FLAGSTAFF, AZ – In light of the recent efforts of several municipalities to create some rather obtuse and misguided legislation relating to the use of drones, I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the matter.  The municipalities in question are quite concerned that folks are going to start spying on them with drones.  Despite the fact that traditional cameras are a much more powerful tool for spying on someone, these municipalities seem hell-bent on keeping drones out of their local airspace (which also happens to be the FAA’s jurisdiction, not theirs.).  So I wanted to put it out there just how ineffective the average drone is for spying on someone.

There’s a great video (there’s probably a lot more than one) on YouTube that quite effectively explains just how bad even a several thousand dollar drone (a DJI Inspire 1) is for spying in someone’s window.   As I’ve explained to absolutely everyone who’s ever asked me about the matter, a camera with a big zoom capability is a way better tool for spying on someone.  Here’s why; all of the drones that most consumers and your average Joe are going to own have really wide angle lenses – think GoPro levels of zoom.  What this means is that you’re going to have to fly your drone really close to your target to be able to see anything.  Since drones make noise, and usually come with a number of bight LED lights on them, it’s going to be pretty obvious that someone is flying a drone outside your window.

On the other hand, walk into your local electronics store or hop on Amazon.com and search for ‘super zoom cameras.’  There a number of several-hundred dollar cameras that have over an 80x zoom or a 2,400mm lens.  The Inpsire 1 has a 20mm equivalent lens.   Now check out this video of a several hundred dollar Nikon super zoom camera:

Fun fact; the moon is ~250,000 miles from the earth.  Get the idea?

Now, check out the video of an inspire 1 vs. a 400mm lens on a Canon SLR:

It’s really a bummer that so many folks are afraid of what they don’t understand.  I’d like to think that all elected officials are ‘rational and reasonable’ people, but that’s clearly not the case here.  If you’re new to drones and you happen to see one flying, go talk to the operator.  Chances are if you’re cool to them, they’ll be cool to you and more than happy to show you what they’re doing.  Drones are a really powerful technology, but it’s important to understand that every technology has its limitations.  In this case, it’s the advances in small point-and-shoot cameras that would give me more concern than some bad guy using a drone to spy on me.  You’re much more clandestine when you’re far away from your target, not making any noise, and you’re not covered in blinking lights.  So, I’d be more concerned about the car across the street than the consumer drone flying in the park.