Mavic in the Air

by Volker Weber


DJI introduced another marvelous drone today. It's called Mavic Air. You probably read about it everywhere. But that's not what I want to talk about. These machines should appeal to me. I mean, look at them. Look at all the things they can do. How they can avoid crashing into things. How they can stabilize their cameras like a tripod. And still, I don't want one.

I think I would use it for a little. And then leave it at home. Videos and photos from higher altitudes are fascinating at first, but get boring rather quickly. And flying a drone is frowned upon. They are noisy, they are invasive, and they are being more regulated for a reason. I could shoot a few interesting videos like chasing the dog as it hunts birds, but quickly I would find out that the very moment this happens I cannot get it into the air quickly enough.

It's one of the things I can enjoy when my friends have one. I like to look and be happy for them, but I don't want to own one.


I was gifted a drone and learned to change my thinking about it. At first I thought of it as a toy aircraft with a camera. I had to learn to think of it as a camera that you can position in three dimensions. It's big trick, really, is staying where you put it even if that is somewhere you could never reach.

Where I live there are wonderful scenic vistas and rocky coastlines that lend themselves to this kind of picture taking, and that makes it fun. I look forward to taking otherwise impossible shots of the kids kayaking in the coves, and so on.

Andrew Pollack, 2018-01-24

That is a good way to look at it. Where I live, other people live. And they don't want a drone overhead.

Volker Weber, 2018-01-24

And one day, some idiot will want to film a helicopter up close and the drone will be sucked in to the main or/and tail rotor. Then people will die. Don't bet on common sense. There isn't any when "cool" is at play.

Christian Tillmanns, 2018-01-24


Ingo Seifert, 2018-01-24

Radio-controlled aircraft and helicopters have been around (and often carrying cameras) for decades, and I'm not aware there has ever been an accident of the kind you suggest.

In a way it's a shame that drones are 'cool', as you say, because it probably does bring them into the hands of the sort of fools who should not be allowed to operate a bicycle, never mind anything in three dimensions. But there is nothing inherently bad about them, and they are becoming very useful tools in many photographic and survey applications. True they are noisy, but ten minutes of annoying buzzing is probably less problematic than having some scaffolding erected around your building for a day or two.

They are also in danger of being regulated out of existence, at least around Europe.

Nick Daisley, 2018-01-24

DJI drones are a very capable tool for filming. But: You have to spent quite some time to achieve the results you like to see. If you do not have this time in spare, they are just a too expensive gadget lying around. I did not fly my Phantom anymore since the summer holidays ...

Peter Meuser, 2018-01-24

Nick, Radio controlled airplanes and helicopters never until recently, had the capabilities for flying high and far away like drones do it today. It is another hobby, model pilots want to see the things they are flying. They normally fly around designated model airfields and definitely do not want to damage their pride and joy. And have sometimes a quite strict set of regulations to follow. Drone operators are different. All they want is cool pictures and drones are so easy to fly due to artificial stabilisation, that anybody can do it. And for the record. Last December a drone collided with a Black Hawk. The damage to the rotor blade was minor. The drone operator probably just has to foot the bill of the blade and installation - a few couple of hundred thousand bucks with inspection of the drive train due to sudden stoppage (long story) - and a fine. They found the operator because in the US every drone above a certain weight must be registered.
Thank god it was a black hawk with heavy and damage resistant blades. I don't want to imagine
what happens, when a 1kg drone runs into something like a JetRanger or an AS350, where small tree
branches do quite a bit of damage, making the ship unflyable and might tear it apart. And that is
only the main rotor. The tail rotor is even more flimsy and could be completely destroyed by
as little as a plastic bag.
Most helicopter pilots fear the drones and quite a few had close encounters. A fatal accident will
happen, if we don't get this under control.

Christian Tillmanns, 2018-01-24

Flying high is what almost all beginners do (including me when I started 5 years ago with a crappy GoPro on the original phantom), that gets boring quite quickly. The challenge is to fly low and to get unusual angles, which is much more difficult and requires a lot of experience and practice. Something most don't want to invest, so the done quickly is relegated to the loft. I'm still flying mine but learning progress is slow. Partially because I can't get the hours in with the crappy weather in the UK ;-)

Flying over people and built up areas is mostly illegal now, the crackdown is starting to happen. I expect registration in most countries in the next year or two as well. Which the responsible people will do while the irresponsible folk will ignore it.

Armin Grewe, 2018-01-24

„The challenge is to fly low and to get unusual angles“

Absolutely agree. Flying high (even the allowed 100m here in Germany) always scares me somewhat.
On the other hand 300m away were you can hardly see the drone is scary too. Honestly I don‘t want to operate one 2km away. Beside not being allowed that is no fun for me.

I own a Spark and interestingly never received negative response from people so far. Partly because I try to stay in the legal boundaries but it seems also that the smaller ones get a much better reception from people not being accustomed to drones.

Harald Gaerttner, 2018-01-24

UK is 400ft, which is about 120m. I think the rest of Europe is similar as well, around 100m.

I very rarely go that high. It's almost impossible to see even a Phantom at that height. Same for distance, most of the time far too dangerous.

Flying low is scary as well though, especially if there are waves and the like. But the results can be amazing if you manage to get it right.

Armin Grewe, 2018-01-24

For those not in the know. This is what a skilled pilot can do flying low.

Volker Weber, 2018-01-24

My skills aren't anywhere near that (and I think that was a racing drone, not a normal Phantom or similar). If a bit of self promotion is permitted, I've tried to combine flying as low as I dared over a rocky shoreline with some higher views:

Real professionals probably could have done it much better, but I'm still quite pleased with the section flying low across the beach at the height of the rocks and then out on to the water (starts at about 1:50).

Armin Grewe, 2018-01-24

Charpu flies Lumenier drones like the QAV-X:

It does not have any of the DJI smarts, is way cheaper and harder to fly.

Volker Weber, 2018-01-24

just for your entertainment: I have seen a family on the second day of Xmas this year testing the kid´s new drone in Greetsiel. Father had the remote control and was standing behind a dam (Deich) without sight to the drone. Quite some wind and when he tried to maneuver the drone the wind just pushed it over the canal on the other side where the drone finally came down. No way to get there, drone close to the waterline in high grass, sunset coming very fast. And the angry wife yelling "move your ass over here - fast!". So losing sight and some unexpected winds may harm your experience, those had for sure a remaining great Xmas, I have to say ;-)

Armin Auth, 2018-01-24

Some months ago I had the pleasure to visit Dedrone ( A German startup which now is located in the valley but does all the high sofisticated AI development in Kassel, Germany.

The techie guys here might be interested in what and how they are doing.

Thomas Lang, 2018-01-24

Plenty of videos, forum posts etc out there from people not understanding the difference between speed through the air and speed over ground. Or that the higher you fly the stronger the wind usually is. Or that it matters if you he an onshore or an offshore wind. Or that when flying out of direct sight a forest from above looks all the same in all directions (especially when you forgot to set the home point for the return to home function).

Armin Grewe, 2018-01-24

@Armin Grewe: Tolle Bilder, tolle Landschaft! Bei Volker's high-speed Flügen wird mir dagegen schwindelig ... :)

Jochen Kattoll, 2018-01-24

Charpu is flying in FPV mode, using an onbard camera and goggles.

Even flying with a phantom using goggles is great and very immersive.

Jerome RAUCH, 2018-01-24

Except that FPV flying is often a legal grey area and without a spotter most likely illegal in many countries. Not to mention that many use it to fly long distances outside of line of sight, which again is illegal in many countries.
And before you call me a spoilsport, the more people break the rules the more incidents (like the one with the helicopter mentioned above) will happen and following on from that the more rules and regulations will be introduced making life more difficult for responsible people.

Armin Grewe, 2018-01-24

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