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Seeking advice for impromptu shots of outdoor activities

zamboni

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On paper, the Mavic Air seems like it would be perfect to bring along for filming outdoor activities, but I'm struggling to make it happen "in real life". Perhaps I'm just a victim of "optimistic marketing" or maybe I'm naive -- either way I'd appreciate some advice. I've been flying on and off for a couple years using the RC with my phone. This is great! It's fun and I can get awesome perspectives. But one of the big selling points for the Air was its portability, because I want videos of myself biking, paddling, climbing, etc. But trying to get action shots is sucking the fun out of my time outdoors and the drone just isn't coming along anymore. If it weren't so **** expensive I'd have thrown it into a lake by now, it gets so frustrating.

Here's the shot I keep trying to take but just can't: I'm riding my mountain bike and I stop because the trail ahead runs across a pretty field. I want a video that follows me as I ride across (I really want a profile shot but will settle for 'magic leash' follow). It's wide open and clear. I have the Air in my pack -- but not the RC because that's a bit much to bring along, Unfolding the Air is fast and I can do it without even getting off the bike -- but also assembling the RC+phone contraption, including the joysticks (since it has to go in my pack) adds too much time and I have to dismount and spread my yard sale of equipment out trailside. I'm out for a ride, not a photoshoot -- and my riding buddies aren't as invested this needs to be pretty quick. In my fantasy, the shot happens like this:
  1. Pull out the Air, unfold, launch with palm control
  2. Position it alongside me with palm control and start recording.
  3. Shred trail.
  4. Land with palm control, pack up, get back to riding.
That would be fantastic, but it has yet to happen. What actually ends up happening really frustrating:
  1. Pull out Air and attempt palm control, looking like some failed Jedi. The bird doesn't respond no matter how many ways I press the function button (Is this because I usually use it with the RC?)
  2. Give up on that and get out phone, go through the process of joining the bird's wifi network and pairing my phone. Riding buddies are getting antsy.
  3. Now I'm hit with a compass calibration, and I'm twirling around in a meadow while my buddies mock me
  4. Finally get the bird up and position it with the onscreen controls...eventually. Why does it fly like it's in molasses under phone control!? The Yaw rate is truly glacial!
  5. Engage Activetrack and lock target. Maybe. At this point I usually have to pull out my bright orange jacket.
  6. IF I actually get this far, now I can take my shot. But guess what? After 300 feet the drone stops! Because it's range-limited FROM THE HOME POINT without the RC. Even though it's literally following the phone that's controlling it!! Friends, 300 feet is a very short distance to ride a bike.
The best I've managed was to manually fly the bird about 300 feet down the trail, set homepoint, then bring it back to me, then ride 300' past the home point for a total run of 600' -- still a paltry run but at least its something. If that's the best I can do, for that big of an interruption of my ride, it's not worth it.

So, is there any way to practically do this? Am I overlooking a built-in solution? Can that 300' range limit be changed -- or at least keyed to the phone instead of home?
Thanks for any suggestions!
 

G Saunders

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You need a Skydio 2 to do this kind of stuff, and it's still challenging. I don't believe any other drone is as good at tracking as the Skydio, which has six hemispherical cameras to get a 3d stereo map of the surroundings and 8 cores dedicated to obstacle avoidance and tracking. And, even if you've picked the route carefully, the thing can snag on a leafless twig and crash hard.

As good as DJI drones are, they're not the best at tracking. Skydio 2 is currently the best of the athletic selfie drones, and trying to reproduce some of the promotional videos is a good way to crash the drone, so you'd better set out with two or three.

IMHO, nobody serious about flying a DJI drone flies it with nothing but a phone, especially if there's anything at all close by...
 

zamboni

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Using the phone-only to fly isn't a real option and I only try it above out of desperation. I realize the promo videos are generally not reproducible without a dedicated (and reasonably skilled) pilot but this is a simplified special case that -- I think -- doesn't require a dedicated pilot to execute.

'Noisy' backgrounds like a field of wildflowers make tracking harder, but *while using the RC* I've had good results by choosing contrasting clothing. It's no accident that athletes in the promo videos are always dressed in bright colors -- it helps with tracking (and yeah, also makes the video more interesting).

I have done this shot numerous times on a dedicated "photo shoot" ride -- with the RC. I don't want/need the MA to navigate obstacles; I just want it to fly a basically straight line through a huge wide-open area, 10' above any vegetation while keeping the gimbal aimed at me -- for longer than a second or two. This seems...really quite reasonable, considering the other impressive things the bird is capable of both on its own and under human control.

The 300'-from-home limitation seems to be the main hurdle. I just realized I don't know how far the MA would fly under palm control -- I'll have to test that -- but I wouldn't be surprised if it were subject to the same limitation. So that's what I'm hoping to get around. AFAIK what I'm looking to do doesn't subvert any safety rules or regulations; it's just a bit of probably well-intentioned code in the app that maybe didn't get thought-through all the way.

But yeah, the Skydio is badass. I don't have the budget to be an "early adopter" though so I'll let the doctors and lawyers conclude their public beta and maybe in a year I'll start to consider it : )
 

Tiger64

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I think if i was wanting those sorts of shots, i would train one of my companions to fly the drone. Then we could take turns shooting each other and have the added safety of having a pilot in charge rather than rely on electronics. I have played with the various follow options on both of mine (Mm and evo2 pro) but wouldn't feel comfortable letting either fly autonomously without the ability to instantly take control. Plus you can get better ,smoother, more dynamic footage manually.
I also think i am less likely to crash my bike or tip out of kayak if i can consentrate on what i am doing rather than worrying about what my drone is doing.
Sorry it turned into a bit of a ramble.
I would rather invest some time with a friend than have to invest in new drone.
 

DonF01

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Generally, those good shots come through lots of practice. Go out by yourself (or with an understanding and appreciative friend) and get your process to a stage where it takes minimal time and effort to setup. The compass calibration will always be needed but you can also do this indiscreetly by rotating the drone in your hands without spinning your body.
 

zamboni

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Thanks for the feedback y'all. Sounds like there just isn't an answer. It's amazing how it can be so easy to think of an idea yet so hard to execute it! I've had great success with the follow modes when filming others so I have good confidence in the bird and it's brains. It's just really hard to be in your own shots.

If there were some way to fold up the RC and put it in my pack with my phone while I do the run -- without disrupting the drone's actions -- that could work. Otherwise I guess I won't get to be in any videos : (

P.S. Compass calibration looks silly and draws jeering no matter how you do it, but that doesn't mean that I ever skip it! : D
 

SpitFire

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Sounds like what you want should involve another person to do a photo shot of you with the drone. Check out Cinematography Tips, a lot of things involved. To create suspense, create depth in video, understanding light source. Just to name a few, check out cinematic moves/techniques.
Depending on how much time you want to spend, how many takes to get what you want. Training some one to fly your drone, and a lot of time and practice is involved.