Every single shot you'll see in this video, including all these right now, was recorded on the DJI Air 3 in Active Track mode, meaning it was in fully autonomous tracking mode. I've been using it over the past month or so, so I have a good sense of where it excels and where it struggles, especially with trees, shrubs, flowers, and more. However, I will show you how to achieve these sorts of shots, no matter where you live in the world, and how to prevent mishaps. With that introduction, let's dive right in. Starting off with the aircraft itself.
This is the DJI Air 3. It has undergone several significant hardware changes that make it particularly intriguing for Active Track scenarios. By definition, Active Track means the drone is following me fully autonomously, though I do have one of its controllers with me.
The first thing to note about Active Track is that it utilizes the new obstacle avoidance sensors. There are four main sensors being utilized: two on the front, which are angled off to the side. This design provides both forward and sideways coverage. The other two sensors on the rear function similarly, ensuring 360-degree coverage on all sides as well as above. Additionally, sensors on the bottom measure ground detection and altitude.
In this video, I'll walk you through various core scenarios. With that foundation laid, let's delve into the standard test course I use for all drones. Then, I'll show you different tracking scenarios from the past month, giving you insights into capturing the best possible footage.
DJI Active Track put to the test
Using Active Track, DJI's follow-me technology, I can simply highlight myself, and then there are three different tracking options. For this demonstration, I'll choose the Active Track option. A marker appears on my map, allowing me to set the drone's position in relation to me. I'll start with it behind me and later maneuver it through other orientations.
Once I've set it, I hit ‘Go' to lock it in place. A recurring message appears in the top left corner every 10 seconds; it's a known bug for European users (I'm in Europe), and unfortunately, there isn't a current fix.
It's crucial to mention there are two primary settings for obstacle avoidance. In the top right corner, navigate to ‘Safety' and ensure the ‘Optical Avoidance Bypass' is turned on. There's also a riskier option which allows the drone to delay its evasive maneuvers until the last second, but for this demonstration, I'm sticking to the basic mode. Another feature displays a radar map showing nearby obstacles.
While I was out in the field, I forgot to highlight the ‘Subject Scanning' option. When enabled, it automatically detects subjects, eliminating the need to manually draw a box around them.
A personal note: I often forget to press the record button. For this demonstration, I've adjusted the drone's altitude to closely follow behind me. While I'll mainly use the main lens, I'll switch to the tele lens occasionally.
A quick note: anytime you see overlays on the screen, that's from the screen recording. It's lower resolution, but I'll switch between it and the high-res footage as needed. The focus here is primarily on illustrating how Active Track functions, though the end footage is genuinely stunning in most instances.
Coming up, there's a tricky section. A few hundred meters ahead, there are some people. Unfortunately, the drone lost me rather quickly in this segment. It was a faster failure than with any other drone I've tested, but considering the challenging terrain and my success in more open areas, I decided to reset and try again.
Here's a closer look at how I mount it on my bike. I've made a separate video on that, which you can find linked in the corner, so do check it out. Sometimes, I also use a carabiner clip, as you might see in some of the mountain biking clips.
Generally speaking, there's a limitation on how fast it can move when it's near trees. As you can observe, it's pulling back. This behavior is essentially the drone trying to avoid the trees. As it approaches ground objects or trees, its speed decreases. The Skydio doesn't exhibit this behavior with DJI drones. Once it gets within a few meters of an object, the display turns orange, indicating it's too close for comfort. As you can see, it's struggling, especially when in close proximity to trees or the ground. At this proximity, it slows down to a walking pace.
I directed it to track me from the right-hand side instead. The field over there is clear, so it should be able to track me without any obstructions. I fast-forwarded some footage because the drone was hesitant to follow my direction.
Eventually, I stopped it, positioned it manually, and resumed tracking. If it decides to engage with the trees, then it's on its own. It needs to avoid the tree branches. Under such conditions, I would typically use the 3x lens. But the drone's positioning isn't ideal. It's moving sluggishly. I'm only going about two miles an hour.
Once it catches up, I'm switching to the 3x telephoto lens on the Air 3. The Air 3 has two lenses: a main lens at the bottom and a telephoto lens on top. The telephoto lens is great for Active Track for two reasons. Firstly, it offers a unique perspective in most scenarios.
Secondly, it enhances safety since the drone can be positioned further away from the subject but still capture a comparable or even superior shot.
Now that I'm using the 3x lens and have set the drone to identify me, I select the right side, press ‘Go', and ensure I'm recording. The drone is now in a safer position. However, it's moving so slowly that I might be overtaken by a grandma soon, especially if the drone doesn't crash into a tree first. The close proximity to the tree is quite astonishing. After some struggles, I decide to summarize a series of failed attempts, so you're spared the lengthy viewing. Look, there comes that grandma!
For this tree section, it was a solid fail. However, to be fair, it wasn't a total loss, as the drone is still functional. This is more than can be said for its predecessors; every other DJI drone has crashed on this course at one point or another. This one, however, remained crash-free, so that's a positive takeaway.
I then moved to a more open area. Here, the drone worked seamlessly until the final section where it came too close to a tree and faltered. In the open space, there's a useful feature called POI. With POI, the drone orbits around me, providing a dynamic view. I'd typically have it move faster, but I don't want my phone falling and getting caught in my bike's tire – that would result in both a damaged phone and a disgruntled me.
Given the prominent windmills in the background, it's evidently quite windy today, probably around 30-40 kilometers an hour. You'll observe that the drone's speed varies in different sections due to wind resistance.
After some off-road travel, I reached a road where I could demonstrate the drone's capabilities using the 3x lens, especially when aided by a tailwind, given the strong winds in the area.
Okay, this right here, what you're about to see, is similar to when it almost hit that fence. “Oh, did you complete the loop? Get back around there! Don't wimp out like that.
This is awesome! Come on, you're supposed to be doing loop-de-loops.” Go birds! “Come on, crow, I'm not afraid of you.” Now, I'm basically going beyond the speed it prefers, but I can switch to sport mode since there's nothing here to hit. However, in sport mode, the drone doesn't avoid obstacles.
It's crucial to understand that. People often ask, “Why can't you just switch to sport mode?” because “sport” sounds like it's intended for fast activities. But in DJI terms, “sport mode” means maneuvering the drone sportily, which deactivates obstacle avoidance and lets you fly much faster. It's excellent for situations like this where there's nothing around to collide with.
However, seeing the upcoming tree line, I'll revert to normal mode to re-enable obstacle avoidance. “Good job, little buddy. You got it.”
Now, the question arises: will it manage to rotate around this tree without any hitches? That's the real test. “Doesn't look promising. I didn't even attempt it just now. It seems smarter than its DJI Mavic 3 counterpart.”
I'll reduce my speed for a bit. “Move a little faster forward. Will you manage that?” It needs to navigate between the trees. “Excellent job, little buddy! Don't crash into that thick trunk; you'll lose.”
Alas, it got slightly apprehensive. “Yep, YOLO! Good job. Go around it. Don't lose sight of me. I'll slow down, give it a chance. There are still tree branches in the way.”
I practically had to stop, but eventually, it caught up. We're only halfway through the usual test. I'll skip the rest; I think you get the gist. In the subsequent part, it lost me even more due to the abundance of trees.
Instead, let's discuss its strengths. Here I am in the mountains, with the drone trailing us using Active Track mode. This is the ideal scenario. There are a few trees, but I'm moving into a clearing, and it's excelling.
“I can do whatever I want here since there's nothing to crash into. It's perfect for this.” I can lower the shot. In this instance, I position it to my left to capture a different perspective. This goes on for a lengthy stretch of gravel road. Ultimately, I place it in front of me.
DJI products excel in such scenarios, whereas Skydio performs better in environments with more obstacles. That's not to say DJI struggles with obstacle avoidance. In fact, it's significantly improved. In the past month, it hasn't collided with anything, even though I've somewhat tried to test its limits.
Consider this segment where I'm mountain biking, which was just yesterday. I set the drone ahead of me. You can see it's slightly erratic. Both of us are ascending. While it tracks well on inclines and declines, it seems somewhat slow uphill.
However, observe how it adeptly maneuvers between poles. Just wait, here it comes. “Wow, that's a tad risky!” The first pole isn't a big deal, but then there are ski nets, usually marking ski runs to prevent people from tumbling off the edges. The drone is navigating these brilliantly.
Now, I'll share a trick for capturing cool shots. With Active Track, most people won't publish a 20- or 30-minute video of the drone merely following them. Instead, you'd utilize brief clips as B-roll footage. Watch my technique. I'm adjusting the controller, changing the drone's tracking direction from front to back.
DJI products require a moment to make this switch, and you must begin moving first. As I start pedaling, you'll notice the drone slowly transitioning behind me. Use this trick subtly to create dynamic angles during flight.
I'm also not really sure why the sheep were surprised. This is like the fourth pass I made past them, and they're like, “Whoa, where'd this guy come from?” There's all sorts of livestock in this area, and they just kind of hang out. Normally, they don't really care about mountain bikers, runners, or cyclists, but in this case, they did.
You can see this is a cool shot here. And again, as I go downhill, you can see me do the exact same thing. First, I had it stationed at the front, and now I'm setting up for the back, creating this sweeping shot that opens up the entire vista in front of me. And it follows along. I'm not going super fast right now, but it is holding on. If I was on my road bike, it would struggle a bit more at some of these speeds, but right here, mountain biking, no real issues.
Now let's talk about recovery—how well it recovers after it loses you. So, check this out: I'm on the 3x lens up in the mountains, cruising along. I'm not going that fast; I'm going uphill, but it's going lower than I wanted it to. Right now, it gets behind this little hut thing there, but it's still tracking. It recovered me. That's impressive.
It shouldn't have been there in the first place; it should have ideally raised its altitude. But hey, it did it. Here's another example of recovery: I'm going along, pedaling. It's just at the edge. This is where Skydio would automatically rise up a little bit, but the DJI products are like, “Hey, you set me for this altitude; I'm going to keep this altitude.”
It's holding on. At dusk, it's actually much darker than you think. It loses me, but then it gets me back again. Holy moly! And it's still going, still going, still going. And then, in just a second here, it's like, “Oh no… oh… oh, yeah.” If I was in full daylight, it might have had a better chance of following me, but in this case, this was essentially at sunset with really low colors.
Before we talk about boats and cars briefly, there's one message that's notable for European users. That message right there tells you that the aircraft cannot be more than 50 meters away from you when it's tracking. This is new to DJI products with the Air 3. This was never there in the past, and it's sort of a bummer.
With the zoom lens, that means you have to be within 50 meters, and I found that DJI's definition of 50 meters is iffy at best and not in your favor. A lot of times, I found that I could be at clearly only about 30 meters away, and it's like, “No, you're too far.”
When that happens, you simply need to bring the drone closer to you, or you go closer to it until you're within range, and then you can go ahead and do whatever it is that you wanted to do.
Now, you've probably seen this video where I've done some tracking from the front, but I just want to emphasize that. As you can see here, I've set it for front-left. In general, setting up for front-left or front-right gets better angles than just straight head-on. I don't know why, but this tends to do a better job.
The only challenge with DJI products is that they tend to need a lower speed for front tracking. As I mentioned earlier, when it has challenges tracking, it defaults to the safe zone behind me. It's still a cool shot; it's just not the shot I asked for.
In case you're wondering what happens when it does lose you permanently, you'll see this right here. I was really trying to be finicky with the altitude on this. It loses me, and basically, the aircraft will just stop and hang out there. You can then manually take control and go from there.
Let me show you probably one of the better shots that I got. I found just the right height, and it just cruises along. This is a super cool shot. It would have been better without a power line, but I can't control where they put power lines. Then, I make the turn, and for whatever reason, it loses me. I'm actually really surprised it lost me. I think that's more of a lighting issue with that particular lens at essentially sunset. But still, it was a super cool shot up until that point.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, it doesn't have to be me on a bicycle or running; you can track cars. You can actually see the subject scanning pop-up here. I basically stopped because a car was coming around, so I stuck the drone in the air. It picks up the car as an object I can track.
The same is true for boats. I drew a little circle around this, and it recognizes it as a boat. I then actively tracked this water skier for quite a long time, just following along. I've actually tracked many boats here in the Netherlands. It works really well. And remember, you can do both regular active track and POI, where you're rotating around it.
Keep in mind with rotating around it, you probably want the speed to be a bit lower; otherwise, it'll struggle on the front side.
So, where are we overall with active track on the DJI Air 3? Well, it's definitely DJI's best attempt yet, but with some caveats.
The first is, as I said earlier, it's not Skydio, and it's not going to be. The problem is, I'm not convinced. I am pretty sure Skydio is done with consumer drones. They've been asked multiple times, and they keep saying, “We'll tell you later on in the year.” \
When a company says they're going to tell you later on in the year and they've stopped selling consumer drones, it's a good indication they've stopped selling consumer drones. They're out of stock, etc. They're going to focus on commercial, enterprise, military, etc. That's their choice. I think it's a mistake, but that's their choice.
Unfortunately, DJI does not offer a beacon for the drone, so there's nothing that you can just put on yourself that's small, waterproof, and maintains that continuous connection.
Listen, DJI, you love selling accessory products more than any other company in the space. You make us buy new remotes for almost every single drone. Why not just make an accessory beacon? I, and I'm sure many others, would pay hundreds of dollars for a reliable accessory beacon that works with at least one of your drones for a reasonable period. Skydio sold it, and people bought it. Please, that's all I'm asking for.
In conclusion, I hope this provides the insights you need to make an informed decision about DJI's tracking capabilities. As usual, if you found this information useful, please hit the like button, subscribe, ring the Bell for notifications, or do whatever helps you stay connected. Have a great day!
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