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How to choose a drone supplier

Top tips

With so much choice, it may seem like a minefield if you’re deciding which drone company to use.  These simple tips will help you narrow down the field to a point where you can ask a more manageable number of companies to quote.

Background

The first point to make is that drone companies are not born equal!  They have different backgrounds, levels of experience, equipment and specialisms.  There has been a gold rush phenomenon into the drone industry in recent years.  Entry level drone technology is relatively accessible.  Gaining a permission for commercial operations is time consuming but relatively cheap and not much of a barrier to entry.  This has allowed this hugely broad range of people to become licensed.  Whilst some have come from relevant industries, such as TV and film production, photography and surveying, many have entered the industry with virtually no imaging experience at all.  They are often trying to make a go of drone work as a sideline business and can provide a useful service for some applications.  So how do you find the right drone provider for YOUR needs?

Portfolio

The most simple thing to do, is to ask for examples of their work and judge based on the relevance of their work to your needs.  Look at showreels sceptically – check that all the material in the showreel was created by the people who will actually carry out your filming.  Look for case studies that describe how the company works and the levels of service they offer beyond actually flying.  Look for content that people have paid for and are happy with.

Experience

Experience counts for a lot.  It teaches you to respect the fallibility of the technology and the people you may be operating around.  It teaches you how to manage risk.  If you are a TV production company, does the crew speak your language and know a mid shot from a long shot.  Will they be able to understand how the shots they are filming will fit into your sequence.  Do they have experience of working with air traffic controllers and the CAA to achieve more complex shoots?

Single or dual operation

Entry level drones tend to be designed for the pilot to operate both the drone and the camera which can only tilt on the drone but they can’t independently pan.  They can provide good quality wide angle images but panning the camera is achieved by turning the drone.  Single operation is perfectly acceptable for automated survey work.  However, whatever single operators may say, this means that single operator drones are not as flexible as dual operator, particularly when creating video.  Dual operation allows the camera to be controlled entirely independently of the drone.  This allows the pilot to focus solely on the safest way of achieving the required move without having to take their eyes off the drone.  Meanwhile the camera operator directs, focusses and exposes the camera.  It’s worth noting that the BBC will only accept dual operator teams.  When operating in more difficult surroundings, dual operation is also a safer option.

Recommendations and references

Ask to speak to their clients.  A good recommendation from a happy client is often the best indicator.  That client may not be in the same sector as you and may well have had very different requirements, but the qualities you want them to describe in your supplier are creativity, flexibility, reliability and adhering to budgets and deadlines.  You will be able to judge whether your cultures align.

Equipment

Drones come in many sizes shapes and forms.  They are also evolving at incredible speed. However, don’t think that big is always beautiful.  If you are shooting a feature film, you may need a heavy lift drone to carry a larger camera to match other cameras being used across your production.    There is a magic number in the drone world of 7kg and heavy lift drones tend to be over 7kg.  The CAA places additional restrictions on machines over 7kg when flying in congested areas which can make it all but impossible for them to fly in certain areas.   So, unless you need a heavy lift, a sub 7kg machine can provide much more flexibility.  You need to consider image resolution, data rates, sensor sizes and safety.  Do you require the drone to have redundancy in the event of failure for example?

The bottom line is we would rather have the a cheap drone in the hands of an experienced operator than an expensive drone in the hands of a wealthy novice.  Providing your supplier is using good quality, professional equipment, worry more about what they’ve done with it than what it looks like.

Attitude and Values

It’s likely your supplier may be representing you in a high profile environment when filming and may have to work with 3rd parties on your behalf in the planning phase.  You want to be confident that they will represent you and your brand professionally.

Gut instinct

You get what you pay for.  Trust your gut.  You may need the cheapest possible solution but you’ll have to accept the risks that may go along with that.  We know we are not the cheapest.  We also know that we are competitively priced compared with similar companies – but Dependable Drones has a level of experience which is rare in the drone world.

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