The DJI Mavic Air offers 48MP stills and 4K/60p video recording in an ultra-compact, folding body. A significant update to the original Mavic Air, the Air 2 is DJI's smartest drone to date, and includes HDR capture, scene recognition to optimize the look of footage depending on your subject, as well as a suite of safety features, including front, rear and underside object avoidance sensors. Meanwhile, Spotlight 2.0 keeps the camera locked on a subject, and ActiveTrack 3.0 keeps subjects automatically centered, letting you concentrate on flying.

Should your flight still somehow get into trouble, DJI Care Refresh* (available separately or bundled with the Mavic Air 2 on Amazon for a special price of $1,049) covers up to two replacement drones per year.

Adventure filmmaker Nathan McBride was one of the first people to use the Mavic Air 2, and had just started working on a promotional video when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US. In this interview he talks about the challenges of working with the Mavic Air 2 as the country shut down around him.

* DJI Care Refresh+ is also available, covering one more replacement drone for an additional year, for a small surcharge. Click here for more details.


What’s your background in photography and videography?

I started working in video about four or five years ago, doing action sports and story-based content. I also worked in the short film world for a while and then moved into commercials. For the last five or so years that’s been my full-time job.

The last two years I started diving into drone photography and videography pretty heavily.

Nathan McBride is a photographer and videographer based in Phoenix Arizona. He's been using drones in his filmmaking for several years, and recently had the opportunity to create a launch video using the new DJI Mavic Air 2.

See more of Nathan McBride's work on his website, Instagram and on YouTube.

What are the primary ways in which the technology has evolved since you’ve been using drones?

Size is the obvious one, and it’s so important. These days, so much filmmaking is run-and-gun style. How fast you can get up and running, and how safely, is really important. With these new drones, you can be hiking up a volcano with it in your backpack, pull it out, and you can be filming in minutes.

Build quality has improved over the generations, and battery life, too. Drone operators five or six years ago did not have the same flexibility and mobility as we do now. And it’s so much more affordable now, to become a drone pilot. It’s unreal.

Put a drone up in the air, and you can get a whole different perspective

What does working with a drone let you do, that a conventional camera rig wouldn’t?

Drones are cameras in 3D space. You can put a drone wherever you want. I love the potential you have with drones for movement. I started diving into the drone space just thinking ‘what could this look like?’ And instead of the conventional kind of drone shot, from high up, moving slowly, I decided that I was going to fly my drone like it was a gimbal, or get footage that looks like a hyperlapse.

There are only a certain number of angles you can get from ground level. But put a drone up in the air, you can get a whole different perspective. It’s like nothing else. You can put the camera wherever you want. That’s what I love about drones, and I want to keep pushing my filmmaking using that technology.

Nathan pictured in the desert near Hanksville, Utah.

How does preparing for a drone shoot differ from preparing for a normal stills or video shoot?

Weather is a massive factor. If the weather isn’t right, you can’t fly. There’s a lot of planning involved. I’m very much an ‘on the fly’ kind of creative, and I like working quickly, but it’s important to have a general sense of what you want to get out of a location before you go.

I’ll often do discovery flights. For example I went to a spot in Texas recently, and we shot a video there. I had the Mavic Air 2, and I knew I wanted to get really low to the water, through the trees. There were certain textures I was looking for, so I did a discovery flight, just to look around, see what looked good, where the sunlight was coming from, and to get a feel for how safe it was to fly, where the gaps were between the trees and things like that. Once I’ve done that, I’ll put in a fresh battery and start filming.

I ended up with three weeks to shoot, and decided I was just going to have to use every single day, and hit every location I could

What’s your favorite of the drone projects you’ve worked on?

Probably this video, with the Mavic Air 2. I was originally meant to fly to Brazil to shoot, but then the coronavirus hit, and things got really bad, really fast. The project turned into a road trip around the US - Arizona to Utah, then Oregon, then down the California coast. That was the plan, but then everything started falling apart.

Often I’d drive for hours to shoot at locations that ended up being closed, but I didn’t want to fail, so I decided just to do as much as I could, wherever I could. I ended up with three weeks to shoot, and decided I was just going to have to use every single day, and hit every location I could until I got what I needed. A lot of it was very last-minute.

The DJI Mavic Air 2 is a tiny, powerful drone which folds up to be very compact. This makes it ideal for travel and outdoor adventure work.

In the video you describe shooting in your ‘back yard’. That’s a big back yard!

Yeah! I live in Phoenix Arizona, and I was shooting everywhere from within a few minutes from my house, all the way out across the state. I think the farthest I went was about seven hours north. People see the video, and see that part of it was filmed in the snow, and part was filmed in the desert, and they don’t believe that it was all shot in the same area, but those two locations were probably only about 45 minutes away from one another.

It was fun to have a month, basically, where I didn’t shoot anything else.

The snow was just good luck – I had driven to Flagstaff to get my buddy back to the airport, and we woke up to about three feet of fresh snow. So we made the most of it. Because I was shooting every day, I knew I’d win eventually!

It was fun to have a month, basically, where I didn’t shoot anything else. I didn’t pick up my DSLR, I didn’t pick up my other drones, I just shot with the Mavic Air 2. The first time I took the Mavic Air 2 up, I was amazed by how smooth it was, and the quality of the footage, especially at night. The handling is so good, it doesn’t feel like a consumer product.

Nathan's road trip took him across the southwest states of the US, shooting with the Mavic Air 2.

Where’s your favorite location to shoot?

Bali, Indonesia. It’s one of those spots where you can find shots everywhere you look. It was a real eye-opener. I was able to get so many different shots there. I’d say that Nusa Penida, which is an island just off the coast of Bali, is my favorite place.

What’s your advice for someone just getting into drone shooting?

Always shoot H.265 if you can. There’s definitely a difference when it comes to post-production. And make sure you have enough light. Get a good set of ND filters – hitting your optimal shutter speed is key. And if it’s safe, and you’re not around people, fly as low as you can. Having foreground detail in your shots is a game-changer. The motion blur from having foreground elements makes the footage look so filmic. Obviously it’s risky, and you’ll need to practice.

Droning is all about immersing yourself in the environment that you’re in

Also don’t rush – leave yourself enough time. Droning is all about immersing yourself in the environment that you’re in. Slow down, actually take a breath, and find the angles that you want to explore. And do it safely.

Always have someone with you, to be a spotter, and be respectful. Don’t fly near people, and don’t go where you’re not meant to go. But most importantly, go out and explore and have fun because in the end that’s what it’s all about.


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