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So far so good with DJI’s new Mavic Air ultra-portable 4K drone. I’ve been out doing quite a bit of flying in preparation for a post all about using this drone for backpacking and hiking.
But there are some things to discuss…
Mavic Air Visibility Limitations
One of the drawbacks of the Mavic Air is the small size – it’s great for portability but not so much for visibility. It quickly disappears into dark backgrounds after only a couple hundred yards.
How can you increase the range of the Mavic Air from a visibility standpoint? A super-bright strobe is all I could think of. And Strobon has been making ultra-small drone strobes for years.
- Weight: 3 grams or 1/10 ounce. Between the weight of a U.S. penny & nickel.
- Size: 3/4″ x 5/8″ x 1/4″, close to a U.S. quarter.
- Battery: 70mAh LiPo, lasts 2 hours.
- Charging: Via microUSB, charges in 1 hour.
- Visibility: Meets FAA’s 3SM requirement.
- Available colors: White, red, green, blue, IR.
- Price: Check Amazon for current prices, close to $28.
Attaching the Strobon Cree to the Mavic Air
Attaching the Strobon to the Mavic Air is a challenge. There are a few ways to physically affix the strobe, but where do you put it?
The Strobon can be glued, velcroed, taped, or even strapped with a rubber band or wire tie.
If you put the Strobon on the bottom of the drone where it will be most visible, these are the difficulties:
- The only clear, flat surface is the battery. You will have to change the Strobon with each battery change.
- The drone will land on the Strobon – there is 1/4″ clearance between the drone and ground, and the Strobon is right at this width.
- If you are low to the ground, the ambient light is low, and the ground is reflective, you may see the strobe in your video.
- If you put the Strobon further aft near the back end, it could possibly interfere with the downward sensors.
If you put the Strobon on the top of the drone where it’s clear and it won’t affect your video, it won’t be as visible in flight.
You could affix the Strobon to the bottom of the back arms but they won’t fold with the Strobon installed.
Is the Strobon Effective with the Mavic Air?
I had some hopes for this after I accidentally looked right at it at close range during the day and saw spots for an hour afterward. It’s bright! Bright enough to meet the FAA’s visibility requirements of 3 miles at night.
No joke, I was literally seeing spots for an hour after looking right at it. Don’t underestimate it from this photo!
Yes, it does help. I found that my daytime visual range increased slightly, by at least 25%, depending on the conditions.
No, it won’t be this shiny beacon in the sky you can see for miles during the day.
How to use the Strobon with the Mavic Air
You still have to know where your drone is and shouldn’t completely rely on the Strobon for daytime visibility.
What I found this strobe most useful for was to keep my eye focused on the drone, not necessarily to dramatically extend range.
When the drone is at near visual limits and you look down to manipulate the camera, it’s difficult to take your eyes right back to where the drone is. This strobe is excellent for that use and is a great help even at close ranges.
White is your best bet for daytime conditions. Even for night too, though red is often thought of as the nighttime “warning” color.
Conclusions about the Strobon for daytime operations
It’s difficult to really give some concrete numbers for results due to varying daytime conditions like lighting and backgrounds.
The Strobon is a great visual aid. It will give you some extended range and make the small drone easier to see. It’s extremely helpful for times when you’re changing your eyes from drone to camera and back. Just that capability alone makes the purchase worth it. It’s so much brighter than the LED on the Mavic Air!
But it’s not the magic bullet to increase the apparent size of this tiny drone. The strobe just isn’t big enough to impressively increase visual range for daytime operations.