The Indie Filmmaker’s Guide to Buying A Camera Drone

These days you can’t go into any electronics store without the temptation to buy some sort of camera drone. This makes sense. Using a drone can be a great way to raise the production value of your film. But if you’re like most filmmakers, you probably feel overwhelmed by all the choices available.

In an effort to help you narrow down your choices a bit more, we put together the following guide.

Please note, in full disclosure the following article on camera drones (and this entire site) contains affiliate links. That means we get paid to recommend products and services. 

The other thing to be aware of are local flying rules and regulations. Here in the United States, depending on the weight of your drone and the size of your production, you will want to research the FAA website, specifically as it relates Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107).

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The Indie Filmmaker’s Guide to Buying A Camera Drone

When it comes to buying a drone, it is important to note that some models are are meant for stunt flying, others for racing and others (like the examples we’ll be showcasing in this article) are made for photography and film production. There are several factors to look for when buying a drone. Here are the top features to consider:

1. Range: The distance your drone can fly without losing connection to the controller.
2. Battery Life: How long can you operate the drone? The battery life of most camera drones spans from a few minutes to much, much longer. (Regardless of which model you choose, always grab an extra battery if you can swing it. This allows you to land the drone, swap out the battery and keep on filming.)
3. Controller Type: With most drones, you will either control the operation with a hardware controller or through an app on your phone or tablet. A good controller will put you in a position where you can see what your camera is capturing.
4. Camera Specs: Not all cameras are created equal. So when it comes to investing in a camera drone, you will obviously want to consider the capabilities of the camera.
5. Extras: In addition to the camera and flight time, some drones have additional features that will add value to your production.

The following guide to buying camera drone will provide you with an overview of the main features. Choosing the “best” model is entirely subjective and up to you. But hopefully this overview will save you some time.

The Beginners Drone – Sluban Quadcopter X5SW

This drone represents a basic model which should allow you to practice and hone your skills. Just keep in mind that drones this small don’t handle wind very well. So you will need to be careful where you fly it. That said, because the price point is so low, if you end up having a rough landing or lose the drone, you won’t break the bank.

Quick Facts On The Sluban Quadcopter X5SW

1. Range: 160 FT
2. Battery: 5 minutes
3. Controller: Hardware & RC App
4. On Board Camera: 2 Megapixels
5. Extras: If you crash a drone like this you’re not out a ton of money.

The Semi Pro – DJI Phantom 2 Quadcoptercamera drone

While a little more than a basic model, the features are pretty robust making is a great value for the investment.

Quick Facts On The DJI Phantom 2 Quadcoptercamera drone

1. Range: 900 FT
2. Battery: 25 minutes
3. Controller: Hardware & RC App
4. On Board Camera: DJI Camera – 14-megapixel camera and captures up to 1080p video
5. Extras: Since this is an earlier model, the price point is a steal.

The Pro I – DJI Phantom 4 Professional+ Quadcopter

After a few months of mastering your skills (and assuming you enjoy using camera drones) it may make sense to upgrade to a more robust model.

Quick Facts On The DJI Phantom 4 Professional+ Quadcopter

1. Range: 8,000 FT
2. Battery: 28 minutes
3. Controller: Hardware & RC App
4. On Board Camera: DJI Camera – 20-megapixel CMOS sensor. Shoots up to 4K/60Fps video and burst mode stills at 14 fps.
5. Extras: Return to home and gesture modes.

The Pro II – DJI T600 Inspire 1 Quadcopter with 4k Video Camera

Everything you need comes with this kit. You’ll be ready to fly out of the box.

Quick Facts On The DJI T600 Inspire 1 Quadcopter with 4k Video Camera

1. Range: 6,500 FT
2. Battery: 18 minutes
3. Controller: Hardware & RC App
4. On Board Camera: Inspire 1 camera – Shoots up to 4K video and captures 12 megapixel photos.
5. Extras: Four propellers. Top speed is 50 MPH. And both the Gimbal and Camera can be removed and upgraded so its very future proof.

Filmmakers Version – DJI S1000+ Camera Accessories (Black)

For anyway using Professional Level gear this is the drone to pick. The best feature is its made specifically to fit other cameras on to it so you can use the same camera that you use for every other scene in your movie.

Quick Facts On The DJI S1000+ Camera Accessories (Black)

1. Range: 9,000 FT
2. Battery: 19 minutes
3. Controller: PC Ground Control & RC App
4. On Board Camera: N/A
5. Extras: Eight propellers. Top speed is 55 MPH. And call to home.

Some Additional Thoughts On Camera Drones

When it comes to buying a camera drone, it’s important that you focus on the results. Like all aspects of your craft, learning how to master a drone is going to take time. So focus on learning techniques that you can apply to each piece of equipment old and new.

And one last tip… While you’re going through the learning curve, it might also make sense to get a drone with a “call to home” mode. That way if your drone accidentally flies away from you, you’ll at least have a chance for getting it back. Anyway, if you’re interested in buying a camera drone, check out these drones via our Amazon affiliate link.

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Dave Bullis is a writer, director, producer, and podcaster in the Philadelphia area. His podcast, The Dave Bullis Podcast, has won numerous awards for its quality and content. The podcast is available on iTunes, and Google Play podcasts.

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