I don’t often do commercial work using smaller drones like the DJI Mavic Pro, but when I do I like to make sure I get the best possible outcome for my clients. This article is my guide to the best settings for your Mavic Pro…
It’s always nice to start with a video. This is from when I was still tweaking my settings but I like the end result. (I do have some better clips but I just have to get client approval to use them!)
The Mavic Pro is currently (as of March 2018) the most popular consumer photography/videography drone on the planet – and for good reason. For a price point of around USD$1000 you can purchase a compact drone with good endurance, excellent performance, and a 3-axis gimbal capable of delivering high quality video in 4K resolution and 30 frames per second (FPS).
As a result, the Mavic Pro is now also a popular choice amongst professional operators, keen to avoid the risk, cost and complexity of operating larger aircraft.
Using default factory settings, the Mavic Pro is a capable tool for aerial videography. However, you will quickly find some problems in your footage such as jerky transitions and difficulty colour-grading your output.
This document will outline both aircraft and camera settings that I use to obtain smooth, crisp video. The settings detailed here are a result of online research from other professional operators and my own “trial and error”.
DISCLAIMER These settings and tips will not be suitable for everyone. You should use them more as a “starting point” to find your own perfect setup.
This guide is broken up into three sections:
- Equipment requirements
- Aircraft setup
- Camera settings
The basic Mavic Pro and Mavic Pro Platinum packages are really all that you need for taking good video. Purchasing the “fly more” combination set is a good value way to get extra batteries and a carry case for your investment.
For commercial work using the Mavic Pro, three flight batteries are a good minimum as it will give you 90 minutes of airtime. Remember that DJI batteries have a battery management system (BMS) built into them and will begin to discharge themselves to a storage level after several days. This is worth remembering if you have a large gap between jobs – don’t expect your batteries to be fully charged!
These are the only “upgrade” that I consider a “must have item”.
ND filters limit the amount of light that enters the camera sensor. When filming outside on a bright day they make it possible for you to use a wider range of camera settings to get the best shot.
There are quite a few third-party filters on the market but DJI also make a very lightweight set that won’t upset the balance or calibration of your gimbal. The pack of three come in three gradients:
- ND4 – equal to a 2-stop filter. Best for bright, cloudy days
- ND8 – equal to a 3-stop filter. Best for “golden hour” shooting
- ND16 – equal to a 4-stop filter. Best for bright sunlight
If you use an Android device with your Mavic remote you will find the remote charges the phone/tablet whilst connected. This isn’t a problem for short ops but can seriously curtail longer jobs as your remote will die after 60-90 minutes.
The easiest solution is to use the bottom USB port for your phone/tablet and connect a power bank to the side port to keep everything topped up!
The setup of a drone for videography is different to that of a “sport” drone. To get smooth video and easy handling we need to dampen down the controls.
Gain & Expo Tuning
With the drone turned on and connected to the DJI Go4 app, tap the three dots at the top right of the screen to get into the settings menu.
Start by tapping the top menu item, which looks like a small drone, and then scroll down and enter “Advanced Settings”.
The first thing we will change is “EXP” (exponential). This makes the controls feel softer around centre stick, making small control corrections easier. Adjust the settings as in the image.
Use the back (<) key to leave this setting and go into “Sensitivity”. This controls how aggressively the drone responds to inputs. Set Altitude and Brake to 100% and Yaw Endpoint to 50%. This will slow down the speed the drone turns on the spot, making panning shots a lot smoother.
DO NOT adjust anything in the “Gain” menu. These settings change how the PID control loop responds and corrects the attitude of the drone in the air. Changing these settings may result in dangerous flight performance and crashes.
The last thing we can adjust in the Advanced Settings menu it the “Cinematic Mode” Gain and Sensitivity. If not already done, set these to the values shown in the image.
That’s it for the aircraft settings. Go for a test fly and see how the flight performance has changed. You should now find the drone, whilst still easy to control, is much smoother and slower in yaw. Transitions from hover to forward flight and hovering again should also be a little smoother.
The gimbal is the heart of the drone’s video capability. If the gimbal is not setup correctly then the sensor will never be able to capture high quality footage for you to work with.
The Gimbal Settings menu is the 6th icon down and looks like a small hanging camera. Enter this menu and then tap “Camera Gimbal Advanced Settings”.
The two important settings here are the Start/Stop Buffer and Pitch Speed.
Set these values as shown.
The Start/Stop Buffer tells the gimbal how smoothly to start and stop its movement. A low setting gives you very fine control over the exact end points of the gimbal but makes for very jerky pitch movement. A higher value will make the gimbal start and stop smoothly but may cause a little overshoot.
The pitch speed is how fast the gimbal moves in pitch when you turn the dial on the remote. We want this to be nice and slow so that we can easily control those smooth reveal shots as we climb away from our subject.
Of course, a well set up drone is only half the story. If your camera isn’t correctly configured, then all the fancy flying in the world isn’t going to get the shot!
These following settings are what I use currently and work for me. They may not be a perfect fit for you so do plenty of test flights at different times, locations and light conditions to fine tune your setup.
Top Tip A notepad is a really good tool to have so you can keep track of your settings!
Camera settings are accessed via the icon below the record button on your screen. There are three tabs within this popup menu that we will look at:
- Shutter settings
- Camera/Video settings
- General settings
The right tab containing the general settings requires the least work. Most of these settings are user preference and is where you can switch on things like gridlines and overexposure warnings.
The middle tab controls the camera settings and is the most important one to get right before you fly. We are more interested in the video settings in this guide so if the tab icon is a little stills camera, tap the mode swap icon above the record button to switch to video mode.
From here you can access and change the following settings:
Video Size: I use 4K/30fps. The video standard is 24fps but by shooting in 30fps you have the option to slow the footage down a little if necessary without it loosing that natural and smooth feel.
Video Format: Doesn’t matter. I use MP4 because I edit on a PC but Mov works just as well.
NTSC/PAL: The TV standard in Australia is PAL but you need to select NTSC to use 30fps.
White Balance: I use Auto White Balance (AWB) because I am lazy! It works for me, but you can change to suit your shooting style.
Style: I use a custom +0, -2, -2 mix on recommendation. There are some with the opinion that the +0 Sharpness should never be tampered with as the processor on board the Mavic has trouble with this and can leave you with blurred patches on your footage.
Color: I use D-Cinelike, again on recommendation. Others use D-Log. These “D” settings are good for getting a neutral colour palette that can be easily manipulated in post processing. If you don’t want to spend ages in the editing suite it may be preferable to use a different pre-set.
Shoot in Manual Mode!
Manual mode will always give you more control over your camera. Yes, it is a little more work, but the results are worth it.
The camera ISO setting controls how sensitive the sensor is to light. Lower numbers are less sensitive and give a much finer picture but require slower shutter speeds. Higher numbers are grainier but mean you can use a faster shutter speed.
This is where your ND filters come into play. By reducing the amount of light reaching the sensor they allow you to use a lower ISO for finer images on a bright day.
If possible use an ISO of 100 for filming and try not to exceed 400.
This is important, so pay attention! A lot of people ignore shutter speed at their peril. Incorrect shutter speed settings will result in jerky footage in panning or dolly-style shots.
The key rule here is to always select a shutter speed that is double your frame rate. Therefore:
FPS: 30 = Shutter speed: 60
FPS: 24 = Shutter speed: 50 (you can’t select 48)
If you must go higher than this, select a multiple of the desired speed; i.e. 60, 120, 240.
That’s it! Try these settings and then modify them to suit your style. There are plenty of guides and videos out there that will help you to fine tune your videos and many other operators willing to help.
If in doubt, pick a safe space to practice and try out your ideas. Practice makes perfect!