Blah, Blah, Blah. Droning on.

March 28, 2017

It's been a while since our last blog post, but while "Lady Roslyn" has been safely moored for winter, we have been testing, flying and learning all about drones.

 

As part of the development of content for the Above button, which is an area on our website for footage and images taken from the air, we had to narrow down and make a choice on which drone to buy and take on board "Lady Roslyn".

 

Our first decision was to choose a DJI drone instead of a Hex H2o waterproof drone which we had initially considered. In October last year, we bought a DJI Phantom 4, but immediately got post purchase trauma when we had ordered and paid for it and the next day DJI released their new, folding, Mavic Pro drone. The Mavic Pro seemed to have so many advantages over the Phantom 4 so we decided to order one, but ended up being placed on DJI's VERY long waiting list and the Mavic Pro only arrived in January of this year. In the meantime, DJI upgraded the Phantom 4, which had only been released in March 2016, to the new and improved Phantom 4 Pro, so we sold the Phantom 4 after only having flown it a few times, and ordered a Phantom 4 Pro.

 

From January this year we have been flying both the Phantom 4 Pro and the Mavic Pro extensively, trying to simulate conditions as they will be on board "Lady Roslyn" i.e. only hand launching and hand retrieval, hand retrieval while moving, extensive flying over water and testing in varying wind conditions, so that we can decide which drone is best for us.

 

Besides ease of use, reliability and great battery life (which both of these drones have), the drone we take with us needs to:

 

1. Be easily hand launched and hand caught, at the end of the flight, while standing on the deck of "Lady Roslyn"

2. Have exceptional video and still image quality

3. Not take up too much space on board

 

Here is my real world feedback on both of these drones and how they compare in regard to our top 3 requirements.

 

1. Be easily hand launched and hand caught at the end of the flight, while standing on the deck of "Lady Roslyn"

There is no question that the Phantom 4 Pro is both MUCH safer and MUCH easier to hand launch and hand catch than the Mavic Pro.

 

Over the last few months I have hand launched and hand caught the Phantom 4 Pro around 50 times without ever feeling unsafe or hurting myself. In contrast, I filmed a short video two weeks ago where I needed to hand launch and hand catch the Mavic Pro around 15 times over the course of 2 hours. Of those 15 flights, I clipped my finger on a spinning propeller on two of the hand retrievals (not enough to draw blood but enough that my baby finger was tender for a few days afterwards).

 

In addition, the bottom sensors of the Mavic Pro pick-up your hand as you hover to retrieve the drone and it wants to fly away, which will make hand retrieval while sailing even more tricky. This has never happened with the Phantom 4 Pro.

 

Both Catherine and our daughter Sarah-Jane have hand launched and hand caught the Phantom 4 Pro with one hand, without being scared and without incident. Because of my recent experience with the Mavic Pro, I have not asked them to try hand launching or hand catching it.

I cannot see how it will be possible to safely take off or land a drone on the deck of "Lady Roslyn" while underway. When we are at anchor, deck launching and landing should not be a problem, but as we wish to capture images and videos while we are sailing, hand launching and hand retrieval of the drone is essential and the Phantom 4 Pro is the only one we'll use while sailing.

 

2. Have exceptional video and image quality

As far as video quality go, both of these drones deliver fantastic 4k footage. The Phantom 4 Pro is being marketed as a Prosumer drone as opposed to the Mavic Pro which is marketed as a Consumer model. However, for our use, which will be to film and edit videos for posting to YouTube, both drones offer excellent video quality and a range of shooting modes and frame speeds.

 

For taking photographs, the Phantom 4 Pro has a larger and better image sensor at 20 megapixels versus the Mavic Pro's 12 megapixel one. As we mostly want to upload images to our website or to Facebook, the image quality of either drone will be more than sufficient.

 

In my view, where one of these drones stands out is not in its video quality or its image sensor size, but rather in the fact that one drone offers a mechanical shutter and the other does not.

 

Why does this matter? Simple. It's that one of the drones has to have a filter on its camera lens most of the time when taking video.

 

From a practical point of view, we will be flying the drone in bright and sunny conditions much of the time. To create a beautiful cinematic effect one needs to try to keep the shutter speed of the drone camera at as around twice the frame rate, which is usually 25 frames per second. Without getting too technical, the only way to do this is by using Neutral Density (ND) filters on the front of the camera to block light from entering the camera. If you don't use them, the video on bright days can look choppy as the shutter speed is too fast for smooth video footage.

 

We have a ND4, ND8, ND16, ND32 and a Circular polarising filter for the Mavic Pro. That's a lot of filters and a lot of hassle clipping them on and off the front of the very small camera lens while trying to work out which one is best for the time of day and the intensity of light at that moment.

 

In contrast, the Phantom 4 Pro has a mechanical shutter and the ability to adjust the lens aperture from the screen of our phone while flying.

 

In real terms, this has meant that I have never needed to use a filter on the Phantom 4 Pro and that's been a BIG plus in keeping things simple for me and why the Phantom 4 is usually the drone I pick first.

 

3. Not take up too much space on board

The Mavic Pro is an absolute marvel of engineering. Its arms fold away like a Transformer Action Figure and its portability is absolutely astounding. The drone is MUCH smaller than the Phantom 4 Pro when folded up and the Radio Controller is MUCH smaller than the Phantom 4 Pro's one.

Here they are side by side for comparison - drone, radio controller, propellers and 2 spare batteries

 

When packed into a backpack, the size difference is even more apparent. The one is contained in a big and bulky backpack with a foam insert to hold the drone, the other is in a small hydration backpack with the bladder removed and is light, unobtrusive and easy to sling over your shoulder when walking, trail running or cycling.

Here the backpacks are side by side for comparison. Each with drone, radio controller, propellers and 2 spare batteries packed inside.

 

I am certain that we will want to take a drone with us when we leave "Lady Roslyn" to venture ashore. We love exploring and the coastline of the Mediterranean, where we are sailing for the next few seasons, is rich with old towns, castles and beautiful landscapes. There is no question that the Mavic Pro will be the best drone for taking ashore, but portability was not one of our top 3 requirements.

 

Does the Phantom 4 Pro, when packed up in its backpack take up too much space on board? That's very subjective, but we don't think it's too big to fit into a corner somewhere while still being easily available to take out and start flying easily and quickly.

 

So which drone will we be taking with us?

 

In our opinion, the Phantom 4 Pro meets all 3 of our main requirements and is without a doubt the drone we will be using as our primary drone on board "Lady Roslyn".

 

What about your Mavic Pro you may ask? Well, we can't bring ourselves to sell it and will be taking it with us for when we venture ashore. It's just too good to leave behind.

 

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