Most people consider drones a modern idea, and, while the technology is certainly advanced, the concept of drones is not so new. In fact, Austrians used the very simple idea of releasing unmanned flying objects – namely explosive-laden balloons - to attack the Italian city of Venice, all the way back in 1849.
Sure, it wasn’t today’s technology, but the concept of flying something somewhere without actually going there yourself – for a wide variety of reasons, was absolutely the same: and ultimately led to the development of today’s best long-distance drones.
Of course, drones came about through years of technological advance. From entertainment, photography and surveillance, to agriculture, mapping and even delivery service, drones are becoming an ever-increasing tool that combines the incredible advancements of technology with the niche needs of a fast-paced modern society.
So, why a long-distance drone?
Simply put, long-range drones allow people to do more. Sure, drones can take selfies and race, but longer distances allow drones to not only travel higher and farther, but also into places that are difficult, time-consuming and just plain dangerous. Bigger ranges allow drones to see first-hand, real-time data that equate into knowledgeable decisions.
For surveyors, foresters and hikers, charting difficult terrain means people stay safe when checking on volcanoes, looking into houses in recent wildfire zones, and determining safe routes when on unfamiliar or unmapped routes. Plus, the larger range means less chance of your drone going out of range, out of signal and out of control, all important when considering how important and expensive this technology can be.
Still, without large range capabilities, such tech remains nothing more than fancy toys with no real return on investment. So, what makes a good long-range drone? There are several advantages to longer-range drones, but like with so many things, there are consequences to such advantage as well.
The Almighty Buck
The first consequence of distance is price. Basically, the further away your drone can travel, the bigger the price tag that accompanies it. Now, while it may seem like a money grab, the steeper price – sometimes reminiscent of a drone going vertical – does make some sense.
Drone distances require technology that has to be capable of some pretty amazing things, and such tech simply costs more. Yet, if you aren’t ready to mortgage the house, there are cheaper long-range drones available out there. One popular choice is Holy Stone’s HS700 Drone. Coming in at just under $500 US, the HS700 sports an impressive 5G 1080P full high definition camera with an 110° field of view lens, making beautiful panoramic pictures possible.
In addition, real time video remains high-quality thanks to the 1300-foot transmission – an amazing tool for perfect selfies! Plus, with GoPro Hero (versions 2/3/4/5/6) capability, this drone is an excellent and versatile investment.
Other Pros of the Holy Stone HS700 Drone include:
- GPS assisted flight, Follow Me Mode, Wi-Fi compatible
- Can be launched with one key and has easy direction control with headless mode
- Automatic Return to Home when signal lost, battery is low or when recalled
- App controllable – use your Smartphone App and GPS to draw a fly path or fly clockwise around a point all while sending 1080P views to Smartphone screen
- Stable hover and flight, great in windy conditions, plus has altitude lock
- Brushless Motor is strong and quiet
- Durable high-capacity 2800mAh intelligent battery provides 20 minutes of flight per charge; battery charge status shown on App and remote controller
- Quick release propellers can be used with no screws, making it easy to pack up and take with you
- Drone range of only 3280 feet
- Long 5-7 hour battery charge time
- Must buy separate remote controller if want full range capabilities
- No gimbal for camera
Time Will Tell
The second consequence of long range dronesinvolves flight time. Packing that much tech into a capable, durable flight machine still has limits. Still, there are now some long-range drones for salethat really do have impressive flight times. Boasting over 30 minutes of actual flight time, the Phantom 4 Pro Drone by DJI is a powerful little drone.
It has an impressive high-end camera with 1-inch 20-megapixal CMOS sensor that can shoot 4K/60fps video and eliminates rolling shutter distortion with a custom lens and mechanical shutter; great for getting quality images at high speeds.
Other Pros of the DJI Phantom 4 Pro:
- Flight Autonomy system provides high-resolution stereo vision sensors dual front and rear vision sensors and infrared sensing for 5-direction obstacle sensing and 4-direction obstacle avoidance to 300 m as well as route planning and environmental mapping
- Automatically recognizes subjects, following and capturing them as they move, providing complex shots; uses: trace, profile and spotlight modes
- Dual compass and IMU provides reliability, stable flight
- Navigation uses dual GPS and GLONASS
- 264 4K video at 60fps or H.265 at 30fps, both with 100Mbps bitrate
- DJI GO app shows battery life, calculates remaining flight time, provides alerts
- Advanced battery management system prevents overcharging and over draining and 5 hours of power per charge
- Control and Flight Mode options include: Draw, Standard, Free, TapFly, Gesture, ActiveTrack, New Circle, Parallel, Spotlight intelligent, Return to Home
- Return to Home feature automatically chooses best route and can return home if control signal is disconnected
- Requires smart device and DJI GO app for many advanced features
- Cost: anywhere from $1200 to $2000 US, depending on kit you purchase
- Using two different frequencies can interfere and impact flight performance
- Lightbridge HD video transmission system 5.8 GHz, can select 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz to cut
- Gimbal calibration difficult
- Video feed requires clear line of sight, especially with increased distance
You Outta Be in Pictures!
Photography involves some pretty sensitive and expensive equipment and putting it in a flying cage and still getting amazing shots isn’t easy. To ensure you get the best shots possible, drones have all kinds of tech - from stabilizers to software – to help offset the challenges. Some drones have good accommodation, but thefive-star rated DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone is all that and then some.
The Mavic 2 Pro comes with an impressive Hasselblad L1D-20c camera with 1-inch, 20MP CMOS Sensor that provides stunning aerial shots with gorgeous color and detail. Hasselblad cameras – yes, the same cameras that took pics of the first moon landing – partnered to create a 4K 10-bit HDR amidst an adjustable F/2.8 to F/11 aperture that allows for great photography. The Mavic 2 Pro also sports 1080 live video at a distance of 8 km.
Other Pros of the DJI Mavic 2 Pro:
- HyperLapse mode will shoot stable aerial shots that process automatically
- Hyper Light provides low light setting to enhance images and reduce noise
- ActiveTrack 2.0 maps a 3D environment that creates greater recognition and accuracy
- Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing and Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems actively avoid obstacles
- Bottom Auxiliary Light for low light conditions
- Trajectory prediction algorithms help maintain tracking when subject is blocked
- 3-axis gimbal for steady shots
- low-noise propellers
- 31 minutes of flight time
- Cost of $1800 US or more
- No zoom
And the winner is…
While these are clearly only three of the many long-range drones on the market, the great thing about the variety is that there is something to meet everyone’s needs. However, checking out Holy Stone’s HS700, DJI’s Phantom 4 or the Mavic 2 Pro by DJI, will never leave you disappointed.