Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Observations about flying a DJI Phantom 4 Pro

Maria Langer, professional helicopter pilot, blogger and Twitter friend, got her DJI Mavic Pro on nearly the same day as I got my DJI Phantom 4 Pro. She’s taken the time to write down her thoughts on the experience and so I thought I’d quote her post since she and I agree on our first few flight missions. We also purchased a professional drone for the same reason:

And that’s a big part of what this drone is to me: it’s a tool for making photos and videos. While some people buy drones for the flying aspect of them and actually race them around obstacles, etc., I have no intention of doing that.


Here is a good tip about landing and taking off from the ground:

And if there’s dust, that dust is going to fly on landing and take off (just like with a helicopter) and possibly get into rotor heads or gimbal parts. I had the foresight to order a foldable landing pad to operate from — this helps ensure a safe, clean environment for operations.

As often as possible I take off and land from a small foldable table that I keep in my Jeep for this very reason. I don’t want to land in snow or in wet grass or, as Maria points out, in a dusty area. And, although I’ve seen others do this, I do not want to (nor should you) catch my drone.

She also notes something I had trouble with too:

The only real complaint I have about the design is related to the plastic clamp that holds the gimbal immobile during transport: I have a heck of a time getting that damn thing on. I assume I’ll better at it one of these days; I sure hope it’s soon.

I agree with her on this. But, gimbals are fussy things. They are free moving and so very hard to get into the right position to get this clamp in place. However, her assumptions are correct, the more I’ve done it the better I’m getting at it.

Maria regarding the app and controller:

There is a lot to learn about the controller and the DJI Go app. Yes, you can pick it up and fly it almost immediately with just a few pointers from a friend or a quick glance through the manual, but you will never master either flying or photography — which really do need to be considered separately — without reading the manual and trying various features until you learn what works for you.

The app is incredible. It has many features for controlling the drone, the camera, for programming the drone to do actions autonomously, and more. I’m super, super impressed with the app and I know it will be months before I feel comfortable with every feature. On the other hand, the app is terrible at transferring files. I recommend getting a card reader as soon as you can for this.

Be sure to read the rest of her post as her experience is based on the Mavic Pro.

I’ll add a few things; first, the speed of the Phantom 4 Pro. Even though I’m using this as a camera it is fun to get some wind under the props now and then. Sport mode is essentially what I was used to with my other, inexpensive, featureless UAV in that it turns off all obstacle avoidance and goes all out. I’ve flown my drone over 50MPH according to the app. At that speed it is really moving. It is impressive.

The engineering that has gone into this device is pretty staggering. The app has features for following objects, orbiting points of interest, you can draw on the screen where you want the drone to fly and it does it. There are also preferences for nearly every single setting. And, I’ve found, for the most part this thing is impossible to crash. I’m afraid to write that sentence but I do believe that if I crash this drone it will be my fault and not the fault of the drone.

If I could just warn others that the ease of flight can cause complacence. Flying a drone is a serious responsibility. Not only are you flying a device that likely set you back a few thousand dollars but you’re more than likely flying over some property that may not belong to you. And as Maria has pointed out in the past, you’re also flying in shared airspace. This drone can fly itself but I’d still recommend you create your own pre-flight checklist. Here is mine that I’m continuously adding to.

I’m only a few missions into having this new drone but I can say that I’m very happy with my investment so far. I’ll report back as I learn more.


Maria Langer on drone safety

Maria Langer, helicopter pilot:

As a helicopter pilot, I’ve felt a rather unique threat from the rise of drones (no pun intended). I want to take a moment to explain, mostly because although my general opinion of drones has changed, my views about their threats have not.

This is an important post to read if you, like me, fly a drone. Also important if you’re getting one as a gift this weekend. Be mindful that the skies are full of other people not just devices.

How many hats can you wear?

Maria Langer, on her blog, on owning and operating her own small business:

I am the owner of a small business, Flying M Air, LLC. I do just about everything for the company except maintain the aircraft: schedule flights, preflight the aircraft, fly, take payment from passengers, manage the drug testing program, work with the FAA, meet with clients, negotiate contracts, arrange for special events, hire contract workers, record transactions, handle invoicing and receivables, pay bills, create print marketing materials like business cards and rack cards, etc. I also handle the online presence for the company, including the company website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Her entire post is more about losing a day to marketing efforts. Worth a read.

Based on experience, I can say her list of duties is incomplete. But we get the point. If you’re running a small business you wear a lot of hats.

I think this may be the single biggest aspect of small business ownership that people overlook when considering striking out on their own. If you have “a job” at a company you have, typically, a singular area of responsibility. Within that area of responsibility you may have a few things that you are tasked with doing… but certainly you do not have to do everything.

The things those with “a job” rarely have to worry about; sales leads, money, taxes, bills, laws, trademarks, patents, marketing, resources, money, sales leads, money, bills, money. Get the picture?

When you take ownership of your own company the amount of duties and pressure that you bring onto yourself can, for some, outweigh the benefits of “being your own boss” and setting your own schedule. Freedom has huge costs.

Personally, I love doing my own thing. But I’m not that good at it. And it does cause me a lot of stress sometimes. There are days that I wish I had “a job” and that I could just show up, do it, and walk away without worrying about the 90 other duties that need to be done. And then there are days when a friend calls, asks to go kayaking in the middle of the day, and I don’t have to ask anyone if I can do that.

So, before you strike out on your own with a small business, ask yourself, in addition to whatever it is you want to do for a living; do you want to be an accountant, banker, sales person, marketer, social media guru, web developer, designer, customer service rep, scheduler, secretary, etc.? If not, don’t do it. Or, hire other people to handle these tasks.

My #FollowFriday recommendations

Today I decided to go through the list of accounts that I follow on Twitter and cherry-pick those I think others should consider following and why. I’ve tweeted all of the suggestions but I also wanted to catalog them here on my blog.

Update, September 23, 2016:

These are just a few of the Twitter accounts that I’m currently following. The accounts that I follow change all the time. But my general goal is to have a timeline that continues to inspire me to make and share.

Dawn and Shadow Time

One thing I’m forever fascinated by is how the local landscape affects sunlight, weather patterns, wind speed, etc. Meteorology with a view from the ground, if you will. Isn’t it fascinating that where I live, in a very small stream valley, above a larger river valley, between two small mountains, has a wholly different temperature, wind speed, and sunrise and sunset time as my friends who only live a few minutes away — perhaps in the river valley below or in the plains above?

It turns out I’m not alone in finding this fascinating. Maria Langer, longtime blogger, helicopter pilot, and all-around fascinating person, recently wrote about Dawn Time – or, first light due to one’s landscape. Notice these bits:

It’s nice to see the horizon, to greet the sun when it makes its first appearance for the day, to see the way first light touches the landscape around me, to watch weather move through, to see last light and watch the sun dip below the horizon at the end of the day.

The sun, in a way, is my clock. Not having a scheduled life, I let it tell me when to get up in the morning and, during long summer days, often go to sleep not long after it sets.

I rarely express it (and I’ve never blogged about it like Maria) but I can say that I’ve thought about these types of things countless times.

My grandparents, on my father’s side of the family, owned a home on 50-acres that slowly sloped away from their house by at least a few hundred feet. Sitting in their living room you could see their entire plot. To see deer in the two fields furthest away required the aid of binoculars. Beyond those two fields their view stretched on for miles. I loved looking out at that.

In the mid-90s I spent some time in South Dakota. I remember being on a slight rise and seeing the rains miles and miles away, lightning striking the earth, and it being dry where I stood.

I think this is why I like spending so much time on large lakes. I love the broad view I have and how the sun touches the west coast of the lake, slowly makes its away across and hits the east coast and then shadow wraps the west coast as the day ends. As Maria wrote, I could see getting into a rhythm with the sun. Maybe this is why I’m a morning person?

Maria also blogged about Shadow Time. So be sure to check that out. Fascinating stuff.