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Drone Talk


In this week’s episode of The Basecamp, Video Producer (and FAA Part 107 Certified Remote Pilot) Greg Block and Creative Director Steven Carter discuss all things drones. From commercial use to drone recommendations, the legalities of filming and more, there's a lot to learn. (*This episode was filmed prior to COVID-19 and social distancing practices.)

Drones, also referred to as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), are rapidly becoming a part of our everyday lives. While drones might have been initially designed for military use, today they are used both recreationally and commercially and are quickly increasing in both numbers and complexity. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are a total of 1,563,263 registered drones in the United States. 441,709 are for commercial use and 1,117,900 are for recreational use.

When it comes to videography and cinematography, drones are an incredible tool. They capture shots and angles that would not be possible using a handheld camera. Drones give users a birds-eye view of projects or landscapes, and newer drones can even execute time lapses in the sky while in motion. 

Whether you're flying a drone for commercial or recreational use, register your drone with the FAA. The main reason the FAA encourages registration is for public safety so they can track a drone in the event of an accident. If you're flying your drone for commercial use, obtain your Remote Pilot Certification. This demonstrates you understand the regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying drones.

Overall, a drone can be a great investment for a business. Before deciding to purchase a drone, take stock of the main purpose for using your drone and your budget. Check out some of Greg's recommendations within the episode.

To learn more about using drones – from picking one out to getting licensed to fly – watch Episode 9.

Need a drone for your next video project? Just drop us a line and we'd be glad to help.

Read the Transcript

Steven Carter: Hey, guys. Welcome again to another episode of The Basecamp, here at Ascend Inbound Marketing. Today we have Greg Block, he's our video producer. And we're going to talk a little bit about drones. So we have a drone here, this guy. What's his name, Greg?

Greg Block: Little Mavic Pro.

Steven Carter: Well, that's creative. No, I think it kind of looks like a chicken. But yeah, so we're going to talk about drones and what we use. This is one of the ones that we use sometimes here in the office, as well as some of the certification stuff, and then applications of drones for your business, if it's something you're interested in.

Steven Carter: So yeah, to get us started Greg... And I think, as there's obviously lots of use cases for drones in businesses, it varies as far as how we use them for videography and, I guess, cinematography. Let's talk about that for a second. So just different types of maybe tactics whenever you are flying your drone, right? There's strafes and orbits and things like that. I mean, what are some ways that you would incorporate footage to really give that more high-end cinematic feel whenever you're flying about?

Greg Block: Yeah, I guess it depends on the business, but if you want to get a scope of your operations, maybe it's agriculture or a construction company, it gives people a birds-eye view of your projects. The newer drones, you can do time lapses in the sky while it's moving.

Steven Carter: So some of the obvious reasons to use a drone in whenever you're shooting would be capturing shots that you couldn't capture using other types of whatever jibs or cranes or whatever. And so you mentioned the gimbal, right? So tell us what a gimbal does compared to if you didn't have a gimbal, right?

Greg Block: So gimbals'll take out the shake and the X and the Y accesses.

Steven Carter: So the X is almost like a stabilizer for the camera?

Greg Block: Right, stabilizer.

Steven Carter: Okay. Yeah.

Greg Block: So that takes out the shake. And besides drones, you can also put it on cameras too. But that's another subject.

Steven Carter: Yeah, that's right. Drones today, just drones today. So you did mention something. 45 miles an hour legally. Right?

Greg Block: Yeah.

Steven Carter: Okay. So let's talk about the legality of drones for a second. So I know, I mean, when drones first came out and they were becoming a big thing, saved up my money, I bought a Phantom, a Phantom 1, when it first came out. And I had all these big ambitions and aspirations. And I was like, "I'm going to learn to do this and make some money." And then, not too long after I purchased it and I'd crashed it, and it was already out of commission, actually over water, it was not good... But anyway, so all these regulations started coming out, right? Because everybody was getting drones and doing this. And so federal government got involved, as they tend to do, and FAA put some regulations on stuff.

Steven Carter: So I remember that being a big hindrance for me, personally, was like, "Man, the certification," we're talking about a pilot's license. Right? And so that was intimidating, and I dropped out of it. Let's talk about that though. So, I guess, first and foremost, there are laws, obviously, when operating a drone, but even more than that, in our business and in any commercial business, like if you are working for any business, there are rules and stuff. Right? So what are some of those rules? And then why do those certifications exist?

Greg Block: Yeah, so, well, the biggest reason for certification is just the safety of the public around you. Like you said, when the drones first came out, it was like the Wild West. There were no rules. It was new. So whenever I first came into drones, they did have certifications. And the first time a business would apply for a license, it would be like an umbrella for that business. But it took... My dad, he flies drones professionally, and he couldn't even get that license. He's a retired pilot. It was a lot of red tape and-

Steven Carter: So he legit flies planes.

Greg Block: Right.

Steven Carter: And he couldn't get a drone license.

Greg Block: Right.

Steven Carter: Yeah. That's kind of crazy.

Greg Block: It'd take forever to respond to people. So they streamlined it, with push from the drone community, to do the Part 107 license. And that's-

Steven Carter: You have a Part 107, right?

Greg Block: I do.

Steven Carter: Okay. So how does that work?

Greg Block: Yeah, the test is you go to a local airport, most local airports have it, and it's a 60 question test. And it tests your knowledge on just the rules of flying, how to read a map, how to read an aeronautical map. So you know if you're close to an airport, how high you can go, how close you can fly to the airport.

Greg Block: A benefit of having the Part 107 is I can call the local airport and get permission to fly close to the airport, as long as they know where the area of operation will be where you're going to be filming at. So unlicensed pilots, they can't get that. You have to be a licensed-

Steven Carter: So they can't get permission to fly within a certain radius of restricted areas and things like that.

Greg Block: Yeah, because most cities-

Steven Carter: And so restricted areas are going to be like... Well I think... So we're about Austin, and there's a big Air Force base, so obviously that's going to be a no go, right?

Greg Block: Yeah.

Steven Carter: They fly things there that are much bigger than drones, like the big A-10s and stuff, which is really cool. But even beyond that, I think most decently sized cities have hospitals and medical things, and so there's issues there too, right, if you're trying to fly.

Greg Block: Yeah, with hospitals, you have the helicopters you need to worry about. Prisons, you can't fly any of those. Schools-

Steven Carter: Contraband.

Greg Block: Yeah, and like I said, most cities have an airport and airports have a five mile radius of where you need permission.

Steven Carter: All right. Another thing that I know, I've got some friends that are kind of in this boat, but playing that hypothetical again, so I have a commercial construction company. And one of the employees that works there was like, "Oh, I've got a drone. I've got a old drone with a video camera. I can take it out there and shoot some footage for you." How does a license play into that as well? Is that something that that individual needs a license for, even though they're already an employee? They're shooting at for me and my company, but they're already on payroll. How does that work?

Greg Block: Right. Yeah. So you would need to be licensed, because there is exchange of money. I mean, through payroll, it's a commercial endeavor. If you use-

Steven Carter: So that's not that person's job title.

Greg Block: Right.

Steven Carter: If they shoot footage for me and it's put on my website or whatever, then it's problematic.

Greg Block: Right.

Steven Carter: Okay.

Greg Block: Yeah, because especially, I mean, the reason you're shooting it is for a project that's you're making money off of, and you're using that footage to enhance that project so, yeah [crosstalk 00:07:35].

Steven Carter: Gotcha. Gotcha. So summatively, licenses are good.

Greg Block: Yeah.

Steven Carter: Okay. It's important. All right. So next thing, and let's maybe get your thoughts on this. Man, I think it really looks like a chicken. So what are some applications of drone usage? I know we kind of, in the very beginning, we talked about some different tactics, maybe, maneuvers, as far as the cinematic and achieving that. But maybe what are some ways to showcase different things and different verticals and niches like, say, agriculture versus construction, whatever. What are some thoughts you have there?

Greg Block: Well, I mentioned the time-lapse feature for the newer drones. Like a construction company, if you have a project coming up that you know is going to be big, and it has stages of construction, you can maybe go with a retainer with a company that's licensed and work with them, and you tell them when you'll be doing construction, and they can bring their drone out there, you can set the GPS coordinates. The drone will always be in the same spot. And then we can do a time-lapse and just save that footage, and just put it all together, and you can see the building.

Steven Carter: I can see where that would be really cool, especially, you see time-lapses sometimes, but they're set on a telephone pole, so it's stationary. Or they're set ground level, with a GoPro or something like that. But yeah, to have that bird's-eye perspective, and over time, that'd be really awesome. Yeah.

Steven Carter: I know another thing that we do a lot of also is one of our clients is in the, I guess, agriculture sector, and they're doing a lot of sod and landscaping type stuff. And the footage you pull back from that is really cool as well.

Steven Carter: Well, I did have another question. So for somebody that's starting out with drones, right, and drones range in price tremendously, right?

Greg Block: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Steven Carter: But maybe what is your recommendation for a good starter drone to kind of... It can record some video but you're not looking for...

Greg Block: Right. You're still going to spend some money just so you have all those features, safety features, battery runtime. DJI pretty much has the market right now. There are some competitors coming up but they still don't have the technology that DJI has. Their Mavic Mini that they just came out with, I think, this past December for Christmas, so that was still in '19, it comes with a prop guard. It's small, compact, really fun to fly around your house.

Steven Carter: Outside.

Greg Block: Right, outside. And it's below the weight requirement for registration for recreational use. So even if you're flying this drone for recreation use, it's above the weight limit, so you still need to register it just so it has a number. You don't have to take the test, but it needs to be registered through the FAA so they can track those drones if there is an incident. But yeah, with the Mavic Mini you don't even have to worry about that, as long as it's recreational, not commercial. And that runs $400.

Steven Carter: That's not bad at all.

Greg Block: No.

Steven Carter: That's not bad at all. All right, so maybe an upgraded version of the Mavic Mini. So what's something that's kind of mid-level? I know drones go from... I didn't know 400 for a decent one. But the Phantom 4 is out, I think. There might be a newer one now. I don't know. I don't really keep up with it. I know there's something like a $2,000 price point all the way up to... I've got a friend in California that's telling me he's got a $200,000 rig. So not on the high-end, but something that if a company was like, "Man, we're going to do a lot of aerial shots. We'll get one of our guys to go get certified, get a license done, and we'll invest in a drone," what would be a good mid-level recommendation there?

Greg Block: I'd still recommend the Mavics, but they have the Mavic 2 now. This is the Mavic Pro, the original. Mavic 2 comes in two different models. And they have the Mavic 2 Pro, and that has a better camera on it for imaging. So if you're more of taking photos, I'd recommend that one.

Greg Block: And then they have the Mavic 2 Zoom. If you're more on the video side, I would recommend that, because you can zoom in and out, get different points of view. And those run... The Zoom is about 1,500, and then the Pro is about 1,800. And then up from there, you got the Inspire series, and that's between 4,000 and 8,000, depending on the camera. And then after that, it's just-

Steven Carter: It gets stupid.

Greg Block: That's where you're using custom drones to carry fancy cameras like REDs, and [inaudible 00:12:19].

Steven Carter: Guessing a lot. I don't know what those are, but, okay. Yeah. That's cool. Awesome. Well, yeah, thanks, man.

Greg Block: Yeah.

Steven Carter: I know this has been incredibly insightful to me. I just say, "Hey, Greg, can we get drone footage like this?" And you're like, "Yeah." That's kind of how that works. So thank you for that. Yeah. Learned a lot today, and maybe everybody else did too.