It Just Isn’t Worth the Effort to Put a Drone in the Air Anymore

DJI Drone

Drones are not nearly as exciting nor popular as they were just a few short years ago as a combination of laws and incremental updates has made the flying them feel like too much effort for not enough payoff.

Don’t get me wrong, drones are still incredibly fun to fly, but the rules and regulations now required to legally do so — thanks mainly in part to a few pilots who put their drones into dangerous situations and ruined the hobby for everyone — simply ask too much of me.

I love the perspective that a drone offers, but I just can’t be bothered to check all of the regulations of my area, find the one place I’m allowed to fly, and drive out there while carefully making sure I’m not violating any rules, not to mention bearing the cost of the thousand-plus dollars it takes to get the nicer drones that would even come close to making that effort worthwhile.

We have some really talented artists on staff at PetaPixel, but we’ve started to turn down interesting projects and products that relate to drones simply because they’re not feasible. For example, we recently were asked to check out some high-end filters for long-exposure landscape photography that were compatible with DJI’s latest Mavic drones, but no one on staff could find a place they felt inspired to shoot near them that also would allow them to fly without having to go through a huge pile of paperwork and legal red tape.


It just wasn’t worth it. Even if we did manage to find a place we could reasonably fly, there wasn’t anything there worth photographing.

Beyond that, The Verge put it really well earlier this week: drones are just getting boring. I remember the last time I was legitimately excited about a drone, and that was in 2018 with the launch of the Mavic 2 Pro. I remember setting up next to a pilot who had GoPro’s disaster of a drone and the ease of flight, quieter rotors, and image quality I was able to get put his clunker to shame. A drone, by the way, he never actually was able to get to take off.

But now years later, DJI is basically just competing with itself. There are other players like Parrot or Autel, but the market has been overwhelmingly cornered by DJI to the point that it can’t even make drones that are that much more compelling than the last few it put out. Sure, the new Air 3 has two cameras instead of just one, but to get there we had to sacrifice sensor size — both are significantly smaller than the Type 1 sensor I flew in that Mavic 2 Pro from five years ago. Somehow, all that time has passed but the image quality expectations out of drones has fallen. That seems backwards to me.

And that’s really where I think I’m stuck. Even if I were to put my drone in the air, would I be happy with the photos it took? I was looking at the samples DJI sent for the Air 3 and couldn’t help but feel like they just weren’t great. At the very least, they were way noisier than I would have expected. I am not alone here. Interest in drones from PetaPixel readers has cratered.

DJI Air 3 sample
Taken with the DJI Air 3, this photo has a lot more noise than I would expect to see in 2023. | DJI
DJI Air 3 sample
The photo is “fine,” but it doesn’t feel worth the effort. | DJI

DJI keeps making its drones smaller and adding more onto that tiny chassis, but I think I would be okay with a drone that was slightly — or even significantly — larger if it came equipped with a much larger sensor. Super35, Micro Four Thirds, heck, I’d love to see APS-C. Even if it had a fixed lens, give me something with some real photo image quality instead of these tiny sensors that belong on a smartphone. Remember the phrase “flying camera”? Let’s get back to that.

DJI Inspire 2
Now that’s a sensor, but its cost is just way out of reach.

In order to fly without registering it, you’ve got to keep a drone under a certain weight — 250 grams to be exact — and the Air 3 is already too heavy and it is equipped with sensors I mention I think are too small. In that case, don’t feel like you need to keep making the drones compact. If I already have to go through the trouble of registering the drone and getting a license, make it worth it! I’d be totally fine with a drone that was notably larger if I got way better image quality in return.

I know, I could always buy an Inspire, but let’s be real: I’m not spending $16,000 to do it. And I’m not even saying my suggestions here are the right one — I am just saying that drones are just too much hassle right now that I don’t feel like any of my options are worth it. To actually make it worth it, I have to jump all the way into the big-boy drone pool, and I just am not going to do that — and I suspect, neither are most of you.

This story is part of PetaPixel’s weekly newsletter Clipped Highlights.

What is Clipped Highlights?

Clipped Highlights is a free, curated, weekly newsletter that will be sent out every Wednesday morning and will focus on a few of the most important stories of the previous week and explain why they deserve your attention. This newsletter is different from our daily news brief in that it provides unique insights that can only be found in Clipped Highlights.

In addition to unique takes on the biggest stories in photography, art, and technology, Clipped Highlights will also serve to feature at least one photo series or art project that we think is worth your time to check out. So often in the technology and imaging space we focus on the how and not the what. We think that it’s just as important, if not more so, to look at the art created by photographers around the world as it is to celebrate the new technologies that makes that artwork possible.

If this kind of content sounds like something you’re interested in, we encourage you to subscribe to the free Clipped Highlights newsletter today. You can read this week’s edition right here, no subscription necessary, to make sure it’s something you want in your inbox.

* indicates required


We’ll also make sure to share each edition of Clipped Highlights here on PetaPixel so if you aren’t a fan of email, you won’t be forced to miss out on the weekly newsletter.

Image credits: Header photo via DJI