Returning To Drone Photography. What’s Changed?

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How about returning to drone photography?

Many of you that have been around the hallowed halls of Light Stalking for a while, will remember that I enjoy drone photography. Indeed, I have written reviews about the drones I have bought and my experiences in becoming a CAA qualified commercial drone pilot.

Like many people, I let some things lapse. In my case, the lapse was not so much the will to fly, but remembering to keep my DJI Phantom 4 Pro batteries in good condition. This was meant to be done by fully charging them every three months, something I forgot to do.

So to cut a long story short, I screwed the batteries, I had to find replacements and I kind of got out of drone flying. Fast forward to 2022. 

Sunrise over Croydon Skyline returning to drone photography
My first flight with the new drone. By Jason Row Photography

Getting Back In The Air: Returning To Drone Photography

As I have already written about, my wife and I have temporarily left Ukraine due to the war. However, before leaving, I donated my old Phantom 4 Pro to the Ukrainian military who had access to batteries and reconditioned it to use in the defense of my adopted homeland. Something I had no hesitation in doing. 

This left me completely drone-less. Not only that, but I was also no longer qualified for commercial operations in the UK anymore. This required a hefty annual fee, one that was unjustifiable when I was spending so little time there.

However as Tania and I are living in the UK until we can return home, I decided to invest in a new drone, check out what’s changed in the regulations, and get qualified again. Turns out, that quite a lot has changed. Not only with regulation but with drone technology. 

Drone shot of Brighton Pier in UK returning to drone photography
Stunning aerial shot of Brighton Pier in the morning twilight. By Jason Row Photography

In The Air With The Air 2S

I narrowed down my choice of drones to the DJI Mavic 3 and the DJI Air 2S. The Air 2S was older and had a smaller sensor, and lesser range compared to the Mavic 3. However, those differences were minor compared to the substantial cost difference of the Mavic 3. The Air 2S is still an incredibly capable drone, and I could not really justify the nearly double price of the Mavic for what is in effect a slightly bigger sensor and greater endurance.

In the end, I went for the Air 2S Fly More Package with Smart Controller. This gave me three batteries, partially negating the endurance issue, and more importantly a very bright screen in an integrated controller. This entire package came in at £400 less than the base Mavic 3 with a single battery. 

So How Good Is The Air 2S

In a word, very. It has a 1-inch sensor, the same size as my old Phantom. However, that sensor records video at 5.4k as opposed to 4K. It also does 4K/60 which is equal to the old Phantom. That 4K footage is in 10-bit color and at a higher bitrate, making it significantly better than the old P4P. I will be honest with you, when I looked at the footage from the Air 2S, I was staggered. That 10-bit codec gives such better color graduation and the dynamic range is clearly better. 

The images are also a step above. Again the dynamic range seems significantly improved as does the color rendition. The lens is slightly wider, 22mm rather than 24mm equivalent but also seems sharper and more contrasty.

Brighton beach and i360 at dawn returning to drone photography
The 22mm lens affords a slightly wider view. By Jason Row Photography

The Technological Advance

The Air 2S is tiny compared to the old Phantom, yet it’s more stable, has greater range and endurance, and is significantly quieter. Getting it in the air is simple, especially in combination with the smart controller. No more turning the drone around to calibrate the GPS. It’s really just a case of doing your preflight checks, switching on the controller, then the drone, and taking off. 

Not having to attach a phone or tablet is a massive bonus allowing you to get up and running quicker. It also has the bonus of having a 1000 nit screen, making it very visible in bright light, something phones often struggled with. It really is leaps and bounds ahead of the Phantom, the five years difference in technology really shows.

Brighton pier at sunrise returning to drone photography
I enjoy flying at lower levels. By Jason Row Photography

Tighter Regulation But Easier Qualifications

Like many countries around the world, the UK has introduced stricter laws for drone flying. It has also introduced a registration scheme. Now as an unqualified drone pilot you must remain at least 150m from any uninvolved people and stay away from urban areas. 

There is also a drone classification system being introduced. This was supposed to come into effect on 31st December 2022, however, it is becoming unlikely that this will be introduced on time. This is mainly because there are few if any classified drones on the market yet and the CAA does not have the structures in place yet to classify them.

However, within the new regulations, it is much easier now to fly commercially by taking an exam to qualify you for the A2 CofC. Costing around £100, the lessons are taken online, as is the exam. The exam however is adjudicated. The A2 CofC allows you to fly done to within 30m of uninvolved people, 5m if using a slow mode. It returns much of the flexibility of the old PFCO that I took in 2018, including the ability to operate commercially. It does not, however, require the need for a hefty operation manual to be written or an expensive annual renewal.

The next step up from the A2 CofC is the GVC, or General Visual Line Of Sight Certificate. This has even more flexibility for a commercial drone operator and is still less than half the price of the old PFCO. It does however require an operations manual and annual renewal. 

Top down aerial view of Brighton Beach returning to drone photography
Taking the A2 CofC gives me more flying options. By Jason Row Photography

Time Have Changed And That’s Good

As can be seen, not only the technology has moved on but also the regulations. To me, the new regulations are a good thing. It won’t stop idiots from flying drones across crowded city centers at night. However, it will mean hobbyist drone flyers will have to be a long way away from uninvolved people unless they are prepared to take a course and get further qualified.  

I have really enjoyed my return to drone photography. I have the freedom to place my camera anywhere in a 500m lateral and 120m vertical plane. That allows me to get images and footage that would have been impossible a few years ago. I am looking forward to seeing what the next few years will bring. Needless to say, I enjoy returning to drone photography.

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About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

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