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The number of industries where drones can be used is growing almost constantly. At first, drones were used mostly in military operations. However, drones are now used in many areas; one is mapping. Mapping drones can be used in numerous situations such as land management, disaster relief efforts, agriculture, forestry monitoring, etc. Sounds useful, doesn’t it? It’s safe to say that drones are finding their way into multiple complex situations.
Mapping drones (as with any other type of drone) can be used automatically, or they can be controlled by a person. Drones that fly themselves depend on GPS and sensors to work out their location, direction, and altitude. As it’s called, ground control mapping utilizes Wi-Fi or cellular connections.
This article will show you the best drones for mapping, explain how they work, and what to look for in a mapping drone.
Note: Keep in mind that these are only our opinions based on my thorough investigation of the best drones for mapping. In any case, please do your own research before deciding which ones are the most suitable ones for your goals and needs.
At this point, it is good to note that all opinions and suggestions written in this article are not considered financial advice.
The 8 Best Drones for Mapping and Surveying
I thoroughly investigated the best drones for mapping, and my list includes DJI Matrice 300 RTK, Yuneec H520, DJI Matrice 200 series, DJI Mavic Air 2, senseFly eBee X, DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise, Yuneed Typhoon H3, and DJI Phantom 4 Pro V 2.0.
So, without further ado, let’s jump into details.
The next drone on our list of the best drones for mapping is Yuneec H520. Larger and heavier than its predecessors with larger rotor blades, The drone is not also strong from the inside but looks great from the inside. Basically, from all angles, Yuneec H520 is a high-end commercial UAV.
This drone offers a high-end ST16S control technology which helps the drone fly flawlessly. You don’t need a separate device to control the drone; rather, you can control it via your smartphone. Yuneec H520 has a “mission mode,” which means that you can set the drone’s flight route, and it will follow it. Furthermore, the drone offers an Obstacle Avoidance System with ultrasonic sensors, which helps when Yuneec H52 avoid crashing.
Other notable specifications of this drone include:
- Flight time of ~25-30 minutes
- Max speed is 17 m / s
- The transmission range goes from 3.5km to 7km
- 4S 5250mAh LiPo battery
- It supports various E90, CGOET, E30, and E10 cameras.
The drone is suitable for mapping large areas due to its ST16S control technology, mission mode, and various camera setups. Keep in mind that E90 is the best suitable camera for mapping since it supports 3D views.
DJI Mavic Air 2
The next drone on our list is one of the most popular drones on the market nowadays – the DJI Mavic Air 2. Yet another powerful drone created and manufactured by DJI. It’s extremely easy to use, and when it came out in the spring of 2020, it changed the game.
The main reason why DJI decided to launch Mavic Air 2 is actually the success of its predecessor. However, Mavic Air 2 came with some serious upgrades, such as a much-improved battery and improved shooting options.
Flying the Mavic Air 2 is super easy, and frankly, it can’t be any simpler. From the case, the arms fold out, and the propellers are later simple to fit (taking concern to matching the color codes with the motors). The incandescent series battery slots neatly into the top. Furthermore, it’s an extremely thick package and one that will presumably please the vast majority of drone pilots.
Other notable features of the drone include:
- Max flight time of ~34 minutes
- Max speed of 19 m / s
- Max transmission range of 18.5 km
- The battery with a capacity of 3500 mAh
- 1/2″ CMOS sensor camera with Effective Pixels: 12 MP and 48 MP
Flight automation tool DroneDeploy has included a boost for DJI Mavic Air 2. This intends you can now undertake commercial missions that are examining facades and rooftops or mapping little sites autonomously with a small but affordable drone.
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise
The next drone manufactured by the biggest drone company globally (DJI) is DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise. We can safely say this is a very powerful drone that has quite a few upgrades when compared to some of its predecessors. The main upgrade is a high-quality, top-notch camera. Another thing I liked about Mavic 2 Enterprise is that the drone is suitable for both professionals and amateurs in the drone world as well.
So, as already stated above, Mavic 2 Enterprise offers a top-notch camera, so the main usage of the drone is related to taking areal images and photos, which is why the drone is highly suitable for mapping purposes.
The name “Enterprise” means that this drone is part of the big DJI collection of the same name. Other notable drones which are also part of this collection are Matrice 600, Phantom 4 Pro, and Matrice 200 series (drone also suitable for mapping and explained earlier in the article). Furthermore, Mavic 2 Enterprise is easy to use, so this is why the drone is suitable for amateurs as well.
Some notable features of DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise include:
- The maximum speed of 72 kph
- The maximum flight time is ~31 minutes
- M2ED Thermal Camera, M2ED Visual Camera, M2E Camera
- Intelligent flight battery capacity: 3850 mAh
DJI PHANTOM 4 PRO V2.0
And last but definitely not least, the drone on our list of best drones for mapping is DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0. This drone found its place in the mapping industry.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is an upgraded version of its predecessors since it comes with an upgraded camera with a highly-equipped 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor. The DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is one of the latest exemplars in its Phantom series, which is the range that really lifted DJI into the stratosphere as the earth leader in drones.
The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 was declared in 2018 and was a major upgrade when compared to the Phantom 4, carrying a host of professional options and enhanced flight technologies that include front, rear, and downward vision sensors, moreover infrared sensors on the sides of the aircraft to supply obstacle sensing in five directions.
Some of the notable features of DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 are:
- The maximum speed of 45 mph
- The maximum flight time of ~30 minutes
- 1-inch CMOS sensors camera with effective pixels: 20M
- 4K resolution
DJI Matrice 300 RTK
The first drone on our list of the best drones for mapping we will show today is DJI Matrice 300 RTK. The biggest advantage of this drone and most likely the first thing you will notice is its flight time which can go up to 55 minutes – a remarkable number and higher than the industry’s average (most of today’s drones can fly from 10 to 30 minutes). The reason why Matrice 300 RTK can fly for so long is its advanced TB60-type batteries with a capacity of 4920 mAh.
Besides the long flight time, there are other exciting features Matrice 300 RTK can offer; 6 Directional Sensing and Positioning system, location sharing, PinPoint, Smart Track, and an extremely efficient flight control system. When you sum up these advanced features and an extremely long flight time, you get one of the most powerful drones on the market.
Other notable specifications on Matrice 300 RTK include:
- Transmission range up to 15 km
- Max speed is 23 m/s
- ~6.3 kg weight (with two TB60 batteries)
- A high-quality Zenmuse H20 and H20T camera
Since Matrice 300 RTK is a heavy drone, it’s unsuitable for biking, hiking, or traveling. However, it’s commonly used for outdoor inspections and mapping. Due to its Smart inspection features, the drone can carry it out on the field and take high-quality images with its Zenmuse camera.
DJI Matrice 200 series
Yet another exciting drone on our list of best drones for mapping manufactured by the biggest drone company in the world (DJI) is DJI Matrice 200. In general, DJI is focused on creating premium, high-tech drones that will dominate the industry, and DJI Matrice 200 is a good example of that.
DJI Matrice 200 is designed as an enterprise survey drone, and DJI is marketing it as such. This is an expensive drone, but it offers a lot of exciting and advanced features. For instance, the drone offers three obstacle avoidance systems (great for mapping) and two cameras, which can be used under bad weather conditions.
Other notable specifications of the drone include:
- Max flight time of ~38 minutes
- Max speed of 5 m / s
- The maximum transmission range is 4.3 miles (7 km)
- 4923 mAh LiPo intelligent battery and 4280 mAh TB50 battery
- It is compatible with DJI’s Zenmuse X4S, X5S, XT, XT2 and Z30 cameras
Due to its rugged design and a wide variety of payload options, Matrice 200 can be used in many industries. Site mapping is one, of course, but besides that, it can be used in infrastructure maintenance, search and rescue, firefighting, and offshore rig inspections.
senseFly eBee X
The next drone in today’s article is senseFly eBee X. This is widely considered one of the most popular drones in the mapping industry. Choosing the accurate mapping camera for the suitable task plays a big part. senseFly eBee X construct can suit any job urge to its range of groundbreaking and interchangeable mapping drone sensors. Another big advantage of senseFly eBee X is that it can fly for half an hour without charging, which means it’s suitable for mapping large areas.
Let me show you some of the notable features of the senseFly eBee X drone:
- Up to 90 minutes of flight time
- Nine highly-optimized cameras
- Weighs in at around 1.6kg
- Top-notch accuracy
eBee X offers on-demand RTK/PPK capabilities, which means you can collect data easily while maintaining extremely high precision every step of the way. This drone can achieve absolute accuracy of 1.5cm without any GCPs (ground control points).
Finally, eBee X is compatible with the industry’s leading base stations, which means you can fly with the drone literally anywhere.
Yuneec Typhoon H3: Best consumer hexacopter
Yet another exciting drone on our list of best drones for mapping is the Yneec Typhoon H3, widely considered one of the best consumer drones globally. When it comes to the mapping industry, drone is used there, and this is why it deserves to be mentioned in this article.
With the Typhoon H3 and the ION L1 Pro camera developed in collaboration with Leica, Yuneec and Leica Camera AG carry the best of their respective worlds together to carry Leica photography to the skies. The H3 has been particularly developed for photographers, mappers, and videographers who wish to rediscover the planet from overhead in a new look. Inspired by the use of high-quality materials and the implementation of a wide range of flight functioning in a mixture with a 1″ CMOS camera sensor, it offers you an advanced and perfectly coordinated
general entity for you to fulfill your mapping and photographic ambitions.
Let me list some of the most important features of Yuneec Typhoon H3:
- The maximum flight time is ~25 minutes
- New high-quality Leica camera
- 4K resolution with 20 MP
- Data privacy
- Two operator team system
- Six rotor safety stability
What to look for in a mapping and surveying drone
When you are looking for a mapping or surveying drone, you have to consider some factors before deciding which one to purchase. The most important factors include autonomous flight capability, long maximum flight time, top-notch (4K) camera, RTK compatibility, propellers, long-range transmitter, gimbal, payload capacity, and of course, last but not least, price.
Let me break each of these factors for you.
Autonomous flight capability
Aerial mapping surveys need you to fly more than a few times to confirm precise data. You are obliged to ensure that your drone follows the correct flight path each time. This is nearly impossible to accomplish manually, so you’ll require a drone programmed to fly autonomously.
You can’t only activate autonomous flight with any drone survey. To generate flight paths that can be submitted to distant controllers, you’ll undoubtedly require a hook or crook application, for example, Litchi. An error by human mistake can be avoided by removing pilot input.
Long battery time
It’s not a rare thing that drones need to survey large areas. A “regular” drone can’t complete the whole survey from one take even if it has a good maximum speed. The drone will have to go back to you so that the batteries can be replaced. This can be heavily overwhelming.
Our suggestion here is to ensure that the maximum flight time of your drone is at least 30 minutes since this should be the optimal time to record even large areas during surveys. To be honest, this should not be a hard task since most modern drones have this kind of flight time.
The vast majority of well-liked drone tech for aerial surveying is photogrammetry. To decide the heights of all options on the ground, the technique employs a series of overlapping geotagged aerial photos. Drone photogrammetry has its limitations, but it’s a well-liked feature because of its accessibility and affordability.
Camera resolution is key to photogrammetry information quality. Cameras that acquire exquisite ground explanations will be best, letting the tool generate these options throughout 3D modeling. These days, cameras can report 4K videos and 12MP photos. But don’t worry, you can get as raised as you want.
A GPS receiver is a feature basically every modern drone offers. This receiver allows location tracking. The GPS handset can automatically geotag photos taken simultaneously as mapping surveys. The mapping application can generate a 3D exemplar by stitching together images and spatial data.
GPS information can be incorrect up to some meters, depending on the conditions. This may not issue for several applications, but it could be is important in urban planning or interpretation areas.
You must carefully investigate the next factor when deciding which mapping drone to buy are its propellers. Propellers can create lift for the entire drone with the higher air pressure on the bottom of the propellers. Furthermore, their rotation also keeps the drone stable and propels it to move forwards.
If you want to map huge areas, you will need a drone with a long-range transmitter. For instance, when you map an area a few kilometers wide, you need to purchase a drone that has at least a 5-7 kilometers transmission range. Anything less than that can cause you problems eventually, or you will not be able to map the whole area.
The next thing you have to be careful about when purchasing a mapping drone is its camera gimbal. The most suitable camera gimbal for mapping would be the one with mechanical shutters supporting high shutter speeds. This kind of drone can take a series of pictures that will be precisely separated and then stitched together at different locations. The speed is also an important factor since, based on speed, the drone can take more or fewer pictures at once. Faster drones can take more pictures with no blur.
One of the mistakes most often made by drone users is that they focus too much on the drone’s flying specifications and not enough on its payload capacity.
Payload capacity is anything (from sensors and cameras to different objects) the drone is capable of carrying. How important payload capacity depends on you and your goals. You can buy a fast drone that looks beautiful, but does not have enough payload capacity for your needs, so always make sure to check the payload capacity of your potential new drone.
You should always try to save money, right? The same goes when you are trying to purchase a drone for mapping. Our suggestion is to carefully analyze several types of drones and their specifics and then compare them with their respective prices to determine whether they are worth it.
On our list of the best drones for mapping, the cheapest drone is DJI Mavic Air 2, which you can buy for around 800 dollars. Other drones on the list can go up to 13,000 dollars.
Fixed-wing or multirotor?
When looking into which drone to map to buy, one of the first things you will have to decide is whether your drone features a fixed-wing or multi-rotor. This decision can be important since both options have advantages. For example, the fixed-wing drone flies much faster than multi-rotor drones, so if speed is an important factor for you, then the choice is clear.
On the other hand, multi-rotor drones have some serious pros, including greater maneuverability, compact design, ease of use, cost-effective design, and Increased payload capacity. The main disadvantage of multi-rotor drones is the reduced range.
Besides speed, fixed-wing drones’ advantages are good range, ability to recover from power loss and greater stability. Some of the fixed-wing drones’ cons are increased cost, the difficulty of flying, less maneuverability, large airframe, and the fact that taking off and landing areas are required.
Factors That Affect The Quality Of The Photos While Mapping
We analyzed all the factors that can affect the quality of the images produced during the mapping. Based on our thorough analysis, those factors are the altitude above the terrain, distance from objects of interest, the angle of the sun, and lens distortion. Let’s break each one.
Altitude Above Terrain
If the altitude is above terrain (a geographical area for those not familiar with the term), the quality of photos can be reduced. This happens because of inconsistent flight patterns or autopilot malfunction.
Distance From Objects Of Interest
As mentioned earlier in the article, the long-range transmitter is something you want from your mapping drone if you are surveying large areas. A far distance from objects of your interest can cause problems and reduce the quality of your mapping since it can happen that you did not survey the whole area you wanted.
The Angle Of The Sun
Sun is a star we (humans) can’t live without. However, when it comes to mapping, it can cause issues when sun rays are pointed directly at your drone’s camera. Moreover, the sun can increase the quality of images if it provides sufficient light. However, this is season and location-dependent.
Distortion during drone photography happens when the lens’ field of view is wider than the size of your image sensor. Avoiding lens distortion should not be difficult if you use the right software. Our suggestions are Adobe Lightroom and GoPro Studio.
When you are looking for a mapping and surveying drone, you should make sure the drone supports the following specifics: autonomous flight capability, long maximum flight time, top-notch (4K) camera, RTK compatibility, propellers, long-range transmitter, gimbal, payload capacity, and of course, last but not least, price. All of these factors are explained in more detail in this article.
The accuracy of your survey depends on the final application and the use of the model. Some projects accept a maximum 30cm error, while some projects accept a maximum error of only 2cm. Today’s drone definitely can help with both ranges of cm errors.
A drone license to fly a surveying drone is country-dependent. Always make sure to check the laws and see if you need a license for your drone. Some countries even require that you have a pilot that will manage the flight during surveying.
Map quality can be improved by avoiding altitudes above geographical areas, making sure you can map all objects of interest even if they are far distance. Moreover, it can be improved if you have the right angle of the sun and avoid lens distortion.
Some other notable tricks include capturing enough overlap, using GCPs for extra quality, and choosing the right software for your needs.
Finally, ensure that your mapping drone supports autonomous flight capability, long maximum flight time, top-notch (4K) camera, RTK compatibility, good propellers, long-range transmitter, efficient gimbal, enough payload capacity, and of course, last but not least, good price for its specifics.
There are quite a few good options for your drone’s mapping software. The best ones are DroneDeploy, Pix4D, True View EVO by GeoCue, PrecisionMapper, Maps Made Easy, Agisoft PhotoScan, Propeller, and 3DF Zephyr.
DroneDeploy is the one that stands out since it’s super easy to use, and therefore, it’s suitable both for beginners and more experienced drone users. It offers 3D modeling.
Yes, there are some free drone mapping softwares. For instance, PrecisionMapper, DroneDeploy, Pix4Dmapper, DJI Terra, RAPID by DroneMapper, Multi-View Environment (MVE), Bentley ContextCapture are free to use.
The best drones for land surveying are DJI Matrice 300 RTK, Yuneec H520, DJI Matrice 200 series, DJI Mavic Air 2, senseFly eBee X, DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise, Yuneed Typhoon H3, and DJI Phantom 4 Pro V 2.0. All of these drones are explained in detail in this article.
DJI Matrice 300 RTK, DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, DJI Matrice 200 series, DJI Mavic Air 2, and DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise are some drones manufactured by DJI that can map.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro is one of the most popular drones manufactured by the DJI company. It features a 4K-20-megapixel camera with a 1-inch sensor. This kind of camera can produce high-quality images. Furthermore, the drone has a maximum transmission range of up to 45 miles which means that the drone is suitable for mapping purposes.
Yes, of course, DJI Mavic Air 2 can be used for mapping. Notable features of the drone include: Max flight time of ~34 minutes, Max speed of 19 m / s, Max transmission range of 18.5 km, The battery with a capacity of 3500 mAh, and 1/2″ CMOS sensor camera with Effective Pixels: 12 MP and 48 MP.
DJI Mavic Pro features a 1/2.3” (CMOS), Effective pixels:12.35 M (Total pixels:12.71M) camera so it can produce high-quality images. Also, the maximum transmission range of the drone is only 7 km or 4.3 miles, so it’s not suitable for mapping large areas, but you can definitely use Mavic Pro for mapping some worksites that are not that big.
There are two DJI Terra subscription levels: the Advanced License and the Pro License. An advanced subscription is priced at $2000/year, while a Pro subscription will cost $3000/year.
3D mapping has a procedure that you need to follow. Photogrammetry is used here; you have to set a camera horizontally on your drone. Then, the drone will take multiple overlapping photos (80 to 90% overlap) of the ground or model as it flies along an autonomous programmed flight path called a waypoint.
The cheapest drone on our list of the best drones for mapping is DJI Mavic Air 2. You buy this drone for around 800 USD. On the other hand, some drones, such as DJI Matrice 300 RTK, can be very costly since their price is more than 10,000 USD.