With the explosion of the commercial drone market which really took off in 2013, the year when the first DJI UAV was released, it was legitimate to wonder whether the days of aerial photography and videography by helicopter were numbered. With hindsight, despite all the technological advances and legislative developments surrounding drones, it is now clear that the two methods are not mutually exclusive. In the end, each method meets specific needs, and is therefore suitable for different types of projects.
There are three main limitations to current commercial drones.
1- The operator must stay in the close vicinity of his drone to maintain a visual line-of-sight (VLOS) and his radio connection to it. This can become tricky when you fly in areas that are remote or hard to access, like a steep mountain or a body of water that is difficult to navigate.
2- The average drone battery power limits its flight time to around 30 minutes or less depending on the weather. Pass that, you need to bring the drone back on the ground, replace the battery, then initiate another takeoff if you want to keep shooting.
3- A drone cannot fly higher than 400 feet without a special authorization (a SFOC, or Special Flight Operations Certificate) and propellers specifically designed for high-altitude flights.
A helicopter can fly for many hours without refueling, over distances of several kilometers, at thousands of feet in the air, if necessary.
A commercial drone can only fly properly when the weather is nice. A little rain, a little snow or a little too much wind, means the flight needs to be delayed. Drones are light, but also fragile devices, and thus, a collision or loss of control can potentially cost a lot or even deprive the operator of his work tool. It is therefore judicious to consider helicopter photography if one wishes to schedule a shoot on a fixed date, regardless of the weather conditions (within reason), for when you need to shoot at a location that is rarely available, or for a unique event for example.
For large-scale projects spanning several kilometers of territory, photography by helicopter has virtually no competitor. It is a unique imaging tool that combines grace and flexibility with strength and stability.
Unlike commercial drones, the helicopter is first and foremost a mean of transportation, that is fast, agile and extremely versatile. This makes it possible to connect distant geographical targets and to multiply the photographic opportunities by flying between several vantage points. With a solid flight plan, this sort of widespread mission can often be completed in a single flight.
A helicopter can fly in almost any weather conditions, within reason, and if visibility allows. Whether it is windy, snowing or raining, a good pilot will be able to fly a smoothly enough to allow for a successful imaging trip.
Nothing compares to photography taken at several hundred or even several thousand feet in the air. The world takes a completely different form, an urban territory is schematized into graphic elements akin to illustration, and nature is revealed in all its immensity.
To do justice to a magnificent natural landscape, or to quickly capture a multitude of targets scattered over several kilometers, even when it is snowing or raining, in areas that are difficult or even impossible to access by land or sea, the helicopter is still the best tool available. An experienced pilot will quickly and efficiently give the photographer a multitude of shooting opportunities, so that he can focus strictly on capturing the best possible images. A well thought out flight plan will save you time and money. For urban planning, mining, logging, the tourism and leisure industry, or even for law enforcement's safety and surveillance missions, aerial imagery by helicopter is a versatile, tried and tested solution.