8 Crucial Things to Know Before Buying a Photography Drone

Photography drones allow us to capture photos that in the past could only be taken from full-sized helicopters or planes. More and more photographers now plan to buy a drone for aerial photography. 

If you’re new to both drones and photography, start by reading the 2017 Best Camera Drones Buying Guide. It introduces all the key elements to consider when choosing a camera drone, including flight safety, image systems, transmission systems, intelligent features, portability, and service.

As a 5-year photographer and 3-year phantom pilot, here are eight things I recommend you know before buying a drone for photography.

  1.  Image quality is most important.

If you have any camera knowledge, you will know that sensors directly affect image quality. This also applies to photography drones. In the drone market, mainstream models such as the best seller Mavic Pro use a 1/2.3 inch sensor with 12 megapixels. This sensor size is almost twice as large as iPhone 7’s 1/3 inch model. The professional photography drone Phantom 4 Pro has increased the camera to 1 inch, improving the resolution to 20 megapixels. The most powerful film drone, the Inspire 2 compacting X5 camera, uses a CMOS of 4/3 inch.

Larger CMOS makes it easier to shoot quality footage in low light (Watch the Low-light Test), but unless you’re primarily shooting at night, don’t worry too much. According to the samples the Mavic Pro and Phantom both provide good image images during daytime shooting.

Mavic Pro - Cheia-road in the winter-Calin-Stan
  1. Do you need 4K Video?

The video resolutions of drones on the market vary from lower-quality HD to 4K. If your editing involves adding a filter and uploading to Facebook or Instagram, shooting in 1080p is enough. But if you are a vlogger or want to shoot cinematic video, you’d better work from 4K. Video editing decreases the footage resolution by scaling, rotating and cropping. If you’re starting with 1080p source material, the resulting video may be noticeably less sharp. 4K material allows for a significant amount of extra pixels to play with.

You may also see frames per second (fps) listed in drone specs. Fps dictates how many unique consecutive images a camera can handle each second. 24 fps to 30 fps shoots smooth footage. But for some special effects, like slow motion, you might need 60 fps.

  1. Is Raw/DNG format support necessary?

If you never do post-production with Lightroom or Photoshop, you can ignore this section. But nearly every photographer edits their photos in some way. If a photography drone can shoot Raw/DNG photos, this allows for a variety of editing options in post-production. In Raw/DNG format, the photo records all of the data from the sensor. It’s especially helpful for nighttime shoots. Raw/DNG formats ultimately give aerial photography more possibilities.

(The left is the Raw photo I  shot with P4P . The right is the final work.)

  1. Does the drone hover perfectly still?

Hovering may be a new concept to you if you’ve never flown a drone before. Stable hovering is as important as image quality and dictates how well a drone can take aerial photos. If the drone can’t hover, it will constantly rise, fall, or drift, resulting in blurry images. Stable hovering requires an advanced flight control system and onboard sensors. In this regard, most pilots will agree that DJI has no competitors in the market. If you have watched reviews on Youtube, DJI drones, including the mini drone Spark, hover incredibly precisely.

  1. Buy a photography drone with a mounted gimbal.

A gimbal is a crucial piece of equipment for steady videos. Some cheap camera drones only offer gimbals as accessories, or none at all. Without a gimbal, shaky videos are inevitable. Always remember to choose a camera drone with a mounted gimbal to avoid this. As far as I know, the DJI Phantom is the first consumer drone series with a 3-axis gimbal equipped. The new Mavic Pro employed a revolutionary tiny 3-axis gimbal designed for smaller drones.

Phantom 4 Pro gimbal Mavic Pro tiny 3-axis gimbal
  1. Don’t worry about flight time.

Here’s the truth: most camera drones cannot fly over 30 minutes. The drone industry doesn’t have a solution to this yet. Drones with flight times over 20 minutes are top-level in the industry. It’s definitely better to select a drone with a longer flight time, like the Phantom 4 Pro with over 25 minutes. However, the more important thing is learning how to best use every second—and, buy at least two extra batteries.

  1. Get intelligent functions.

Good photography drones are expensive. Not only because they have good image quality and a good flight control system, but also because they come equipped with intelligent functions to support shooting. Drones can track you automatically, fly along waypoints, take selfies with a gesture, and more. Different photography drones have unique features. The Mavic Pro’s camera turns 90 degrees to support vertical shooting. The Phantom 4 pro comes equipped with a mechanical shutter to cut distortion when shooting objects moving at high speeds. And the professional-grade Inspire 2 supports dual operator control.

( Vertical shooting )

  1. Buy a popular drone.

Usually people never think why they should buy a popular drone. Owning a popular drone makes it easier for you to get answers to your questions. Let’s say you find a problem with your drone. With popular drone models, you can quickly find a solution from forums or social media groups from other pilots. Meanwhile, there are thousands of tips and tutorials videos in Youtube which help you improve skills. You can also buy abundant third-party accessories.

Popular Photography Drone Recommendations:

 

Someone said DJI Mavic Pro is “like the Swiss Army Knife of drones.” I couldn’t agree more. It boasts 12-megapixel photos with DNG support, 4K video at 30 fps, a tiny 3-axis gimbal, 7 km flights, a 27 minutes flight time, intelligent modes, and a DJI advanced flight safety system.

 

Made for professional photographers, DJI Phantom 4 Pro is the king of drones. Image quality is ideal with its 1-inch sensor and 20 MP photos, 4K quality videos at 60 fps, and outstanding 30-minute flights. It’s hard to believe so much advanced tech is packed into such a compact drone. Having the same image quality, the budget-saving Phantom 4 Advanced is also an option. (Learn the differences between the P4P and P4A)

Professional aerial photographers and filmmakers love the Inspire 2. This revolutionary drone records at up to 5.2K in cinema DNG RAW. It goes from 0 to 50 mph in five seconds and reaches speeds of 58 mph with dual operator control, an FPV camera, and a 360-degree panning gimbal. (Here are Inspire 2 Top 10 highlights and image quality review.)

Related:

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Practice Makes Perfect: Lessons from an Inspire 2 Photographer