Most of us who have invested in drones will be using a DJI Phantom or perhaps the new Mavic. Whilst there are better photography platforms available they are significantly more expensive and really designed for higher end commercial operations.
DJI provide their drones with a free app to control it with. It is called DJI Go and it's a pretty comprehensive app. It allows you to control many complex aspects of your drone both in setting it up and flying it.
However, to differentiate its model range, DJI hamstrings some of its consumer models by not allowing access to certain functions. One of these is flight planning.
You can pre-plan flights with DJI Go but to do so you must actually fly the flight plan first. That, of course, means using up valuable battery time. With batteries costing upwards of $100 each, that can be a serious cost consideration. Step up the Litchi app.
Litchi is a third party app that allows you to control certain functions that cannot be done with the DJI Go app. At $22.99 it's available for both IOS and Android. Before we go further there is a caveat…
There is a body of opinion that suggests using the Litchi App instead of DJI Go can invalidate your warranty in case of a flyway. I have not heard any official information on this from DJI but be aware that there is this possibility. So let’s look at what Litchi can do.
This is the big advantage of Litchi. It allows you to pre-plan flights without the need to actually fly them. You can pre-plan on the app using a smartphone or tablet or by using the Mission Hub on their website.
Both the app and website use high definition maps and satellite imagery from Google.
You can plot a route by dropping waypoints onto the map. For each waypoint, you can set an altitude, speed, curve size and heading. The curve size defines how sharply the drone will transition from one heading to the next.
As you plot the route on the map you are given the total flight distance and total flight time.
The huge advantage of preplanning for photographers is that you can set Points of Interest. With a point of interest set between two waypoints, the app will fly the drone and train the camera on the point of interest.
You can set your waypoints around a point of interest to get sweeping cinematic video. You can also set the gimbal pitch to aim the camera at the most suitable elevation.
For each waypoint you can also add certain actions. These include making the drone stay at that location for a set period of time, starting and stopping video recording and taking photos.
The great advantage of the pre-planned mission for photographers and video makers is that the app flies the drone and allows us to concentrate on getting the images and clips!
Other Useful Features
In Focus Mode, Litchi will control the gimbal and yaw axis allowing you to fly the drone purely in the horizontal axis. The gimbal will lock to your subject allowing you to concentrate on getting the shot.
There is also a dedicated panoramic mode. This will send the drone to a preset height and take a series of images to create a full 360-degree panoramic image.
It will make two or three full rotations, first with the gimbal and camera parallel to the horizon then angling down to show the area under the drone.
There are also autonomous orbit and follow modes, similar to the DJI Go app. These allow you to circle a point of interest or to track a moving object or person.
Flying your drone autonomously requires extra safety considerations.
- Because you are working off a two-dimensional map you need to pay very close attention to the height at which you will fly the mission,
- If possible, scout the location and check that there are not obstructions in the way of your proposed flight path,
- Another consideration is your flight speed and distance. Be aware of the limitations of your battery and keep the plan well inside your batteries duration. Allow for at least 30% battery on returning from the mission.
Wind can have a big effect on missions too. If you have a high wind speed, cancel and return another day. A headwind when the drone is on the return leg can seriously sap the battery power and force the drone to auto-land.
The Litchi App – Summary
Litchi is a great app for realizing the full potential of your DJI Phantom, Mavic or Inspire. By allowing the app to control your drone you are free to concentrate on getting the unique images and video clips that can be created by flying one.
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