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

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The best mapping drones

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
 
DJI Matrice 300 RTK
DJI Matrice 300 RTK
  • Versatile commercial platform
  • Precise and reliable
Superior inspection drone

The DJI Matrice 300 RTK packs multi-direction obstacle avoidance, advanced airspace awareness and multiple payloads for commercial drone operations.


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
 
Yuneec H520
Yuneec H520
  • Stable commercial drone
  • High wind resistance
Stable commercial platform

Yuneec's reliable hexacopter hardened for the commercial market, the Yuneec H520 is ready for your inspection tasks and more.


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
 
DJI Matrice 200 series: 200/210/RTK
DJI Matrice 200 series: 200/210/RTK
  • Versatile commercial platform
  • Capable payloads
Versatile commercial drone

DJI designed the Matrice 200 series to offer a versatile set of inspection capabilities. Choose from various payloads and mounting points to look up, down and all around.


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
 
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise
  • Versatile rescue drone
  • Capable folding drone
Search and Rescue drone

Building off of the Mavic 2 platform, the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise offers new cameras and new accessories such as lights, speakers and beacons.


DJI Mavic 3 Cine: Best consumer drone

DJI Mavic 3 Cine in hand nose down

The DJI Mavic 3 Cine takes the Mavic line to an entirely new level. You still get to enjoy the compact folding form-factor, but now you have greater flight time, an updated remote, and a powerful new camera system.

Take to the sky with a Micro Four Thirds camera that shoots 5.1K video, and ensure you capture your shot with the built-in 1TB SSD. A secondary camera offers up to 28x zoom.

Why we fly the Mavic 3 Cine

There are few drones that offer this caliber of camera, and none other that offer it in this compact and portable of an airframe. Enjoy professional-grade cinematography on the go.

Pros
  • Powerful camera drone
  • Great 5.1K camera
  • 15KM range
  • Optional 1TB internal SSD
  • Easy and fun to fly
Cons

 

  • Price
 
DJI Mavic 3
DJI Mavic 3
  • Fantastic camera
  • 5.1K video
  • Huge flight time
  • Safe and capable drone
  • Class-leading flight range
Imaging Above Everything

A 20MP Micro Four Thirds camera that shoots 5.1K video, and 46 minutes of flight time make the DJI Mavic 3 one of the best camera drones you can purchase today.

DJI Mavic 3 Cine
DJI Mavic 3 Cine
  • Fantastic camera
  • Huge flight time
  • Safe and capable drone
Imaging Above Everything

A Micro Four Thirds camera, 1TB of storage, 5.1K video capture, the RC Pro remote, and 46 minutes of flight time make the DJI Mavic 3 Cine perhaps the best camera drone you can purchase today.


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
 
Parrot Anafi
Parrot Anafi
  • Camera can point straight up
  • Versatile platform
Diverse platform

The Parrot Anafi is one of few drones that looks up as well as it looks down. The 4K front mounted camera is on a long-travel articulating Gimbal, so you can look straight up all the way to straight down.

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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
Cons

 

  • Limited availability
 
Yuneec Typhoon H3
Yuneec Typhoon H3
  • Professional camera drone
  • Great Leica camera
Leica camera on a hexacopter

Designed with government use in mind, the Yuneec Typhoon H3 is an update to the Typhoon H Plus, packing a powerful Leica camera onto the familiar hexacopter airframe.


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
Cons

 

  • Older drone
 
DJI Phantom 4 RTK
DJI Phantom 4 RTK
  • Extreme GPS precision
  • Stable and reliable airframe
Extreme GPS precision

The DJI Phantom 4 RTK adds the best GPS precision to the popular <a href="https://dronerush.com/dji-phantom-drones-comparison-guide-3335/">Phantom line</a> of drones. This is a serious tool for drone mapping, surveying and more.


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.


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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