Should I buy a drone or a camera? 7 considerations

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Photography comes in a range of styles and varieties. When you first start I on your photography journey it may be that you are not quite sure about what you want to do. Perhaps, you have been intrigued by the drone photography that you have seen… And you want to emulate it. Or maybe this is the first time that you’re considering taking up photography – in any of its forms – so you can learn something new. Let’s answer this question: should I buy a drone or a camera?

This completely depends on what you want to do with your new gadget. If you are new to photography I recommend buying a camera first and learning the fundamentals of photography. That will allow you to buy a drone later and use it much more efficiently. If you are a seasoned photographer and want to add another capability to your product offerings, then a drone may be exactly what you’re looking for.

The concept of a camera has been around for a very long time. The first camera was invented by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1816. He took the first photo on a home-made camera and developed it with silver chloride covered paper. Drones on the other hand have been around in their current form for a relatively short time. That is because technology has needed to get cheaper and advanced enough so that batteries can power drones for a significant amount of time. That is why we use lithium polymer batteries.

So, it can be challenging to decide between buying a drone or a camera. There is no doubt that drones are receiving a load of attention because of the awesome awe-inspiring photos that you are able to take. But cameras offer so much more than aerial photos. In this article we are going to discover whether you should buy a drone or a camera.

Let’s first take a look at the reasons why you should not buy a drone.

Reasons to buy a camera rather than a drone

It can be easy to get carried away when thinking about buying a drone. It is something that is incredibly cool to operate and it can produce some stunning photos and videos. However, there is more to flying a drone than meets the eye let alone capturing awesome footage that you are excited to share on social media or with your family and friends. Let’s have a look at why you should not buy a drone.

If you want to find out if drones are a waste of money check out my other article – Are drone is a waste of money? 15 little-known reasons they could be… – Click here.

Are drones a waste of money?

You don’t understand the basics of photography

Let’s be clear – buying a drone with a camera requires that you have some background knowledge on how to operate a camera.

You see, a drone is quite a complicated bit of technology. Even though product manufacturers have designed drones to be as user-friendly as possible it still requires you to understand some of the basics of photography and videography. No matter how good drones get (even with automatic capturing modes) there is nothing that will beat framing a shot and manually setting things like exposure, ISO and shutter speed. Understanding the basics of photography is something that is required before you are considering adding a drone to your kit list.

Before considering a drone make sure that you understand the basics of photography such as:

  • Aperture – this refers to the diameter of the whole inside the lens. This has a depth of field effect on your final image.
  • Shutter speed – the shutter opens and records the lights that hits the sensor. The speed at which this happens determines the exposure length and the amount of motion blur in the final image.
  • ISO – the sensor captures the light and its sensitivity is controlled by the iso. The higher the iso is set the more sensitive it will be but it will also capture more noise.
  • Composition – being able to identify good composition from bad composition will allow you to quickly capture awesome photos. This is important because drones only have a limited battery life (normally about 30 minutes) you need to make sure all of your time in their counts.

Once you have an understanding of the manual operation of the above settings you may be ready for combining that with drone flying. Which is a skill all on its own.

You don’t have the time to edit footage or photos

Drones result in a load of video footage and it can be a pretty data intensive process. If you want to understand how much data a drone creates during a typical recording or photograph check out my other article – a complete guide to drone video file size – click here.

The thing about all of this data is that you need to do something with it for it to be fun and result in something you are proud of. When I fly my drone I continuously record from the moment I take off – this results in about 20 minutes worth of video footage. That means that I need to cut out the boring components of the flight, edited together, add titles, transitions and export. This process for a 20 minute video can sometimes take me upwards of two hours. Photography is a little different but the drone cameras do need extra editing time over a DSLR are camera. That is because with a camera you have a load of different settings and lenses and you are generally not in super exposed areas like a drone camera is.

If you don’t have the time to edit your footage or photos then consider buying a camera instead. Otherwise you could end up with a load of dataset on a hard drive that no one will ever see and you feel anxious when you think about editing it.

One of the tricks that I use is that I do not “build up” loads of video footage if I want to use the footage I’ve collected (it is not just a practice flight) then I edit as soon as I get home. The momentum really helps make sure that I use the drone footage rather than forget about its existence or never use it.

You don’t have any output for the videos or photos

You need to ask yourself the question: what am I going to do with all of these photos and videos? If you don’t really have any output for the videos or photos that you are creating it could be that a drone is not for you. It’s pretty impressive when you see awesome shots embedded as B roll footage in YouTube vlogs and videos. What is not typically watched as often is just drone footage for the sake of drone footage. Unless something awesome happens and is a viral hit.

Perhaps you will be using the drone footage to enhance your social media presence, promote your business, or stand out in some other awesome way. To make sure that you make the most of your drone purchase you need to have an output for your investment. It may be that you are just flying for fun and that is perfectly okay you can buy a relatively cheap drone for zooming about for no reason. If however you want a camera drone it’s important that the footage ends up somewhere awesome and becomes an asset for you. That will mean that the drone becomes an awesome investment.

If you want to usual drone as an investment check out my other article – is a drone a good investment? Insider tips! – Click here.

is a drone a good investment?

If the country were flying and has strict drone regulations

The country in which you intend to fly your drone dictates how much fun you can have and how easy it will be to fly your drone. Some laws and countries have drone regulations that make it difficult to fly your drone freely. It would be a massive pain to buy a drone and then not be able to fly it in the locations that you want to. The good thing about a camera is that there are very few rules and regulations about using it. Obviously there are privacy and private property rules that you need to abide by but largely they are much more lax than drone rules.

You should check out the aviation rules for drones in the primary district that you want to fly. Here are a few countries regulations and where you can and cannot fly.

Drone flying restriction in USA

Drone flying restriction in Canada

Drone flying restriction in Australia

Drone flying restriction in UK

If you’re not sure about the rules and regulations in your country of origin, then get in contact with the organisation that controls the airspace. They will be able to guide you in the best things to do and consider for buying a drone.

It would be a tragedy if you bought a drone and then find out you couldn’t fly it in your country, or in the most beautiful parts of your town or city.

Now, let’s take a look at the reasons why you would want to buy a drone over a camera.

Reasons to buy a drone rather than a camera

Drones are awesome. If I didn’t think so I wouldn’t have started this blog. There are so many awesome ways that drones can become a positive full force in your life. One of the best reasons I like my drone is because it gets me out and about and allows me to capture some awesome footage to enhance my YouTube channels. But, there are many more reasons why buying a drone over a camera may be for you.

You want to learn a new skill

I love learning new things and drones in photography was one of the things that I wanted to add to my learning list. Flying a drone and taking photos and video of my surroundings was a fun challenge that I was willing to investigate and practice so that I got good at. I knew a little bit about photography and I had been using a video camera for about a year before I launched into a drone purchase.

If you want to learn a new skill and you’re willing to put the effort in drone and photography can be incredibly rewarding. I know that I got a lot out of it and I was able to add a point of difference to all of my content creation. As soon as I added drone footage to my LinkedIn Vlog (which I did for about year) I immediately was able to capture the attention of a relatively large audience. So my learning had a positive outcome for my projects – I think that is the most potent motivation for learning something new.

You want to get out and about a bit more

My partner said to me that buying a drone enabled us to explore some really awesome and unexpected parts of our home town of Adelaide, Australia. There’s something really awesome about drone photography in that it forces you to get out to new locations. Although a camera is also a great way to explore it doesn’t provide you with the same motivation to get out and about in nature or new surroundings.

I have also been able to connect with a new community and learn from other drone flyers that are always more than happy to share their knowledge of drones and drones.

So overall my drone experience has forced me to explore and connect – which I believe is always a good reason to buy a drone.

You want to add a different business offering to your business

if you are considering buying a drone to support an existing business – you will have to work out exactly what your potential clients are willing to pay for and how much they are willing to pay. A good business decision is one where the customers are at the front and centre of the decision.

What do your customers actually want from a drone service offering. Do they want real estate photography? Do they want high definition footage to support television commercials? Do they want surveying capabilities? These are the fundamental questions you need to ask yourself before you even consider what sort of drone capability you will invest in. The only way to get a real answer to this question is to start approaching potential customers and selling them services to see what they are willing to buy. I have found during my many business ventures that the responses are not often what I expect them to be.

After you have worked out what your customers want from a drone service offering, you need to work out what they are willing to pay for it. This, quite honestly, is where most businesses decide not to invest in drone services. Quite often, clients do not have the budget to afford a professional drone service. They like the idea of it more than their budget allows.

Also, if you are using a drone as a commercial venture different rules and regulations apply to you. You should check out your local jurisdiction and country civil aviation laws to find out what differs from hobby drone flyer to professional service. You may need to take some expensive courses, invest in insurance, and keep your licenses and registration up to date. Each of these comes at a cost which will impact your return on investment.

Take all of the above into consideration before buying a drone as a service offering. It’s not until someone parts with their hard-earned money for a service that you can be really sure they are telling you the truth.

Keep monitoring the increase or decrease in revenue and stay responsive to the results. Asking for constant feedback from your customers will make sure that your investment is a good one.

Arguably, most people do not buy a drone to try to add a new business service offering or to start a side hustle – they just do it for fun!


So, there are all of the reasons why you may consider buying a drone over a camera or vice versa. Ultimately however it comes down to what you value the most what I recommend you do is list all of the reasons why you want a drone or a camera. This could include things such as to take portrait photos, to explore more often, to take with me while travelling, to capture our life, or whatever else it is. Based on that list you will be able to work out whether a drone or a camera is best suited for giving you the outcomes that you want.

If your budget allows there is also the possibility of getting secondhand drone and cameras. That is something that I did so that I could stretch my budget further while gaining the capability of drone imagery and videography as well as awesome DSLR footage. If you want to know how to buy a secondhand drone go check out my other article – how to buy a secondhand drone a 50 part checklist [free checklist download] – click here.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a Drone pilot, Writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV (ABC Documentary) and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones.