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Top 5 Best Drones for Surveying and Mapping 2024 (Ultimate Guide)

Updated in 2024 by Paul Posea
Drones for Surveying and Mapping

In recent years, drones have revolutionized the surveying industry, offering a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to traditional land surveying methods. 

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), allow surveyors to collect high-resolution aerial data quickly and safely, covering large areas with minimal effort. As a result, they enable faster decision-making, reduce human error, and provide detailed insights into the land, infrastructure, and environmental conditions.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at the best drones for surveying while also highlighting the features and advantages of each drone.

Comparison Table: Top 5 Drones for Surveying and Mapping

To help you choose the best drone for your surveying and mapping needs, we've created a comparison table that highlights the key features of our top 5 picks. Use this table to evaluate each drone's capabilities quickly and make an informed decision before exploring the in-depth reviews.

Drone ModelCamera ResolutionFlight Time (min)Max Range (km)Weight (g)Mapping CapabilitiesAutonomy & Flight ControlRTK/GPS Accuracy
DJI Phantom 4 RTK20 MP3071391PhotogrammetryWaypoints, RTH, Obstacle AvoidanceCentimeter-level
DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise20 MP4615900PhotogrammetryWaypoints, RTH, Obstacle AvoidanceCentimeter-level
DJI Matrice 300 + Zenmuse P145 MP55153395Photogrammetry, LiDAR, Thermal ImagingWaypoints, RTH, Obstacle AvoidanceCentimeter-level
SenseFly Ebee X24 MP90N/A1100PhotogrammetryWaypoints, RTHCentimeter-level
Autel EVO II Pro RTK V320 MP36151250PhotogrammetryWaypoints, RTH, Obstacle AvoidanceCentimeter-level

Please note that the prices mentioned in the table are approximate and might vary depending on the retailer or additional equipment included. Always check with the seller or manufacturer for the most accurate and up-to-date pricing information.

1. DJI Matrice 300 + Zenmuse P1: The Best Combo for Advanced Surveying and Mapping

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The DJI Matrice 300 + Zenmuse P1 camera combo offers a cutting-edge solution for surveying and mapping professionals. Here's what makes this combination an exceptional choice:

Exceptional Flight Performance

The Matrice 300 boasts a 55-minute flight time, a 15 km transmission range, and advanced flight features, enabling efficient coverage of extensive surveying areas and complex projects.

DJI Matrice 300 + Zenmuse P1

High-Resolution Zenmuse P1 Camera

The Zenmuse P1 features a 45MP full-frame sensor with a mechanical shutter and interchangeable lenses, ensuring the capture of high-quality, detailed imagery for accurate mapping and surveying.

  • Precise GNSS and RTK Integration: With an onboard GNSS and RTK system, the Matrice 300 delivers centimeter-level positioning accuracy, providing geospatial professionals with reliable data for precision mapping applications.
  • Intelligent Waypoint Planning and Survey Modes: The DJI Pilot app allows users to plan flight paths, set waypoints, and control camera parameters for optimized data collection, ensuring a streamlined workflow for surveying and mapping projects.
  • Enhanced Safety and Obstacle Avoidance: The Matrice 300’s advanced obstacle avoidance system and redundant flight controls improve flight safety, ensuring smooth operations in complex environments.

The DJI Matrice 300 and Zenmuse P1 combo set a new surveying and mapping efficiency standard. With its powerful flight performance, high-resolution camera, and precise positioning capabilities, this combination is valuable for geospatial professionals seeking accurate, reliable results.

2. DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise: The Best Compact Powerhouse for Surveying Pros

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The DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise is a compact drone that packs a punch. Here are some of the most essential features of this powerful surveying drone:

  • High-precision GNSS and RTK Module: The built-in GNSS module supports multiple satellite systems. The RTK technology offers centimeter-level positional accuracy, perfect for surveying and mapping tasks.
  • Top-notch Camera Performance: The 20-megapixel Hasselblad L2D-20c camera captures high-resolution, detailed images. The adjustable aperture and 24mm focal length ensure high-quality aerial photos for mapping.
DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise
  • Obstacle Detection and Flight Safety: The advanced obstacle detection system (APAS 5.0) keeps the drone safe in complex environments, protecting your surveying equipment.
  • Versatile Flight Modes and Navigation: Waypoint navigation and Terrain Follow mode make it easy to plan flight paths and maintain consistent altitude above ground, ideal for large-scale mapping and uneven terrain.
  • Impressive Flight Time and Range: With a 46-minute flight time and a 15 km video transmission range, the Mavic 3 Enterprise enables users to cover more ground efficiently.

The DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise is a reliable, powerful drone that offers unmatched surveying capabilities in a compact package. Its advanced features make it an indispensable tool for pilots in the surveying and mapping industry.

3. SenseFly Ebee X: The Best Fixed-Wing Drone for Surveying and Mapping

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The SenseFly Ebee X is a high-performance fixed-wing drone explicitly designed for surveying and mapping applications.

One of the essential advantages of fixed-wing drones compared to multi-rotor drones is energy efficiency. So let’s take a closer look at its features:

  • Extended Flight Time and Coverage: With a fantastic flight time of up to 90 minutes, the Ebee X can cover up to 500 hectares (1,236 acres) in a single flight, maximizing efficiency and reducing the number of flights needed for large-scale projects.
  • High-Precision Imaging: The Ebee X is compatible with various high-quality cameras, including the senseFly SODA 3D, Aeria X, and Parrot Sequoia+, providing pilots with the flexibility to choose the best camera for their specific surveying needs.
SenseFly Ebee X
  • Accurate GNSS and RTK/PPK Capabilities: Ebee X's integrated GNSS and optional RTK/PPK system ensure centimeter-level accuracy in data collection, making it an ideal choice for precision mapping and surveying applications.
  • eMotion Software for Simplified Flight Planning: The eMotion software allows users to efficiently plan and manage flights, control camera parameters, and monitor real-time flight telemetry, streamlining the surveying and mapping process.
  • Durable and Lightweight Design: The Ebee X features a robust, shock-resistant design and lightweight construction, enabling it to withstand challenging environments while ensuring easy transport and deployment.

The SenseFly Ebee X offers a comprehensive fixed-wing solution for surveying and mapping experts. With its exceptional flight performance, high-precision imaging capabilities, and user-friendly software, the Ebee X is an excellent choice for efficient and accurate geospatial data collection.

4. DJI Phantom 4 RTK: The Best Entry-Level Drone for Precision Surveying

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The DJI Phantom 4 RTK is a purpose-built drone designed to meet the demanding needs of the surveying and mapping industry.

It was a highly successful predecessor of the Mavic 3 Enterprise. Today, it’s still an excellent option for entry-level professionals. Here's what makes it stand out even today:

  • Accurate RTK Module: The integrated RTK module provides real-time centimeter-level positioning accuracy, making the Phantom 4 RTK ideal for high-precision surveying and mapping applications.
  • High-Resolution Camera: The 20-megapixel camera with a 1-inch CMOS sensor captures sharp, detailed images. At the same time, the mechanical shutter ensures distortion-free aerial photos for accurate mapping.
DJI Phantom 4 RTK
  • Obstacle Sensing and Flight Safety: The Phantom 4 RTK's comprehensive obstacle-sensing system and advanced flight controls ensure smooth, safe flights in challenging environments.
  • Streamlined Workflow and Mission Planning: The DJI GS RTK app simplifies mission planning, allowing users to pre-plan flight paths, set waypoints, and control camera parameters for efficient, accurate data collection.
  • Extended Flight Time and Range: With a 30-minute flight time and a 7 km video transmission range, the Phantom 4 RTK enables users to cover large surveying areas efficiently.

The DJI Phantom 4 RTK is still an excellent drone for surveying and mapping, especially for entry-level professionals and mapping jobs.

Its precise RTK capabilities, high-resolution camera, and streamlined workflow make it a top choice for geospatial professionals seeking reliable, accurate results at more affordable prices.

5. Autel EVO II Pro RTK V3: Best Drone for Photogrammetry

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The Autel EVO II Pro RTK V3 is a lightweight, user-friendly, and efficient drone for commercial surveying and mapping applications.

In addition, the exceptional camera quality of this drone makes it a perfect choice for photogrammetry applications. Here's what makes it an outstanding Here's for professionals in the industry:

  • Lightweight and Easy to Deploy: Weighing just 1250g, the EVO II Pro RTK V3 is one of the lightest drones in its class, making it easy to transport and quick to deploy for various surveying projects.
  • Impressive 6K High-Definition Imaging: Equipped with a high-quality 6K camera, the EVO II Pro RTK V3 captures stunning aerial images, ensuring detailed and accurate mapping results for various applications.
Autel EVO II Pro RTK V3
  • Extended Flight Time and Robust Wind Resistance: With a flight time of up to 36 minutes and an 8-level wind resistance rating, the EVO II Pro RTK V3 is designed for long-lasting performance and stability in various weather conditions.
  • Fast and Responsive Flight Performance: The EVO II Pro RTK V3 boasts rapid speed and responsive handling, allowing for efficient and precise surveying in diverse environments. Its impressive 15-kilometer transmission range further enhances its capabilities.
  • Centimeter-Level RTK Accuracy: The Autel RTK module integrated into the EVO II Pro RTK V3 offers centimeter-level accuracy, supporting base station RTK, network RTK, and PPK—the module's compatibility with V2 and V3 series adds to its flexibility.

In conclusion, the Autel EVO II Pro RTK V3 is a top-notch choice for professionals seeking a lightweight, versatile, high-quality drone for surveying and mapping. In addition, its impressive imaging capabilities make it ideal for photogrammetry-based jobs.

The benefits of using drones for surveying

Utilizing drones for surveying ensures optimal results in terms of accuracy, efficiency, and data quality. Some of the key benefits include:

1. Reduced time and cost: Drones can cover vast areas in a shorter time than traditional methods, which leads to significant cost savings.

2. Improved accuracy: High-quality drones with advanced sensors and GPS capabilities provide precise data for detailed analysis.

3. Enhanced safety: Drones eliminate the need for surveyors to access rugged or hazardous terrain, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries.

4. Versatility: Drones can be used for various surveying applications, such as topographic surveys, construction site monitoring, and environmental assessments.

5. Easy data collection and processing: Modern drones have advanced software and data processing tools that streamline the surveying process and allow for seamless integration with GIS and CAD platforms.

Essential Features to Look for in a Surveying and Mapping Drone

To select the ideal drone for surveying and mapping purposes, it is essential to consider certain features prioritizing data quality and operational efficiency. Here are the main aspects to look for in a suitable mapping and surveying drone:

  • Mechanical shutter: Choosing a drone equipped with a mechanical shutter is vital for professional drone mapping. While it is possible to create models using any drone, the absence of a mechanical shutter will compromise quality and increase mapping time.

    In addition, automatic shutters capture the entire image simultaneously, unlike rolling shutters, which expose the camera lens to light one line at a time, resulting in motion blur.
  • Fixed-Wing or Multirotor: The choice between multi rotor drones and fixed wing drones will depend on factors such as budget, survey area size, and piloting expertise. Multirotor drones are more common, easier to fly, and more affordable than their fixed-wing counterparts.

    However, their battery efficiency is lower due to their reliance on rotors for lift and propulsion. Therefore, for smaller survey areas, a multirotor drone is the practical choice. 

Fixed-wing drones excel when surveying vast areas of hundreds of hectares. Their design allows them to generate lift by simply gliding through the air, with rotors providing propulsion. This efficiency results in longer flight times but requires more skilled pilots.

  • Autonomous Flight Capability: Aerial mapping surveys often necessitate multiple flights over an area for consistent and accurate data.

Maintaining the exact flight path manually is nearly impossible, so drones with programmable autonomous flight capabilities are crucial. 

Using specialized software, flight paths can be created and transmitted to the drone's remote controller, reducing human error.

  • Extended Battery Life: Surveying large areas requires a drone capable of flying for at least 30 minutes without interruption. This minimizes time spent landing and swapping batteries, optimizing fieldwork efficiency.
  • High-Resolution Camera Photogrammetry, a widely used aerial surveying technique, relies on overlapping geotagged photos.

    A high-resolution camera is essential for capturing fine ground details, enabling the software to recreate these features in 3D models. Opt for cameras capable of 4K video and 12 MP photos or higher resolutions, if available.
  • RTK Compatibility Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) technology enhances GPS data accuracy in mapping drones through differential measurements. Centimeter-level locational accuracy can be achieved by constantly correcting GPS data relative to a fixed ground station.

    Although RTK drones are more expensive, their increased accuracy makes them invaluable for urban planning and construction fields.
  • Interchangeable Payload: Some mapping projects may require Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors, thermal imaging, and multispectral imaging technologies.

    Drones with built-in LiDAR sensors or thermal cameras are rare, so choosing a drone that can accommodate various payloads is essential. These high-end drones are more expensive but offer advanced capabilities for multiple industries.

In summary, prioritize features such as a good camera, autonomous flight capabilities, and a GPS receiver when selecting a drone for mapping purposes. Upgrading to more advanced equipment may require a significant investment but allows for premium service offerings.

And if you are looking for online Drone Mapping Services, you can check my other article in which I've explained everything in detail.

Differences and Applications of Photogrammetry, LiDAR, and Thermal Imaging in Drone Surveying

Drone Surveying

The different types of data provided by drones, such as photogrammetry, LiDAR, and thermal imaging, serve various purposes and have distinct applications. Here's a brief overview of each type and their common uses:

  1. Photogrammetry involves capturing a series of overlapping geotagged images, which are then used to infer dimensions and create 3D models of features on the ground.
    This technique is widely used due to its accessibility and relatively low cost. Typical applications of photogrammetry include:
    • Topographic mapping
    • Infrastructure inspection
    • Construction site monitoring
    • Agriculture and crop management
    • Environmental monitoring
  1. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging): LiDAR uses pulses of light that bounce off objects to determine their size and shape accurately.
    By measuring the time it takes for these pulses to return to the sensor, LiDAR provides a more precise representation of the features compared to photogrammetry. Typical applications of LiDAR include:
    • High-precision topographic mapping
    • Forestry management
    • Floodplain modeling
    • Cultural Heritage site documentation
    • Urban planning
  2. Thermal imaging: Thermal imaging involves capturing the infrared radiation emitted by objects, which provides information about their temperature. This type of data helps detect heat signatures and temperature differences. Typical applications of thermal imaging include:
    • Building inspections for heat loss or insulation issues
    • Detection of water leaks or moisture problems
    • Industrial equipment inspections for overheating components
    • Surveillance and search and rescue operations
    • Wildlife monitoring and conservation efforts

Some drones can carry multiple payloads, allowing them to collect different data types in a single flight. For example, a drone may have a high-resolution camera for photogrammetry and a thermal imaging camera for temperature analysis.

The DJI Matrice 300 RTK drone can be customized with various payloads, including cameras and LiDAR sensors, to meet diverse data collection needs.

faq what should you look for in a drone

Frequently Asked Questions About Drone Surveying

In this section I will address all questions surrounding drone surveying, providing comprehensive information and guidance.

DJI drone for surveying

What is the best DJI drone for surveying?

The best DJI drone for surveying is the DJI Matrice 300 RTK paired with the Zenmuse P1 camera. This combination offers exceptional performance, reliability, and precision, making it an ideal choice for professional surveying and mapping applications. 

The Matrice 300 RTK is known for its long flight time, strong wind resistance, and advanced RTK module, which provides centimeter-level accuracy. The Zenmuse P1 camera, on the other hand, delivers high-resolution imagery and features a mechanical shutter, further enhancing the quality of the collected data.

How accurate are drone surveys?

Drone survey accuracy depends on several factors, such as the quality of the camera, GPS receiver, and the use of RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) technology. Generally, drone surveys can achieve centimeter-level accuracy with RTK-enabled drones. In contrast, non-RTK drones can have errors up to a few meters.

How much does drone surveying cost?

drone surveying cost

The cost of drone surveying varies depending on the scope of the project, the equipment used, and the level of expertise required. 

Professional drone surveying services can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per project. In addition, purchasing a drone suitable for surveying purposes can cost between $1,500 and $25,000, depending on the features and capabilities.

What types of industries can benefit from drone surveying?

Numerous industries can benefit from drone surveying, including:

  1. Agriculture: Crop monitoring, yield estimation, and irrigation planning
  2. Construction: Site planning, progress monitoring, and quality control
  3. Mining: Volume calculations, environmental monitoring, and safety assessments
  4. Environmental: Wetland mapping, vegetation monitoring, and wildlife habitat analysis
  5. Utilities: Infrastructure inspection, asset management, and vegetation encroachment analysis
  6. Urban planning: Land use analysis, transportation planning, and zoning assessments
author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.

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paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.
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