amazon surprised me this morning when it notified me that my dji mini 2 drove had already been delivered at my parents' place, when it wasn't scheduled to arrive until tomorrow sunday. i wasn't planning on going to belmont today because my parents were at the cafe for a small business saturday event, but now i had to go.

i didn't leave until nearly 1:30pm, even though the package had been delivered by 10am. for one thing, i didn't wake up until 11am, after having gone to bed late again. my father also called me, i thought it was about my package, but he asked for me help in renewing my sister's godmother's expired driver license. i knew you could do it online, but my sister said something about not having the proper documentations, and i thought that was only for a higher security realID license.

so i went to the rmv website and did it online. i was nearly finished when it asked me for proof of lawful presence. they never asked this before, and i did some research and found out it was a new law enacted in 2018. my sister's godmother did have her green card but it expired when she was in taiwan back in august and she hadn't renewed it since. when i tried to enter her info, it wouldn't allow me to input an expired date. so she needs to renew her permanent resident id first before she can renew her driver license.

when i arrived in belmont my father was there too after hearing that the drone had arrived. i got the dji mini 2 combo which includes 2 spare batteries, a charging station, and additional propellers. everything was neatly packed inside of a bag inside the box. i wanted to try out the drone right away but all the batteries were nearly discharged. instead of waiting though, i decided to risk it, figured i'd fly it for a few minutes to test it out.

i put my phone in the controller and sync'ed the drone. the controller is the biggest and heaviest piece of equipment, bigger and heavier than the drone or the charging hub. the dji fly app told me i had 48 hours to sign up for the dji care refresh 1-year insurance policy (2 drone replacements in case of accidents). at $49 both my father and i agreed it was worth it for the peace of mind so i paid for it before flying. once the drone was sync'ed up with the app, the phone screen started to show what the drone camera was seeing. earlier i'd also put in the new 256GB samsung EVO select, rated at 100MB/s read and 90MB/s write.

as for the dji mini 2 drone, it seemed kind of flimsy, but it's designed to be light. the propellers sort of just flapped around loosely like they might come off and the gimbal felt springy, like it was loose as well. it took me a while to figure out how exactly to turn on the drone. at first i thought maybe there wasn't enough juice in the battery, but the trick is you press the on button one, then hold it down a second time a little longer. the drone was small enough that i did want to launch it from the lawn, because the propellers would hit the grass. instead i found a large square piece of plywood in the backyard and used it as a launching pad.

so this was how rushed i was to fly the drone: i didn't even any idea how to launch it. i had to quickly watch a quick dji video on youtube (accessible through the fly app) to learn that there's an auto takeoff button on the left side of the fly app screen. i hit that, which brought up another larger button in the middle of the screen that i was supposed to press for several seconds before the drone would launch. the propellers started spinning, and the drone popped up in the air 1.2 meters high.

i hit the record button so it could capture my very first drone flight. the first thing i noticed was how loud it was. like you could never be able to sneak up the drone behind someone because they'd hear it coming. it sounded like a swarm of angry bees. second, the propellers spun with enough force that it created a sizable downdraft that we could feel. like if it flew over you, not only would you hear it buzzing, but you would also feel the air currents. i moved it around the backyard just to get a feel for the navigation. the controls were easy to figure out: left joystick control height and spin, right joystick moved the drone. the thing i didn't know how to do was move the gimbal, so the camera was always pointing forward. after a few minutes of use, it started giving me a warning that battery level was low and to land the drone. we didn't want to risk having it fall out of the sky, so i brought the drone down.

so here's another funny thing: just like how i didn't know how to launch the drone, i also didn't know how to land it. there's auto landing button (the same one that auto launched it), but i did what i saw many mini drone flyers do online on youtube: i tried to grab it. the mini 2 doesn't like to be touched, and the ground sensor immediately moved the drone upwards whenever i got close to it. when i did grab on to the drone, it was fighting me, trying to get free, and i had to release it. the trick is to grab it fast and then turn it upside down. once i did that, the drone stopped the motors (but was still on).

we went back inside to charge up the drone. the spare batteries had been charging since we first opened the box. the cool thing about the drone is you can charge the battery directly through the usb-c port, no need to take it out of the compartment. when i checked the album, i was confused why there was no videos, just a few photos. that's when i discovered i'd set the drone to camera mode, not video mode. all that flying was for naught.

i emptied the electric mousetrap, which managed to catch a small mouse. the mouse was so small i thought it was empty and was surprised when i found something inside. my mother noticed yesterday that a package of noodles had been chewed, so i checked the mousetrap and put in some fresh peanut butter. less than 24 hours we caught a mouse, but i have a feeling there's more because i saw some additional mouse droppings.

i didn't eat lunch until 2:30pm, some leftover thanksgiving turkey. i rewatched the "how to fly" video and learned a few more things. like how the gimbal control is a dial on the left hand corner of the controller, behind the phone. i discovered that the app keeps a log of the number of flights, distances, and hours. it can also payback the flight path and history overlaid on top of a map.

my father was ready to go back to the cafe, but i told him i wanted to try flying the drone again. one of the spare batteries in the charging hub was already charged to 75-80%, plenty of juice to do a test flight.

so after replacing the battery, we went back outside. with more juice i was more ambitious with the flying. i pushed it into the sky in increments of 100ft. the units arrived in metric, i quickly went into the settings to change it to imperial (feet) so i had a better sense of how high i was flying. at 100ft we could still hear the drone, likewise at 200ft but slightly less. at 300ft it was silent, but also hard to pick out of the sky. maybe because i was flying the drone i always had an idea where it was, but my father had a hard time locating it. at 400ft it was just a dot in the sky. i moved it around a bit (circling around the house), but my father was afraid we'd lose the drone because we could hardly see it.

i had the drone pointing down for the whole time. when i moved the gimbal up so the camera was now looking at the horizon, that was a wow moment. for the first time we could see the boston skyline. i was tempted test the distance of the drone, but decided to familiarize myself with the controls first before doing something that risky. the problem is belmont and boston as a whole is very flat. to actually be able to see my drone, i would have to get to someplace high, and there aren't many high places around here. so one question i have is will drone be able to still fly if i can't keep it in my line of sight? technically you're always suppose to only fly the drone as long as you can see far, but with a range of 10km, i wonder how far i can fly it blind? and once it does loose the signal/connection, how dependable is the auto return function?

one of the most amazing thing about the mini 2 is how stable the footage is. the gimbal is black magic, it's like putting a stationary tripod in the sky. flying up and down is very smooth, likewise with horizontal trucking. however, when i pan the drone, it moves much too fast such that the video becomes a blur, even when i have it set to the lowest cine speed. maybe this has something to do with the framerate. at 4K the maximum framerate is 30fps, while at 1080p it can do 60fps. but i recorded at 4K, figured i wanted the clarity since it's not everyday i get to fly in the sky.

i brought back the zone and lowered it down into our backyard. i let my father man the controllers and take the drone for a spin. he was hesitant at first before he finally gave it a try, mostly some short maneuvers in the backyard, mostly at eye level. we landed it again by hand catching.

we watched the video footage through the fly app. i'm not quite sure how it's doing it, because i'm pretty sure i didn't download the video. it had to be streaming directly from the drone itself, was all so seamless, i'm not sure how that's even possible. one thing i noticed is the footage has no audio. even if they did put a microphone on the drone, the only sound it'd capture would be the buzzing of the propellers. most drone footage i've seen, it's either non-stop narration, or they're piping some background music. i wanted to get the videos onto my computer but i couldn't figure out how. the drone has the ability to create a wifi hotspot for data transfer, but without reading the instructions first, i didn't know how that was done. i even looked it up online, until somebody gave the easiest solution: just take out the memory card. so that's what i did. having never worked with 4K videos before, i was a little surprised by the size: for 5:27 of footage, the video file is 4.09GB. 11 minutes of footage comes out to nearly 10GB. i'm glad i splurged and paid the extra to get a big (256GB) memory card. at this rate, i may need to buy a dedicated external hard drive just to store all this 4K footage.

my father had left for the cafe by then. i elected to stay in belmont and wait for my parents to come back for dinner. during that time i familiarized myself with more of the control features. by that point the batteries were fully charged. as it as getting close to sunset, i decided to go out and do another flight.

this time around i didn't shoot continuous footage, only when i needed to. i also took more photos than videos. it started to get a little cloudy and the exposure had some problems: if i exposed the sky and clouds correctly, the landscape would be dark; if i exposed the landscape correctly, the sky would be overblown. it wasn't ideal shooting conditions. i basically just pushed the drone to 400ft and looked around the neighborhood, like a tourist, picking out landmarks. at one point i tried the panorama feature. i thought it was going to do a complete 360°, but after taking a handful of photos it stopped. when i tried to get out of that screen, i realized my phone was frozen. i would've panicked except i could see my drone, about 200ft in the air, just covering there. i tried to bring it home by hitting the return-to-home (RTH) button on the controller but it didn't do anything. my phone screen then went black. i got it to show my home screen and i reentered the DJI fly app. it went directly into camera view without missing a beat, and i was able to bring the drone back home. not sure what happened but i had my first glitch that didn't end in disaster.

my parents came home early, a bit before 4:30pm. we ate more leftover turkey for dinner.

afterwards, as a proof of concept, i tried flying the drone inside the house. at first it didn't work, because it couldn't connect to the GPS. but eventually it still let me fly, just with a warning that GPS wasn't activated. i still didn't know how to manually launch the drone, so i used auto takeoff again. the drone flew up to 3ft. i flew it towards my mother, who seemed to be scared of the noisy and windy drone. it was creating so much down draft that my mother said she was getting cold, as papers on her table were getting blown onto the floor. moved it across the living room and back. i then went in for a manual landing where i pushed the left joystick down. at first it seemed like it didn't want to land because it detected an obstruction with its sensor and popped back up a bit, but then it slowly descended all the way to the ground, turning off its motors.

i returned home by 7:30pm. later in the evening i did some photo backup so i could clear some space for all the drone footage i'm planning on making.