Drones and Drone Photography for Hikers
Drones quickly revolutionized the photography field, allowing hikers and photographers alike to access new perspectives and new ways to take photos and videos. Let’s take a look at Drones and Drone Photography for Hikers.
Drone photography opens up endless possibilities. This is true regarding what you can photograph and the composition you can choose from.
You could, for example, shoot a landscape from off the shore. Or you could shoot hikers on a mountain peak, including the surrounding landscape and a wide view of the mountain.
Heck, a drone can be positioned anywhere in the sky, within the limits of local regulations.
This means drones allow you to choose from a virtually endless number of compositions for the same subject.
They are also very packable, which makes them great photographic tools to bring on a hike.
Besides, they are fun to fly!
Drone view of the Fagradalsfjall Eruption in Meradalir, Iceland. Really glad I had a drone with me on this occasion!
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What to be aware of when purchasing a Drone for the first time
If you are looking to get into drone photography, you should be aware of the learning curve. For your first few flights, practicing is recommended even if you are not taking photos.
After all, you don’t want to crash your new drone in a tree or drop it in a body of water because. Mixing up the controller’s commands is a real danger, especially the first few times you fly it.
Find an isolated place where you can fly undisturbed. Try different manoeuvres, and play around with the video and photography settings. Of course, you want to make sure you master these controls before going out in the field, so you can focus on shooting photos or videos.
Essentially, mastering and “automating” the controls in your brain is critical. It will take some time to master that. Nonetheless, flying is always great fun, so you will have mastered flying even before realizing it!
Whenever you fly, make sure you adhere to the basic rules and common sense use:
- Always fly by local regulations.
- Avoid disturbing people and wildlife.
- Leave no traces
If you stick to these simple rules, you will have less to worry about when flying your drone, and you will enjoy it more.
The three key factors to consider when purchasing a Drone for Drone Photography and Hiking
When purchasing a drone to bring with you on your hikes, there are three main factors apart from the price. In no particular order as the priority of one factor over the other will depend on your intended use:
- Image Quality
- Battery Duration
For beginners, it’s probably better to start with the more accessible entry-level models.
Something like the Mavic Mini or Autel Nano will allow you to understand whether flying drones is something you like and intend to do and keep doing long-term.
These entry models may not have as good image quality as more expensive ones, but they should be enough in most cases. This is an example of an image taken with the first Mavic Air. With its 1/2.3” CMOS, 12 MP sensor, the image quality is decent enough:
Sunset over Vik beach in the Lofoten Islands, Norway. Panorama taken with a Mavic Air
Remember that entry-level drones available today also have a much better quality than the original Mavic Air. For instance, the original Mavic Air did not shoot raw, while the Mavic Mini 2 does. In addition, the battery life is also quite good; for example, The Mavic Mini 2 is rated at 31 minutes, the same as the Mavic Air 2s.
In my experience, that type of battery life is more than enough for a single day hike. Unless you plan to record extensive video footage, the battery should last you for several short flights.
In addition, the best advantages of drones in this category have their weight and extreme packability. Drones in this category typically weigh less than 250 grams.
If you are hiking ultra-light or don’t need large photo prints, this may be your best choice.
Next in line, we have medium-level drones.
They offer a good balance between price, features and image quality. This is the category of the Mavic Air 2S or Autel Evo Lite and the likes. They are heavier and more expensive than the entry-level models, and in terms of battery life, they rate about the same.
Their main advantage is the larger sensor. A larger sensor means better low-light performance and better image quality. The Mavic Air 2 has a 1/2” sensor, while the Mavic Air 2 has a 1” sensor, which is a big deal. This also translates into more post-processing latitude. So if you like to play around with post-processing and edit raw files, this is also something you should consider.
This is an example of a shot taken with a Mavic Air 2, a blend of 5 raw shots.
The last rays of sunshine hiding behind Eystrahorn, Iceland. Blend of 5 images taken with a Mavic Air 2.
On the flipside, Drones in this category are heavier to hiker around with, although not by that much. Depending on how many batteries you are planning to bring with you, you may be looking at a few hundred grams to 500+ grams extra.
Prosumer level drones
The most expensive models like the Mavic 2 Pro or the Mavic 3 have the best image quality but are quite heavy to bring on long hikes. Their bonuses are image quality and the controllable aperture and flight time; the latter is true only for the Mavic 3. The weight may still be acceptable for day hikes or hikes with overnight stays. Compromises may be required, for example, leaving one telelens or a wide-angle at home in favour of the drone.
Panoramic image taken with a Mavic 3.
My Personal Considerations
I went through almost all models presented here (Mavic Air, Mavic Air 2 and Mavic 3). I enjoyed each of these models; the Mavic Air for nearly two years, the Mavic Air 2 for one year and the Mavic 3 is the one I currently have. What drove my decision was the image quality combined with its relative portability. As I mostly use the drone for photography, one battery is more than enough. So for a day Hike, I will only bring the installed battery, which saves the weight of an additional battery.
When it comes to drones and drone photography for Hikers, you should consider what takes priority between weight, image quality and price before purchasing or upgrading. How often you are going to use it is also something to consider. If you use the drone 4/5 times a year, you probably should not invest in one of the more expensive models. But Hey, if you can afford it, why not?
Drones and Drone Photography for Hikers – Choosing a model
With so many drones on the market and manufacturers rolling out new models all the time, choosing one can be quite a demanding effort.
If I were on the market for a drone today, being the avid hiker and photographer that I am, I would consider the following models:
Pros: Price, weight and battery life. This offer is hard to beat!
Cons: smaller sensor compared to the Air 2S and Mavic 3 Pro
Ideal for: ultra-light hiking
Pros: The best combination of image quality and price
Cons: shortest battery life, compared to the other two
Ideal for: those looking for the best combination of image quality and price
The Mavic 3 and the Mavic 3 Classic are essentially the same drone, with one difference. The Mavic 3 has an additional Tele-lens that the Mavic 3 Classic does not have. On the other hand, the Mavic 3 Classic is considerably cheaper. I personally own a Mavic 3, originally purchased when it was released. While I am happy with the tele lens, I would have probably purchased the Mavic 3 classic and saved the difference, had it been available at that time. Still, both are great choices, and I am definitely happy with my drone.
Pros: Image quality
Cons: Weight and Price
Ideal for: this who just want the best image quality and have no problems with its weight
Drones and Drone Photography for Hikers – Conclusions:
- It’s advisable to start with an entry-level model. The image quality is good enough for most use cases, and no need to invest too much. Plus, they are very lightweight, which means you are more likely to bring them with you even on very long or multi-day hikes.
- Medium-level drones are still relatively lightweight and offer a better image quality, especially for photos, compared to entry-level ones. Of course, they will take up more space and weight in your backpack and money from your wallet, but they offer the best balance between prices and features. For many hiking photographers or videographers, this is a sweet spot. Especially something like the Mavic Air 2s with its 1-inch sensors.
- Prosumer-level drones offer the best image quality and manageable weight. If you need the best image quality, these are the best models available. Sure, you will have to sacrifice some space in your backpack or make the extra effort with a heavier pack on the trail.
I won’t even mention larger and more expensive drones here, and it makes no sense for a hiker to bring one of those along. They won’t even fit in a backpack! But Hey, if you are a Sherpa or weight is not a problem, you may consider something like Inspire 2!
Also, don’t forget to fly responsibly. Ensure you have all the permissions or insurance you need to fly a drone. Do not fly in restricted areas. Be considerate to people and wildlife. Last but not least, enjoy!