By Matt Van Emmerik
Since 2008 I have operated Showcase Photography, a company offering high end video productions and photography for all architectural clients . With growing demand and huge interest, I added to my services aerial photography and videography in 2015.
When I first started with aerial, professional drones had recently become attainable for those of us wanting to offer the same quality imagery from the air as we did on the ground. This all began with the DJI Inspire 1 drone with X3 and X5 cameras. The X5 offered interchangeable lenses and the X3 offered a more affordable fixed focal length camera and gimbal in which both shot incredibly stable 4K video footage. This was a huge game changer in our industry, however they were still quite expensive for the average photographer wanting to get into aerial and also presented major road blocks and confusion in attaining legal permission to fly commercially. DJI has been aggressive in their attempt to offer high quality imagery in a smaller drone package to enable people to be able to fly under certain weight restrictions in which our governments have imposed on us in this new and exploding industry.
When I first decided to go down the long road of drone services, it was important to me that the quality could match that of which I was providing on the ground. The Inspire 1 with X3 and X5 cameras did a great job for the average and high end daytime real estate shoot. It soon became apparent that it was not the quality workhorse I needed as it’s low light capability was just not great with either camera system. I started getting more and more requests to shoot twilight aerial and these cameras were not cutting it. Next comes the DJI Inspire 2 with X5s and X7 cameras offering a true 14 stops of dynamic range. I jumped on this opportunity to offer higher quality imagery with interchangeable lens capability. I could now offer incredible daytime and low light imagery including twilight and had the focal lengths for all shooting situations. A larger sensor also captures more information allowing for enlarged higher quality prints.
Fast forward to mid 2018 and DJI seems to have changed direction due to the physical size restrictions we all face to fly legally. They came out with the Spark, The Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom series and seem to be phasing out the workhorse Phantom 4 Pro due to it physical size falling somewhere in between the Inspire 2 and Mavic 2 Pro. As all large corporations do, DJI goes where the money is and simple drones that are compact and easy to use is exactly where the money is. They realize the vast majority of people cannot afford to cough up $10,000+ for larger, more capable drones, nor will they jump through the hoops required to fly these machines legally which puts a lot of pressure on DJI from our governments. They also know if they don’t own the amateur, prosumer and professional markets, there are other companies just waiting to squeeze them out.
What troubles me is that people in our industry that offer “only high quality imagery” for real estate, seem to be lured in with marketing strategies such as the new Hasselblad lens on the Mavic 2 Pro and it’s professional claims. This is marketing 101, please don’t be lured into thinking this is a powerful drone and camera that competes with drones such as the Phantom 4 pro or Inspire 2 with X5s and X7 cameras with interchangeable glass. It’s a classic case of “well if it’s Hasselblad it must be good” because we know they have built quality cameras for many years so they automatically gain our trust.
I see instagram postings of completely over-processed twilight images taken with the Mavic 2 Pro and these photographers are actually proud of what they are producing. It may be impressive for the small lens but it’s not the camera that’s producing the end result, its Photoshop and Lightroom with fake skies and it requires a lot of effort to produce what is ultimately sub-standard in the professional world.
Apple markets their new iPhone Xs as if it’s carrying a professional camera as well and when we watch their videos and see what they’re capable of doing, we naturally get lured into thinking they are professional cameras, because they’re telling us that they are and we trust the brand. Our brains are trained from a young age to trust and respect professionals whether it’s camera manufacturers, doctors or lawyers but it doesn’t mean they’re right or being honest all the time. Doctors are controlled by pharma-corporations and lawyers are controlled by senior partners and drone companies are controlled by government regulations and consumer needs. They are all controlled by money and getting yours is what drives them. I digress.
Don’t get me wrong, these little drones offer incredible imagery for the size of the fixed cameras and small sensors that they carry but don’t be blinded by the impressive aerial perspective and quality they offer in ideal shooting conditions alone. Ask yourself the question “would you start a Real Estate photography business using the new iPhone Xs”? I’m certainly not going to replace my Canon 5D Mark V anytime soon with my new iPhone as good as the photos are for everyday personal use. I suppose it all comes down to the questions “ what’s good enough for you”, “what’s good enough for your clients” and “what market do you want to compete in”?
Real Estate Photographers see these drones as a minimal investment and the quality is good enough for day to day shoots which I don’t argue with. The issue is they are driving the industry backwards by decreasing their prices because they don’t have the same overhead as someone with an Inspire 2 drone and higher insurance and replacement costs.
The problems with selling Real Estate Photography on the ground are now the same problems we face with selling aerial services. Most Realtors don’t see or care about the difference of quality as they usually stop at price so where do we draw the line? They see that Photographer A offers Aerial for $200.00 and flies a Mavic 2 Pro. Photographer B offers the same service, with Inspire 2 and X7 Camera, however his or her price is 3 times that amount based on their equipment, knowledge, composition, operating costs, experience, time spent and superior quality end product. To the Realtor it’s apples vs apples and they will choose Photographer A nine times out of ten based on cost alone.
If you are a $99 real estate photographer shooting 6 houses a day and don’t care about improving your quality or having time to enjoy life much, these drones are a perfect way to make more money and there’s no doubt that you will….at a cost… more of your free time. However, if you aregrowing your business and quality of imagery and you’re starting to attract attention and business from high end agents and developers that know the difference, you’re not doing yourself any favours by pulling out a toy Mavic 2 Pro in front of your client who’s paying you a premium price for your imagery.
My personal advice is that you should never waiver on quality in the air if you don’t with your ground based work. In doing so you’re opening yourself up to price lowering and also opening doors for higher quality companies to come in and bump you out of the high end market. You’re better off aligning yourself with a professional drone company to do your high end aerial work for you until you’re in a position to justify the cost and work involved in doing it yourself. It wouldn’t hurt to have a Mavic 2 Pro to train on in the meantime and do basic Real Estate shoots with also.
To conclude, all drones have their place and the Mavic 2 Pro has it’s place even in Real Estate Photography. If you’re wanting to go after high end and higher priced aerial shoots, having a professional drone and camera in my opinion is the only answer. This increases your credibility, level of professionalism and word of mouth spreading through the higher end cliental.
Don’t be fooled by drone companies marketing schemes and their ambassadors that market their products on YouTube for them. Do your research and find videos from non-biased reviewers that dig into the real capabilities of their camera systems and show direct comparisons. Don’t be tricked into believing the Mavic 2 Pro is better than the Phantom 4 pro or that it’s better than the Inspire 2 with X5x and X7 cameras.
Happy Flying Everyone!