In the past, taking pictures of a beautiful landscape from an elevated position is usually complicated. It requires either a conveniently situated mountain or a helicopter rental. Neither of these two options was readily available. The helicopter rental option can be quite difficult to get due to permit requirements. These requirements are often unobtainable and huge sums of money is required to rent a helicopter.
For those who are able to secure a helicopter or a fixed-wing aircraft as a base for aerial photography still faced daunting technological challenges. If wildlife was involved, you run the risk of scaring the very subject they took to the skies to capture. It indeed provided some allure and prestige to those who captured images from the skies. Unfortunately, this exclusivity didn’t do much to help photographers. They could not convey the sense of grandeur that is only truly appreciable from the skies.
The Entry of Drones
The entry of drones into the photography industry changed aerial photography completely. It has made it easier, cheaper and open to more photographers. Although some of the systems were initially less powerful than needed. To be worth the effort, early drones featured low-resolution. Also, action cam-quality cameras and control systems that often lead to YouTube-worthy crash footage.
Today, competition for dominance of the multi-rotor drone space has resulted in huge technological leaps. This is both at the consumer and professional levels. The onboard gyroscopes that comprise image-stabilization systems have greatly improved. Also the processing power has increased on these devices. They have also become able to perform some amazing feats.
Some of the Features Added to Top Photography Drones Over the Last Few Years Include:
Collision avoidance, automatic flight leveling, map-based guidance, dual camera systems, automated flight paths. Others are transmission of HD video over several miles, removable SSD hard drives. There is also the ability to have a separate camera operator different from the pilot. Some of the more recent drone models can shoot rock-steady footage even when buffeted by winds. They are able to accurately avoid even small obstacles in their path.
However, it will be far from the truth to say drones are perfect, they are not. They occasionally run into trees and have also been known to get knocked out of the sky with investment weather. These incidents however, mostly happen with a lower end, lightweight units.
If you are venturing into the world of drones, as much as possible stay away from mass-produced, low-cost units. This is because they lack the sophisticated flight controls of systems from reputable manufacturers. Also because the image quality is sub-par. Buy your drone from a hobbyist shop or from a camera store, not from a kiosk at the mall.
The common players in the drone market are now relatively common names in photography. All of them started virtually from nothing and grew rapidly to dominate this market segment. They are the top photography drones. DJI Technology which can easily said to be leader in UAV photography was recently formed in the year 2006. They had only 20 employees then, but now boasts of over 2000 employees. DJI Technology has taken an equity position in photographic legend Hasselblad. This is an indication of the booming popularity of drone work. So which drones are best for photography currently? Let’s discuss below.
See also: Top Canon Cameras in 2018
DJI Inspire 2
The DJI Inspire 2 is a top photography drone but it is designed specifically for cinematographers. It can capture a video in CinemaDNG RAW and Apple ProRes. This drone can be fitted with either the DJI Technology’s X4S or X5S camera both of which are detachable and are usable in the company’s camera systems for ground use. The X5S camera works with a number of Micro Four Thirds lenses and can capture 5.2K video at 30 fps and 4K at 60 fps, using 100 Mbps H.265 compression.
It can also capture 20MP images in DNG RAW. The camera also features an integrated SSD and microSD card which allow for super-high-quality videos to be recorded on the drive while lower-quality videos are recorded on the card. This drone can operate up to 3 miles and can transmit video and control signals as far as 4.3 miles. It allows those on the ground controlling it to watch a 1080p or 720p video during its flight which can last up to 27 minutes.
The Inspire 2 is listed for $3,000.
The Inspire 2 has a top speed of just under 60 mph and can go from hovering to 50 mph in five seconds. The drone has a dual-camera system, one for video while the other one works for flight control. This allows for a dual controller operation with both a pilot and a camera operator each using their own controls.
The drone can be used in an enclosed space such as a building or cave without hitting the roof due to its upward-facing IR sensor while the forward and downward vision systems prevent the drone from colliding with obstacles and work up to 34 mph. The Inspire 2 also can circle subjects, automatically keeping a subject in the crosshairs with its visual tracking systems and smart flight modes.
Yuneec Typhoon H920 Plus
Another top Photography drone is the Yuneec Typhoon H920 Plus. It comes with six blades as well as the company’s CG04 gimbal system. The Typhoon H920 Plus is fitted with a camera built with Panasonic that features a 3x optical zoom lens, 16MP images, and 4K resolution. It also has the ability to use several Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses.
The List Price for this drone is $4,000.
The CGO4 camera is removable and can be mounted on the company’s ProAction steadycam for ground shots. The drone can be controlled with a mobile app as well as with a handheld controller that has a 7-inch screen and can view 720p data as well as telemetric information. This drone can run for 24 minutes and weighs 11 pounds with 2 batteries. It can transmit video for up to one mile and the maximum height is 400 foot.
The drone features a number of automated image capture modes which are Orbit Me, Curve Cable Cam (where the drone moves between points and controls the camera automatically) and a watch-me mode. Also, the Journey selfie-mode automatically flies the drone for as far as 150 feet while pointing the camera at the operator for an aerial selfie.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
The Phantom 4 Pro controller comes with a built-in 5.5-inch 1080p screen with about twice the brightness of a smartphone. It can transmit HD video up to 4.3 miles due to dual-frequency transmission. This drone version adds a 1-inch, 20MP camera to the Phantom 4 chassis, and also adds 4K 60 fps video and a mechanical shutter.
List Price for the Phantom 4 Pro is $1,499.
This drone weighs about 3 pounds which makes it not to difficult to transport even though its blades don’t fold like those of the ultra-portable units. Top speed of the Phantom 4 Pro is 45 mph in sports mode and it can reach a maximum height of 19, 685 ft. The drone is fitted with Forward, backward and downward collision sensors to help protect it from obstacles.
Also, the Phantom 4 Pro has all the advanced tracking and navigation systems such as Active Track, TapFly, Return to Home etc. of the bigger units as well as a few extra tricks. A gesture mode allows subjects on the ground to trigger a selfie timer by waving at the drone while a drawing mode allows for a navigational path to be drawn with a finger on the touchscreen.
DJI Mavic Pro
The Mavic Pro is the most portable drone made by DJI Technology and it comes equipped with a 4K Ultra HD camera that captures at 30 fps. Without any electronic image stabilization, the full sensor size can be used for 4K video. The Mavic Pro has forward-facing and also downward-facing avoidance sensors. It also comes with a battery that can last up to 27 minutes.
The Mavic Pro is listed for $1,299.
The Mavic Pro is capable of streaming full HD as far as 4.3 miles away, and 720p video up to the full 8-mile operating distance at its maximum speed of 40mph with a maximum height of 16,404 feet. The DJI Mavic Pro uses the company’s iOS and Android app-based control along with a joystick for tap-and-fly control as well as activation of settings.
The joystick can, however, be used without an app. Also, a tripod mode reduces the operating, turning and gimbal rotating speed of the Mavic Pro for videos with excellent stability, and the onboard sensors even allow the Mavic to fly indoors.
The GoPro Karma is another top photography drone. The GoPro Karma generated quite a buzz when it was announced, thanks to the small form factor. It was also well received due to the ability to detach the GoPro camera and stabilizer, and then attach it to a grip and use the same system to create a jitter-free video on the ground.
The GoPro Karma, however, ran into early production problems which grounded it but the company has since resolved the issues and re-released the drone.
Video and photographic quality depend largely on the GoPro unit attached to the Karma, and the compact controller does not require an iOS or Android device to operate the drone. Top speed of the Karma is 35mph and a maximum distance of around a mile-and-a-half.
The Karma can reach heights of 10,500 feet. This however puts it above the maximum distance of the controller. This is unless the drone is launched from something like a mountain and it can operate in winds up to 22 mph. The size of this drone when folded is 14.4 inches long by 8.5 inches wide by 3.5 inches tall. It also weighs 35.5-ounce. This makes it very easy to transport in something as small as a compact messenger bag.
The Runtime of the Karma is up to 20 minutes with the included battery. The Karma unit, however, has no obstacle avoidance and thus requires a bit more care when operating than some other drones.
The GoPro Karma is listed for $899.
Some other top photography drones equally worthy of mention are:
UDI U842 Predator
The UDI 842 Predator is quite easy to use and is affordable. It has an HD video camera and comes with two 1,000 mAh LiPo batteries that can last for 9 minutes each in flight. It also features gravity induction mode for intuitive hand controls.
This is another top class drone from DJI Technology. It features gestural controls and intelligent flight modes. It also comes with an image capturing and editing software.
DJI Mavic Air
The DJI Mavic Air comes with highly intelligent navigation systems with multidimensional obstacle avoidance, active subject tracking, and high-resolution videography.
This drone can plunge almost 100 feet below the surface to explore the deep undersea world. It also comes with additional features such as a fish finder, a bait drop and an immersive VR experience.
Holy Stone F181W
If you are not yet ready to invest on a premium drone yet, then the Holy Stone F181W is a good place to start. It features 6-axis gyroscopic stabilization to hold it nice and steady while you hone your airborne cinematography skills.
We have featured in this article some of the top photography drones used by photography experts. This will help guide you if you are new to the world of drone photography. You can opt for any of the models featured in this article. Be sure to experience a good time capturing breathtaking images with your drone. It is, however, important to state once again that you should stay away from mass-produced, low-quality drones which are usually cheaper but give less than desired results.
A Photography enthusiastic. I work with a group of other professional photographers to provide you tips on photography