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Best mapping drones: flat maps, 3D mapping and more

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Best mapping drones: flat maps, 3D mapping and more


The very best drones for mapping are some powerful commercial machines. Custom-built, high-end drones can be configured exactly how you need them, which is great, but we’re here today to show you some off-the-shelf machines that can help you out. Here are some of the best consumer-level mapping drones.

We’d also like to point out that mapping, for drones, is a diverse topic. Some may be looking to map an area of the ground, like a traditional map, while others may be going vertical with 3D mapping of a building or structure. All of these drones can capture photos of the ground and can either stitch them together themselves or utilize a third-party service to tackle the mapping, the same goes for 3D mapping a building, but more likely than not you’ll need third party software, such as Pix4D.

Jonathan Feist, Drone PilotJonathan Feist

Why trust Drone Rush?

I’ve been a fan of flight since a young age; while I’ve had few opportunities at the helm of manned aircraft, the hours on my fleet of drones continue to grow. I enjoy putting cameras into the sky, silky smooth aerial imagery makes me happy. My goal is to help all pilots enjoy flight legally and safely.

The best mapping drones

1. DJI Matrice 300 series: Versatile inspection drone

DJI Matrice 300 series: Versatile inspection drone

The DJI Matrice 300 is one of the most capable drones around. The payload options, and available mounts, allow for versatility for many flight needs, including mapping, inspection and more. As a high-end commercial aircraft, this may not be the best solution for a casual pilot looking to just get some mapping shots of their backyard, while a professional pilot can take advantage of RTK and more to easily produce highly accurate maps of a large area.

Thermal imaging takes your mapping to new places, allowing you to capture RGB image and infrared scans. The M300 offers enough flight time to cover a lot of ground, and the dual operator setup means you’re not wasting time transitioning from pilot to photographer. Better yet, engage some of the self-piloted mapping tools to automatically capture an area.

Should I buy the DJI Matrice 300 RTK?

We say again, the Matrice 300 is designed and priced for folks that plan to use the drone to make a living. There are faster drones out there if you need to cover larger swaths of earth, but the RTK precision and powerful payload options make the M300 a viable solution for many tasks beyond just mapping.

Pros

  • Powerful commercial unit
  • Multiple payloads
  • Multiple payload configurations
  • Dual-operator setup
  • Safe and reliable
Cons

  • Best flown with two operators
  • More accessories than mounts






(9.6)

  • 55 – MIN
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 51.5 – MPH


2. Yuneec H520: Reliable hexacopter

Yuneec H520: Reliable hexacopter

Yuneec H520 Demo at InterDrone 2017

The Yuneec H520 is a powerful hexacopter, designed for stable and reliable flight for a number of inspection tasks. Built-in flight software makes it easy to capture a map of an area, including overlapping image tiles, or just a big image map.

Should I buy the Yuneec H520?

The H520 remains one of the best and affordable hexacopters for commercial operations, however, it is an older drone. The airframe is as capable as needs be, and Yuneec introduces new payloads to extend the viable life of the drone, but that can’t continue indefinitely.

Pros

  • Hexacopter stability and reliability
  • Interchangeable payloads
  • Powerful controller and software
Cons

  • Older drone
  • Limited payload mounts






(9.1)

  • 28 – Minutes
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 38 – MPH

September 2017

Release Date


3. DJI Matrice 200 series: Almost as good as the M300 series

DJI Matrice 200 series: Almost as good as the M300 series

DJI M200 M210 M210RTK dual camera

The DJI Matrice 200 series of drones paved the way for the newer 300 series. The M200 and M210 differ in mounting points for payloads, and the M210 RTK adds in that precision GPS radio. As the M300 basically does all of this in one drone, DJI decided to discontinue the M200 series.

Should I buy the DJI Matrice 200?

On one hand, buying a discontinued drone has its drawbacks, but if you are not able to commit to the M300, one of the M200 will be less expensive and cater to a specific task better.

Pros

  • Powerful and weatherproof drone
  • Safe and reliable
  • Dual-operator option
  • Powerful payloads and mounting points
Cons

  • Older drone
  • Different versions, choose wisely






(9.5)

  • 38 – MIN
  • 6K – 24 FPS
  • 50 – MPH

February 2017

Release Date


4. DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise: Search & rescue drone

DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise: Search & rescue drone

DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise kit

The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise is an upgraded consumer Mavic drone, able to haul an infrared camera and a top-mounted accessory of your choosing. While the loudspeaker will not help much in your mapping project, the lights may help keep you going and to help align your drone on the go.

Should I buy the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise?

The Mavic 2 enterprise is better utilized for search and rescue than for mapping tasks, but it’s still a stable and reliable drone, able to capture the necessary images from the sky.

Pros

  • Encrypted data
  • Interchangeable accessories
  • Familiar and popular airframe
  • Safe and easy to fly
Cons

  • Older drone
  • Not made for mapping






(9.6)

  • 31 – MIN
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 44 – MPH

October 2018

Release Date


5. DJI Mavic 2 Pro: Best consumer drone

DJI Mavic 2 Pro: Best consumer drone

The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is a powerful and popular consumer camera drone. The 1-inch Hasselblad camera remains one of the best 4K shooters on the market, and the airframe remains one of few to offer all-direction obstacle avoidance sensors.

Should I buy the DJI Mavic 2 Pro?

As a consumer camera drone, the Mavic 2 Pro is capable of capturing the images you’d need for mapping, but you’ll have to find third-party software to make it work.

Pros

  • Powerful consumer camera drone
  • Great 4K camera
  • Safe, fast, and reliable
  • Familiar and popular airframe
  • Easy and fun to fly
Cons

  • Older aircraft
  • Not designed for mapping






(9.7)

  • 31 – MIN
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 44 – MPH


6. Parrot Anafi: Flexible consumer drone

Parrot Anafi: Flexible consumer drone

parrot-anafi

The Parrot Anafi started as a decent consumer drone, but Parrot has since launched versions that cater to the commercial market. The Anafi has a neat trick that you may not need for mapping, it can point the camera straight up. Though a niche feature, looking up is invaluable to some inspection tasks, and may prove useful to your mapping needs.

Should I buy the Parrot Anafi?

The Anafi is an older drone, and was an average consumer drone at launch. That said, the ability to look upwards, and Parrot’s experience with other mapping drones, made for some useful upgraded versions worth checking out.

Pros

  • Can point camera up
  • Simple and easy to fly
  • Low-cost consumer craft
  • Camera can zoom
Cons

  • Older drone
  • Avg 4K camera output






(8.9)

  • 25 – MIN
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 32 – MPH (50 km/h)


7. Yuneec Typhoon H3: Best consumer hexactoper

Yuneec Typhoon H3: Best consumer hexactoper

Yuneec Typhoon H3

If we’re going to include consumer camera drones on this list, we can’t skip the high-end Yuneec Typhoon H3. This powerful hexacopter packs a beast of a Leica camera, ready to tackle your aerial capture tasks. There is little specific about the the H3 for mapping tasks, save for it being one of the best camera drones around, and that it comes with some software flight techniques that can assist with flying a grid.

Should I buy the Yuneec Typhoon H3?

We really want to recommend the Typhoon H3, but availability has not been great, and the drone is fairly pricey compared to similarly capable camera drones.

Pros

  • Big 4K camera
  • Powerful and stable drone
  • Hexactoper stability and reliability
  • Great remote and software






(9.5)

  • 25 – Minutes
  • 4K – 60 FPS
  • 45 – MPH

September 2019

Release Date


8. DJI Phantom 4 RTK: Extreme geo positioning

DJI Phantom 4 RTK: Extreme geo positioning

DJI Phantom 4 RTK AUVSI Xponential 2019

The DJI Phantom 4 RTK combines the power of the iconic Phantom design with the extreme precision of RTK GPS. The result is an upgraded consumer drone that is able to capture precise images from the sky for your mapping project.

Should I buy the DJI Phantom 4 RTK?

The Phantom 4 RTK is a tough sell. This older airframe is still capable, but is much larger than consumer drones with similar camera capability. RTK precision does make this drone viable for mapping.

Pros

  • Familiar and proven airframe
  • Great 4K camera
  • Easy to fly, safe to operate
  • Fast and agile for its size






(9.8)

  • 30 – MIN
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 36 – MPH

October 2018

Release Date


 

These functional flying machines can do so much more than just take some photos from the sky, but if you were looking to take stalk of your world, I hope we’ve helped you narrow down your choices.

FAQ


Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need GPS for a mapping drone?

Chances are high that any drone you buy capable of performing mapping tasks will have GPS already, but there are scenarios that you do not need GPS, no. GEO-based mapping, such as identifying property lines or tracking a powerline will require GPS on the drone so that you can see the GPS in the collected images. Any software that automatically stitches images together will also pull from GPS metadata to piece everything together, and drones that automatically take a series of images may rely on GPS to pinpoint the location and direction of the drone itself, but if you are just getting a photo map of your own property, you can collect those images without GPS, and then manually stitch the images together without any GPS data.

Can I use my DJI Mavic drone for mapping?

As always, your needs may limit the tools you can use, but for basic mapping services, especially if you are just collecting some simple images from the sky, your DJI Mavic drone can absolutely do the job. The camera on your Mavic drone should be good enough to tackle some 3D building mapping as well. Where your Mavic drone will fall short is if you are mapping anything for legal purposes. Tasks such as accident reconstruction or official land surveying require precise GPS coordinate embedded into each image, while Mavic drones are quite accurate, the precision of RTK is limited to larger commercial drones.

Do I need a license to map with drones?

Likely, yes. As always, the FAA dictates that all flights for which you will be compensated are commercial operations, requiring you to have your Part 107 certification. On the flip side, if you are just flying over your own property to get a snapshot of what your land looks like, that is, technically, not a commercial operation. For these hobby flights, you will first need to pass the test to acquire your TRUST certification. For the farmers and ranchers, please don’t confuse this with flying over your herd of animals, or checking your fence line, as this would be an inspection of business assets, technically that’s doing work for which you are being compensated. We’re not sure how stringent the FAA would prosecute that violation, they might treat it as a grey area that they ignore, but the letter of the law calls that a Part 107 operation.



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