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Being Chased by a DJI Spark Drone - Not just for Aerial Landscape B-Roll

Longboard and DJI Spark Drone
DJI Spark Drone.
When you think of drones (the little quadcopter with a camera type rather than the more dangerous airstrike type) you tend to think of big cinematic landscape video often used as B-Roll by many Youtube channels.

As great as that is I've been keeping my eye on the object tracking and autonomous flying capabilities of smaller consumer drones at the lower priced end of the market. 

As a solo video creator one of the things I can't do on my own is have a camera follow me as I move through an environment on my skateboard. Having a drone camera that can just lock onto me, and follow me as I ride my skateboard without me having to control the drone at all, opens up many possibilities for more dynamic video.

Elfie Selfie Drone
The Elfie Selfie Drone.
Initially I tried a couple of low cost selfie drones that were specifically marketed as ideal for filming yourself. The Elfie was my first selfie drone and did not meet up with the expectations of it's marketing. I could not get it to hover in place at all.

Flitt Selfie Drone
Flitt Selfie Drone.
I was then gifted a Flitt Selfie drone which showed some potential, as it had sensors in the bottom that could help it hold position in the air by scanning an area on the ground to detecting if it was drifting from that location.

While the Flitt doesn't have any tracking capability it is stable enough to position in the air with the camera pointing at the subject and then either take a photo or film some video. It also has a HD 720p camera which, unfortunately, isn't stabilized so video footage isn't always smooth. 

If it had camera stabilization and object tracking it would almost be the perfect drone because you can literally carry it in your pocket. However, it's also not great at flying in anything more than a slight breeze. That aside I still fly my Flitt drone for fun because it's just so portable and small enough to throw in bag... just in case.

My next drone was a cheap Visuo DJI knock off, with none of the features, that I won't talk much about here. I basically bought it to learn how to fly a drone manually with an actual controller instead of a phone app. It had a bit more weight to it and longer battery life so I could practice longer in less forgiving breezes. You can see it in the video below which I'm embeding because I also showcase my Rova Selfie Drone (you'll have to play the video from the beginning to see it as I've set it up to play from the Rova section).

The Rova I got at a bargain price (reduced from AU$399.00) because, as it turns out the company was going out of business. Not surprising giving the performance of their drone which was supposed to be the ultimate selfie drone that you could fly indoors or out. Packed with sensors and collision detection features you were meant to be able to fly it anywhere. Watch the video and we'll never speak of it again.


DJI Spark Drone
My DJI Spark.
A year or so ago my brother gifted me his first drone, a DJI Spark, after he upgraded. I would describe the Spark as an entry level 'prosumer' drone. Great for drone hobbyists/vloggers but also more than capable for professional use if you just want something small and easy to carry.

I kind of procrastinated well over a year to really learn the features of the Spark because the manual made it seem complicated. In reality it is actually one of the easiest drones I've ever flown, and definitely the most feature packed with object tracking, various autonomous flight modes, and collision detection.

As you can see in the video below it does a great job of following me on my skateboard. Although I have the controller in my hand, at no time am I actually controlling the drone while it is following me. You'll see me look around at the drone a few times just to check it's still following me because this is actually the very first time I've ever used object tracking on any drone.

(There's also a moment early on where the drone accelerated toward my head and then stopped. I don't know why but I suspect the tracking was locked to one of my bags instead of me and it got confused. I reset the tracking and it was fine after that).


As you can see, having a drone that is capable of following you around all on its own opens up a world of possibilities for solo video creators. While the cinematic, high altitude aerial photography is great for b-roll and scene setting, I find it more interesting exploring how to use object tracking at ground level.

My plan is to set it up tracking me from the side as I skateboard along doing tricks. Initially that's why I was looking at getting a drone but I'm sure I can be even more creative. As first step I thought it was pretty cool to look like I was being chased by a drone - because that's what I think it must look like to an observer.

If you're interested in using drones in this way you need to spend a little more on a drone that has GPS tracking and camera stabilization - as well as object tracking, autonomous flight (obviously). The DJI Spark is more than capable but it looks to have been superseded by the DJI Mavic Air 2, a more compact and capable drone with comparable features. 

If you've flown a cheaper drone that you really struggled with the controls, chances are it's lacking proper tracking and stabilization features like my earlier drones. The Spark is leaps and bounds ahead of them and is incredibly easy to fly, especially if you focus on the autonomous modes where, once you position it in the air, it'll fly itself from there. Definitely worth the extra money.

Note: This post is not sponsored by DJI (or any of the drone manufacturers mentioned) and reflects my own personal experience of actually using each drone.
 


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