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Gear & Apps

Things to Consider If You’re Thinking of Getting a UAV [Drone]

By Guest Contributor on May 18th 2015

Some of the most spectacular video photography you will ever see is now being done by small cameras mounted onto drones. Thanks to advances in technology, both the quality and cost of equipment is now affordable for amateurs who are looking to be on the cutting edge of a whole different kind of photography, including video.

Those who are new to drone photography and video should do a little research before rushing out to purchase the required equipment. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (or UAVs, aka drones) are generally sold in hobby and specialty stores and many times the clerk behind the counter will be quick to make their commission and sell you whatever is on the shelf.

GoPro Cameras – Pros and Cons

The first consideration is the camera itself. It needs to be small and light, at least for the low-end drones. There are professional grade drones that can carry larger and heavier equipment, but the cost is prohibitive. Therefore, until there are competitive alternatives, virtually everyone is using the GoPro camera. You will also find that drone manufacturers will design their flying machine to specifically hold and mount the GoPro camera.

GoPro cameras are designed to be versatile and mount to just about anything. There have even been a few videos floating around the internet where the GoPro camera was mounted onto falcons and other large, trained birds. These videos are quite stunning and show the possibilities if you use just a little imagination.

[REWIND: MOVE OVER DRONES, HERE’S A REAL BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF LONDON…SHOT BY A WHITE-TAILED EAGLE]

It’s hard to go wrong with the GoPro as it about the only camera available and has been proven over and over to deliver. There are many videos you can search for in order to see what they can produce.

The camera may be easy, but when it comes to the drone, there are many different choices and features that need to be considered.

First of all, even though many drones are built with the ability to mount a GoPro camera, you will still want to make sure the camera can be mounted onto the chassis. Also, is it powerful enough? Just because it can hold and carry a camera, will it be strong enough to handle the load adequately?

Don’t Ignore Drone Battery Life

One thing some store clerks won’t tell you is the life of the battery on the drone. They might be more interested in the quick sale and by selling you a unit that seems to be a bargain price, you may find the drone you purchased to be a lot less than you bargained for. There are drones on the market that will perform just fine but with the camera mounted, the battery may have a charge that will only last for seven minutes, give or take. The price difference for the next model up may not be that much more but well worth the extra cost if you’ll find a drone where the battery lasts a good 25 minutes.

What good is a drone if you have to wait an hour to recharge the battery for a seven-minute flight? You could purchase extra batteries, but then you’re spending the same money for the model with the 25-minute battery.

How About the Gimbal?

Another option is the gimbal. A gimbal is an attachment where you can control the direction of the camera. The camera is mounted on the gimbal which allows the camera to be rotated in various directions. You don’t have to purchase a gimbal, but then the camera will be attached directly to the drone. If you want to pan left or right, you will need to move the drone. A gimbal will allow the drone to fly in a stationary position yet you’ll be able to control what the camera is looking at.

The controller which flies the drone also has various capabilities depending on which unit you purchase. Drones can be purchased with or without the controller, but the vendors will usually include a lower end controller so the customer can have a complete kit.

A controller will have several channels for different functions, but you need to make sure the controller will be adequate for your needs. If you use a gimbal, the controller will need extra channels for that. You may want channels to be used for monitoring your video.

If you purchase a basic drone unit, you will not be able to see what you’re capturing. Since most cameras used on drones have more of a wide angle view, it may not be that important to see what the camera sees while flying. If the camera has WiFi features, you will have the option to use a digital viewing device to connect and watch the video in real time.

The problem with WiFi is the range. If the drone is too far away, you will not be able to maintain the connection. Therefore, you may want to purchase a drone that transmits a signal so you can see the video in real time. Viewing options can vary, but then you will need to purchase the additional equipment that will give you in-flight video viewing. The controller will need channels for this so be sure your controller will have enough channels for all the functions you require.

Go Safe

The last thing to be aware of when making a drone purchase is safety. You will want to avoid injury to you or others, and you will not want to damage your equipment. Some people suggest purchasing an inexpensive unit so you can practice flying. A rogue breeze can send the unit careening into the ground, a wall, or another person. It may be a relatively calm day but once the drone is above the trees there may be a strong breeze that you’re not aware of. If you practice flying, you will have a better feel of conditions before flying your more expensive equipment.

It would be a good idea to wear safety glasses when flying your drone, especially if it’s within close proximity to you. If it suddenly angles off, the propellers may cause some cuts or worse. I saw one instance where someone was practicing with a small drone inside their home when it careened out of control and skimmed along the face of their big screen TV. The propellers left a scratch along the screen which, of course, was not a good thing.

Read, Set, Drone!

Those are the fundamentals of things to consider when purchasing a drone for photography and video. You’re going to want a camera that is small and light enough for the consumer and hobbyist grade drone models. Make sure the drone has enough power to handle the equipment and add-ons and that the battery will last long enough for your needs. The controller will need enough channels for add-ons such as a gimbal and options for watching the video in real time. Lastly, be safe! Practice flying before getting too brave. It may be tempting to run to the beach to get some of those fantastic surf scenes, but you don’t want to be swimming out to retrieve the unit and hoping the darn thing will float. Be careful when flying indoors and at least wear eye protection.

About the Guest Contributor

Kevin Thomas has over 30 years of experience as a professional photographer and freelance artist and writer. He is currently an exclusive contributor to Dreamstime Stock Photos. You can learn more about Kevin and view his portfolio by visiting his professional profile here: http://www.dreamstime.com/wisconsinart_info.

If you’re interested in becoming a guest contributor, contact us!

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Michael Giordano

    Just bought a Phantom 3 Pro and I love it. Video and still image quality are amazing. I’ve always had a fascination with rc planes and helicopters, as the local RC Club uses my dad’s field. I bought Phoenix simulator software two years ago (before I ever thought about buying a drone) and it was a great decision. It allowed me to practice and get a feel for flying all types of aircraft without having to worry about damaging anything. Plus you can fly continuously without having to refuel or recharge. The Phantom 3 is super easy to fly, but I would never recommend flying it without practicing first. If you are going to put the money into buying a drone then do yourself a favor and get something to practice with like the article said, whether it be software or a mini quadcopter to fly indoors. Also, if you get confronted by law enforcement or a park official please be polite and respectful. A few dumb apples ruin it for everyone.

    Some sample stuff:

    Panorama I took with the Phantom: https://www.flickr.com/photos/99924526@N05/16959507103/in/dateposted-public/

    Practice Video I made with the Phantom: https://vimeo.com/127566907

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  2. Graham Curran

    I’m wary of buying one because there are so many restrictions on where you can fly them and they seem to be increasing.

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    • Dustin Baugh

      That is a huge drawback.
      Although I’ve also been on the receiving end where you’re enjoying an event and then hear that horribly annoying buzzing sound of somebody with a drone. They always have some cool music playing in the videos but the reality is all the spectators below are having their Jazz concert disturbed by a horribly annoying RC toy.

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  3. Tom Johnson

    Just dont fly it over the Whitehouse lol

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    • Dave Haynie

      Actually, some of the better drones — even some in the mid-price range — have built-in GPS with a no-fly library. So you literally can’t fly it over the Whitehouse. They also can do cool GPS tricks, like hold position or return-to-home if the signal is lost.

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  4. Barry Cunningham

    A few specific product names and links to product reviews of specific drone models would have been nice.

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  5. Brandon Dewey

    great article

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