DJI’s new firmware has certainly stirred the pot in the professional community. With restrictions popping up in unexpected places, the professional drone pilot community has been deluged with stories of unfulfilled contracts and sometimes downright enragement over this new firmware. But what’s really going on?
What's the issue?
With the release of the newest product in DJI's consumer line, the Spark, came a firmware update that… “sparked” the controversy (pun intended). If you don’t know, professional flyers have a special certificate from the FAA known as a 'Part 107,' which allows you to charge for your services. This certificate reflects your knowledge of how to properly navigate airspace per FAA regulations.
When DJI introduced the consumer-friendly Spark drone, it also introduced new firmware that was not so friendly to professional flyers.
For example, we all know (or should at least) that flying within 5-miles of an airport is restricted airspace. There are different classes of restricted airspace, which we don't need to discuss in detail here, but one way to get around these restrictions is to call the tower responsible for the airspace and give them an advisement of when you’ll be flying, and for how long. They’ll come back and let you know if you’re cleared or not.
How DJI handled this in the past
In previous versions of the DJI firmware, if you were flying in an area with restrictions, a warning would pop up and you could simply click an acknowledgement button, then go ahead and fly. This was great for pros, but unfortunately some non-Part 107 pilots have made life difficult for all of us by clicking this acknowledgement and proceeding to fly where they shouldn’t. For example, just look at the recent case of pilot flying a drone near a fire that grounded all the firefighting airplanes as a result.
DJI's new solution
DJI's new solution is rather draconian: simply ground all drones in restricted airspace. If you have legitimate reason and proper training to fly in a restricted zone, you can email DJI for a temporary unlock for a specific zone. However, it can take 24 hours and beyond to get unlocked. And you won’t know if it actually worked until you get on set. This is completely impractical for Part 107 pilots, as doing a test flight the day before is most-often unacceptable – for clients and logistics alike.
Furthermore, these restricted 'zones' sometimes pop up in unrestricted areas. Again, you won’t know until you actually get on set. Also, some of these restricted zones can’t be unlocked for any reason, even though a Part 107 pilot can get authorization from the FAA. Finally, the DJI unlock code is not valid if you use any 3rd party mapping software, even though DJI has released its API.
|When DJI introduced the new restrictions with their GEO protocol, social media exploded...|
DJI: The new drone police?
So, is it DJI’s job to police airspace, or have they gone too far? In 2015, someone landed a DJI Phantom 2+ on the White House lawn and people went nuts. So DJI responded by restricting some government spaces, like the White House and Pentagon. Nobody complained. Then they added some major airports. Nobody complained. Then they added the entire FAA map. Nobody complained. Now, they’ve created an entire bureaucracy of their own which is even more strict than the FAA. Have they gone too far?
Professional pilots fighting together
Some drone pilots have banded together with the thought in mind to sue DJI in a class action law suit. However, a quick look at the license agreement that people agree to when using a DJI drone precludes this action. It’s in the third paragraph… you should read it. Basically, often times a company is motivated to settle a class action dispute because the costs of courts and trials are extremely high. Arbitration is low. Furthermore, preventing groups from banding together means that every single case is settled independently. Privately, and quietly. It puts all the power in DJI’s hands.
Other professionals have vowed to no longer endorse nor use DJI products. DJI is so big because of the professionals. When other brands were on top right along with them, DJI made sure to tell everyone what was shot with their equipment. Now, they’ve grown to be such a monster company that few people even care anymore. Again, the power is in DJI’s court.
Plus, what professional can seriously justify re-purchasing all their drones from different manufacturers now? Not this one. Sure, they may not buy DJI again until this problem is remedied… but how much does that cost DJI? Not a lot.
So, what’s the motivation for DJI to find some sort of compromise, or roll back this (terrible) idea? Honestly, I’m struggling to figure it out.
A lot of professionals are likening DJI to Apple on this front (yours truly included). DJI, like Apple, started with products designed for the hobbyist. DJI then moved to products for professionals, and kicked the collective rear-ends of their competition with products like the Phantom and Spreading Wings series. Finally, they transitioned to a more consumer market (Phantom Standard, Mavic, Spark), and stopped paying so much attention to the professional.
How do we solve this?
Believe it or not, quite a bit of the United States is in some type of controlled airspace. Augment that with these phantom zones (uncontrolled airspace, but for some reason still designated as no-fly zones by DJI), and the likelihood that you'll be unable to fly your drone where you want, when you want, is greatly increased.
And that's just in the US! DJI no-fly zones affect the entire planet!
|Unsure of just how much air space is restricted? Take a look at this FAA map of the area around Houston, Texas.|
DJI, I hope you read this article. I hope this was just a mistake. I’ve used your products from the very beginning (Wookong M v1), and have always loved them. But in all honestly, I don’t believe it’s your place to restrict airspace. It’s not your place to override a lawful professional’s ability to fly in a way that is conducive to his or her business. You make great products. Keep making them, but stop being some sort of bureaucratic authority.
If you truly want to make things work, and try to cooperate with the FAA, I have a very simple idea. Have the mobile device running the DJI GO app send a ping to the FAA if a drone enters restricted airspace and forward the ping to the tower controlling that airspace. If the tower did not authorize the drone, then there is already a mechanism in place from the FAA to handle the situation.
One truth here is self-evident: it is the pilot's responsibility to know where and when they can fly. Even amateurs can get permission from a tower to fly in a restricted zone. This is not a privilege reserved for pros. DJI's older method of handling restricted airspace (informing and forcing the user to acknowledge) puts the responsibility right where it belongs: on the pilot.
But hey… that’s just my opinion. Feel free to comment, and tell us your opinion! Is DJI overstepping, or did they do the right thing?
Ty Audronis has been a professional multicopter pilot in the television and cinema industry since 2003. He also consults on post-production technology, and is on the advisory board for SOAC (Society of Aerial Cinematography).
Sigma says its 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Sport lens is set to hit shelves by the end of December 2018 at a retail price of $1,499.
DxO PhotoLab 2.1 brings a collection of new features to MacOS and Windows users alike.
The new 'Elegant' lens series includes entirely manual F2.4 lenses in 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 90mm focal lengths.
A feature alerts pilots visually and/or verbally when their drone is approaching airspace that is unsafe or areas where drone flying is not permitted.
GoPro announced Monday morning that it plans to move production of United States-bound cameras out of China, citing tariffs concerns.
The Sigma 56mm F1.4 combines a sensible sub-$500 price tag and excellent performance, providing a portrait-friendly 85mm equiv. view on Sony's APS-C mirrorless cameras.
Azriel Knight of the YouTube channel This Old Camera explains the history of DX encoding.
The 250mm F4 is Fujifilm's longest lens for its medium-format system. It's equivalent to about 200mm on a GFX camera, and we put it to work on some portraits as well as some scenes around Seattle's waterfront – take a look.
Sony has removed the ability to download firmware version 2.0 for its a7 III and a7R III mirrorless cameras from its website.
Handing out awards for the best gear of the year is a big job, so we called in some reinforcements from Calgary to help us.
A new patent from Canon lays out the schematics for a speedbooster-style adapter for mounting Canon EF lenses onto EOS M cameras, but with a variable baffle to reduce the risk of flare.
The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board has started a campaign asking visitors to stop geotagging their specific locations when visiting Wyoming's national parks.
Film simulation app Filmborn has been updated with new presets, features, and overall improved support on Apple's latest mobile operating system and devices.
The Colorado Tripod Company has introduced what it claims is the world’s first titanium tripod system, with a funding campaign on Kickstarter.
We've been shooting with the LX100 II both in and out of the studio, as part of our ongoing review. We're pretty impressed, so far, with the revised JPEG color and addition of a touchscreen both noticeable improvements.
An upcoming Xiaomi smartphone might use a 48MP sensor for pixel-binning, high-quality digital zooming and other algorithm-powered imaging features.
It's not cheap, but you may soon be able to get your hands on peel apart film once again thanks to ONE INSTANT.
Skylum's Luminar 3 arrives on December 18 with the long-awaited ability to manage your photo library. However, it won't be a full DAM (digital asset manager); the company plans to roll out features throughout 2019 and won't charge for updates from Luminar 2018 during that time.
Hasselblad has released an update to its Phocus post-production software that brings new and updated tools, as well as updated native lens support.
Nikon's IPTC Preset Manager, a tool for creating predetermined sets of metadata, has received an update. Version 1.1.0 no longer uses Microsoft Silverlight, sheds the network connection requirement, adds extended language support, updates support for Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, and ends support for Windows Vista and Windows XP.
Insta360 has launched a software update for its One X 360-degree camera and announced a camera bundle exclusively available on Apple.com.
Xiaomi has laid out the details for its new AI-powered image processing platform DeepExposure.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset is expected to power most 2019 high-end Android phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S10.
Camera app developer Hipstamatic says it has found a way to use the depth data generated by the iPhone X to improve the way its TinType app works out which areas of a picture to render out of focus.
If you're looking for a high-quality camera, you don't need to spend a ton of cash, nor do you need to buy the latest and greatest new product on the market. In our latest buying guide we've selected some cameras that while they're a bit older, still offer a lot of bang for the buck.
The Verizon-owned social network platform Tumblr has announced it will be removing all adult content - including photos - from its platform starting December 17th, 2018.
Guests who would rather spend time actually enjoying their Swiss vacation can now do so while still maintaining a presence on social networks, thanks to Ibis Switzerland Hotels' new social media sitting services.
Two challenges to Apple’s claim that its iPhone X can shoot studio quality portraits have been turned down by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
We take a head-to-head look at the Apple iPhone Xs's bokeh effect versus a 58mm Nikkor lens on full-frame. The results? Well, we're pretty impressed.