Category Archives for "Review"

A Drone Makes a Perfect Gift

There is not a man on this planet who would not love to get a drone as a gift. Face it, trapped inside that man’s body is a little boy who loves toys. A drone is the ultimate toy, so it’s really a no-brainer. If you need help finding the perfect drone for a man in your life, keep reading. I’ll give you a quick overview of the pros and cons of four popular DJI drones to help you pick the one that is best for you.

1. Tello

$99

Tello

Tello is a perfect beginner drone for kids or adults. Don’t let the $99 fool you into thinking this is just a toy drone. Despite the price, it has some advanced technology that makes it safe and easy to fly, even for a complete novice.

You can fly it with just your smartphone or pair it with an optional controller.

If you are computer savvy, you can program flight routines using Scratch (a computer language developed by MIT). And if you are the adventuresome type you can perform some acrobatic maneuvers with your Tello, including flips!

While it’s 5 MP camera is limited to 720p and doesn’t have a gimbal (like the more advanced drones) it will certainly take photos and video you can post on social media.

Learn more about the Tello.

SPECS

  • Electronic image stabilization
  • Camera resolution: 5 MP
  • Video resolution: 720p HD
  • Formats: JPG (Photo); MP4 (Video)
  • Flight Time: Approx. 13 minutes
  • Max Range: 100 meters

PROS

  • Price
  • Portability
  • Simple and fun to fly

CONS

  • Camera is very limited
  • Limited range and flight time
  • Limited automated flight options

2. Spark

$399 (Currently includes free controller!)

Spark

If you want a drone that’s a bit more sophisticated, but still very affordable, take a look at the DJI Spark. It’s very small and portable and incredibly easy to fly. To take off, set the Spark in the palm of your hand and look at it. It will recognize your face, take off and hover in place. You can then control basic functions using hand gestures. To get more control, use the DJI Go4 app on your phone or connect your phone to the optional remote controller.

The Spark has a 12 MP camera with a 2-axis gimbal which is a considerable upgrade over the camera in the Tello.

Spark also features a number of intelligent flight modes that will fly the drone automatically to free you up to concentrate on taking photos or video.

Learn more about the Spark

SPECS

  • Top speed 31 mph
  • Camera resolution: 12 MP
  • Video resolution: 1080p HD
  • Formats: JPG (Photo); MP4 (Video)
  • Flight Time: Approx. 16 minutes
  • 2-Axis gimbal for image stabilization

PROS

  • Price
  • Portability
  • Good quality camera

CONS

  • Arms do not fold
  • Loud
  • Limited options for video

3. Mavic Air

$799

Mavic Air

The next step up in price and sophistication is the Mavic Air. This is a drone for people who are serious about photography and video. The ability to shoot images in DNG format (which gives you a lot more information to work with in post-processing) opens up a range of creative possibilities. The Mavic Air is also capable of shooting 4K video at multiple frame rates allows you to capture smooth, cinematic footage. The  3-axis gimbal provides rock solid motion stabilized video.

A number of intelligent flight modes are available in the software that will provide autonomous control of the drone so you can concentrate on capturing video.

The Mavic Air has forward and rear obstacle avoidance sensors as well as downward sensors that help it maintain its position while hovering. If it senses an obstacle while flying, it will autonomously select a flight path to avoid the obstacle. It also has DJI’s Return to Home failsafe built in that will enable it to fly back to the take-off point if it experiences a loss of signal or critically low battery.

If you are purchasing the Mavic Air to do photography, you should consider getting the Fly More Combo. You will get two extra batteries, a charging hub, a case and a couple other items that you might find useful. The battery is rated for 21 minutes of flight time. But in the real world, you will get closer to 15 minutes before  you need to stop filming and start flying back to the landing spot. Extra batteries will get you back in the air and shooting again without waiting for a battery to recharge.

Learn more about the Mavic Air

SPECS

  • Top speed 42.5 mph
  • Camera resolution: 12 MP
  • Video resolution: 4K
  • Forward and rear obstacle avoidance
  • Flight Time: Approx. 21 minutes
  • 3-Axis gimbal for image stabilization

PROS

  • Extremely portable
  • Advanced obstacle avoidance
  • Excellent camera

CONS

  • Limited flight time
  • Somewhat loud

4. Mavic Pro

$899

The Mavic Pro is another drone designed for aerial photography. It was the first folding drone made by DJI. While not quite as compact as the Mavic Air, it is still extremely portable.

The camera on the Mavic Pro is essentially the same as the one on the Mavic Air. You have the ability to shoot still images in DNG format and videos in 4K. It also has a 3-axis gimbal for motion stabilization.

The intelligent flight modes available in the software (such as the ability to keep the camera locked on a moving object) will provide autonomous control of the drone so you can concentrate on capturing video.

The Mavic Pro has forward obstacle avoidance sensors as well as downward sensors that help it maintain its position while hovering. It also has DJI’s Return to Home failsafe built in that will enable it to fly back to the take-off point if it experiences a loss of signal or critically low battery.

The Mavic Pro is the quietest of the DJI drones. It is also available in the Platinum version which is even quieter. But you can save a little money by buying the regular version and putting on a set of the low noise props that were designed for the Platinum.

The battery is rated for 27 minutes. In my experience, I can get around 23 minutes before I need to land. My recommendation is to get the Fly More Combo. You will get two extra batteries, a charging hub, case and a couple other goodies.

Learn more about the Mavic Pro

SPECS

  • Top speed 40 mph
  • Camera resolution: 12 MP
  • Video resolution: 4K
  • Advanced controller
  • Flight Time: Approx. 27 minutes
  • 3-Axis gimbal for image stabilization

PROS

  • Excellent camera
  • Quietest DJI drone
  • Long battery life

CONS

  • Expensive
  • No rear obstacle avoidance

The bottom line

If you’re looking for an inexpensive drone to just fly around and take an occasional photo or video for social media, go with a Tello or Spark. If you want a drone that has more advanced features that is capable of taking high-quality photos and video, consider the Mavic Air or Mavic Pro.

If you go with the Spark or one of the Mavics, I recommend purchasing DJI Refresh. It’s an insurance policy that will allow you to replace a drone at a greatly reduced price in the event of a crash. Prices for Refresh as well as the replacement costs vary depending on the model, but it is a great deal.

Four “Must Have” Accessories for the DJI Mavic Air

Mavic Air Accessories
Mavic air controller

Memory Cards and Case

Memory cards

The Mavic Air comes with 8GB of internal storage for photos and video. That sounds like a lot, but it will fill up more quickly than you might think. It was designed primarily as a backup for those times you go out to fly and forget to bring an external memory card. You will want to pick up one or more Micro SD cards to make sure you never run out of storage before you run out of battery life.

Cards come in sizes ranging from 16GB to 256GB. Some people like to get the biggest card they can so they don't have to transfer their files very often. I like to use smaller cards and transfer the images as soon as I get back from flying. If I have photos and video from my last four or five flights stored on one card, I run the risk of losing them all if something happens to the card. What can happen to a card? You can take it out and lose it. It can get corrupted for no apparent reason. You can lose your drone in an unfortunate crash. You get the idea.

I use 32GB cards and change them every time I change batteries when I'm out flying. Since I typically fly long enough to drain three batteries, I will have three cards at the end of my session. Even if I drop my drone in a lake on my last flight, I still have two cards safely tucked away.

To keep track of those cards (trust me, they are really easy to lose) I use a case. The one I have is made by Pelican. I keep empty cards on the left side and cards with images or video on the right side. It holds plenty of cards but is very thin and compact. 

If you want to know more about memory cards for your Mavic Air, take a look at this tutorial

Landing Pad

Mavic Air Accessories

In addition to being small, the Mavic Air also sits close to the ground. That's not a problem if you have a clean, solid spot to use for takeoffs and landings. But if you want to take off from a grassy area you are going to run the risk of turning your Mavic Air into a lawnmower. If your takeoff spot has any dirt or sand, it is going to get whipped up by the props and could get sucked into the ventilation ports on the sides of the Mavic Air. 


A landing pad always gives you a dirt-free, dry, safe place to take off and land. They come in various sizes and fold up very compactly. They are also very light weight. I don't use one every time I fly, but I've always got one tucked away in my flight bag just in case I need it.

Tablet Holder

Mavic Air Accessories

The controller for the Mavic Air has folding arms that swing down and hold your phone when you fly. But if you like to use a table to fly, most are not going to fit. The solution is to use a tablet holder. The base of the holder fits easily into the arms of the controller. You then disconnect the short cable that usually connects the controller to your device. Now grab a regular charging cable for your phone or tablet. Plug the USB connector on the cable into the USB port on the back of the controller. Plug the other end of the cable into your device. 

Mavic Air Accessories

I typically use the holder even if I am using a phone instead of a tablet. My phone fits easily in the swing out arms on the controller, but the edge of the arm covers up part of the home button at the bottom of the screen. The holder, however, doesn't block the button and I can access it if I need to while I'm flying.

ND/Polarizer Filters

Polar Pro ND Filter

Your Mavic Air takes great photos and video. Put one of these PolarPro ND/Polarizer filters on the front of your lens and your Mavic Air will take even better photos and video.


Using a Neutral Density filter will decrease the amount of light that gets to the camera's sensor. So when you shoot video on a bright, sunny day you will be able to use a slow enough shutter speed to have a slight bit of motion blur in each frame. This blur will result in smoother, more natural video.

Using a Polarizer filter on your still photos and video will enhance the color and saturation of your images as well as cut through glare coming off water or glass. You can see the dramatic difference in the two photos below.

PolarPro ND Filter

Without filter

PolarPro ND Filter

With filter

To use a filter on the Mavic Air, you have to first unscrew the bezel that is on the front of the camera. The first time you do it it is a little nerve wracking because it is screwed on pretty tight from the factory. If you have trouble, try putting a small rubber band around the bezel to help you get a better grip on it. 

Polar Pro ND Filters

Once the bezel is off, just screw the filter on in its place. If you are using a Polarizer filter just remember that the outer ring is designed to rotate and will continue to spin even after the filter is firmly attached. 

Polar Pro ND Filter

Unless you need to shoot in a low light situation, it's fine to just leave a filter on your lens all the time. 

Top Five Reasons to Buy a DJI Mavic Air

Mavic Air landing gear
Mavic Air

If you are thinking about buying a drone, here are the top five reasons to buy a DJI Mavic Air. It's small, has rear collision avoidance sensors, it's smart, takes amazing photos and video, and is really easy to fly.

1. The size

Mavic Air and Diet Coke

No surprise that this is the top reason. If you have had other drones in the past I guarantee you are going to do a double-take the first time you hold a Mavic Air in your hands. It is strikingly small and light. If you are getting ready to go out to a scenic spot you will never have that "Do I want to lug my drone with me?" dilema again. You can take this drone anywhere without thinking twice. 

2. Rear collision avoidance sensors

Mavic Air rear sensors

An unscientific study of YouTube drone crash videos shows that a lot of crashes happen while flying your drone backwards. It's just really hard to judge how far away you are from things when your drone is in the air. One second you are looking at your screen thinking what an amazing shot you are getting as you pull back at full speed. The next second you are looking at leaves getting chopped to bits by your props.


DJI added collision avoidance sensors on the back of the Mavic Air that should greatly cut down the number of drones hanging from tree branches around the world. They're not perfect so you still need to pay attention to what's behind you. Also, they are no help whatsoever if you are flying sideways, which is another common feature of YouTube crash videos. The bottom line is don't get mesmerized by what you see on the screen and forget to look up and check on where your drone is in relation to its surroundings.

3. APAS

Mavic air controller

APAS stands for Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems. With previous DJI drones, when the obstacle avoidance sensors detected an obstacle, the drone would stop and hover. That's good because your drone will live to fly another day. But the scary smart engineers at DJI weren't satisfied with having the Mavic Air just slam on the brakes when it detects an obstacle. With APAS enabled, your Mavic Air will autonomously fly over or around objects in it's way instead of just stopping and waiting for you to do something.


It doesn't work every time. Occasionally, the Mavic Air will just stop. I suspect wires will still be a problem since sensors historically have a hard time seeing them. But it's still a great feature that will no doubt get even better with time.

4. The camera

Mavic Air Camera

Yes, it's small. But it's really good. Like the camera on the Mavic Pro, it is attached to a 3-axis gimbal. Unlike the camera on the Mavic Pro, it is tucked back into the body of the drone (as opposed to hanging off the front) a bit so it is protected a bit. The one-piece gimbal cover slides on and off very easily.


The specs for this camera are similar to the one on the Mavic Pro. The biggest difference is the fact that you can shoot 4K 30fps video at 100Mps (as opposed to 60 Mbps for the Mavic Pro). The ability to capture more information should result in higher quality video. The Mavic Air can also shoot slow motion video at 120 frames per second. That's pretty sweet.

5. Easy to fly

Mavic Air in flight

Several factors combine to make the Mavic Air easy to fly:

  • It's small and easy to transport.
  • It takes less than two minutes to go from taking it out of the case to getting it up in the air.
  • The obstacle avoidance sensors and the APAS system make it harder to crash which means you can relax and have fun flying.
  • It's really fast and responsive

You might also like these articles

Setting Up Your New DJI Mavic Air   Everything you need to know to get your new Mavic Air ready for it's first flight.

Your First Flight With Your DJI Mavic Air  Tips and tricks to help you have a successful first flight.


Review of PolarPro ND Filters for DJI Mavic Air

Polar Pro ND Filter
Polar Pro ND Filter

Your Options

PolarPro has just released several sets of Neutral Density filters for the DJI Mavic Air. Just like their filters for other drones, they offer a variety of options:

The Standard Series
These are the entry level filters. They are ND only and are made with HD glass.

Cinema Series Shutter Collection
The next step up. These filters are made with what PolarPro calls "Production Grade Glass." They have an 8-layer coating on both sides of the filter.

Cinema Series Vivid Collection
These filters also have the Production Grade Glass with the coatings, but add a rotating polarizer element to help cut glare and enhance colors. ​

All three series are available in sets that includes ND 4, ND8 and ND16 filters. Six filter sets that include straight neutral density filters as well as combination ND/Polarizer filters are also available. If you really need to block the light, ND32 and ND64 filters are also available.

Polar Pro ND Filters

Installing the Filter

These filters screw to the front of the camera on the Mavic Air. But in order to get access to the threads, you first have to unscrew the existing lens bezel. The first time you take it off it is nerve-wracking. It is on there really tight from the factory. Be careful to hold the gimbal firmly when you twist the bezel off. If you can't get a good grip on it, you might try wrapping a rubber band around it. Once the bezel is off, just screw on one of the ND filters on in its place. If you are using one of the ND/PL filters, remember that the outer ring will continue to rotate after the filter is screwed in all the way. 

Polar Pro ND Filters
Polar Pro ND Filter

Do they make a difference?

Absolutely! The two images below show the dramatic difference. The first was taken with no filter. The second was shot with an ND8/PL Cinema Series Vivid Collection filter. The difference is due to the polarization cutting through the glare. These images are straight out of the camera with no post-processing (other than cropping and re-sizing) in Photoshop or Lightroom.

PolarPro ND Filter
PolarPro ND Filter

Conclusion

All PolarPro filters are constructed of aluminum which makes them extremely lightweight (.59 grams each). I have not had any problems with gimbal balance or movement with the filters installed. The aluminum construction also makes them very durable. In fact, they come with a lifetime warranty. 

The filters come with a hard plastic case which fits easily in the case that comes with the Mavic Air Fly More Combo. There is a foam insert inside the case that holds the filters very securely but still allows them to be removed easily. 

Setting Up Your New DJI Mavic Air Drone

mavic Air thumb
Mavic Air

Getting a New Drone is Exciting

When Fed Ex delivered a Mavic Air to my house last week I opened the front door before the driver even had a chance to ring the doorbell. I realize I'm a little boy trapped in a man's body, but I'm guessing Im not the only one. If you are getting a new Mavic Air I bet you're just as excited as I was. But before you take it out to fly there are a few things you need to do to get it set up. This article will give you a heads up and hopefully speed up the process a bit so you won't have to delay your gratification any longer than necessary. 

Step One: Start Charging Everything 

When you get your drone, the batteries and controller will have some charge in them, but not enough to fly. If you do this step first, they can be charging while you take care of other items on the list. You'll still finish everything else before they are fully charged, but at least they'll have a head start.

Charge the Batteries

If you got the Fly More Combo, connect the cord from the AC adaptor to the bottom of the battery hub. Now you can open up the sides of the hub and connect all three batteries. Unfortunately, they don't all charge at once, The one that has the most power charges first, then then the next and finally the one with the least charge to begin with. When a battery is being charged, it's status lights will blink. 

Mavic Air batteries

Charge the Controller

To charge the controller, connect the little USB-C to Micro USB adapter to the end of the USB-C Cable that was included in your package. Then plug the USB end of the cable into one of the two USB ports on the end of the AC adaptor. Connect the other end of the cable into the Micro USB port on the top left corner of the Controller. The status lights will start flashing to let you know it's charging.

Mavic Air USB-C Cable
Mavic Air controller

So your charging station will look like this when everything is plugged in. It's probably going to take at least an hour to get everything up to 100%. That's OK though, you can go ahead to the next step in the setup process.

Mavic Air Charging setup

Step Two: Remove All the Stickers

DJI is very generous with stickers on the Mavic Air. There are stickers on the arms, the battery, the top, the gimbal cover, and the the controller. They are everywhere. They all need to come off. 

Mavic Air stickers

Step Three: Register Your Drone

If you live in the United States, as of December 2017 you are required to register your new Mavic Air with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Despite the fact that you are dealing with a government agency, it is a remarkably easy process and is very inexpensive. Just go to www.faadronezone.faa.gov to complete your registration.

If you have registered drones before and already have an account, go ahead and login. If this is your first drone you need to pick one of the two options available. The language here is a little confusing (it is the government after all) but it's important to pick the correct one.

Commercial Pilots

If you have taken the FAA exam to get your commercial drone license so you can earn money with your drone (also known as a Part 107 certificate), select the "Fly sUAS under Part 107" option. Just in case you're wondering, sUAS stands for Small Unmanned Aircraft System. The registration cost is $5.00 per drone registered.

Recreational pilots

If you do not have a commercial drone license and plan to fly recreationally, select the "Fly Model Aircraft under Section 336" option. With this option you only need to pay the $5.00 fee one time no matter how many drones you register.

Once you complete the registration process you will get a registration number which you will need to put on your drone in a place where it is clearly visible. You can write it on with a Sharpie. If that seems like you are defacing your beautiful new drone, you can use a label of some sort. Just stick it on one of the folding legs and you'll be all set.

Just be sure you are at the official FAA site (it will have a .gov address). If you do a Google search for "drone registration" the top hits are for sites that do a very good job of making themselves look like the official site, but will charge you a lot more than the FAA. They are basically scams. 

If you want more details about how to register your drone, you can check out a tutorial I have done that will walk you through the process step-by-step.

Drone registration

Step Four: Download Three Essential Apps

Technically, only the first one is absolutely essential. You won't be able to fly your Mavic Air without it. But I consider the other two to be essential as well since I use them every time I fly. The good news is they're all free!

DJI GO 4

This is the app you will use on your phone or tablet to fly your Mavic Air. You can download it for free a the App Store for iOS devices or the Google Play Store for Android devices. Just make sure you download the DJI GO 4 App, not the DJI GO App. That is an older version, though it is still used for the DJI Osmo Mobile gimbal for smartphones.

DJI GO 4 App Icon

UAV Forecast

Obviously, you can stick your head outside and get a pretty good idea if it's OK to fly. But this app will give you information about wind speeds at various altitudes, potential magnetic interference, visibility and more. And it does in a very clear interface. You can get it at the App Store for your iOS devices or the Google Play Store for Android. I have done a tutorial on this app you can take a look at.

UAV Forecast Icon

Airmap

It is really important that you only fly in locations where it is legal. It is absolutely impossible to know if you are in a restricted area without a map showing the boundaries of restricted airspace. There is some geofencing built into the DJI GO 4 app, but it will still let you fly in a lot of places you shouldn't. As soon as you launch Airmap, it will show your location along with any flight restrictions. In some areas of the United States, you can even use Airmap to get instant approval to fly within some restricted areas. You can get it at the App Store for your iOS devices or the Google Play Store for Android. I have done a tutorial on this app that shows you all the features.

Airmap Icon

Step Five: Activate Your Mavic Air

This is where the fun stuff starts. It's time to power up your new baby watch it take its first breath. Well, kind of. It will beep and make some other noises and lights will blink. Pretty exciting stuff in a nerdy kind of way. 

Install a Battery

First, grab a  battery from your charger that has at least a 50% charge. If you press the button on the battery, the status lights will show you how much charge it has. You are looking for at least two lights. Slip the battery into the battery compartment on the bottom of the Mavic air and press down until you hear it click. You shouldn't see any red on the sides by the battery release slides. If you do, press on the battery again until it is firmly seated in place.

Mavic Air batteries
Mavic Air battery

Connect phone or tablet to controller

The controller ships from the factory with the cable to connect an iPhone installed. If you have a different phone, you will need to swap out the cable with one of the others that was included in the box. Unfold the controller's arms and slip your phone into the slots. You can take the control knobs out of their slots under the arms and screw them in if you want, but you don't need them in order to do the activation. You might find it easier to connect the free end of the cable to your phone before you slip it into the controller. 

Mavic Air controller

Power everything up

Now press and release then press and hold the power button on the controller for about a second to power it up. It's a bit like a double click on a mouse, except you hold the second click down for a second or two. There's a certain knack to the timing that you will get eventually. 

Now take the gimbal cover off of the camera on the Mavic Air by pinching the release tabs and sliding the cover toward the front of the aircraft. You're not going to be using the camera just yet, but when the drone powers up the gimbal goes through a series of moves, so the cover needs to be off. Now unfold the arms, starting with the rear ones, and fold down the landing gear legs located on the front legs.

Mavic Air landing gear

To power up the Mavic Air, do the same double press technique as you did on the controller on the button located on the battery. Don't worry, the props are not going to start spinning. There is an internal fan that will kick in a couple on minutes after you power up the aircraft. That's normal. It is designed to create some airflow to keep the electronics cool. 

Launch the DJI GO 4 App

When you launch the GO 4 app, a screen will open telling you you need to activate your Mavic Air. Tap on "Next" and work your way through the next few screens where you will agree to the terms of service, give your aircraft a name, select a Control Mode (stick with Mode 2), and set your measurement system.


You will then be given the option to put your Mavic Air into Beginner Mode. If you are new to flying drones I highly recommend doing this. It limits the speed, altitude, and distance as well as makes the controls a little more forgiving if you push them the wrong way. 


If you already have a DJI account, it will simply add this new drone to it. If you don't have an account, you will set one up. Eventually, you will see a screen with a big Activate button at the bottom. Tap the button and you will be given a chance to purchase DJI Care Refresh. You can learn more about this program on the DJI site. If you are new to drones I would consider getting it. It will provide up to two replacement drones for a nominal price within one year. I find the peace of mind that comes from knowing I won't be out $799 if I have a crash to be worth it. 

Take the DJI Knowledge Quiz

This is something DJI developed in order to promote flight safety. You can skip it for now if you like, but you'll have to take it eventually. There are nine questions and they're all pretty basic. Here's the first one along with the answer. But that's all you get. Any more and it would be cheating.

Mavic Air Setup
Mavic Air Setup

You are now activated!

Once you complete the quiz your Mavic Air will be officially activated. On the final screen in the activation process, if you tap the "Academy" button you will find some tutorials by DJI as well as a little flight simulator. To use the flight simulator your drone has to be powered on. But don't worry, when you move your control sticks to take off and fly around, your Mavic Air will stay firmly on the ground. Only the one on screen will respond.

Mavic Air flight simulator

Step Six: Update the Firmware

There is about a 100% chance that you will need to update the firmware on your Mavic Air and the Controller before you take your first flight. It's easy and should take less than ten minutes. First, you need to check to see if you need to do an update. When you launch the GO 4 app, it automatically checks to be sure you are running the latest version of the firmware. 

Check the charge level of the battery and controller. If the battery is below 50%, put it on the charger and grab a new one. If the charger is less than 50% you are going to need to plug it in. Go get a snack and it should be ready to go again by the time you get back.

Make sure your phone is connected to the internet. Connect your phone to the Controller. Power up the Controller and the Mavic Air, then launch the GO 4 app. If you see this screen, just tap "Update Now" and follow all the directions. Assuming you have reasonably fast internet, it won't take longer than five or ten minutes to complete the upgrade. When it's done shut everything down, pack it in your bag and get ready to go flying!

GO 4 app firmware update

Your Mavic Air is now set up and ready to fly!

The hard part is done. Now it's time to have some fun. Before you go out for your first flight you might want to check out my tutorial on Your First Flight With Your New DJI Mavic Air


DJI Mavic Air Unboxing

Mavic Air thumb

Well my new Mavic Air has arrived! I did this quick video to show you what you get with the Fly More Combo. I'm feverishly working on some tutorials and videos about the Mavic Air and will have those posted soon.

Mavic Pro Low Noise Propellers

Mavic Pro low noise props

Propeller Envy

The day my new Mavic Pro was delivered, DJI announced the release of the new Mavic Pro Platinum. It was significantly quieter than the Mavic Pro I had just bought and had a longer flight time. These improvements were due to changes in the motors and to a new propeller design. Of course, the Platinum version was also more expensive.

While I loved my new Mavic Pro, I couldn't help but wonder if I should have returned it and purchased the new quieter Platinum version. I had a solid case of propeller envy. But after doing a bit of research I discovered that the newly designed low-noise propellers would fit on the original Mavic Pro. The cure for propeller envy was as simple as ordering two sets of props. 

Install the Props Correctly

Mavic Pro low noise props

The propellers on your Mavic spin in two different directions. You'll also notice that two of the propellers are shaped differently. When you install them, make sure you put the two props with the gold circle in the middle on the motors that have the white marks painted around the edge.

Just in case you're wondering, these low noise props are not compatible with the new Mavic Air. 

They Do Make a Difference

As soon as the new props arrived I put them on and put the drone up in the air. I definitely noticed a difference. It's not just the loudness, there is a different quality to the sound as well. I don't have a decibel meter, so I can't tell you the exact number, but they are noticeably quieter. I especially notice it when I get 15-20' in the air. 

The new propellers don't really make a difference in battery life. The three minute flight time increase in the Mavic Pro Platinum over the Mavic Pro is evidently due to the motors, not the props. 

Should You Upgrade?

If you fly in areas where you want to be a bit less conspicuous, definitely. If your current props are getting worn out and need to be replaced I would go with the low noise ones. The cost difference is only a few dollars.

Speaking of prices, if you go to Amazon they seem to be all over the map. Some sellers there are evidently selling knock-offs instead of genuine DJI props. The best price I have found is straight from DJI. They're around $10/set and you are guaranteed of getting genuine parts.  Wherever you buy them, make sure to buy two sets. You need to end up with four props. 

Sneak Peek at the new DJI Mavic Air

Mavic Air

Earlier this week at a live event in New York City, DJI unveiled their newest drone, the Mavic Air. It looks amazing and the specs look almost too good to be true for a drone of this size and weight. Mine is on order and I will have a complete review as well as tutorials to help you get the most out of your Mavic Air just as soon as it arrives and I have had time to give it a workout. But in the meantime, here is a look at the features as well as some of my thoughts about what to expect from the Mavic Air.

Where does the Mavic Air fit in the DJI lineup?

By all measures, the Mavic Air sits between the Spark and the Mavic Pro. There are enough differences between the three drones that I don't think the Mavic Air will render either of the older drones obsolete. It's not a "Mavic Killer" or a "Spark Killer" in other words.

Price
Spark ($499 USD)
Mavic Air ($799 USD)
Mavic Pro ($999 USD)
Mavic Pro Platinum ($1,199 USD).

Camera
For a detailed list of camera specs you can take a look at a chart I have put together a comparing the cameras for all of DJI's consumer drones.

Better than the Spark with its 3-axis gimbal and the ability shoot 12 MP RAW stills and 4K video. The camera on the Mavic Air appears to be nearly identical Mavic Pro's with one fairly big difference—it is fixed focus. More on that later.

Features
Flight Modes: Seven flight modes compared to the Spark (5 modes) and the Mavic Pro (13 modes).
Flight Time of 21 minutes is longer than a Spark (16 min) and less than a Mavic Pro (27 min) or Mavic Pro Platinum (30 min).
Top speed of 42.5 mph is faster than both the Spark (31 mph) and Mavic Pro (40 mph).
Three-way collision avoidance with the addition of rear facing sensors. Both the Spark and Mavic lack the rear sensors.
Built-in 8 GB storage. No more packing up when I get to a location because I forgot an SD card!

So just how small is the Mavic Air? 

Really small! If you've ever seen a DJI Spark you know they're small. Well the Mavic Air is just a tiny bit bigger than a Spark! It is roughly the same length and width of an iPhone 8 Plus. And it's extremely light, tipping the scale at just 0.95 pounds as compared 1.6 pounds for a Mavic Pro.

What am I looking forward to on the Mavic Air?

  1. The size and weight, of course. As someone who travels frequently I will be able to slip this in my bag and hardly notice it.
  2. The removable joysticks on the controller. It's a little thing, but it will fit in my bag so much easier.
  3. Rear collision avoidance. As someone who has hung a Mavic Pro in a tree while backing up I'm really looking forward to this feature.
  4. The new FlightAutonomy 2.0 capabilities that will enable the Mavic Air to navigate around obstacles automatically.
  5. The camera and gimbal seem to be protected more than they are on the Mavic Pro.
  6. The increased bitrate (4K at 100Mbps) for video is an improvement over the Mavic Pro.

What am I "waiting to see" about on the Mavic Air?

The things below are't complaints. I'm not being a grumpy old man here. These are things that will be different than what I'm used to. Once I get this baby in my hands they will probably be no big deal. 

There are a couple of Intelligent Flight modes (Course Lock and Point of Interest) I use on the Mavic Pro and Phantom 4 Pro that do not appear to be available on the Mavic Air. Of course, they may be added later with a firmware update. 

Another thing I am wondering about is the fixed focus lens. With the Mavic Pro you can either use autofocus or choose a particular point of focus by tapping on the screen. There are times I want to have creative control over focus. With the Mavic Pro or Phantom 4 Pro, If I want to focus on an object in the foreground and blur the background, all I have to do is tap on the foreground object on the screen. I'm not sure how this will work with a fixed-focus lens. 

One big difference between the Mavic Air and the Mavic Pro is the lack of an LCD screen on the controller. Obviously, I look at the screen of my phone or tablet most of the time I fly. But there have been times when I have lost the video feed and my phone screen went black. It's good to still be able to see vital information about signal strength and flight parameters on the Controller screen when that happens.

I am not thrilled with is the flight time. If it's rated at 21 minutes, real-world times will likely be in the 15-16 minute range. It may not be an issue since I usually get up, get my shots, and get down fairly quickIy.  I'll just have to see how it goes. I did order extra batteries, of course.

Skyreat Phone/Tablet Mount Review

Skyreat Phone holder

One of the great things about the Controllers for the Mavic Pro, Mavic Air, and the Spark is the fact that your phone or small tablet will fit into the arms that fold out from the bottom. It works pretty well, but there are a couple things that I have been frustrated with. First, my phone will not fit in the controller if I leave the case on it. I don't have a big, bulky case, but it's just thick enough that it won't fit. Second, the cable from the Controller is very difficult to get lined up and plugged into the Lightning port on the phone. The final frustration I've had is the fact that left arm of the controller partially covers the Home button on my iPhone. So if my phone goes to sleep while it's connected or I need to switch to another application for some reason, I have to pull back the arm a bit to be able to hit the button. 

The Skyreat Phone/Tablet Mount to the Rescue

This product solves every single frustration I have with the Mavic/Air/Spark Controller.

The first thing I noticed about it was how compact it is. It comes in a little bag that easily fits in my camera bag and takes less than a minute to unfold and get ready to use. It's constructed of a lightweight aluminum alloy and seems very durable. I have used it both with an iPhone 8 Plus and an iPad Mini. Both fit without any problems.

Skyreat Holder
Perfect thickness to fit securely 

The bottom plate of the Skyreat fits perfectly into the folding arms of the Controller. Once it is locked in place there is absolutely no wobble or shaking.

I can keep the case on my phone

The top section of the Skyreat pulls open easily, then springs back with enough force to hold your phone or tablet very securely between two rubber pads. You will not need to take your phone out of its case. The best part is the Home button is easily accessible at all times. 

Skyreat phone holder
No more cable connection frustrations

Since your phone or tablet now sits above the Controller, the cable that connects from the side of the controller to the phone the two will no longer work. It's too short. But it was a pain to use anyhow. Now you will simply use any USB to Lightning cable to connect the Controller to the phone. I just use a regular charging cable and coil up the excess. You can purchase a shorter cable for a few bucks if you prefer. The bottom of the plate that holds your phone has a nice long slot that gives you easy access to the connector on the bottom of the phone. 

Skyreat holder
The bottom line

I flew drones for over six months before I finally purchased this mount. But now, I use it every time I fly. For less than $25 it's a "must have" accessory.

Drone Landing Pad Review

Landing Pad

Why Use a Landing Pad

When I first heard about drone landing pads I couldn't imagine why I would ever want one. Once I got one I can't imagine not having it. I don't use it every time I fly, but when I am in a situation where I don't have a good  take off or landing spot it is invaluable. Here are three good reasons to use a landing pad.

Prevent Damage From Dirt

One reason to use a landing pad is prevent dirt from damaging the camera and internal electronics. Think about it. When your drone is sitting on the ground with the props spinning it creates a substantial amount of wind. If your take off area has any dirt, it is going to get picked up by the prop wash and will end up on your camera lens. Your drone also has a fan that draws air in through ventilation slits and circulates it around the interior electronics. So any fine pieces of dirt stirred up by the props have a good chance of getting sucked up. If you ever fly on a beach you should definitely use a landing pad. A few grains of sand in the wrong spot can cause some serious problems.

Prevent Props From Damage

Another reason to use a landing pad is to protect your props from getting damaged. This is especially true if you are using a DJI Spark or Mavic Pro. These two drones sit very close to the ground. If the grass is tall, or if your drone settles into the grass at all, the props are going to end up chopping it. While it probably won't do significant damage to the props it's not something you want to do on a regular basis. 

Provide a Dry Take Off/Landing Spot

A landing pad guarantees you always have a dry place to take off and land if the ground is wet. I have even used a pad to take off from the edges of creeks where the ground was muddy. They're waterproof, so if they get dirty you can just hose them off and let them dry for a few minutes.

Mavic on landing pad

Landing Pad Features

Size

Landing pads come in a variety of sizes ranging from 6" to 36". The one I use is 30" and I've never wished it was any bigger. Folded up, it is less than 12" in diameter and slips easily into my camera bag.

Extras

Most landing pads come with little stakes you can use to fasten them to the ground. I've never used them, but I suppose if you are on a windy beach they might be helpful. Mine also came with reflective strips you can apply to the edges. I threw them out and have never missed them. I have seen some pads that have LED lights around the edges. If you fly at night in really dark places you might find that useful. I figured it was just more batteries I would have to replace. 

Suggestions

I really only have one suggestion. As I mentioned above, most landing pads come with stakes you can use to attack the pad to the ground. The stakes go through loops that are sewn to the edge of the pad. As you can see in this picture, the straps stick up on the side to which they're sewn. If I land my drone too far off center, the props hit the loop. I thought about just cutting off the loops since I never use them. But since I might want the option at some point, I decided to keep the loops and just use the other side to take off and land. 

Landing pad loops

Essential Accessories for Your Mavic Pro

Essential Accessories for Your Mavic Pro

Technically there are no "essential" accessories because your Mavic Pro comes with everything you need to fly. But there are some things you can get that are very helpful and that you will probably end up using every time you fly. This is by no means an exhaustive list of available accessories. It's not even a complete list of the ones I have purchased. These are the ones I use every day.

Neutral Density Filters

Since the Mavic Pro has a fixed aperture lens the only way to decrease the amount of light that gets to the sensor is to increase the shutter speed. That's not a problem for still photos, but for video you really want to keep your shutter speed about 1/60. The solution is to put a Neutral Density filter on the front of the lens. Think of it as sunglasses for your Mavic. They come in different strengths (Typically ND4, ND8 and ND16) with higher numbers blocking more light. I have a set by SandMarc. Polar Pro is also a popular brand and DJI makes a set as well. 

Combination Gimbal Lock and Cover

The Mavic comes with a gimbal cover and a separate gimbal lock. I knew it was just a matter of time before I lost the little gimbal lock. I found this combination cover and lock by Atterox. Only one piece of gear to put on and off and keep track of. And it's cheap. 

Remote Controller Joystick Protector

The Remote Controller folds up very compactly and can slip into a slot in the bag that comes with the Fly More Combo, but it's a really tight fit. I always worried that I was going to snap off one of the joysticks when I put the controller in the bag. This simple piece of plastic slips over the sticks and makes sure they don't get damaged. For some reason you get two protectors—one red and one black. You can save some money by getting this in a bundle with the Gimbal Lock and cover. ​

Landing Pad

When I first saw these landing pads online I thought they were silly. But then I started to notice how much dirt was getting kicked up when I took off and landed and realized that dirt will get drawn in through the air inlets on the front of the Mavic. When I landed in some grass that was a little longer than I thought and the rotors started chopping it off, I decided perhaps a landing pad was a good idea. I found this 32" diameter one by FSLabs that I really like. Folds right up and weighs next to nothing.