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When you’re looking at investing in a camera drone you will likely quickly become quite blown away by the number of them on the market. So, to make it slightly easier to narrow down your selection, think about what you are actually going to be using it for, and then go from there.
Primary factors to think about
Think in maximum and minimums, what are the extreme situations you will be in? This will help you come up with a base line of what sort of thing you’re looking for and help to narrow the field down.
Price: This is a big one! Of course you are going to want the best bang for your buck, but if you don’t have $100,000 then you aren’t going to be getting a military second prototype, but if you have $1,000 you might be able to get a significant camera upgrade from the $10 toy models. Generally, you will want to buy the best you can for the maximum amount of money you can afford. However, if you’re just looking at something to test out a theory, then go with the cheapest you can find.
Noise: It’s pretty surprising how noisy some quadcopters can be, but if you want to stay undetected with these drones then you need to think about noise. This doesn’t just apply to paparazzi photographers or international spies, think about taking real estate photographs in a residential area, the last thing you want is to have the cops pull up because all the neighbors are complaining. If you’re more thinking along the lines of nature photography or camera work, then noise levels will be important because you aren’t going to be getting those amazing National Geographic shots if you’re scaring away all the wildlife.
Maneuverability: If you have ever seen an experienced drone piolet, they make it look as easy as breathing, however the first time you try to fly one yourself you’ll probably find it about as easy as breathing underwater. Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve, but some are definitely easier to use than others.
Size: Drones can range in size from tiny things that are about the size and weight of your average smart phone, right up to super-sized machined that can be used in airstrikes by the military. While you probably aren’t going to be doing any military action with your drone, you will want to make sure that you are investing in something that is large enough to fly the heights that you need it do, and remain stable while carrying your camera. But you’ll also want something that is small enough to be easily transportable. You are using it to take pictures not to deliver pizza.
Flying time/ Battery Life: Most have a flying time of around 10 minutes, so you will need to decide if this is enough for you. If you are wanting to fly for longer then you will either need to focus on finding an option that will do this. Commercial drones, although pricier, will generally last for around 30 minutes in the air. https://www.mdpi.com/2504-446X/2/4/38/htm
Then you’re looking at military grade, and here you can get hours and hours, but you’re looking at something with a wingspan of at least 8metres and a price tag of over a million dollars. Also look into how long it takes to recharge. Being able to fly for 10minutes might be fine for your needs if you can get a full recharge quickly or swap the battery out.
Load: What will it be carrying? If it comes with a camera that you like, then awesome! But if you’re a pro photog then you’ll probably want to upgrade the camera, so make sure that you are looking at a drone or quadcopter than will be able to carry the weight. Your insurance may not payout on your camera gear if you are trying to attach something to a machine that won’t handle the weight.
Wanting To Go Undetected?
When you’re looking at investing in a drone so that you can film undetected you may want to have a look at local legislation about the use of Commercial Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in your area (or the area you’re planning on using your UAV. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you get something small enough that you won’t be detected, there is a whole lot of research and development going on by law enforcement and universities to ensure that they are able to stop illegal drone activities (see here). You can probably blame all the annoying twits who got one for Christmas and drove the neighbors nuts for the dramatic increase in research into detecting UAVs rather than the law enforcement agencies realizing that they were also being used for a whole host of illegal activities.
That aside, you will want to get official confirmation about flying zones, any permits required and if there are restrictions on times you can fly. Don’t just trust some dude on the internet, most states and countries have quite clear rules and regulations about this, and they are generally freely available online – just do a search and take the information from the official government or council page. Silent may help you from disturbing your target, but that doesn’t prevent your camera from being confiscated or you getting a fine.
Working With Your Phone
Check out the connectivity! While once you may have had a camera that recorded to an SD drive, now you can get models that will send footage straight to your phone or tablet, or even live stream it.
While this is pretty awesome, you can also use different aps to control your drone and it’s camera, meaning that you don’t necessarily need to do battle with the cumbersome handheld remote control for steering, but you also save battery power by being able to turn your camera on and off as needed, and to only press record when you have something you want to record. This also makes it much easier to take excellent photographs that are just what you want rather than taking stills off video footage.