Give yourself an advantage and wow your audience with pictures captured from above! Having a camera drone opens up countless opportunities, allowing you to position your lens from practically anywhere. There really are no limits when it comes to composing pictures and video using drone technology. You can easily shoot from vantage points over one hundred meters in the sky!
What if you could capture amazing aerial images taken from a bird’s eye view?
How do I start?
Want to take stunning aerial footage but don’t know where to start? This article is a short but concise introduction to camera drones. It explains the many benefits of having one, plus offers a shopping guide for making the best purchase. Broaden your horizons – leap off of the ground and into the air today!
Why buy a camera drone?
Being able to capture pictures you would never dream of, well that’s why you would buy a camera drone of course. If you have been thinking of buying a camera drone and are almost ready to take the plunge, here’s a little inspiration to help you decide.
See the world from above
Take a look through the viewfinder and witness wonderful images from way up in the sky. Until recently these kinds of shots were only achievable by the professional photographer (and his helicopter crew). Now a new wave of photographers are taking advantage of this technology, creating really beautiful images, the kind of stuff that takes your breath away!
So easy, they can be flown by anyone
Some camera drones are so stable that many beginner pilots have gone out and flown them with great success. This is because of a little feature called GPS steering. Incredibly capable software, coupled with enough sensors to steer a small car – new age camera drones are so sophisticated they can virtually fly themselves. Using sensor data from the environment, and Global Positioning Systems, all these features combine together to create an air vehicle which is safe and easy to fly.
Showcase real estate in the best possible way
Need to take pictures of real estate for yourself or for a client? Showcase real estate in a whole new light, take pictures of valuable assets and show them off in the best possible way. By taking drone footage of a property you can increase the chance of a sale dramatically. If you have a large property or it is near the seafront, wide angle aerial shots can be very spectacular. If you’re taking photos for your own use, aerial images are also great to keep as your own personal memento.
A unique tool for innovation and brand new ideas
Including a drone in your camera bag also creates a fantastic foundation for unique videography and storytelling. Perfect for professional film making and student projects, having an aerial platform lifts you up out of the director’s chair and into the air.
Choosing your first camera drone
If you are looking to purchase the best drone that suits your needs, the following is a shortlist of the best photography drones available today.
The fastest way to good aerial photography
When buying a video drone for photography, and film, you want to make sure that you get the highest quality camera, on the most stable and reliable airframe. It is also important to have a strong wireless connection with a clear video feed (so you can see what you are shooting). These features provide an image quality that is acceptable to the casual viewer, and they also allow you to compose your shots with relative ease. One of the most popular drones available on the market, one that has all these features and more, is the DJI Phantom 3.
DJI Phantom 3 – Standard
Amazing picture quality, solid video downlink, simple controls, and stable flight characteristics – the DJI Phantom series is a clear winner when it comes to aerial photography.
Perfect for anyone looking to get a good start in this sport, the Phantom 3 includes many useful features such as Return to Home, Follow Me, and GPS assisted steering. All these make the Phantom 3 safe and stable enough to fly even for the complete beginner. Best of all the image quality and video footage is unrivalled by anything else in this price range. Included is a generous 23 minute flight time, automatic landing and take-off, and a top speed of over 60km/h!
Simple setup and ease of use
The secret weapon that exists in the Phantom series (and other DJI models) is their very easy to use software and controller system. Famous for its user experience, the combination of the Go App and proprietary controllers make operating the Phantom a breeze. This is really beneficial for the creative process as you can spend more time composing pictures, and less time on everything else.
If you have money to spend…
The Phantom 3 Advanced
If you buy the Standard Phantom 3 you won’t be disappointed. It still has a fantastic range of 500m which is way better than all the other similar priced video drones. Having said that, if you can stretch your budget just a little then we highly recommend you go with the P3 Advanced.
Why upgrade to the P3 Advanced? Lightbridge Telemetry!
Lightbridge is a top of the line telemetry system which boasts operational ranges of over 2km, a massive feat when you consider Wi-Fi telemetry of other camera drones is 200m or less. This extra range really makes a difference to your flying experience.
The P3 Advanced & Professional models also have better GPS technology which makes your drone even more reliable.
The Phantom 3 Professional
In the P3 Professional, the main benefit you will receive is a 4K UHD camera. This gives you twice the video resolution which is useful for viewing on very large displays. Other benefits of the Professional are a higher telemetry bitrate (better FPV live view), quicker charging, and extended Lightbridge range of +5km.
DJI’s flagship Phantom, the P4 provides some features never before seen in the drone market. The most impressive feature on this list is the Obstacle Avoidance technology. When flying forwards, sensors can detect objects in the way of the drone, and if you get too close the drone will automatically change direction to avoid a collision. The Phantom 4 Professional takes this sense and avoid technology one step further, with the ability to detect in all directions, not just front on. The P4 also has the highest quality UHD 4K drone camera, including a 1 inch CMOS sensor, and better image quality as a result.
Professional footage on a budget
Anyone involved in the industry can tell the difference between the image quality of a consumer level drone, and a professional one. It’s worth mentioning here that the level of experience you have is quite important, but having top quality gear will go a long way in creating great images.
DJI Inspire 1 V2.0
The DJI Inspire drone is certainly the coolest looking camera drone
Your camera’s quality matters
There’s nothing worse that flying around all day, bringing everything back, and then realising all your photos are dull, blurry or out of focus. On a sunny day in good conditions, a Phantom or GoPro camera will give you good results. Having said that, the Sony X3 and X5 cameras (part of the Inspire series) are far superior in every way. In order to take your image quality to that next level, you should really consider spending the money on pro level gear.
Inspire 1 used in pro productions…
The Inspire is a dream to work with
The last thing you want is to be on location, racing to get that final shot, and then something goes wrong! No matter what situation you are in, you need to be able to perform on the spot. There are some custom rigs that you may consider, but these are usually more hassle in the long run. It is much better to go with a system that is already setup and pre-configured, like the Inspire, because it includes a fool-proof design that works well.
Having a reliable drone that you can count on is a real advantage – your images will dramatically improve as a result.
Building your own camera drone
If you want to build your own camera drone then various platforms are available, including hexacopter (6 props), X8 (4 motors, 8 props), and octocopter variants (8 props). The best products come from DJI and Tarot, with the DJI Flamewheel F450 and F550 perfect to start out on. Make sure you get a Flight Controller from DJI, their Naza range is the video drone standard. There are some advantages using a DIY video camera drone. Larger cameras like the Panasonic GH3 can make for some lovely footage. But these types of setups require large gimbals, more propellers, and much more work. If you want to take great footage right away then the Phantom and Inspire are a much better option for most.
Camera Drones Under $500?
If you’re looking for something a little more economical which still shoots pretty good video, then your best option is the Parrot Bebop.
The Parrot Bebop
A great introduction to aerial photography, the Parrot Bebop will take fairly decent images or video for your investment. It doesn’t have as stable video capture as the Phantom series (as it is lacking a gimbal) but it is pretty good at taking stills. The Bebop has all the usual GPS and sensor capabilities which make it relatively easy to handle.
The Best Drone in 2017
The DJI Mavic Pro?
There seems to be an obsession with the DJI Mavic and I’m not sure whether it’s because of this drones actual performance or marketing hype. Certainly one of the best drones for 2017, the Mavic is incredibly popular, mostly due to it’s portability. The Mavic is small and can be folded which makes it one of the best drones with camera. Having said this, there is a big trade off with image quality due to its size. The better option in our opinion would be to share the load, buy a proper carry bag and take a Phantom instead.
The Verdict: One of the best drones for sale in 2017; it takes fine footage during most conditions.
The cutting room floor
(Video drones that didn’t make the cut)
Last year was the year of epic releases, including the rise and fall of a lot of drone platforms. First there was the GoPro Karma (released October 2016) which had the unfortunate mishap of being re-called. Mid-fight power issues were causing it to unexpectedly fall out of the sky! The new-release should solve this issue, but with better options already out there it’s best to skip it for now.
The verdict: A nice drone but even as of mid 2017 it has its problems. There are better GoPro drones out there.
The 3DR Solo (which came out mid 2015) is much more developed, and is proving to be great for advanced video capture. It is a lot of money, even just for the frame, but if you already have your own GoPro it won’t feel quite as expensive. The 3DR Solo has custom software options which allow for more sophisticated videography, but the jury is still out as to how much this helps your overall process.
The Verdict: A great camera drone if you want to experiment with custom flight modes. Still not the best value when compared with the integrated DJI aerial cameras.
Why so much love for the Phantom and Inspire?
DJI have the best cameras with the largest and most stable camera sensors in their class. Also, they have the best range. For these reasons and these alone we don’t recommend any other camera drones in their price range. There’s a reason why DJI now makes up over 75% of the worldwide consumer drone market. No other company can compete.
For most people the best platform to choose is the most capable DJI drone you can afford. If you’re looking for value for money, the P3 Standard and Advanced are the economical sweet spot. If you want the best quality footage, similar to your DSLR setup, then the Inspire 1 V2.0 is the one to get.
Where to Next?
If you’re ready to dive right in, aerial photography is such an exciting and incredibly rewarding experience we recommend everyone go out and have a go!
If you would like more information or guidance on getting the best start in aerial photography, check out our blog where you’ll find a list of useful resources.
Most camera drones worth considering have been mentioned here, but if you have any other suggestions please feel free to drop us a line or post in the comments section below. There are a couple models to look out for in 2017 so keep watching this space!
Thanks for reading and happy flying!
Special thanks goes to…
This article could not have been written without the extensive help and wonderful guidance of Cam Puglisi, owner and operator of Aerial Cam. As a special operator Cam has been flying aerial vehicles for quite a few years now, providing commercial drone photography and others services in Adelaide and regional SA.