The Bird’s Eye View

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve updated posts in this section. While camera bodies and lenses may change every now and then, their main purpose remains the same – to take a photo. With modern technology today, comes the drone, a flying camera which allows photographers like me to look at photography from a new angle.

Aerial Photography

Before I start talking about my drone, here is a short history of aerial photography, as opposed to the usual photography that we do on land. Initially, used for land surveying and topographical maps, aerial photography was pretty technical. It meant getting a film camera into the air using planes, helicopters and large balloons. As digital camera technology matured and cameras became smaller and lighter, it meant that you didn’t need to go up in the air in an aircraft. Photographers could use balloons and kites to carry cameras into the air. But they could only take photos of the immediate area around them. And since the standard DSLR doesn’t always come with remote controls, photographers had to set the camera to take photos at intervals and hope for the best while it was up in the air.

Drones developed from remote control aircraft which have been around for a long time. The first commercial drone, the DJI Phantom didn’t even have a camera. It was hobbyist photographers who attached a GoPro using homemade gimbals to it which led to the development of the modern drone with it’s own in-built camera system.

A DJI Mavic which is one of the more popular drone models. I took this photo in Boracay when a tourist was flying it.

As opposed to standard photography, drone photography has a steeper learning curve. It means that you not only have to learn how to take a photo or video using the drone’s camera controls, you also have to learn how to fly the drone without crashing it. Also, drones have a limited flight time and you don’t want to lose your drone because you flew it too far and did not have enough battery power to come back. Modern drones typically have a flight time of 20-30 minutes.

DJI Mavic Mini

I had been hesitant to purchase a drone for some time. Besides, the steep price for something which I may never use, the evolving regulations in Singapore and all over the world actually limits the flying of drones for recreation. Coupled with public scrutiny over privacy concerns, flying a drone tends to attract the wrong attention. So when DJI released the Mavic Mini which retails at US$399 and weighs 249 grams, I decided to buy one. Drones which weigh less than 250 grams are classified as toys and don’t need to be registered with the local aviation authorities in most countries. However, you still need to follow all aviation regulations when it comes to flying it. The Mavic Mini also has a flight time of 30 minutes which is very respectable.

It fits into the palm of your hand when it’s folded up.
It’s actually smaller than my Samsung S10+, but with the wings extended, it’s bigger.
I decided to buy the Fly More combo which comes with 2 extra batteries, a battery charger which doubles up as a powerbank, and a handy carrying case which also protects the drone while travelling.

Before flying the drone, you have to download the DJI Fly app onto your smartphone. Connect the smartphone to the controller and update the software. Then you are set to fly. Your smartphone will become the controller and viewfinder of the drone’s camera.

Besides taking photos from a bird’s eye view, the drone also allows for some interesting video shots and angles which may be hard to achieve with a normal camera.

I found this fairy ring in a park nearby and decided to try some overhead video passes. Something that I would not have done if I had just a static camera.
Taking a sunset shot over West Coast Park in Singapore from around 30m up in the air. These shipyards have been pretty quiet since the oil price crash in 2014 and with the new low in oil prices, they aren’t going to be active anytime soon. A leftover jack up rig in the background has laid here since 2014 when it’s owner abandoned it. There used to be 4 abandoned rigs, but the rest have gradually found buyers except this one. So anyone wants to buy an unused jack up rig? It would be good to re-purpose it for a hotel, Airbnb, off-shore home, or even a secret hideout for aspiring megalomaniacs.

While the Mavic Mini doesn’t have the best video or photo specifications (it shoots only 2.7K video and outputs JPG photo files, no RAW), I find that for the price point it suits my needs. If I decide that I want to progress more into drone photography, then it might be time to invest in a better model (which means bigger, heavier and costlier). But for now, having the option to launch a drone for some aerial photos/videos in a small portable package even while travelling is worth the money I paid. It hasn’t flown much due to the lockdown that has been going on shortly after I bought it. But, I hope to bring it along with me once travel is allowed again.

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