Drones with Integrated Cameras - dummies

Drones with Integrated Cameras

By Mark LaFay

If you’re looking into buying a drone because you are interested in aerial photography or videography, your first major decision will be whether or not to purchase a drone that comes with a built-in camera or simply supports an add-on camera. As with anything, there are pros and cons to purchasing a drone with built-in camera support.

The pros for purchasing a drone with an integrated camera include:

  • Ease of use: A drone with a built-in camera does not require much setup or configuring beyond charging batteries and plugging in a storage device like a USB drive or SD card.

  • Flight-specific filming features: Drones with integrated cameras typically have advanced features like video streaming to mobile devices and recording to remote storage. This is very helpful for viewing what you’re shooting as you shoot it. Also, you can record the streaming video footage to remote storage so you can back up the footage as you film it to protect against failures on your storage media.

  • Support: Support for your drone means support for your camera. This may seem like a small thing, but it’s one less call and one less warranty you have to deal with.

The cons of purchasing a drone with an integrated camera include:

  • Camera quality: Drone companies build drones, not cameras. Therefore, integrated cameras are typically an afterthought and lack the power of an add-on camera of a reputable brand.

  • Custom features: Integrated cameras tend to lack custom features and controls that are typical of an add-on camera, such as manual image adjustment modes, recording modes, and frame rates.

  • Battery life: Integrated cameras typically feed off of the main battery. Adding additional batteries will add additional weight and thus reduce fly times.

Integrated camera features

When making a decision on a drone with an integrated camera, there will be several different features that you should take into consideration. These features include:

  • Sensor size: Digital cameras have an internal sensor that captures light information and then translates that information into data to make your picture file. As it goes, the bigger the sensor, the better the image because the more light it can gather. Small cameras will always have small censors.

    Judge your camera buy the size of its sensor. [Credit: Source: Andreas Kambanis/Creative Commons]
    Credit: Source: Andreas Kambanis/Creative Commons
    Judge your camera buy the size of its sensor.
  • Lens: The camera lens is almost as important as the sensor size. This is because the lens is responsible for focusing and directing light into the sensor. The size and shape of the lens will greatly affect image quality, almost as much as the sensor size.

  • Resolution: In video, the resolution is the number of dots (pixels) that can be squeezed into the video image. You might think of resolution in terms of your television because the quality of your television is typically measured by its resolution. A television that is high definition has a resolution of at least 1280×720. That means 720 pixels vertically and 1280 pixels horizontally make up the image on the screen. Sample high-definition resolutions include 720i, 720p, 1080i, 1080p. Ultra definition is an image that is bigger than 1080p.

  • Frame rate: The number of times a camera can take a picture in a second is frame rate. The most common frame rate for film is 24 frames per second. Higher frame rates are useful in improving the look of video in high and ultra-definition. Higher frame rates can also be slowed down to create slow motion.

  • Photo resolution: Photo resolution, which is measured in megapixels, is a misleading number because the quality of an image has more to do with the size and quality of the pixel not the number of the pixels.

  • File format: Digital images and video are stored in files, which are saved in different file formats. Different file formats require different software to open and manipulate them. Different digital image and video files also have different levels of compression. Compression removes information from a file to make the file size smaller. In images and video, compression means a loss of quality.

  • Storage options: Integrated cameras may come with the option to add external storage like a USB drive or an SD card for storing pictures and video. The more the storage, the fewer the times you’ll need to swap media or dump footage which equals longer flying times.

    Compares different drone storage media. [Credit: Courtesy of Tucker Krajewski]
    Credit: Courtesy of Tucker Krajewski
    Compares different drone storage media.

Buying a drone that has an integrated camera

There are currently several drones available for purchase that come equipped with an integrated camera. Each drone comes with a unique mixture of features and quality. Take a look at the features of these drones.

DJI Phantom 2 Vision

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision includes the following features:

  • 14 megapixel camera

  • Resolution/Frame Rates: 1080/30p or 1080/60i

  • Sensor Size: 1/2.3 inches (Super small)

  • Storage: MicroSD Card (32GB Limit)

  • Lens: 100°

    DJI Phantom 2 Vision with camera. [Credit: Source: WalterPro4755/Creative Commons]
    Credit: Source: WalterPro4755/Creative Commons
    DJI Phantom 2 Vision with camera.

Parrot AR Drone 2.0

The Parrot AR Drone 2.0 includes the following features:

  • Video Resolution/Frame Rate: 720p

  • Lens: 92°

  • Storage: USB or stream

  • Video Format: H.264

    Parrot AR Drone 2.0 with camera. [Credit: Source: Christopher Michel/Creative Commons]
    Credit: Source: Christopher Michel/Creative Commons
    Parrot AR Drone 2.0 with camera.