How to Choose a Drone: Finding the Right Pro Drone for Each Project
Updated: Sep 17, 2019
So you landed a gig doing some drone photography - or maybe you’re just a drone enthusiast, eager to delve into the new hobby and the amazing world of aerial filming. Whatever your motivation might be, you may be wondering, how to choose the best drone for your project?
From my experience, more often than not, clients want to use the Inspire 2, or an Alta with a red weapon and anamorphic lenses, but they don’t always have the budget for them. While they are very professional drones, it is crucial to understand if your end product really needs this type of resolution. If your client needs the highly detailed information, be sure to give them a heads up that they must also be prepared to manage the large amount of recorded data it produces.
So which drone is the best one to buy? You should probably be asking which drone is the best one for the job! Here are some details about some of the best drones on the market.
Phantom 4 pro - This drone is good for work on basic television, network shows, low budget films, websites in 30fps, and real estate videos. It has built-in capabilities for basic photogrammetry and for producing 3D aerial models.
Phantom 4 pro RTK/PPK - This mapping drone produces great data in the 1-3cm range, and it’s perfect for verifying clients’ data with survey teams. Remember to use accurate ground control and to keep the survey within a 100-150 acre range. Don’t fall for the hype that you don’t need GCPs! If you don’t use them, your work can’t be verified or used for true survey support work.
Mavic 2 pro - This drone is similar to the Phantom 4 pro RTK/PPK, but it’s a smarter choice if you’re on the road. For traveling purposes, we also recommend investing in a DJI Smart controller.
Mavic 2 zoom - This drone is fun for creating Instagram auto uploads and parallax movement. The difference between the Mavic 2 pro and the Mavic 2 zoom is that although the zoom is also good for real estate and roof inspections, it’s not something you want to show up with on set (unless you’re using it to practice maneuvers while waiting to use your heavy lift).
Yuneec H520 - This is the perfect photogrammetry, extra safe, construction mapping drone. There are no lock out zones! It has a 21MB sensor, can film in 4K with a minimum of 24/30 fps, it folds up small, and can take a beating.
Matrice 210 RTK - We originally bought this for sub centimeter grade photogrammetry, but we found the results to be severely lacking and at best grossly unreliable. Now we use it for substation models to check power lines. Recently we used it on a movie set for its X5S top mounted camera in an action-killer-rooftop tracking scene. Sadly this is our least used and least favorite drone.
Inspire 2 - There is a reason this is one of the top recommended drones. My attitude is, if you can afford to run this aircraft on every job, you should. Inspire 2 has the best camera and lens flexibility. The X7 camera makes it good for car chases, and serious movie, television, and commercial work. It is especially perfect for international television shows due to the bit rate and ability to record in 4K, 60FPS, and 6K/24. It has the flexibility to record RAW files using lossless compression, multiple codecs, and storage applications. But beware! If you decide to record in full 6K, you will need multiple SSID cards, and the DIT will need enough time to offload the footage.
For anything cinematic or for high grade commercial photography (like billboards and trade show displays) this is the go-to rig. It’s what you can expect for a minimum of a 20k investment. You basically show up and give your clients the best thing out there.
Alta 6/8 - This is the workhorse, the beast of the industry. When combined with the Inspire 2, they become the rig that will win you all the jobs in the movie industry. This rig will fly pretty much anything you can throw at it, though in order to fully take advantage of its super precise and stable platform, it really requires dual-operators.
Once you scored the gig you have to prepare yourself. In addition to the set up, you need to take into account the power usage, iris and focus pulling, camera functions, and knowing the shots themselves. My advice is for you to do yourself a favor and get your setup finished prior to your arrival on set. Advanced preparation will allow you to be the least disruptive on location and maintain a small footprint, something the crew will surely appreciate!
FireflyPPK / WingtraOne PPK Fixed-wing- When the call comes in from a survey group about collecting hyper-accurate aerial data, you want to show up with a sensor that can deliver something better than .9 GSD at 400 feet. You will want an aircraft that can handle high winds, and is able to cover 300 acres per flight at a minimum of 75/75 overlap while still using terrain following telemetry. For this reason, we have two birds in the fleet: the Firefly (a VTOL forward flight position aircraft), and the VTOL vertical takeoff aircraft. Both of them are easy to use, reliable, deliver amazing data thanks to their sensors, and neither involve belly landing.
When you reach this price point, you need to master ground control, know how to operate outside a corrections network, and have great survey support to help with your coordinate systems. Your RINEX data must be checked, verified, and rechecked. These are big boy tools, and they are only as good as the operator and the ground control.
As you can see, in order to run a successful firm, it’s best not to try to shoehorn your client’s deliverables into one rig. You need to find the best drone for each job, while making it as easy as possible on the operator. You need to strike the right balance so that you can deliver consistent scalable results every time, at every location.
This is why it’s essential to ask those hard, upfront questions. The Project Architect (PA) or client will likely get frustrated with you, they are only interested in the price. My advice to you is to keep digging until the client or PA put you in touch with the person who really knows what the job at hand entails. That person, the real decision-maker, will respect your detailed approach, and therefore trust you and your equipment.
These drones can do so much, and we’ve only touched on the basics here.