Build complex toys and simple tools
by Tony Karp
The Mavic Pro is a flying camera, but what good is it if the camera isn't useable? So the very first thing I'm going to talk about is the Mavic's camera.
Let's start with the basics. The Mavic's camera is very similar to the camera on most modern smartphones. It has a small sensor, no zoom, no f/stops, and no shutter. So if you've used your phone's camera, you pretty much know what to expect. I have an LG G4 phone and its camera is quite similar to the Mavic's. I'm a happy camper.The Mavic's camera shoots both stills and video. The stills are 12 megapixel with a 4:3 aspect ratio, but you can change this ratio (don't!). The video is pretty impressive. The Mavic can shoot full 4K video, with settings up to 4092 x 2160 pixels. This is slightly wider than the normal 16:9 ratio used in most online videos, but it can be cropped during editing. The highest settings produce the highest quality images, but the files can become huge. Fortunately, disk storage is cheap. (Keep repeating this every time you think about doing something that would take less disk space but yield lower quality.)
Although some of the newer DJI drones have fancier cameras, the Mavic has a few tricks up its sleeve. The most interesting one is that Mavic's camera is the first drone camera that will shoot in both landscape and portrait mode. The camera actually rotates when you change this setting. You can do this remotely while you're flying. The portrait mode adds new options when shooting stills and it's also important when shooting panoramas.
The complex mechanism that attaches the camera to the drone is called a gimbal. Its job is to hold the camera steady while the Mavic bounces around. It works surprisingly well.Think of the camera and how to aim it using pan and tilt, the same as you would if the camera were on a tripod. But on a drone, panning and tilting are very different things. You use the gimbal to tilt the camera up and down, while the drone is stationary. Panning is done by moving the drone, while the gimbal is steady.This is just the beginning. With a drone-mounted camera, you can duplicate all those fancy camera moves you see in the movies. And this is where it becomes interesting. You can dolly, track, flyby, orbit, etc. By combining the gimbal moves with the drone moves, you can do some very interesting things.But wait, there's more. The Mavic is a programmable camera platform. You can buy third-party software to program all sorts of fancy moves. I like the idea of this programmability and predictability as it makes planning and production easier.A brief search of YouTube will yield lots of videos that show what sort of cinematography you can produce with a drone. And a few things you should avoid doing as well.
This should give you a brief idea of the Mavic's photographic possibilities. In future posts, I'll be drilling down in greater detail.
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