DJI Mavic Air 2S - First Impressions

Discussion in 'Aerial and Drone' started by Ed_Ingold, Jun 17, 2021.

  1. I have been been flying a DJI Mavic Mini for a year and a half, finding it both interesting and challenging. It does nearly everything a more advanced drone does, but with little automation and no obstacle detection. In short you have to actually fly the device 100% of the time, everything else being secondary. My interest is photography, not blasting across a wheat field or between tree branches. The Mini takes 12 MP still photos and 2.7K video, but best used for 1080p60 footage. A drone offers an amazingly stable photographic platform. Flight is smooth, and it can hover within inches even with wind turbulence. The 3-axis gimbal eliminates visible yaw and tilt disturbances. Manual control over the gimbal is crude and requires a lot of trial and error.

    The Mavic Air 2S is a polished arial camera by comparison. It has a full 1" sensor with 20 MP and 12 stops of dynamic range in both RAW and JPEG formats. It shoots video at a maximum resolution of 5.4Kp30, as well as 4Kp60 and up to 1080p120, all at 10 bit depth for excellent grading tolerance.

    The controller is more ergonomic than that of the Mini, with the iPhone on top (without blocking the camera for face ID). Control is responsive, but smoother and better modulated than that of the Mini, which is like a small terrier on a leash at times.

    As a photographer, the feature I like best (so far) is the ability to mark and track an identifiable person or object. The camera stays centered when you fly over or around that object, and the drone can fly around or alongside that object to keep up as it moves. I found it very difficult to coordinate the gimbal and motion of the Mini when shooting a house, for example. With tracking, you can lock on on the door of a house, for example, and fly to get the best composition for a photo. I look forward to tracking my favorite family pet, a golden retriever, as it dashes for the water and dives in. The Air 2S can fly up to 45 mph, so it should keep up, at a safe distance (which can be specified as well).

    I took her up for the first time this afternoon. I'll post some examples as I go along.
  2. This is a photo I took on my first flight. The on-screen options are simple enough, unless you are watching out for trees and he sun isn't in your eyes or on the screen. If you can't stand in shade (which makes it hard to see the drone), a sun shade of some sort would be very helpful. Too bad it doesn't work with a Ninja V. If nothing else, this photo is clear enough to indicate which gutters need cleaning. Tomorrow I venture into the Northern Illinois countryside, with rolling hills and decaying farm structures. Eventually we will end up at the Great Galena Balloon Race for an evening of flights and glows. No, I do not intend to fly in proximity to the hot air balloons. Feet on the ground, camera in hand is more than enough.

  3. I see in various sources that drones are devastating the cinematic use of helicopters. Fuel and servicing costs about $400/hour. However leasing a helicopter includes crew, maintenance, storage and financing, bringing the minimum cost to about $4K per day. It's cheaper to buy or rent a large drone, fit it with a RED camera, and shoot at your leisure. I suspect it's easier to use a drone on a location shot than setting up a 60' crane (which folds to the size and weight of a Volkswagen bug).
  4. The Mavic Air 2S software includes various maneuvers which can be automatically assembled into a master shot, including near orbit, far orbit, rocket (zoom up at a 30 deg angle) and satellite (look straight down and spin). You start by selecting an object in the finder to be the focus. While not particularly cinematic, this clip is of a ruined farm building in Northern Illinois to demonstrate some of the features.

    I need to omit the example for now while I sort out the privacy issues.

    [Sample not available]
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2021
  5. Sorry, I needed to adjust some settings in the Vimeo link. This is what I wished to present in the previous post.

    Last edited: Jun 23, 2021
  6. Very helpful. I'm leaning strongly toward getting a 2S as my first drone soon. My interest is only stills, not video, but it seems to be a vastly superior platform for still as well. 20 MP should be plenty, and I'd rather have the larger photosites, compared to the earlier 48 MP version.
  7. I am intrigued by the video, especially the way the Air 2S can track moving objects. However its still capabilities are impressive, and I intend to explore them thoroughly in the near future. Unlike the Mini, the 2S will save 20 MP RAW images. It is amazingly stable as a camera platform, and far easier to deploy than a tripod, much less the 9' tripod now languishing in my attic. It can crop to 16:9, 3:2 and 4:3. The lens is 22 mm f/2.8 (fixed) compared to 28 mm for the more expensive Mavic Pro 2, which gives you much more FOV to work with when shooting or cropping.

    I'm a long way from being an expert pilot, but the 2S is so much easier and smoother to fly than the Mini I'm not at a total loss.

    A first-time purchaser from DJI should know that once you activate the drone, even if you don't fly it, you have 48 hours to purchase repair/replacement insurance from DJI. It doesn't take much of an accident to trash a drone, so I think the insurance is well worth the cost. Replacements are about $125 with the insurance. Flyaways are rare but possible. They're covered too, but replacement costs about $500, half the price of a new drone.

    The Fly More kit is also worth the money. You get two extra batteries, 2 complete sets of props, a 3 slot charger and a nice shoulder bag carrying case. The 2S weighs more than 0.55 pounds, so it must be registered (in the US) with the FAA for a $5. You must also take the TRUST safety exam from a choice of organizations. It's free, takes 15-30 minutes, and you can't fail. You must a have a copy of the registration and TRUST certificates with you at all times when flying.
    mike_halliwell likes this.
  8. Finding a location suitable for drone photography can be challenging. You start with legal restrictions, which must be met. FAA regulations, at least for recreational flying, are pretty straightforward as described above. You still face a patchwork of local laws, and even patchier enforcement. In a rare moment of enlightenment, state law in Illinois preempts all local restrictions. However you can still be considered a "nuisance", particularly of someone makes a complaint. The mobile app, "B4UFLY" is a good place to start, because it displays controlled (FAA) air space at your location. Airports and landing strips are relatively permanent, but B4UFLY also displays temporary restrictions, including those related to weather, events and official travel. Once the system is running again, you can get quick LAANC approval to fly in some restricted air space. Don't try to contact an airport or control tower directly.

    The last thing you need are crowds, or even spectators. Curiosity can lead to safety issues, or at worst, hostility. Children are especially troublesome because drone activities and hardware resembles gaming, and they have no inhibitions against joining the fun. I'm not sure how a certain golden retriever would react to something within reach, not to mention dogs in general.

    Having exercised due diligence, how do you identify and take advantage of a photogenic situation? It's really hard to imagine how familiar places will look at 400 feet (or much less). The best approach may be to try it and see. With altitude, the foreground becomes much more accessible. Trees and water can be overcome (within limits). Thinking of Ireland a few years back, how hard it was to find gaps in the ubiquitous 6' (2 m) stone and briar hedges lining the country roads, or overlooks to see the fields and fences. (I now have a 12' CF "selfie" stick which might have done the trick.)
  9. Here is a still photo I took yesterday from an altitude of about 90'. The original is a 20 MP DNG image.

  10. Alright, Ed, you convinced me. Mine just arrived. Have company now, so I'll have to unpack it on Monday and start teaching myself.
  11. Great, and good luck. There are dozens of videos, from basic to acrobatic. Watch as many as you can. The manual is thorough but sometimes hard to read and understand. Videos help. Remember to buy the flight insurance before you activate the drone. and before you fly (that is, if you want it).

    I bought a hood that shields the phone from sunlight. It helps a lot if you can't stand in shade.
  12. Not every drone shot needs to be from 400 feet high, or skimming the landscape at 40 mph. I find one of the more interesting uses of a drone is as a flying tripod. This gives me almost unlimited access around obstacles, such as water and roadside shrubbery. The height is usually modest, between 10 and 25 feet. With the built-in gimbal, the drone offers very good stability, even at slow shutter speeds and modest wind. It's easy to finesse the position, yaw and vertical camera angle to compose the image. The Mavic 2S takes 20 MP RAW stills with a wide dynamic range of capture.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2021
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    Last edited: Jul 20, 2021
  14. Thanks. Indeed. I found even the long pdf available online to be incomplete. I cobbled together instructions from that manual, a DJI video, a very good YouTube video, and a few google searches. There are a lot of details to learn.

    One thing that nothing I read or saw prepared me for is how fast the thing is. I've been flying in "Cine" mode, which is by far the slowest, and even with that setting, it's unnervingly fast when you first start using it, if you push the controls to the max.

    Another thing I wasn't prepared for is how easy it is to lose sight of the drone, given that it's tiny, gray, and fast. The LEDs on the legs are useless in bright sunshine. The second time I took it out, I completely lost sight of it, so I told it to fly home, and I was startled to hear it approaching from behind me.

    The 35mm-equivalent focal length of the lens on this drone is only 22mm, so things get tiny really fast as you fly higher.
  15. There is a bright light on the bottom which you can turn on, making it much easier to locate. There are also 3rd party anti-collision lights which are very bright and flashing. I have one of the following. If the drone is hard to see from below it is even harder to see from above, as from a cliff or high place. I attached the extra light on top for that reasons, on recommendation by others.

    Lume Cube STROBE Anti-Collision Light for Drones

    The auto fly home option can cause problems, because it first climbs to a preset height (e.g., 30 meters) to clear trees and buildings before flying straight home. This is which is useless if you're flying under overlapping branches (e.g., a small stream). With a drone you can hover in place, and turn (yaw) to get oriented, and fly home manually. It helps to point the camera straight down for manual landing.

    The map shows the orientation of the drone, which helps knowing which way to push the sticks.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2021
  16. Thanks for the warning. The manual says that it will go to the preset height if two conditions are met: it's more than 50m from its takeoff location, and it's flying lower than the preset height. between 5 and 50m, it's supposed to return at its current height. Closer than 5m, it just lands. I haven't yet found a place to set the preset height.

    It does have a set of avoidance maneuvers for returning home (p. 15 of the manual). I haven't fully digested them yet.
  17. I continue to have fun with my flying tripod, seeing familiar places in an entirely new perspective - Apple River Canyon, ruined farm building, and the Mississippi palisades.

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    gary green likes this.
  18. I am half competent flying now, but I am still working on what will look good in a print.

    I found the color rendition not very good with this camera (shooting raw). Maybe I'm spoiled by the superb color science in my Canon bodies, but the images from the 2S often seem distorted to me. the most common problem is that greens look wrong, and I finally found that changing the green calibration setting in Lightroom, moving it to about 40 in the direction away from yellow, makes a big improvement.

    I haven't looked at the JPEGs. This may be fine in those.
  19. I was shooting RAW and did not adjust the white balance in any of these photos. Perhaps your defaults in Lightroom are misadjusted, or your monitor needs calibration.

    You might shoot a standard white card and check the white balance. You can also shoot a G-M color chart and use X-Rite software to create an LUT.
  20. I use a high-quality wide-gamut NEC monitor that I calibrate, so that's not the issue. Neither are settings in Lightroom, as the calibration settings are the default, and they work fine with my three camera bodies.

    It's a good suggestion to photograph a white card. I haven't done that. I did take essentially identical photos with the drone and my 5D Mark IV, and the greens differed. I don't have a color chart, unfortunately. I'll explore further.

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