Ever since word broke out of a brand new flying object that could be used for a myriad of purposes, people have been quick to find out more about it. The drone, because that is the newest star on the horizon of technological advances, isn’t, as many might think, something which appeared in the 21st century. The history of this machine goes way back, to the 20th century. Once it was clear that this flying object would be here to stay, a large number of manufacturers began to think of ways to make it available to large masses of customers. The first step towards that: creating many drone models at affordable prices while developing the kind of drone technology that would make them cheap, but great quality-wise.
We put together a guide that will walk people, both experts and novices alike, through the history of drones, the technology behind it all, its components and what makes the machine actually work, how to use one and what it’s good for. We’ll end by giving all those interested on the subject some tips & tricks on drone photography and the technology that goes into shooting great photos with this device. If you’d like to skip directly to one section of our guide, feel free to click through the content categories featured in the list below:
1. Brief History of Drone Technology
2. Drones, Not As New As You Might Think
3. Latest Developments in Drone Technology and Drone Use Trends
4. What Is a Drone? Definitions, What Makes It Tick
5. Drone Components: Basics and General Overview
6. How to Use Drones
7. Drone Uses and Purposes
8. Drone Photography 101
8.1. Current Drone Technology for Photography
8.2. Best Drones for Aerial Photography and Filming
8.3. Drone Photography Tips and Tricks for Beginners
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about drones and how they cam to be, as well as how their remote technology evolved. If you thought drones are a newly invented hype of the past few years, think again.
As many would like to think, the 21st century isn’t the first time frame to see the appearance of the first drone. In fact, its history is much older: think one century earlier. Back then, an aerial torpedo nicknamed the Kettering Bug made waves: it was unmanned, a rarity in those times. The machine was developed to be used for World War I. The new creation would go on to be the predecessor of cruise missiles, but particularly of modern drones. This ancestor was ideal for war spotting, as well as aerial photography when the situation needed it. World War II came and the drones were still in heavy use, even more so, since they were needed for aerial targets. In fact, that’s when the machine got its now popular denomination; “droning” was the sound that target engines made when used.
The history of the drone continues into the 1980s and beyond. Cold War efforts relied heavily on the device for numerous target practices. During the Vietnam War, they were also very useful as bombers and scouts. While the past is rich in different purposes for drones, the future looks just as bright for these flying machines. The number of civilian drones used for personal enjoyment or business continues to grow each passing year.
Smartphones, tablets, TVs and the like have seen massive technological developments in the past few years. Drone technology isn’t one to stay behind and, with each passing day, more and more important changes have been made. Each of them with consumers in mind, because there are different categories of people when it comes to drone use. We have professional and beginner photographers, the military, different news crews and so on, and all of them want what’s best in their profession.
Intelligence when it comes to drones isn’t as strange as it may sound. 2015 saw a surge in this area, with more and more drones being able to offer a multitude of possibilities. A few of them: indoor positioning and mobile control. 2016 is going to be the year of this amazing machine, with developments such as automatic obstacle avoidance being at the forefront of technology. The Follow Me mode is even more powerful, as is the indoor positioning one. Manufacturers such as JIYI and Zero Tech are only some of the biggest names in the industry to surprise drone lovers with major technological advances.
Keeping in touch with friends and family won’t be done only via Facebook and other social platforms. Drones will very soon be a valid alternative as a new feature on the consumer level drone has been created. The XplorerMini, for example, has a socialized function. It allows the owner to share both videos and photos on any given social platform whenever he wants to. The drone also comes with intelligent control. Speaking of the latter: Intel is the first to test out the world of drones. Qualcomm has also followed suit recently and went into business with Zero Tech. Together, they offer features such as facial recognition, automatic obstacle avoidance, as well as 4K image and video recording.
Intelligent visual follow, intelligent control, gesture recognition and both flow and sonar sensor positioning are other new features to look forward to. Drone use trends point to lighter models, portability being the main word. JIYI have come up with 2 mini-drone turnkey and the XplorerMini we mentioned above has a total weight of only 410 grams. A report issued by Juniper Research last year says that 16 million drones will be sold by 2020. The majority of them will be very affordable as technology to produce them won’t be as expensive as it was before.
As far as new purposes for the drone: delivering even more food to people in need, delivering accurate weather reports, movie-making, creating exciting new games and saving endangered animal species. Vandalism acts will be discovered much faster; the same can be said about other types of violence. Archaeologists are already using drones to survey sites, but in the future they’ll be able to search even larger pieces of land for hidden treasures. Photographers will take even more breathing photos. Demining, search and rescue missions, maritime patrol, strikes, air-to-air combat will also benefit by just how much drones will change.
In times past, the drone was usually referred to as a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). That’s because there was no pilot on board; instead, someone with a computer or from the ground used different programs to control it from a distance. As previously mentioned, drone comes from “droning”. The term was first used by the U.S. Military, who flew them along pre-established paths via an internal navigation system. Another definition: “not being controlled by a human”.
Then there’s the Oxford English Dictionary; according to them, a drone is “a remote-less controlled piloted aircraft or missile’. If we take this definition, we should think of the machine as being used, for the very first time, by pilots after World War II ended. The Ryan Firebee was one of many unmanned jets that were used in field operations. Once the war was over, the military continued to use drones. The number grew so much, that a new noun was associated with them: “warfare”. Wikipedia comes with other terms for the drone. They’re as follows: RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) and RPAV (remotely piloted aerial vehicle).
If the drone were to have a creator, that man would have to be Nicola Tesla. This famed inventor was the first to bring the idea of “remotely controlled vehicles” to the attention of the general public. He was also the one to create a remote-control for what he liked to refer to as “teleautomation” (another word for the drone). His patent is one of the many foundational principles that the UAVs from today are based on.
There is not one single type of drones. They can be ranged in 3 categories: small systems, regular ones and large civil drones. The former are also known as quadcopters and they’re excellent for people who haven’t owned a drone before but want to have one. UAVs of regular size are great for aerial photography, agriculture photography and conservation purposes. Civil vehicles, on the other hand, are meant for carrying heavy payloads. Manufacturers have big plans for them: they want them to be able to carry passengers.
Like everything else, a drone is made of certain components that make it work like a charm. All of them are composite and very light. If they were heavy, the device wouldn’t be able to move around as easily and effortlessly as it does. The light materials also mean cruising at a very high altitude with extreme ease. Inside its body is a battery source which can be removed any time you want. With it on board, the machine will typically function for an estimated 12 minutes. In case that’s not enough, extra batteries can be used and the total amount of time you’ll have is around 30 minutes.
The battery goes into work mode when a controller is used; the same happens if you have a ground cockpit. Different models of controllers are available; some of them look like a smartphone, others like a gamepad. Then there are Wi-Fi options to choose from. Without propellers, a drone would be pretty much useless. Certain devices pack two, others four and more of these elements, and the more propellers a model contains, the better you can assume the drone technology behind it to be. A programming card and a motor set are joined by specially-made landing gear. Some really modern components go into the making and proper functioning of a UAV:
- Infra-red cameras;
Its navigational systems are situated inside its “nose”; this part of a drone’s anatomy also includes sensors. Among the most important modes you’ll find and use when you get a drone are Return-to-Home and Radar Positioning. A Flight Assistant Port allows the owner to communicate with a drone via their laptop or PC; you just need to use its Micro-USB. Every drone packs a high-performance camera and you can be sure that it will do its job, so photographers will feel quite at ease with this.
Anyone who has ever seen a drone in action might have told themselves how easy it must be to play with one. But as in most cases, that’s not entirely true. At first glance, this flying device is plastic and propellers put together, with a controller setting it in motion. To better understand how such a machine functions and the basics of drone technology, you need to remember that they’re very different from remote control helicopters, no matter how similar they may seem. Remote control helicopters have no autonomy, whereas drones do. Basically, a drone doesn’t need a pilot; it can navigate and hover without human input (flying happens according to the same principle). The GPS inside it helps the drone keep its position and there’s no problem for the UAV to stabilize on its own.
The battery that’s the main component of your drone will actually get the drone going. Then you have its multiple rotors, another key differentiator between a drone and model aeronautics. When more than one propeller exists, the machine will have no problem if it needs to carry something packing a lot of weight. Also, when one of its integrated motors encounters a problem, the others will take over seamlessly. A bigger number or motors will allow the user the possibility to use their drone without hurting themselves in the sharp blades.
The GPS chip that every drone has is there for a reason: to stay in contact with the controller about the place it’s hovering above. An altimeter is another helpful addition to the main drone technology components; without it, the drone would have no clue about its altitude and why it needs to maintain it.
Besides having a battery and propellers, the drone will only get to use them if a controller is used by the owner. 2.4 gigahertz radio waves are the right amount to get a remote controller running; Wi-Fi works on the same frequency.
If you want to land the drone, you’ll quickly understand just how much precision is needed for the machine to do it properly. Too much speed while dropping in altitude, and it will destroy itself. The machines are equipped with a special program that tells them how to automatically land at a slow speed. Other drones have a visual positioning system. This useful element uses a combination of helpers: 2 ultrasonic sensors and a camera that faces downward. Drone technology is truly delicate and precise at the same time, which is but one of the things that make it amazing.
Drones have been used for a lot of reasons and for different purposes since the first one appeared. We already mentioned what some of them of the best uses for drone technology are. But the life of a drone is continuously put to the test and the device comes out victorious every single time. The military has already put it to various works, so about civilians?
Businesses such as Amazon and DHL have long toyed with the idea of goods delivered by drones. DHL’s parcelcopter made its maiden voyage to a German island, carrying various pharmaceuticals. International media, such as Al Jazeera, are no strangers to using drone technology for overhead filming. Shell and drones go hand-in-hand when it comes to looking at different energy plants. The CEO of Royal Mail wants to use drones in the future for delivering packages and letters. Park rangers from Africa use a drone that can look for rhino poachers and stop them from endangering these animals. The UAVs go well with farming, too. Transport networks can be easily supervised by drones. Airlines such as Easyjet are currently making good use of drones for safety inspections.
Here’s a complete list of the domains that benefit from the use of drones and drone technology:
- Real estate (both residential and commercial);
- Photography and videography;
- Disaster response;
- Environment and climate;
- Construction and pre-construction;
- Mining/Oil and gas.
The current drone technology that makes both pros and beginners eager to snap photos and film has gone through a lot of improvement. All the elements that make a camera right for anyone interested in these two activities are all advanced. Every day brings more and more improvement, such as better stabilization, different angles to test out, smoother rendition and so on. And the future certainly looks bright for everyone involved.
Here’s a look at your best options for aerial photography and filming. This is the best of drone technology currently on the market (and we update this page regularly):
- Blade Nano QX – it’s the most affordable of the lot and a great pick for beginners.
- DJI Phantom 3 Advanced – if money is no problem for you, this model should be very high on your wishlist. It has fail-safe features, three-axis stabilization and the best image quality you’ll ever see. Long range and easy flying make it a top pick.
- Yuneec Q500 Typhoon 4K – another expensive but superb drone for aerial filming and photography. The Typhoon is one of those drones that functions without smart devices. Its remote controller packs a touchscreen and there’s 4K video recording if you like that. The device’s flying range is all sorts of impressive.
- 3DRobotics IRIS+ – unlike the previous model, this one does need a smartphone if you’re planning on filming with it.
- DJI Phantom 3 Standard – won’t require the same amount of money as its cousin. The drone is the perfect fit if you want to take up aerial photos and videos for the first time ever. Bonus point: you get a drone that offers full compatibility with the features found in all the other Phantom 3 models on the market.
- Turbo Ace Matrix – want something that can be carried around when you’re done filming or taking photos? The Matrix is all that and more. What makes it even more remarkable, though, is its really fast camera (with great stabilization features): 60mph. Build quality makes it one of the sturdiest drones on the market.
- DJI S1000 Octacopter – professional photographers and film makers will get a kick out of this one. Carrying heavy to very heavy things is no problem for this drone and you’ll see that the moment you put it to the test.
Most professional photographers already know how to use a drone, since it’s not hugely different from the classic photography work they’ve already been doing. Novices who have just bought a drone don’t. We have a list of useful tips & tricks for this category of users. But for now, first things first: 4 rules that you absolutely have to keep in mind before you get to work:
- Use a combination of gimbal and brushless motor. They make rotation around a given axis seamless with minimal effort from the drone itself. A power-to-weight ratio is very important when taking photos with a drone; the brushless motor and the gimbal are there to do this crucial job.
- A GoPro camera. If you don’t have one, a DSLR works just as fine.
- A vibration insulator to get rid of two of the most problematic things when snapping a photo: air turbulence and vibration. This device that helps neutralize any vibration is one of the best drone technology features you could invest in.
- Finally, having fast lenses with sharpness at large apertures means ensuring the best photos you’ll ever take as a complete beginner. Take advantage of the high quality drone technology of your model, you don’t need to be an expert to take great pics.
After getting all of the above checked, time to take your first drone photo. This set of rules will tell you how it’s done:
- Always make your plans ahead of time. Storyboards are a good idea to have this covered because a drone will never last as many hours as a camera can.
- Speed, as well as perspective, is something that should always be taken into consideration before preparing to shoot an object using your drone. Tell the device to rise up over what you want to snap a photo of; the camera must remain tilted down.
- Be sure your subjects don’t get into accidents because of your drone. Avoid using the object in a place with small children or a lot of people in general. Bad weather can also be dangerous, so take your drone for a walk when the sun is shining and the winds aren’t strong.
- Tell your drone to land from various altitudes.
- Having steady hands always results in excellent-looking photos.
- The device and you must always face the exact same direction.
- Many times you’ll see objects slowly disappearing from the frame. There’s a quick fix for this problem: handle the drone with slower movements than usual.