Decision Guide: Drone or Fixed Wing Aerial Imagery

A quick overview

Technology keeps advancing and drones are no exception. If you need aerial imagery for your commercial applications you've probably considered using drones or drone imaging service providers at some point.  Here's some tips to guide your decision.


Drone Pros

Drones are lightweight and portable and can be deployed quickly to capture low altitude imagery. Drones mounted with cameras are ideal for commercial applications such as:
  • Capturing breaking news
  • Visual inspections of water towers, wind turbines and other infrastructure
  • Damage, hazard and crisis assessments
  • Marketing real estate 
  • Delivering pizzas?


Drone Cons

The appeal of getting a clear overhead image immediately can't be ignored. The drawbacks, however, make drones a poor choice for mapping large areas.
  • Short battery life limits each flight
  • Can't cover large areas quickly, flights are limited to the neighborhood level
  • Small, inexpensive cameras
  • Drones can't go too far away from the operator. If you're inspecting a hazardous situation, you still need to get relatively close.
  • Regulations limit altitudes and distances to structures and airports.
  • Legal and privacy concerns.
  • Drones are impacted by localized weather phenomena, vibrations, and exposure to dust and airborne debris on the sensors.

Related: Cost-Effective Aerial Imaging

Economy of Scale

The higher costs to operate a fixed wing plane can be easily justified.
  • Covers large areas quickly, an city can be imaged in just a few hours
  • Higher quality camera with separated spectral bands and longer focal length
  • The weight of sophisticated camera equipment, gyroscopes, GPS etc needed for good quality ortho imagery can easily be carried
  • Data security and redundancy
  • Value added products created from imagery like elevation mapping are possible; imagery remains relevant and useful longer
As an imagery collection specialist, fixed wing aircraft is the preferred method in most situations to capture mapping quality image data. Because fixed wing aircraft follow a planned and predictable flight path, and the images taken in rapid succession have overlap with adjacent photos in the sequence, the small change in viewing angle allows the imagery to be used for creating 3D maps of topography.

Related: Taking flat images to new heights

Complex, large scale projects require more than just a pretty picture. When it comes to applications requiring large coverage areas with high precision such as producing mapping for civil engineering, natural resources management, and planning, drones can't compete with aircraft and satellite imagery.

Quality or Speed?

As with most projects, the quality of the imagery you start with is critical to the quality of the final product. For detailed mapping projects that don't require a large coverage area like site plans and design, quality is more important than speed.

To make life even easier, fixed wing aerial imagery is fast and easy to acquire for a small area and can cost as little as $50 through MapWarehouse for archived imagery that can be downloaded and ready to use in less than 10 minutes. Quality and speed together!

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