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Are Drones Better Than Telephoto Lenses for Spying? The Answer May Creep You Out



Lately, drones have been the topic of many privacy concerns. Notably, one Kentucky man gunned down a Phantom that he thought was taking photos of his teenage daughter. But are drones any more creepy than existing technology?

Meet the Canon 70­-200mm zoom with 2x teleconverter (effective focal length: 400mm). This lens is standard in any wedding photographer’s bag, and the extender can be had for less than $200.


A lens extender, also called a teleconverter, does exactly what the name implies: it extends the focal length of your lens. So for example if you are shooting with a 200mm lens and use the Canon 2x extender, you are essentially shooting with a 400mm lens. The primary disadvantage is that you lose a few stops; with an f/2.8 lens, you’re reduced to f/5.6 ­­– but that’s still more than enough if you’re shooting in daylight.

And it definitely has the reach to be creepy. I had my friend sit at a local park while I went to my roof, lens in hand. For perspective, here is where my friend was sitting:


With the 2x teleconverter, I can see if see her as if she were only 10 feet away:


But this still doesn’t answer the question, are drones better for spying than existing tech? To answer this, I sent my friend to another location: the church next door.

First, the drone fly over:

The original image.
The original image.
Cropped at 100%.
Cropped at 100%.

You can’t really see her at all.


Next, the 2x Teleconverter on a Canon 200mm :

Original view (left) and cropped at 100% (right).
Original view (left) and cropped at 100% (right).

It probably goes without saying, but there is something seriously creepy about this little experiment, and it definitely makes you wonder if there is someone behind a powerful lens in all those city windows surrounding you. I’ve never felt creepy piloting my drone because it’s loud and attracts attention, but shooting with this telephoto kit immediately made me feel creepy ­­because of the power and discrete nature.

So are drones creepier than telephoto lenses? Not by a long shot.

About the author: Adam Derewecki is the founder of CameraLends, a peer-­to-­peer rental community for photographers and filmmakers.

Image credits: Header illustration based on photo by Don McCullough