Little bit late posting this week after a crazy busy weekend away on a watersports trip, but that brings me nicely on to my topic for this week - aerial photography.
I was a supervising member of staff on an adventure trip over the weekend with the school I currently work for, and my main responsibility was to make a film documenting the experience. I went on the same trip last year and made a film of that, but I was more excited this time around because my videography equipment had improved significantly compared to last year. My equipment previously consisted of a single GoPro Hero 4 Silver, but having recently upgraded my camera body to one that records video, I had my Nikon D500 plus a Hero 6 Black which meant I could get ultra smooth 120fps footage. This was great, but what I was most looking forward to was testing out the DJI Spark a fellow filmmaker had let me borrow for the week.
Now, the Spark may be considered more of a 'toy' drone and might only film 1080p at 30fps, but this was perfectly sufficient considering I could get slow-mo footage with my other 2 cameras when I needed it. Obviously the massive benefit of the DJI was the angles I could get. I was able to get shots I could never have filmed without the drone and they add an incredible new perspective to a film when used in moderation - whether that's with reveal shots pulling away showing the landscape, or tracking shots that follow a subject or object wherever it goes.
One question a few people have asked me is how long did it take to get used to flying the Spark? Well, practising to use technology that only has a battery life of 15 minutes is always going to be tricky. Unfortunately I didn't have the fly more combo (which gets you a few extra batteries, propellor guards and a controller) so once I'd played about with flying around and testing some of the automatic modes, the battery was flat and it took a good hour to charge back up to 100% (via USB with a 2.4A power bank). I was controlling the drone using virtual joysticks on an iPad Mini 4 as I didn't have the controller (available at an additional cost or as part of the fly more combo) and would say I was confident flying it by about the third day after maybe 3 hours total testing. Controls are intuitive and there are countless YouTube reviews demonstrating the automatic follow modes supported by the Spark.
The main downside of using the DJI Go 4 app on iOS to fly the Spark is that your range is severely limited to only 100m vs 4km when flying with the controller. This was still enough distance for me to get some good results, but I would've been happier flying over open water knowing I had a buffer of a few kilometres rather than a few metres...
Below are a selection of images taken using the Spark throughout the trip. Since I was focussing only on video I didn't take many actual photos using the drone, so all of these with the exception of the sunrise shot are actually frames taken from 1080p video footage. Considering the Spark doesn't even film in 4K, I think these frames are pretty fantastic and more than sufficient for digital distribution. I wouldn't want to print them though, and would need to make use of the full 12MP sensor in photo mode if I knew I'd be printing.
Verdict? I need a drone! (and am sad to be handing the Spark back to its owner). This is a piece of kit every photographer should have in their camera bag, and while it shouldn't take over your photography, a drone can absolutely add powerful new perspectives that are otherwise impossible to capture. Looking forward to picking up a Mavic Air this summer and seeing some incredible places from a whole new Point of View... Stay tuned 😉