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RCMA Photography Will Soon Be An Essential Part of Upper-end Real Estate Photography

Published: 04/02/2014
By: larry

SteveLoosOver the last few months I've started to realize how important RCMA (Remote-Control Model Aircraft) photography is going to be in upper-end real estate photography. I know, I've been calling it UAV photography but RCMA makes more sense. It will replace Pole Aerial Photography and traditional aerial photography because it's so cheap and easy. It also will allow interior shots you could get no other way. Whether or not a photographer offers it may well soon become a significant factor in how upper-end agents choose a photographer. Minutes after writing the above I talked to a Realtor in Southern California that has a member of her marketing team that flies a DJI Phantom... What can I say?

Update 2/4/2014: I just got a promotional e-mail from In addition to other new tour features they are promoting "aerial videos".  An example of their "aerial video" is the RCMA shot video is labeled Aerial Video in this tour. These are the people you are competing with and if I'm an agent in the Seattle area, I can order one of these RCMA aerial videos today! This a national (US) tour company... aerial video will be coming to your area soon! One can only infer that they don't see much of a legal risk in commercial RCMA real estate photography.

I'm sure some of you will argue, but let's pretend for a minute I'm correct. If I am correct and you sit on the sidelines and wait for the FAA to deal with the massive challenge it has to create reasonable guidelines, certifications and enforceable laws you will be years behind those that decide to ignore the legal greyness and confusion and just do it. Even optimistic estimates are that clarity is at least a year away. I believe it will be much longer. Because this is a WAY bigger challenge than the FAA realizes. So what do  you do to stay in the game? (Update: 2/5/2014: Federal watchdogs told a House panel 2/5/2014 that the Federal Aviation Administration won't meet its 2015 deadline.) There are two basic approaches that photographers are already taking (of course I'm just talking about the US):

  1. Ignore the stuff in the press about the FAA and do what you need to do: You can already see that most photographers are choosing this path. They are supported by what seems to be quite good evidence that nothing has ever happened to anyone for operating a RCMA commercially and that nothing is likely happen to Raphael Pirker for operating his RCMA commercially.  You can see this happening all over, but very few that do it want to talk about it. A variation of this is to claim that as long as you fly above private property FAA "rules" don't apply.
  2. Participate as a "hobbyist": Steve Loos sent me this video. Steve says, "My current goal is to build a brand looking forward to the day the rules are finalized by FAA in 2015. This would be hard to do working in the dark. Also, not fair to the client in not disclosing the current state of law. I fly according to current FAA and AMA rules for hobby model aircraft flying; line of site, below 400', in a safe manner etc. My clients offer me access to properties to build my skills and brand, and in exchange I provide the photos at no charge. No promise or expectation of fees or future work is made. I provide a written disclosure to the client that explains the status of current rules and confirms no fee or promise of work has been made. I fly a DJI Phantom version 2 with zenmuse gimbal and eagleeye fpv display, gopro hero 3+ black, video shot 1080p at 60fps rendered at 24fps."

There are good arguments for either of these approaches. There is a lot to learn and this technology is evolving at lightning speed. The only approach that has a problem is deciding to wait until all of the chaos and confusion surrounding the commercial use of RCMAs clears up.

Also, Steve would like some feedback on his video, that's why he sent it to me. I think he's done a great job. But more feedback from some of the Phantom flyers in the audience would be greatly appreciated.


38 comments on “RCMA Photography Will Soon Be An Essential Part of Upper-end Real Estate Photography”

  1. Good way for Steve to go about it. Very nice video too.

    It would probably blur the line by photographing interiors and giving the agent the aerial shots at no charge?

  2. Great article. It's shame that the FAA is stifling business opportunity with this ridiculous one size fits all ban on UAV's. I can only imagine the regulation that will go into this once they finally make a decision. Keep it under the radar and make some money.

  3. Larry's first point is right on. I say go for it. The DJI, Zenmuse Gimbal and Hero 3+ will run you a little over $1000. Closer to $2000 if you get one with FPV. There are a lot of places online that sell kits preassembled. You will be amazed at how easy it is to fly.

    Nice video Steve. I think you could cut a few shots out as many of them are very similar. I like the slow reveal in the first shot and I like the shot where you start close to the pool then slowly pull back. Well done.

  4. I support Steve's position, however for point 1, ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the FAA, that only works for the FAA.. Regarding point 2, there are two issues, the first is that the FAA has "declared" that if the aerial footage produced is used for commercial purposes in any way it is illegal. So far law enforcement has not actively pursued individuals flying MR's commercially, they look at, in this case Steve's video online and then send a cease and desist letter to the listing agent, which brings me to the second issue with point 2; early last year the LA Sheriffs department sent a letter to the California Association of Realtors stating that using aerial footage for commercial purposes was illegal and punishable by something like $100,000 fine and three years in prison or some such crap. They did not, however, send that letter to the people who were actually doing the AP. Either way it was effective, a lot of the agents I worked with decided not to incorporate aerial.

    So although I admire and support what Steve is doing its naive to think that is the way to get into Commercial AP from RC's. You can certainly do it as a hobby while the FAA tries to get their act together or there is an alternative. I also think that for those serious about wanting to use AP for higher end properties that you get a MR and fly, a lot before you even consider putting a camera on it and research what the real advantages and limitations of one type of MR versus another. Why do some MR's cost upwards of $7,000 - $15,000 and others only $1,200?

    Legality aside, I would really think about what your risking when flying a Phantom, especially if your considering flying indoors. There are countless stories about the instability and unpredictability of DJI flight controllers online, like I said do your own research. The Phantom is a great starter quad but I would not use it for commercial purposes in part because although the GoPro Hero 3 Black addition is significantly better than its predecessor I don't know too many people producing property video's with a GoPro. If your hoping to shoot indoors you'll probably be disappointed with the image quality. So if you want good quality aerial footage that you can edit together with your DSLR footage then you'll probably need something like the NEX5/7 or GH3 and if you want good stable footage you'll also need a gimbal. That's considerably more weight requiring a much bigger quad or hexacopter.

    So what's the alternative? Well there's a loophole in the FAA's NPRM which states if the RC is tethered then there are not commercial restrictions. There was quite a bit of excitement when this was first reported but like most things government it depends on how your define "tethered." The FAA is defining it where there has to be some sort of either control or power provided to the vehicle, so it can't be fishing line or string. I'm guessing its so that it can't be fully autonomous.

    For the past several months I've been working with a former DOD engineer who built TOW wire guided missile systems and we have built a tethered quad that can easily carry a 4/3 camera and gimbal. We're not ready to start selling it yet but we have done several test flights and even if the FAA changed the rules tomorrow I think I'd still fly tethered. It really resolves payload and flight time issues and works incredibly well for property videos.

    I agree with Larry, aerial footage for property videos' is the killer app for multirotors but for them to be easy to setup and use, stable and safe they need to be a purpose built solution.

    Here's a couple of pictures of the quad, sorry no pictures of the tether 😉

  5. I have been following the debate re UAVs both in the state and here in Aust for more than 12 months. I agree with Larry that they are the next major change to RE presentation, and if you want to be ahead of the competition now is when you need to pull the trigger and take a calculated risk. Because in no time soon when the skies are full of drones shooting RE work and the race is on to the bottom price just as it happened with PAP systems, you may have missed the opportunity. We will then be looking to the next new horizon. Thats just progress.... Anyone want to buy a 20 mtr pole system, going cheep ?

  6. I see the use of these things right now similar to when FlipCam home videos were all the rage. They were cheap, EVERYBODY was buying one and everyone was producing shaky, blurry, unwatchable video tours with these horrible little cameras... JUST BECAUSE THEY COULD.

    You can now buy a Phantom 1 for under $500 plus a camera. They're cheap. I see Realtors buying them and using them for their listings all the time.

    The problem is that probably less than 10% of the homes I shoot anyway would benefit from the use of a drone. Buyers are NOT interested in seeing what the rooftops look like from 200 feet in the air. They are NOT interested in views they will NEVER see in their lifetime. They ARE interested in what the home looks like from their vantage point - on the ground. Just like pole photography - there are times when getting up 12' in the air is a huge benefit. But for most houses, it's just an ugly view of an ugly roof and ugly neighbors. Google Earth can give you the same perspective as to the location and it's far easier and less risky.

    I use mine in place of my pole, but again, it's not something I use often. it's just not beneficial for most homes. I find it more helpful to get a very low view of the home (vs from 400'). Maybe a short fly over a backyard pool.

    You also have to factor in that you can't (or shouldn't) use them in congested areas, areas with lots of trees, traffic, congestion, kids, people. Oh, and if it's windy, forget about it.... Or if it's too cold. Or too hot.

    But I see these things used for 30% of the entire video - or more! Flying around, and around, and around... up and down....over, showing weird views (and unattractive views) of homes. They're awful, and oftentimes unwatchable. If you don't have a gimbal, they're really bad. I even saw one the other day where the agent used it for ALL of the outside views, and then did a walkthrough of the home HOLDING THE DRONE and using a GoPro camera and the (cheap) gimbal to stabilize it (couldn't figure out why there were propellers in the hallway, and then caught him in a mirror!)

    There will be a shakeout with these things just like the FlipCams. EVERYONE will do it because it's "cool" and cheap. Then there will be a backlash. You don't see many FlipCam tours anymore - fortunately.

    These are NOT as easy to fly as they say (my first one ended up as a flyaway in a tree over a year ago). Search on YouTube and you will see "flyaways" and crashes all over the place. It HAPPENS. There is liability there as well, which is why the insurance for that is $1400 per year. Not to mention that losing gear that costs over $1000 as it drops into the ocean is nerve rattling to say the least.

    Our local paper just this past Sunday featured a front page story on "illegal use of drone photography" for the city's new website. (

    It's crazy.....

  7. We started using a GoPro about 6 months ago and utilize it on every listing above 500K. Although the quality is not as fine as our Nikon D800s it provides a fantastic perspective of our finer properties. Our clients are very happy with the results and none of our competitors are even close to providing the same service. The phantom gives our real estate team a great edge.

    I wanted to provide some feedback for Steve. As a rule we keep our videos at 2 minutes max. We incorporate our aerial go pro photography along with interior shots to give the viewer a complete picture of the entire property. In addition, we take video and photos during the day and the night. This is really key especially with properties that have amazing city light night views! We have yet to fly the go pro at night but it is on the list to do!

    Here is a sample of a recent video we shot: There is definitely room for improvement but our videos are getting better and better as we get more experienced.

    As for the FAA... no concern here. We get in and out and no one says a thing.


  8. I don't think the FAA can legally ban this without going through the proper channels of the law to create a law. Thats not to say its worth tangling with them because its not. Yes if you wait 2 years to start you will be left in the dark. I am an agent but if I was a photographer like you guys then I would go for it and look at any fine as a cost of doing business that may never be charged.....I know you cant keep it on the "down low" however I see agents and photographers with huge ads and articles promoting "Drones" AND DONT USE THAT WORD UNLESS YOUR A MORON! Dont do this type of advertising and draw attention to yourself and the industry. Do your job and tell your agents to use the aerial on the video and maybe private marketing pieces and stay out of the newspaper!

  9. Yes, if you use a $7000-$15000 drone, you can carry a heavier/better camera. However, lets be honest. Most real estate photographers can not afford that kind of price tag, let alone the replacement if you crash. They are also a bit more complicated to operate and understand. Typically, the people who are spending that kind of money and more, specialize in aerial drone video and photography. Where as I think most people in here are simply looking for another tool to ad an additional element to their videos. The phantom is a somewhat affordable alternative that if used properly can produce some fantastic results. Go to their site and see for yourself. Obviously, as with any purchase you make, please research first! It is important to understand all risks involved. There is a ton of information out there. The gopro is not a 5DIII, but in good light, produces very impressive results and allows for some highly creative perspectives. Yes it has a fisheye lens. I cant think of many circumstances where I would fly it indoors. Do not use a drone to replace your current interior photo and video set up. That is kind of silly. Unless you really know what you are doing, its not worth flying it in crowded areas. Aerials are not necessary for every home you shoot, but can really ad something special to the right properties. Seriously, why would anybody compare this to a FlipCam! The technology in the phantom and the gopro is groundbreaking and getting better with every generation. The owner of gopro is now a Billionaire. Like it or not these things are here to stay.

  10. Larry, you really hit the nail on the head on this. You are exactly dead on. Last week I shot a $1.5m home just because I could provide aerial. The total cost of the shoot was over $600. If I didn't haver RMCA (I like that term), I would have lost the job. I have discussed this issue directly with my congressman and he promises to take action. We need more people educating their congressmen to get action.

  11. Fred, note that Larry's article above refers to usage for upper end real estate photography/videography, not the routine stuff.

    Regarding Steve Loos's method, has he checked that with an attorney? (I am not one.) If he is providing aerial photography/videography to his clients, I don't see how that is not a commercial usage, regardless of whether he itemizes for that on an invoice, and especially if he is providing other images for these same properties for which he is charging.

  12. I agree with Fred, not every property needs or should have aerial and I think for those that do, less, probably much less that 30% of the video will be aerial. But if done well that small percentage of the video should be quite impactful. The key to using aerial successfully is that the amount of time it takes to shoot it needs to be directly proportional to the amount of aerial footage used in your video. All too often I see people spending 50% (or more) of their time getting aerial for only 10% return on the time invested. You need to be able to setup, fly and put it away quickly, easily and safely in order to be able to be profitable in this environment.

    @Fred, as with anything that flies there are risks and its up to the pilot to mitigate as much risk as possible. "Flyaways" have predominately plagued one brand of flight controller which is why I don't recommend using a Phantom for commercial AP. Its a great inexpensive trainer but there's no way I would trust it with an expensive camera and gimbal or flying in the proximity of anything expensive or people.

    @Anders, there are certainly MR's available for $7000-$15000, I only used that as an example to encourage others to research the difference. There are two main issues that directly effects the cost of a multirotor, The first is safety in the form of the cost for more reliable electronic components that are tuned to lift the required payload, redundancy, what happens when a component fails, and the second is functionality of the flight controller, not only ease of use but how well does it perform in windy conditions etc., the level of sophistication of the gimbal - you can add a second user that controls the camera gimbal, as well as any other additional functionality.
    Obviously adding a second operator and FPV (First Person Video) equipment might be overkill for our application, anything added for safety sake is not. So to have an easy to use, dependable MR that you can trust and is legal to fly commercially today will coat around $3500. I don't know what a FlipCam is so I won't make the comparison but I hardly think a GoPro compares favorably to a 5D3, a GH3 or just about any other DSLR people are using for property videos. At the moment you can get away with using a GoPro because there are only a few other people flying more expensive camera's for real estate, but that is changing quickly. I'm currently building a setup for the Black Magic Pocket Camera, the gimbal is proving to be quit challenging but any issues with stability will be resolved in the next six months.

    So on one hand people using Phantoms today certainly have a competitive first mover advantage but that will change quickly in favor of better aerial platforms that yield much better footage efficiently and easily. Also to Fred's point that these are not as easy to fly, they aren't that difficult either, for me its more of a trust issue. Does the flight controller react precisely to the inputs I give it when I give them? As far as flying RC's they are relatively easy to fly but a commercial MR is not a toy and in order to combine two technologies, aerial RC and photography, you should start out small (and relatively safe) with a trainer to practice flying, in much the same way that you probably practiced photography, and then over time merge the two. In order to be safe you must first "master" the flight portion of the hobby before you can become a professional. Far too many people are purchasing Phantoms mounting a GoPro on them and going straight to work with them. Fortunately that's a pretty light setup but if you fly it into a valuable piece of furniture or hit a nice car you'll probably regret not spending the time to practice and additional money for a more professional setup.

  13. Chuck, I agree. And I would love to see the footage from your black magic flights when its completed. But I think we are also talking about people just getting started in flying. $1200 is a lot easier to swallow for those who are just starting and the phantom/zenmuse/gopro is good entry level tool that can produce professional results. Obviously the gopro does not match the 5D, but it has its place and as it continues to improve, I think it we will se it used in our business more and more. Hopefully sparingly and Hopefully not as the main camera. I dont know much about the bigger more expensive machines that can handle more weight, but I cant imagine they can be much more efficient than a gopro and and phantom.

  14. @Jennifer I purchased a Phantom with gimbal and could fly within a few minutes after watching all their videos. however doing a cinematic quality video shoot is a different question. Also, I recommend removing the gimbal while you learn because it can get damaged easily and you WILL crash.

  15. When I was comparing UAVs to FlipCams, I wasn't comparing quality. But the "rush" to shiny new technology has always been prevalent in the real estate industry. When video first came into play, the FlipCam was a $150 video camera with a big red button. It was SO easy ANY Realtor could do a video tour themselves. Within the year, there were tons of these awful, shaky, blurry, narrated from behind huffing and puffing video tours online done by agents. Because they COULD. Finally they went away when agents probably got a lot of backlash.... or it became too much effort.

    UAVs are the new shiny object, and there are countless articles encouraging every Realtor to invest in this cheap technology as a slam dunk way to make their listings shine. Inman has been beating this drum VERY heavily over the past couple of months (

    This is the new "shiny object". You will see Realtors buying these things and putting up awful footage of rooftops and clapboards and gutters and all the garbage in the neighbor's yards. I see them all the time online.

  16. @Fred Light - I like the link you posted. I'm surprised that nobody asked why an agent didn't go out and get a saxophone or a piano if they want a soundtrack on their video. The author of the article is not in tune with reality if he thinks that every agent needs to have their own MR. One of the other comments was telling about some people's attitude towards safety when they wrote that "they're only little plastic blades". It was only foam rubber that fatally damaged the space shuttle Columbia.

    Hopefully, all of these agents will be investing in MR's that will be worth buying when they start hitting eBay. I'd love to see a poll on how many agents have purchased a DSLR kit at the local big box store, tried to use it a few times and then went back to their camera phones due to the difficulty in understanding all of the controls and not being able to get a better picture. I'll have to ask around the local agents to see if I can pick up any deals. It never hurts to have a spare body or two around.

  17. @Ken I know what you mean about 'they're only plastic blades.' I had a prop fly apart on me and it went through some vinyl siding, the prop looked good before start up, but upon examination it looks like there was a crack in the hub area. This happened on my second day with my new toy so I was still learning and calibrating the control system. Now if I have a prop strike I take it off and examine it right away. These things are very dangerous if not handled with extreme care and I should have known better.

  18. @Anders here's a link to some aerial BMDPC: it isn't mine but it certainly demonstrates the marriage of a good camera with aerial. There are a lot of issues with the BM Pocket Camera but there are good moderately priced alternatives like the GH3 and NEX. There are a lot examples of great aerial using these camera's with brushless camera gimbals but people need to keep in mind that for the most part the great footage comes from really experienced users who spend top dollar developing custom MR's and gimbals. I think gimbal controllers are about six months away from being truly plug and play that can support this level of camera.

    Regarding the costs of Multirotors, I think a lot of the rush to use Phantoms with GoPro's is actually leaving a pretty bad taste in a lot of realtors mouths. I know of three or four realtors who tried using them and the MR's are now collecting dust. These can be a great tool for property videos but it takes a considerable commitment of time and money. I don't know how much more you can charge for aerial in your area, I'm able to charge considerably more for videos that include aerial so deciding to develop a business model that supports the additional ~$3500 expense was fairly obvious.

  19. Thanks Chuck, the footage in that video is beautiful. Can you tell me more about the $3500 rig?

    By the way, I think we might have been talking about 2 different things. It scares me to even think about any of the real estate agents I know flying phantoms around. I meant it would be a good start for professional photographers.

  20. For those thinking about getting into this, I would really suggest you team with some one already doing it. It is a big investment and does take a considerable amount of skill and maintenance to the RMCA. That is what I did for several years until I was up to speed with both equipment and skills. I guarantee you it is the best way to go.

  21. @Chuck Spaulding - That Black Magic footage beats the socks off of a GoPro! I'm sure that their lens was also a huge factor. The NEX might be even better.

  22. Larry thanks for sharing my video and thanks to all for the great comments.
    #1: I spent well over 100 hours flying a RealFlight simulator on a PC before thinking about launching my Phantom. Flying any rotary wing aircraft from a remote control device requires keeping 6 (or 12) reference directions in your head at one time. When you realize your heli is heading for a crash or a dangerous situation you will wish you had all that practice time under your belt!
    #2; I have about $2,500 K invested in the heli, gimbal, fpv and camera. I highly recommend the fpv, but not the goggle version; use the remote display and that way you can keep an eye on the heli; you are flying blind to up/down/left/right/rear with the goggles!
    #3: The FAA seems at present far more concerned with dangerous flying than with commercial activity, and for good reason. Browse YouTube and you will lots of examples for $%^# flying above traffic, people and buildings. That will hurt all remote a/c flyers, hobby or commercial.
    #4: There are a lot of opinions about what the FAA is doing, or will do, yet none of us know for sure (heck, the FAA does not know so how could we?) The FAA defines a commercial activity (pilot manned or unmanned) as "receiving or anticipating anything of value". So, keep that in mind when you make a choice how to proceed, I do.
    #5: My question to those who are ignoring the FAA rule; what are you telling your clients? I am curious as to others opinions on this; should the current state of affairs with the FAA no-commercial-fly-rule be disclosed so the client can make an informed decision?
    Thanks again!
    Steve Loos

  23. @Ken, that footage was shot with an olympus 9-18 and lumix 14-140 OIS. I think the NEX is a great starting point for commercial AP and then I'd recommend the GH3, both of these can be flown with a hexacopter. The BMPC looks great and I know people are beginning to use them for AP but they still have issues that I think make the challenging to use for real estate. I like to use my camera's for multiple things, with an almost 3x crop factor the BMPC would have limited applicability.

    @Anders, in California a lot of the realtors fancy themselves as professional photographers.. to be fair some of them are quite good. You do great work and I think you'd get a lot out of aerial but I think you'd quickly outgrow a Phantom and GoPro. I hope I don't give people the impression that I'm against Phantoms with GoPro's, if you've never shot aerial then that setup is absolutely the cheapest, easiest way to get started. I know some people are doing some pretty good aerial with the Hero3 but to get the level of quality needed for commercial work your going to need to move up the camera food chain pretty quickly and a Phantom won't lift anything larger, at least not safely.

    I build three levels of MR's, a Quad for single person operation to carry a GoPro w/gimbal or NEXw/gimbal, a Hexacopter for single or dual operators plus FPV for the camera operator that can carry an NEX w/gimbal or Gh3/T3i w/gimbal and an X8 with all the functionality of the Hex but able to carry bigger camera's like the 5D3. We're also testing our tether system. As I mentioned earlier initially the tether was to get us around the FAA regulations for commercial use, but after using it a bit it turns out to work great. It enables us to fly bigger payloads for as long as we want, legally. These are purpose built turn-key MR's for shooting property videos.

    I don't want to go too far afield from the original subject, I try to provide a slightly different perspective when I can regarding MR's and aerial photography. It's nice to see people starting to get interested, if any of you are interested in learning more about what I'm building you can email me at

  24. For those interested in flying camera's, Panasonic is releasing the GH4 which shoots 4K, its going to sell for around $1600, it will shoot 1080P @ 96 fps and is only about 10 grams heavier than the GH3 - which was a popular DSLR for AP because of its weight.

    I don't know a lot about it but here's a link to some sample footage and another link to the behind the scene making of that video. Near the end you'll see one of the MR's that did the aerial, that's the kind of rig that would be around $8,000. Not everyone needs that sort of equipment but what I like about the marriage of GH4 with MR's is that although I intend on continuing to deliver 1080P, I think the 4K footage will edit together seamlessly with RAW footage from from a 5D3 for example. For me I think the camera I would choose would be more based on workflow rather than resolution, so whichever has an easier, efficient workflow is the camera I would go with.

    Sample video:

    Behind the scenes:

    Its interesting to see the non color corrected shots in the BHS video

  25. Having flown multirotors ranging from smaller than my palm, to large enough to carry a DSLR, I'm not surprised that so many people are trying them, and even less surprised that there are so many reports of fly-aways.
    What does surprise me is that professional photographers who have been known to mock people for giving credit to a good camera for a decent photo are somehow expecting a piece of technology to be the answer to everything.

    Understanding that a UAV is simply a tool should be easy for anyone making a living creating commercial images. Technology aside, quality aerial photos and video take a knowledge of the art as well as solid operating skills for the aerial system. Simply, if you are not a decent pilot AND a decent photographer/videographer, you should expect amateur results.

    I can can almost hear a few readers screaming "But my aircraft has a great gimbal/flight controller/camera system/etc!" So what? The technology will help you get less camera shake, technically better raw images or footage, and might occasionally help you churn out something reasonable, though that is not much of a substitute for real talent.

    Saving the best for last, let's talk about the fly-aways. There are two common causes for misbehaving aircraft. The first is simply physical damage. Whether you can see damage or not, assume every crash will separate or crack something. Replacing rotors, and checking every connection should be considered a requirement following a crash, and not simply an option. Pre-flight checks may take time, but they are also a great way to find damage BEFORE you lose your entire system.

    The second major cause of a fly-away UAV is over-reliance on the automation. Do you have a crappy transmitter and use the "Come home" feature to bail you out when the signal drops? Do you program entire flights by GPS, and just watch through the monitor? Do you NEED either position hold, or the silly feature that lets the control sticks operate independently of the aircraft orientation? Yes? Congrats, you WILL lost your aircraft at some point.

    Other than replacing a stock transmitter with something more reliable, the rest of the preventative measures are free. Learn how to fly before you even consider putting something large or expensive in the air. The moment your shiny new UAV goes rogue on you, turn off all of the automatic navigation and "Hold" features, and fly that bad boy back safely.

    Not sure how to fly? Buy yourself something like the Blade QX Nano. It's inexpensive, hard to break, easy to fix, and is unlikely to hurt anyone when you screw up and lose control.

    Still hoping to get inexpensive aerials without a full-scale aircraft, aerial photo/video skills, or UAV piloting experience? It's a fool's errand at best.

    Just as with everything else we do, skills and experience are really the only way to get consistenly good results.

    Note: My complete lack of comments regarding the FAA regulations was intentional. The FAA has levied only one fine (for reckless operation, with no mention of commercial use), and sent out a rather paltry number of cease and desist letters. Not sure how to deal with the current lack of actual laws? Consult an attorney, and avoid taking legal advice from Internet posts.

  26. I don't think someone like TourFactory will be able to take over clients of successful real estate photographers just by offering aerial services. The end result of photos you get with a company like them (at least from what I've seen locally) is poor to say the least. Clients who value their real estate photographer's work, the small business owner, will stick with them because they understand the quality they are getting.

    I can see awareness coming to the forefront by a big company using UAVs and it definitely will trigger clients to ask questions. But with the cost of the machines, the learning curve for operating them, and the replacement cost for when you crash (when, not if), I don't think they are going to be as prominent in the industry as we are led to believe.

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