Aerial real estate photography is becoming more popular all the time. In some markets, it is almost a requirement that a listing has photographs, and often video, taken from the air. Professional pilots today can earn fees starting at $200 for a 30-minute job. So what is the best drone for the job? And what do you need to know before you fly? We are here to help.
Before you Fly
If you want to make money flying drones in the United States then you will need to have a commercial license issued by the FAA. Not only does a license allow you to fly legally, it will also give you a lot more freedom on where you can fly. The part 107 commercial drone exam covers a lot more than just the basic drone rules. If you are traveling or if you live in another country then make sure you follow the laws there as well.
We’ve taken and passed the part 107, so we know what to expect. We have some pretty comprehensive tips, but we would recommend taking a class if you aren’t already a pilot or someone familiar with aviation maps and laws. The best online resource for your money that we have found is the Drone Pilot Ground School that is offered by UAV Coach.
Limit Your Liability
Once you’ve passed your part 107 you will want to create your own corporation. There are a lot of crazies out there and the best way to protect yourself and your family might be to incorporate. You will want to do some research but we’d recommend going with an S-Corp or LLC.
Insure Your Assets
You’ll want to get some insurance. Yes, there are some pay-per-flight insurance companies, but getting an annual policy will likely save you money and is likely your best bet. Some countries require insurance so make sure you know your local laws. Depending on your policy, insurance can not only protect your drone in the case of a crash but can also cover any accidental damage you may cause. For a great way to protect your DJI drone, you should take a look at DJI Care.
Register Your Bird
You will want to make sure you know the local laws, but in the US you will have to register your drone if it is over 0.55 lbs and under 55 lbs. That means pretty much everything that is going to be able to take decent pictures and videos. It is only $5 to register with the FAA.
What Should I Look For In A Drone?
The most important thing when choosing your drone is the camera. A lot of people think that you need a 4K drone, but really that might not be your best option. It is rare that clients want 4K video for a real estate job and for most applications 1080p is the preferred choice. Why is 1080 the right choice? It is good enough and it uses just 25% of the memory that 4K video does. We happen to know the owner of one of the largest real estate video production companies in the US and they rarely shoot in 4K.
There are only a few companies that produce cameras with the quality you need. DJI, Yuneec, and Autel are the only ones we would recommend. After those three you don’t want to gamble with anything else. DJI is the clear leader but that does not mean they are your only option. Take your time and find what you think is best for you. Sometimes you can get a steal on an Autel or a Yuneec.
Gimbals vs EIS
Don’t be fooled by drones claiming they can smooth out video electronically. The Parrot Bebop does do some excellent EIS (electronic image stabilization) but all EIS relies on cropping the original image and quality does suffer. Make sure you are filming with a physical gimbal. We recommend a three-axis gimbal.
You will want a drone with a minimum flight time of 20 minutes. Sure, you could make due with less, but getting the job done on one battery is ideal. You will definitely want to make sure you carry plenty of spare batteries in any case, but flight time is important especially for large jobs.
Range (Signal Strength)
While we think that range might just be the most overrated spec on drones, it is definitely important. A range of 4 miles is certainly ridiculous since you are required by law to keep the drone in sight at all times. What range specifications actually give you a good feeling for is signal strength. Typically drones with long ranges have good signal strength. You want to be able to control your drone with buildings, trees and other obstacles that might be between you and it. The better range, the better signal strength, and the happier you will be.
Avoid drones that rely on WiFi for the video feed like the Phantom 3 Standard or Spark since they can pick up interference in areas with a lot of WiFi interference, like the neighborhoods where you will be doing most of your filming.
Obstacle avoidance is not a necessary feature but it can certainly come in handy. Typically drones will have it on the front but side and rear obstacle avoidance are a lot more valuable. It is rare that you will fly forward into an obstacle, but judging side distance or rear distance is a lot more difficult. The Phantom 4 Pro is the best option if you are looking for obstacle avoidance on all sides and from below.
Before you go and spend your entire budget on one drone think about getting two. A true professional should have a backup drone just in case something happens to his or her main bird. If your Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is out of commission for a week what are you going to fly? A Phantom 4 Advanced can use the same batteries and accessories and would be a solid backup. We have even done some real estate work with our DJI Spark. It isn’t ideal, but you will want to have a plan B just in case. Don’t believe the Spark can do it? The aerial video below was filmed by our DJI Spark. It is a great back up for only less than $400. Learn more about the Spark HERE.
The Best Drone for the Job is…
The best option and the most trusted drone for real estate professionals is the DJI Phantom 4 Pro. The new version 2.0 is the best photography drone that you can buy under $2000 and is a technological marvel. It has a best in class camera and full obstacle avoidance. It is also backed by the most trusted company in aerial photography, DJI. Learn more about the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 HERE.
|Order the Phantom 4 Pro from DJI||Order the Phantom 4 Pro from Amazon|
A 1B to the Phantom 4 Pro’s 1A would be the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom. Yes, the Zoom, not the Pro. Sure the Mavic 2 Pro camera is better but the flexibility of the zoom lens on the Mavic 2 Zoom makes it a better choice for most people. It still is a professional grade camera and gives you even more flexibility. While the Phantom 4 Pro has the best camera you can buy the Mavic 2 Zoom and Pro are better in a lot of ways. The most obvious being that it is much easier to take with you when you are on the go. Learn more about the Mavic 2 here.
|Order the Mavic 2 from Amazon||Order a Mavic 2 from DJI|
If you are looking for a lower cost option to the DJI Phantom 4 Pro then consider these drones:
DJI Phantom 4 Advanced: This beauty has the same camera and gimbal as the Phantom 4 Pro, but at a fraction of the cost. You give up side and rear obstacle avoidance but you can save a lot of money if you opt for the Phantom 4 Advanced instead of the Pro. Learn more about the Advanced HERE.
DJI Phantom 4: The original DJI Phantom 4 is still one heck of an aerial machine. It may not have the 20 MP camera or the full obstacle avoidance but it can absolutely get the job done. For about $700 less you can take your saving and invest in extra batteries, a carrying case and even a solid back up drone. Learn more about the Phantom 4 HERE.
|Order the original Phantom 4||Order the Phantom 4 Advanced|
Mavic Air: The Mavic Air and Mavic Pro both are excellent drones and take up a lot less space than the Phantom 4. If you are looking for something that you can take with you and not have to worry about lugging around a big quad then take a look at the Mavic Air or Pro. The Air is the smaller of the two and easier to use. The Mavic Pro (or Pro Platinum) has longer battery life and better signal strength. Both are good options for those looking for portability and high-quality footage. Click to learn more about the Mavic Air and the Mavic Pro.
|Order a Mavic Air from DJI||Order a Mavic Pro from DJI|
Typhoon H: The Yuneec Typhoon H is probably the coolest looking drone on this list. It is a hexacopter that has retractable landing gear. With the landing gear out of the way, you can rotate the gimbal a full 360-degrees and get footage that none of the other drones on this list are capable of. It also can be operated by two people and one can pilot and the other can film. It is an excellent drone and the prices on it continue to fall. We picked up our refurbished Typhoon H for $399. It was an absolute steal! To learn more about the Typhoon H click HERE.
|Order a Typhoon H from Amazon||Order a Typhoon H from B & H Photo|
Phantom 3: The DJI Phantom 3 was the original aerial photography drone that made it practical for almost anyone to take professional quality photos and video. There is a handful of Phantom 3 models and they all are capable machines. If you are looking for an inexpensive option or even a solid backup drone then a Phantom 3 is definitely an excellent option. We recommend the Pro or Advanced versions of the Phantom 3. Learn more about the Phantom 3 HERE.
|Order a Phantom 3 from Amazon||Order a Phantom 3 from DJI|
Every month we update what we believe are the best drones on the market. Check out Best Drones Now. We have also created the one-of-a-kind Half Chrome Drone Cipher™. You answer a few questions and we’ll pair you with the best drone for you.
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If you want to learn more about taking great pictures or flying FPV then check out our comprehensive guides on those topics. Also take a look at our articles on how to choose the right drone for great aerial photos or for getting started flying race drones. Learn more about drones and how to get the most out of them in our Drone Academy. In the Academy we also detail some of the advanced testing we do, including our recent addition, drone thrust testing.
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