mini 3 files to image manipulation will be important. I’ve yet to test the image making potential but will do soon I hope.
Unlike my other/past drones the Mini 3 Pro doesn’t rely on my phone for a screen but has one built into the remote controller. If I’m totally honest, whilst very excited by this option I did not find the Mini 3 controller with screen as comfortable to use as the one I usually use but that’s going to become easier with practice I’m certain; and to be fair I’ve only used it the once.
Forecast for next few days is strong, gusty winds and rain so it may be I can’t fly it properly until the end of the week or even early next week but first impressions are very positive. I will keep you updated!
In the meantime, I nipped back into my front yard just before bedtime to capture the sunset.
*need in this context means “want” if I’m really honest.
Yes, you read that right … I’ve just checked our gutters on instructions from my wife. This time however I didn’t borrow my son-in-laws ladders but did it the smart way – with a drone. My little Mini 2 to be precise. Whilst aloft it would have felt a little rude to ignore the opportunity for a few unique views of the street.
Two identical images … one in the original colour and the other in fabulous mono! The replacement drone got a second flight on Sunday morning. A frosty morning with the sun just starting to peak into the scene.
DJI Air 2s, captured as RAW and processed in Lightroom.
Two identical images … one in the original colour and the other in fabulous mono! The replacement drone got a second flight on Sunday morning. A frosty morning with the sun just starting to peak into the scene. I will pop a small gallery of images on as another post.
The sun is rising in the top right of the image hence the warmer tones on the left of the image and the cool blues in the shadows on the right.
One of my guilty pleasures over the last five years has been drone photography. On a recent trip to Eyemouth I was able to fly the drone on each of the four mornings we were there. On the final morning we finally got the conditions I’d hoped for so I headed to the beach before 6am for sunrise at 6:20am.
Long story short, I got my previsualised image but as the drone was returning from its short flight it was ambushed by a small number of rather large gulls. It was over very quickly and there was only ever going to be one outcome. Gulls 1, Drone 0. Ironically, I’d seen videos of such occurrences and had cut my flight short due to the increased gull activity since I’d launched my Mavic.
It ended up on a ledge about twenty feet above sea level. Scrambling over the beach I got to a point about twelve feet below this precarious perch and by some miracle I managed to scramble up and retrieve it, tucking it into my coat in order to have hands free to get back down again. It was pure adrenalin that propelled this sexagenarian with dodgy knees up that cliff face (although any youngsters reading could’ve done it in a flash I’m sure). Back at sea level and still surprised at my rashness I inspected the drone but the dangling motor arm told me all I needed to know. I’d not be flying at Whitehaven the next morning.
After three weeks of long and tense negotiations I reached agreement with Senior Management and the Financial Controller and ordered a replacement. Not a like-for-like replacement however. My aged DJI Mavic Pro was to be replaced with a DJI Air 2s, a big improvement especially in terms of the camera and sensor.
On a windy morning with drizzly rain coming and going I set out for my maiden flight with the new drone. Nowhere exotic however, back to the flood plain where my Mavic Pro had its maiden flight almost five years ago.
So, here are a selection of snaps from that maiden flight. The new drone handles nicely and the updated app used to fly the drone seems reasonably intuitive. I’m pleased with the image quality achieved from this first outing and looking forward to seeing what I can achieve with it in the future.
Just got back from a few days on the Norfolk coast and having spent most of yesterday developing the film from that trip I am now faced with the bit I like the least – the scanning! So, by way of putting it off for a bit longer I thought I’d post a few of the drone pictures I took last week.
These were all made on Tuesday morning. Drone regulations mean that this is the only practical time when I can fly the drone in this location. It is also one of the better times of the day light-wise usually. I’d love to fly the drone in a location such as this at dusk but there are usually too many people about to do so whilst staying legal.
I usually take advantage of being an early riser and go out every morning, rain or shine, but in the event this was my only flight this week. A catalogue of things meant I wasn’t able to manage the other three mornings – but I’m keeping those to myself!!
A bit of an obscure title I know – that’s what happens whilst you type “out loud” I guess as you fumble for the right words.
The Mavic Pro’s gimbal gets a fair bit of stick for being so exposed – but it means that it can shoot natively in a vertical format which means “portrait” images using the whole sensor rather than cropping from a “landscape” or horizontal image. I was just coming to the end of my mornings flying (battery was at 20% and I’d already used both spares) when I remembered this facility so I took a couple of test shots. It’s a facility I’ve not used before and indeed rarely seen mentioned. I wished I’d thought of it when shooting the long exposures of the lock gates a few weeks back.
I could see this being useful if shooting waterfalls or any image with a “tall” subject, for example a lighthouse. I shot a lot of panoramas today and with hindsight could have switched to portrait mode for some of those too as this would have given extra height (and is more like the way I shoot panoramas with a stills camera too).**
So, despite over 16 hours flight time I am still happily learning!
I took the Mavic out the following morning, set to Portrait Mode, selected the Panorama 180 mode – and the camera swung back to horizontal for the sequence before returning to portrait mode at the end of the sequence. Seems I’ve not missed a trick with my panoramas!
My first attempt at a long exposure wasn’t a resounding success but it provided some very useful food for thought and experience. It also provided a surreal moment as I woke on Sunday morning to find it featured in Flickr’s “Explore” section despite its obvious flaws.
My second attempt therefore was made on a slightly more open stretch of the River Calder although for the initial close-in shot, the trees on the left hand side and part of the front of the scene were still fairly close to the drone. Once again I am using the Freewell 10-stop ND filter.
I have visited this part of Cromwell Bottom a few times recently, shooting the weir from above as an incidental part of a wider scene as well as deploying the infra-red Fuji.
My aim was to keep the shutter speed to around 1 – 2 seconds increasing the ISO if needed in order to do so. In the event it was a bright sunny morning so I was able to keep the ISO at 100 and still shoot with the desired shutter speeds.
I was using the iPad with the drone for the first time and the larger screen was a boon in quickly identifying that movement was still an issue when the drone was just 14 feet up but as the height increased the stability improved. As I mentioned earlier there are a lot of dense trees to the left of this shot and immediately behind the little monitoring station. I had wondered if these would help shelter the drone perhaps from the slight breeze but on reflection wonder if they were once again swirling the drones own backdraft around? Whatever, once we clear the trees matters improved although that begs the question what would happen in a stronger breeze?
The four images above are straight from the drone and even at this size the motion blur in the first is very evident. I needed to reduce the exposure time for shot three but looking at others I took around 90 feet the thoughts on height affecting motion blur in this situation hold.
All of the images shot at between 1 and 2 seconds above tree height were very usable, and if the scene had been more photogenic would no doubt have been properly processed too for my Flickr feed and blog. However, this trip was about learning the possibilities and so I wasn’t precious about the actual view. The question remained though, could I salvage the first image, shot from just fourteen feet up? I took the unprocessed image into Photoshop and applied the Shake Reduction filter. I manually selected five areas to provide multiple traces for the software and as you can see above the end result was definitely usable.
I played with a few exposures between 3 and 6 seconds but wasn’t happy with the results of these on the day. It could be that such lengthy exposures are possible on very still days but that will need some further tests. For now an exposure time of between 1 and 2 seconds seems to give me a nice creative look to the image without too many problems vis-a-vis image quality. As with the first attempt I am very pleased with the neutrality of this ND filter too.
So, a successful morning, a few more lessons learnt and some more food for thought. I’m looking forward to shooting some 1 and 2 second shots above the Northumberland shoreline in the Autumn!
The first anniversary of my Mavic Pro drone purchase passed recently and I got to thinking about what I’d learnt. In truth much of the learning has come in the last few months as I was not well enough to take the drone out over the winter months and prior to that I was still really nervous about the whole flying a camera thing. But practice is really paying off and even the quality of my images has improved considerably.
I am first and foremost a photographer, so, what does this photographer take from his first year flying?
First and foremost
Get used to flying it, to taking off, landing and generally moving about the sky. If you are a first-time flyer, then forget about photography for a few flights. Yes, it will be hard to do and a little frustrating, but practise flying in all directions, squares, circles, backwards, forwards, side-to-side. Get to instinctively know when pushing right on the stick will move the craft left and when it will move it right – it’s easy to forget especially if things go a little awry. The one time I crashed was exactly due to that confusion. With the drone pointing towards me and drifting to my left towards the trees I instinctively pushed the stick right to take evasive action. Except this was the wrong thing to do as it took the drone to ITS right and directly into the branches I was trying to avoid. I always try to watch the drone too when manoeuvring rather than the screen as I can more quickly spot if its drifting in the wrong direction.
Needless to say I didn’t follow this course of action (to be fair no one suggested it) but in hindsight waiting just a little longer to take photographs would have meant better pictures from the start and a more comfortable flying experience. Do as I say not as I did might be another way of putting it!
Exposure is critical
The Mavic Pro has a much smaller sensor than many enthusiast photographers will be used to and therefore has less tolerance to noise. Indeed, whilst the stated ISO range is 100-1600 I rarely move it from 100 and I’ve not seen many bloggers or vloggers suggesting using the higher ISO. These days with live histograms on most cameras it is relatively straightforward to “shoot to the right”. I have the histogram up on the screen at all times and watch it carefully. I aim to keep the graph pushed as far over to the right on the screen without “clipping” into the highlights.
Exposing to the right (ETTR) is a well-used technique and means adjusting the exposure of an image as high as possible at base ISO (without causing unwanted saturation) to collect the maximum amount of light and thus get the optimum performance out of the digital image sensor. It is easier to pull down exposure in post-production than to pull detail out of the shadows. With the small sensor on the Mavic I want to start with as much detail captured right from the start, hence ETTR and RAW (DNG) capture is my go-to approach.
Nail the composition
Here is one very good reason why you want to learn to fly and position the drone with as much accuracy as possible.
You only have a relatively small file to play with; 3992×2992 pixels (typically giving a 23mb file) compared for example to my Fuji mirrorless camera’s 6000×3376 (48mb) or my Nikon D800E’s 736×4912 (72mb). Having to crop into the file throughs away precious pixels and of course if you then need to enlarge the image for printing you are further degrading the image quality.
Try to get composition spot-on to avoid cropping later. Be patient, rotate the drone and take it higher/lower as needed to really get the framing right. Swiping up on the screen to temporarily remove all the data and information displayed upon it can help and don’t forget to check the corners of the screen too. There is no doubt that in this situation the iPad screen beats my iPhone but thats another blog post.
Do keep this in perspective though, I recently printed an image from the drone at A3 and was blown away by the quality. For small prints on on-screen usage the files can take some cropping but to my mind it makes total sense maximise every pixel available and careful composition at the time is a huge help in this regards.
When processing your images (I shoot RAW and process in Adobe Camera Raw) try to avoid pushing the sliders too far – less is definitely more and over zealous use of the sliders will degrade the image very quickly in my experience. Once again, getting the exposure right and nailing the composition also help here. I have found that skies generally need some gentle noise reduction, but again don’t go overboard and if you are able to do so I would suggest just selectively de-noising the sky and not more detailed parts of the image.
Height isn’t everything
You don’t have to shoot everything from 400 feet up! Just because you can doesn’t mean you always have to. The image above was shot from 65 feet up for example and the shot above of a sunrise on Newborough Beach was taken from five feet.
Be open to shooting each scene from different angles and differing heights. I will often take the drone to 400 feet and then slowly bring it down tweaking the composition and taking a series of different images as I drop back down to around 80 feet. Other times I will watch the screen as I slowly rise into the air looking for the optimal point at which the composition seems complete. There is no zoom lens on the Mavic so, just like using your feet to “zoom” a prime lens on your stills camera, you need to use the joysticks to “zoom” around the composition with the drone.
The image above, taken from 390 feet, was one of half a dozen I took as I brought the drone down from 400 feet to eventually place the two trees centrally at 140 feet (see below) but shot from a point more to the right and with the drone pointing more towards me than when it started..
I’ve a few other things to mention, including my experiences with filters and the various built-in shooting options but five seems to be the “done” thing for initial “top tips” features so I won’t rock that boat. Te recap my conclusions from this exercise, learn the basics (flying), remember to squeeze as much from the little sensor as you can and exercise restraint when sat at the computer.