Drone video providers, like any service provider, can be broken down into three categories: Low End, Middle and Upper End. While the low end and the high end are fairly easy to define, everything else gets dumped into the middle so there can be lots of variance in quality, price, and experience. There are, however, some clear distinctions that either lift an operator from the low end, or bar them from the high end. No matter where you end up looking you will always need to investigate the quality that your provider is able to produce because the end uses of the content will determine which level of provider you need.
The Low End, who’s the typical operator
Pros – cheap
Cons – high risk a lot to go wrong
The hallmark of the low end is low price. This is usually someone who perceives a business opportunity, and may be new to both photography/video as well as flying a drone. Its also not enough just to have the latest Phantom or Inspire with camera upgrades. They more than likely do not have the requisite registrations or insurance, and might even be willing to fake those necessities.
You might end up with lousy image quality or they may just be unprofessional to deal with. The risk to you ranges from a personal injury suit to ugly/useless content to having to wrangle with the FAA and having your content taken down or even getting in hot water with local authorities.
But if you like cheap and you can handle the risks, and don’t mind watering down the industry with illegal operators, and your content won’t be online for the FAA to find, then this might be the right place for you to look.
The Middle to Upper Middle tier
Pros – cheaper than high end, legal bases covered, image quality usually more than adequate for any platform,
Cons – can cost significantly more than low end, still need to investigate quality of individual
The big distinction in the middle ground is that these are people who have media backgrounds, i.e. photo and video, and are extending their content offerings by adding the drone to their toolkit. They are familiar with photo/video business practices, have developed skills in photo/video and know how to apply those to the drone. Their learning curve may be on the flying of the drone, a skill that varies from person to person. As practicing professionals these people are serious about learning not just how to fly a drone, but what kinds of movements make for the best video, in particular.
The image quality of best in class drones is suitable for almost all commercial applications.
What’s the Upper End, i.e. cinema rigs
Pros – best imaging quality available, more framing options available, companies are often willing and able to handle legal needs
Cons – it doesn’t get any more expensive than this, cost doesn’t necessarily correlate with quality results
If you add another 0 or two to the end of the price tag, you can take a ride with the big birds. This often involves a crew of people including an additional camera operator and some ground tech personnel. The flight rig is separate from the camera, which can be anything from a ARRI/RED to a DSLR. Lenses can often remotely zoomed and different focal lengths are available.
The drone itself is often custom built on a heavy lift frame like an octocopter. These drones are often far more programmable with things like custom waypoints, wire cam function, and recordable/repeatable movements.
Skilled photo/video operators, teamed up with drone pilots, to fly heavier, for feature laden cameras, providing greater image capture capabilities. Tend to use a class of camera that is used for commercial broadcast or cinema quality.