Photography Drones Buying Guide

What is a drone?
Drones are small, unmanned aerial or ground-based vehicles that are operated for fun, hobby, and even commercial use (with special permission from the Federal Aviation Authority). Many are equipped for photography and allow you to capture images from angles you cannot normally reach. Flying drones, also called UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), are remote controlled multirotors. Quadcopters are a type of multirotor aircraft with four rotors. Most drones are operated with radio remote controllers, but can also be programmed and controlled via tablet or smartphone.

Which photography drone is right for you?
Photographers of all skill levels can use drones to capture pictures from unique perspectives. Whether it’s taking video of your friends surfing, or capturing a scenic mountain panorama, having a camera in the sky can bring new life to your photos and movies. If you already own an action camera, you may want to check out models that are equipped with a camera mount rather than a built-in camera. Some models come with a built-in camera and a stabilizing gimbal. Most photography drone systems provide mobile apps for iOS and Android devices that let you watch the video live via Wi-Fi. Photography drones can be classified into three categories based on the operator’s experience level and intended use: Casual Enthusiast, Hobbyist, and Pro.

Out-of-the-Box Flying
For easy setup, choose a drone that is ready-to-fly (RTF) right out of the box. Many entry-level drones require minimal setup and come with everything you need to take off, including, battery, charger, controller, and manual. All that is needed is to charge the battery, attach any accessories (like prop guards), and connect the controller to your smartphone. To start your filming adventure, you’ll need to mount an action camera to your drone or purchase a drone with a built-in camera.

Recommended Ready-to-Fly Drones

Control Systems
Effortless drone flight starts with an intelligent and intuitive remote control transmitter. Transmitters can range anywhere from two-joystick models that control flight path and speed, to highly sophisticated devices with advanced programming that control all functions of the drone and camera. Many remote controllers can be connected to a mobile phone or tablet to view a live camera feed via Wi-Fi or a digital video downlink. Some drones use a smartphone or tablet as the controller through a mobile app and Wi-Fi.

Flight Time
Depending on flight speed, weather conditions, payload, and battery life, flight times typically range from 15 – 25 minutes. The average speed of drone is about 20 mph and some can reach over 55 mph. Most drones can withstand light rainfall and mild wind. When a gimbal and action camera are mounted to the drone the flight speed and time can decrease.

Flight Modes
Most photography drones include three flight modes: auto, hover, and manual. Auto-flight modes are preprogrammed computer-assisted course settings that allow for autonomous flying via GPS. There is no standard set of auto-flight mode terms, but among the most popular are orbit, cable cam, follow me, and return home. GPS also enables fixed hover mode (also called loiter mode) which allows the drone to hover in place when the user releases the controller joy-sticks. Drones can be flown completely manually without GPS assistance using the remote controller. Manual flight mode can be very dangerous and should only be used by experienced drone pilots.

Recommended Drones with Auto-Flight Modes