The world of travel photography and videography is changing fast. The days of having to rent a small plane or hot air balloon for copious amounts of money to get a eagles eye view are no longer necessary because of the availability of consumer drones. Drones are not only greatly increasing our creativity with photography while we travel, but for the first time, travellers are able to see amazing places in extraordinarily different ways. The world of Drone Travel is new and exciting, but for many still misunderstood. After traveling for a few years with my drones I have created this informative post to let you know how to pick the right travel drone for you and to keep you up to date with the most important tips to keep it legal. It’s time to dive in and join the world of travel drones!
How to Pick a Drone for Travel
Drones are the next big thing! They have been around for quite some time, but only recently have become more affordable to the average traveller.
That being said the market is filled with brands, sizes and prices that vary greatly. So how do you pick a Drone out that will work for you? And more specifically which Drone would be a good fit for travelling especially since you don’t get to test them out before you buy?
From a few years of traveling with them, I’ve experimented with many kinds of Drones and brands. Firstly I will profoundly tell you that they are not all the same and quality vastly varies amongst them.
In this post, I give an honest review of my previous experience traveling with drones. DJI did not sponsor or pay me for this add and neither did any other affiliates.
What’s Important for a Travel Drone
Before you even head to the store and look into getting your first drone there are a few things you must consider in which drone will best suite your needs.
Size -- This for me was single-handedly the most important aspect into what drone I chose when I first started. Luckily since then, the drone market has caught on to the travel size demand making even the more expensive drones much more compact.
Camera -- Currently this is the most important factor for me. A few years back unless you were prepared to spend thousands, all drone cameras were very similar to each other. Now DJI is bringing out compact drones like the Mavic Pro 2 that have 1-inch sensors and 20 mp capability. This changes everything for me! Always check the specs of camera and image quality in a drone.
Connections -- Some drones connect via cable directly to the remote or they connect through wifi. The connection is incredibly important and a weak connection could mean you drone drops into the ocean. Wifi usually is the weaker choice with lots of interference, while the direct remote cable is by far a better choice with much fewer drops.
Battery Life -- Although the camera and drone sizes are greatly improving, the battery life, unfortunately isn’t getting the same massive leaps in engineering. Battery life averages from 15 min to 30 min depending on the model. This can be utterly frustrating when you encounter errors and waste your battery life on just getting it off the ground. Always check how long the drone’s battery can last!
Travel Photography with Drones
The world of travel photography took a huge turn when when drones were introduced into the mix. Being in the air allowed photographers to greatly expand their creativity and talent.
For the inexperienced drone user, this can also bring up a whole smorgasbord of challenges.
Taking photos from the air is very different than from land, you must take into consideration the obvious things like lighting, but with a drone, you must be aware of wind, weather, locations, restrictions and battery life.
Now, the cameras are getting massive upgrades. DJI Mavic Pro 2 is fixed with a 20 mp 1-inch sensor camera that can shoot in RAW format giving Drone Travel photography a huge edge for photographers.
With drones being fairly new to the world of travelling many strict restrictions have been imposed in countries you would never expect. For example, my home country Canada, which is known for its stunning nature and landscapes has made it virtually impossible to fly drones with restrictions that nobody can legally follow. Those who don’t know these restrictions can face huge penalties and in some countries even jail time.
Knowing drone rules before arriving is essential as some countries like Morocco, for example, will confiscate your drone upon arrival even if you do not intend on using it.
At the moment there are 15 countries that ban drones. Always check for updates before travelling of course.
The easiest way is just to query each country, but DJI has made a page with all the countries that have banned drones, you can see DJI Country Bans HERE.
The Best Drones for Travel
Here is the list of drones that I have tried abroad while traveling. I’ve broken them into categories for your convenience.
Size and Weight
Weighing in at a minuscule 300g and measuring 143×143×55 mm, the DJI Spark is one of the smallest and lightest drones on the market. Its tiny size is great for being discreet and flying in areas where big drones could be hazardous. Fits great in a daypack or side bag.
Signal and Connection
The max distance is 2km that you can fly the spark. Because it is connected through wifi it often gets signal interference making the 2km a rare thing. This is, of course, assuming you’re using the remote, without it, you won’t even get half the signal transmission. The connection is the main issue I have with the spark.
Online many forums say the battery life can reach 18 minutes… this is rarely the case. With perfect weather conditions, you will be lucky to get 12 minutes flight time with most of that fighting with connections depending on where you are.
Camera and Video
Fitted with a 1/2.3″ CMOS Sensor and 12mp camera you can get decent shots. The images look great but you cannot work much with them due to their lower image quality, the spark also cannot shoot in RAW format. For video its limited to 1080p, but video quality looks pretty good, assuming your connection works.
For travel, the DJI Spark is a dream… almost. It’s small, compact and takes pretty decent pictures if your not to worried about quality. The biggest downside is its signal, with random drops and interference with its signal the spark often fails at the worst of times. When it gets GPS problems it often takes off into space at over 70km an hour. Multiple times I had to cross my fingers that it didn’t fall into the ocean and search for it. My honest opinion is If you’re on a tight budget, it’s better than not having a drone.
DJI Spark Extras
To really boost the Spark’s image quality I recommend the Polar Pro Filters. Everything just looks way more crisp and seemingly the image quality is much better! Also helps with glints and water looks much more smoother.
You know that you are going to crash this puppy…. and the propellers always break. Pro Travel tip, bring spares.
Get the DJI Spark Drone HERE
Size and Weight
The DJI Mavic Air weighs 430 g and measures 168×83×49 mm folded up. Because it can fold up this is easily the best drone for size wise.
Signal and Connection
I have heard from others that the DJI Mavic Air does suffer from the odd magnetic interference especially in the northern regions of the world. But all in all, it actually works quite well with a max distance of 10km (unlikely).
The Air has a much better battery life than the Spark with the average flight time being 20 -- 21 minutes. Batteries are also very affordable!
Camera and Video
With a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor and 12mp the image quality is quite decent but is still very similar to the Spark. Although the Air can shoot DNG, Raw format, you won’t see any major significant changes between the two. The difference comes in the video as the Air can shoot 4k videos with much better color grading than the Spark.
If you’re new to traveling with a drone or just want something small that works, this is the best bet for your money. It works great, has loads of sensors and security features and makes pretty dam good videos. For photographers keep scrolling cause the next drone wins it all!
DJI Mavic Air Extras
Seriously you need extra batteries if your going to be traveling. They do not last long and you will find yourself always grabbing for another.
This case is made for the Mavic Air! It fits it and all the accessories very well. Great especially if your going to be a bit rough on it!
Get the DJI Mavic Air HERE
Size and Weight
The pro 2 might weigh 907 g and fold up to 214×91×84 mm making it the bigger of the three (not by much), but is by far the best operating drone with the image quality far exceeding the others. The Mavic Pro 2 weight and size is very manageable for travelers.
Signal and Connection
Simply put, this drone is amazing. Connections are impeccable and max distance is 18km. I have flown it over cities and low signal areas with zero interference.
The massive batteries on the DJI Mavic Pro 2 are said to last 31 minutes flight time. This is not an exaggeration, even flying in not optimal conditions of wind with snow I still managed to get about 29 minutes.
Camera and Video
With a 1 in CMOS Sensor and 20 mp, the image quality is top of the line. Shooting in RAW format you get so much too. To play with when editing, the color grading is phenomenal as well. As for the video, there is 4k hyper-lapse that are so cool and the quality is insane.
I can’t get enough of this drone, it is the coolest drone on the market. Its size is fine when folded up and fits easily in a small backpack. The only downside with this drone is its price starting around 1500 USD making it one of the most expensive compact drones on the market, but its definitely worth every bit of it.
DJI Mavic Pro 2 Extras
To get the full capabilities of that i inch sensor and 20 mp RAW capabilities I highly recommend the Polar Pro Filters. These are made of high quality material and the difference in your pictures will be amazing!
Although the battery lasts a long time, when your going remote its always a good idea to have a spare in case you cant charge.
Get the DJI MAvic Pro 2 HERE
Being Respectful with Drone Travel
Apart from following drone laws and regulations with flying drones abroad, you will be guaranteed to always find other travellers who do not like drones. Most likely this is because at some point they encountered a disrespectful drone user.
Obviously, everyone has different ideas of what is respectful when it comes to drones, but being courteous and not flying your drone in front of peoples view, flying away from people to avoid noise are common practices to keep the people around you happy.
By being respectful there will eventually fewer restrictions and people will be more accepting about drone use while traveling. Always think before you fly! Heres a post on How to Fly a Drone Without Being a Jerk.
My Madagascar Drone Video
This is a video compilation I put together using multiple different Drones on my last trip to Madagascar! Check it out.