Can you use a DJI drone’s follow mode to shoot solo motorcycle footage?

Last summer, I bought a DJI Spark drone after being wooed by its advanced automation, ultra portability, and supposed ease of use. In addition to the draw of new, interesting angles to explore photographically, I immediately thought of its potential applications for motorcycling.

There’s no doubt that drones add a level of interest to your motorcycle (or other) footage and images, but could DJI’s new included automatic shooting modes help capture riding footage that would otherwise be impossible or impractical to shoot? Like solo footage of you riding?

That’s the question I sought to answer when I grabbed my DJI Spark and my ’73 CB350 and rode out to the countryside last fall.

Drone still from DJI Spark
View from above: a still from the DJI Spark

Solo stills: the warm up

To warm up, I wanted to capture some still photos. You can control the DJI Spark from gestures or your smartphone, but you get the most range by using the controller and it’s actually a bit of a pain to swap between the various control methods, so I fired up the drone and flew it to a few interesting spots, set it to timelapse mode, put my controller in the bush, and rode by and under it a few times.

Drone still captured on the DJI Spark

The results were actually pretty good. I think this is a repeatable practice for capturing some neat shots out on the road in new and interesting areas. Better if you were riding in a group and someone could play photographer / videographer, but I was definitely able to produce a couple of images I was happy with in the span of just a few minutes.

Solo video: DJI’s follow mode

The next step was to test the drone’s automatic follow mode while riding. This mode allows you to select a target, the drone will lock onto it and, as the name implies, follow it while recording without the need to manually control it at all. Sounds perfect for some cool riding footage.

I chose a relatively deserted area for my test in case the drone decided to misbehave. I did not enable sport mode (allows the drone to fly up to 30 KM/h) on the Spark, planning to go slow for this preliminary test. I set up the follow mode and took a short ride down the road.

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You can see in the results of the test that the Spark does a pretty good job of following me, but even in traveling in a straight line, it sways down and to the left after a few meters and jitters a little bit.

It lost me completely when I did the u-turn at the end and then hovered in place, almost colliding with an approaching boat being towed by the one resident who lived off of this country road.

 

The answer

My tentative conclusion is that follow mode is not good enough for these types of applications yet. It’s strong enough that you can confidently use it to track walking subjects, but not for shooting solo motorcycle footage.

I intend to experiment with it some more; it’d probably do really well shooting from above, but you ideally want the low follow for the bulk of your motorcycle footage with some wide overhead shots for dramatic filler.

Can you use a DJI drone’s follow mode to shoot solo motorcycle footage? You can, but not very well and not in any practical, controlled way.

For now, if you asked me whether or not I’d bring the drone if I was riding somewhere new and interesting by myself, I might say yes… but I’d probably stick to shooting stills with it. I’ll save the videography for when I’m out with buddies and someone can play pilot.

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