Helicopters used to be the method of choice for cinematographers looking to obtain the best aerial footage that they could get. Indeed, shots from above could provide an incredible view and a different perspective for viewers.
However, as technology has progressed and changes in laws have been introduced, alternative methods have since become available, with these often being cheaper and easier to use than the transportation method.

The Rise of Drones

Drones have become a cinematographer’s friend in recent years, as these machines have allowed them to have greater control and give them the opportunity to get shots that they may not have been able to easily get with a helicopter.
It’s not been a method that has been possible to use for too long, having only recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary of being legal. Nonetheless, since the ruling, many film producers and makers have decided that this is the method to go with, especially as it can be more cost-effective for those looking to save budgets or are perhaps on a shoestring. Of course, it’s now possible to obtain aerial stock footage for those who perhaps don’t have the resources (financial or time), but the usage of drones has certainly made achieving these shots more accessible.

Which is better: Drones or Helicopters?

While drones have started to become the norm in terms of capturing aerial footage, are they actually any better than using helicopters? There are several pros and cons to them, which is perhaps what filmmakers would have weighed up when deciding which method to use when making the movies they have made.

Why drones have been used:

Many of the benefits that drones can provide compared to helicopters are rather easy to identify. These include the following:

  • Cost-effective
  • Safer to use
  • More accessible
  • Versatile

As mentioned, the use of a drone is considerably cheaper than the use of a helicopter. The drone will often carry a one-time purchase fee (aside from the parts that it requires and batteries), whereas a helicopter would need to be rented for each shot that needs to be taken. With it not always possible to get the right shot straightaway, more time could be spent trying to capture it which will ultimately cost more money.

At the same time, drones are more accessible and can easily be obtained. Renting a helicopter can potentially be a lot more difficult, as it is a machine that may need to be used by others during the time of the shoot. A drone remains accessible and can be used whenever an individual wants.

Additionally, they are versatile and can do a range of different things that a helicopter may not be able to accomplish. These machines are smaller in size, and offer a greater degree of control. Operators of the device will be able to get shots that are closer to the ground than a helicopter, while they are quieter, meaning the noises that are made won’t interfere with the shots as much as a chopper would.

Helicopters: still being used

Although drones can offer significant benefits, helicopters can still achieve things that certain drones cannot, thus making them the better (or preferred) option for many…

  • Can last longer
  • Greater range
  • Can handle different weather conditions

A helicopter can last a lot longer than a drone. This can be crucial for cinematographers looking to get the best aerial shots, as they won’t be pressured by the amount of time they have. Drones will be fitted with batteries that will have a certain level of charge and power to them. While a chopper will have fuel to consider, these limits are usually a lot higher.

They can also have a greater degree of range in terms of the shots that they can capture. A helicopter can climb several thousand feet and go as high as it needs to for the right aerial footage to be captured. A drone might be better when footage is required closer to ground-level, but it may not be strong or powerful enough to climb into the atmosphere like the transportation vehicle.

Lastly, as helicopters are big, sturdy pieces of machinery, they are more capable of withstanding certain weather types. A drone is usually lightweight and may find it struggles to maintain its position in windy conditions, or the rain may affect its performance. A chopper can hold its position and battle most elements, thus making it perfect for certain shots that are desired to be caught.