Filmmakers should keep the following in mind DJIs FPV Drone.
When DJI first released its FPV drone, we were cautiously curious: while it wasn’t directly aimed at the filmmaking community, some of the speed and agility it offered seemed useful. Filmmakers are notorious for finding ways to tailor things to our needs.
DJI was kind enough to let us test it, and we tested it in Calvert Vaux and upstate New York and were wildly impressed with how fun it was but still wary of its usefulness for filmmaking. There will be times when you might want to take photos with it, but it will be less useful as a filming tool than something like the new Mavic Air 2S.
What is it?
The FPV drone is dedicated to one thing: acrobatic and fast flying fun with a first-person view for the operator. This is not in itself a “racing” drone. It’s too hard to be very competitive in racing. But it’s kind of a way to get into drone racing for the curious looking for an easy way to learn. Most racing drones require customization and are harder to fly. The FPV could potentially be the “easy to get” option for getting someone up to speed and acting as a gateway to faster drones.
But it’s definitely not a movie drone. While lines like Inspire, Phantom and Mavic have a built-in 3-axis stabilizer for the camera, which makes it possible to obtain stabilized images while recording, the FPV camera is built directly into the device.
To get a steady shot, you need to make a steady shot. You can tilt the camera up and down, but this is primarily to compensate for the change in speed of the drone’s angle of attack. As you get faster, the drone will tilt down and you can pan the camera up to compensate.
The lack of a gimbal for stabilization makes this drone primarily designed for shots that fly straight ahead or in a straight line. To get a sideways or circular tracking shot, the drone has to move sideways. While you can do this with this drone, sideways movement will cause the drone to go out of level and there will be no gimbal to keep the image steady while you do this. If you look closely at the promo video there is amazing, dynamic and beautiful footage but limited number of directions of movement.
The device has the ability to record 4K 60p. For the shots it can take with ease, you can get pretty amazing pictures out of the FPV, but you need to be sure that you plan your shots properly within its limits.
The FPV has three flight modes: N for normal, S for sport and M for manual. N will look familiar to anyone who has flown a DJI drone in the past few years. The drone does a lot of work interpreting your controls and creating a smooth flight path. It’s a great mode to easily take off, land, and fly around obstacles, and it’s a great way to get used to working with the drone.
One of the nice features of the FPV is a large physical switch on the front of the controller that you can use to switch modes. So you can take off in N mode and then switch to S mode if you want more flexibility and speed in the air. You can switch to M while in the air, but be warned. M is a different flight mode for manual mode. The drone doesn’t do as much work for you and you have more direct control of the system.
This allows for a lot more flexibility, but it also just becomes more difficult. If you want to hit the absolute top speed for the FPV you need to be in M mode, but you won’t want to use M mode until you have had time to practice and prepare.
DJI has developed a phone app that you can use to learn how to fly the FPV in M mode. Using a game engine that you control with the flight controller, you can preview the experience of a fully manual drone. This is a very useful feature of the FPV platform as flying in M mode is just more complicated than most Phantom or Mavic users are used to.
This app is awesome and comes with a series of escalating tutorials that you can use to practice how to work in manual mode. But it also made us very sick. I rarely get motion sickness in real life situations, but digital ones have already triggered it in me and there is something to be aware of if you’ve had a similar reaction.
Although it uses the same head-mounted goggles that you will be using in actual flight, I didn’t have the same reaction with the actual physically flying device. If you use the Training app and find yourself feeling sick, it doesn’t mean you can’t fly at all. Try flying it in the air in N mode first to get used to the controls and see if your system can handle it. mine did well.
While filmmakers like to think we could tweak anything to create the imagery we want, ultimately the FPV is not the ideal tool for aerial photography except for high speed and intense acrobatics. When you want to do something like the famous bowling alley videoThe FPV would be a great competitor, but be aware that even if you are experienced with the more traditional DJI offerings like the Mavic lineup, you will need a tremendous amount of practice.
But what about those amazing goggles? The glasses are amazing indeed. In fact, they are so good that it seems reasonable that DJI will at some point expand support for them to other platforms. It’s really a “fun” way to operate the camera.
Again, we have to reiterate that while it’s super fun and a great way to have fun, it’s not necessarily what a filmmaker is looking for in terms of operations. While you’re taking a shot, most of you will want to look at the drone and its flight path to see what’s coming on stage to stage a cool reveal. This is not possible if you immerse yourself in the glasses.
Should you get an FPV? If you’re looking for some fun, definitely. It’s just so much fun to fly. When you have a specific project that requires speed, tremendous agility, and lots of time to practice? Then the FPV could be the right drone for this project, especially since its 4K 60p images are quite good.
However, if you’re looking for something that is competitive at lower speeds, easier to fly, and has stabilized images, you might be better off looking at something like the Mavic 2 Pro or the new Air 2S. Those high speeds that the FPV offers are just not that useful in so many shooting situations, and the skills required to perform these shots will take most of your time to develop.