Why You Should Fly a Drone this Golden Week (and How To Do It)

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April 20, 2017

Japan’s Golden Week holiday is around the corner and many will be making their way out of the concrete jungle of Tokyo to enjoy all the great nature, culture and omotenashi that Japan has to offer.

This is also the time when droves of tourists are snapping millions of photos and videos of their trips. While I have no doubt about the beauty of these photos, I do also believe there’s an opportunity we’re missing. An opportunity to take things to new heights.

Enter the drone.

Drones have become safer, easier to use, and widely available to the consumer market. In a nutshell, outside of Tokyo you are generally fine to fly a drone. This means if you’re climbing any mountain, going to a lake, or exploring some hillside shrine, a drone is a fantastic way to capture those breathtaking scenes that will make your trip that much more memorable. Here’s why.

You can get the ultimate selfie

Drones have redefined the selfie. You can now get some awesome point-of-view shots that capture the beauty around you, not just your beautiful face.

It’s easy – no skills required

If you’re getting a video or photo from 400 meters in the air, it’s going to look pretty cool no matter how you do it – #nofilter. The remote controller for a drone is intuitive and if you’ve ever played any Playstation 2 game it’s a piece of cake. It took me a few minutes to get past the excitement of, “oh crap, I’m flying pretty high,” but the actual flight controls are simple.

It’s an adventure

Flying a drone is an experience in itself. From planning out the best angle for a shot to waking up before dawn to get the perfect picture of the sunrise to the sheer enjoyment of flying something so fast and high, it adds an extra sense of purpose to your travels. I took a weekend trip to Chichibu, about two hours north of Tokyo, where there’s not much going on except rivers and flowers. Finding cool spots to get footage made it more enjoyable!

It can even be a little intimidating at first. The DJI Mavic can get up to speeds of 60 kmph and pretty darn high — it gives me goosebumps. Being able to capture everything on video makes it that much better, like you were actually there, up in the sky. There’s something about that which is hard to put into words.

The technology is amazing, and safe

Drones have been around for a while now, right? Well, yes, we’ve known how to fly them but they weren’t all that great until recently. Sensor technology has developed massively over the past few years which has made drones more reliable, safer and way more powerful. There are all sorts of sensors and measurements on the new DJI models like obstacle avoidance, wind detection, and a safe “return to home” function that makes it relatively dummy proof. The video quality is superb at 4k too.

So, you can do some pretty cool things with drones — great. But how do you actually go about flying one?

How to fly a drone in five simple steps

Step 1: Choose a drone

There are so many models of drones to choose from it can be overwhelming, so which one should you get?

If you’re a videographer then you might go for the professional DJI Inspire 2 but most people will be fine with the Mavic Pro or Phantom 4 that can shoot 4k video. The Mavic and Phantom models are the go-to “consumer drones” which are the staple drone models in the industry. Safe, great video quality, reliable, and relatively easy to fly. Beware of the cheap toy drones that will blow away with a light gust of wind.

In Japan you can purchase a drone at major electronics stores like Yodobashi or Bic Camera at full retail price, or online on Amazon. The cheaper option is of course to rent through seranova.jp and have it delivered directly to your doorstep!

Step 2: Decide your location and check the weather

Where will you be flying? Drones are totally legal in Japan, however Tokyo is pretty much off-limits as well as any other densely populated area. Always check the DJI map to see whether or not you are safe to fly. I always like to walk around the area before I fly in order to familiarize myself with the environment. For example, if there are lots of power lines in the area then it could cause some electromagnetic interference, so you should generally avoid flying too closely to them.

Lastly make sure weather conditions are ideal. Light wind is fine as long as you fly at a low altitude, and the DJI app will actually warn you if wind conditions are too heavy. But don’t fly in heavy rain, that baby ain’t waterproof!

Step 3: Prepare your equipment

  • Download the DJI Go App. You will control your drone from a tablet or smartphone using this app, and connect.
  • Make sure your phone/tablet is charged and the app is downloaded.
  • Make sure the battery is charged. It can fly up to 27 minutes on one charge for the Mavic and Phantom models.
  • Double check there is space on the memory card and format the card if necessary.
  • Screw on propellers.

Step 4: Practice with your drone’s different settings

The Mavic and Phantom models come pretty much ready to fly out of the box so no need to tweak anything. But if you want, there are tons of settings you can play around with like video filters, max altitude, controller sensitivity and so on.

Map out your course before flying. Take a look at the map beforehand and have a general path of where you’d like to fly. Unfortunately I learned this lesson the hard way when I forgot to check around a waterfall, ran straight into a power line and forever lost my drone in the abyss. Ouch.

Next, plug in your smartphone, turn on your drone by pressing the button on the drone, and switch on the controller. Press the “Take Off” button on your phone and watch the drone hover in place.

And FLY!

But don’t go too wild yet. Practice flying in a wide, open space until you are used to the controls. Get a feel for how fast it accelerates and play around with snapping some videos and photos.

Also, don’t let the drone out of your sight. While there is a smart “return to home” function that will automatically bring your drone home once the battery is too low, or if it gets disconnected, it can be hard to see trees, power lines, and other obstacles.

Lastly, never drink and fly — it’s not worth it. I’ll take that Bloody Mary virgin, thank you very much.

Step 5: Share your adventure

The DJI app has a social sharing function that automatically creates a catchy video using all of your shots. It’s super easy to press “generate” and blast out your epic footage on social media.

All of the videos are saved to your DJI app in a decent resolution but if you’d like to download the original file then simply plug in your memory card and transfer the files to your computer or hard drive.

There are a great number of resources and tutorials on Youtube that I recommend watching before your first fly. For Japan-specific flight info you can check my blog. There are also a lot of features to play around with like “sport mode” to take your drone to its max speed of 40mph, as well as “active track” that allows the drone to lock on and follow objects (including yourself)!

All in all, it’s a pretty straightforward process — it took me approximately 10-15 minutes to get the hang of it.

Happy flying and till next time!

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Always taking a bird's-eye view of Japan.

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