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 Mavic Mini. It isn’t ideal, but you will want to have a plan B just in case. Don’t believe the Spark can do it? We have an example below using the Mavic Mini for real estate photography. It is a great back up for only less than $400. Learn more about the Mavic Mini 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 the best in class camera and full obstacle avoidance. It is also backed by the most trusted company in aerial photography, DJI. It has the best camera and is probably the most capable option out there. However, the Mavic 2 series of drones are smaller, less expensive, easier to transport, and are less likely to draw a crowd. One of the Mavics might be a better option unless you need the absolute best. 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 2: The Mavic Air 2 is an incredible machine starting at only $799. It absolutely is capable enough for real estate photography. It has the longest flight time of an Mavic ever created and is the only one that is capable of shooting 4K footage at 60 fps. With easy to use Smart Photo and HDR this little drone will help make the novice photographer look like a pro. This might be the best option for a lot of people.
|Order a Mavic Air 2 from DJI
|Order a Mavic Air 2 from Amazon
Autel Evo 2: The Autel Evo 2 is another excellent option. There is a 6K and an 8K version. Don’t be fooled the 6K version is actually the better of the two, however the 8K is less expensive and more than good enough for most applications. Autel makes a great product and is definitely something you should consider. The camera quality is just as good as anything coming from DJI. The biggest advantage of buying an Evo is that you won’t have to deal with locked out no-fly zones. That is a big plus for some people. The Evo 2 starts at $1500. You can order it from Amazon here.
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