As accessories for drones, particularly the Mavic Pro became more popular, one of the biggest sellers were and quite possibly still are ND filters.
However, just because they are popular doesn’t mean they are safe for your drone, particularly THIS model and the complaints which arise from using them are across the board…the same, issues that I will address, which honestly give me pause in buying them and instead push me more so to focus on editing images manually on the regular camera the drone has and honestly, I think the results you will get are quite honestly the same/possibly even better than if you used the ND filters.
What are ND filters?
Just in case it’s your first time hearing about these things, these are basically add ones that fit on your drone camera perfectly which put on a “shade” to the regular lens and if used right can make the regular image/video brought out by the drone even better through them.
I will absolutely admit that these things do in fact get you a better image/video quality than the auto settings the drone brings out and you can totally get amazing shots from this. Furthermore, there are additional benefits such as:
These things offer your drone’s lens extra protection.
There are a variety of companies which release them, stemming from Polar Pro to DJI themselves, which means you have a variety to choose from.
But here are the known risks of using these filters…
Firstly, it is important to know that these things have a weight to them, and that weight absolutely affects the gimbal, the motor that runs it and may impact the calibration of the camera and possibly the drone itself.
While other, bigger drones are safer to use lens filters, the Mavic’s is very sensitive and the main issues that have arisen from the central one I just pointed to are:
The gimbal wheel will give you an error.
Apparently putting them on is easy, but depending on which make, from which company you get, you may find a lot of problems when you try to remove them and keep in mind, if that happens, you’re going to be trying to pull them off a very sensitive gimbal. What if it breaks? That’s very likely to happen…
You may possibly overload the motor and this can cause the drone to malfunction and make you have to send it back to DJI or have it get fixed somewhere else.
There have been people who have tried to “hack” their way into tricking the gimbal calibration to work without the filters, and then add them following a good calibration, but the drone is not stupid, it will be affected by what you put on, and even though a lot of the filters on the market today weigh very little, they still weigh enough for the drone to notice it and even more importantly to have it affect the drone’s performance.
Now these issues do not arise from every single person who uses these filters and it is possible that you can get away with using these things and never see a problem, but there have been more than enough people complaining about this issue/s and they are always the same, which leads people like me to believe the “theory” on the extra weight being put on the gimbal isn’t as much of a theory as it is a realistic risk that you add to your drone and it’s flight.
Even though many of the ones on the market today weigh very little, it is still enough to affect the sensors/gimbal to know that something is wrong. You’re talking about a VERY sensitive camera/gimbal so it’s no surprise that there have been issues that have stemmed from using ND’s. I’m just glad I found out about it before I personally got them as I was literally staring at the Polar Pro ones at a Best Buy recently. Thankfully, I read enough reviews and watched enough YouTube videos to decide NOT to get them.
I will not use these things until they are guaranteed to be safe to be used with my drone:
So far, regardless of which model ND’s are on the market, none of them can 100% guarantee that when used, they won’t adversely affect the drone, none. Even the most popular selling ones have gotten complaints.
To risk a $1,000 drone, get $80 ND’s and then risk all of that to have to potentially send it back to DJI to fix is not a risk I will personally take and that’s considering the DJI insurance on your drone still exists and hasn’t expired. Still it’s not a scenario I want to play with…
Perhaps my knowledge in drones is still very limited, but why not depend on the regular camera and it’s manual settings to make your existing picture/video better?
I’ve been able to do it relatively easy (thanks to this video) and the only real issue I ever run into is when the sun comes out and it forces me to reedit the settings to match the outside weather, which it just so happens is something ND’s tackle pretty well since you just set one camera/video setting in, put them on and then the image does not need to be adjusted.
But despite that 1 major convenience, the risk of that ruining the camera and possibly the drone still exists and in my case, if I can manually, without and ND’s fix my image to make it better, I will and if I have to readjust it due to the sun changing the picture/video, fine, I’ll do it, multiple times even, but at least I’ll have the peace of mind in that I’m not ruining my drone.
Perhaps the Mavic Pro 2 will make it possible for people to safely put on these filters without having to worry about the gimbal being affected adversely because as of right now, as I said, there is no ND filter out there which can guarantee 100% safety for the drone.
Update: The Mavic 2 Pro does make using ND filters safe for sure.