Best Drone for Architects | Gear Review of the Mavic Pro

Hi, Eric here with Thirty by Forty
Workshop, 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 research
so 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 in practice
and show you how I’m using it. are so interesting to me right now
because we’re at this inflection point — what used to cost many thousands of dollars you
can now get for less than a grand and the improvements made in camera resolution and
gimbal stabilization have opened up some really fantastic equipment options. So, I thought it was a good time for me to
buy 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, presentation
and . The most pressing need is related to a short
film I’m making in the next few weeks and the drone is an inexpensive way for me to
achieve some of the shots I’m hoping to get.

But, more and more, I’m relying on video
to tell the story of architecture. Static images, of course, they’re useful,
but moving through spaces – mimicking the experience of architecture – it’s integral
to our understanding of our work. Video is the future of architectural documentation,
presentation and marketing. Small like the Mavic Pro I purchased
are extremely stable vehicles for capturing video not only from high above, but also from
our eye-level both inside and out. Next, site evaluation. Under this general heading there’s many
things can do: there’s software available today which allows us to fly patterns over
a site to autonomously collect and interpolate topography data. We can create real-time topo maps for export
in DXF format and this is totally possible with the Mavic, a sub one-thousand-dollar
drone; I mean that’s incredible.

There’s also sight line analysis. How many times have you wondered what a view
was like thirty-feet up in the air? Or how to around certain visual obstructions? We can easily do these kinds of things with
drones. Now, I’ll be using it to aid in site selection
and for planning studies. So, for example, we could fly proposed approaches
or routes to sites or buildings and overlay these on our CAD files. It will also allow us to remotely access hard
to reach places or sites, which there are plenty of around here. There’s existing building inspections and
construction analysis: roofs, solar panels, facades, chimneys.

This is a quick way to access areas that either
aren’t staged or just too dangerous to get to easily. We even have FLIR or infrared imaging camera
options 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 being
able to share progress this way keeps them engaged and it will give me a means to discuss
project details from afar. Aerial views are just another dimension to
capture 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 can
reach this way.

Add in VR headsets to the equation and now
we can navigate ancient ruins or buildings we may never have otherwise experienced. Most of you won’t visit my projects, but
I 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 and
marketing capabilities of the drone.

Now, I’m not sure I’m going to use it
this way, but offering the drone as an analysis and collaboration tool with realtors can be
a smart lead gen tool. Realtors are right at the top of the new client
funnel for, especially for a residential architect like myself, and drone imagery can really
help sell a property.

Tie that in with a critical analysis by an
architect and this might be a good way for architects to speak to and directly help clients
as they’re considering land for purchase and development. Likewise, this could be a service we offer
to contractors to aid in inspections, logistics and planning; perhaps cultivating another
lead gen source. So, those are just a few of the use cases
I had. And there are, of course, more advanced use
cases too. Think of how urban planners might use it,
traffic pattern analysis, aerial mapping or inspections in disaster zones where it’s
too dangerous for people to assess the conditions of compromised buildings. And, most certainly in the future, material
and delivery and construction via drones will become the norm. Now, with so many drones to choose from, how
did I select the Mavic Pro? Well, these were my selection criteria. First, cost. I wanted to spend roughly a thousand US dollars
on the drone and the camera setup. I knew this would take me out of the toy market
and ensure I could get a decent camera setup.

Now, GoPro offers the Karma which is in a
similar price point, but after reading the reviews and digging in to the feature set
it felt a little bit like old to me, so you can Google around and see what
I mean. DJI also has the Phantom Four Pro for about
fifteen-hundred and then from there you start jumping up into the really high level pro
level 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 water
bottle and it weighs one point six pounds. So, I can grab this quickly and drop it in
my shoulder bag or backpack and it’s ready to fly in less than two minutes. No cumbersome carrying cases and I don’t
have to feel like Inspector Gadget when I’m toting it around or prepping it to fly. For me, this disqualified the Phantom Four
Pro. It’s just too large. It’s more than a carry-on size and it’s
big, conspicuous and actually it’s pretty loud.

Next up for me was a good quality camera. I wanted a one with enough resolution that
I could use the video for aerial cinematography and to document projects or sites as I talked
about earlier. Here again, the Mavic comes out on top for
my price range. It shoots up to 4K video at either twenty-four
or thirty frames per second and it saves it in either MPFour for PC use or MOV for Mac
use. Now, it only has a twelve-megapixel camera
so the Phantom four’s twenty-megapixel camera wins here, but as I said, the Phantom four’s
size and the higher price tag is limiting. Now, the Mavic shoots in RAW and JPEG formats
and 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 close
to one hundred and twenty-three degrees. The Mavic’s field-of-view is about seventy-nine
degrees but I actually think this is a good thing as it eliminates the distorted fish-eye
effect you often see with drone footage. When you combine this with its ability to
shoot in 4K, there’s plenty of image resolution to crop in on ten-eighty-P, which is the standard
HD format the sort of accepted norm today. The narrower field-of-view has a more cinematic
feel to it as well. If there is a trade-off with this lens, it’s
the fixed aperture at f-two-point-two. But, there are accessories I’ll discuss
which effectively make this a non-issue. The Mavic has a three-axis gimbal that keeps
everything stable, and I mean rock-solid stable, no jello or jitter here even in really windy
conditions. Next criteria was ease of operation. Now, I’ve played with RC toys before, but
I’m not a pilot and I’ve never flown an aircraft.

The drone had to be super simple for me to
fly so I could focus on operating the camera and capturing images rather than worrying
about whether I was going to crash it. Ideally, I wanted something that would fly
itself. Now, this couldn’t have been easier to take
right out of the box and fly, and I mean literally within minutes I was flying this without any
prior training. Baked in to the Mavic’s controls are a series
of intelligent flight modes, these automated options allow you to operate the camera while
the drone is either hovering or flying a preset pattern. This is the equivalent of a two-operator system
where 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 it
navigate and avoid hitting things.

Other, more expensive drones, like the Phantom
Four Pro have a more robust set of sensors at the sides and the rear but again it comes
at a higher price. Lacking these sensors, you do need to be especially
careful when you’re flying this one sideways and backwards and especially indoors. You want to be aware of everything around
you. And the last criteria for me was flight time. I didn’t want to be changing batteries every
five minutes. I needed something I could launch and maneuver
for an extended time frame without having to worry about battery life. Depending on what you’re doing the optimal
life of one battery in the Mavic is between twenty-four and twenty-seven minutes.

So, hovering in calm conditions gets you closer
to twenty-four minutes, while flying – which is slightly more efficient – will net you
about twenty-seven minutes. In practice, I’m averaging about twenty
minutes of flight time for each battery before it starts reminding me to return the drone
back home. From a portability standpoint, the Mavic Pro
is 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 other
aspects I was comparing: things like the camera, the gimbal specs, and the flight time. The Mavic remains at the top of the heap of
prosumer 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-hundred
dollars which includes two extra batteries, a charging hub, a car charger, a carrying
case, and extra propellers. This is the best value if you’re looking
to pick-up some extra batteries and once you get your hands on this, I think you’ll want
extra 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 remote
controller 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 controller
and the propellers. Inside the combo box, there’s a four-battery
charging hub which will sequentially charge the LiPo batteries. A battery power adapter, two intelligent flight
batteries, a car charger, and two extra sets of propellers.

The carrying case is well made and at roughly
seven inches wide, by eight inches tall and five inches deep it neatly organizes all the
gear you need to fly including the two extra batteries and it’s all in a compact form
factor. Now, even if you don’t choose to get the
Fly More package, you’ll want to get at least one additional thing and that is a set
of ND – or neutral density – filters. With a fixed aperture camera like the one
on the Mavic, the only way to control the camera’s exposure is by adjusting the ISO
or the sensor’s sensitivity to light and its shutter speed. So, let’s say you’re outside filming on
a 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 corresponds
with a properly exposed image. On a bright day, the shutter speed you’ll
be forced to choose to properly expose the image will be very fast, something like one-thousand
for example. Now, this all sounds fine and it is if you’re
taking still photos. As long the exposure is correct, this should
result in a sharp photograph. But, the problem is when you’re recording
video 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-degree
rule and it’s a slow enough shutter speed to blur each image just a tiny bit. This motion blur is what makes video feel
natural and cinematic and pleasing to watch. A fast shutter speed makes the video feel
very choppy because you’re essentially stitching together many very sharp individual images. Now, I filmed the side of the studio at the
same time of day to illustrate the difference.

In one I used the automatic settings and in
the other the ideal settings following the one-hundred and eighty-degree rule. Can you see the difference between the two
clips? Which one feels more natural? If I pause the two, you’ll know which is
which immediately. The blurry one on the left is much more natural
looking. So, if we’re capturing video at thirty frames
per second ideally, we want our shutter speed to be sixty.

That’s a pretty slow shutter speed especially
for 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 over
the 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 primary
purpose is to allow us to alter the shutter speed to achieve certain effects, in this
case a pleasing, cinematic motion blur. The video on the left used an ND sixteen filter
to achieve the proper shutter speed and a nice motion blur.

I purchased the Polar Pro cinematic filter
set for the Mavic Pro which comes with three filters: an ND eight, an ND sixteen, and an
ND thirty-two. The higher the number, the more light the
filter blocks. They easily slip on and off the camera’s
lens and allow the gimbal to calibrate without any trouble. OK, so what else do you need to know when
you get a drone? Well, here in the USA you need to be aware
of the laws regarding sUAS’s or small unmanned aircraft systems. These are set by the FAA and as you might
imagine the rules are changing all the time. So, it’s best to check with the authority
that’s in charge of aviation wherever you’re located. The FAA publishes a very simple chart describing
the 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 of
controlled airspace, yield to any manned aircraft and you can’t fly over people, or around
wildfires or other designated emergency areas. Now, if all this sounds too complicated, there
are two things which will help.

First, the DJI GO Four app which you’ll
need to operate the drone uses geo-fencing to prevent you from venturing where you shouldn’t. You should also download the app AirMap which
shows your current location on a map and displays the areas you can and can’t operate in around
your location. If you’re within five miles of an airport
with a control tower you won’t be able to – legally – use your drone recreationally. If you have your commercial drone pilot’s
license 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 restrictions
and limitations before you invest. But, given how small these drones are and
the flight capabilities – like using Wi-Fi to fly the Mavic – means we can fly these
inside and document our work like never before. Tons of possibilities for architects, architectural
photographers and interior designers. Now, one more thing for US residents, although
I believe this was recently struck down, the FAA’s website states that they want you
to register your drone with them.

So, I figured even if it wasn’t required
any longer that I would register mine for the nominal five-dollar fee. So, if you’re just going to be flying this
for fun and for your own enjoyment, you’re using it recreationally. If you’re going to use it for profit, then
that’s a commercial use. If you’re flying commercially in the US
you’ll need to get a remote pilot certificate. To do this it’s fairly simple, you’ll
need to pass the section one-o-seven test. You’ll have to study the materials, know
the rules and regulations, which makes sense anyway, and when you’re ready, pay a nominal
hundred and fifty-dollar fee to take the test and hopefully receive your pilot certificate.

From there, you can put your drone to work
for your business. Now let’s talk about some of the essential
apps. Before you can fly, you’ll have to download
the DJI GoFour app to control the drone and the camera. Also download AirMap as we discussed previously
to 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 are
overhead and how many you’ll be able to lock on to. Any lastly, pick up an app like Sun Seeker
or 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
work too. So, that’s an overview of the Mavic Pro. If you can’t tell, I’m really loving this
thing and I’m looking forward to showing you how we’re putting it to use in our upcoming
film and perhaps we’ll use it to livestream from one of our projects in the near future. Until then, please hit the thumbs up below
if 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 your
creative work? What uses have I left out? Cheers!.

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