Guest post by Hawaii Web Group
There are unique advantages and disadvantages to both ways of shooting aerial photography. Living in Hawaii gives us access to many helicopter tours and some of the best views on the planet. And since we have many drones and professional cameras at our disposal, we’re in a unique position to share specific examples and our experiences shooting aerial photography from both helicopters and drones in Maui, Hawaii.
The Differences between Drone Photography & Traditional Helicopter Photography
This is one of the biggest differences, and both types of aerial photography have pros and cons. With drones, you can’t legally fly in the US above 400 feet. This is great for shooting people, moving objects on the ground, sports, buildings, etc… But, to get a truly magnificent birds eye view, a lot of times shooting from a helicopter is the only way to go. We find shooting towns, cities, and major landmarks offers a fuller composition from higher up.
Flight Duration and distances
DJI claims the new Phantom 4 has a max flight time of approximately 28 minutes (same with the new Inspire 2 and Mavic Pro), the DJI S900 does 18 minutes (depending on the weight of the attached camera and gear), and the GoPro Karma has a 20 minute flight time. This is usually enough time per shoot, and there’s always the option of having more batteries once you return to home. When flying with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, you fly for up to a 2 hour tour. This allows you to shoot for longer and travel greater distances. Though flying a drone out of line of sight is easily done, it’s not recommended and restricts the distances you can cover on a single full charge.
Safety & Liability
We fly exclusively with Blue Hawaiian's experienced pilots and quality aircrafts. As far as drones, you can find a million scary videos online of drones crashing into bystanders as well as drone operators. Thankfully, applied sensor technology is keeping new drones from crashing into objects. We’ve all been waiting for this! I have a robot kitty cat toy my kid has played with for over 4 years that has this sensor technology. Why it took so long for drone makers to add this feature is beyond me. Depending on how well this technology works, you hopefully won’t have a problem. If you do, you’re the one liable for damages.
Of course, if you fly infrequently, most drones will end up costing you less than helicopter flights. There are, however, some hidden costs for drone owners. If you travel, you need to consider the extra baggage cost of checking in items you might normally carry on (cause we know you’ll likely carry your drone on, right?) Another additional cost to flying drones is upgrading. It seems every time we buy a new drone, the next version comes out a month later. Also, sadly, we’ve lost a number of drones in numerous ways including tree & waterfall collisions (which it looks like will be a thing of the past), and malfunction over the ocean… I really can’t expand on this. It’s emotional.
Though our Phantom cameras aren’t quite to the professional level we want, the new cameras that can be added to the Inspire are phenomenal. We also love the ability to drop our Canon Mark III on the S900. That being said, there’s extra cost for these cameras, and taking out the big spreading wing rig requires more time, muscle and energy. When shooting aerial photography from a helicopter, we can use any size and weight rig we want, which is really nice.
Helicopters are obviously much louder, but it doesn’t matter. You’re never going to piss off neighbors and have ignorant people call the police on you if your flying with an experienced helicopter pilot. Plus, they give you noise-cancelling headphones so you can talk to each other. When you fly high enough with a drone, you can’t hear them, but when low, it can be upsetting depending on your location and proximity to animals and people. I got kicked out of the Surfing Goat Dairy once cause my Phantom was bothering the goats. I feel bad about it to this day.
The new Inspire 2 flies up to a whopping 67mph! That’s pretty stunning. We wonder how much that drains off the battery and your flight time? We’ll test it soon! As far as helicopters, you can fly much faster and much further. For sustained shots over far expanses, you can’t beat the helicopter.
Expert drone pilots can control both the flight and the camera with ease. We love that the Inspire gives you the option of having 2 controls so that 2 people can control each independently. We also really like the new features added at DJI that allow for following the subject or spotlighting them. But for those of us with less experience and the need for complex shots, flying from a helicopter is preferred.
There are certain areas you can’t capture with a drone in Hawaii. For example, Haleakala National Park—or any US National Park—prohibits flights over them. With a helicopter, you can legally get close enough to see them well. With a drone, you risk getting tazed by a ranger. Also, flying over private property and certain protected animal life (Humpback Whales) isn’t allowed below 400 feet. You’ll need to book a helicopter tour in Hawaii for these unique shots.
Proximity to Subject
Again, pros and cons for both. Your helicopter pilot isn’t going to let you fly within mere feet of another person or a building. But you can’t get up close to a towering waterfall in the West Maui Mountains with a drone (unless you want to hike and rock climb for days.) Weather is also an issue. A little rain won’t bother your helicopter flight, but it’ll fry your expensive toy.
Gimbal for Video
If you want to shoot video on a helicopter, you better have a great gimbal that reduces shake. Most drones these days are equipped with 3-axis gimbals and shake-eliminating technology.
This is a plus with both. My heart races flying both drones and in a helicopter. My adrenaline level is definitely higher when flying next to sea cliffs, racing over rainforest, and steady right next to massive waterfalls. But there’s a giddy excitement every time I bring a drone into flight.
What did we miss? Please comment below with your questions and anything you would add or change on this aerial flight comparison blog post. Mahalo and we’ll see you in the skies above Maui, Hawaii!