Is it legal to take that night flight? Worried about your DJI Mini 3’s performance at night? Or are you more concerned about its picture quality?
It is legal to fly the DJI Mini 3 or Mini 3 Pro at night if you are a recreational flyer. Commercial drone pilots can fly these drones at night if it is equipped with a strobe light to make it visible for 3 statute miles. The image quality is usually very nice with either the DJI Mini 3 or Mini 3 Pro in low-light conditions.
Before taking off for that night flight, the significant things to take into consideration before flying your drone are the legality and safety of the flight and the capabilities of your drone, with regard to what you’re actually planning the flight for.
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
Night flying rules and requirements
The first thing to look at is the legality and safety of flying the DJI Mini 3 Pro.
As far as the laws in the US go:
“(a) Except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, no person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system at night unless –
(1) The remote pilot in command of the small unmanned aircraft has completed an initial knowledge test or training, as applicable, under § 107.65 after April 6, 2021; and
(2) The small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.
The remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of, but may not extinguish, the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so.
(b) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during periods of civil twilight unless the small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.
The remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of, but may not extinguish, the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so….”
Simply put, in the US, the law requires every drone user to have completed a knowledge test or training. In the case of recreational flyers, this is The Recreational UAS Safety Test (known as TRUST).
For commercial flyers, this is the Remote Pilot Certificate (part 107).
For night flights, a strobe light that can also be viewed from at least 3 statute miles is required.
All courses offered by Pilot Institute are taught by remote pilots, flight instructors, FAA commercial pilots, and other certified professionals.
Does the DJI Mini 3/Mini 3 Pro meet these requirements?
Unfortunately, the position lights which come with the DJI Mini 3 Pro do not meet the criteria for flying at night.
The position lights they come with are not strobe lights, and even if they were, the lights are not clearly visible for up to 3 statute miles on all sides.
To solve this issue, you can buy and attach strobe lights to your Mini 3, but you should take care to make sure you don’t purchase attachments or designs that will overload your drone and adversely affect the performance of your drone in flight.
It is important to note also that adding a strobe light will most definitely increase the weight of the drone, and therefore take it over the 250-gram limit for Small UAS.
This means you will have to register your drone as per FAA requirements.
1000 Lumen Output brightest light in the market. 4 SM Range. IP67 Water Proof. 6 hours continuous operation with onboard battery in strobe mode. 5 - Powerful Cree XPE Focused Standalone LEDs in light.
Most strobe lights can be stuck on using velcro. Watch the video below for some options.
For our International drone pilots, we recommend following these same protocols should you plan to fly your drone beyond 1-2 km from your line of view.
The lights which come with the Mini 3 are not the brightest, and it will be best for your safety and traffic in the sky.
It would be best to adopt the FAA standards and attach a strobe light (an FAA-approved strobe like the ones recommended above).
This may seem like a hassle, especially since the added weight may mean that you have to register your drone as well as take the basic operator’s certificate test, depending on the laws.
Still, these are usually simple steps that can mostly be done online, and the safety precautions, as well as the knowledge gained, are really worth the effort.
Night flying capabilities
Now for the fun part; when it comes to performance at night, barring any adverse weather, which legally must be avoided whether in the US, the DJI Mini 3 and Mini 3 Pro are well equipped to handle most normal weather conditions that would be encountered at night.
They both have a Level 5 wind resistance, which according to the National Weather Service, is the equivalent of wind speeds of between 19 to 24mph.
This is good to take note of when making pre-flight checks prior to takeoff.
We recommend downloading a UAV forecast and taking note of the weather conditions before flight, including wind speeds, temperature, probability of precipitation, and so much more.
You can set the parameter limits based on the conditions and laws of your area, and it will automatically give you a fit to fly or not indication, which makes pre-flight a lot easier.
Night Flight Image Quality
When it comes to image and video quality, the DJI Mini 3 drone does not disappoint in any way.
The new 1 ⅓ inch CMOS sensor, as well as the larger F stop, that is, the camera’s f/1.7 aperture, records crisp, clear details.
The Mini 3 drone has a larger sensor and aperture (in fact, the f/1.7 aperture is larger than that of even large DJI drones) than its predecessor, allowing it to capture more light and present exceptional imagery in low-light or night scenarios.
The added 4x zoom feature is another handy feature that allows you to properly fix in on your desired object, as well as help you scout a scene before shooting.
They can both shoot in 4k, with the Mini 3 shooting up to 30fps, while the Mini 3 Pro can shoot up to 60fps. Both are of amazing quality, but the video on the Mini 3 Pro will be smoother.
The still shots are at 12MP for the Mini 3 and 48MP for the Mini 3 Pro.
To take advantage of these features while flying at night, here are a few tips
- Lock the gimbal and switch the mechanical shutter off to help reduce the chances of getting blurry images.
- Switch the front LED off to reduce the chances of the red-eye/light effect.
- Shoot in RAW always. It can be a hassle because it takes so much space, but you’ll be grateful, especially in post-production, since it captures way more detail.
- Switch the aspect ratio to 4:3 as opposed to 16:9 so as to capture more content in your frame.
- First, switch from auto in your DJI fly app to pro (manual basically) and set your shutter speed and ISO manually.
Remember the Aperture for the Mini 3/Mini 3 Pro is fixed at f1.7, which is good enough for you to only need to adjust the ISO (the camera’s sensitivity to light) and shutter speed.
- For night flying, you will need to reduce your shutter speed. The shutter speed refers to how long the shutter remains open.
The longer the shutter is open, the more light gets in.
You can experiment with that to start with. This will help determine the best settings for your environment.
- By increasing the ISO, you will make the sensor more sensitive to light.
This can help you use higher shutter speeds but will add noise to the image, which to some degree, can be removed in post-production.
We advise limiting your ISO to between 100-300 max, depending on how much external lighting you have at night.
- For still shots, switch to tripod mode. These also help in capturing light trails and for long exposure shots.
The drone movements will be restricted, but you will get steadier, crisper shots and smoother movements.
- For light trails, slower your shutter speed to between 1/50 to 4s.
Final tips for flying your DJI Mini 3 or Mini 3 Pro at night
These are extra general tips that I believe will help lead to a safer and more productive flight.
Be aware of your situation
Always take note of your surroundings, the weather, the rules and regulations regarding your location, and your flight objective.
Know your drone
Always remember that flying at night is more hazardous than during the day. Make sure to get fully accustomed to your drone, its capabilities, and camera settings before taking off.
This would make things much easier when you actually fly because proper pre-flight checks were performed.
Get acquainted with the other features and settings, such as the Return-to-Home features and Obstacle avoidance (available on the DJI Mini 3 Pro).
Get accustomed to them and their settings, and set parameters that match your environment and the obstacles around you.
For example, if you set out to fly, scan the area, and see that the highest obstacle in your flight path is around 80ft, set your RTH height to 110ft or more to give yourself enough room should you lose connection to your drone.
Set obstacle avoidance on DJI Mini 3 Pro to brake
For the Mini 3 Pro users, you may want to set your Obstacle avoidance protocol to Brake, as opposed to Bypass when recording videos.
This is just to help keep your shot smooth in an event where obstacle avoidance may be needed.
Remember, there is a speed limit for which the obstacle avoidance sensors will function.
Most of your shots will not need the drone to be moving at any high speeds anyways, and a lot can be done in post-production to speed up shots, so go slow and steady.
In conclusion, night flying, for whatever reason, can be a lot of fun, and the image quality is usually very nice with either the DJI Mini 3 or Mini 3 Pro.
These drones are definitely equipped to tackle the night skies, but always be mindful of applicable laws and rules with regard to your flight.
Make sure to properly prepare yourself to have a safe and productive flight. Be careful and have a great flight!