Three Days with the DJI Mavic Air

4 mins read

It’s been just over a week since I published my first impressions of the new DJI Mavic Air drone. Following a week of reading all the advice forums it was time to visit a number of locations on the north coast of Ireland and build up some recreational flight experience.

With my Coverdrone policy in place I headed out when the weather allowed, three very short windows each day between periods of gale force winds, hale, sleet and snow. My cautious approach meant that the ‘high wind velocity’ warning appearing on screen was enough of a reason to pack up and head for home; that said I am genuinely surprise how steady the Mavic Air manages to stay in gusts of coastal wind.

Day 1 : Runkerry Beach

This was my second flight with the DJI Mavic Air, again I was focused on wide open spaces away from people and property. The default settings offer pretty rapid movement and I keep looking at the ‘sport’ mode button on the remote asking myself what it could possibly offer. Fortunately, I wanted to capture something with a little bit of mood so I kept the motion slow and smooth, dropping the final speed down to 95% in Final Cut Pro X.

Photography wise I found I was jumping between shooting video and stills via the two handy buttons on the remote control. Both the video (4K) and still images (albeit 12 megapixels) offer amazing quality and I think the novelty of a different perspective has overwhelmed me to ping between the two formats on a 30 seconds interval. Throughout the fight I kept things wide at capture and cropped in post production, the gimbal does an amazing job in keeping things level especially when moving at speed.

Day 2 : The Whiterocks Portrush

Day 2 saw a stunning afternoon after a night of rain and snow. Although it was freezing I still headed to the Whiterock beach just outside Portrush; the beach was clear and the sun was out. I have ordered a series of ND filters to balance the contrast and highlights when shooting video in bright sunshine, there is a currently a three to four week lead time on the filters but I think they make all the difference on sunny days. The filterless DJI Mavic Air did cope remarkably well even in the bright light but the ND filter will tame things and offer a much more cinematic look.

I focused on some sweeping panning shots, albeit short and only approximately 20m off the ground, it is easy to create controlled, consistent motion. The biggest battery challenge didn’t come from the drone or the remote control but in fact from my mobile phone battery. I am not sure it is possible to still fly the Mavic Air without the phone but a 20% battery warning stopped play and that was before I had managed to consume two Mavic Air batteries.

I suspect a combination of high intensity usage and freezing cold temperatures to be the main culprit. The whole area of device attachment remains a worry, the little cable on the remote control now appears to be much more lose than it was on day 1 and I also have to take my phone out of its case which is a further concern.

Day 3 : Downhill and Portballintrae

After a night of hurricane level winds I didn’t think day three was going to include any drone photography at all. Thankfully, by lunch time things had calmed down and the sun had managed to break through the clouds.

For day 3 it was time for a trip to Downhill beach and later on to Portballintrae. To be honest I was focused on developing my flying and control rather than what was being captured. There was also still a few gusts of wind around so I didn’t fly higher than twenty metres so really didn’t capture the scene in any great detail or achieve much more than I could have using a camera at ground level.

Back at Portballintrae it was time to capture the sunset, interestingly I found the footage appears much darker live on my phone than it did in the final footage back at the computer. I would estimate the preview video was about 2 stops darker than the reality. Again I was troubled by random gusts of wind and my fear of losing the drone had it back on solid ground in a very short period of time.

Capturing Still Images on the DJI Mavic Air

The Mavic Air offers the ability to simultaneously shoot RAW and JPG. The JPGs are good straight out of camera but the DNG files offer the best option for post production opportunities.

During the three days I created two Lightroom Presets specifically for processing the DNG files. Either one of these presets are my starting point in Lightroom. the 12 megapixel files will print well up to 14″ by 9″ which is ideal for general purpose work.

You can find more DJI Mavic Air images on the FlixelPix Instagram account. I am still building flying skill so with time I hope to be able to focus on both manual image capture and composition.

Post Production 4K Video

Despite having 16GB of RAM I realised I was going to need at least 100GB of SDD hard drive available for processing the 4K video. Storing my Final Cut Pro X library on an external drive has helped but freeing up space on my main drive made a massive difference. With 30GB free I was seeing request crashes as the computer ran out of space for cache memory. Freeing up over 100GB appears, (for now) to have resolved this issue. I hope I can refine this workflow over time especially given I am currently only working with 1 minute final films! All advice greatly appreciated.

The DJI Mavic Air is a great little drone, I am loving seeing the landscape from a completely different perspective and the 4K footage seamlessly drops in with my main video camera so a combination of shots will be an option going forward. The next step, qualification.


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David is a documentary and landscape photographer covering everything from dramatic long exposure landscape photography through to live music. David is a former Official Fujifilm X Photographer.

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