Hi, Eric here with Thirty by Forty DesignWorkshop, I just purchased a new toy for the studio, and actually it’s not a toy at all,it’s a semi-pro level drone; it’s the Mavic Pro from DJI and I did all the researchso you wouldn’t have to.
And I wanted to use this video to unbox it,to review the specs, to discuss the ways architects can use this emerging technology in practiceand show you how I’m using it.
Drones are so interesting to me right nowbecause we’re at this inflection point — what used to cost many thousands of dollars youcan now get for less than a grand and the improvements made in camera resolution andgimbal stabilization have opened up some really fantastic equipment options.
So, I thought it was a good time for me tobuy one to evaluate for the channel — for you all — and for some upcoming projects.
Here’s what I’m planning to use mine for.
First, project documentation, presentationand marketing.
The most pressing need is related to a shortfilm I’m making in the next few weeks and the drone is an inexpensive way for me toachieve some of the shots I’m hoping to get.
But, more and more, I’m relying on videoto tell the story of architecture.
Static images, of course, they’re useful,but moving through spaces – mimicking the experience of architecture – it’s integralto our understanding of our work.
Video is the future of architectural documentation,presentation and marketing.
Small drones like the Mavic Pro I purchasedare extremely stable vehicles for capturing video not only from high above, but also fromour eye-level both inside and out.
Next, site evaluation.
Under this general heading there’s manythings drones can do: there’s software available today which allows us to fly patterns overa site to autonomously collect and interpolate topography data.
We can create real-time topo maps for exportin DXF format and this is totally possible with the Mavic, a sub one-thousand-dollardrone; I mean that’s incredible.
There’s also sight line analysis.
How many times have you wondered what a viewwas like thirty-feet up in the air? Or how to design around certain visual obstructions? We can easily do these kinds of things withdrones.
Now, I’ll be using it to aid in site selectionand for planning studies.
So, for example, we could fly proposed approachesor routes to sites or buildings and overlay these on our CAD files.
It will also allow us to remotely access hardto reach places or sites, which there are plenty of around here.
There’s existing building inspections andconstruction analysis: roofs, solar panels, facades, chimneys.
This is a quick way to access areas that eitheraren’t staged or just too dangerous to get to easily.
We even have FLIR or infrared imaging cameraoptions for triaging energy leaks and performing audits in hard to reach places.
Of course, there’s construction documentation.
Many of my clients live far away so beingable to share progress this way keeps them engaged and it will give me a means to discussproject details from afar.
Aerial views are just another dimension tocapture overall progress on a project.
Next up on my list but perhaps not every architect’s,I wanted to use the drone as an educational resource too.
So, with the Mavic Pro and the DJI software,I can livestream the feed from the drone’s camera directly to YouTube.
Imagine the number of people architects canreach this way.
Add in VR headsets to the equation and nowwe can navigate ancient ruins or buildings we may never have otherwise experienced.
Most of you won’t visit my projects, butI can bring you along as I experience these places and as the architecture takes shape;it’s just an amazing teaching tool.
And lastly, there are additional revenue andmarketing capabilities of the drone.
Now, I’m not sure I’m going to use itthis way, but offering the drone as an analysis and collaboration tool with realtors can bea smart lead gen tool.
Realtors are right at the top of the new clientfunnel for, especially for a residential architect like myself, and drone imagery can reallyhelp sell a property.
Tie that in with a critical analysis by anarchitect and this might be a good way for architects to speak to and directly help clientsas they’re considering land for purchase and development.
Likewise, this could be a service we offerto contractors to aid in inspections, logistics and planning; perhaps cultivating anotherlead gen source.
So, those are just a few of the use casesI had.
And there are, of course, more advanced usecases too.
Think of how urban planners might use it,traffic pattern analysis, aerial mapping or inspections in disaster zones where it’stoo dangerous for people to assess the conditions of compromised buildings.
And, most certainly in the future, materialand delivery and construction via drones will become the norm.
Now, with so many drones to choose from, howdid I select the Mavic Pro? Well, these were my selection criteria.
I wanted to spend roughly a thousand US dollarson the drone and the camera setup.
I knew this would take me out of the toy marketand ensure I could get a decent camera setup.
Now, GoPro offers the Karma which is in asimilar price point, but after reading the reviews and digging in to the feature setit felt a little bit like old technology to me, so you can Google around and see whatI mean.
DJI also has the Phantom Four Pro for aboutfifteen-hundred and then from there you start jumping up into the really high level prolevel equipment in both size and price.
Next up on my importance list was portability.
In general, the more portable something is,the more likely I am to use it.
The Mavic Pro folds to the size of a waterbottle and it weighs one point six pounds.
So, I can grab this quickly and drop it inmy shoulder bag or backpack and it’s ready to fly in less than two minutes.
No cumbersome carrying cases and I don’thave to feel like Inspector Gadget when I’m toting it around or prepping it to fly.
For me, this disqualified the Phantom FourPro.
It’s just too large.
It’s more than a carry-on size and it’sbig, conspicuous and actually it’s pretty loud.
Next up for me was a good quality camera.
I wanted a one with enough resolution thatI could use the video for aerial cinematography and to document projects or sites as I talkedabout earlier.
Here again, the Mavic comes out on top formy price range.
It shoots up to 4K video at either twenty-fouror thirty frames per second and it saves it in either MPFour for PC use or MOV for Macuse.
Now, it only has a twelve-megapixel cameraso the Phantom four’s twenty-megapixel camera wins here, but as I said, the Phantom four’ssize and the higher price tag is limiting.
Now, the Mavic shoots in RAW and JPEG formatsand includes an on-board micro SD card for capture.
Now, the lens isn’t as wide as many drones,especially the GoPro’s Hero5 camera with the Karma which tops out at something closeto one hundred and twenty-three degrees.
The Mavic’s field-of-view is about seventy-ninedegrees but I actually think this is a good thing as it eliminates the distorted fish-eyeeffect you often see with drone footage.
When you combine this with its ability toshoot in 4K, there’s plenty of image resolution to crop in on ten-eighty-P, which is the standardHD format the sort of accepted norm today.
The narrower field-of-view has a more cinematicfeel to it as well.
If there is a trade-off with this lens, it’sthe fixed aperture at f-two-point-two.
But, there are accessories I’ll discusswhich effectively make this a non-issue.
The Mavic has a three-axis gimbal that keepseverything stable, and I mean rock-solid stable, no jello or jitter here even in really windyconditions.
Next criteria was ease of operation.
Now, I’ve played with RC toys before, butI’m not a pilot and I’ve never flown an aircraft.
The drone had to be super simple for me tofly so I could focus on operating the camera and capturing images rather than worryingabout whether I was going to crash it.
Ideally, I wanted something that would flyitself.
Now, this couldn’t have been easier to takeright out of the box and fly, and I mean literally within minutes I was flying this without anyprior training.
Baked in to the Mavic’s controls are a seriesof intelligent flight modes, these automated options allow you to operate the camera whilethe drone is either hovering or flying a preset pattern.
This is the equivalent of a two-operator systemwhere there’s a pilot and a cinematographer working together.
To do this, the Mavic relies on GPS and GLONASS,when you’re outdoors, as well as obstacle sensors in the front and bottom to help itnavigate and avoid hitting things.
Other, more expensive drones, like the PhantomFour Pro have a more robust set of sensors at the sides and the rear but again it comesat a higher price.
Lacking these sensors, you do need to be especiallycareful when you’re flying this one sideways and backwards and especially indoors.
You want to be aware of everything aroundyou.
And the last criteria for me was flight time.
I didn’t want to be changing batteries everyfive minutes.
I needed something I could launch and maneuverfor an extended time frame without having to worry about battery life.
Depending on what you’re doing the optimallife of one battery in the Mavic is between twenty-four and twenty-seven minutes.
So, hovering in calm conditions gets you closerto twenty-four minutes, while flying – which is slightly more efficient – will net youabout twenty-seven minutes.
In practice, I’m averaging about twentyminutes of flight time for each battery before it starts reminding me to return the droneback home.
From a portability standpoint, the Mavic Prois really in a class of its own.
As I mentioned, there’s GoPro’s Karma,and DJI just introduced the Spark, but both are just too much of a compromise in the otheraspects I was comparing: things like the camera, the gimbal specs, and the flight time.
The Mavic remains at the top of the heap ofprosumer drones and the price, as a business investment, is completely reasonable.
Now, the drone all by itself is available- as of mid-twenty-seventeen – for about a thousand dollars.
I purchased the ‘fly-more’ combo for thirteen-hundreddollars which includes two extra batteries, a charging hub, a car charger, a carryingcase, and extra propellers.
This is the best value if you’re lookingto pick-up some extra batteries and once you get your hands on this, I think you’ll wantextra batteries for sure.
Now, let’s look at what you get.
The fly more combo comes with three boxes,the carrying case, the fly-more box, and the Mavic pro box.
Opening the Mavic pro box, there’s the remotecontroller and the body of the Mavic.
There’s a pretty minimal instruction booklet,a charger, and various cables which you’ll use to connect your smartphone to the controllerand the propellers.
Inside the combo box, there’s a four-batterycharging hub which will sequentially charge the LiPo batteries.
A battery power adapter, two intelligent flightbatteries, a car charger, and two extra sets of propellers.
The carrying case is well made and at roughlyseven inches wide, by eight inches tall and five inches deep it neatly organizes all thegear you need to fly including the two extra batteries and it’s all in a compact formfactor.
Now, even if you don’t choose to get theFly More package, you’ll want to get at least one additional thing and that is a setof ND – or neutral density – filters.
With a fixed aperture camera like the oneon the Mavic, the only way to control the camera’s exposure is by adjusting the ISOor the sensor’s sensitivity to light and its shutter speed.
So, let’s say you’re outside filming ona very bright day, you have only two variables to tweak.
First, you’ll choose the lowest ISO possible– reducing the camera’s sensitivity to light – for the Mavic the lowest ISO is one-hundred.
Then you’ll pick a shutter speed which correspondswith a properly exposed image.
On a bright day, the shutter speed you’llbe forced to choose to properly expose the image will be very fast, something like one-thousandfor example.
Now, this all sounds fine and it is if you’retaking still photos.
As long the exposure is correct, this shouldresult in a sharp photograph.
But, the problem is when you’re recordingvideo you want your shutter speed to be as close to double the frame rate as possible.
Now, this is called the one-hundred-and-eighty-degreerule and it’s a slow enough shutter speed to blur each image just a tiny bit.
This motion blur is what makes video feelnatural and cinematic and pleasing to watch.
A fast shutter speed makes the video feelvery choppy because you’re essentially stitching together many very sharp individual images.
Now, I filmed the side of the studio at thesame time of day to illustrate the difference.
In one I used the automatic settings and inthe other the ideal settings following the one-hundred and eighty-degree rule.
Can you see the difference between the twoclips? Which one feels more natural? If I pause the two, you’ll know which iswhich immediately.
The blurry one on the left is much more naturallooking.
So, if we’re capturing video at thirty framesper second ideally, we want our shutter speed to be sixty.
That’s a pretty slow shutter speed especiallyfor a bright day, if we were to use that shutter speed our video would be way overexposed.
To compensate, we can put an ND filter overthe camera’s lens which reduces the light striking the sensor and allows us to get down– if not exactly to sixty – at least close to it.
ND filters are like sunglasses and their primarypurpose is to allow us to alter the shutter speed to achieve certain effects, in thiscase a pleasing, cinematic motion blur.
The video on the left used an ND sixteen filterto achieve the proper shutter speed and a nice motion blur.
I purchased the Polar Pro cinematic filterset for the Mavic Pro which comes with three filters: an ND eight, an ND sixteen, and anND thirty-two.
The higher the number, the more light thefilter blocks.
They easily slip on and off the camera’slens and allow the gimbal to calibrate without any trouble.
OK, so what else do you need to know whenyou get a drone? Well, here in the USA you need to be awareof the laws regarding sUAS’s or small unmanned aircraft systems.
These are set by the FAA and as you mightimagine the rules are changing all the time.
So, it’s best to check with the authoritythat’s in charge of aviation wherever you’re located.
The FAA publishes a very simple chart describingthe rules.
Basically – you have to fly during the day,maintain visual line of site with the drone, keep it below four-hundred feet and out ofcontrolled airspace, yield to any manned aircraft and you can’t fly over people, or aroundwildfires or other designated emergency areas.
Now, if all this sounds too complicated, thereare two things which will help.
First, the DJI GO Four app which you’llneed to operate the drone uses geo-fencing to prevent you from venturing where you shouldn’t.
You should also download the app AirMap whichshows your current location on a map and displays the areas you can and can’t operate in aroundyour location.
If you’re within five miles of an airportwith a control tower you won’t be able to – legally – use your drone recreationally.
If you have your commercial drone pilot’slicense you’ll have to notify the tower when you’re operating.
Close by a national park – like me? Can’t fly there either.
So, it’s a good idea to understand the restrictionsand limitations before you invest.
But, given how small these drones are andthe flight capabilities – like using Wi-Fi to fly the Mavic – means we can fly theseinside and document our work like never before.
Tons of possibilities for architects, architecturalphotographers and interior designers.
Now, one more thing for US residents, althoughI believe this was recently struck down, the FAA’s website states that they want youto register your drone with them.
So, I figured even if it wasn’t requiredany longer that I would register mine for the nominal five-dollar fee.
So, if you’re just going to be flying thisfor fun and for your own enjoyment, you’re using it recreationally.
If you’re going to use it for profit, thenthat’s a commercial use.
If you’re flying commercially in the USyou’ll need to get a remote pilot certificate.
To do this it’s fairly simple, you’llneed to pass the section one-o-seven test.
You’ll have to study the materials, knowthe rules and regulations, which makes sense anyway, and when you’re ready, pay a nominalhundred and fifty-dollar fee to take the test and hopefully receive your pilot certificate.
From there, you can put your drone to workfor your business.
Now let’s talk about some of the essentialapps.
Before you can fly, you’ll have to downloadthe DJI GoFour app to control the drone and the camera.
Also download AirMap as we discussed previouslyto help you determine the flight restrictions nearby.
Then there are weather apps.
Because you can’t fly in high wind, rain,snow or foggy weather, a real-time weather app like UAV forecast is helpful.
It also tells you how many satellites areoverhead and how many you’ll be able to lock on to.
Any lastly, pick up an app like Sun Seekeror Sun Surveyor to help you plan where the sun will be with respect to your site or building.
This is also a good one to have for your designwork too.
So, that’s an overview of the Mavic Pro.
If you can’t tell, I’m really loving thisthing and I’m looking forward to showing you how we’re putting it to use in our upcomingfilm and perhaps we’ll use it to livestream from one of our projects in the near future.
Until then, please hit the thumbs up belowif I’ve helped you in any way and leave a comment it helps me grow the channel.
Are you ready to pick up a drone for yourcreative work? What uses have I left out? Cheers!.