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It is undeniable that both drones and helicopters play important roles in the field of cinematography, commonly employed by remarkable filmmakers worldwide for capturing stunning footage. But which one is superior?

Drones find applications in various scenarios such as police work, search and rescue missions, thermal imaging, 3D surveys, and cinematography. They have made a significant impact on the film industry, and they also possess additional advantages.

Why Choose a Drone?

An award-winning camera crew captures breathtaking footage of a person operating a drone above a picturesque body of water for television documentaries.

Many people assume that renting a drone is costly. However, a comparison with helicopters reveals that drone rentals are likely a more economical choice. It’s essential to note that the cost of a helicopter involves two components: insurance and aircraft expenses. Even opting for the most budget-friendly helicopter is still relatively costly. Charges accrue from the moment you start its engine until you shut it down, billed on an hourly basis.

Helicopters are inherently limited in accessing areas where drones excel, such as locations near structures, through trees, and close to the ground. Such limitations can pose risks for helicopter pilots.

Using a drone facilitates easy shooting, as the director can monitor a first-person perspective through a monitor, ensuring precise shots. In contrast, the experience with a helicopter is different, involving limited communication between the camera operator and the director, leading to potential delays in retakes.

Choosing a helicopter introduces various considerations. For extended filming sessions, refueling becomes a necessity. Additionally, the availability of a nearby landing zone and the terrain of the location must be assessed. In contrast, opting for a drone simplifies logistical concerns, focusing mainly on battery changes.

Why Use a Helicopter?

A director of photography capturing Northern California's breathtaking landscape, standing on a rock at sunset with a drone in the sky.

A helicopter can reach high altitudes, making it ideal for shooting in vast areas. With a helicopter, you can capture panoramic shots of significant events or sprawling cities.

Helicopters offer advantages when tracking vehicles, whether from the front, sides, or behind. They excel in showcasing vehicles on winding roads or driving courses.

In comparison, a drone’s flying range is limited to at least a quarter of a mile before experiencing lag. In contrast, a helicopter can cover greater distances until the cameras run out of battery life or the helicopter exhausts its fuel.

Pros and Cons of Using a Helicopter or Drone for Aerial Filming

In this digital age, technology surrounds us, and one aspect gaining prominence is aerial videography and photography. To capture stunning footage from a bird’s eye view, two methods prevail: helicopters and drones.

While most aerial photography companies employ both, it’s crucial to recognize that each method has its own set of pros and cons. Understanding these factors aids in selecting the most suitable option for your specific needs.

Pros of Using Drones

An award-winning camera crew captures breathtaking footage of a person operating a drone above a picturesque body of water for television documentaries.

In terms of flying capabilities, drones offer exceptional versatility. They excel in capturing aerial footage, navigating challenging obstacles like structures or bridges, and operating at lower altitudes. One of the greatest advantages of drones is their ability to access various locations that helicopters cannot. Additionally, they can effortlessly capture 360-degree shots, especially in compact spaces where they can maneuver around objects.

Drones are cost-effective. If you need impressive footage on a limited budget, drone filming might be the ideal solution. Costs can vary among different aerial photography companies, typically ranging between $8,000 and $10,000, covering insurance, camera systems, equipment, and the entire crew. However, when compared to helicopter filming, this is significantly more economical. For those mindful of their budget, exploring some of the best drones for beginners and kids is a viable option.

Cons of Using Drones

One drawback of using drones is their altitude constraints. In addition to their shorter flying times, drones have limitations on altitude. In compliance with FAA regulations, drones can only fly up to 400 feet above the ground.

Consequently, they are most suitable for shorter durations and distances of shooting. If you desire a higher vantage point, then considering helicopter filming services would be more appropriate. Alternatively, reaching out to a Drone Service Provider can assist you in obtaining a waiver from the FAA, allowing your drone to fly above 400 feet.

Another important consideration in drone filming is the limited flight time before requiring a battery change. Even with the most professional drones, battery replacement is necessary after 10 to 15 minutes of continuous use. This necessitates additional time, as pilots must pause more frequently to change batteries instead of filming continuously.

Pros of Using Helicopters

Award-winning Director of Photography captures a helicopter soaring through a cloudy sky with their talented camera crew.

One of the most significant advantages of utilizing helicopters is their capability to capture shots in various locations. There are often projects that require aerial shots across different places, and accomplishing this with a drone can be challenging and time-restrictive. Helicopters are the ideal choice for such shoots, enabling efficient multi-location filming while also facilitating crew transport.

In comparison to drones, helicopters offer longer and higher flight capabilities. Opting for helicopters allows you to capture panoramic footage of vast areas, including events and cities. Moreover, helicopters can achieve greater flying distances than drones. Helicopters can cover more miles and operate for longer hours, contrasting with drones that have limited flight durations and restricted range.

Cons of Using Helicopters

Regrettably, helicopters entail higher costs. It is essential to note that the longer you shoot, the more expensive it becomes. The lower end might cost you around $5,000, but for high-quality aerial footage, you should anticipate spending around $20,000. This financial decision requires careful consideration, emphasizing the importance of determining the desired footage type before opting for a drone or a helicopter.

Additionally, flying helicopters involves inherent safety risks. The lives of passengers and crew are at stake during flight, necessitating stringent safety measures. Conversely, drone pilots remain safely on the ground while capturing footage.


Drones have the potential to revolutionize the future of filmmaking, impacting various fields such as architecture, engineering, police activities, and search and rescue operations. However, it would be unjust to completely disregard helicopters, as they play a crucial role in handling heavy camera equipment and emergency services. As camera technology evolves with decreasing sizes, it may influence outcomes.

In an era of constant technological advancements, more people are leveraging these innovations. Both drones and helicopters serve essential roles in aerial photography and videography. While helicopters excel in certain scenarios, the continuous growth of drone capabilities suggests their increasing prominence.

BA Productions offers aerial filming services, along with various other video production services. For more information, contact us at 877.378.7225.