Travelling with the Mavic Air Drone

After a busy few months of mostly holiday it’s only fair I share my findings about the ‘Mavic Air’ from DJI and what it’s like to do proper travel with. My recent trip consisted of a final week in New Zealand, 2 Weeks Bali Indonesia, 4 days Philippines and 2 weeks Thailand. The purpose of this travel was just to enjoy the different cultures as a holiday experience with my girlfriend rather than go out of my way to create a drone film. I did actually end up going to Vietnam too for 2 weeks, but didn’t do any filming whatsoever. The drone was just there to film whenever I felt like it.

Air Travel

Having departed with my bulky DJI Inspire 2 last November, my total baggage was significantly reduced. I had one 80 litre travel bag for my clothes total weight 15KG and my f.stop camera bag which weighed 12KG. So I would be absolutely fine for checked baggage as most airlines were 30KG / 25KG or 20KG for economy class. My main problem was my carry-on f.stop bag as most airlines limit is 7KG, however I always had a good excuse lined up “Oh I’m a professional Photographer, my insurers won’t allow me to check-in my camera because of the risk”. Check-in clerks are usually lenient when it comes to Photographers, and if they wanted to check they’d find a Nikon d750 with 14-24 lens taking up most of my bag’s space. Needless to say no-one wanted to weigh my carry-on for all 17 flights.
You’re now supposed to declare whether you are flying with a drone at check-in. As I know the Mavic Air falls way below the threshold for batteries I didn’t bother declaring for these flights because A) Its usually chaos and B) you need time to go through security. Not to sound like I’m taking the moral high-ground but I’d rather just forego any unnecessary bureaucracy and get through to the gate asap. As a precaution everyone should consider flying with LiPo safe bags which can be purchased direct from AMAZON.

Mavic Air in F.Stop Lotus Bag

Local Laws & Permits to Fly Drones

I’ve been to SE Asia several times before so know how ‘the system’ works. I’d rather not get bogged down in bureaucracy, corruption so I will head straight to the local police station and be upfront, sign whatever piece of paper with government I.D. and pay however many baht it is that time. Most regions in their respective countries are locally governed so rules and regulations will vary. Always check with the local police department or tourist police if unsure, if they give the all clear that’s enough in my books, but still ask them where you can and can’t fly. The Police registration process in Philippines for me only took within 2 hours on Boracay Island, Indonesia Bali 24 hours and Thailand Ao Nang 24 hours.
If you’re planning a similar trip please remember to use common sense and never fly in or around religious shrines, temples and monuments, around people or over people’s property without permission. Do your own research, I’m just relaying what works for me.

Portability

This is the best thing about the drone, it’s ultra portability. The small case and controller easily fit in my backpack’s side pocket freeing up the rest of the bag. Scooters can often be hired in Southeast Asia to get around, the Mavic Air fits effortlessly in the storage compartment under the seat, this makes things far more comfortable if you don’t want to carry a backpack around for the day.
If you’re doing a lot of island hopping and snorkelling day trips with kayaking a great way to keep the Mavic Air safe is to buy one of these Dry Bags. These dry bags will keep everything dry and sand free no matter the weather. If you want to buy one at the many sellers in SE Asia my advice is don’t pay more than $5 USD for the 10 litre one but you’ll have to bring your haggling A-Game and the quality isn’t quite on par with the Amazon ones.

Photographing Sunrise at Tegallalang Rice Terraces in Ubud, Bali Indonesia Aerial Drone Shot Boracay Island Philippines

Standing up-to the Environments

I was travelling SE Asia in the beginning of their Summer so the temperatures were quite high and humidity was also an issue. As I only own 2 batteries for the Mavic Air it was never under the sun for long periods, but the times it was in the sky it behaved perfectly. Charging my device was never an issue anywhere, my only advice is to make sure you have a good and well reviewed travel adapter for electrical sockets. This is what I use : JoomFeen Travel Adapter which I highly recommend. Just be careful with some of the cheap low quality Chinese ones sold at markets in Asia, it’s better to buy from somewhere with a manufacturers warranty.
With regards to the drone’s controller signal : Built up areas proved to have too much Wi-Fi interference so the video signal would be largely affected and often cut-out, where the drone really excelled was at the beach, countryside and islands where interference was minimal.

Travel & Equipment Insurance

So what about theft abroad in Southeast Asia? It’s very rare in my experience, due to cultural differences people’s mindsets are different to things like possessions so you can relax if you’re at the beach and want to go for a swim, same for any organised day trips. Your gear is more likely to go missing via another Western Backpacker in my opinion.
All of my equipment is insured worldwide 365 for only £330 per annum that covers me for £10k worth of camera gear. I also take out a separate travel insurance policy that covers me for medical incidents and lost baggage etc, this is very important and I always recommend this. If you’re from the UK I can point you in the right direction for which policies I use just drop me an E-mail.

Island-Life-Mavic-Air-Thailand

Getting the Best Out Of The Drone

My top advice is to make sure you own a set of ND Filters, what are they? They basically act as sunglasses so will help with keeping sun glare off water and helping us achieve a 180 degree shutter speed. As a rule of thumb I’ll always shoot a shutter at double my frame rate for more of a cinematic feel. In this case my frame rate was 30fps so a Shutter of 60 was used. As the Mavic Air’s camera is fixed at f/2.8 when flying in sunny conditions we will be very overexposed so we would need to use something like an ND32 too compensate for this, stepping down the ND when the scene is darker or overcast. Annoyingly for my trip I only had an ND16 as a maximum so I had to have a Shutter at 120 for a couple of scenes, but it wasn’t too much of an issue.
Research the locations you plan to shoot, check whether you need permission and clear your ideas with the local Police Station before flying.
The Golden Hours are always a nice time to drone as you will see some nice colours. My favourite is the morning during sunrise as there’s hardly any people around. Bright Sunny Days on Islands are great as the colours will be vivid just make sure you have your ND / Polarisers.
Take a look at one of my older videos below for more advice on mastering your drone skills:

My Settings used for trip :

Drone : DJI Mavic Air
ISO : 100
Shutter : 60
Aperture : Fixed f/2.8
ND Filters : DJI ND 8 + 16
Video Mode : 4K (UHD) 3840×2160 @ 30 fps
Colour Profile : D-Cinelike, Style : 0-0-0
Editing : Adobe Premiere CC
Grading : Lumetri CC + FilmConvert
Media File : Uploaded as an UHD h.264 VBR-2 Pass @ 100-Mbps

Locations

New Zealand :

● Raglan
● Mt.Manganui Beach
● Papamoa Beach
● Coromandel, Cathedral Cove
● Whakatana, The Heads
● Waikato, Bridal-veil Falls
● Taranaki, Cape Egmont Lighthouse

Southeast Asia :

● Bali – Ubud, Tegallalang
● Bali – Amed
● Thailand – Pai
● Philippines – Boracay Island
● Thailand – Ao Nang, Poda, Lup & Chicken Island

All My Gear : https://kit.com/mananddrone

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