DRONES FOR FILMMAKING

Scott Thompson

Table of Contents

Remember when you had to rent a helicopter to get a good aerial shot in a movie? 

Im talkin’ Lethal Weapon Intro shot….

Good times…..

Not only was it expensive, but you could only film…. where the helicopter could fly safely.

This would limit cool cinematic camera shots in movies based on the movie budget ( how many shots could you afford) and size of the chopper ( where is it safe to fly ).

Oh have times have changed.

Thankfully with all the advancements in drone technologies , those days of helicopter flight are over.

Today there are many options for filmmakers and content creators who want to add aerial footage in their stories.

In this article we will go over the best drones for filmmaking in 2020. We will first explain what flight and camera features are most important for cinematography. FInally , we will show a wide range of drones from high to low price points.

The 6 Best Drones for FIlmmaking 2020 are :

  • FREEFLY ALTA 8 WITH MOVI PRO  
  • DJI MATRICE 600
  • DJI INSPIRE 2 
  • DJI INSPIRE 1
  • DJI MAVIC PRO 2
  • DJI MAVIC AIR 2

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN LOOKING FOR DRONES FOR FILMMAKING : FLIGHT AND CAMERA FEATURES

THE BASICS : DRONE FLIGHT FEATURES NEEDED FOR FILMMAKING

DRONE BASICS 101 : There are many camera controls that contribute to getting the shot you need. Movies are shot in a way that makes us feel we are just floating in the background , watching the story unfold before our eyes.

Most of the time, shots must be smooth and stabilized. Depending on the requirements for your cinematic scene, you may need different flight movements. Below is a list of flight features we feel are important for filmmaking.

  • CINEMATIC FLIGHT

CInematic Flight control is a standard way of giving a scene that “hollywood’ look. For years Hollywood has used cranes and other mechanical devices to get cameras to shoot from different viewpoints. Each shot swoops in very smoothly and is controlled.

These same shots can be achieved with a drone. It’s very important to use a drone that can achieve smooth and cinematic movements for the purpose of filmmaking. The better the gimbal , camera stabilizaition, and propeller control, the more cinematic the shots.

  • NIGHT FLYING FEATURES

Many movies are shot at nightime. If you ever plan on using a drone shot at night you may consider buying one with advanced safety features . Advanced obstacle avoidance is a must for night shooting.  It is harder to pilot a drone at nighttime. It is a good rule of thumb to get a drone that has LED safety lights. Also better cameras get you better low light performance.

  • SPEED and sport control ( action sequences) following cars

Drones for filmmaking should have faster speed control. If you are chasing cars or doing another movement that needs you to fly fast, you want to look for that when purchasing one. ( The inspire 2 clocks at about 60 mph )

  • INDOOR FLYING

Can your drone fit indoors? If so you can also use it indoors to shoot from above in a high ceiling location. You could never do this with a helicopter, smaller drones are great for shooting indoors .

  • ADJUSTMENTS OF FLIGHT SPEEDS 

As stated earlier, FIlm making requires smooth cinematic shots , as well as fast action style sequences. The best drones should be able to be adjusted to do both well.

THE BASICS : DRONE CAMERA FEATURES NEEDED FOR FILMMAKING

What camera features are important to have on a drone for filmmaking?

  • INTERCHANGEABLE LENSES 

Pro drones give you the ability to interchange the lenses. This is a handy feature because you will be able to get different focal length shots . For filmmaking this is a big plus. It is also good to match your drone footage to your other clips in a film so they flow together nicely.

  • RESOLUTION

In Filmmaking, high resolution is a must. 4K resolution is a minimum by today’s standards. You should look for drones that can get you 4k ,6k, 8k. Most movies are shot in at least 6k resolution. Many pro drones can also shoot in RAW which allows for more color correcting in post.

  • DYNAMIC RANGE

Film cameras are known for capturing higher dynamic ranges than consumer cameras. If you are looking to buy a drone for filmmaking, make sure you are aware of dynamic range measurements and how many stops each drone has.

  • LOW LIGHT 

If you ever will shoot in the dark, you will need a drone that can handle lower light . This is usually a feature of higher end cinemas cameras. In drones that can interchange lenses you can use a lens with a lower F or T stop.

EASY OF USE

One last recommendation when looking at drones for filmmaking is the ease of use. 

How much experience do you have flying a drone? If you’re not an experienced pilot, you should start on an easier drone.

If you don’t have a large crew you may rethink which drone you use. Some drones require hours of setup and 2 people to operate.

Your should explore ease of use prior to purchasing a drone.

SET UP TIME

How long will the drone take to set up? It’s important to think about how many people you have to help set up . 

HOW MANY PEOPLE NEEDED TO OPERATE?

Some drones can be operated with one person, others require more than one.

Now that we’ve gone over important glight and camera controls needed for filmmaking , let’s get into our top 5 drone choices for making films.

LET’S EXPLORE

BEST PROFESSIONAL DRONES FOR FILMMAKING

FREEFLY ALTA 8 with  MOVI GIMBAL CONTROLLER 

Freefly systems make some of the most advanced systems available for filmmaking . They  specialize in drones , gimbals and control systems to hold and operate high resolution cinema camera setups. They only make top level gear and don’t offer many consumer level drones. 

This drone is for the pros.

Movies like “Black Panther” , “The Mummy ” with Tom Cruise & the 2017 sci fi thriller “Alien” have all been shot using the freefly alta drone system.
This drone system actually carries the cinema camera and shoots from the sky.

FLIGHT SPECS 

  • MAX PAYLOAD:  CAMERA 12 LBS
  • 8 PROPELLERS  : SUPERIOR STABILIZATION AND SMOOTH FLIGHT.
  • TOP SPEED 35 MPH
  • FLIGHT TIME 6 -12 MINUTES
  • 2 MAN OPERATION ( ONE PILOT FLYING DRONE OTHER PERSON IS CONTROLLING CAMERA)

CAMERA SPECS 

  • ANY CAMERA CAN BE MOUNTED TO MOVI PRO GIMBAL SYSTEM.

PROS TO THIS SETUP 

  •  YOU CAN MATCH OTHER LENSES ON SET

Many times on movie sets , filmmakers will use the same lens and camera bodies to achieve the same look of each shot. This way every clip matches each other . 

  • You can shoot with superior camera setups . Many professionals use 8k raw footage that has much more flexibility in post production. This drone can carry the best cinema cameras in the world . With this drone set up you can achieve the highest level of quality available by using the best cameras in the game.

CONS TO THIS SETUP

  • Large in sIze
  • Takes time to set up

Who is the FREEFLY ALTA 8 Drone Best for?

This drone is made for professional drone filmmaking. It is used on many of the top Hollywood sets.

If you got the budget , the know how , and the team this is your best choice for top level cinematography.

DJI MATRICE 600

DJI is leading the way for consumer drones. Their drones are incredible , producing amazing visuals and flying abilities. The MATRICE 600 is the boss of their professional drone series.

FLIGHT SPECS 

  • MAX PAYLOAD:  CAMERA 6KG
  • 6 PROPELLERS  : SUPERIOR STABILIZATION AND SMOOTH FLIGHT.
  • TOP SPEED 40 MPH
  • FLIGHT TIME 35 MINUTES
  • 2 MAN OPERATION ( ONE PILOT FLYING DRONE OTHER PERSON IS CONTROLLING CAMERA)
  • MAX FLIGHT DISTANCE 

CAMERA SPECS 

  • YOU HAVE THE ABILITY TO PUT ON YOUR OWN CAMERAS USING THE RONIN GIMBAL . ANY RIG UP TO 6KG

PROS TO THIS SETUP 

  • YOU CAN MATCH OTHER LENSES ON SET JUST LIKE THE FREEFLY ALTA 8 SETUP

In Filmmaking , the ability to change your body and lens can drastically enhance your shots.

Different lenses can alter the scene , being able to change your lenses and camera is a features for pro level filmmaking.

  • CONS TO THIS SETUP

The size is really the only con of the MATRICE 600 for filmmaking. Its big and bulky. If your shooting a documentary , need to fly indoors or your traveling with the drone size will be an issue.

Who is the MATRICE 600 Drone Best for?

This drone is made for professional drone filmmaking. If you are familiar with DJI you will know they are leading the way for consumer drones. The MATRICE 600 gives you amazing flight abilities paired with the freedom to mount your own camera setup on the Aircraft.

NOW LET’S EXPLORE MID PRICED PROFESSIONAL DRONES FOR FILMMAKING

DJI INSPIRE 2

The DJI Inspire 2 is the most “bang for the buck” professional drone on the market. It has some incredible flight and camera features. You can interchange different camera gimbals onto the craft to get additional lens and focal lengths. You can fly with one or two operators : 2 flight modes.

And as far as professional cine drones go…… It’s much cheaper than the MATRICE 600 or the ALTA 8.

FLIGHT SPECS 

  • OBSTACLE AVOIDANCE SENSORS ( ADVANCED DJI TECHNOLOGY)
  • 4 PROPELLERS  : VERY GOOD STABILIZATION AND SMOOTH FLIGHT.
  • TOP SPEED 58 MPH
  • FLIGHT TIME 27 MINUTES
  • 1 or 2 MAN OPERATION

CAMERA SPECS 

  • HAS DIFFERENT OPTIONS TO MOUNT DIFFERENT CAMERA GIMBALS.
    • Zenmuse X7 | Super 35 sensor | 14 stops dynamic range | 6k Raw | 5.2K Apple Pro Res | 4 lenses to choose from 16mm | 24mm | 35mm | 50mm all 2.8 Aperture
    • Zenmuse X5S | Micro 4/3 sensor | – can attach Olympus 45mm 1.8 | Lumix 14-42 | Panasonic 15mm
    • Zenmuse X5R
    • Zenmuse X5
    • Zenmuse X4S

https://click.dji.com/ACQMAo3gTIinJvN3_44_?pm=link

PROS TO THIS SETUP 

The Inspire 2 is the most compact professional setup on the market. It is much smaller than the ALTA 8 and MATRICE 600, yet it has some powerful features.

Who Is the Inspire 2 Best for?

This drone is for filmmakers who are looking for a hollywood film level of video quality, but has a low budget. This drone can deliver great shots at a fraction of the price. Kits can range anywhere from $7500-15000.

LET’S EXPLORE BEST LOW PRICED DRONES FOR FILMMAKING

DJI INSPIRE 1

The first version of the DJI Inspire was ahead of its time. Although the Inspire 2 is a better drone in almost every category, the Inspire 1 can still be a great drone for filmmakers. Specifically those on a tighter budget.

FLIGHT SPECS 

  • MAX PAYLOAD: 3 LBS
  • 4 PROPELLERS  :  STAVERY GOOD STABILIZATION AND SMOOTH FLIGHT.
  • TOP SPEED 49 MPH
  • FLIGHT TIME 18 MINUTES
  • 1 OR 2 MAN OPERATION ( ONE PILOT FLYING DRONE OTHER PERSON IS CONTROLLING CAMERA)

CAMERA SPECS 

  • HAS DIFFERENT OPTIONS TO MOUNT DIFFERENT CAMERA GIMBALS.
    • XT
    • Z3
    • Zenmuse X5R
    • Zenmuse X5
    • Zenmuse X3
  • 4K RECORDING

PROS TO THIS SETUP 

  •  YOU CAN INTERCHANGES LENSES TO MATCH OTHER SET LENSES

Who is the DJI INSPIRE FOR Drone Best for?

This is the oldest drone on this list, however it still takes great shots and we felt it tops the MAVIC PRO 2 for filmmaking, due to the interchangeable lens option.

LOWEST PRICED DRONES FOR FILMMAKING

DJI MAVIC 2 PRO

When DJI made the original Mavic Pro, it sent consumers into a buying frenzy. 

So when the Mavic 2 Pro finally dropped, it quickly grew into one of the most popular drones on the market. DJI fine tuned all the issues from the first model and gave consumers everything they wanted in part 2.The Mavic 2 gave you pro level features in a small and compact body. The best of both worlds. Equipped with a 20 MegaPixel 4k HASSELBLAD Camera 

FLIGHT SPECS 

  • MAX PAYLOAD:  Not much more than already attached
  • 4 PROPELLERS  : SUPERIOR STABILIZATION AND SMOOTH FLIGHT.
  • ADVANCED OBSTACLE AVOIDANCE
  • TOP SPEED 44 MPH
  • FLIGHT TIME 31 MINUTES
  • 1 MAN OPERATION
  • INTELLIGENT FLIGHT MODES (WAYPOINT , FOLLOW ME , OBJECT TRACKING)

For Filmmaking waypoint modes can be used to pre record a camera movement . This way you can insure it is smooth when your recording on set

CAMERA SPECS 

  • 20 MegaPixel 4k HASSELBLAD Camera 
  • 3 AXIS GIMBAL CONTROL
  • Can attach ND Filters
  • 4K RECORDING D-LOG

PROS TO THIS SETUP 

  •  MANUAL SETTINGS

Although you can’t change lenses on this drone , you still can make manual settings like aperture , shutter speed and iso.

Who is the Mavic 2 Pro Best for?

If you have a low budget and want to squeeze the best possible footage out of your shots the Hasselblad Camera delivers some very professional video. 

If you apply some color grading you can match your other footage fairly easily. Although you cant change lenses you have a few manual adjustments that you can control .

DJI MAVIC AIR 2

Last on the list is the DJI Mavic Air 2. This compact drone is great for filmmakers looking to fly in hard to reach places. As small as it is, it has alot of powerful flight and camera features

FLIGHT SPECS 

  • ADVANCED AIRSENSE TECHNOLOGY
  • 4 PROPELLERS  : SUPERIOR STABILIZATION AND SMOOTH FLIGHT.
  • TOP SPEED 42 mph
  • FLIGHT TIME : 34 MINUTES
  • 1 MAN OPERATION

CAMERA SPECS 

  • RECORDS IN H.265 CODEC
  • 4K 60 RECORDINGS

PROS TO THIS SETUP 

  • COMPACT AND POWERFUL

Who is the DJI MAVIC AIR 2 Drone Best for?

This drone will deliver an amazing effort for the price. You won’t find Hollywood level video quality, but this is a close as it gets for under $1000.

See our full article on the Mavir Air 2 here