Drone technology has progressed rapidly in recent years. It is now possible to use a drone to survey an area with precision and speed that was impossible before the development of drones.
“Do you need a drone for surveying? The best way to find the most appropriate model is to consider your needs and budget.
This article will explore some of the best drone for surveying, as well as provide tips on how to choose the right drone for your needs.
Best-Rated Drones For Mapping And Surveying
1. DJI Phantom 4 RTK
Best overall drone
The DJI Phantom 4 RTK is still the best professional drone on the market for land surveying. It is a high-quality drone, has excellent RTK capabilities, and is reliable and simple to use. DJI released the Phantom 4 RTK in October 2013. Since then, RTK and PPK processing has made this system more valuable. The Phantom 4 RTK allows for larger projects that are accurate and require less ground control.
Compared to Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, the DJI Phantom 4 RTK has the main advantage: you will need 0.1″ vertical accuracy and far fewer ground control points.
You will save significant time in the field because you need fewer ground control points.
The DJI Phantom 4 RTK is reliable and easy to use, just like before. Although it is more expensive than non-RTK-capable drones, the cost of the Phantom 4 RTK is still a fraction of what other RTK surveying drones would cost.
The Phantom 4 RTK has excellent qualities as the standard Phantom 4: a 1-inch CMOS sensor and 3-axis gimbal. A 5870 mAh battery can keep the drone in flight for up to 30 mins.
The Phantom 4 RTK module is located at the drone’s top. When combined with the D-RTK2 ground station, the Phantom 4 RTK can collect spatial data up to centimeter accuracy.
The Phantom 4 RTK comes with an upgraded controller that features a hot-swappable lithium battery, a slot to insert a microSD card for survey data quality storage, and 4G connectivity for cloud-based backup. This surveying drone is equipped with the GS RTK app, allowing easy flight planning and execution in the field.
The Phantom 4 RTK’s biggest drawback is its inability to work with a Post-Processing Kinematic workflow. The Phantom 4 RTK also doesn’t have an interchangeable payload, which limits you to photogrammetry mapping.
We chose this drone surveying because of its outstanding overall balance in accuracy, reliability, value, and usability.
- Sensor size
- Higher video quality
- Excellent operating range
- Navigation accuracy improved
- Upgraded obstacle sensors
- Communication system improved
- Smart return to home
- Bulky design
- Battery life is very low
- Gimbal’s screeching sound as the Phantom turns on or off
- There is no built-in display for the remote control
2. Yuneec H520 RTK
The H520 RTK represents Yuneec’s entry into the market for aerial mapping drones. The surveying drone has a built-in RTK module and a Network RTK station.
The H520 RTK is unique in a few ways. The first is that it doesn’t have a fixed payload. Yuneec has a wide range of accessories to enhance the H520 RTK, including the CGOET thermal cam and the E90 high-speed camera (20MP).
You can purchase these accessories separately, but they will expand the capabilities of the drone surveying.
PPK is also compatible with the H520 RTK. PPK can map surveys in areas where communication between drones and ground stations is not possible. PPK is a method that allows you to collect coordinated drone data to correct spatial drone data.
- Amazing GPS capabilities
- Greater wind handling capacity
- This is a great way to fly larger areas of land.
- Smart batteries
- Extremely quiet
- 22 minutes flight time (Yuneec claims it takes 25 minutes).
- Redundancy is higher when there are 6 blades
- Not as agile and mobile as Phantom 4 Pro
3. DJI M300 RTK + L1 & P1
The Best High-end Drones
The Matrice 300 RTK is a new standard in the commercial drone industry. This DJI commercial drone platform draws inspiration from modern aviation systems.
The M300 RTK is a new standard in drone technology, offering up to 55 minutes of flight time, advanced AI capabilities, and six directional sensings and positioning.
You can configure your M300 RTK according to your mission requirements and mount up to three payloads simultaneously with a maximum payload of 2.7kg. A single downward gimbal can be converted to an upward gimbal.
The DJI M300 series has attracted many people because of its robust airframe, interchangeable payloads, and camera system capabilities.
Until recently, however, none of these camera systems was suitable for surveying. With the Zenmuse P1 and Zenmuse LiDAR sensors, all that has changed is the Zenmuse Zenmuse P1 camera system.
Drone surveying is still new, so that that first-party LiDAR integration will be the best option for high-quality data.
- Enhanced Flight Performance
- Multiple payloads
- Compatible payloads: Zenmuse H20, Zenmuse H20T, Zenmuse XT2, Zenmuse XT2, Zenmuse Z30
- Advanced Intelligent: Live Mission Recordings, AI Spot-Checks, Waypoints 2.0 and PinPoint, Smart Track
- Advanced Controller
- Safety and reliability
4. SenseFly eBee X
SenseFly is one of the most experienced companies in aerial mapping. The eBee X is our choice, a fixed-wing drone with enough flexibility to meet all mapping requirements.
The eBee X drone is highly versatile. It supports both RTK and PPK workflows. Additionally, it is compatible with a variety of payload options from senseFly as well as third-party companies. These include, among other things, the SODA 3D map camera and the Parrot Sequoia Multispectral Sensor.
We have already mentioned that the best thing about flying fixed-wing drones is their ability to stay in flight for an extended period with a single battery.
The eBee X can fly uninterrupted for up to 90 minutes, which is a tremendous advantage when surveying a large area. You can use the eBee X to plan your aerial surveys with the Pix4D suite.
The eBee X can be very expensive. It comes with accessories that can run up to $15,000. Although it’s pretty costly, many professional drone mapper will not mind paying for a high-quality and reliable drone.
- Compact Size
- Low Battery
We have so far focused on the best drone under 1000 with a high-end design that is made explicitly for mapping. You don’t have to use a high-end drone for mapping. Even the Mavic Air 2 can do some basic mapping with a bit of tweaking and some compromises.
DJI’s latest ultra-portable drone, the Mavic Air 2, successor to the hugely popular Mavic Air. The upgraded version features a 48 MP camera and 4K video at 60 frames per second. This drone is a powerful and reliable camera that can capture high-quality photos.
The Mavic Air 2 is a small drone and will have difficulty covering much terrain. The Mavic Air 2 is not suited for mapping. If you have hundreds of hectares to map, you might need a larger drone to cover more land than the Mavic Air 2.
The most challenging aspect of mapping with the Mavic Air 2 is creating a drone flight plan. Even DJI Terra’s mapping software, DJI Terra 2, doesn’t allow flight planning with the Mavic Air 2.
- High-Quality Video
- Hyperlapse Feature
- Photo of High Quality
- Battery Life: 34 Minutes
- Maximum Distance of 10 Km (6.21 miles).
- Fly App
- ActiveTrack 3.0
- Point of Interest 3.0
- Spotlight 2.0
- Affordable price
- Advanced Pilot Assistance System (APAS 3.0)
- AirSense drone technology
- A little heavier than the Predecessor
- 8K not available on all features at launch
The best drone for beginners
The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 drone is non-RTK and the best for creating topographic and planimetric maps. The platform is affordable, simple to use, durable and reliable.
Because it works, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 drone is the best for surveying. The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0’s main problem is its consumer-grade GPS. This means that you will need to have more ground control to correct and anchor the model.
Ground control quantity and distribution are crucial to ensure survey-grade accuracy. The difference between the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 & the Phantom 4 RTK on smaller sites of 5 acres is negligible, both in terms of time saved and control points.
The Phantom 4 RTK quickly distinguishes itself as the site grows in size (e.g., areas of 20+ acres).
- Top of the Line Camera
- Amazing flight modes
- Quieter than V1.0
- Upgrade to V1.0 with minimal effort
7. DJI Matrice 210 RTK
Last generation, still versatile
The DJI Matrice 210 RTK drone is part of the DJI Matrice 200 series. It is undoubtedly one of the best DJI drones surveying. It has an integrated RTK module and an upward or downward gimbal. The Matrice 210 RTK can carry two accessories, ideal for dual thermal and visual mapping surveys.
The 210 RTK, like all Matrice 200 drones, is compatible with all Zenmuse cameras. These payload options are among the best in the industry. Among them are the XT2 thermal camera and Z30 zoom camera. With the DJI SkyPort V2 adapter, third-party payloads can be accommodated on the drone.
Matrice 210 RTK’s flight planning capabilities are much more flexible than those of other mapping drones. The Matrice 210 RTK is not limited to a standard flight planning program. Instead, it offers programming and customization via both the onboard SDK or Mobile SDK.
You have virtually limitless options to automate the drone flight. DJI also provides a Payload SDK that allows you to control the functions and sensors of the camera.
A complete Matrice 210 RTK setup, including the drone and accessories, can run up to $10,000. The drone is also not user-friendly. It is not an intelligent investment, but many drone mapping professionals will attest to its value.
Although the M300 drone surveying is an excellent choice, if you don’t need all the bells and whistles, you can purchase the M200 series for less.
- Capable modular drone
- You have powerful payload options
- Configurations with high payloads
- Different models have different features
- Certain models are designed for certain features
- Older drone
8. DJI Mavic Pro
One of the best professional drones
The DJI Mavic Pro is a popular DJI drone. It uses a professional-grade Hasselblad camera. The 20-megapixel Hasselblad camera is a 1-inch CMOS detector. It offers enhanced HDR and color sensitivity.
The updated Active Track, Waypoint, and Point of Interest versions are also available. Professional videographers and photographers don’t need to limit their creativity.
Professional videographers and content creators will love the Mavic Pro. The Mavic Pro’s mobile design makes it an ideal companion for traveling bloggers, documentary compilers, business drone pilots, and anyone who uses drones to fly in any industry.
- It’s easy to fly
- Camera control with Intuitive App
- Large 20MP sensor measuring one inch
- Control of the aperture
- Foldable drone
- Battery life is short
- Above ISO 100, noise is a problem
9. DJI Inspire 2
The DJI Inspire 2 drone is a top-of-the-line and a popular choice for aerial cinematographers looking to capture Hollywood-quality footage in a small package.
The platform’s sleek design, intelligent sensors, and superior materials make it an excellent platform for cinematography. The solid structure features a magnesium-aluminum mixture casing and carbon fiber arms that allow for an unrivaled 360-degree view.
The Inspire 2 was designed with filmmakers in mind. It still has advanced camera detections and Cinecore 2.0 image-processing program. This makes it ideal for anyone who wants to create the perfect cinematic shot.
Drone pilots can use the 2-axis FPV camera to see ahead and simultaneously record with the primary camera in reverse.
It can also conduct cameras. It has too many features to list them all, but this drone can handle any task thrown at it.
- You can accelerate from 0 to 50 MPH within 5 seconds
- It has a top speed in excess of 58 MPH
- The unit comes with a microfiber cleaning cloth and a 5-piece cleaning kit
- To ensure proper storage during transport, a carry case is available
- It is clad in magnesium-aluminum material, which guarantees durability.
- The MicroSD card 16GB has a limited storage capacity
- The battery lasts for 27 minutes before it needs to be recharged.
10. Freefly Alta 8
FreeFly Alta 8, an octorotor configuration, was created for aerial cinematography. This drone is an engineering marvel that can carry up to 20 pounds on its top and bottom.
The carbon fiber propeller arms and propellers can be folded and stored in a convenient and easy-to-use package. The weather-resistant plastic enclosure will be appreciated by airborne cinematographers who photograph in many climates.
It doesn’t need to be difficult to fly a large drone. Fly with ease using Freefly’s SYNAPSE flight controller.
The operator can concentrate on taking beautiful shots by combining readings from barometers and accelerometers. The drone’s speed can be adjusted in real-time to get a precise picture every time.
- 8 Propellers
- Failuresafes in Filming and Landing
- Ideal for movie-style shooting
- Too much variation in battery life
- Cameras don’t come with the camera
11. WingtraOne PPK VTOL
The WingtraOne PPPK VTOL is an autonomous fixed-wing drone that can be used for long-distance surveying. With its intelligent WingtraPilot software, the Wingtra can pre-plan a flight. The Wingtra can automatically capture survey accurate data from the air and is always up.
WingtraOne can take off vertically, just like a quadcopter. This is unlike other fixed-wing drones. This eliminates the need for either hand-launching the aircraft or using catapults.
The Wingtra drone flies for up to 55 minutes and has been specifically designed to travel long distances. The Wingtra VTOL can also be used with many payloads, including the Sony QX1, Sony RX1RII, and Micasense RedEdge.
Coptrz is Wingtra’s first European premier partner. They are the first to offer fixed-wing drones solutions. Coptrz’s partnership with Wingtra demonstrates their trust in Coptrz, the UK’s premier drone solution provider.
- Fully automated, with the option to land manually or on gravel, VTOL.
- GSD: 0.7 cm (0.3in)
- Absolute accuracy of the highest order – less than 1 cm (0.4″) with WingtraOne + 42 MP RX1R I payload
- High coverage at resolution–190 ha (469 acres) at 1.4 cm (0.55in)/px GSD
- Airframe made of solid composite glass fibers
- High wind conditions can be adapted by actuators and weight.
- Package includes a rugged tablet for mission planning
- Fixed settings for the in-flight camera
- There are no custom elevation data available yet
- Development of thermal payload
- Do not pause, resume your mission
12. Flyabilty Elios 2
Flyability changed the way drones can be used with the original Elios made for indoor inspections. Flyabilty Elios 2 was the second success story of the company. They have since developed their drone to the point that it is now.
The unique configuration has a circular cage that protects the entire payload. It measures just 40 cm (15.7 inches) in length. It will fit in almost any space. It works outside of the sightline, so concrete walls, steel constructions, and other barriers will not interfere with the review.
Collisions are possible during inspections in restricted spaces like boiler rooms or nuclear reactors. These spaces are where it is possible to have dangerous in-person inspections.
These testimonials are safer because Elios 2 eliminates the need for an individual or group to examine dangerous areas.
Dual-sensors consisting of a thermal camera and a 4K camera can spot minor cracks. The dustproof 10K lumen lighting method has been the best lighting system for industrial drones.
The oblique lighting method allows inspectors to detect the smallest differences and spot textures.
- For Confined Spaces Drones, it’s fast
- Roll-Along Floors, Ceilings, and Walls
- Thermal Camera
- Battery life is very low
If you want to add extra accessories for your drones, check here:
What Should You Look For When Buying The Best Drone For Surveying And Mapping?
Let’s look at what qualities a commercial drone should have to help us narrow down our choices. These qualities are essential for both the quality and ease of use of drones in large-scale aerial surveying.
1. Fixed-wing Or Multirotor?
Multirotor drones are becoming more popular, but mapping surveys can still benefit from fixed-wing drones’ unique capabilities. The factors that will determine which drone you choose to depend on how much money you have, the size of the area to be surveyed, and the pilot’s level of experience.
Multirotor drones can hover indefinitely, making them easier to fly and maneuver. They are much more common than professional-grade fixed-wing drones and are therefore cheaper.
They are less efficient in terms of battery life because they rely on rotors for lift and propulsion. A multirotor drone might be the best choice if you want to survey an area only a few acres in size.
If you have a few hundred hectares to survey, fixed-wing drones shine. Fixed-wing drones can generate lift just by gliding through the air.
Their rotors only provide propulsion, and they can fly for more extended periods on one battery charge. They also require a skilled drone pilot to take control.
2. Autonomous Flight Capability
Aerial mapping surveys require you to fly over an area several times to verify accurate data. You must ensure that your drone follows the exact flight path each time. This is almost impossible to do manually, so you will need a drone programmed to fly autonomously.
You can’t just activate autonomous flight with any drone survey. To create flight paths that can be transmitted to remote controllers, you will likely need another software such as Litchi. You can avoid errors due to human error by removing pilot input.
3. Long Battery Time
It is not uncommon for mapping surveys to cover large areas of land, sometimes exceedingly large. A standard drone cannot complete an entire survey with one battery cycle, even with its speed. The drone will need to return to its designated landing spot to swap out its batteries.
It is a time-consuming task to land and deploy the drone multiple times within a single survey. A drone that can fly uninterrupted for 30 minutes is ideal for maximizing your time in the field. This is a typical number for modern drones.
4. 4K Camera
The most popular drone technology for aerial surveying is photogrammetry. To determine the heights of all features on the ground, the technique employs a series of geotagged aerial photos that are overlapping.
Drone photogrammetry is not without limitations, but it is a popular option due to its accessibility and affordability.
Camera resolution is key to photogrammetry data quality. Cameras that capture fine details of the ground will be best, allowing the software to create these features during 3D modeling. These days, cameras can record 4K videos and 12MP photos. However, you can get as high as you want.
5. RTK Compatibility
Every drone that is commercially available today has a GPS receiver. This allows for location tracking. This GPS feature allows for flight stabilization and the monitoring the drone requires to fly autonomously.
The GPS receiver can automatically geotag photos taken during mapping surveys. The mapping software can create a 3D model by stitching together images and spatial data.
GPS data can be inaccurate up to several meters depending on the conditions. This may not matter for some applications, but it could be significant in urban planning or construction areas.
Drone manufacturers have been able to address this issue by incorporating RTK drone technology in their mapping drones. RTK stands for Real-Time Kinematic. This is a method that differential measurements can enhance GPS data.
RTK is a method that continuously corrects GPS data relative to a fixed station. This technique can improve location accuracy to centimeters.
RTK drones offer a significant increase in accurate data for surveying and mapping. The upgrade from standard GPS into RTK is also very costly.
6. Interchangeable Payload
While drone photogrammetry is the more common mapping method used, it’s far from being the best. If you need more detail in your model, then an alternative would be to use a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensor.
This sensor emits pulses of light that bounce off solid objects in the survey area. By calculating the time it takes for these pulses to return to the sensor, drone LiDAR more accurately determines the size and shape of individual features.
Drone mapping technology can even be combined with other imaging technologies such as thermal imaging and multispectral imaging to generate various data maps. This has proven useful in several industries, from crop farms to surveying utility pipes.
Drones that come with built-in LiDAR sensors or thermal cameras are rare. If you want these functions, you will have to go with third-party accessories and a drone that can accommodate different types of payloads.
Such drones are certainly at the high-end and much more expensive than many commercial drones.
Although mapping is a highly technical application of drones, it doesn’t exactly take a highly sophisticated drone to do the job.
At the minimum, you’ll need a drone with a good camera, autonomous flight capabilities, and a GPS receiver. Scaling up operations with more advanced gear will require a huge investment and allow you to charge premium rates.
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What is a drone survey?
A drone survey is an aerial survey conducted by a drone, and it is getting more and more common, to put it differently.
Drones could quickly catch massive amounts of information by employing downward-facing detectors, like RBG, multispectral cameras, or drone LiDAR payloads. One part of the analysis revealed that drones could accumulate information 97% quicker than manual procedures.
This information may be utilized to make a range of resources, including 3D maps and elevation models, and extract valuable data like highly accurate dimensions and volumetric calculations.
This advice helps with informed decision-making and provides valuable insights, such as identifying errors or problems, maintaining current with the progress of a project, and tracking plant health.
Drone surveying has become such a valuable instrument. It’s used for land surveying, roof inspections, bridge/building polls, infrastructure maintenance, and construction websites.
How accurate is drone surveying?
A drone survey that boasts 2 CM accuracy will be as accurate as another type of survey that boasts 2 CM accuracy. Best-in-class UAV mapping technologies can currently resolve surveying sites to 1 CM accuracy
Why are commercial drones so expensive?
Your typical consumer drone offers great flight features and decent reliability but has not been stress tested for safety certifications. Like passenger aircraft, most commercial drones’ manufacturing standards, parts, and redundant safety systems are treated as though lives depend on them.
These components and systems and the upgrade to thermal cameras, RTK GPS modules, and extra accessories like parachutes cost much money, to begin with. You’ll also find that many commercial best drones are made of carbon fiber frames, which is an additional cost.
Do I need a drone license to fly a surveying drone?
Maybe. The FAA does not classify drones by their build or intended use, instead, they classify the drone operations.
As long as the drone meets the other requirements for legal flight, you can fly for fun or fly for pay. The differentiation is: If you are compensated for your flight, you need a drone license, but if you are flying for fun, go for it!
Where are all the drone deliveries?
You may have seen multiple announcements for companies getting the green light to try drone deliveries to residences across the United States, and if you are like us, you’re excited to see them in action.
The truth is, to operate safely, the economics of drone deliveries are holding things back. Flight is surprisingly easy, but there is a reason only the very best pilots deal with cargo drops and pickups from moving aircraft. It’s not safe.
Drones cannot just drop packages from the sky, and landing in people’s backyards comes with many risks… There are many cool tricks and great ideas out there to enable safe drone deliveries, but again, the cost to produce and operate these fleets is still too high for widespread rollout. It’s mid-2020.
Hopefully, you’ll be reading this in 2022, eager to tell me things have changed.
Can I use photos from my hobby drone for my website?
As we’ve mentioned, the FAA considers any flight for which you will be directly compensated, or in which you capture media that you will be paid, be a commercial operation.
Even if you are flying a DJI Mini 2, which does not need to be registered with the FAA before you fly, if you will make money from the photos or video, that flight was, retroactively, a commercial flight, requiring you to have your Part 107 certification.
We chat off the record with an FAA representative about this scenario, where you fly a completely legal hobby flight but then decide later that you’d like to sell the photos. The FAA rep made it very clear that his advice is to always fly under the Part 107 guidance.
You can’t sell ‘hobby’ photos from your drone, but you can easily enjoy a casual flight under the Part 107 regulations, then you have the freedom to do what you want with the media you capture.
How does FAA Remote ID change things?
When the Remote ID rule is fully enacted and all of the techs are certified to accomplish the given tasks, we’ll be able to answer this question better. For now, know that every drone will need to either self broadcast, or you’ll need to attach a third-party module that does it for the drone.
While many small toy-class drones will not be able to justify the weight or cost to install an ID transmission tool, your commercial drone should have no problems hauling a tiny module.
Most drones for mapping and surveying will have a gimbal, compass, GPS, camera sensor resolution of at least 12 MP or higher.
If you want to be able to survey large areas with your drone, look for the best drones for surveying that have an onboard computer and either a live video feed or still images captured from the camera.
These days there are lots of options when it comes to buying a great drone that can map and survey land quickly and accurately. Hopefully, this article helped make things easier by giving you tips about what features might work best for you!
Last update on 2022-12-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API