(Hopefully not to be a short lived adventure!)
DJI – Mavic Air.
The beginnings of becoming a “Dronie”
A few years ago a new kid arrived in the seemingly already overloaded world of technology and gadgets, a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) as a domestically available quadcopter or Drone. The first quadcopter was the Omnichen 2 invented in 1920 by Etienne Omnichen. This craft made 1000 successful flights and flew a recorded distance of 360 meters (1181.1 feet). This is a height which can be achieved by the relatively tiny quadcopter of today. Mine can achieve a lot higher. I remember falling in line with the others who had a completely negative view of such a device. Well that was around 6 years ago and for a long time I didn’t really consider it as a serious option and certainly didn’t think it could have a place in my world of photography. So, what changed!
Firstly, I am 68 and I keep telling myself that it’s just a number! At my age perhaps it was time to dip my toe into a new possibilities that looked like adding an exciting new element to my photographic How many times have I wanted to get new perspectives of well trodden paths most especially when trying to capture landscape imagery? So, I saw the world of the UAV as being an opportunity to both do something different (well, I mean different for me at least), and hopefully have some fun into the bargain.
Then there was my friend Dave. Dave dipped his toe into the world of drones a year or so ago and through his blog I understood that there was a lot to be gained from a tool that allowed to achieve new perspectives. In the autumn of 2017 we met at dawn for some photography at Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey and Dave had brought his DJI Mavic Pro. I was amazed at how it seemed to be so easily controlled, but most importantly seeing the images taken at such different perspectives, a button somewhere inside me switched on. The only problem was that I was finding carrying my traditional camera gear difficult and although I had moved to a lighter system with great success, I didn’t want to burden my arthritic shoulders by investing in extra weight. The Mavic Pro was physically quite large and weighed in at 750 grams. It would be difficult to fit all that one needed on a photo jaunt into a single backpack, let alone cope with the extra weight. Then, in 2017 DJI launched the Mavic Air weighing in at 350 grams and would fit in a jacket pocket if required. With a few batteries and its controller it certainly fitted in my camera bag along with a camera and a few lenses. So, the journey began.
The most important promise I made to myself was that I would be a cautious and responsible drone user. The very first thing was to aquaint myself with both the law and the Drone Codes issued by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and NATS (National Air Traffic Control). I embarked on a training course and took out public liability insurance. The Drone world is fairly heavy with errant owners and in fact it’s probably best that I bought my Drone now! More about this aspect later, so let’s get down to my Drone journey so far and why it gives me the pleasure that my drone gives me.
I had only just started to get used to all the technical aspects when an opportunity arrived. A friend had been asked by the Lady Captain of my local golf club if we could provide eight images of the golf course for mounting and framing which would be her main prizes on Lady Captain Day. I gave up golf ten years ago and returned to serious photography, frankly I was a useless golfer. Whether I’m a better photographer than a golfer is open to debate! A friend told her I’d just bought a drone and this excited them as it would give a different perspective. Imagine how much it would have cost some years ago to hire a helicopter. I was reluctant, but was given the opportunity of a trial run on a glorious, warm spring evening. I was pleased with results from my first serious flight.
After two shoots eight images were
selected, five from the drone and three
ground images from my Fuji X-T2. The
first issue is that the drone had a tiny
sensor similar to that found in a smart
phone. At 12MP which from a dSLR or my Fuji this would have been fine, but as the request was three images, 1st, 2nd and 3rd place were to be 20 x 16 inch I needed to look at how I could upsize for printing. This was in fact easier than I thought as I had already had a much underused On1 software suite which contains “Resize”, many years ago this was known as “Genuine Fractals”. The images produced from the Drone was 4056x3040px (RAW and JPEG). So, I first enlarged the image to 6000x4000px and printed out a full size A3+ print. I was amazed at the quality and definition and certainly with some more work acceptable. The one area was blocked pixels causing for example trees to look a bit like brocalli! I overcame this in Photoshop by using post processing trickery, I was good to go. All except one of the images were printed by myself, the largest print (20×12 ins) exceeded my printers capabilities and was outsourced.
I was delighted to see my images professionally mounted and framed.
As a result of this I have been asked by so many
members of the club for copies and to undertake a project for the Golf Club over the four seasons. In addition they would like to promote the club with table mats, mugs etc. Whilst I am delighted to be asked, I have absolutely no interest in making money out of photography and in any
event I do not have a commercial drone licence. So my work was to be at the cost of my materials and a donation made to a charity of my choice. This way I see it as a win, win and win again situation. I get to enjoy the opportunity of using my drone, the club gets
their promotional media and a charity benefits too.
Beyond the golf course.
Of course a drone allows opportunities to capture images in extraordinary ways. It doesn’t always have to be from hundreds of feet above either. How often has one been on a location and wished to get that bit higher or wanted rid of an obstruction? I hope these images demonstrate how an almost impossible angle can be achieved without falling or drowning! Taken in the Lake District in the Duddon Valley access to the bridge was impossible, so the drone was employed.
Some other examples:
A55 Rhuallt Hill – 162ft.
Llyn Crafnant – 225ft.
My home town – Rhuddlan 210ft.
Dinorwig Quarry – Snowdonia – 195ft.
Once again the golf club provided a wonderful opportunity. After a slow start the autumn colours, misty morning and frosts have arrived. An early start and almost anyone except the hardiest of golfers had arrived, I spend a superb few hours capturing the course in the golden early morning light just after sunrise.
Rhuddlan Golf Course – 85ft.
Rhuddlan Golf Course – 160ft.
Rhuddlan Golf Course – 256ft.
Rhuddlan Golf Course – 130ft.
Rhuddlan Golf Course – 312ft.
I have had a great amount of pleasure using the drone, but the future looks like a stormy ride! Earlier I stated that the one single most important promise I made myself, was that I would be a cautious and responsible drone user.
A rogue element of drone owners are wholly responsible for the CAA and UKGOV deciding to take serious steps in terms of legislation. The problem is that anyone can buy a drone, unbox it and just fly and some use drones for illicit purposes. This is a worry for all conscientious drone users. I’m fearing that my journey may well be short lived as new legislation may add an increasing burden. Also, the introduction of FINS, or Flight Information and Notification System. This means users would have to prepare and log pre flight intentions, so no more spontaneous take offs! Also, far more “no fly zones” are sure to be introduced. The USA and Germany to mention just two are screwing down their airspace to a point where it just ain’t worth having a Drone!
I am just hoping that my journey doesn’t end with my drone becoming an expensive ornament on the mantelpiece. Hopefully, both Dave and I will look forward to many years of enjoyment being Dronies!
I was asked to produce a 2019 calendar for the golf club. Also, my images will now be used as media for their upgraded website. So, all in all a good year and as mentioned earlier, donations for my work and efforts have been made by the golf club to a charity very close to my heart. I”ll pop a pic here as soon as I receive a copy 🙂
Below are a few of the DJI Mavic Air specifications. Also a some details of the Drone Codes and future law which must be adhered to.
Some facts and figures.
Max Speed – 42.5 miles p/h.
Max Operating Distance- 2 miles.
Max Service Ceiling. – 5000 metres.
Flash Memory – 8 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards:
microSD Class 10 or UHS-I
Flash Memory Cards Max Supported Capacity128 GB
LENS . FOV: 85°, 35 mm Format Equivalent: 24 mm. Aperture: f/2.8. Shooting Range: 0.5 m to ∞
Sensor Resolution – 12 megapixels
Image Sensor Type – CMOS
Capture Formats – MOV (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264), MP4 (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264)
Still Image Formats – JPEG, RAW
Video Recorder Resolutions – 1280 x 720 (720p), 1920 x 1080 (1080p), 2720 x 1530, 3840 x 2160 (2160p)
Frame Rate – 30 frames per second
Still Image Resolutions: 4056 x 2280, 4056 x 3040
©Richard Walliker Photography – www.pixels4u.co.uk