A new toy: the “flying camera”

I took the plunge and got a drone a few weeks ago, a DJI Mavic Pro, which they market as a “flying camera”. The big attraction for me was its portability, and I ended up testing it out on a recent family vacation. Here’s some of the footage we got from the Amed coast in eastern Bali. It starts with the morning sun and fishing boats off the beach in front of our hotel, has a cool shot of Katherine and Claire snorkeling at midday, and closes with the sun setting over Mount Agung:

Notes on the Mavic Pro and why I chose it:
– I’d been contemplating a drone for a few years, but its portability finally pushed me over the edge.
– It has a built in 4K camera with an excellent gimbal for smooth video and all sorts of other bells/whistles.
– The controls/software seem pretty easy to use (which is important because hard-to-use things tend to crash).
– It packs down to roughly the size of an SLR (or a one-liter water bottle) which is pretty impressive; it fit easily into both my regular checked baggage and also my little carry-on backpack.
– I got the “Deluxe bundle” which includes two additional batteries (which are handy since, when you go to the park or a beach, it’s more fun to have three 20-minute batteries to enjoy), a bag (perfectly sized for the drone, controller, and the spare batteries), and few other things which I’ve generally found worth having.

Notes on my first attempt at aerial photography and editing:
– Avoid jerky cameras movements while recording. The Mavic Pro’s cinema mode helps with this but still lets you move too quickly.
– If you adjust the drone or camera direction while recording, move just one direction per shot e.g. forward or turning or gimbal up/down.
– In particular, adjust the gimbal up or down very slowly otherwise it’s nausea-inducing.
– Don’t rely on auto focus, auto exposure, or auto white balance for important shots. They will adjust while you are recording. I lost a couple cool shots because of big changes halfway through.
– When editing, I thought I’d want 20 seconds minimum per shot. More like 5-7 seconds feels right.
– Music matters; it provides mood, pacing, and structure. H/T Jake Shimabukuro for the above.
– My first few flights I recorded everything so a single 10-15 minute file per flight. Major pain. Better try to keep each shot its own separate video file.
– On the Mac, iMovie is better for browsing clips than Photos, but it feels quite primitive. I’ll have to try out some pro package.
– I’ve got a 13″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar loaded with the 3.3 GHz Intel Core i7 and 16 GB. That model comes with the “Intel Iris Graphics 550 1536 MB” GPU. I also have the newish LG 5k external monitor. Trying to edit 4k video in iMovie with this setup doesn’t really work that well. Playback with iMove is pretty glitchy even if I reduce the iMovie preview window to a small size. When doing final timing checks on the video, I generally had to just export a final rendering and check that rather than trying to do within iMovie.

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