Lessons Learnt Since Owning a DJI Mini 2 (Drone)
I purchased my first drone (DJI Mini 2) back in March 2021 and its been a fairly steep learning curve over the past 9 months to get to where I am today. As a result, I wanted to share some of my learnings, in case it's useful to anyone else.
Why did I purchase the Mini 2?
I’ve owned a DSLR camera for as long as I can remember but I’ve always been interested in drone technology. The idea of capturing images from a unique aerial perspective appealed to me as I could use these images on my local tourism websites to promore the local area. The changes in legislation and the introduction of the Mini 2 unlocked the opportunity for me to invest in the technology and explore what I could get from it.
Before making the purchase I did a lot of research. I didn’t want to find myself with a relatively expensive drone that I couldn’t use because I’d missed an important piece of information. I won’t go into the details of everything I researched but I was mainly interested in how the drone would work, how to fly legally, and what was possible within those laws. Most of my research was on YouTube and I found the channels below really valuable:
Ian in London - https://www.youtube.com/c/IaninLondon
All About Drones - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMb9EyjkTk5BkxjWpPIzPPA
Geeksvana - https://www.youtube.com/user/Geeksvana
Ikopta - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC46Q9qwcLR6fvtw3IpU3eTg
I also joined a number of Facebook groups, but the only one I found useful was this one: https://www.facebook.com/groups/djimini2ukowners/
I eventually made the purchase but understood I needed to follow certain steps before making my first flight.
Registration (Operator ID)
I had to legally register the drone with the CAA at https://register-drones.caa.co.uk/individual/register-as-drone-operator. I also took the Flyer ID test while I was there, even though I don’t think I necessarily had to. The Operator ID cost me £9 and lasts for a year. It’s also a legal requirement to attach your Operator ID to your drone. Personally, I wanted this to look as neat and tidy as possible, so I printed it on a sticker and stuck this to one of the arms of the drone.
Setup - Understanding how the drone worked
I then read the entire manual to get an understanding of how the drone worked. I also refreshed my memory with some practical demonstrations on the YouTube channels mentioned above. I unboxed the drone and had a look at the controls without turning it on.
Setup - Apps
Before considering my first flight I also downloaded the relevant Apps that came to my attention when researching how to use the drone:
DJI Fly App - I don’t think this App is in any App stores so I downloaded it directly from the DJI website https://www.dji.com/uk/downloads/djiapp/dji-fly
UAV Forecast - I’ve found this invaluable for checking weather conditions before flying. I use the free version and mainly use it to check wind speeds and gusts at 100m. I’ve got both set to 24mph and never fly above this.
Altitude Angel/Drone Assist UK - I use this App every time I fly to check for any legal restrictions in the air space
Setup - Insurance
I’m very risk-averse so I planned to get insurance anyway but I also knew the majority of my flights would have some commercial element - even if they were just for my own social media pages. I opted to use Coverdrone.
Setup - Batteries
The first thing I did was to get the batteries on charge. As soon as they were ready to go, I placed all of them in the drone to make sure everything was up to date before I left the house. I also purchased a fireproof bag to store them in. I’m sure many people don’t do this but I thought it was worthwhile considering how cheap they were.
Setup - Accessories
Landing pad - I purchased a reasonably priced landing pad as I didn’t fancy trying to hand launch and wanted to protect the drone from any dirt when taking off.
SD card - obviously an SD card is essential for storing photos/videos captured on the drone. I’ve mainly stuck to photos but this card has worked well for me so far.
Strobe - I’ve recently purchased this strobe as we’ve moved into the winter months and I wanted to be able to see the drone during night flights. I attached it to the drone using the 3M lock fastener provided. I’ve placed it on the outside of the battery door.
Wraps - I personally didn’t see the value in a wrap as it appeared to be more cosmetic rather than anything that would help me capture better photos. They could possibly help with being able to spot your drone.
ND Filters - I’ve also not invested in ND filters. They are mainly used for getting cinematic video footage when you need to adapt your shutter speed based on your frame rate. I’ve mainly stuck to capturing photos so ND filters haven’t been necessary for that.
Finally, I read the Drone Code again: https://register-drones.caa.co.uk/drone-code
For my first flight, I was fairly apprehensive about what to expect. I took the drone to a very wide open space, where I was unlikely to encounter many people. I played it very safe and simply tested the controls to get a feel for how the drone worked. I was instantly blown away by the technology.
I found the drone incredibly stable and easy to control. However, I must admit as I gained more altitude, it was nerve-racking, and I felt uncomfortable when the drone was high up in the sky. I think this is probably quite natural for anyone who hasn’t used a drone before and it quickly faded over time as I built more confidence in the technology.
As part of my first flight, I took a couple of images, as the ultimate purpose of buying the drone was to get some shots for my various websites.
Upon returning home, I was eager to check out the results. I must admit, at first, I was slightly disappointed with the images as they appeared straight out of the camera. The unique perspective and composition of the images were amazing but the quality of the images wasn’t up to scratch. Thankfully, this is something that I’d experienced before when taking photos from the ground so I knew how to fix it. I’d captured all of my photos in RAW, and I ran them through Photoshop and could instantly see more potential in the shots. I’d highly recommend capturing every photo you take in RAW as it will give you more to play with when you process the images. In my opinion, pretty much every image you take is going to need some sort of editing to make them useable.
At the time of writing this blog, I’m now up to 58 flights and I’m much more confident using the drone in a variety of situations. I’ve captured many images and a couple of videos that have worked really well across my social media platforms. Every time I fly I’m still blown away by the technology and it’s been a massively worthwhile investment.
Fly with caution
Having said that, I’m still very cautious when flying. Obviously, I maintain a visual line of sight every time I fly (we legally have to anyway) but I also don’t fly anywhere that might annoy other people. If I’m flying somewhere and I think it might be worth asking permission, I do so before flying. I also only tend to fly in locations where if the drone did come down, I’d be able to walk to retrieve it quite quickly. So I’m never flying over anyone’s property or over to the other side of a river for example. This part is probably just me being overly cautious but 58 flights still isn’t an awful lot of experience.
Always shoot in AEB mode
I quickly realised that to get the best image quality out of the drone I needed to shoot in RAW but also in AEB mode. AEB mode basically takes three images at different exposures, these can then be merged together when editing, giving us a great dynamic range to create a better final image.
Take Pano shots
The camera on the drone sometimes isn’t wide enough to capture the full scene. Taking pano photos helps to resolve this. I’ve had most success when doing this manually (I’ll link to a good resource below which covers this). This pretty much involves taking a series of photos to cover the scene that you want to capture. It can be done automatically in the DJI Fly App but as far as I know it doesn’t record this as a RAW file, making editing more difficult.
Lightroom & Photoshop
As I mentioned above, I already had plenty of experience processing RAW files and using Photoshop. However, I only had an old version of Photoshop when I purchased the Mini 2. After watching some tutorials on YouTube, I thought it would be beneficial to invest in a Lightroom and Photoshop package. This gave me the freedom to edit the photos and merge them together in the same way that I’d seen other people do it.
Merging AEB images and pano’s
When capturing photos, I’d been using AEB mode and creating some pano’s manually while out flying. I then used a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop to edit these together. I found this technique worked best to get the highest quality final image. I won’t go through all the steps to achieve this here, but this is the YouTube video, from Scott at Cutleaf Productions, that I followed to achieve it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyZehWTsWXE
I’ve just started to explore taking images at night with a longer exposure. This is where my strobe has come into play. It was a steeper learning curve to start with, but to achieve best results, I put the camera into manual mode. Lowered the ISO to around 400 and set the shutter speed to around 1-2 seconds. I then took 10 photos and merged them together in Photoshop. This was a technique I take across in the Facebook group mentioned at the top of this post. There’s a fantastic video from Ben Hirst (Tayside in Pictures) on YouTube that gives a complete overview of the process https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4v2lnhpob0
That’s pretty much my journey with the DJI Mini 2 so far. I share a lot of my images on my Instagram profile, so feel free to have a browse on there if you’re interested in taking a look at the shots I’ve taken so far - https://www.instagram.com/paulthompsondigital/