DJI Follow Me Mode – What is it and How Does it Work?
Shooting dynamic aerial videos is one of the most fun things you can do with your drone. Using its array of sensors and positional tracking modules, your drone may be the best companion to capture the memories of all your adventures. Keeping track of fast-moving subjects can be very challenging even for highly-skilled drone pilots, which is why most modern camera drones come pre-programmed with pilot-aiding flight modes. For instance, DJI drones come with a veritable suite of Intelligent Flight Modes designed to help drone photographers capture smooth and high-quality videos under any conditions.
One of the more basic modes that can be used to track a dynamic subject is Follow Me. Although this mode has seemingly been overshadowed in popularity by the more versatile ActiveTrack, it is still a very useful and a more reliable option. How does Follow Me work and what are the best ways to do it?
What is Follow Me mode?
True to its name, Follow Me mode makes the drone follow you. It is distinctly different from ActiveTrack because it uses the GPS signal from your mobile device to transmit your position to the drone. In contrast, ActiveTrack uses the drone’s visual sensors to identify a subject for the drone to follow.
Although Follow Me is not as versatile as ActiveTrack in terms of the options of subjects to follow, it is a far more reliable alternative. By relying on the phone’s GPS position, the drone can follow a subject from a higher altitude or even when it gets obscured from view.
Which DJI drones support Follow Me?
Unfortunately for pilots who prefer to use Follow Me to ActiveTrack, it is not as widely available as most of the other DJI Intelligent Flight Modes. The Phantom 4 series of drones, Mavic Pro, and the Mavic Pro Platinum all have Follow Me. The more basic models, such as the Spark and the Mavic Air, only have ActiveTrack.
Based on the more recent releases from DJI, the future does not bode well for the Follow Me mode. Emphasizing this is the fact that the new Mavic 2 drones come with an updated ActiveTrack 2.0, which seemingly combines the best features of Follow Me and the original ActiveTrack. The result is a massively improved mode that performs better in terms of keeping track of a subject.
How do you activate Follow Me mode?
Activating Follow Me isn’t any different from all the other DJI Intelligent Flight Modes. To pull up the menu for the flight modes, you simply need to press the remote control-shaped icon at the left-hand portion of the DJI GO app’s main screen. Simply click the Follow Me option in the menu that comes up. Take note that the Follow Me option may be on the second page of the menu.
Upon clicking the Follow Me button, a screen should come up that states how strong the GPS signal of the subject is, its distance from the drone, and the altitude of the drone. Follow Me will work across a wide altitude range – from 10 meters up to 500 meters. However, it is best used to within around 100 meters to ensure that the signal does not drop out in the middle of the flight.
From this point, you can start moving around and have the drone follow you with its camera. While flying, you still have full control of the camera’s gimbal and can adjust the drone’s altitude to help you compose your shot.
How does Follow Me mode work?
1. GPS technology
The biggest difference between Follow Me and ActiveTrack is the former’s use of GPS technology instead of visual sensors. This means that the drone can follow a subject even when it becomes obscured from the camera’s view by trees or other obstacles. Even if your device loses its GPS signal, the drone can usually regain a GPS fix as soon as the GPS signal becomes available again. Follow Me is also a better option for tracking fast-moving subject reliably.
The downside of Follow Me is that the subject needs to be holding the controller somewhere in their body. This may not be practical at all times, such as when the subject is swimming, hiking, or skiing. Perhaps it is this limitation that is driving DJI’s preference for further developing ActiveTrack instead of Follow Me.
2. Independent gimbal movement
Similar to ActiveTrack, Follow Me also gives you independent control of the gimbal while the drone is flying autonomously. While this sounds great on paper, it’s not as smooth in implementation considering that the subject and the pilot is essentially the same person. With too many things to think of all at once, composing a shot while simultaneously moving may just result in an accident.
3. Obstacle avoidance
Fortunately, obstacle avoidance is still activated while the drone is moving in Follow Me mode. This does not give you an excuse to be careless, as not all obstacles are visible to the drone’s visual sensors and not all drones are equipped with multi-directional obstacle avoidance.
Tips on using Follow Me mode?
1. Keep the drone at low altitude
By using GPS technology, Follow Me mode can theoretically operate up to an altitude of 500 meters. However, hovering too high also puts more distance between the drone and the controller, increasing the risk of a signal dropout. Just as with any other DJI drone, losing signal in the middle of the flight will activate the drone’s return-to-home function and will likely ruin your shot.
In any case, capturing in Follow Me mode while hovering above 100 meters will render many of the finer details of a subject’s movement barely visible. We find that the best Follow Me videos are those shot from a tight perspective, as it truly captures how dynamic the subject is.
2. Fly in a wide, open space
The primary objective of the drone’s obstacle avoidance is to keep your drone safe, not to continue tracking the subject. Although the drone will try its best to fly over an obstacle should it encounter on in Follow Me mode, there is also a huge chance that the drone will end up stopping in its tracks and just hovering in place. This makes doing Follow Me flights a bad idea when in high-traffic or obstacle-rich environments. If you want your shot to proceed uninterrupted, it’s still best to fly in an open space.
3. Avoid barely-visible obstacles
The obstacle avoidance of the drones that have Follow Me rely on visual sensors to identify obstacles. This means that the sensors cannot reliably detect barely-visible obstacles, such as the small branches and leaves along a forest trail.
Follow Me mode was one of the earliest Intelligent Flight Modes available in DJI drones but has largely become overshadowed by the newer ActiveTrack. However, Follow Me’s use of the mobile device’s GPS signal is quite innovative and makes Follow Me a much more reliable tracking method. The practicality of using Follow Me is still limited by the need for the subject to also be the one holding the remote controller.
Based on how DJI has decided to upgrade ActiveTrack in the recently released Mavic 2 drones, it’s very likely that the sun has set on the Follow Me feature. Hopefully, future iterations of tracking modes in DJI drones capture the essence of Follow Me, combinings its reliability with the versatility of ActiveTrack.