We are proud of our partnership with the CAA in their 400ft Britain drone photography competition.  Which has been a storming success.  More than 1,000 high quality entries. As showcased by The SUN Newspaper today, 17 January 2017.  Competition closes end January.  Hurry – 1st prize is a PhantomFlightSchool drone holiday!

Here’s how The Economist covered the news that Hamburg’s new Concert Hall is about to open:

After a six year delay and massive cost overruns, the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, or Elbphilharmonie, will finally open its doors on Wednesday.  The stunning building was designed by the Swiss Architects, Herzog and de Meuron, and has become Hamburg’s most talked about landmark.

It has already passes a big test: musicians from its orchestra-in-residence were moved to tears by the acoustics after their first rehearsal.

Hamburg’s latest architectural gem seems poised to become one of the world’s most celebrated classical music venues.

Yes but what has this got to with drones?  Watch the movie to see how a Concert Hall looks from the eyes of a Racing Drone!

There has been more interest from new and existing customers around the launch of the Mavic Pro than we have experienced with the launch of any DJI drone, ever. The excitement has been mixed with an increasing amount of frustration, as delivery date promises have been broken, timelines have slipped, and only tiny quantities of the Mavic Pro have shipped.

So you can imagine how happy we were when our first Mavic Pro arrived here at the end of last week (2 December). But I was so busy with the UK Drone Show and then flying lessons that today (8 December) was my first opportunity to actually fly it.

So how was the Mavic Pro to fly? In a word – AMAZING.

The Mavic Pro certainly looks the part. In your hand it is compact, solid, and beautifully constructed. But it is once you take off that the magic really begins.

It is almost silent. As steady as a rock in the air.  And the flight controls are beautiful.  Even better than the Phantom 4 and the Inspire.  The way it responds to stick inputs is sublime.  It picks up speed very rapidly, and with no fluster.  It maintains altitude no matter what you do in terms of pitch and yaw, perfectly.  I felt more in control of the flight path with the Mavic Pro than with any other drone I have flown.  Half way through the flight, I found myself flying fast, much closer to the ground than I would feel comfortable with my Phantom 4 or Inspire 1, with a broad grin on my face.  Oops Proto – playing catch with an expensive camera!

Even Sport Mode is not the “monster raving looney party” experience that it sometimes feels like with the Phantom 4. Just a very fast way of getting around the sky.  And because of its dark colour, I was able to keep it in sight when flying all the way out to 300 metres from where I was standing – about the same distance where I start to struggle to spot my Phantom.  Battery life was every bit as good as we have been led to expect.  Landing it is a doddle, because the VPS system keeps it locked on as you reduce height.  And interestingly, in a new innovation, with the left joystick pulled only part of the way down, the Mavic stops about 30cms above the ground.  Then, when you pull the joystick all the way back, there is a small “click”, and the Mavic auto-lands and switches itself off.  Very neat.

As a flying experience, this was a Spinal Tap moment. It definitely scored 11 out of 10.

So it is the Ultimate Drone then? Well, sadly, no. 

Unfortunately, I have some issues with the Mavic Pro. One set of problem has to do with the compromises inevitable in miniaturising a full-featured drone.  And there is another class of problem where DJI appear to have made life more difficult than it needs to be.

Miniaturisation issues:

  • Obviously, everything about the Mavic and its transmitter is mini. That means it is also fiddly. Perhaps I have butchers fingers (alright, I know I have butchers fingers), but everything to do with the transmitter is just a bit smaller than I would like it to be for ease of use
  • The gimbal lock is a nightmare to put on and take off. Not the large plastic cowl designed to protect the camera when the drone is in your backpack rubbing shoulders with your sandwich lunch, which works fine. The tiny sliver of plastic that slots down behind the camera to keep it secure in transit. Makes the Phantom 3 gimbal lock (for those of you who remember it) look like a doddle by comparison. And I just know I am going to lose it. Probably soon
  • Because of its small size, it sits very close to the ground when you put it down. So its downward facing sensors are just millimetres off the deck. Because the props are so close to the underside of the body, hand launching and catching are out of the question. That means you need a very smooth, flat surface, to take off from. So although the drone is tiny, you are going to have to take some kind of launch pad with you wherever you go
  • The image quality you can capture with the camera just isn’t as good as on the Phantom. I will be putting some photos and video up on Vimeo soon to show people. But for now, trust me on this. If you have never looked at any other aerial imagery, the results look spectacular. But compared against the results I get every day with my other drones, they fall short. Colours look a bit artificial. Solar flare when pointing the camera at the sun appears as an annoying green dot, rather than as an attractive “line of beads”. Etc.
  • Finally, I don’t like flying using an iPhone (even an iPhone 6+). I prefer flying with my iPad mini. I know there are ways and means of making the transmitter work with an iPad mini, but it is awkward.

Shoot yourself in the foot, why don’t you DJI:

  • It is really hard to turn the transmitter on and off. Even after five days, it is still taking me several goes to achieve this
  • Once you have your iPhone in the clamp under the transmitter, it is almost impossible to reach the “home” button on the phone. Which is as annoying as hell
  • The User Manual is very light in some areas. Especially on the vital importance of focusing the camera manually in order to get good results. Whereas with the Phantom 3 & 4, and the Inspire 1, leaving the camera in “auto” is a sure-fire way to great results, focusing the camera on the Mavic Pro is essential to get results that aren’t unusably blurry. Yet there are just two lines on this in the manual. Not good
  • The DJI Go 4 app (required for the Mavic Pro) appears to be even more power hungry than the vanilla DJI Go app. My iPhone dropped 25% in one, fifteen minute flight
  • Worst of all, the DJI Go 4 app in its present form appears glitch-ridden. I wonder whether this is why DJI have been holding back on shipping the Mavic Pro? It took me several attempts to do the initial firmware update. If you think about the number of these I have done over the last two years, I worry that new drone owners might fall completely at this hurdle. And when I was flying, nothing I tried could persuade the compass in the bottom left hand corner of the screen to point in the direction the drone was pointing. I’m okay with that, because I was flying somewhere I am very familiar with, and I know how to fly without this information. But flying somewhere new, or flying very far from me, I need the compass to work. As do people just starting out on their drone adventure.

My Personal Conclusion

For me, at the moment, the DJI Mavic Pro is therefore a Flawed Genius, not the Ultimate Drone. Some of the problems, with the app, with the auto-focus, will be fixed by DJI in forthcoming firmware updates, I am sure. But the compromises DJI have had to make to get the Mavic down to its tiny size we are stuck with. At least until a Mavic Pro 2 arrives.

So if I could only have one drone, it wouldn’t be the Mavic Pro. It would be the Phantom 4, or if I could stretch to it, the formidable Phantom 4 Pro.

As a second drone, or if portability is the only thing that matters to you, then the DJI Mavic Pro is a tour de force. I know I will be taking one with me if / when I go away on holiday. It is so compact, taking it on tour becomes a no-brainer. And I know that like everything with DJI, it will simply get better and better as time goes on. The speed at which DJI innovates continues to take my breath away.

Alan Proto 8 December 2016

Helen Pidd, Technology Reporter for The Guardian Newspaper, came to the UK Drone Show at the NEC on 4 December.  As well as talking about drone racing, she interviewed our own Alan Proto, about flying lessons, and how much fun it is taking drone enthusiasts on holiday to Spain to fly their drones.  As he said to her “It just struck me that flying drones can be quite a lonely pursuit. Standing in a field in England on your own is not as fun as much fun as standing in a field in Spain with five soon-to-be mates”.

Read the full article HERE

DJI Mavic Prophantom-4-prophantom-4-proinspire-1_featured_transparentinspire-2

Here it is.  The full line up of DJI drones as it will be from January 2017. They’ve got it covered!

Portability, Usability, Functionality, Cinematography

When DJI let it be known there was to be another big product launch on 15 November, I thought they were crazy.  Surely it would only harm their brand image further, after the botched launch of the DJI Mavic Pro, to go again so soon?

But looked back at one week on, it all makes perfect sense.  In my opinion, what has happened is that:

  • DJI has been secretly working on developing a complete, end to end, product line since the success of the Phantom 3 made them “Kings of the [drone] World” back in mid 2015
  • During the first half of 2016, DJI sealed their position as the Number One global drone company with the launch of the technologically spectacular Phantom 4, and the cinematically spectacular X5 micro 4/3rds camera for the Inspire 1
  • But now I understand why the Head of DJI R&D had his arms firmly crossed as he announced the X5 camera for the Inpsire 1 at Interdrone in September 2015, where I was sitting in the front row, the hairs standing up on the back of my neck at what DJI had just announced. He knew there was so much more to come. And here it is.

But before we talk about that, we need to talk about this: the botched launch of the DJI Mavic Pro.  My take on this is that it was that rarest of things.  A moment of weakness by DJI.  GoPro announced the Karma, and rather than let themselves fall flat on their faces all by themselves, DJI decided they needed to “cover it”.  So they brought the announcement of the Mavic forwards by a month.  If it hadn’t been for the Karma, I am sure the announcement of the Mavic would have been 15 November alongside the Phantom 4 Pro and the Inspire 2.  They then had to flannel for weeks while they got the Mavic into full-scale production, and before they could begin shipping.

One good thing about the delay.  It means that customers who pre-ordered the Mavic Pro can have a think about whether to switch to the Phantom 4 Pro before they find themselves with a fantastic drone in their hands, but one which may not suit their needs as perfectly as another one in the line up.

So, if a drone were a dog, which dog would it be?  Click HERE to find out

The latest on delivery dates:

DJI Mavic Pro; We expect to satisfy all pre-orders before Christmas.  New orders placed now will be satisfied within 7-8 weeks from date of order.  Our first one, for testing and demonstration, arrives this Friday 25 November

DJI Phantom 4; available now

DJI Phantom 4 Pro; available from 5 December

DJI Inspire 1 V2.0; available now

DJI Inspire 2; available from 1 January 2017

You can order the Phantom 4 and the Inspire 1 straight from the website.  If you are interested in one of the other drones in the range, let me know via the Contact Page HERE, and I’ll get in touch about taking a £250 deposit against a pre-order for one of these.

ukds16-social-banner-stand-18

Frustrated by the delay in DJI shipping the Mavic Pro?

I am sure that like me, you have been frustrated by DJIs announcement of the amazing looking DJI Mavic Pro on 18 October, only for that to be followed by a long wait for the Mavic to actually ship.  The latest news is that DJI have said they expect to be able to fulfil all orders placed by 5 November “within the next 6 – 8 weeks”.

GoPro Karma

However, this slight delay pales into insignificance beside what is happening over the fence with GoPro’s new drone, the Karma.  The Karma has already been slammed by reviewers for being bigger and heavier than the Phantom 4 (not exactly portable then), with no sensors to aid with collision avoidance, or even to keep tabs on where the ground is when coming in to land, and with a relatively short battery life of a (claimed) 18 minutes.

But it just got worse, with news overnight – sneaked out while the world’s attention was on the US Election (anyone remember “a good day to bury bad news?”) – that all 2,500 GoPro Karmas that have shipped to clients to date have had to be recalled, due to random power failures.  GoPro are issuing full refunds, with no indication as to when clients might get a replacement.  See the full story reported on TechCrunch HERE .

Ouch!

Renowned New York based multi-million views per day vlogger and self-confessed drone addict Casey Niestat reviewed the new DJI Mavic Pro last week, and decided that it is the best drone EVER.

He rated its design, stability, convenience and build-quality as outstanding, whilst concluding that the quality of the video it captures is not as good as the DJI Phantom 4.

See his initial review of the DJI Mavic Pro HERE

See his comparison of the 4K output from the DJI Mavic Pro and the DJI Phantom 4 HERE

See a more serious / thorough review of the DJI Mavic Pro by the guys at FlightTest HERE

Our client, Steve D, from The Wirral, was a complete beginner when we first met him at Ground School in Chester on 25 August 2016.  He passed Ground School with flying colours, and fitted in a two hour one-to-one practical flying lesson after Ground School had finished for the day on the first evening.  This was the first time Steve had ever flown a drone.  Steve got his Ops Manual back to us within ten days of Ground School, and it was approved first time.  We met up again for some more practical flight training on 9 September.  He took his Flight Test on 26 September, and it was our pleasure to award him his wings for having completed his PfCO successfully.  32 days from start to finish.  Well done Steve!