2018 Update: This article was written in 2015 before drones became mainstream. Always check the local regulations for flying a drone in Asia and whichever city you are in. Since 2015 drone regulations have been introduced and are constantly changing. The consequences can range from heft fines to even imprisonment.
I finished my on-line Aerial Videography course and planned a trip to Siem Riep in Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat. I also planned a back-to-back trip with my girlfriend Celine to Myanmar. Myanmar is one of those rare countries that have just recently opened up to tourism and we didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps I’ll write another post to share what we learned there. This post is about the aerial flights so let’s get to what you should know about traveling with the Dji Phantom Drone.
Packing the drone
The box that comes with your Phantom 3 professional is adequate for traveling with your drone if you have a hard-shell suitcase case. I used it for check in and used a lock for my suitcase. However, a better solution would be to buy a hard-shell backpack or hard-shell carry on and bring it on the plane. I found out that you have to carry the battery with you onboard. I actually was stopped by airport security to open my suitcase and get the battery from the drone. If you have the luxury of a car the factory box will do. In South East Asia there may be times where you may need to travel via e-bike or a tuk tuk (small carriage connected via motorbike). If you are in this situation I would recommend waterproof hard-shell backpack with foam inserts. DJI has such a backpack, but I don’t think there is any room for a laptop or camera meaning that you will need to carry about 2 backpacks.
Purchase extra batteries
Even with the improved battery life of 20 minutes I found it inconvenient to go back to the hotel or find a restaurant/café to charge the battery again for another flight and wait an hour or so. For a $150 you can get a second battery that will save you time in the long run.
Plan and scout the area
If you are visiting a country for the first time I suggest you build in a day or two to get familiar with the area or landmark you want to film aerial footage of. For the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon Myanmar we visited the Pagoda first as tourists to get familiar with the area. I also asked staff if we could fly drones on-site. As I experienced in Cambodia or Myanmar if you ask permission to fly you are turned down most of the time. On a taxi ride back to the hotel we noticed there was a park across the street with a nice path leading to the Pagoda. Flying the drone from the park gave us a safe enough distance from the Pagoda that I was still able to get some great shots at a safe distance by flying over the park at about 300-400ft.
Early morning flights can be rewarding
When you fly the drone you have to get used to the fact that you may attract curious new friends interested in what you are doing. If you go early after sunrise not only will you get good light, but also chances are that most people including staff will not be there. This means you can get a good flight in without putting people in danger or having people distract. Use a time and date calculator to find out the time of the sunrise and plan accordingly.
After my first night flight in Chiang Mai I almost gave up on flying at night. It It is difficult to get line of sight in the dark and if there are no lights the live HD feed on the app isn’t going to help you get a visual. It felt unsafe and it was mostly black noisy footage. In some cities you may not be permitted to fly at night. There is usually a small window between the beginning of sunset and early evening that would be ideal to fly for best footage and safety.
However; I did some flights in Cambodia and Myanmar. I learned to rely on the map insert to let you know which way the nose was facing. The telemetry stats would give you distance and height. I flew in basic forward and sideways movements so I would know how to fly back manually. However, I became more comfortable using the return to home point landing icon to get it over my head. I would cancel it once it was 100 feet above my head to land manually. Sometimes the home point is not accurate and it may land a bit further from where you are standing. However, if you’ve calibrated the compass and are flying with good GPS coverage with a homepoint then it helps a lot to just use return to home. Use caution flying at night I don’t recommend it unless you are an experience drone pilot.
Get a second memory card
The included 16gb micro SD card is sufficient to get started, but may quickly run out of space if you are doing multiple film flights in 4k. A 30 second 4k clip I shot was about 210mb so a 1 minute video would be about 420mb. If my math is right 20 minutes of footage will take up 8.4 gb of memory card space, which means you have enough space for 2-3 flights. I purchased a SanDisk 32GB Extreme U3 Class microsd card. These are fast enough for 4k and can be used on my SLR with the full-size SD card adaptor. I didn’t bring my laptop on the trip for downloading and making backups. My reward was that I didn’t have a laptop to worry about carrying on the trip.
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