7 Tips for Cinematic Drone Footage

By: Chris Fravel, Drone Geek Productions

Today we’re going over 7 things you can do to capture the most stunning shots possible with your drone. These strategies are intended strictly for those of us looking to shoot video with our drone, but there may be some crossover for those who lean toward photography, so stick around even if video isn’t necessarily “your jam.”

1.       Plan Your Shots Ahead of Time

This is the first tip for you, but quite honestly it’s probably the most important when it comes to getting cinematic shots with your drone. The day I decided to plan my shots ahead of time for my projects was the day I saw the quality of my shots increase ten-fold. When you create a plan for how you want your shots to look and how you want your project to flow, you will find success during the flight and subsequent shoot becomes much easier to find.

I, myself, have created a table I use for every shoot where I map out how each shot should go. I print this table off and bring it with me to the shoot where I am able to physically check-off the shots I want as I collect them. This allows me to keep my thoughts and plan for my project organized without dedicating much thought to it during the operation.

Everyone works differently and this method may not work for you, so it’s up to you to figure out how to best plan your shots ahead of time.

2.       Always Pinch the Sticks

Largely there are two types of remote pilots: thumbers and pincher. I am a pincher and I suggest you be a pincher too. You may be thinking: “Thumbers? Pinchers? What in tarnation are you blabbering about?!”

And that’s fair. Here’s what I mean…

When holding the remote controller for your drone, there are two methods for manipulating the joy-sticks that are widely practiced by remote pilots. 

Thumbers take the pad of their thumb and place it directly on the top of each joy-stick. They then roll their thumbs in a counter-directive manner to manipulate the joy-sticks.

Pinchers take their index fingers and thumbs and pinch the joy-sticks between the pads of each of them. They then extend and contract their fingers and thumbs in synchronicity to manipulate the joy-sticks.

But why is being a Pincher better than being a Thumber? Well, it all comes down to dexterity and control. I learned, a long time ago, from Ken Heron’s channel that pinching the sticks gives you finer control over movements your drone makes because you’re controlling it from two points and not just one. Thumbers tend to see their motion limited and far more incidents of the joy-sticks slipping out from under them.

3.       Shoot at 4K and 30 FPS Whenever Possible

I’ll level with you. This one is controversial. Drones tend to have better footage when shooting at 30FPS because it’s just smoother, okay. When you shoot at 24FPS with a drone, you run the risk of the footage turning out a bit choppy and maybe unnatural looking as a result — and nobody wants that.

And here’s the thing. If you are putting together a project that will ultimately be presented in 24FPS, you can ALWAYS slow down the drone footage to 80.8% of its original speed and achieve the same look and feel of a full-speed shot at 24FPS.

Plus if you’re shooting footage with your drone to license, having it at a higher frame rate actually makes it more flexible for the buyer to edit when it is at 30FPS.

Yes. 24FPS is the cinematic standard. You get a cinematic feel when you watch something in 24FPS, but when you are capturing footage intended to be edited for a cinematic feel, you want to shoot the raw file at 30 FPS and slow it down more often than not.

4.       Make Deliberate, but Smooth Movements

When you are filming with your drone you want to “move with purpose.” When capturing a shot, make sure your drone is moving in a manner that seems totally intentional — even if you’re winging it. This may seem like it goes against point number 1, but the American Icon, Mike Tyson, said it best: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

You’re going to plan your shots out, but the fact is they aren’t always going to go according to plan, both for better and for worse. It’s important that no matter how far off the beaten path your shot goes that you focus on making each movement smooth and deliberate. Avoid the herky-jerky. Avoid sudden movements. Avoid anything that makes it clear you were not ready for the shot or don’t know what you’re doing as a drone pilot.

This is crucial to conveying a professional and cinematic feel from the footage you capture with your drone.

5.       Always Have a Pay-Off

Every drone shot should have a pay-off. The pay-off doesn’t need to be a big, dramatic reveal either. Your pay-off can be immediate in the form of an absolutely gorgeous view from beginning to end. However, some of the best drone shots start with a close-up of an object that results in the reveal of something awe-striking in the background.

Why is it important to always have a pay-off? Well, first of all, that’s the whole point of any multimedia project: you want people to look at it, listen to it, or watch it and learn or gain something from the experience. However, it’s also important to have a pay-off because, quite frankly, drone shots are not particularly entertaining or interesting unless they have a pay-off, immediate or otherwise.

I know, I know, a drone guy said drone shots aren’t cool. That doesn’t mean I don’t love drones and the views they give us. I do! But I understand that by themselves and without something interesting in them, drone clips are just kind of…meh. They are most powerful when used to supplement a story being told rather than being the storyteller itself.

6.       Do a Dry Run

Dry runs are key to getting the shots you want and making them look and feel cinematic. Get to your location 30 minutes to an hour earlier than you’re scheduled to and run through the shots if you can. Remember to conserve batteries according to the size and length of your mission. If you don’t have the battery capacity to do a dry-run of the shots the day of the shoot, then do them the day before your shoot. The conditions may not be the same, so the experience will be less consistent, but something is better than nothing.

Dry runs allow you to get a feel for your drone at the site in which you will be flying. You can learn more about your surroundings and better understand how to navigate them while also capturing the shots you need. Plus, if you don’t have a unique timeframe for capturing your subject or point of interest, you can take some shots that could end up being usable takes.

Practice makes perfect. Correction. Perfect practice makes perfect.

7.       Let The Shot Come to You

The last point is maybe the most important to a high-level output, but also to having fun. Let the shots come to you. If you’ve been flying drones for any length of time, then you have probably learned to just roll with the punches. You really can plan until you’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day, the only thing you can control is the drone and how you react to the environment in which you’re flying.

This job is high-pressure on multiple levels, so adding pressure on yourself is never wise when it comes to enjoying what we do. If you aren’t having fun when you’re flying, the chances of getting a cinematic and professional shot decrease drastically.

So, while you are responsible for flying safely, according to reg, and getting the shots your client or project requires, just remember to stay loose, have fun, and let the shots come to you. Sometimes the brightest moments of brilliance come in the moment and end up being the best shots you collect.

If you put these 7 tips and tactics into action while flying your drone to capture video, I promise you will begin to see an uptick in the quality of your drone footage and a more cinematic feel from them.

Just remember, everyone flies differently and everyone sees through the lens of our cameras differently. Do what is true to you, your style, and what you enjoy and you can’t go wrong.

No More Drone Waivers?!

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — Rounding out a year loaded with societal strife, the Federal Aviation Administration came out with a series of rules that would be implemented or changed in the near future. The rule that received the most spotlight was regarding the Remote ID requirement that will take effect in 2023.

It should be noted that three other changes were also announced to take effect in 2021 that will have a significant impact on the commercial drone pilot community. Those rule changes are best summarized as:

  • No Waiver File Required to Fly Over People
  • No Waiver File Required to Fly at Night
  • Updated Requirements for Maintaining Part 107 Certification

However, it is not quite as cut-and-dry as those summaries. After reading the fine print included in the FAA’s release about these three points, one will learn what will be required of them in order to take advantage of the coming changes. Let’s break it down…

No Waiver File Required to Fly Over People

The FAA is no longer requiring a drone pilot file a waiver to fly over people. Instead, there have been four categories established for the classification of unmanned aircraft based on several criteria, but mostly based upon the potential force generated upon impact. The categories are numbered one through four and are defined by the FAA based upon the features of the qualifying drone. Below you will find the definition for each category pulled directly from the FAA’s executive summary for the OOP Final Rule:

  • Category 1 eligible small unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 0.55, including everything on board or otherwise attached, and contain no exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin. No FAA-accepted Means of Compliance (MOC) or Declaration of Compliance (DOC) required.
  • Category 2 eligible small unmanned aircraft must not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 11 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object, does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being, and does not contain any safety defects. Requires FAA-accepted means of compliance and FAA-accepted declaration of compliance. 
  • Category 3 eligible small unmanned aircraft must not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 25 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object, does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being, and does not contain any safety defects. Requires FAA-accepted means of compliance and FAA-accepted declaration of compliance. 
  • Category 4 eligible small unmanned aircraft must have an airworthiness certificate issued under Part 21 of FAA regulations. Must be operated in accordance with the operating limitations specified in the approved Flight Manual or as otherwise specified by the Administrator. The operating limitations must not prohibit operations over human beings. Must have maintenance, preventive maintenance, alterations, or inspections performed in accordance with specific requirements in the final rule.

While it is true that waivers are not required for flight over people starting this year, it does not mean a drone pilot is not going to be held to some level of preparation requirements for those flights. Depending upon the category in which a pilot’s drone falls it could be very easy or still somewhat involved to conduct a flight over people. 

No Waiver File Required to Fly at Night

This one is a bit more plain when it comes to the summary and how accurately it defines the real-life changes it is bringing. To say it simply: flying at night just became a lot easier for commercial drone pilots. In the past a commercial drone pilot was required to file a waiver to fly their drone at night, which could prove a frustratingly drawn-out process for what was essentially still a routine flight less the absence of natural light. Now these remote pilots must comply with just two rules in order to fly their drone at night:

  • Remote pilots in command who wish to conduct small unmanned aircraft operations at night must complete either the updated initial test or the updated recurrent online training (we will get to that in a moment) prior to conducting such operations.
  • Additionally, prior to conducting small unmanned aircraft operations at night, the small unmanned aircraft must be equipped with anti-collision lights that can be seen for 3 statute miles and have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision. These anti-collision lights must be operational.

Commercial pilots are getting quasi-hobbyist treatment regarding night time operations. The only stipulations being the aircraft must have functional anti-collision lighting and the operator must complete the updated test or online training course for Part 107 operations. In speaking of the updated test and training course…

Updated Requirements for Maintaining Part 107 Certification

Of all of the changes coming with the final rules announced in 2020, this one is potentially my favorite. Moving forward the FAA is updating their initial knowledge test for Part 107 certification to include information important to safe night time operations and operations over people. On top of that, the recurrent knowledge test has been replaced with an online training course with the same updated information pertaining to night time operations and operations over people.

And the best part? It is totally free.

Moving forward aspiring commercial drone pilots will be required to pay necessary fees for the initial knowledge test, but no more will they be required to continue shelling out money to maintain their standing with the recurrent knowledge test. All that will be required to maintain a Part 107 certification will be to take the online training course every two years to the satisfaction of the FAA. That is it and it is going to make the life of a commercial drone pilot just a little less stressful.

There has been plenty of controversy regarding the pending implementation of Remote ID. No matter where you might stand on the issue, the changes to the three rules regarding night time operations, operations over people, and maintaining the Part 107 certification are going to help counterbalance any potential headaches coming from Remote ID — particularly for those drone pilots flying commercially.

The Art of the Niche: Using Drones to Generate Income

Photo: An aerial image of a parking lot put in central Pennsylvania by a construction company. This was one of many photos captured to demonstrate the progress of the project from beginning to end.

LANCASTER, Pa. — Perhaps the biggest challenge when it comes to flying drones commercially is understanding how to utilize your aerial tool to generate income. Whether you are flying for cash to offset the costs of this rather expensive hobby or attempting to make a full-time career out of it, the challenge remains the same overall: how do I get companies to pay me to use my drone?

The first step is understanding fully what you want to accomplish as an aerial entrepreneur. As of right now, there are roughly four mainstream categories of industry in which a drone can be used:

  • Cinematography
  • Digital Mapping
  • Photography
  • Site/Structure Inspecting

After you have an idea of how you plan on implementing your drone, it is time to learn what industries look for aerial imaging services most often so you can attempt to tap into those markets. Right now the industries that are most widely using drones are the multimedia and entertainment industries, but if one were to dig just a bit deeper, they would find industries such as  agriculture and farming, architecture and construction, logistics, real estate, and insurance all require the use of drone technology in some way or another. What is important when considering which markets to enter with your drone is the additional tools and software you need to properly conduct business within those industries and how they fit into your current mix. For example:

Kevin is a photographer who recently purchased a DJI Mavic 2 Pro for his business. Kevin intends on using the Mavic 2 Pro to take stunning aerial imagery to supplement his photo collages and give his portfolio some depth of content. Ted then sees there is a need for aerial imaging in the logistics industry — particularly in warehouses and better understanding stock levels as well as traffic within warehouses and how to most efficiently navigate in order to meet customer demand.

First, a Mavic 2 Pro is not necessarily the best tool for this job. DJI makes some very high-level drones, extending down to their Mavic series which are fantastic prosumer unmanned aircraft. However, it is not equipped to handle the demands of monitoring the stock of goods within a warehouse or its traffic on an hourly basis. Could it be accomplished? Sure, but it won’t be cost efficient for Kevin or the companies that hire Kevin out as a contractor because one of them will be operating at a giant loss when all is said and done. Kevin will either need to value his time as the operator at less than $0.00 an hour or the company will have to pay an absolute premium on Kevin’s time.

However, Kevin could opt to search the construction industry for work — especially when it comes to providing regular progress reports for a construction company on one of their work sites. The Mavic 2 Pro takes fantastic photos and crisp 4K video that would demonstrate regular changes to an entire work site in one of the most stunning ways possible. In other words, Kevin will become very popular to his construction clients after delivering multimedia that combines his Mavic 2 Pro and his background in photography.

Understanding where you are starting within your drone niche and then moving outward into different niches responsibly is the best way to grow any business that relies on drones to generate revenue.

On that note and in closing, it is important to remember that you will not thrive as a “drone only” business. There are admittedly not many companies looking to hire full-time or contracted drone pilots unless it is for a very specific purpose and those jobs are few and far between. Understand that your drone is a tool that allows you to do business. It is a powerful tool and it can even be your “main” tool that you do most of your work on, but it will not sustain your business by itself.

You must diversify the tools, equipment, and software you need in order to provide to your niche industry. Only after you have comprehended and brought that understanding to life will you find enough success to begin branching out into new niches and begin relying more and more on your aerial imaging equipment.

Top 5 Drone YouTube Channels

YouTube Links for Anne Z | Anne Z on the Web

The drone industry is growing. People age 13 and above are buying drones in increasing numbers each and every year. Each person finds a somewhat unique way to use their drone – ranging from multimedia production to site and infrastructure inspections. However, arguably one of the most popular applications is creating content on YouTube. It is a free and relatively easy outlet to post videos from flights set to music that fits the mood and with the growing interest in drones, it also makes for an extremely effective tool to increase exposure for one’s self.

YouTube is king of the Millennial generation and leaks into both Gen-X and Gen-Z as the top video hosting platform. It is also a leader in both the entertainment and social media categories allowing for users to create their own profiles as well as enjoy a range of video content from user-generated to even full-fledged cable programming. Looking at such a juicy proposition, any drone pilot would be salivating at the opportunity to become a face of the community on YouTube.

How does one accomplish this though? The best advice I ever received was to look to those who are actively doing what you wish to do and gain inspiration from them. I take this advice to heart in all aspects of life, but particularly I began focusing on applying the life lesson to YouTube. Before I even started planning my channel (which is still very modest), I started taking in as much drone-related content as I possibly could in order to get the creative juices flowing and put a process in place. Three months later and I’m happy to report that I have a system almost completely down and am regularly producing content exclusively for YouTube with my drones.

While we will all have different journeys while posting our drone content to YouTube, here are my top-five drone channels on YouTube that you should be following if you aren’t already:

5. Drone Syndrome (Mike Gonzalez)

Drone Syndrome Official (@dronesyndrome1) | Twitter

The Drone Syndrome channel is still relatively small compared to the other channels on this list, but I believe he brings something very valuable to the table: he doesn’t focus his content on DJI products. In fact, you’re hard-pressed to find ANY DJI products on his channel. Why is this?

I have the good fortune of being friends with Mike and during our conversations he has revealed to me that while he wants to and is not against DJI products, he enjoys covering other brands and seeing what else there is out there besides the drones put out there by the “king” of drone manufacturing.

Drone Syndrome conducts in-depth reviews of Drocon, Eachine, Hubsan, and JJRC drones in particular as well as other small pieces of tech that might be useful to a multimedia producer.  If you’re looking for a channel that is honest, fun, and growing using the best practices of YouTube content creation, Drone Syndrome is a great follow for inspiration.

4. Dustin Dunnill

Dustin Dunnill - YouTube

Another guy who spreads the love to brands beyond the top few players like DJI, Autel, and Skydio, Dustin’s channel packs a punch loaded with content. That consistent churning of new videos has paid off for him in a big way too as his channel boasts 200,000 subscribers as of the writing of this article.

Everything from aerial and aquatic drones to action cams and RC cars, Dustin has saturated his channel and, for that matter, YouTube with content that any tech geek would be chomping at the bit to see. The two really strong points of Dustin’s channel are his ability to be very conversational when it comes to technical aspects of the products he covers as well as his ability to push the products he reviews to their absolute limit with almost no fear. His videos truly give you a reliable idea of whether or not the product is going to fit your needs.

Dustin went from a reluctant subscribe on my part to one of my favorite drone content channels on YouTube. He may take a while to grow on you, but once he has, you’ll be thankful you let him into your guard.

3. Billy Kyle

About — Atmos

Billy Kyle’s YouTube channel is one of the best on the platform as it relates to drone content. A native to the Philadelphia area, Billy’s channel is a cornerstone for drone content that focuses mainly around the bigger players in the industry including Autel, DJI, and Skydio. Billy posts fairly regularly and all of his videos offer great demonstrations of a variety of drones.

One of the strongest points of Billy’s content is his insight. Billy is well-connected within the drone community and will sometimes provide inside scoops about upcoming technology as well as release dates for highly anticipated drones and drone equipment. Take note that he doesn’t overshare, but when he drops a breadcrumb for his viewers, he’s usually right on the nose with what he’s implying.

Billy is a by-the-book type of personality, offering a cut-and-dry breakdown of all of the tech he reviews while just lightly garnishing it with his opinions backed by years of seasoning as a drone pilot. He is a great follow for any drone enthusiast based in Pennsylvania and he’s a great representative for our state within the national and international community.

Not to mention he has the best eyebrows in the business.

2. Joshua Bardwell

Joshua Bardwell | DronePilots.com

The only FPV pilot on this list, Josh Bardwell is a trailblazer on YouTube for the drone community and his channel shows it. Specializing in strictly FPV and racing drones, Bardwell’s channel is one that both invokes deeper thought with some of his vlog-style video and streams as well as informational for the more diverse side of the drone industry in the FPV sect. He covers all of the basics and some of the more advanced points of being an FPV pilot and does a fantastic job demonstrating the effectiveness of FPV equipment.

No matter where you’re at as an FPV pilot, beginner or veteran, Bardwell does a fantastic job of breaking down components for quads and how they could fit into your build. It’s a great base for those pilots starting from square one on their rig and a great expansion of knowledge for pilots that have fine-tuned skills and equipment on their quad.

Bardwell does a great job of taking very technical content and delivering it in a fun and interesting way. Even the greenest remote pilot will be able to grasp the concepts and ideas Bardwell is discussing due to his ability to explain how things work. He’s a newer subscription for me, but one that I plan on sticking with as I begin dabbling in the FPV side of the drone industry.

1. Ken Heron

Ken Heron - YouTube

The top channel for any drone enthusiast to follow on YouTube has to be Ken Heron. Based out of Tennessee, Ken is the total package as it relates to entertainment and informational value within the drone industry. Ken has a background in morning radio, which is made extremely apparent in his humor and delivery. He began as a photography pilot, using mostly DJI products to run his business, but has since expanded his repertoire to FPV drones.

Ken also uses that background in radio mentioned earlier to create programming within his channel that gives his content a very “broadcasty” feel. When you watch Ken’s content, you feel like you’re tuning into a program you’d see on television or streaming. Perhaps the best quality of Ken is his willingness to collaborate with other creators and drone enthusiasts to generate content and share his platform to increase exposure. Ken has lifted so many people up within the community by working together with them to create content that is engaging and shows off the fellow-collaborator’s strengths. He is a catalyst for improvement for the people around him and that is what sets him apart from other drone YouTubers.

If you’re not already following Ken, I highly recommend taking the time to look him up. I had the pleasure of meeting Ken at the Remote ID protest in Washington D.C. and he is genuinely who he portrays himself to be on his channel.

Obviously, this list is subjective. If you already follow drone folks on YouTube, then you know what you like and what you don’t like. However, whether you have a taste for the type of YouTube drone content you like or you’re just getting started in building your own channel and finding other channels to follow and from which to gain inspiration, this list, I promise, is a great start.

Part 107 License: What’s all the Fuss?

It’s the aerial entrepreneur’s first time being slapped with the reality of government regulation. The dreaded Part 107 certification. It’s a necessary “evil.” Whether you are new to the game or you have taken the Part 107 test before, this article will touch on the importance of attaining a Part 107 certification before flying commercially and provide some leads for where you can find the best study materials for the initial and recurrent versions of the test.

There are two versions of the Part 107 exam — initial knowledge and recurrent knowledge. The initial knowledge is exactly what it sounds like, a test of your initial remote aviation knowledge. This test is standard for all remote pilots upon their first attempt at Part 107 certification. The recurrent knowledge test is the reexamination that every commercial pilot must pass every two years in order to maintain their Part 107 certification. The difference between these two tests is relative to the content on which the pilot is being assessed. The initial knowledge test goes over the basics for the most part, with higher-level principles sprinkled in; whereas the recurrent knowledge test mostly goes over higher-level principles with the basics sprinkled in for review.

Why is the Part 107 certification so important when it comes to commercial flight?

The Part 107 test is an assessment of a pilot’s practical and technical knowledge of remote aircraft flight. This goes beyond what your fingers do “behind the sticks.” It gets into the very important, but often overlooked, processes of conducting a responsible and safe flight such as:

  • Pre-Flight Checklists
  • Airspace Classifications
  • Sectional Chart Comprehension
  • Flight Authorization
  • Reading METARs and TAFs
  • Flight Risk Assessment
  • Emergency Flight Protocol
  • Restrictions & Waivers

That’s just to name a few. When it comes to flying a drone commercially, you may be asked to fly under conditions you wouldn’t normally fly as a hobbyist or fly in an area that might require knowledge of airspace classifications and the permissions you need to fly within them. Having a Part 107 certification means you are prepared to answer questions a client might have about the flight, how it will be conducted, and what can or cannot be accomplished based upon their requests.

Here’s the deal, I have had the privilege to speak to many talented cinematographers, content creators, photographers, and pilots over the last three years. Of those talented people, a surprising number either didn’t understand that they were required to have a Part 107 certification to fly commercially or, even worse, they didn’t care. That’s a huge problem within our industry as it creates airspace that is potentially unsafe and, frankly, an unfair playing field for those of us who took the time to study for and earn our Part 107 certification.

If you are looking to earn your Part 107, but need to study up on the material, take a look at some of these online resources linked below:

Many of these courses have a money-back guarantee. You may not get a complete refund, but it’s nice to know that they do insure your results at some capacity rather than none at all.

It’s crucial that everyone with the intention of flying their UAV for commercial purposes (i.e. “in furtherance of a business”) needs to attain their Part 107. Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes you a better airman and increases your knowledge of the airspace in which you are navigating. This will pay dividends for you as regulations grow more and more stringent and require a more comprehensive understanding of how to fly safely.

Looking to Buy a Drone? Read This First.

I speak to a lot of people on a day-to-day basis that show interest in my hobby-turned-business. I get a variety of responses to our back-and-forths, but perhaps the most popular is, “I’ve been thinking about buying a drone, but I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

We’ve all been there.

Whether you’re looking to fly for fun or you want to start a business that either revolves around or includes the use of unmanned aerial systems, it can be a scary and confusing world to jump into — especially since some of the price tags can get steep. That’s where I come in to offer advice. I’ve been flying for over three years and while I don’t have the most season as a remote pilot, I can say that I know a thing or two after completely submerging myself in the industry and learning as much as I can about these awesome tools we call “drones.” Below I’ve categorized various types of drones and expanded upon how each category can be used to better help you identify what kind of drone you should purchase:

Consumer Drones

Photo: DJI Mavic Mini

Now, this is a bit of a misnomer as drones as advanced as the DJI Phantom 4 and Skydio could be considered “consumer” drones. In recent years, a term has been developed to describe those drones better as it pertains to their application, but we will get to that in a few moments. For now, we’re going to flesh out what a “consumer” drone is and what it is best used for in the field.

Typically speaking when one identifies a drone as a “consumer” drone, it means the drone is equipped mostly for hobbyist use. The camera might not take 4K videos and might be less than 12 mega-pixels (or whatever you deem to be “professional quality”). On that same note, the aircraft might not have the same structural integrity as a higher-level drone (i.e. the fuselage may be made of plastic or even high-grade foam). An upside to these lower level productions is the lower cost. Typically you can find a consumer drone for $400 or less. Below I’ve listed a few consumer-level drones that have a good reputation:

  1. DJI Mavic Mini
  2. Parrot Bebop 2
  3. DJI Spark
  4. Altair AA300
  5. Altair 818 Hornet

“Prosumer” Drones

Photo: Skydio 2

The term “prosumer” has been coined to describe drones that fall somewhere between a consumer-style aircraft and professional-style aircraft. Prosumer drones are equipped with enough “firepower” to allow the pilot to capture professional-grade photos and videos as well as have an often seamless flight experience.

If you’re looking to make money as a primary or side hustle by capturing aerial photos and videos, prosumer is a great place to start when shopping for a drone. Most prosumer leve drones are equipped with 4K video capabilities as well as sensors that are 12 mega-pixels or higher. These features allow for stunning visuals to be captured with relative ease as the pilot enjoys an easy and almost effortless flight. In speaking of which…

“Prosumer” drones produced by the leaders in drone manufacturing even include obstacle avoidance sensors as standard equipment. This means pilots don’t have the same risk when flying in tight spaces. These sensors detect objects in the drone’s projected flight path and either stop the drone from proceeding until an adjustment has been made manually by the pilot or override the pilot’s commands and automatically adjust the flight path. These features are becoming more and more desirable as pilots wishing to capture high-level multimedia with their drones are becoming increasingly less skilled as the market becomes more popular to the average consumer. Some great quality “prosumer” drones include:

  1. DJI Mavic 2 Pro
  2. DJI Phantom 4 V 2.0
  3. Autel EVO II
  4. DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
  5. Skydio 2

Professional Drones

Photo: DJI Inspire 2

Professional drones are exactly what they sound like: drones used strictly for commercial purposes. These drones have often been optimized for a heavy workload (and sometimes payload) and can be extremely specific as it relates to their function. For instance, while many of these drones are either equipped or can be equipped with a high-end camera to capture cinematic photos and videos, they can also carry heavier equipment without sacrificing too much battery life.

Industries that could find use for drones in the professional category include agriculture, construction, filmmakers, government, infrastructure, logistics, and more. Essentially professional level drones can handle just about anything you throw at them and are more versatile than “prosumer” level drones in their capabilities. Great options for professional level drones include:

  1. DJI Argas MG-1
  2. DJI Inspire 2
  3. Freefly Alta 8
  4. DJI Matrice 200 V2
  5. Flyability Elios 2

I hope that you (the reader) can utilize this brief guide as a launch-point for your drone shopping quest. Remember, while these are fun tools to use, they come with an immense amount of responsibility. When you take the the skies with a drone you are accountable for the aircraft and anything within its vicinity. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with airspace and how to properly navigate it as a remote pilot, I recommend you do that before making a purchase. It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into before making a purchase that could potentially cost you $1,000 USD or more.

Otherwise, please enjoy the process of finding the right drone for you and have even more fun once you have it in the air! Happy flying.

FAA Part 107: Let’s Talk Turkey

I recently had to take the recurrent knowledge test to maintain my Part 107 certification as a drone pilot. I did worse my second time around on the test than I did my first. I’m attributing that change in performance to my elevated sense of self and the lack of nerves – both of which were doused when I saw I scored 15 points lower than my original pass at the exam. Not to mention the test for recurrent knowledge covers information that is a bit more involved than the initial knowledge test.

That’s a conversation for a different post. What I want to talk about today is the cost associated with attaining and maintaining a Part 107 certificate (or license, whichever hovers your quad).

The overall cost is exorbitant if you plan on maintaining it for any stretch of time, especially if you’re an independent pilot or own a smaller scale business. That being said, nobody ever told us that owning a drone or drone business would be cheap, but I find the recurring cost to take a test for a shot at attaining or renewing your Part 107 certification a bit much to stomach.

Each and every time you want to take the test you have to pay one hundred and fifty smackers — that’s pass or fail. Oh, and get this, if you fail, you don’t get a refund. That money is just gone. I’m not a proponent of taking a test (especially one as important as a pilot license test) ill-prepared, you should absolutely know your stuff before you sit down at the table or desk they put you at for the assessment, but there should certainly be leniency given to those who mess up on their first try. Not to mention definite leniency for those of us who continually show we know what we’re doing time and time again, each and every two years.

I’m not a decision-maker for the FAA. I’m a member of the flight community who just happens to like having his feet on the ground when piloting an aircraft…for now. However, I do have some suggestions that would help to make the idea of becoming a remote pilot and maintaining that status regularly more appealing to those of us who aren’t big or perhaps don’t plan on getting big with their side hustle of flying drones.

Reduce the Price of the Recurrent Test

Look, the fact of the matter is if you can pass the first test, you can almost certainly pass any test after that. The first test is challenging, but the recurrent tests take that challenge and up the ante just a bit. Those of us who need to continually prove that we know what’s going on and what is expected of a commercial remote pilot should not be punished with repeated charges of $150 for tests that are only going to increase in their level of challenge as more rules are implemented and airspace becomes busier. That said, the FAA certainly still needs to keep supplemental cash flowing through to make many of the aviation programs it supports possible. Keeping all of that in mind, my proposal on this point would be:

  • Reduce the cost of the recurrent knowledge test by 50%, dropping it from $150 to $75.
  • Keep the cost of the initial knowledge test the same at $150.

Reduce the price of all tests

Rather than reducing just the price of the recurrent test, perhaps a reduction in pricing across the board would be fair to everyone — especially those who take it once and find that drone piloting as a profession is not necessarily for them. This would also directly benefit people who do find that making this hobby their business by cutting down on the overall cost over a longer period of time. It’s a bit more of a moderate solution as the overall decrease isn’t drastic, but it keeps in mind savings over time. Just think:

  • Reduce the cost of the initial knowledge test by about 25%, dropping it from $150 to about $110.
  • Reduce the cost of the recurrent knowledge test by 33%, dropping it from $150 to $100.

Eliminate the Charge for Recurrent Knowledge Tests

Hear me out. I know we already touched on the fact that the FAA needs to bring in revenue from these tests, but what if we made the entry fee with the initial knowledge test higher and then all recurrent knowledge tests were free of charge? Once you’ve made it into “the guild” and become a remote pilot after passing the initial knowledge test, you should be rewarded with free recurrent knowledge tests with one caveat: you have to pass it every time in order to receive the perk. Think about it, if you are sharp enough to pass the initial test and then continue to pass your recurrent knowledge tests, you shouldn’t be punished with any charges. If you fail a recurrent test, you should have to pay for your recurrent tests until you pass it again, at which point you would receive the benefit of free recurrent knowledge tests again. In this scenario:

  • Increase cost of initial knowledge test by 33%, upping it from $150 to $200.
  • Eliminate the cost of recurrent knowledge tests, dropping it from $150 to $0.
  • Implement a system that recognizes pass and failures as it pertains to charges for testing.
  • A failed recurrent knowledge test results in a $200 charge for all future tests until it is passed again.

There are plenty of ideas that could be generated from this train of thought and I don’t believe that any solution is a complete “one size fits all” answer to the expensive problem a Part 107 certificate poses for pilots. I do believe that these three solutions are perhaps the easiest to maintain and the most practical overall.

The fact is when you get your class C driver’s license in Pennsylvania it costs roughly $60 up front and then $30 every four years to renew it. A license for a car is far less expensive and one could argue that driving a car on a daily basis is far more dangerous than flying a drone responsibly below 400 feet. So, it might be high-time that we examine the costs of the Part 107 and find a way to make it much less expensive, especially for the little guys who fund their own business or hobby.

Drones vs. COVID-19: Getting Creative with UAVs

It’s no mystery that industries are finding new ways to utilize drones. Agriculture is turning to drones for crop inspection and pest control. Construction utilizes drones for site surveying and inspection. Government deploys drones to aid emergency responders. You get the idea — there aren’t many limits to how we can implement UAS technology for the betterment of many different industries.

What about using our drones in practical manners during times of public crisis? A great example of a public crisis is the recent outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), have you heard about it? Of course you have. We all have. You can’t get on social media or turn on a TV without seeing something about this global pandemic. It is everywhere, literally and figuratively.

So, how can unmanned aircraft be deployed to help fight the spread of Coronavirus?

The Chinese government used drones early in the pandemic to spray populated areas with disinfectants. While there have been concerns regarding the safety of these measures, there is no doubt that it was a clever application of the technology. It didn’t stop there. The drones were also equipped with audio devices that would remind citizens to practice safe hygiene and to stay indoors as much as possible to prevent further spread of the virus.

There have also been discussions by big international players to use drones to deliver medicine to hospitals to minimize human contact between patients and staff at the facility and the delivery service. Other conversations include using drones to deliver supplies to people who are more at-risk for severe symptoms or death such as the very young or elderly and those with immunodeficiencies. Some private companies have already started this process by making their commercial deliveries with drones and robots to mitigate risk. Drones can also be used to pick up samples for medical testing from those quarantined at home with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 rather than put medical workers at further risk by exposing them to these quarantined individuals on a regular basis.

The next question begs, what can do as independent UAS pilots to assist in our communities through the use of our drones?

Well, frankly, without an organized front there isn’t much impact independent UAS pilots can do. However, it’s never a bad idea to offer. There is potential for human resources to be very limited in the coming weeks. Between being sick with COVID-19 or another bug and minimizing risk of exposure as much as possible, having a drone to be able to assist in situations such as emergency response, public surveillance, and even varying methods of communication could relieve at least a reasonable amount of burden from our public service officials who will be stretched to their limits during this time of national crisis.

In tumultuous times like these, both generally in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic and within the UAS community in the battle against the Remote ID legislation, it is beneficial to everyone to use these aerial devices to our advantage and prove they are worth making accessible to everyone. One can never know when they might prove handy.

If you’d like to learn more about COVID-19 and what you can do to help stop the spread, click here to navigate to the Center for Disease Control’s website. Remember to only trust information from websites with a “.gov” or “.org” in their URL and take all other information with a grain of salt.

Drone Geek, Lancaster is Joining the PA Drone Association

Three years ago my journey as a drone pilot began. I’ve had varying levels of business and fire behind this endeavor. I’ve taken some breaks from it and I’ve gone headlong into it. The point is, until recently, I’ve been on a roller coaster of potential and possibilities since receiving my first drone.

Over the past few months I’ve been grinding hard. I’m nowhere near where I want to be as far as relevance goes — both locally and on worldwide platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube — but I’m seeing growth and it’s an exciting proposition to be taking so many steps forward in such a short amount of time.

Last week we took a huge step in building our reputation throughout the state of Pennsylvania as a leading drone cinematography and photography resource. Through the power of social media, I made a very important contact from the Pennsylvania Drone Association. He is, perhaps, the most important contact I could have made in my career.

David Heath, Executive Director at the PA Drone Association, reached out to me after noticing content I was posting on my social channels. We set up a phone call and, long story short, agreed that Drone Geek, Lancaster would join on as a member of the association and contribute content to its newsletter in a special additional capacity.

What does this mean?

Membership to the PA Drone Association has a bunch of perks related to education, exposure, and networking. Hopefully over the course of the next year we will see some benefits from those opportunities by making new friends and learning some things along the way.

In addition to those benefits comes a helping of new responsibilities too. Being a member of the association means we are now truly the face of the Pennsylvania drone community. We need to represent our community and share knowledge and information with them as well as the general public. One way Drone Geek, Lancaster is contributing to these efforts is by generating newsletter content for the association. As a result the content on this blog will start to transform just a bit from what you may be settling into at this point. Expect to see one or two topics each month shift focus away from our initiatives as an entity within the community and bring to light something that is relevant to all of us and can perhaps teach readers a thing or two about the drone industry.

I’m really looking forward to this change in our content machine. I think what we’re doing now is great, but injecting information that is more valuable to the community as a whole will bring a new element to Drone Geek, Lancaster that will benefit everyone. I’d like to take a moment to thank David for bringing me into the fold and for being such a fantastic ambassador for the community. It is people like him that are allowing us to take such big strides in turning this hobby into a living and that is a debt that one would be hard pressed to truly repay.

Stay tuned for more updates in the future and the new content in the coming weeks!

Lancaster City Restaurant Week 2020 (Video)

You know what’s awesome? Lancaster City Restaurant Week. You know what’s not awesome? Being on a diet during Lancaster City Restaurant Week.

This is the conundrum I found myself in during the first full week of March, where the city of Lancaster’s food service establishments celebrated Restaurant Week. I’ve been on a personal weight loss/muscle building journey for about the last year or so and I hit a stride in early February that I don’t want to backslide on. So, I had to make a decision: Fully enjoy Restaurant Week to make a full-length recap video with multiple restaurants and multiple dishes on display or skip the content for my own bodily health and stay on the straight and narrow?

I opted to compromise with myself and pick one night to go out and enjoy a restaurant’s special menu for the celebratory week.

I’m a foodie — that’s a nice way of saying my inner-fat kid is overactive at times. I love going out to eat and having my favorite foods. I’ve been to many restaurants in Lancaster and I can tell you that the food scene here is pretty dope. A wide variety of foods from different regions of the world, cultures, and genres spoil my tastebuds on a weekly basis.

I went to the Lancaster City Restaurant Week website to see what restaurants would be participating in the event and found the usual (and delicious) culprits like Altana, Amorette, Annie Bailey’s, the Belvedere, Barberet, Cafe One Eight, Cork & Cap, Federal Taphouse, Lancaster Brewing Company, Levengoods, Prince Street Cafe, Rachel’s Creperie, Souvlaki Boys, and many more. That being said, I decided that I wanted to eat somewhere that I hadn’t been to in the past.

That’s when I stumbled upon C’est La Vie. I traveled to France last November for vacation and loved every moment of it — particularly the food. Having the opportunity to eat French-inspired food in Lancaster at a great price was too much to pass up. The deal they were offering was a 3 course meal for $40. You can find the offerings for those courses on the Restaurant Week website, but here is the combination I went with:

  • First Course: Crab Deviled Eggs
  • Second Course: Coquille St. Jacques
  • Third Course: Lemon Meringue

I did put together a small video tribute to the annual week-long holiday in Lancaster City. It’s not quite as in-depth as I originally envisioned it, but I think it gets the message across: there are a ton of great places to eat in Lancaster. Enjoy!