Drone filming

A couple of people have asked me* whether I would ever take a drone with me on a narrowboat trip. And I think I would except for the following reasons:

  • The expense of buying a drone
  • Possible fees and/or permissions
  • Time spent filming is time not spent traveling
  • Learning the skills required
  • The hassle of transporting it

These objections are ranked from least to worst. Despite the plummeting price of drones, I’d still probably need to spend more than $1,000 for a drone. The DJI Phantom 3 Professional quadcopter with 4K video (and because I already own the DJI Osmo, I’d probably stick with the the DJI brand) costs $800 on Amazon. Add in the cost of extra batteries, some sort of carrying case, lens filters, etc., and I would probably spend $1,250. I could buy the Phantom 3 SE for $500 if I decided 4K video isn’t necessary, but I know from experience that 4K video gives one a lot of flexibility for fake zooms, if the intended output is regular HD.

DJI Phantom 3 Standard

Also, I’m not sure if navigational authorities like the Canal & River Trust would consider my filming projects as commercial. I doubt I would ever sell my videos as stock footage but I am trying to promote my books, which are for sale. If the CRT decided to be picky, it would be an expensive proposition—£130 per hour to film. Admittedly the money goes toward costs of maintaining the waterways, but still money out of my pocket.

Then there are just the general civil aviation issues regarding flying a drone. As in the US, the drone would have to be under my control at all times and remain within sight. And I would have to keep the drone 150m away from congested areas and 50m away from people. And this Telegraph article suggests I would need a license regardless if I’m filming for commercial purposes.

The third objection involves my desire to be a one-person operation. The subtitle of my latest book is The Adventures of a Solitary Cyclist, and that means time spent filming is time not spent cycling. I took forever to get from A to B on the canals because I was always stopping to take pictures or video. I have to imagine setting up the drone, flying it and retrieving it after I crash it would be even more time consuming.

On a narrowboat trip, however, there’s the additional difficulty that the rest of the crew might not appreciate stopping for two hours while I try to capture three minutes of usable footage. Admittedly, at a narrowboat’s average speed of 3 mph, I could stop and take drone footage and easily catch up with the boat again as long as I have a bike.

I’m also not terribly interested in learning the skills necessary for flying a drone. Much can be done with programming a drone to fly a course automatically, but frankly, I just don’t want another hobby. I have too many already.

The biggest objection to bringing a drone, however, would be the hassle of bringing it. I was at the absolute limit of how much I could bring on my May trip. Yes, I could have paid for extra luggage, but I doubt I could have managed to add a drone. I definitely would have needed to bring front panniers. And I would probably have needed to wear a large backpack.

Finally, I was already paranoid whenever I locked up my bike. I carried my camera equipment with me through museums or took it with me into restrooms and restaurants. Adding a drone to mix would be unthinkable.

So no, I doubt I will ever bring a drone to the UK.

*Well, one person asked.

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