Excitement generated by the increasingly public availability of drones has led pilots to become interested in photography, and photographers to become interested in aviation. The skills and experiences of pilots and photographers aren’t always consistent, so we will do our best to help bring them together. If you are a seasoned photographer, this stuff is old-hat. In this post, we hope to help those pilots who want to get started in this exciting industry, but don’t know where to begin.
The miniaturization of high-resolution cameras and the advent of smaller, more powerful lithium-ion batteries has allowed the imagination of the videographer to take flight. Today, camera-equipped drones can capture images with amazing clarity during drone flights lasting 20 minutes and more.
If you’re just getting started with drones and you want to use a camera with one, it is important to understand a few of the basic variables when looking at the best camera to use with the drone. Although it is possible to add a camera like a GoPro to a non-camera drone, most drones come with built-in camera systems.
Today, the same technology that allows you to capture amazing high-resolution videos and still images on your smartphone makes attaching lightweight cameras on drones possible.
Drone cameras capture video at varying resolutions. Here are the three most common:
Image Capture Rate
Some drone cameras will shoot at 30 frames per second (fps) while others will shoot at 60 fps. Users interested in occasional slow-motion playback will want to consider more frames-per-second to maintain image quality.
Other Camera-related Considerations
The camera is just one part of an overall drone system, and to make the best purchasing decision it is important to consider how all the variables work together in relation to your specific needs and desires. For example, some cameras will only capture a maximum of 64 GB on a memory card. Here are some other key considerations:
Early drone cameras captured video exclusively on an SD card, and you downloaded the images at the end of the flight. Many newer drones, including the DJI Phantom 4, feature a combination of high-definition video and live streaming. That is, the video will stream to your smartphone as it is being captured. This real-time or almost real-time imaging offers increased flexibility. Some systems will live stream from as far as four miles away.
For the ultimate in shooting flexibility, look for a drone featuring a camera mounted on a 360-degree gimbal. This allows you to rotate the camera in any direction you want when the drone is in flight.
Some drones offer only half the capacity of others in terms of flight time. For example, a value-priced drone may operate off of a lithium-ion battery which offers perhaps 7-10 minutes of flight time. On the other hand, if you want to keep your drone aloft for as long as 20 to 25 minutes or more, a more elaborate system with greater battery power is important. For extended operation, an investment in multiple batteries is ideal, so it is wise to consider the cost of extra batteries.
Again, it’s a matter of matching your needs to the right drone. Major manufacturers like DJI and Parrot offer a series of models which allow one to match camera capabilities to your needs.
More Capability, Not Less
Aerial photography via drone opens up a new and exciting world for the uninitiated. As a result it is more likely than not that the purchaser will possibly find many more uses for the drone and its imaging system than was initially anticipated. Therefore, it is often wise to invest in a higher-resolution camera, more battery power and more range than you might initially think you need.
The other option is to simply get into imaging via drawing with an entry-level system with plans to use it as a backup or to replace it once you have a greater a better idea of just how far you want to take video capture via drawing.