September 29, 2017 Helivision

Helicopter vs Drone Aerial Filming: Pros and Cons

As a leader in aerial photography services for more than twenty years, Helivison is uniquely positioned to address the current industry question: Which is better for filming, helicopters or drones? Since we operate both, our definitive short answer is – it depends. Although Helivision began in 1995 using only a single helicopter, technology has changed and we have changed with it.

Understanding which aerial platform is best for your specific project requires a hard look at several factors. While this is not difficult, it does require some detailed thinking about these aspects of aerial photography and vehicle logistics. This overview gives you a starting point for making certain decisions. However, our team has over 38 years of commercial operational experience and 50,000 flight hours of experience filming from a helicopter – and is fully able to discuss with you the benefits of either platform for your next project.

Now, let’s explore the pros and cons helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs – or drones) provide to any aerial photography services operator.


When comparing the range capabilities of both platforms, helicopters easily win hands down. They can fly farther and longer than any commercially available drone – think hours of flight time and hundreds of miles distance. Typically drones get about four minutes of flying time before needing a battery change and can only fly out to 400 feet above the ground per FAA regulations. Flight distances over a quarter mile also introduce lag into the flight control system. That said, if you only need short distances and durations for filming, then a drone aerial filming is the perfect solution.


Helicopters are able to carry the heaviest camera rigs that drones simply cannot lift. However, with development of smaller high-definition cameras, the quality obtained between the two platforms in many cases is nearly identical. If your project requires the highest definition possible, then a helicopter is required to carry the necessary camera gear.


Although helicopters have difficulty with extremely high and hot elevations, they are perfect for reaching remote locations due to their range, speed and payload capabilities. Of course they can carry not only the camera crew, but also other production team members into off-road locales. Since drones are limited in range and flight duration, they are restricted to where a pilot operator can get access. Yet there is no restriction on flying out to a location by helicopter and then deploying a drone from the ground to work in tandem with the chopper camera crew.

Some of the best drone footage is captured in places where helicopters simply cannot go. This creative edge is often down close to the ground flying through trees, cresting over a ridge and flying near buildings or structures. Drone aerial filming will also allows cameras to follow a person very closely over longer distances and more effectively than a camera on a tracked dolly and without all of the extra equipment. Clearly these are dangerous positions where a helicopter is unable to match the smaller aerial “footprint” of a drone.


With any manned flight operations there is always a small element of risk to crew and passengers. Thorough maintenance and safety inspections minimize this risk in helicopters, but it is something to be aware of. There is also safety equipment required for the camera crew, like harnesses and restraint systems – especially if it is a “doors-off” film shoot. With drone aerial filming, pilot operators do not require as much safety equipment. Generally only a high visibility vest and head and eye protection are necessary. The main concerns for a drone pilot operator are causing a flight hazard by obstructing or hitting another aircraft, damaging a structure, injuring people and interference from Wi-Fi signals.


Bad weather can impact both helicopter and drone flight operations and ruin filming opportunities. Since helicopters require more preparation and planning before flight, inclement weather is more of an issue – especially for tight filming schedules. With drones, if the weather suddenly clears up there are fewer issues with getting it up and out to film on short notice.


One of the biggest drivers that supports the decision of one platform over another is cost. If your cinematic vision is the next Star Wars but the budget is less galactic in scope, then filming with a UAV provides the most cost effective means of achieving an out-of-this-world look. These are just some of the financial factors to consider.

  • Helicopter costs –
    • Pilot/crew
    • Fuel and fueling logistics if filming away from the operator’s local airfield
    • Insurance
    • Helicopter ground transport when filming away from the operator’s local airfield
    • Camera rental
    • Camera gimbal system rental
  • Drone costs –
    • Drone rental
    • Operator/crew
    • Camera rental
    • Insurance

In summary: Flight, film and financial factors

Deciding on which aerial platform is best for your next project does not have to be an either/or proposition. A combination of the two may actually provide the best of both worlds for achieving your cinematic goals and objectives. To be sure, helicopters and drones each have unique capabilities that support aerial photography services, but drawbacks as well. Helicopters are more expensive than drones. Drones can fly close to buildings, trees and under structures. Doing reshoots with a drone is easier and more inexpensive than with a helicopter. Making this choice is not difficult with the support and experience of the Helivision team.

The Helivision Difference

Based out of Concord Regional Airport (JQF), Helivision is the premiere nationwide, multi Emmy Award-winning, aerial cinematography company with over 50,000 hours of helicopter filming experience. In addition to being near amazing film locations in North Carolina, Helivision aerial filming service can transport our helicopters anywhere in the United States via custom helicopter haulers. Helivision provides in-house aerial camera platforms, including the HD Cineflex camera system, to fulfill the film, video and still photographic needs of our customers. Helivision helicopter filming has full aircraft liability for hull specific insurance coverage written by Starr Aviation, the helicopter filming industry’s best insurance underwriter. Please contact us today for all of your aerial filming service needs.