Commercial grade aerial photography

Hey guys! I have some serious questions relating to commercial grade aerial photography! I live in New Zealand, and while there is not a large amount of companies doing aerial photography with drones it would be the perfect time to get into it!

My question is,

I can spend up 20 - 30K on a setup. But what when sh** hits the fan, and something in the 2.4GHz spektrum sends 30K of gear into the water or ground!

Is it possible to get commercial grade aerial photography for around the 3 - 4k mark?

I really dont see why not. Im happy on sitting any licenses or regs relating to flying at height etc, but what is the difference between a vehicle costing 30k and one costing 4k?

Im still talking stabilized brushless gimbal, maybe a wookong M or even APM 2.5.

The reason I ask is, why spend so much when i can get cheaper gear with the same redundancy and quality and range, stability etc etc.

Any help much appreciated.

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  • My advise would be build a cheap quad with the most basic kk flight controller. Get Very good at flying first before you sink any time or money into a large AP platform.

    Many people assume flying is easy, based on ardrone or similar experiences. And to a certain extent with high end FC like APM and DJI, with a properly configured, tuned and assembled aircraft it is easy, but, when things turn to custard is only your experience that will save the day, or person or property for that matter. I have medium octos and on a good day my alzheimers affected nana could fly it safely, but on a bad day only my hours flying a small quad with a basic gyro only FC have given me the experience to safely keep things under control.

    Be very aware also that the nz regulations around these are changing as I write. Currently any pilotless aircraft (yes that's model aircraft) used for commercial gain are designated Unmanned Aerial systems, and on the list of a couple of dozen rules is the tricky one, you need to be certified by the director of the CAA to operate legally.

    Soon though expect weight and size restrictions ruining the party also.

    For now I operate for friends and fun only. I'm not sinking any large amounts of time or money into my AP aspirations till the new rules come out lest I end up with a very expensive paper weight too big to even fit on my desk.
  • MR60


    It seems to me that yes you can build a professional grade platform for less than 4k. That is actually the whole purpose of this DIY community

    -Hexa or Octo frame : ranges from 100$ to a few hundreds $, that allows you already excellent frames (mix alum/carbon/Fiber glass), where you will not be afraid to buy spare parts or even break parts. I would not go for the multiple of thousands of $ leading commercial frames : not only are they costly, you pay the brand, you will not find easily spare parts and spare parts will cost a lot.

    -Electronics based on APM : 180$ (APM2.5 microcontroller), GPS (75$), Radio telemetry (90$), Power module (15$)

    -Motors : serious t-motors, prof grade, 45$ per motor

    -ESC : high quality ones , 30 amps (25$ per ESC)

    -Props : 4$ per prop

    -TX ER9x CH , based on famous excellent opensource ER9X firmware, 50$ (hobbyking)

    -8 CH Radio receiver with redundant antennas : FRSKY module (25$)

    -Autopilot firmware : free (opensource Arducopter)

    -Ground station software : free (open source arducopter/ mission planner)

    -Ground station hardware : screen, mount, antenna(s). I made one for less than 200$ which is just perfect.

    -Camera gimbal mount : that is probably the most expensive part. Professional commercial gimbals with 2 or 3 axis stabilization are in the range of 1000$ to limit. If you go with the open source Alex Mos brushless gimbal solution, you will reduce the cost to max a few hundreds of $.

    -Camera itself : depends on what you want, from keychain HD camera at 30$ up to RED professionnal camera (no limit up)

    -FPV : that is if you want a low res camera (often PAL/NTSC analog resolution, that is 500 or 600 lines max) to visualize what your multicopter "sees" (using a radio link with another frequency band (5,8 Ghz or 1,3 Ghz usually) than those used on your multicopter : TX/RX usually 2,4Ghz/ telemetry 900mHz or 433 Mhz usually / and GPS frequency around 1,2Ghz). It can be used in aerial photography to frame the actual camera taking professional pictures. Count for a fpv camera around 100$, for a fpv radio link rx/tx about 200$.


    I think you pay today 10-20k for commercially built platforms because this is a new market both on the technology and customer maturity levels. Therefore little volumes, therefore high prices.

    Now we see since the last few years (and visibly accelerating very fast) a total opening and accessibility (off the shelve technology, low prices) of the parts required to own and fly a multicopter drone with functions that the military maybe did not even dreamt of 15 years ago.

    This pushes toward price reductions and other business models. I do not think that today's commercial prebuilt multicopter platforms at 10-20k will survive very long. The drone platform becomes now  a commodity (no more strong value) and anyone is able to buy RTF kits that are more and more professional graded.

    Rather the business value evolves toward services (based on drones) where service consumers do no want or do not care to own or to fly a drone (because it would not be their core business or do not have the skills/time or knowledge to do it).

    As you think in terms of services, I do not think the technological platform matters as much. Indeed let's say you sell aerial photography services: what your customer wants is a perfect picture answering his needs; he does not care if the picture was taken with WooKong of APM2.5 or even a helium balloon.

    So advice and conclusion would be : do not look at price tags or fancy expensive commercial technology. Look rather at your aerial photography needs; these needs would make you maybe conclude that you have to own a fleet of different platforms that fit best the needs; for example a small quad with a gopro for small events and a bigger octo with a DSLR camera for national geographic level shots.

    Just a thought,


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