Drone technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, and consumer drones have better range than ever before. However, this range does not come without its limitations.
Range of DJI Drones
Drones like the DJI Phantom and the DJI Mavic have ranges of around 2 to 3 miles – the drone can maintain a radio link to the pilot and a 720p video link, too.
However, this should not be a concern for privacy, since the cameras on drones are just not designed for being “spy” cameras. Drone cameras are great for capturing landscapes and things from afar, but they’re not very good at imaging close up objects in detail.
For example, a drone could take an excellent overhead photo or video of a building, but if there was someone on a balcony in said building, their faces would not even be recognizable.
As far as aerial photography systems are concerned, the DJI Mavic and DJI Phantom are the clear leaders with great range and superb radio technology that maintains a connection and has a Return to Home failsafe in which the copter would safely fly back to you in case of an interruption or disconnection in the radio link.
Range of racing drones
The range of most common racing drones, while possible to be quite far with today’s technology, is limited by FPV range and battery life.
You can maintain a radio link over very large distances – the TBS Crossfire radio system advertises their range to be up to 40km. Most miniquad radios however operate by default on the 2.4gHz range, where you can expect a good radio link up to 1 km or maybe a little more, depending on your receiver.
However, practically speaking, when you’re flying a race quad, an unspoken rule is to only fly the drone as far as you are willing to go pick it up if it crashes.
So while long range flights are now possible with the TBS Crossfire, they’re slightly risky as one wrong move could lose you a quadcopter.
Racing quadcopters, or miniquads, are very small machines and have tiny batteries that push a lot of power to spin four propellers very fast. The most flight time you’d get out of a miniquad is 3-5 minutes with today’s motors and propellers. You just can’t go too far in that much time and expect to come back. Sure, if you’re pushing the quad at 100 km/h, which is totally possible, you can cover a very long distance very fast, but you also have to fly back!
Larger quadcopters have better battery life since they use slower motors and larger propellers, but even then, they may be limited by FPV range.
When you are flying FPV(first-person view), then range becomes even dicier, especially in areas with lots of obstacles.
Most FPV systems work on the 5.8 gHz spectrum, which has even less range than 2.4 gHz commonly used in radios. With the right antennas and transmitter/receiver combo, you could push 5.8 gHz video to 1 mile or so away, but that’s if there is nothing in between you and the quadcopter – if you’re in an open field and fly straight out, or if you fly high and straight out so that there’s a straight line between you and the quadcopter that does not go through any obstacles in between.
There are long range FPV systems that work on lower frequencies that can give range of 10-20 kilometers, but they are generally suited to planes more than quads, since the antennas are far bigger.
If you’re looking to buy a quad, should this bother you?
Not really! The real fun in miniquad flying is actually in close quarters! If you watch FPV videos on YouTube, you’ll see that most of the flying is actually done in a very limited area. Pilots usually stick to a perimeter and fly within it.
If you are looking to get into aerial photography, the range of the Phantom or Mavic is more than enough for you to compose and capture beautiful aerial images.