Thanks to small, high-quality digital cameras, professional and personal drones have completely transformed the production industry, letting filmmakers capture shots that were previously unattainable to non-studio filmmakers. To capture aerial footage a few years ago, you had to either book time in a helicopter containing a professional operator, remote head, and bulky HD camera, or, for lower altitudes, rent the services of a small remote helicopter and operator from a company like Flying-Cam or Coptervision. As you can probably guess, helicopters don’t come cheap.
Today’s professional drones have the advantage of working with smaller digital cameras. But for professional work, you’re going to need a drone that is able to carry a camera that’s larger than a GoPro, and for a longer period of time. (Professional cameras like the RED Epic Dragon and ARRI ALEXA Mini weigh roughly five pounds, but can still capture up to 6K resolution and use high-quality PL lenses.)
Quadcopters, which contain four propellers, are the most common drones for personal use. They’re generally the least expensive, while still offering decent maneuverability. In 2015, you can buy a basic quadcopter drone with a 720p camera at Toys “R” Us for $90.
But for more serious work, an exciting new personal drone is the Solo from 3D Robotics. Armed with your own GoPro HERO camera, the all-in-one drone has serious computing power, with two integrated Linux computers — one on the drone and one in the controller — giving you control over your GoPro’s controls, plus wireless streaming to your mobile device or through your controller’s HDMI port for live HD broadcasts.
There have been recent news stories on drones disrupting air traffic with close calls between drones and commercial flights. There are many rules to learn before you even attempt to fly your drone for the first time.
If you want to use your drone on a professional or commercial production, you are going to need approval from the FAA with three methods of certification in different categories. The FAA released regulations and procedures, and there are only a dozen or so companies who are exempted for drone production use — although this number is expected to rise quickly.