The Best Drone Aerial Photography

I spend a lot of time on YouTube with music playing in the background while I am working or writing and the long mixes that I play often have the most spectacular video footage of some really exotic places. Working in the offshore renewable sector, I was recently offshore with a colleague who had a pretty fancy drone with him.

It was amazing the features that are available from movement patterns to video quality etc. It was just amazing how far drone photography has come in such a short span of time. I was interested and thought wow this would be an amazing product to try out on my next holiday and might become a suitable addition to my holiday photography. However, after some investigation I found that this specific drone was over $650 and I must admit that I am not willing to invest that sort of cash into something that I might lose interest in shortly after I have bought it.

So I did some investigation as to what I should be looking at when buying a drone to take on holiday with me and what cheaper alternatives there are to experiment with before investing in an expensive unit.

Size & Configuration

I have investigated the size topic a little and from my research there are 2 main type of drone configurations namely the mini drone and the larger quadcopter configuration:

Mini Drone

When I go on holiday, there are so many cables and chargers to take with that it was important that the drone be compact enough that I didn’t need to a separate bag with just for the drone. As with anything electronic, the advancements in the drone photography field are staggering with some mini drones fitting into the palm of your hand, while others are the size of a laptop or even larger.

For my purposes I liked the idea of the mini drone to start with as the rotors fold into the unit for protection while also substantially reducing the carrying size. I usually carry just a backpack with me on holiday so the mini drone was really easy to carry with me and just popped it out when I needed it.

Integrated Camera or Action Sports Camera

The difference in the compactness of the drones is largely

Larger Quadcopter with GoPro

based on the integrated camera design. I’m a big fan of this sort of design because it reduces the overall weight and the need for yet again another camera to be packed into the travel bag. There are some drawbacks in that cameras such as the GoPro have often superior picture quality and additional features that some people may need when making videos with specific shots or requirements.

The video feed is stabilized by an on-board gimbal which automatically keeps the video smooth as silk even while the drone is moving from side to side.

In my opinion, the integrated camera is more that sufficient for the beginner like myself as most of the variations offered include the camera quality of HD or higher. As I mentioned above, the main consideration for me was having a compact starter unit with HD capabilities in which case the Mini Drone was a pretty good choice for me.

~~Click Here to Learn More About How Gimbals Work and Improve Picture Quality~~

Mobile Phone or Dedicated Remote

For short range drones that are cheap and more geared for learning and playing with than for holiday footage, a mobile phone can be directly linked via Bluetooth with the controls being located on the touch screen after the app for the device has been downloaded. This requires little or no financial investment in the form of a controller signal extender but as you can imagine, I found the range pretty limiting so this was not really a long term solution to me.

Many of the drone controllers integrate a mobile phone into the controller with the unit itself activating more like a docking station with signal amplifier than a dedicated controller. The great part about this is that the video feed can often be saved right onto the phone allowing the direct uploading onto social media if you are not planning on editing it at all.

The drawback is that this also depletes the battery very quickly. A lot of people use their old mobile phone as a dedicated device, so they are repurposing an old device and keep their main mobile phone for other things. This way they can store a lot more footage on a secondary device.

I didn’t investigate the dedicated remote controller much as this is firstly too much bulky equipment for which I would need another travel organizer for and secondly, these remotes are so high spec, that they are aimed more at the professional drone pilot or those that are competing in drone racing. So for my intent and purposes, this I considered a little overkill.

Batteries – All Things Power

Drone Batteries

Depending on the configuration you have selected regarding the design of the drone, flight time can last typically from 5 to 30 minutes. This is largely dependent on the flight conditions such as wind and altitude as it would do with normal aircraft.

Batteries in drones are constructed using the latest Lithium Ion technology as the Zinc Cadmium batteries of the past do not supply sufficient power for flight to be worthwhile. The mini drone pictured above starts with a standard 3.7V 400mAh lithium-ion which holds enough charge for approx. 8 minutes flight time. While this results in a flight time of about 6 – 7 minutes, recharge time is relatively fast at 60 mins to reach full charge. If you carry 2 or 3 of these batteries in your accessories organizer, this should cover most of the needs for a single short day trip on holiday. I found that choosing a specific shot or angle that I wanted before setting up enabled me to keep the battery packs to a minimum while still giving me enough flight time to string together a pretty good montage from my holiday.

For the larger drones, more power equates to more battery capacity as the weight can be better lifted with the larger rotors. The drone pictured above comes with a standard battery pack 7.4V 2800mAh LiPo. This enables you to achieve up to 22mins of flight time however the downside is that it takes about 5 hours to recharge the battery unit. So if this is the rig you want, then 2 batteries in your travel kit will more than cover your needs.

There are a number of different batteries, qualities and configurations and it is not always essential that you stick with the battery supplied with your drone. There are often upgraded units available which increase flight time and also optimize the recharging process.

~~Click Here to Learn More About Choosing the Right Power Bank~~

Cost Considerations

As with anything in life, you get what you pay for. The drone that I was experimenting with was not that expensive costing little more than $60 and for that price, you cannot expect to be shooting the next Spielberg film with it. The larger drones can be bought for as little as $150 which is a bargain in my book for what you are getting.

You need to start off by making some notes on what you wish to do with the drone, how often you want to use it and a clear essential vs nice-to-have lists. If those are clearly defined, this will enable you to properly price what drone will be best for you on your travels.

My Recommendation

It must be made clear that I am no photographic or motion picture expert. This exercise was literally to experiment with the new technology with the view that if it worked well that I would invest further in better equipment. I did not expect a premium product for my $60 that I invested however I was very surprised at how good the quality was for an entry level product.

The mini drone also taught me about the operation and flying of a drone without the fear of crashing an expensive rig if I made a mistake in the air. The mini drone was awesome size-wise for taking it everywhere with me and the additional batteries were so tiny that it was literally no big deal to take them with. The flight time was a little short but I will be experimenting with upgrades on the batteries as the rest of the rig is perfect for my needs.

So if you’re thinking about a drone for your next holiday, why not give a mini drone a try, it will definitely give you a new angle on your holiday photos. One word of caution though, the legislation governing drones is constantly being revised and you would do well to read up on the local legislation for the location you are travelling to.

If looking to try the mini out, check this one out, I had an awesome time with it and it has got great reviews. Its sold by amazon and comes with 2 batteries standard that gives you 6 – 8 mins flight time per battery and only weight 150g. It has a 62% 5 star rating from 106 reviews and costs less than $65.

Till next time, travel safe and leave me a comment on what you thought of the article, I would love to hear from you.

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2 Responses

  1. Glenys says:

    Thank you for this great review of Drones – The New Holiday Photography Solution.
    I too have been blown away buy how quickly drone technology has exploded. Not only are drones quick and easy to control the camera on different models is well above my expectations. You can get drones taking beautiful pictures of the ocean – as you have mentioned.
    I like the ones that are compatible with a mobile phone. They are generally smaller in size and can travel easily. One issue I have though is one that you mentioned – the battery life of smaller model drones can be as short as 5-15 minutes. This is WAY to short a time frame when you are having fun. I can’t wait for advancements in battery technology to help overcome this common problem.

    • Richard says:

      Hi Glen,

      Thanks very much for your comment. Camera technological developments related to size and quality have enabled drones to become more compact and accessible to the general public. The flight times I have listed being 5 – 15 mins are largely affected by altitude, weather conditions and flight characteristics. 

      Some drones have a high power function that increases the speed and responsiveness of the drone but has the drawback of reducing the battery endurance substantially. If there is a lot of wind, this will result in the drones rotors having to work harder to keep it stable or in a certain position. 

      As with mobile phones, I can totally agree with you in that I hope the tech companies are investing into longer endurance batteries to give better flight times however for the price you paying for entry level drones, this is a great starter kit for beginners. 

      Thanks again for your comment.

      Rich

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