The ultimate Drone guide for Inspection work for every budget
This ultimate guide is a breakdown of ALL the drones that can be used for commercial inspection work, their features & price points starting from $500 right up to $40k and onwards. Hopefully this will help you when deciding what drone works for your needs and budgets.
So, what is the best drone for commercial use?
There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer as it depends on your individual needs; like budget, workflow, type of inspection or industry. However, this review we will take you through the best drones for each class. Believe it or not, a $500 drone can be used for commercial work… and I’m going to explain how.
One of the most common uses for drones today is for the inspection services. Technology has advanced so much over the years drones can carry out some pretty impressive work using various payloads like high-powered zoom lenses, autonomously fly around structures, creating 3D digital twins and so much more.
If you are looking at getting into the drone inspections for your business or if you work with a company that is looking at using drones use this guide is for you!
What’s the best drone for Inspections? – The ultimate breakdown!
Drones from $500USD ($750AUD)
Hands down, the Mavic Mini 2 is the best drone for inspections in this price range. Here’s why.
In November 2020, DJI brought out a consumer/entry level drone called the Mavic Mini 2. Now you must be thinking… Aaron you can’t be serious. This is a sub $500 drone that my mum could fly. But this is the crazy thing. You can conduct commercial visual inspections with this drone!
So what is a visual inspections? Put it simply, Visual Inspection, or Visual Testing (VT), is the oldest and most basic method of inspection. It is the process of looking over a piece of equipment, structure or asset using the naked eye to look for flaws or areas of interest. It requires no equipment except the naked eye of a trained inspector.
If the deliverable is this simple, why not use a small consumer drone like the mavic mini? It’s small, lightweight, shoots 4k and RAW DNGs, there’s obstacle sensors, Return to Home, it’s safe and some countries’ aviation laws mean you may not need a full licence!
Just because it’s small and ‘old mate’ down the road flies it with his kids… don’t completely dismiss this drone. It can be still worth having in your tool kit if all you need is a quick visual of checking gutters, roofs, tiles or to even read a barcode from a solar panel!
How much money you could bring in from using the Mavic mini 2 drone?
Here’s a case study:
We were approached by a council and asked if we could assist in their routine monthly inspections of their parks & public areas. In total there were 460 to do each month! These range from tiny toilet blocks in a public park or sporting ground right up to large community halls.
First we looked at the M200 as an option which is a large, impressive drone with multiple batteries, payloads, and it can carry a high-powered thermal & zoom cameras. However, we found that once we started discussing the deliverables and what was required by the client for reporting. In the end, the council was just after images that they could add to their routine report to say it’s been done.
So, evaluating the time involved and also the running costs to us to use a M200 for this operation, it would have been such an inefficient process. For the cost of 1 single M200 battery we could buy a Mavic Mini 2!
Mavic Mini 2 features:
So an inspection job that requires basic imagery & video deliverables, a Mavic Mini 2 could be your secret weapon or maybe the Mavic 2 Pro for that matter!
Inspection Drones from $1000USD ($1300AUD)
Mavic Air 2S V’s Mavic 2 Zoom V’s Skydio
Following on from above for basic video & imagery requirements, if you have a bigger budget, you could also consider the Mavic Air 2S. Right now, this is sitting just over the $1000US mark and is packed with the latest tech.
The Mavic Air 2S now boasts a 1inch sensor, 20MP, 12km range, obstacle sensing in all directions, records in 5.4k video and has ADSB- air sense.
If you do any real estate or creative work, you can also use this drone for that as it has the automatic capturing features called master shots, and is a great versatile drone for both basic inspections and creative work.
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
Another consumer drone you could consider, for inspections, that starts from the $1000 dollar mark is the Mavic 2 Zoom.
This is a fantastic little drone that has zoom capabilities at 12MP which would be perfect for the types of inspection work that may not be safe to fly too close such as powerlines.
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom Features:
The Mavic 2 Zoom has a 1/2.3-inch sensor with up to 4x zoom, including a 2x optical zoom. This Mavic 2 Zoom drone is also available in the enterprize range which is in the next price bracket, but we’ll get to that.
Up next is, the new kid on the block, American built and manufactured, the Skydio 2! Being built and manufactured in America is not the only reason why it is gaining popularity. It has a better obstacle avoidance system than dji, covering a full 360 degrees and they are heavily investing research and development (R&D) into the enterprise space. They just recently announced their 3D scanning software called Skydio 3D scan.
This is going to be simply incredible! It is designed to let the drone do the thinking. By simply selecting a structure first it will fly over whilst analysing its surroundings 360 degrees in real time and start covering the structure with photos at incredible speed and precision. Then when it’s done you will get perfectly taken photos at the correct distance for your 3d modelling or inspections, every time!
Skydio 2 Features:
Everything still looks like it is in Beta, including some of their new release thermal drone and software. But, right now you can purchase the Skydio 2 for $1000 US and start doing basic inspections and 3D modeling right from the get-go.
Be sure to keep an eye out for them… they have been producing some really cool stuff lately and I am sure more great things will come in the future.
Inspection drones from $2000USD+ ($2500AUD+)
Mavic 2 Pro V’s DJI Phantom 4 Pro
This price bracket I would personally go with either the Mavic 2 Pro or the Phantom 4 Pro. These 2 drones are brilliant and both are similar in specs.
Both drones have a great camera & megapixels count which makes them both very versatile not just for inspections but also for general photography & video.
They both have:
- 1” sensor
- Shoot 4K (Phantom can do 4k at 60fps.)
Although neither of them have a zoom function, with the higher megapixel count you can perform desktop zooms. And you will be very surprised how sharp this is when zoomed in at 100% or further.
Mavic 2 and Phantom 4 features:
Another great use for these drones, especially the phantom, is you can also conduct mapping and surveys using software like drone deploy, pix4d, or propeller to automate a flight and capture images. This data is then stitched to form a high-resolution 2D map or 3D image.
With the Phantom 4 Pro, even though it is an older aircraft it is still the industry standard for mapping inspections and surveying. It is still our workhorse and we use it all the time. There are plenty on the second hand market so you could easily grab a bargain!
Inspection drones from $2500USD+ ($3000AUD+)
Mavic 2 Enterprise
At the higher end of this price range, if you wanted to focus on roof, gutter, solar and powerline inspections I would recommend you go with the Mavic 2 enterprise. There are 2 in this series, the M2 Dual which has a small thermal radiometric camera, and the other has zooming capabilities.
This is a fantastic drone similar to the standard Mavic 2 Zoom but has added security, uses a different app (DJI Pilot) and comes with bolt-on modules like a beacon, spotlight, speaker for all sorts of applications.
It also has GPS and timestamping hard coded in the images and password protected for all the sensitive data you are collecting for your clients.
Here is an interesting CASE STUDY:
We had to conduct a gutter & roof inspection on 155 townhouses in a development. Now how long do you think this would have taken 1 person or team to climb a ladder and shoot on their mobile phone or digital camera?
How long do you think this would have taken using a small drone shooting the houses individually? Quite a lot of time right, you’d think.
So I’ll tell you. Only 15 minutes!
We executed this operation by performing an aerial drone survey using the Phantom 4 Pro which took a total of 15 minutes! Yes, that’s right. 15 minutes. Can you see the pattern here with how using drones efficiently can save valuable time and money.
We then processed the images in the drone deploy software and the output was a large high res 2D image of the site. This was then handed to the client and they were able to see the overall site plus ZOOM into what they were looking for in the gutters all from this 1 snapshot, 1 flight of 15mins.
So not just an efficient way of doing things but what a huge cost and time saver it was!
Inspection drones from $3000USD+ ($3400AUD+)
DJI Inspire 2
The next jump in budget, you are looking into the larger sub 7 kilogram (15 pounds) drones which can be quite a costly package when you include battery sets, accessories, hard cases, lenses.
The Mavic Inspire 2 right now is an industry standard for mid to high-end video production. It’s fast, quick to set up, shoots Pro-Res & CineDNG formats and has interchangeable lenses. As it has nterchangeable lenses this is where you can use the Mavic Inspire 2 for inspection work too.
The best-kept secret with this drone is 2 different lenses you can use – The 45mm Olympus lens & the 45-175 Panasonic lens on the X5S camera.
The Panasonic 45 – 175mm lens, has a variable aperture but you not only get a super sharp 20MP photo but also the image is equivalent to a 350mm telephoto lens on a full-frame camera! Perfect for getting close without getting close 🙂
Inspire 2 with 45-175mm Panasonic lens:
The 45mm Olympus lens is equivalent to a 90mm full-frame lens. It’s an affordable lens and also really good in low light, opening up to a f1.8 aperture.
Inspire 2 features:
Inspection drones from $6000USD+ ($7500AUD+)
DJI M200 / M210
Now we start playing with the Pros. The DJI M200 series is often the drone of choice. It is not only impressive to look at (yes, impressing clients is also important!), but it can also carry 3 payloads, including a top-mounted camera to get those hard-to-reach shots like underneath bridges.
The M200s use the TB50s batteries same as the Inspire & also a TB55 which is larger with slightly more flight time. You need 1 set (2 batteries) per flight. Flying time we get now is around 15 minutes on the TB50s and if you’re shooting all day this can be very costly!
This drone opens up big opportunities as you can add some really great payloads such as the Z30 which is only a 2MP camera but has a whopping 30x optical zoom!
This 30x optical zoom is great for 3 industries in particular:
- HV Power lines; because of SADs (safe approach distances)
- LOS (line of sight surveys); with the Z30 we could hit targets of up to 20km away on a clear day!
- Security and Surveillance; Be able to see subjects while the drone is high and far away.
DJI M200 Features:
Inspection Drones From $20,000USD+/ $26,00AUD+
DJI M300 RTK V’s Flyability Elios 2
This is an interesting drone and concept, the Elios 2. This is a drone in a round caged ball. Why? Well, it’s collision-proof. It’s designed for you to throw it down boilers, tunnels and confined spaces which makes it a great Inspection drone for indoor/ confined space types of jobs.
You can fly without GPS lock, you can fly in the dark & in the smallest and deepest spaces never possible using a DJI drone.
Elios 2 Features:
- 12MP camera,
- thermal and 4k video recording
- plus 10K lumens of LED lighting.
- Plus plenty of AI features like 3D modelling and measuring tools.
Flyability Elios 2 features:
Price for this, I still think is expensive for what it is. After all it is just a stripped-back drone in a cage. The basic package starts from $35 to $49K USD! Not including all the other add ons like training, software, yearly licencing etc.
Then we have what is arguably The most advanced drone on the market; the DJI M300 RTK.
DJI M300 RTK
This is around a $30k package, so you will need to plan to spend that much as you will need more than 1 set of batteries, the camera of choice, RTK and all the accessories that go with that. Although if you are a serious operator this is worth every cent!
DJI M300 RTK features:
This drone can be used in a range of industries such as:
The new camera options are nothing short of incredible, carrying 4 sensors on the H20T camera including a 20MP zoom lens at 20x, there is also a 12MP wide camera, a Laser measuring tool, AI technology for automated flight and capture sequences AND a radiometric thermal camera!
Now there is also the newly released P1 & L1 cameras which are their mapping and lidar solution cameras.
DJI P1 camera:
DJI L1 camera:
There you have it, an ultimate guide to drone inspections for every budget.
If you haven’t already heard about it we cover drone inspections in our online courses for all industry types such as roofs, powerlines, telco, insurance and you will also get access to our industry insights, everything we have learned over the years at your fingertips. Learn the operation, gear you need, how to win work, software, and much more!
Visit: Drone Masterclass Academy