Drones have become an essential storytelling tool for news organizations, freelance reporters, and citizen journalists across the globe. Many people make money by selling drone footage to local news channels and stock content aggregators. But which drone should you buy to get newsworthy photos and videos?
To qualify as a worthy news gathering tool, a drone must fulfill certain criteria:
- It must be compact, foldable, and easy to carry
- It should be quick to deploy and be up in the air within minutes
- It must have a good camera (4K and above is expected)
- Its battery life should be fairly long, so it can stay airborne as a story/event unfolds
- It should be easy to operate and control
- It should be affordable and easily replaceable. (Because let’s face it, mishaps like police seizing a reporter’s drone or even shooting a drone down are not entirely uncommon in our world.)
Best drones under $1,000
So, here are some easily available, high-performing, affordable drone options that you can use for journalism and news photography in 2021:
DJI Mini 2
The Mini 2 may only be a sub-250-gram drone, but don’t be fooled by its size. There’s an astonishing amount of technology and smart flight modes packed into its tiny frame – with the obvious bonus being that you can easily carry the drone inside your handbag or throw it in the glovebox. The Mini 2 can stay airborne for up to 31 minutes, capturing stunning 4k 30 fps video and RAW 12 MP images. Its transmission range is 10 km, and pricing starts at $449.
A word of caution, though: Typically, for recreational use, a sub-250-gram doesn’t require drone registration or a pilot license in most countries. But since you’d be using it for commercial purposes, check with your local aviation authorities to see if drone registration is required.
Coming from the house of French drone maker Parrot, the Anafi is a foldable, lightweight drone that you can easily carry anywhere. What makes Anafi special is its gimbal-stabilized camera that can point 90-degrees upward and downward. This feature will let you get some very creative 21MP stills and 4K video shots. The Anafi comes with a flight time of about 25 minutes and pricing starts at $699.
DJI Mavic Air 2
This crowd-pleaser from DJI will give you breathtaking 48MP photos with 4K, 60fps video for quality drone journalism. And it gets special props for its obstacle avoidance features – something you wouldn’t find in the Mini 2. At 570 grams, the Mavic Air 2 has a flight time of up to 34 minutes and a transmission range of 10 km. Pricing starts at $799.
The EVO also comes packed with obstacle avoidance sensors to enable stable close proximity flights. Its dynamic camera built on a three-axis stabilized gimbal will allow you to shoot 12MP stills and 4K video at 60 fps. The compact and foldable drone can fly for about 30 minutes on a single charge. The pricing for EVO starts at $899, but if your budget is flexible, we’d really recommend that you check out the much more powerful EVO 2 with a 48 MP, 8K capable camera.
DJI Air 2S
DJI’s latest release, the Air 2S, is aimed at photographers and news reporters who want a lot of features and improved imaging in a really compact (595 gram) package. The drone’s highlights include a 1-inch CMOS sensor with larger pixels, 5.4K video resolution, and “true” 20MP still images – everything that would help you create eye-catching content. The Air 2S comes with 31 minutes of maximum flight time, a 12 km transmission range, and four-way directional obstacle sensors. Pricing starts at $999.
Also see our other special reports for World Press Freedom Day 2021:
- What is drone journalism? How are drones changing news reporting?
- How top news organizations use drone journalism
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