Fun Day of Flying My Drone (It could be a bird, a shotgun, a low flying plane or just a douche bag in a Saab.)

So to carry on in the vain of my past few post about “what its like to own a DJI drone” in this post I would like to talk about my personal experiences when out and actually flying.

As I have stated in the past, the Mavic Pro and Pro 2 are stellar flying machines. Personally, I have never had any real bad problems with the aircraft. With my Mavic Pro (the first) I did have one battery mysteriously go bad after about six months. I have dropped a few of my batteries on the ground a few different times and I thought it could possibly be the culprit.

Now as for out flying and in the air, my first big worriment is bird strikes. I have had a few close calls, actually several close calls with birds. Secondly, I worry about someone shooting the drone with a shotgun and third is a “just as luck would have it situation.” There is a farm where I rent space to keep my BBQ cooking equipment for my catering business. I am allowed to fly there however it is a bit tricky because as luck would have it there is a natural gas pipeline that runs right through the farm property. Every day about 10:00am-ish a small single engine plane flies over at about 300 feet. The underside of the wings says “Pipe Line Patrol.” I fly at the farm mostly for practice and testing the different flight modes & profiles. It is a very wide-open space and I am not flying over people; however, I always have to keep a keen eye out for the Pipeline Patrol plane. Sure, it comes by each day around the same time, but what if one day it came at a different time? You just never know.

Birds were a problem from day one. There are several different kinds of birds at the farm, more in the warm weather, of course. The barn swallows like to gang up on the drone if it is 100 feet or lower and the closer to the buildings the more, they dive at it. I have never had one hit it yet, but I think that is because when I see them coming, I move higher and further away.

Hawks are common site at the farm, however they rarely come after the drone. But when they do it is quite scary. Most times the hawk will come in quick, he will first fly past as if not to notice the drone or care about it too much. Then after seeming to fly away and usually higher, the hawk will turn and go into a dive picking up a great amount of speed. His trajectory is usually not perfectly aligned with the done and he actually dives lower than the drone. Then at the last second with all the speed he built from his dive, he will pull up and arc directly toward the drone. Most times when the hawk comes close and I usually go into sport mode and hightail it out of his airspace.

Is the hawk just toying around or is the hawk serious? I’m not an Avian expert so I’ll just leave it at that. Better safe than sorry and at the same time I really don’t want the hawk to get hurt either. I think they are beautiful and majestic and after all I am the intruder here.

The dreaded shotgun; This is something I really do worry about. Although I never fly close and low over people’s houses and I’m not into peering or leering into people’s private lives, I still worry. People can be malicious, especially if they think they can get away with it and most likely they would. I have overheard locals talking about drones and not knowing I own two and also not knowing I was listening to their conversation outside the local convenience store; I heard one man telling another “I hope a drone flies over my property because I’ll blast it with a shotgun.” At this time laws are constantly changing and as far as I know at this very moment, it is illegal where I live to down an aircraft regardless of its size, manned or unmanned. However just because something is illegal doesn’t stop people from doing it. It is illegal to mug someone, still I think I’ll stay out of the dark alley in the bad part of town anyway. Sure, even if you caught the guy for shooting down your drone, the trouble one would have to go through to get another drone would certainly not be worth it.

Now as for encountering people when I fly; I have to say that most people who see me flying my drones are pretty nice and this can be a double edge sword of sorts. While it is nice to see that they are ok with me flying my drone there are sometimes the people who are nice, but very intrigued at the same time. They will come over and start asking questions about the drone because they are honestly interested. However, it can be very bothersome when I’m in the middle of trying to get a shot. Most often this person just doesn’t realize that I am in the middle of actually doing something with the drone. Usually I will say politely that I will answer all your questions in just a minute.

They will run though the typical gamut of questions starting with how much does that drone cost? Are they hard to fly? And then things like; I have a $30 drone that I chase my cat around the house with. They’ll ask about the video and photos and I’ll usually show them some video and photos on my phone or tablet.

In my two plus years of owning drones I have come across one real dick head, to put it bluntly. I was at a location that was an old abandon pharmaceutical farm. It is a large parcel of land that once was a farm that had many buildings and pastures for grazing. The pharmaceutical company housed animals there for testing animal medicines and vitamins for animal use. The land was now owned or controlled by the state and it is still unclear to me as to what the status of the land is. It is not actually a park or a reserve or even a preserve. However, the land does butt up to a park on one side. Rangers patrol the park, but again it is very unclear when I read online as to who has jurisdiction. One read will say it falls into the hands of the local police because it is not a park and another state website claimed it could be controlled by county or state rangers. Either way I though it would be a great place to fly the drone on a weekday afternoon because no one was around. I came, I flew and I left with no problem at all.

Upon returning several months later in the month of September, No one was there, I was flying and had used on battery. I found my locations for good video shots and a few locations for some photos. I use the first 20 minutes to figure out what and where I want to shoot, then I return and replace the battery and away I go. While returning for the battery swap, I see a car pull in the lot. Sometimes you just know, you get a bad feeling in your stomach. The car door opens and out steps a real living G.I. Joe doll. He’s dressed like he just fell of a page from the Cabela’s catalog. He’s decked from head to toe in camouflage and he opens the truck of the car (a Saab) and takes out what looked like a new style muzzle loader rifle. He walked until he is about 20 feet from me and starts to tell me in his Sean Connery voice that what I’m doing is highly illegal and he could have me arrested.

In my 54 years of being on this earth the one thing I have learned is “I know a douche bag when I see one” and this guy was just that. When people first threaten you with arrest in the very first few seconds of meeting you, in a situation where no one or nothing is being harmed, they’re not a police officer and they throw this vast wealth of information in your face… most times they have no idea what they’re talking about. Kind of like a peacock fanning her tail to scare off a perceived threat.

I gracefully continued to hover the drone at about 250 feet in the air and he didn’t even know the drone was up there. He seen me holding the controller and though I was getting ready to fly. I set the controller down on the hood of my vehicle and moved away from it, leaving the drone to just hover high above. I let him continue with his rhetoric, spewing his verbal diarrhea of knowledge about drones. Funny thing was he never once could tell me what the laws were, only that he knew I was not allowed to fly at that location. Of course, he wanted me gone because he wanted to go hunting and felt I was going to scare away the deer. The deer that were still grazing in a meadow about 250 yards from where we were standing. I seen them while I was flying and the drone never bothered them one bit.

I told him my name and said if he’d like he could call the police or whoever he felt he needed to call. “Maybe you need to call your therapist because you seem a little upset” and with that he started to get ruffled and stated “I’m not upset, I’m not upset at all, I know the law and you’re breaking it.” Then I delivered the final blow when I said “you are upset, you appear to have sand in your vagina and it’s ruining your wonderful afternoon of hunting.” Just then the battery on the drone reached its low-level limit and the controller started to beep and giving out the verbal commands of “low battery and returning to home.” This made him very uneasy because now something was happening with the drone and I wasn’t even holding the controller. The drone was slowly descending and you could hear the sound of the props. He was trying to act as if he wasn’t flustered, but he kept looking up and looking at me at the same time.

As the drone was landing, I walked over to his car and put my photography business card under the wiper blade on his windshield and said “just so you have all the correct information if and when you decide to call whoever you’re going to call.” He just continued the blah, blah, blah and I put the Mavic Pro in the car and left. But not before telling him “I hope that sand doesn’t irritate you too much, I hear it can be pretty bad if left untreated.”

Sure, I thought about going down the road, stopping and buzzing him with the drone a few times just to irritate him even more, but then I would be just as much an asshole as him. Needless to say, I never heard a word from any authorities about the incident confirming that he knew nothing of what he was talking about.

So, in conclusion there are a few things out there that can ruin your fun day of flying. It could be a bird, a shotgun, a low flying plane or just a douche bag in a Saab.

Happy flying, be safe and always be aware.

What’s It Like to Own a DJI Drone? (from the digital era to the half baked era, the new world order)

What’s it like to own a DJI drone? A bit of a strange question if I do say so myself! I own 2 DJI drones and few other pieces of DJI equipment such as camera stabilization gimbals. So with that said; Let me rip on DJI a little bit here.

The drone market exploded around the world in the past few years and DJI has been a front runner in the several areas of the drone market, both consumer and commercial. Dà-Jiāng Innovations Science and Technology Co. Ltd. Was founded by Frank Wang and their headquarters is located in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China. So let’s start off by talking about the “new world order” when it comes to designing, marketing and customer service and this does not just apply to DJI or other drone companies. This new world order applies to many manufacturing companies and it crosses over into the service sector too, many banks fall into this new world order as well.

So the new world order I am speaking of can be wrapped in a nut shell and labeled as “Do whatever it takes to suck the money from the customer and worry about lawsuits & backlash later.” This new rule or theory moves away from the old days of companies “wanting” to create quality products and wanting to give customers good service. The new theory is, or business footprint is closer to “strategic battle planning” in a war game. We have an objective and we must conquer it. The objective is to “get your money” and the battle plan is to make you think that what you’re getting is worth it, BUT we (the manufacture) are not really sure we have a complete product. So therefore, we will create diversions in hopes you won’t notice the pitfalls of the product. We will also make it very hard to return the product (short return window) and it some cases we will just rip you off, period.

Of course, the idea of creating a product and selling it is what business is all about. However, creating something that falls short of what you claim it to be is wrong and more so a lot of companies have accepted this as the norm. As we move into this era of “tech-rich” products and creating products that do more & more, I feel it is harder & harder for design teams to cover all the bases of what the end result should be. For example; if we look back several years (actually a lot), when I was a boy the radio-controlled airplane was a big deal when they hit the market. I did not own one but I had several friends who did. The radio-controlled cars, boats & helicopters were also amazing. All of these afore mentioned products only had to do a very short list of things. They had to communicate between the controller and the vehicle and make the vehicle move and stop.

The drones of today are so much more intense in design. There is the camera system, the GPS system and of course electrical circuitry and more. The drone is communicating to satellites, it is communicating to a controller that is communicating to your phone or tablet that is using an app. I forgot to mention the obstacle avoidance camera systems that is separate from the main camera. Add it all up and when you think about it, “a little drone is actually a pretty intense little piece of equipment.” This complexity certainly creates a challenge to produce a quality product and release it to the public and not have any issues. Many times, electronics products (drones included) are released knowing they have certain issues and the company decided to keep these issues hush hush and they go with the mindset “we’ll fix it in a firmware update.” DJI is infamous for this tactic and that was one of the reasons I waited so long to purchase my first DJI drone. When I purchased the second drone I just went with the mindset “the drone will have some sort of issue” and it did. Although minor, none the less it had issues and I was prepared for it. Stepping away from drones for a minute and shifting over to talking about DJI gimbals; gimbals are another electronic product that has exploded around the world. The prices have come down, there are many on the market to choose from and they’re very easy to use. DJY released the Ronin S and in my opinion, this was a total “monkey fuck” to the people who purchased them. Or I should say to most of the people who purchased them. A PDF was released showing camera models that the gimbal would be able to communicate with and when the gimbal was released, however we found that it would only work with a few cameras. DJI promised to correct this with… you guessed it “firmware updates.” As of this writing the gimbal has been on the market for several month, there have been firmware updates, however not all the cameras on the list communicate with the Ronin S gimbal as promised. Yes, I am one of the affected customers. You have to know the gimbal is a very fine piece of equipment and my camera balances on the gimbal just fine and I can shoot video. But I was under the belief the gimbal would communicate with my camera and allow starting & stopping of video as well as being able to use a focus wheel.

I know I got off the topic of drones, but the purpose was to point out DJI is a company that will actually just break the laws of advertisement and make flat out false claims about their products.

So yeah owning a DJI or any DJI product comes with drama bombs attached, for sure.

My original post ended with the previous sentence and I didn’t post right away because I thought I might have more to add. After about a week I was getting ready to post when I was watching a vlogger who was talking about “half baked” software. Meaning the software is released with known issues, but the maker of the software figures as people complain the company will fix the issues with updates. And then it hit me right between the eyes that all this “half baked” bull shit started with Microsoft Windows. Are you (the reader) old enough to remember the “Blue Box Errors” that plagued Windows software?

So truly anybody born after the late 90s would never know that before the digital era there were actually companies that cared enough to turn a nicely finished product for their customers. Today it seems ok to put out half baked software, however prior to the digital era everything was tangible and mechanical. Software is not tangible, gimbals & drones are tangible but the need firmware (software) to work, leaving us with this new world order.

So, there it is… we entered the digital era aka the “half baked era” and you thought hippies were the only thing that were half baked.

I haven’t flown my drones in over a month due to the holidays and bad weather. So yesterday I decided to charge batteries and get everything ready for some flying and well… after 2 hours of firmware updating to the drones, the controllers and the batteries, yes even the batteries needed firmware updates.

And that is what it is like to own a DJI drone. Happy flying… after the firmware updates of course.

Drone Message Internet Message Boards (it is like taking a stroll in to the local pub or bar.)

Let’s talk about internet message boards in regards to drone ownership. Message boards can be a wealth of information right at your fingertips. You can quickly find answers that will help you solve problems and just all around they can help you with general knowledge of all things drones. Many people are already familiar with message boards from other aspects of our lives. Things such as finding answers to the noise your car is making or solving a problem with an error message on our computers and so much more.

However you are now dealing with the “internet” and you have no idea who is providing the information you are seeking. In my opinion I would say a good amount of all the info we seek on the internet is accurate, but you would be a fool to think everything you read and see is correct information. So when it comes to message boards… it is like taking a stroll in to the local pub or bar. You may meet a really nice bunch of people who are willing to be your friends and help you out or you may meet a bunch of know-it-all snobs. However, the one thing I can assure you is that, you will meet a few (maybe a lot) assholes and people who you will wonder “how they tie their shoes in the morning.”

I get an email once a week from one of the drone forums I follow and it will have links to the most popular topics from the past week. Guaranteed the “my drone flew away on my first flight” topic is always listed. Please don’t be one of those people. If you are reading this post and haven’t purchased a drone yet please take the time to read the proper setup and safety features for your drone. Most all drones have a beginner mode and my advice is “use it.” I set my Mavic Pro 2 to “beginner mode” even though I had been flying my first Mavic over 1 year. Understand your RTH (return to home) feature and how it works before you even turn the drone on for the first time.

Other popular topics are usually about laws, rules & regulations. This is just as important as any other aspect of flying your drone. You want to understand Return to Home because you don’t want to lose your drone. You also need to understand laws rules and regulations because this is another way you can lose your drone. While I will admit some laws are downright stupid, other laws need to be obeyed for safety & security. One of the most violated laws is flying too close to major airports. This absolutely perplexes me and just goes to show how many assholes our society has. And again this topic is a popular one on most all drone message boards. At first reading these threads is quite comical but is soon loses its luster because it is the same rhetoric, post after post. One guy claims to know the law and says another person is wrong. The guy, who says he’s right, knows he is right because the kid who lives next door told him so. And other times both people are right because they live in different locations and the laws are different. As you can see this all becomes very confusing and mind boggling to someone who “just wants to go fly their drone.”

My way around all this confusion was to seek out people who knew more than me and that had credible knowledge, if you look hard enough you will find them. All message boards have a few members who are just a wealth of correct information. They may be a person who flies drones for a living or may have previously/currently works in drone design & manufacturing or they could just be that good ole geeky guy/gal who understands all thing drones that the rest of us need a little help figuring out. Become friends with these people, appreciate them and respect them for their knowledge that you don’t have. This has worked for me and I made some pretty cool friends around the world and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So as you see my thoughts and opinion of internet message boards is “be careful” whose advice and info you decide to use. Happy flying and thanks for reading.

Entering The Drone World. (Like many people I really wanted to embrace this new technology…)

Mavic Pro with Polarpro ND filter.

I purchased my first video/photography drone in May of 2017. The Mavic Pro was all the rage when it was first released in late 2016. I held off my purchase until spring of 2017 because I was very leery of a few things. I was very curious about the fact that it was taking a long time for DJI to come up to speed on the manufacturing and shipping of the Mavic Pro. Like many people I really wanted to embrace this new technology so I spent countless hours watching videos, reading blogs and checking out some spectacular video & photos that would appear every minute on social media. So at some point I said “let’s just do it” and I ordered the Mavic Pro and my journey began. And quite the journey it has become. I have had and continue to have so much fun, that I purchased the Mavic Pro 2 on the day it was released; ironically it was also my birthday.

But not all thing are so great about DJI drones and this post is going to be a multi part series of posts  in which I will cover the fun and the not so fun things that have happened with me and my little propeller friends. I’m going to try to stick closely to my own personal experiences and not touch so much on hear-say and rumored info.

So let me get started by saying that today many companies have found a very unique and cheap way of advertising the release of a new product. Being 54 years old at the time of this writing I have seen this change of advertising take place, whereas younger people think it has always been this way.

So let’s mock up an example; I manufacture drones and I want to get the word out. In the old school way I had to spend quite a hefty budget on TV commercials and magazine advertising, not to mention all the other forms of advertising such as billboards and giveaways ect… However today we have the “YouTube stars” or vloggers as they are called (at least for this week). The vlogger makes money from the advertisements that are placed on his videos. The more subscribers his channel has the more people, who watch, the more money our happy little vlogger makes. So I (the drone maker) send a free drone to the vlogger for him to review. The vlogger is so happy because he is one of the few to receive this product before it has come to market. This in turn creates a buzz amongst his subscribers and he’ll gain new subscribers. So he fly’s the drone and reviews it. Now here is where the magic happens… The vlogger will never trash the drone for fear of never receiving another free drone. If there is something about the drone that is just plain down right fucked up, our vlogger will more or less just say things like “I hope they change this before it goes to market” or some other smoke screen verbiage that just trails off into “it’s not so bad.” I have also seen super vloggers who just don’t even mention the worst thing about the product. So in the end it comes down to “hype” and let’s face it “hype” works. Hey if I stood in the street and hyped up eating dog shit on a cracker and was able to keep a straight face because I was making a boat load of money doing it, people would start lining up and buying dog shit on a cracker. And then of course they would bite into it and say “hey wait a minute, this tastes like dog shit on a cracker.” Okay, so then I say (with lots of hype and a smile) “you’re not doing it right, you have to buy this overpriced cheese to cover up the shitty taste.” … and yes then all the sheeples line up to buy the overpriced cheese. And so the saga continues.

Yes sadly this is how I felt when I first purchased the Mavic Pro. I unboxed the drone and I must say that the actual quality of the aircraft it’s self was and remains to this day a stellar piece of equipment. DJI (the drone manufacture) had the aircraft part down to a precision and amazing design. However the camera fell two miles short of the runway from what all the vloggers were saying about it. All the vlogger were screaming in orgasmic tones that this camera on the Mavic Pro was…  omg it’s like… you know it’s just… When in reality it was a cell phone camera on a drone. Just imagine the drone is a fine tuned Formula 1 race car and the camera is the driver, only the driver is the old guy that was your school bus driver. Yeah that’s pretty much it right there.

So much hype was put on how great the aircraft fly’s and how awesome your video will look. Yeah your video will look awesome after you spend weeks trying to figure out the settings for sharpness, contrast and saturation. And your video will look awesome after you spend around a $100 of ND filters. And your video will look awesome after you edit it in Adobe Premiere Pro CC (or comparable software). You have Premiere Pro? Right! Everybody has a subscription to Premiere Pro and everybody learned to edit cinematic grade 4K video in 3rd grade. Oh yeah… and you do have 4K monitor so your video doesn’t scitch along like it has turrets.

Let us not forget the 2 hours spent updating firmware the moment you take the drone out of the box. Even better yet… I open the box to find connection cords for the controller for every phone but the phone I own. At the time I owned a current and up to date android phone. However I had to wait two days for a cord to come from Amazon before I could fly my Mavic. Now let’s just think about that for a moment. I just purchased a $1300 drone (extra batteries, chargers ect…) and there are cords to connect the controller to various phones, but not my phone. A quick trip to the online message boards and I find that I am not alone. So this little incident was another strong clue that while DJI can design and build a stellar aircraft the company strongly lacks common sense in several other areas. And this seems to be a running theme that today’s Millennials just seem to think is the norm with a huge tech companies and it is ok to just bend over and grab your ankles. Apple which is most often thought of as very innovative is very innovative… at bending you over when it comes to buying   peripherals. Best of all their customers love it. Actually they do bitch about it, but they rub their sphincter and say “it’ll be ok because I own an Apple.” So get ready to feel a little hurt from DJI.

Ok, so cord issue solved and I’m up and flying for a few weeks and getting used to the drone. But the video was just horrible; blurry out of focus or when it was in focus it just wasn’t crisp. So here we go back to YouTube to spend countless hours listening to vloggers who are not experts at all. One vlogger says this and another says that. Then there are the DJI tutorials that were not really that helpful for my problem. Now let’s just make it more interesting, let’s change the DJI GO4 app every two weeks or so. Color profiles that were there last week are no longer available unless you uninstall the app and roll back to an older version. Then DJI releases and update that will not let you roll back once you’ve accepted the new update.

All I want to do is fly the drone and shoot video and photos. I am a photographer and I can reach in my camera bag and grab my new camera or my 10-year-old camera and start capturing images or video with no problems at all, just a memory card and a battery and I’m good to go.

I purchased the drone with the thoughts and intentions of having what I really thought would be a good quality flying camera that (from all the hype) was something you could easily carry and put up and take down with not too much of a problem at all. Instead I have this wonderfully engineered aircraft that needs firmware updates, app updates and the camera is nothing more than a flying cell phone camera with a fixed aperture. What a letdown!

So now you are probably asking “where does the fun part come in to the picture” (pardon the pun).  The fun in flying came right away because the aircraft is amazing. The fun in video started after I purchased a set of ND filters and finally figured out the proper camera settings, along with the use of LUTs for grading the video shot in D-Log & D-cinelike. But that camera fun faded quickly when I started to see the video was still falling apart due to the capturing bit rates and blah blah blah. Just remember “flying cell phone camera.”

At this point (about 4 months into owning the Mavic Pro) I decided “let’s just keep flying and shooting. Get good at maneuvering and capturing and practice good work flow habits so when the Mavic 2 come along I can hit the ground running.” I know that sounds a bit idiotic, but it is true.

Let’s run through a breakdown of things the average drone buyer may not know about video. Ok, so there is video and then there is cinematic video and there is a very big difference between the two. Most all of the vloggers I seen promoting the Mavic Pro were promoting the creating of cinematic video. Some would actually walk the viewer through the process while others did not. I, being a photographer and shooting a fair amount of video already knew about camera settings, ND filters and editing. However I have met (in person & online) many Mavic owners who did not really understand the “cinematic” process and they assumed the video (mostly coloring) came straight out of camera.

I have talked with many first time drone owners who did not understand firmware and constant updating.

Then there is the big mystery of “laws, rules & regulation.” This topic is baffling to many because it keeps changing, although we’re getting closer to a standardized regulation, it has not happened yet as of this writing. From the day I first heard of consumer drones I knew it would be a rocky road until the government is satisfied with the amount of money the government can make from it. Sure I will be the first to agree we need laws, rules & regulations to keep you and I and our country safe. But that will come with a price tag… to be paid to Uncle Sam.

So that about wraps up this post, but I will continue with other topics such as the problem with internet message boards and where to seek advice or help with your drone. I will also cover my opinion and experiences with the Mavic Pro 2. Also moving a little off the drone topic I will talk about my experiences with other DJI product and the horrendous misleading advertising DJI has performed directly. Yes DJI want you money bad enough they’ll promise you the moon and then some.

Drone laws and my experiences with the place I have flown my drones.

Thanks so much for reading.