What is DJI ActiveTrack and How does it Work?

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No drone application is as popular and commonly seen as drone photography. With camera drones, stills and videos can be captured from vantage points that were previously impossible. In addition to the high-quality cameras that come with modern drones, many high-end drones are also programmed with autonomous flight modes that aid in capturing unique and captivating footage. One of the most often used is the Active Track mode. What is Active Track and how can you best use it?

What is ActiveTrack?

The ActiveTrack feature was first introduced in the Phantom 4 model back in 2016. Since then, it has been incorporated into most of the modern DJI drones such as the Spark and the Mavic line. Put simply, ActiveTrack allows the drone to follow a subject, keeping the focus of the camera on it even while the subject is moving. Whether the subject is walking along a mountain trail, driving a car, or swimming in the ocean, ActiveTrack makes use of both the visual sensors and the GPS module of the drone to keep the subject in the frame.

Which DJI drones support ActiveTrack?

Since the release of the original Phantom 4, ActiveTrack proved to be a hit among both hobbyist and professional drone photographers. This resulted in the mode being a standard feature in all succeeding prosumer drones from DJI. The Mavic 2 drones even come with an upgraded version, the ActiveTrack 2.0. The following is a list of all DJI drones that are equipped with ActiveTrack:

  • Spark
  • Mavic Pro
  • Mavic Pro Platinum
  • Mavic 2
  • Phantom 4
  • Phantom 4 Advanced
  • Phantom 4 Pro

ActiveTrack is also available in all models of the Osmo series of handheld gimbals. It has also become a very popular feature in the Osmo products, proving just how many creative opportunities can be created with the ActiveTrack.

How do I activate Active Track?

As with all the other DJI flight modes, ActiveTrack can be activated thru the Intelligent Flight Modes menu, which is accessible by pressing the remote control-shaped icon in the DJI GO 4 app. Take note that ActiveTrack can only be activated after the drone has been launched. You can verify that ActiveTrack mode has been turned on by checking if the drone symbol at the top of the screen says “Active Track.”

To pick a subject for the drone to track, you can tap on the subject at the screen or draw a box around the subject. For best results, you should include as much of the subject into the box as possible while also excluding the background. You can also adjust the flight altitude of the drone in this screen according to how you want to compose your shot. When you’re ready, simply tap on the green “Go” box to start tracking.

How does Active Track work?

ActiveTrack uses both the drone’s visual sensors and GPS tracking technology to keep the subject in the frame. This means that the drone needs to be in P-Mode (Positioning Mode) to use ActiveTrack.

Three modes can be used when in ActiveTrack, each one providing a different shot composition.

1. Trace Mode

In Trace Mode, the drone maintains a constant distance while it continues to track the subject. You can change this set distance on the app’s interface. While in Trace Mode, you can use the controller’s analog sticks to fly around the subject in a circle.

2. Profile Mode

In Profile Mode, the drone maintains both constant distance and angle while tracking the subject. This is a more controlled tracking method, with the camera maintaining a shot composition with the same profile throughout.

3. Spotlight Mode

Spotlight Mode is completely different from the previous two in that it is not a fully autonomous mode. While the camera stays pointed at the subject while Spotlight Mode, it does automatically follow the subject. This means that you need to manually fly your drone to keep the subject in frame. While Spotlight Mode is a little more demanding in terms of flight skills, it also gives you the opportunity to create fully customizable videos while still maintaining focus on your subject.

To keep the subject in focus, manual yaw movements are disabled while in Spotlight Mode. However, you can still control the gimbal movement to compose your shots. This mode is not available in the Spark.

Tips on using Active Track

Over the years, drone photographers have come up with so many creative and innovative ways to use ActiveTrack. Here are some of the best tips we have learned from them:

1. Make sure your subject and the background have good contrast

The drone’s visual sensors use contrast between the subject and the background to accurately identify the subject. For more accurate tracking, make sure that the color of the subject as vastly different from that of the background. For instance, red clothes would be tracked perfectly if you are hiking along forest trails or surfing in the ocean.

2. Have the subject move at a speed that the drone can match

Keep in mind that a drone that is using ActiveTrack will remain in P-Mode. To maintain stability, P-Mode limits the drone’s movement speed to a fraction of its maximum speed. This speed will vary for each model, and this is a value you need to take note of. Your subject needs to be moving at a speed that matches the drone, or else it will move out of frame when the drone can no longer catch up.

3. Be wary of obstacles

If you are using the Spark, then you cannot rely on any obstacle avoidance technology while the drone is in ActiveTrack Mode. This means you need to keep an eye on your drone, especially if it is moving autonomously in Trace or Profile Mode.

Mavic and Phantom drones will fare a bit better since their obstacle avoidance remains active while in ActiveTrack. However, these drones can still move in unpredictable patterns to keep the subject in the frame. We have heard multiple accounts of Mavic or Phantom drones running into obstacles while in ActiveTrack mode. To be safe, it is still best to use ActiveTrack in clear spaces free of obstacles. If this is not possible, then make sure that the drone does not leave your sight and that you can adjust the drone’s flight path at a moment’s notice.

4. Avoid losing the subject

It’s almost unavoidable for subjects to disappear out for the drone’s field of view, mostly due to obstacles. When this happens, the drone will try its best to resume tracking of the subject. However, if the subject disappears for too long or reappears somewhere that is already out of frame, you can help the drone out by assuming manual control and restarting the tracking process.

5. Keep the drone within range

One theoretical scenario that many drone pilots have asked about ActiveTrack is what will happen if, in the course of tracking a subject, the drone moves outside of the range of the remote controller. Should the drone’s control signal drop off while it’s tracking a subject, it will do what it normally does in the same circumstance: activate return-to-home (RTH). While it’s the safest outcome, it might also end up ruining that video you worked so hard to prepare for.

6. Get creative with your subjects

When composing shots using ActiveTrack, keep in mind that you are not restricted to using people as subjects. For more interesting shots, how about choosing a car or a boat? You can even set static objects as a subject, allowing you to take perfectly smooth orbiting shots of popular tourist spots and other landmarks.

7. Capture adventure shots

The ActiveTrack shines when capturing highly dynamic videos. A biking trip or a day out surfing can be great opportunities to try out your drone’s ActiveTrack feature. With such a sophisticated feature, you are only limited by your creativity and imagination.

ActiveTrack 2.0: What’s New?

The Mavic 2 drones come with an updated version of ActiveTrack. What are the upgrades in the brand new ActiveTrack 2.0?

  1. More precise recognition – The Mavic 2 drones are equipped with dual vision sensors, giving them the ability to construct accurate 3D environments. Instead of relying on static images, the Mavic 2 drones track their subjects in 3D, resulting in more precise recognition.
  2. Trajectory prediction – A built-in algorithm in the Mavic 2 drones allows it to predict the path that the subject will take, which reduces the probability that the drone will lose track of the subject.
  3. High-speed tracking – The Mavic 2 drones can also move at much faster speeds even in P-Mode. With a maximum movement speed of 44 mph, subjects would be hard-pressed to leave the Mavic 2 drones behind.
  4. Obstacle sensing – With their advanced 3D environment simulation capabilities, the Mavic 2 drones can more accurately sense and avoid obstacles. The Mavic 2 drones can plan for the most optimal flight path, avoiding obstacles using their front and rear-facing sensors.

Final thoughts

Aside from giving photographers the ability to capture photos and videos from previously unattainable angles, DJI drones have been programmed with Intelligent Flight Modes that help photographers produce very smooth and stable footage. With autonomous flight ability, drone photographers don’t even need to be expert drone pilots.

ActiveTrack is one of the most popular and versatile Intelligent Flight Modes. It’s available in all the modern prosumer DJI drones. It’s also a relief that the Mavic 2 drones have come out with an updated ActiveTrack. This bodes well for the technology, and we look forward to further upgrades to one of the best flight modes that DJI has developed.