Aerotas has put together a comprehensive guide to selecting the correct drone hardware, however we do have our own recommendations. If you are interested in purchasing drone hardware that is already optimized for land surveying, you can do so in our store.
Best Surveying Drone: DJI Phantom 4 RTK
The DJI Phantom 4 RTK is the best surveying aircraft on the market right now. No, it doesn’t necessarily have the best camera, the longest flight times, or the most advanced safety features on the market, but combined into one package, nothing else comes close.
Prior to the DJI Phantom 4 RTK, true RTK/PPK capability on an aircraft was enormously expensive, and so complex that few users could reliably use the technology. But with this latest system, the aircraft can reliably calculate the position of the aircraft to within a few centimeters, and do so reliably. This means fewer ground control points or check points are required in order to get survey-grade accuracy on a project.
However, the Phantom 4 RTK is still not a magic bullet. The system is a bit more complicated than a standard drone surveying workflow, and that complexity means that it requires more training, and creates more room for error. That means that it is even more important to have a solid field workflow and data processing workflow than ever before.
Overall, there is no better drone mapping hardware on the market right now than the Phantom 4 RTK.
Best Small/ Value Drone: DJI Mavic 2 Professional
The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is the best mapping drone for those looking to survey on a budget, or that are seriously constrained for space and want a smaller, less assuming aircraft.
While the Mavic 2 Pro doesn’t have the dual-band GNSS system of the Phantom 4 RTK, it does have comparable camera specs and a similar flight time. The camera suffers from a linear rolling shutter, which negatively impacts the accuracy of the drone, but much of this error can be edited out in post-processing.
The two real benefits to the Mavic 2 are the price and the size. Starting at $1,500 for the aircraft itself, the Mavic is quite a lot cheaper than the Phantom 4 RTK. And when enough ground control points are used, it is capable of a similar level of accuracy. And because the aircraft can fold, even with all its equipment and accessories, the complete Mavic 2 kit is roughly the size of a briefcase, making it great for crowded trucks.
Best Fixed-Wing Surveying Aircraft: SenseFly eBee x
Fixed wing aircraft offer some serious compromises relative to multirotors. However, the best fixed wing aircraft currently on the market is the SenseFly eBee X.
This aircraft can cover over 1,000 acres per flight, allowing it to cover more land than any multirotor aircraft by a wide margin. But in order to do this, you have to fly significantly beyond the aircraft’s visual line of sight, which is illegal in the United States. Fixed wing aircraft also require a fairly large, open area to take-off and land, making it impractical on many projects. Further, the aircraft needs to fly high and fast, which means it can’t get the same resolution that a multirotor can by flying low and slow. Finally, the eBee X is considerably more expensive than any other aircraft on this list.
Aerotas typically only recommends fixed-wing aircraft in situations where you regularly cover thousands of acres at a time. However, if that is the case, then the eBee X is the best one out there.