Gear of the Year 2016: Dan's Choice – the DJI Mavic Pro (which he stinks at flying)
|The Mavic Pro inspired me creatively and challenged me as a photographer more than any other product this year. Even if I still stink at flying it. Photo by Dan Bracaglia|
I first flew the original DJI Phantom in 2013 as part of an article for Popular Science and have had drones on my mind ever since. However, my obsession with the idea of flight goes back to childhood, when I would launch into the sky anything I could get my hands on: kites, rockets, model planes, RC helicopters etc.
When DJI announced the Mavic Pro at the end of September, I knew my years of patiently telling myself to 'wait one more generation,' had paid off: the Mavic Pro was the one for me. The reason? DJI is easily the most reputable maker of consumer drones and with the Mavic Pro, users get an easy-to-fly product (with years of R & D incorporated into it), good image quality, and an impressively-compact/portable package. It truly is the every-man's drone.
This is one of the few watchable clips I've shot so far.
Two months after pre-ordering, the box finally arrived at our office. And the first thing I learned upon firing it up is that despite the name, owning one certainly does not make you a 'pro.' The first thing I did with it was smash it into a wall in my apartment (I know, flying it inside the first time was a bad idea).
As I've mentioned, I've been flying RC aircraft since childhood, and I like to think I'm pretty skilled behind the sticks. After all I can maneuver one of those $20 RC helicopters you get from Radio Shack (they do still exist, right?) like a champion. But crashing a $20 RC copter into a kitchen cabinet is one thing, crashing a $1000 drone into a kitchen cabinet is another thing entirely (video below). Note: this was the second crash.
Photography is all about finesse and control, whether over one's settings, light, subjects or all three. However being a good photographer does not make one a good drone operator. Despite the Mavic Pro being incredibly easy to get off the ground and fly safely (thank obstacle avoidance), there is a substantial learning curve in using it in an effective manner.
Outside of my childhood passion for controlling things as they soar through the sky, the DJI Mavic Pro is my gear of the year because it is the one piece of kit that challenges my understanding of both photography and video as mediums. Moreover, it challenges me to learn new skills that can be used to get new shots and perspectives as a content creator.
And knowing it's in my bag and can be launched in under 10 minutes make me all the more eager to use it. Suddenly I can shoots stills and videos of friends skateboarding, or snowboarding or an outdoor concert, from both the ground and the air with relative ease.
|A sample image edited to taste in Adobe Lightroom. Photo by Dan Bracaglia|
The drone industry is no longer in its infancy, in fact it's growing up fast. And I think the Mavic Pro is a sure sign of this. High end consumer units are coming down in price, shrinking in size and offering increasingly impressive stills and video. At the same time, accident avoidance systems and other safety measure are also getting better.
It's possible that before long we will live in a world where drones are as ubiquitous as smartphone. That's somewhat of a terrifying thought, but all the more reason, if you are operating a drone, to try and be as safe and respectful to those around you as possible. Set a positive example for other drone fliers. Don't ruin the fun for everyone else.
I've only flown the drone on four occasions, but I can already see (modest) improvements in my skills, which is pretty exciting. With traditional photography, improvements can often only be seen retrospectively. Of course, accidents do happen and I'll probably break the Mavic Pro in due time (perhaps even before this piece goes live). Fortunately, DJI offers one year of insurance for $100. That will cover you for up to two drone replacements in that time. I would certainly recommend this coverage to any first time fliers.
In conclusion, please enjoy the above scenic out-of-focus clip I shot last weekend In Seattle on one of the only clear days we've had this winter. Some day I hope to go back and try again. Maybe I should practice a bit more first, and not in my kitchen.
Or instead you can watch the below clip of excellent 4K footage from the Mavic Pro, shot by Youtube user Digital Tech Reviews & Tips. #DroneGoals
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