Photography drones allow individuals to capture photos that previously could only be taken from helicopters or planes. More and more photographers are buying drones and trying their hand at aerial photography.
If you’re new to both drones and photography, start by reading the Best Camera Drones Buying Guide. It introduces all the key elements to consider when choosing a photography drone, including flight safety, image systems, transmission systems, intelligent features, portability, and service.
As a five-year photographer and three-year Phantom pilot, here are eight things I recommend thinking about before buying a drone for photography:
Image quality is the most important.
If you have any camera knowledge, you will know that sensors directly affect image quality. This also applies to aerial photography drones. In the drone market, a 1-inch sensor is emerging as the new gold standard being utilized by consumer drones like the new Mavic 2 Pro and professional photography drones like the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0. The most powerful professional photography drone, the Inspire 2 (with a Zenmuse X5 camera), uses a 4/3-inch CMOS sensor.
A larger CMOS makes it easier to shoot high-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 our tests, the Mavic Pro and Phantom both provide high-quality images during daytime shooting.
Do you need 4K Video?
The video resolutions of drones can vary from lower-quality HD to 4K. If your video editing involves adding a filter and uploading to Facebook or Instagram, shooting in 1080p is enough. But if you are a vlogger or you want to shoot cinematic video, you’d better work in 4K. Video editing decreases the footage resolution due to scaling, rotating, and cropping. If you’re starting with 1080p source material, the resulting video may be noticeably less sharp. 4K video gives you lots 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. 24fps to 30fps shoots smooth footage. However, for special effects like slow motion, you might need 60fps.
Is Raw/DNG format support necessary?
If you don’t do your post-production with Lightroom or Photoshop, 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, a photo will record all of the data received by the camera’s sensor. It’s especially helpful for nighttime shoots. RAW/DNG formats create more possibilities for aerial photographers.
(The left is the Raw photo I shot with P4P. The right is the final work.)
Does the drone hover perfectly still?
Stable hovering is enormously important for image quality. 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, many pilots agree that DJI drones are far-and-away the leading models on the market. Don’t believe me? Watch a couple of DJI drone videos on YouTube and check out their hovering function. Needless to say, Spark’s hovering functions are particularly good.
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 series was the first consumer drone series to be equipped with a 3-axis gimbal. The new Mavic 2 also uses a tiny 3-axis gimbal designed for smaller drones that is proving to be an evolutionary benchmark in mounted gimbal technology.
Don’t worry about flight time.
Here’s the truth: most photography drones can’t fly longer than 30 minutes. The drone industry doesn’t have a solution to this yet. Drones with flight times over 20 minutes are considered top-level in the industry. It’s definitely better to select a drone with a longer flight time, such as the Mavic 2, which features a max flight time of 31 minutes. However, the more important thing is learning how to best use every second, and to buy at least two extra batteries.
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 2 Zoom, for example, has two-times optical zoom that allows users to go in for the close-up shot without disturbing their subject. The Phantom 4 Pro comes equipped with a mechanical shutter to cut distortion when shooting objects moving at high speeds, while the professional-grade Inspire 2 supports dual-operator control.
( Vertical shooting )
Buy a popular drone.
There are many benefits to owning a popular drone. For starters, it makes it easier 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 through other pilots on online forums or social media groups. Meanwhile, there are thousands of tips and tutorials videos available on YouTube, which can help you become a better pilot and photographer. You can also buy a whole host of third-party accessories.
Best Aerial Photography Drones Recommendations:
Mavic 2 Check the Price
The Mavic 2 is DJI’s latest flagship consumer drone that’s perfect for professionals and enthusiasts. Users have two powerful lens options to choose from with the Mavic 2: Pro and Zoom. With Pro, you’ll get a Hasselblad camera with a 1-inch CMOS sensor, while the Mavic 2 Zoom has a 1/2.3-inch 12 MP sensor with two-times optical zoom. Both offer 31 minutes of flight, 8 km transmission, Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing, and enough easy-to-use flight modes and functions to make shooting a breeze.
- Two lens options: Pro and Zoom
- Up to 31 min of flight time
- 44 mph (72 kph) max speed
- 9 mi (8 km) transmission range
- Sensors on all sides for advanced obstacle avoidance
- Creative shooting options like Dolly Zoom and Hyperlapse
Mavic Air Check the Price
The Mavic Air is a professional-grade drone packed into a small, portable package. It’s perfect for hobbyists or pilots who are interested in high-quality photography but demand a product that can be taken on-the-go easily. However, portability doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice performance. With 12 MP still shots, and 4K 30fps video, the Mavic Air is comparable to some of the best photography drones on the market.
- 430 g
- Up to 21 min of flight time
- 42 mph (68 kph) max speed
- Equipped with Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (APAS)
Mavic Pro Check the Price
The DJI Mavic Pro is known for its incredible versatility, and has even been described as “the Swiss Army Knife of drones.” I couldn’t agree more with this description. A true jack-of-all-trades, it is capable of 12-megapixel photos with DNG support, 4K 30 fps video, 7 km flights, and 27 minutes of flight time. As if that wasn’t enough, it features a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, multiple intelligent flight and photography modes, and DJI’s advanced flight safety system.
- Up to 27 min of flight time
- 40 mph (65 kph) max speed
- FlightAutonomy system intelligently senses and avoids obstacles
- Intelligent Flight Modes (ActiveTrack, TapFly, Gesture mode)
Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 Check the Price
Made for professional photographers, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 retains many of the great features of the original Phantom 4 Pro, while also adding some exciting improvements. Among the biggest upgrades is the new remote controller, which features an OcuSync video transmission system. This allows switching between 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz to ensure clear transmission from up to 4.3 mi (7 km) away. A 1-inch sensor captures 20 MP stills or 4K 60fps video, delivering the outstanding photographic performance that the Phantom series is known for.
- Up to 30 min of flight time
- 45 mph (72 kph) max speed
- OcuSync HD Remote Controller with 4.3 mi (7 km) max transmission distance
- Intelligent Flight Modes (ActiveTrack, TapFly, Draw)
Inspire 2 Check the Price
Professional aerial photographers and filmmakers love the Inspire 2. This revolutionary drone records at up to 6K in CinemaDNG RAW. It goes from 0 to 50 mph in five seconds and reaches speeds of up to 58 mph with dual operator controls, an FPV camera, and a 360° panning gimbal. The Inspire 2 is excellent for anyone looking to add to their own photography business with a Hollywood-quality drone. (Here are Inspire 2 Top 10 highlights and image quality review.)
- Up to 27 minutes of flight time
- 58 mph (94 kph) max speed
- Interchangeable cameras (Zenmuse X4S, X5S, and X7)
- Dual-battery system
- Self-heating batteries
When considering which photography drone is best for you, remember that it’s crucial to first identify your needs. For example, most first-time drone buyers don’t really need Hollywood-level video quality. Considering the camera quality and image format will greatly help to narrow down your options. No matter what level of photography drone you’re looking for, DJI has something to meet your requirements. From the consumer-friendly Mavic series to the professional-grade Inspire 2, there’s a drone for everyone! For more information on details and specs, visit the DJI store now!
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