Running a successful drone business is exciting and can be very lucrative as well. But, like any business you need a solid plan, marketing strategy and pricing structure. But most importantly you need reliable professional drones and equipment that you can depend on getting the job done.
Before we start, let me tell you how I lost over 50+ K in the drone business
I have always been the type to buy the best of the best. This works well for me some of the time, and other times it ends up becoming a very hurtful experience. When I started my first aerial photography business 6 years ago there were limited aerial systems available. Many required you to buy the airframe and parts then build, program, tune and test after the fact. This was a great way to learn all the systems and mechanics of my drones, however the parts were mostly sourced from the hobby industry. The systems were flaky and unreliable, with failed motors, exploding props and yes, even a few fly-aways.
Frustrated, I figured it would make more sense to purchase a commercial drone system that was turn-key and ready to fly. At the time this was Droidworx, Cinestar, SkyJib, DragonFly etc. All costing a wallet crushing $15-20K and thats just to get in the air. Now I won’t say which professional drones I purchased but I can tell you I ended up will a pile of crashed useless parts unable to keep up with the increase in business.
After counting my losses I took a break, turning down new clients and sending them to my competitors while a devised a new plan. Going forward a few years, the drone manufacturing industry had started to revolutionize and new turn-key systems were popping up fast and furious. After some research I decided to get back on the wagon and pick up another “premium high priced professional system”
You guessed right, another in air-failure costing me another $25K!
Ok you must be thinking I am a terrible pilot! Well admittedly I wasn’t a superstar on the sticks but I can also assure you I am very attentive and competent. We always did pre-flight checks, had spotters, did a RF quality test, and a 10 min hover test before each project. They were just freak incidents (equipment failures) that resulted in total loss.
The moral of the story is bigger, premium, more powerful, more expensive systems are not necessarily better
So I learned the hard way spending tons of hard earned cash, running the business into the ground, constantly repairing equipment and turning down customers. The one takeaway is more expensive professional drones are not always better. And in the world of aerial photography this holds very true. The key is to find a aerial system that is reliable but also cost effective. Don’t just buy with the “because it’s really expensive it must be really good” mentality. Purchase a system that will complete the project objective and nothing more. Had I purchased 2 smaller drones at the fraction of my 25K investment I would be well ahead of the game and with a back-up system to boot (which I highly recommend if you are doing client work).
So where is the sweet spot and what is the smartest system to buy this year
Times have changed and now we have access to amazing drones at very affordable prices. Yes you can still buy “premium systems costing $10-$100K. But, like I suggested, purchase a system and sensor that will complete the task at hand and don’t get pulled into big-ticket marketing hype.
You will first need to decide what your drone will be used for? Aerial Photos, Aerial Video, Broadcast Video, Cinema Video, Mapping, Surveying, Agro? Who is your customer and what are their expectations? Do they need basic deliverables for youtube and web use, or are they using the footage for a feature film and or on Billboards? Answering these questions will help you quickly narrow down your system choices and budget.
Lucky for you many products available today offer multi-purpose capability. But to do a particular task well you may want to consider a specialized sensor (HD Camera, Thermal, IR, Zoom, etc.)
Using all our years of combined experience, and field testing, we have devised the top choices that simply rival all other options available today
Not surprisingly, our top pick comes from DJI. Weather you love or hate, they have a very convincing feature set for the the money. As in they offer excellent value (or in business terms, better return on investment). DJI’s latest systems are smaller and more powerful than ever. But which current models are the best for professional use? Well I will tell you right now!
For the ultimate commercial drone, pick the DJI Inspire 2
If you are looking for a drone designed for professionals, the DJI Inspire series may have come up on your radar. DJI made a splash with the original Inspire, which incorporated many groundbreaking features – including an HD video transmission system (with 4K recording capabilities), a full-range rotating gimbal (360 degrees), and simple app control. Now enter the Inspire 2. With many added features to help the commercial user get the job done fast and with accuracy. Now supporting 5K video, 2 pilot control, dual batteries and IMU for increased reliability just to name a few. If you need a great all round drone this is one you should pick up right away!
DJI Inspire 2
The Inspire 2 takes all of these revolutionary features and improves each of them. The first thing you will notice about this drone is the durable shell. It has been masterfully molded from a strong and sleek magnesium aluminum composite material. The drone is also lightweight due to its incorporation of carbon fiber in the arms. Portability is enhanced due to the folding design.
This drone also has a brand-new propulsion system. The setup on this device is capable of flying at speeds of up to 58 miles per hour and can accelerate from zero to 50 in just five seconds. Plus, the controller sticks have been carefully tuned to allow more precise control over difficult maneuvers. It is also ready for extreme conditions, including high altitude and low temperature. To deal with the latter, the device includes new Intelligent Flight Batteries that offer a self-heating function.
The speed of the drone means that it could get pretty far away from you unintentionally. Luckily, you will never lose the drone due to the Smart Return Home function that the device includes. It will use this system to return to the owner along the original route – but will switch to a straight line after it receives a signal. The drone will also use visual cues on the primary camera to identify obstacles so it will not collide with anything.
Overall, the design of the drone is perfect for protecting and supporting the incredible hardware it has on board. For example, the image processing system has been updated in the Inspire 2 to the revolutionary Cinecore 2.1. If equipped with the new X7 camera, this system is capable of capturing 6K – yes, 6K – footage at 30 feet per second and represents some of the most advanced technology available today. This makes it perfect for recording films and is designed for professional use. The burst photography function of the X7 would also be perfect for capturing shots for magazines or collages.
Another aspect that is crucial for those looking to create films with this device is the Inspire 2’s ability to record footage directly into professional post-production formats such as Apple ProRes and CinemaDNG (among other formats). This means that you will be able to import the footage taken from the device directly into your editing software without relying on a conversion or any additional software. Also coming soon is FAT32/exFAT file support which will allow the files to be copied directly from the CINESSD on the device.
As far as actual filming goes, the Spotlight Pro mode is another feature worth taking a closer look at. This powerful system uses state-of-the-art visual tracking algorithms, allowing people who are solo pilots to capture incredible images and footage that would usually require a dedicated camera operator. The drone can lock on to a subject and will maintain that subject in the center of the frame. This means that you can fly the drone in ways that could replace the traditional camera operator used in cinematic filming. The Inspire 2 is a glimpse at how many films will likely be created in the future.
Other important features include real-time 1080p video transmission at an incredible distance of 4.3 miles with two available transmission frequencies. This means that it is suitable for use in live television applications. The Inspire 2 is also incredibly reliable and offers professional users a great drone experience for a very fair price.
DJI PHANTOM 4 PRO
16 used from $872.77
- Camera with 1-inch 20MP sensor the onboard camera has been redesigned to use a 1-inch Megapixel CMOS sensor.
- Five-directions of obstacle sensing. Please refer the Instructional Video and the User Manual before use.
- More powerful video processing supports H.264 4K videos at 60fps or H.265 4K at 30fps, both with a 100Mbps bitrate
- Note: Refer the Instructional Video and the User Manual before use which is highly recommended.
DJI is among the leading manufacturers in the remote-controlled aircraft industry. They have created some great devices for people who may not have a massive budget, but still need a professional-level device for taking photographs and recording films from the air. One such device is the Phantom 4 Pro – a high-end quadcopter equipped with some excellent hardware and software designed for the independent artist.
The Phantom 4 Pro is the best drone in the Phantom line from DJI. When you pick this drone up, the first thing you realize is that it is light. It is only about 3 pounds. However, the lightweight construction doesn’t mean that it lacks durability – it is crafted from strong magnesium and titanium alloys. This means the frame is rigid and durable but still very light. It is also slick and futuristic and looks like a professional-level device.
This drone has a respectable flight time – about 30 minutes – and can reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. It also has its own obstacle avoidance due to the new set of high-resolution vision sensors on the rear of the device (as well as the one on the front). This means that the drone will sense and avoid more obstacles, protecting your investment and allowing you to capture some incredible footage.
From the ground, the Phantom 4 Pro is controlled with a proprietary DJI controller. It includes a 5.5 inch 1080p screen that can display real-time HD transmission from up to 4.3 miles away. It also has the DJI GO app installed directly into the controller’s software. This enables the user to edit footage instantly and even share it on social media. It also has a long battery life of up to five hours.
So, the general features of the Phantom 4 Pro are pretty respectable. The camera function, however, is what makes this device really shine. First off, it includes a redesigned camera that now uses a 20-megapixel CMOS sensor. It also has a custom-engineered lens that is composed of seven groups (made up of eight elements). Interestingly, this device also makes use of a mechanical shutter. This means the footage will not display the rolling shutter distortion that occurs when flying quickly or filming fast-moving subjects.
The video processing system on this device complements the camera and is capable of producing 4K footage at up to 60 frames per second. It also can create burst photographs at up to 14fps. These pictures and films will also be crystal clear and highly-detailed due to the incorporation of some of the most advanced processors and sensors available on the market today. Post-production will be a breeze if you film with the Phantom 4 Pro – and the photographs will come out looking incredible.
Of course, the actual flight patterns of the device are also worth talking about. For example, the Phantom 4 Pro includes several intelligent flight modes. First off, Gesture Mode allows you to capture selfies using gestures through the onboard advanced vision technologies. You just hold out your arms and a three second countdown will begin.
As far as actual flying goes, you can use the Draw technology to plot a route on the screen. The drone will follow this route without changing altitude (giving you the ability to create better shots due to having increased camera control). ActiveTrack can follow subjects as they move, and the Phantom 4 Pro can even follow some fast-moving subjects – an unusual ability for a drone. Overall, this drone is a perfect pick for anyone who needs to create amazing films without spending a fortune.
DJI MAVIC PLATINUM
13 used from $884.42
- What's in this combo:MAVIC PRO Platinum Original Package+2 Extra batteries+2 Extra propellers+2 charging hub+1 car charger+1 battery to power bank adaptor+1 shoulder bag
- The DJI Mavic Pro folds down as small as a bottle of water, making it small enough to bring with you everywhere.New OcuSync transmission system offers up to 4.3 miles (7km) of transmission range.
- Fly at up to 40mph (64kmh) or for as long as 27-minutes.True 4K, fully stabilized ensures smooth footageActiveTrack, TapFly and other smart features make professional looking video effortless.
If you are looking for a portable drone that does not sacrifice quality, DJI has yet another option for you – the Mavic Pro Platinum. This device, first off, looks great. It has definitely improved upon the original Mavic Pro with the sleek design that lives up to the ‘Platinum’ tag it has been bestowed. It has also made a couple of other improvements over the old Mavic Pro, such as 60% reduced noise production and an extended 30-minute flight time.
These great new features build on the reliable platform that was already offered by the Mavic Pro. The Platinum version retains the state-of-the-art footage capturing and flying abilities that made the original version of the Mavic Pro stand out from other drones. This device helps amateur and professional videographers alike capture some of the most unique footage out there today.
The Mavic Pro Platinum has a long flight time and runs pretty quiet. However, it does not sacrifice any performance and is still capable of flying at up to 40 miles per hour (when put into Sport Mode). It also boasts intelligent flight modes that help people create the footage they need. For example, ActiveTrack will follow a subject automatically. Gesture Mode allows gesture-based selfies to take snapshots. Even indoor shots are a breeze due to Tripod Mode – which slows the Mavic Pro Platinum down to make every shot as precise as possible.
Also worth mentioning is the Mavic Pro Platinum’s FlightAutonomy technology. This high-end technology makes use of 5 cameras, dual-satellite positioning, redundant sensors, two ultrasonic range finders, and a 24-core computing system to ensure that it will not collide with any obstacles. It can also hover at precise altitudes and will not stray from where you want it to be – meaning you can get the shot you need without expending too much effort.
Of course, all of these features would be somewhat pointless if they weren’t backed up by one of the best cameras on the scene today. It is capable of recording 4k footage at 30fps, can create 12-megapixel photos, and can even live-stream 1080p video at 96fps. Another interesting feature of this particular camera is that it does not make use of Electronic Image Stabilization. Instead, it uses the smallest 3-axis gimbal that DJI has ever produced to ensure smooth and stable footage. There are low-noise brushless motors on each of the axes that mitigate any vibrations caused by the Mavic Pro Platinum.
The drone is controlled with one of two included controllers (each of which have a video screen). This means that one person can be manning a camera while the other flies. On the other hand, due to the master-slave setup, the master controller could also be used to override a less-experienced pilot in the event that they may cause a collision. Whether you use it for training or video production, you will find this system to be convenient and powerful.
Another convenient feature from the Mavic Pro Platinum is the ability to control it by phone. You can use the DJI Go app to use the intelligent flight modes (TapFly, Spotlight, Profile, and Trace) but you can also exact manual control via the Virtual Joysticks. Another benefit of using the app is that you are able to edit and share the footage you have captured instantaneously. With some set-up, it is even possible to livestream footage from this drone via the Internet. If you are in the market for a reliable and high-quality portable drone, look no further than the Mavic Pro Platinum.
DJI MAVIC AIR
- The ultraportable Mavic Air features high-end flight performance and functionality for limitless exploration.
- The portable Mavic Air houses a 3-axis mechanical gimbal with an angular vibration range reduced to 0.005° and is equipped with dampeners that help ensure steady shooting
- The Mavic Air can shoot 4K video at 30 fps and record footage at 100 Mb/s
- The Mavic Air's onboard camera integrates a 1/2.3" 12MP CMOS sensor and an f/2.8 lens with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 24mm to shoot high-quality photos and videos
The best ultraportable drone out there today is the DJI Mavic Air. Not only does it have some of the best performance for a drone of its size, but when it is folded up it is only about the size of a smartphone. It also incorporates magnesium alloy to ensure that it is a lightweight machine. In addition, heat is dissipated efficiently through the rear vents and the camera is recessed for ultimate protection. The Mavic Air is an incredible device that represents where we can expect drone technology to head in the future.
Even though this drone is very small, the Mavic Air can still shoot 4K footage at up to 30fps. In addition, it can also shoot 1080p in 120fps to create some of the most epic slow-motion footage ever to come out of a device of this size. As far as photography goes, it uses an intelligent HDR algorithm to automatically adjust the exposure settings on the camera. This allows much better looking and more realistic frames to be captured by this device.
The Mavic Air also boasts a surprising amount of internal storage at 8 gigabytes. However, it also has a Micro SD card slot so you can record up to 512GB of data. This means that you will not run out of space for recording pristine footage and capturing groundbreaking images with this incredibly portable yet powerful device from DJI.
The Mavic Air is perfect for anyone of any skill level, as well, due to the intelligent flight modes that have been included in the software of this device. For example, ActiveTrack mode can follow a single subject flawlessly, can sense up to 16 subjects simultaneously, and is capable of changing targets during flight. It is also very precise, meaning that you can efficiently film people who are moving at high speeds such as sports professionals.
Another cool feature that the Mavic Air boasts is the QuickShots mode. This includes six different modes – Boomerang, Rocket, Asteroid, Dronie, Helix, and Circle – to create some of the most epic photos and videos possible with this type of technology. Plus, it can be instantly shared due to the social media integration that the DJI Go 4 app includes.
Intuitive features are the norm on a device from DJI. One of the best incorporated into the Mavic Air is the SmartCapture mode. This is a way of controlling the device entirely with gestures. It can be launched, controlled, and commanded without laying a finger on a phone or a controller – making it a breeze to take great photos and videos.
Alongside these great intelligent flight modes is a variety of safety features that enable the Mavic Air to protect itself in-flight. The system, called FlightAutonomy 2.0, includes three-directional dual-vision sensors, an infrared sensing system, and a primary camera that make use of a group of computing cores to ensure that the device does not collide with any objects or the ground. It will actively avoid obstacles, meaning that you can take some of the most amazing shots you have ever created without worrying about crashing your new Mavic Air.
The device also has a respectable flight time of about 21 minutes with some Intelligent Flight Batteries that make use of power only when it is needed. It can hit speeds of up to 42 miles per hour. It is compatible with DJI VR goggles for first-person flight view. In addition, it can transmit life 720p footage via the enhanced wi-fi connection from about 2.5 miles away. The Mavic Air is one of the best personal devices you can attain in the modern drone market.
YUNEEC TYPHOON H
- The Typhoon H Pro with Intel RealSense Technology, winner of the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show
Some of the most advanced drone designs have come from Yuneec. The Typhoon H, for example, is among the most revolutionary platforms available in a compact size. It also breaks the boundaries of the traditional quadcopter – opening the user up to a vast range of possibilities that would not have been available before the introduction of this drone.
The most obvious thing about the Typhoon H is that it is a hexacopter design. This six-blade design means that this drone will be much more agile and receptive than a similar, four-bladed device. It also has a lightweight and durable design that boasts a decent flight time of about 25 minutes. These features alone bring the Typhoon H above comparable quadcopters – plus, it looks awesome and will easily stand out from other drones.
When you first get the Typhoon H, you will find the installation process is a breeze due to the quick-release buttons that have been incorporated in the propeller mounts. This means that they are easy to pop on and off when you need to store the device. It also has a retractable landing gear that avoids obstructing the camera. This, alongside the foldable arms, means that this Yuneec drone is convenient and compact – making it easy to store and travel with.
As great as the design of the drone is, it is also quite functional for capturing footage due to the perfect camera set up. First off, it is capable of creating 4k Ultra High Definition video and 12-megapixel stills. It is mounted on a 3-axis gimbal that incorporates an anti-vibration design, ensuring that the footage produced will not be affected by the motion of the Typhoon H.
The device is controlled with the ST16 Ground Station. This all-in-one transmitter, receiver, and platform (which makes use of Android firmware) gives you unprecedented control over the drone. It can easily be commanded to perform autonomously – even capturing videos and photos without further instruction. The controller also has a 7-inch integrated screen that displays real-time footage. This means there is no need for any additional devices or smartphones.
Yuneec’s Typhoon H is also capable of video transmission in HD 720p from a respectable range of about a mile. It makes use of on on-board integrated downlink that can be paired with other devices. This means it is possible to use the Typhoon H as a live-broadcast device if that is the application you desire to use it in.
Another important feature to mention is the Wizard. This device has a great name but even better features. It is a secondary flight controller that has its own GPS beacon. This makes it great to use as a homing device so that the camera operator is able to focus on creating the video and stills that the Typhoon H is best known for.
A boon to videographers, the Typhoon H’s intelligent flight modes also help to create some of the best footage possible today. For example, the Orbit Me mode flies a circular path around the user while maintaining the subject in the center of the frame. The Journey mode involves the drone flying far away (up to 150 feet) to capture an amazing selfie from the air. Another mode called Curve Cable Cam allows the Typhoon H to fly along a custom route while controlling the camera’s position independently.
You will never need to worry about losing your drone, either, due to the Return to Home feature. It will fly back along the path it set out on, and will end up landing within 26 feet of the controller’s current position. The Yuneec Typhoon H is great for all applications – personal and professional.
YUNEEC TORNADO H920
- Aerial Shooting with Panasonic GH4
- Carbon Fiber Frame
- Retractable Landing Gear
- ST24 Transmitter with 7" Android Device
This multirotor drone was designed with one thing in mind: professional use. It is one of the prime platforms for aerial photography and videography. In addition, it incorporates a modular design that makes it easy to adjust for any particular usage. There are several other features worth mentioning that prove that Yuneec is one of the most innovative drone manufacturers on the market today.
The Tornado H920 Plus follows in the footsteps of other offerings from this manufacturer as far as practicality goes. For example, you will find it incredibly easy to install the propellers due to their quick-release design. Though it only takes a quarter turn to attach these carbon propellers (and only a button-press to release them) they will never come off during flight – a testament to Yuneec’s great engineering department. Also worth mentioning are the foldable arms and retractable landing gear; these features allow the device to be easily transported and stored.
Yuneec’s Tornado H920 Plus hexacopter boasts a solid main platform. Where it really shines, however, is its ability to create some of the most stunning professional aerial footage possible in this day and age. The device is capable of 3x zoom, can record in distortion-free 4K, and will even capture photographs at an astonishing 16 megapixels. This means that this device is suitable for many applications – including professional and commercial use.
This hexacopter also incorporates some state-of-the-art technology that has not yet been seen on other devices from Yuneec. For example, it is now possible to program your own custom waypoints using in-built Google Maps and Amal integration. You are able to program these in on the ST16 controller (the same one used by the Typhoon H). Departure points can be defined, heights can be set, flyby sequences can be programmed, and the device can even take photographs or film automatically – with no additional user input.
Another cool feature that this device boasts is a ProAction ground handle. This handle, compatible with the 3-axis anti-vibration gimbal, has dual grips – enabling the user to shoot stable video in even the most extreme circumstances. This is a great accessory to use with the drone – especially if you are considering picking up a Tornado H920 for professional use.
As far as the flight of this Yuneec drone goes, it does boast some intelligent modes. It, for example, can use the Point of Interest mode to autonomously orbit a subject that you choose directly on the ST16 controller. Another cool mode is the Watch Me mode. It’s like a traditional follow mode, but it doesn’t actually move the drone. Instead, it maintains a steady position and height to film the subject you have selected (or you).
Yuneec drones generally offer a Return Home mode, and this device is no exception. It will make use of the on-board positioning software to determine where the controller is. It will then travel to the last known location of the controller and will land within 26 feet of the user. This is an essential feature for anyone who wishes to ensure that they do not lose their drone.
The Yuneec Tornado H920 is a great device for pretty much any application. It has a very respectable camera and layout that will produce some top-end footage and photographs. The drone is also durable and well-designed. Alongside the use of the ground handle, it should be easy for any user to express their creativity in a distinctly aerial manner.
DJI’s status as a top drone manufacturer is only solidified with the introduction of the DJI Matrice 200. This high-performance machine is designed for use by the most seasoned teams in some of the most hardcore environments. It is purpose-built for use in strong winds, inclement weather, and even sub-zero temperatures. No environmental problem will be too intense for the DJI Matrice 200 to handle.
The first thing you’ll notice about the DJI Matrice 200 is that the propeller blades are huge. They are, in fact, 17 inches apiece. This is necessary for cutting through strong winds – something that this drone excels at. They are also incredibly easy to install due to the snap-on installation procedure. The drone also folds up just as easily for storage in the included heavy-duty ABS case.
The enclosed, weatherproofed design is also crucial for the operation of this device in less-than-ideal environments. However, the Matrice 200 has no problem handling it – so they must have done something right. In fact, the body has been awarded IP43 ingress protection (a very respectable waterproofing rating).
The M200 has a great flight range and time of about 4 miles and around 38 minutes. This, combined with its perfect construction, makes it suitable for a variety of uses. For example, the onboard visual and thermal camera could be used to carry out search and rescue missions. It will also relay the position of the device constantly in order to make rescues quick, safe, and efficient.
Another potential use of the M200 is for inspecting hard-to-reach places, such as bridges and power lines. This means that an engineer will not be required to ascend or descend in a dangerous fashion to check on different parts of these pieces of infrastructure. Instead, time – and potentially life – can be preserved by making use of this drone. It also has a top-mounted gimbal which makes it quite easy to view such places regardless of angle.
Also worth mentioning regarding this device is the ActiveTrack mode. This means moving subjects can be kept within the frame – perfect for tracking missing people, animals in a wildlife park, or even slow-moving vehicles whilst relaying their positions to the controller. Point of Interest mode is also worth mentioning. This enables the M200 to circle a selected point, capturing data and footage while rotating around this area.
The M200 will never crash, either, due to the incorporated FlightAutonomy system. It has sensors on the top, bottom, and front to detect obstacles (which it will then avoid). It also uses visual cues and GPS to enable precision hovering. This means that it will not change its altitude or position unless you ask it to – which is crucial for some of the more important applications of the device.
Also important to mention is the Lightbridge transmission system that the M200 uses. This state-of-the-art system means that you will experience little latency when using the controls – and even helps transmit incredibly low-latency live HD feeds while the drone is in-flight. When paired with the DJI Go 4 or DJI Pilot app, it can even be shared, edited, and uploaded during drone operation.
The M200 is a drone that has been designed for exclusively professional use. Though it carries a considerable price-tag, it would be worth a buy for anyone who needs to use this drone in a serious application. Whether you are creating a documentary, searching for a missing person, or even conducting a visual inspection on a crucial piece of infrastructure, the M200 would be a great tool to use.