Droning on, and on

Taking to the friendly skies with some of the most exciting new drones

By Marc Saltzman

Still very much up in the air, the future of commercial drone delivery that’s been tested in rural British Columbia, and a few other locations in the American and UK locations by Amazon is currently treading water when compared to the recreational popularity of flying UAVs (“Unmanned Aerial Vehicles”). In fact, research by Goldman Sachs forecasts that the ‘drone sector’ will soar, to reach heights of up a $100 billion in the coming year alone.

Civilian drones, of course, are remote-controlled UAVs or “quadcopters,” often with advanced cameras that allow for the capture of unique aerial footage. There are also many consumer friendly support apps, too, for those who enjoy controlling the roll, pitch and throttle action with a smartphone or tablet. Some work with special glasses that let the user see what the drone sees, in real time, from a first-person perspective.

But with so many drone options on the market, how do you compare and land on the right one for you? Here are some of the latest:

Calling all shutterbugs

Those who take drone photography seriously might con-ider DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro ($2,179; dji.com), the world’s first drone with an integrated Hasselblad camera.

Yielding outstanding image quality with superior light and colour performance, this drone houses a 1-inch CMOS sensor with a 10-bit Dlog-M colour profile—which trans- lates to capturing four times as many levels of colour per channel compared to the original Mavic Pro.

Along with stunning aerial photos the Mavic 2 Pro, which costs $2,769 with the optional Smart Controller, can shoot 4K 10-bit video, with HDR (High Dynamic Range) support, which is ideal for compatible televisions for viewing your work after flight.

And then there’s the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom ($1,839 or $2,429 with Smart Controller), billed as the first foldable consumer drone with zoom. Powered by a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, this drone can get closer to your subject by fusing two-times optical zoom (24-48mm) with two-times digital zoom to simulate a 96mm telephoto lens—capable of capturing lossless video in Full HD resolution.

A “super resolution” feature automatically captures and stitches nine photos together for a highly detailed 48-megapixel image, which is great for landscape photography, along with a hyperlapse option which shows the passing of time.

Leveraging its three-axis mechanical gimbal for stable video recording, both DJI drones also include ActiveTrack 2.0, an enhanced auto-tracking feature that can lock onto a target—like a child slaloming down a hill—between its main camera and front dual vision cameras. These “autonomous” drones will also recognize and avoid obstacles while capturing footage—up to 72 kilometres an hour in Sport mode. Flying time of the Mavic 2 family tops 31 minutes.

Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom are both compatible with DJI Goggles ($549) for an immersive first-person view flight experience, while the optional Mavic 2 Fly More Kit ($538; for both Zoom and Pro) includes: multiple spare batteries, low-noise propellers for quieter flight, a shoulder bag, and more.

Cool n’ compact

A stellar—and smaller—option, the Parrot ANAFI ($999; parrot.com) is another popular consumer-grade drone that has won several awards, including inclusion in a “Best Drones of 2020” feature by DPReview.com (Digital Photography Review).

Designed for easy portability, this ultra-compact zoom measures 244 x 67 x 65 mm (when folded) and 175 x 240 x 65 mm (unfolded) and weighs 320 grams (0.75 pounds). By comparison, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is 322 × 242 × 84 mm unfolded.

Capture up to 4K HDR video footage and 21 megapixel stills with ANAFI’s integrated Sony optical sensor, including support for slow-motion and hyperlapse modes, plus a 2-month membership to Adobe Creative Cloud is included with purchase, to make your archived photos stand out even further. ANAFI features a 180-degree tilt gimbal, to capture great shots from several angles, plus up to 2.8x lossless zoom to see farther away, with its smart image stabilization (across five axes: 2 mechanical axes and 3 electronic axes).

Parrot’s FreeFlight 6 is its new and intuitive piloting interface, making it easy to create automatic drone videos using artificial intelligence (A.I.). Similar to the Mavic 2 drones, ANAFI includes a framing assistant, too, so all you have to do is control the movement of your drone whilst the subject is automatically locked on—and that can include yourself with the ability to create fun aerial selfies for you and some friends.

ANAFI is as rugged as it is compact: to meet the challenges of the most challenging environments, the drone has been designed to be deployable even in extreme temperatures from -10 degrees Celsius to +50 Celsius). Top sped is 53 km/hour.

Finally, Parrot’s best-seller supports up to 25 minutes of flying time and is programmed to automatically return to its starting point when the battery level becomes critical. For $200 more, the Parrot ANAFI Extended ($1,199) is a kit that includes the Parrot ANAFI drone, three smart batteries, a Skycontroller, travel bag, 16 GB MicroSD card and adaptor, three USB-A to USB-C cables, eight additional propeller blades and a mounting tool.

An Eggs-xellent pick

PowerVision hatched its PowerEgg X at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this past January, and its All- Weather Edition is now available ($1,319; powervision.me).

It’s an egg-shaped gadget that took the Beijing- headquartered drone maker more than three years and 300 engineers to create. Consider it a three-in-one product: a 4K camcorder, desktop camera and autonomous drone.

That is, you can hold it like a football to shoot 60-frames- per-second video 4K for up to 3.5 hours between charges (and sync with an app for editing purposes) or have it follow you around a room, by locking onto your face, while supporting live-streaming.

But it’s also an autonomous drone that can rotate its camera on its 3-axis gimbal and follow a subject—like someone playing soccer—for up to 30 minutes. The company PowerVision says the PowerEgg X’s A.I. algorithm and robotics technology capabilities enable the device to perform facial recognition, deep learning, and a tracking field of view up to 170 degrees. What’s more, patented SyncVoice technology allows you to narrate in real-time by using your smartphone’s microphone or a wireless headset, which is then automatically synchronized with pictures—effectively ending silent-aerial photography.

The PowerEgg X comes with a waterproof housing, mini tripod, and other accessories. For $1,450 you might opt for the top-of-the-line Wizard Edition, which includes pontoons to take off and land on water, as well as additional propellers and a battery).

For the past 25 years, Marc Saltzman has been a recognized expert in consumer electronics, business tech, social media, and automotive trends. You can see him on CTV, Global TV, and as a keynote speaker across North America. Follow him on Twitter @ marc_saltzman.

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