As promised earlier this week, I’ll share my process for choosing a photography drone with you. As you read this post, please be aware that
- I am not an expert in the field of drones, as I have not tested various drones’ performance against each other
- I am not being compensated by any drone manufacturer or vendor
My interest in drones was piqued by my photography trip to Iceland, during which I hiked into the active volcano Fagradalsfjall (topic of a future post). After overcoming the sense of being awestruck by mother Nature and taking a number of photos, I saw some of the photos that were taken by various photographers, including the leader of our photo tour, Loren Fisher. The ones that stood out to me were those taken with a drone (see Loren’s blog post), as the perspective allowed for something that we humans don’t get to see.
Clearly, I needed a drone! So the next question was: which one to get. On my list were the following factors:
- Ease of flying the drone
- Quality of the photography and video captured by the drone
- Price point
Speaking with Loren Fisher, I was assuaged of my fear of flying the drone; as he explained to me that today’s good photography drones are much easier to fly than those little toy drones that many of us have struggled with. The key to the current crop of drones is that they have a lot of built-in sensors and smarts that enable them to hover without human intervention and stay in place rather accurately.
My search next went to a number of drone reviews for the current crop and watching several YouTube videos that provided more in-depth reviews of the models that might be of interest. After reading a number of reviews, it became apparent that the DJI Air 2S and DJI Mini 3 Pro were the most likely candidates for a great started drone with excellent camera and flight characteristics. The DJI Air 2S has a slightly higher price point, and the DJI Mini 3 Pro is slightly smaller.
After watching several in-depth video reviews of the DJI Mini 3 Pro, there were a couple of advantages that helped me make my decision. The technology in the DJI Mini 3 Pro (released in May 2022) is about a year newer than the DJI Air 2S (released in April 2021); this may not sound like much, but in high-tech changes and learning evolves rapidly. The deciding factor for me was that the DJI Air 2S weighs in at 595 g, whereas the DJI Mini 3 Pro is a mere 249 g; of course, that means that the Mini 3 Pro might be a bit more wind sensitive, but there’s another aspect to this: drones weighing less than 250 g don’t need to be registered with the FAA unless used for commercial purposes. As I wasn’t sure about my long-term drone intentions, this is a step I may want to skip for now.
In purchasing the DJI Mini 3 Pro, I did splurge and upgraded the controller to the DJI RC, which has a built-in touch screen, so that I don’t need to use my phone for flying. That $150 extravagance has made for a wonderful flying experience.
Thus far, I’ve been extremely happy with the DJI Mini 3 Pro performance, and even happier with DJI as a company. Reason is that on my third flying session I overestimated my abilities and crashed the drone into a tree branch that overhung a river… It was a gut-wrenching moment, and I couldn’t recover my drone. Luckily, I had bought the 1-year DJI Care Refresh Service Agreement, and after contacting DJI’s support team, I was quickly sent a replacement drone for a heavily discounted price; their support people were empathetic and extremely helpful and I had a replacement drone in hand within 10 days.
And how’s the video quality, you ask? I’ve been capturing video in H.265 codec and have found them to be fantastic. You be the judge and check out my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@dutchgoesthephoto
Looking forward to your questions and experiences!