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Best Budget Drones for Real Estate Photography

15 mins
Drone Blog
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With the real estate market continuing to fluctuate here in the US, as of the writing of this article, many Realtors are once again looking for professional real estate photos to help sell their properties, including exterior photos provided by drone operators.

With so many types of drones on the market, as well as drastic prices ranging from very cheap to very expensive, many looking to do drone real estate photography may be wondering what the best budget drones are, specifically for Real Estate photography.

The best budget drones for real estate photography between the $750 – $1300 range are the DJI Mini 3 Pro, Air 2S and Autel Evo Lite+.

What To Look For #

When speaking of best and budget, this is relative based on a few factors such as:

  1. What particular purpose (industry) the equipment is going to be used for
  2. The desired results shooting for said industry, and
  3. How much money can realistically be spent to get the desired results

When it comes to Real Estate photography, one of the most important aspects is the quality of the images being produced for the client.

Sure you could use a $100 or $200 drone to capture the outside of the home, but would the images produced show the home well? Would they aid in the sale of the home?

The 3 drones we recommend in this article do quite well (even excellently) for those looking to stay under the $1300 mark, which is significantly under the pricing of the higher-tiered, prosumer drones for Real Estate photography, such as the Mavic 3 line of drones.

Camera #

When shooting real estate photography, you’d generally want to capture images that are around 20mp or higher.

Doing so aids in post-editing cropping and framing, which punches in slightly on the image based on framing needs, all without lowering the picture resolution too much.

Of course, this is not Law. There are plenty of drones that produce 12mp photos that still look great, especially when manipulated in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Note: The MLS (Multiple Listing Service or Multiple Listing System) tends to compress images, or require lower-resolution photos to be uploaded, based on the region the home is being sold.

When it comes to the 3 drones in this article, they are all capable of shooting higher than 12mp photos, with one model able to produce 48mp images, as we’ll discuss in each drone’s individual features section.

Battery Life #

When out shooting Real Estate photos, battery life is something that might go unnoticed by many but is still a very important aspect of the shooting project.

For example, drones that have 30 minutes of battery life, mean that a drone operator can expect to get at least 22 minutes of flight time if landing at the recommended 25% to 30% mark.

Drones with higher capacity batteries can expect longer flight times.

Flight times, of course, vary due to the current weather conditions at the time of flight.

In the world of Real Estate photography, due to possibly having multiple shoots daily, every minute of battery life counts. A drone’s ability to accommodate this is very important.

Obstacle Avoidance #

Although not a necessity, obstacle avoidance is a great tool for a Real Estate photographer to have.

The reason is that it allows you to have to focus on one less thing when trying to get that perfect shot or frame up the home to your liking.

Of course, we always recommend paying close attention to the surroundings whenever flying.

However, having obstacle avoidance allows you to focus on the photography more, while still being alerted to nearby obstructions.

Size & Flight Characteristics #

Another important aspect to look into when purchasing a drone for Real Estate work is how manageable it is in the air.

There are a few drones out there that are more difficult to fly than others. In part, these are the Inspire series, and even the Phantom lines for some.

When choosing a drone for Real Estate photography, you’ll want something that is at least small enough to get into areas that a larger drone might have difficulty accessing, for framing purposes.

Early on in my Real Estate photography career, I used Phantom 4 Pros, and there were quite a few times having a smaller drone would have made a world of difference for particular shots.

Additional Considerations #

Something else that might be important as a drone Real Estate photographer is whether a drone is geofenced or not.

For those not aware, geofencing is the process of restricting a drone from entering various airspace or geographical zones through the manufacturer’s flight software and firmware.

This is an important consideration as one might need to take photos of a home in a geofenced area and be prohibited from doing so, even with the proper LAANC authorizations.

Thankfully, with the new DJI Fly software this is becoming something that occurs less often.

In my case, when this has happened with the proper LAANC authorizations, I have simply turned to one of our Autel Evos to do the needed exterior shots.

» MORE: Do DJI Drones Have Geofencing? (And How to Unlock Them)

Important #

Because taking pictures and videos of homes for sale with drones falls under commercial purposes, or the furtherance of business, anyone desiring to do drone Real Estate photography, in the United States, needs to be Part 107 Certified.

For more information on the Part 107 Certification process, please see these articles:

  • Your Questions About Part 107 Answered
  • Best Part 107 Test Prep Courses Taught by Experts
  • FAA Part 107 for Commercial Drone Pilots (Step-by-Step Guide)

With that being said, here are our choices for the Best Budget Drones for Real Estate photography.

1. DJI Mini 3 Pro #

✅ Pros #

  • Small size
  • Price
  • Great looking photos
  • Tri-directional vision sensors
  • Plus sized batteries
  • Ability to use DJI RC, DJI RC Pro
  • Lower propeller pitch

❌ Cons #

  • No 1″ image sensor
  • Not a true 48mp image
  • Not as stable in windy conditions as the Air 2S or Evo Lite+
  • Geo-fenced

It is no surprise the Mini 3 Pro has made this list. As the Pro in the name would suggest, the Mini 3 Pro does have a lot of Professional features that Real Estate photographers would appreciate.

Although the DJI Mini 3 comes in various packages and combos, we are highlighting the least expensive version of the Mini 3 Pro for this budget article.

Size & Weight #

The Mini 3 Pro is the newest and smallest drone of the bunch, as can be seen in the comparative title picture.

With its small size comes less annoying pitched propellers than the Air 2S and Auel Evo Lite+. This is a great feature as it attracts less attention than larger drones.

The Mini 3 Pro weighing less than 250g, in this case, does not mean it is exempt from registration in the US. If you are using a drone for Real Estate photography in the United States, you must be Part 107 certified and the Mini 3 Pro must be registered, regardless of its weight.

» MORE: Best Drones for Architectural Photography

Camera #

Although not a 1″ image sensor that Real Estate photographers in general prefer, the Mini 3 Pro has a 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor. The images taken with the Mini 3 Pro are great for Real Estate photography.

Part of this is due to the Mini 3 Pro having a very large fixed aperture at f1.7, which allows it to take in more light than the f2.8 aperture many drones have.

This is especially useful when taking photos of homes in dark and wooded areas, or during sunset when trying to get that perfect twilight shot.

Although the Mini 3 Pro only has a 12MP camera (the same as many cell phones), it takes great photos. However, as mentioned prior, there is an option to shoot 48MP photos.

This is done through software processes that manipulate the pixels in the Mini 3 Pros camera. The 48mp images produced with the Mini 3 Pro are excellent and sharp.

Real Estate photographers will also appreciate that the Mini 3 Pro takes JPEG and RAW images simultaneously. Having this flexibility works in many types of workflows and may even be used as backups if one or more images become corrupted.

In addition, for those that either like to assemble their own HDR photos from bracketed shots in Lightroom or Photoshop or shoot straight HDR, the Mini 3 Pro is also able to shoot single-shot HDR photos as well as Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB), 3 to 5 frames at 2 and 3 EV stops.

Battery Life #

As is pretty widely known in the drone community, the Mini 3 Pro has 2 different versions of batteries:

  • The Standard option battery has flight times of up to 34 minutes
  • The Plus option battery has flight times of up to 47 minutes

While the standard option with its 34 minutes of flight times is good, the Plus option should especially be of interest to Real Estate photographers.

Having a battery that lasts for more than 30 minutes straight ensures being able to get more photos before having to turn everything off and put in fresh ones, saving time.

Although most people will not get 47 minutes of flight time out of the Plus option, if you land at 25%, realistically, you should achieve about 35 minutes or so of in-air time.

Obstacle Avoidance #

The Mini 3 Pro has tri–directional vision sensors: Front, Rear, and Bottom.

Up until recently, this was something unheard of in a Mini DJI drone and is actually one of the options that categorize it as a Pro drone.

With these sensors, the Mini 3 Pros obstacle avoidance system works very well alerting to and avoiding many obstructions by either braking or even going around them.

What the system is lacking are the top and side sensors found in higher-end drones, like the Mavic 3 line, which has omnidirectional systems, covering the entire drone.

Geofencing #

Sadly, the Mini 3 Pro (like most of its DJI siblings) comes with geofencing. There’s no getting away from it.

With the advancements in the DJI Fly app, unlocking and flying in these zones, after requesting LAANC authorizations, has become easier and less obtrusive.

Remote Controllers #

The Mini 3 Pro is not only able to be controlled with the low-cost DJI RC-N1 remote controller but can also use the DJI RC, as well as the higher-tiered DJI RC Pro.

Having access to a smart controller is a big plus, as you are able to get up and in the air faster than using a standard controller and smartphone combination.

» MORE: DJI Mini 3 Pro Long-Term Review (Worth Buying?)

Our Choice

2. DJI Air 2S #

✅ Pros #

  • 1″ Image sensor
  • 20mp photos
  • 4-way obstacle avoidance system
  • Ability to use DJI RC, DJI RC Pro, and original DJI Smart Controller
  • Price to specs ratio/Best bang for the buck

❌ Cons #

  • Average battery life
  • Slightly older tech
  • Geo-fenced

While the DJI Air 2S is older than the Mini 3 Pro, it has much of the same “newer” technology found on the likes of the Mini 3 series and even the Mavic 3 line.

With the Air 2S being slightly older, there are many opportunities to find units at great prices, either in the used market or even new online.

Here, we have an entire brand new flymore combo, reasonably priced, complete with everything you’ll need for a full Real Estate shoot, including video if desired.

If you opt not to by the entire fly more combo, you can save hundreds.

Size & Weight #

Compared to the Mini 3 Pro, the Air 2S is a few inches longer and an inch taller or so.

Where the real size difference comes in is the weight department. Whereas the Mini 3 Pro is 249g, give or take, the Air 2S is slightly double that weight, at 595g.

With this added weight difference comes more stable flight in windy conditions.

Although this is very important when shooting Real Estate videos, the Air 2S being more stable in windy conditions means easier shot framing, since the Air 2S isn’t moving as much in the wind as the smaller and lighter Mini 3 Pro.

Camera #

The Air 2S was the first DJI-branded mid-tier drone to receive a 1″ sensor, which was previously reserved for higher-end Prosumer drones like the Phantom 4 Pro and Mavic 2 Pro lines.

The Air 2S camera can shoot 20mp images while taking those photos in both JPEG and RAW formats, simultaneously.  

Having a 1″ sensor is perfect for Real Estate photographers, as it allows more light to be captured, enabling you to shoot with an increased dynamic range, while keeping the ISO low, thus keeping the noise in the image to a minimum, producing crisp photos. 

Like with the Mini 3 Pro, the Air 2S can shoot single-shot HDR photos as well as Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB), 3 to 5 frames at 2 and 3 EV stops.

Battery Life #

The Air 2S has 2 sizes of batteries, 3750 mAh and 3500 mAh. However, DJI states “The two battery versions are basically the same in terms of battery life and propulsion performance.“

While these batteries do not have the same 47 minutes of flight time as the Mini 3 Pros Plus option batteries, they are rated to fly up to 34 minutes, which is comparable to the Mini 3 Pros Standard battery option.

Landing at around 25% should get close to 25 minutes of flight time, depending on the weather conditions.

Obstacle Avoidance #

Like with the 1″ sensor, the mid-tier Air 2S is the first non-DJI prosumer drone to be equipped with a 4-way vision sensor system: Front, Rear, Top, and Bottom.

The addition of the odd-looking top sensors means that the Air 2S is capable of sensing and avoiding obstructions above it, quite useful when flying underneath trees, so as to frame up that perfect shot of a home.

The additional top sensors, which also ever so slightly face the front of the drone, give an added layer of protection when flying forward, as the top sensors also detect obstacles and obstructions in front of the drone as well.

Geofencing #

As with the Mini 3 Pro, the Air 2S is also geofenced. This is something we’ll also expect to see in most, if not all, forthcoming DJI drones.

However, again, with the advancements in the DJI Fly app, unlocking and flying in these zones has become easier and less obtrusive than unlocking zones in previous DJI flight apps.

Remote Controllers #

The Air 2S works with the following remote controllers:

  • DJI RC-N1
  • DJ RC
  • DJI Smart Controller
  • DJI RC Pro

» MORE: DJI Air 2S – A Complete Real-World Review

3. Autel Evo Lite+ #

✅ Pros #

  • 1″ Image sensor
  • 20mp photos
  • Fully adjustable aperture (f2.8 – f11)
  • Decent battery life
  • Ability to use the Autel SE Smart Controller
  • No Geofencing

❌ Cons #

  • Costly
  • Slower in-flight response times

Although DJI is one of the more recognizable drone brands and has been the industry leader in consumer and prosumer drones for years, Autel Robotics is a competent competitor that likewise makes excellent quality drones.

The Autel Evo Lite+ sits on the higher end of the spectrum for this article, in terms of both weight and pricing. Thankfully, it has professional features that work well for Real Estate photography.

» Read More: DJI Avata for Real Estate (Explained)

Size & Weight #

As mentioned, the Autel Evo Lite+ is a larger and heavier drone than the Mini 3 Pro and the Air 2S.

Weighing in at a hefty 835g, the Evo Lite+, like the Air 2S, handles windy weather quite well. However, with this added weight comes a less nimble drone.

With the flight EXP settings fully customized, I was never able to get the Evo Lite+ to fly as zippy as either of the aforementioned DJI drones.

Of course, this is a matter of preference, though many might find it a slight negative.

For Real Estate photography purposes, perhaps a less responsive drone can be appreciated more than in other types of environments or client work.

Camera #

The Evo Lite+ has a 1″ image sensor like the DJI Air 2S.

This of course is the same size as the image sensors found in many of the popular brands of professional mirrorless cameras manufactured by Canon and Sony.

The Lite+ can shoot 20MP JPEG or DNG (RAW) images individually, or you can choose to shoot JPEG and DNG simultaneously.

This is useful for those wanting only one image format, thus saving space on the SD card.

Different than the two DJI drones in this article, the Evo Lite+ camera also has an adjustable aperture, adjustable from f2.8 to f11.

If having an adjustable aperture is a must for your Real Estate photography needs, the Autel Evo Lite+ is the drone for you.

The Evo Lite+ can shoot Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) as well as single-shot HDR photos.

Battery Life #

The Evo Lite+ has one battery option, however, that one battery option is rated for 40-minute flight times.

If you are landing at 25%, that should net you close to 30 minutes of flight time, depending on the current weather conditions.

Obstacle Avoidance #

The Evo Lite+ has a tri-directional vision system: Front, Rear, and Bottom.

In my testing, the Evo Lite+ obstacle avoidance system works as expected regarding alerting to and stopping well before coming in contact with obstructions.

Like the Mini 3 Pro, the system is lacking, at the very least, the top sensors found in the comparable Air 2S.

Geofencing #

Out of all of the drones we recommend for Real Estate photography, the Evo Lite+ is the only one without geofencing built in.

Unlike the Evo II line of drones, Autel says it will not introduce geofencing to the Evo Lite series.

This is good news for those that would rather forgo any possible geo zone unlocking headaches some have faced in the past at fully authorized shooting locations, myself included.

Remote Controllers #

Like the Mini 3 Pro and Air 2S, the Evo Lite+ likewise has access to a smart controller.

The Autel SE smart controller has a 6.4″ LCD screen, which is almost an inch larger than the screens on the DJI RC and DJI RC Pro controllers.

» MORE: Autel Evo Lite+ Review


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