Drone-ing on

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 26, 2023, 9:23 PM | comments: 0

Back in December I decided to take the plunge and buy a drone when DJI introduced the cheaper Mini 3 (non Pro). I ended up returning it since I live in the Disney no-fly zone. It was an expensive impulse buy, and I was irritated. But now, I have that project, and there are at least two instances where I will need to get some video from the air. And when I'm just wanting to have a little fun, I can drive a half-mile away to get out of the bubble. So I bought one again, but realized that it made more sense to buy the pro variant. It adds two important features, the first being obstacle avoidance, since I'm probably going to run into things otherwise. The other important thing is that it records in "cinelike" quasi-log mode, so it's a bit flatter and you can mess with the exposure more in post.

I've done two test flights. My first impression was, wow, this sure is easy to fly. To be clear, it should be, since this is a video camera first, that just happens to fly. It has a gentle, automated means to takeoff and land. In theory, if it loses contact with you, it will fly home (where you turned it on) automatically. It's supposed to have a range of 10km, but I can't imagine any scenario where I would even try to fly it that far away. There are a number of tracking maneuvers that it can do, but I haven't tried any of them yet.

On my second test flight today, I flew it in between various trees to see how it would do with the avoidance. It did seem to help steer around them pretty well, and I didn't crash. Even flying over my car, starting two feet off the ground, it seemed to make it a point to fly with a lot of extra room going over it. It's forward speed tops out at about 22 mph, and it can climb or descend at about 5 m/s, about 11 mph. It's not an FPV drone, for sure. Fortunately, because it is so light, not only does it not need to be registered, but you can fly on a single battery for about a half-hour. I have the extra batteries, so I drained one to 20% before swapping them out.

What's remarkable is the stability of the camera. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, seeing as how they make a pretty amazing gimbal (I've had a woefully underutilized RS 2 for two years). You can push it forward, make a hard stop, and the image stays level. You can hover at 400 feet, and it looks like it's completely still. The image quality is solid if you use the D-Cinelike color mode, though I haven't yet quite figured out how to color grade it in a way that pleases me. The problem is that you have to crank the shutter speed up to 1/3000 to use it daylight, so while 24 fps looks "cinematic," it doesn't look as good with a lot of quick panning. There are neutral density filters available, but I have to wonder why there isn't one already on it. I don't imagine it's useful to fly at night, so it's implied you'll mostly fly it during the day.

I'll keep playing and logging time, but the things that I know I'll need to shoot are going to be very easy to capture. Slow movement looks a lot like you're tracking on a dolly or jib. It's really fantastic.


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