Can I use my phone camera in a drone? Start taking aerial images

Short answer; yes, you can use a phone camera in a drone. But not as a camera device, at least not yet. Smartphones are used as a mirroring device while your drone is in the air taking the actual pictures and videos. You will need a third-party app to connect the drone to your mobile phone.

Read the paragraphs below to learn about using your phone while taking images with a drone and discover which manufacturer has a patent on a smartphone with a flying drone camera system. Are you ready to take your smartphone photography to the next level? 

In this blog on drone photography:

  • What is drone photography?
  • Do drones come with cameras?
  • Which smartphone is best for drone photography?
  • How can I connect a drone camera to my mobile phone?
  • What is the best drone app?
  • Which drone is best for photography?
  • What is a drone phone? Is Vivo launching a drone camera phone?

This post may contain affiliate links, purchases made through affiliate links may provide a commission for smartphone photography at no extra cost. Of course, all opinions remain our own.

Gear I used for writing this blog

  • Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, available from Amazon
  • Huawei Honor 10, no longer available
  • Microfiber cloths, available from Amazon
  • DJI Air 2S , available from Amazon and Moment Shop
DJI Mavic 3 drone with two cameras

What is drone photography?

Drone photography is the art of taking images and videos by a remotely operated aerial device called a drone, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or unmanned aerial systems (UAS).  Drone manufacturers have made unbelievable progress in the last decade. Nowadays, these unmanned aerial devices are used for many different purposes. 

What is the main purpose of a drone?

There are many situations in which drones can support humankind. 

  1. Security
  2. Assistance
  3. Defense
  4. Inspection
  5. Transportation
  6. Science
  7. Entertainment
  8. Marketing
  9. Photographers

Although all nine of these drone purposes speak for themselves, I would like to delve deeper into some essential situations.

Using drones for security reasons

Drones can be used for enforcement, detection, crowd control, and overview. Police enforcement can use these devices to track criminals, control crowds during protests, or reconstruct evidence. Using drones for security reasons is called situational awareness. By creating this overview, law enforcement officers are better able to intervene. 

Drones can assist rescuers during various occasions

Drones can fulfill an indispensable role during natural disasters, major accidents, and blood transport. For example, the fire brigade uses drones to fight forests and wildfires, and ambulance services can even use these flying devices to distribute blood and medical supplies to areas hard to reach. 

The army uses drones for surveillance and attacks

Officers initially used drones in the military, and their use is still increasing and evolving.  Yet, the types of defense drones are changing from rather large UAVs to smaller ones. In addition, many drones are used for surveillance and drone attacks.

Professional and amateur photographers are increasingly using drones

Some of the best pictures from last year were taken by a photographer using a drone. There is just something magical about aerial images of beaches, forests, and glaciers. It makes you want to go there and see these stunning places yourself. 

Drone image of bay
Drone image of a bay by Symeon Ekizoglou

Do drones come with cameras?

Many commercially available drones come with fixed cameras. The quality of drone cameras, however, does vary. Cheaper drones, below $100, usually do not have a camera, but the higher the price, the better chance and quality of the images and videos. Professional drone photographers use a high-end camera drone with interchangeable lenses

Because drone photography is becoming more important, manufacturers should upgrade the quality of the built-in cameras. DJI is one of the leading developers of consumer drones with devices ranging from $80 to $6500. You can find their entire product range on Amazon, including the new DJI Mavic 3 range.

➽ If you like to give drone photography a try, the DJI Mini 2 met 4K video en 12 MP camera is an excellent choice. The DJI Mini 2, including accessories, is available from Amazon for under $500. In addition, most newer iOS and Android phones are compatible with this DJI drones. 

Which smartphone is best for drone photography?

Suppose we keep the quality and product range of DJI manufacturers in mind. In that case, most of the newer smartphones from Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, Google, Oppo, OnePlus, and LG are compatible with devices like the DJI Mavic 3, DJI Air 2S, DJI Mini 2, etcetera. But even the older iPhone 6 will work with most of these devices. Make sure that you check the description of the drone you want to buy for compatibility. 

The best phone for drone photography is an extremely low screen reflectivity that helps to reduce or prevent glare. In addition, the maximum screen brightness and top-notch processors for handling the heavy streaming load are undeniably important. Finally, make sure you choose a phone with a refresh rate of 90Hz or higher.  

It automatically means that high-end devices like iPhone 12 series, iPhone 13 range, Samsung Galaxy S20 devices, and Samsung Galaxy S21 phones will work like a charm combined with one of the DJI drones. 

I have put together a table with the maximum screen brightness and contrast of 10 of the best smartphones to use with a drone in 2022. 

Maximum brightnessContrastColor temperatureDelta E RGBCMYDelta E Grayscale
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max1051Excellent6445(excellent)1.02(excellent)1.56(excellent)
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra889Excellent6834(excellent)2.36(good)6.44(average)
Apple iPhone 13849Excellent6586(excellent)1.31(excellent)1.35(excellent)
Samsung Galaxy S21+835Excellent6904(excellent)2.68(good)6.11(average)
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max832Excellent6733(excellent)2.25(good)6.77(average)
OnePlus Nord784Excellent7341(good)1.95(excellent)5.37(average)
Google Pixel 6 Pro777Excellent6608(excellent)0.66(excellent)1.81(excellent)
OnePlus 9 Pro764Excellent6835(excellent)2.12(good)6(average)
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE742Excellent6912(excellent)2.79(good)5.71(average)
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra706Excellent6849(excellent)3.08(good)6.84(average)
Buy one of these top-range phones on Amazon

These numbers indicate that the iPhone 13 series has the best screen for drone photography. You can find the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max on Amazon

Use Smartphone with Drone

How can I connect a drone camera to my mobile phone?

There are 8 steps to connect a drone camera to your mobile phone and get it ready to start recording:

  1. Charge your new drone normally just 50% charged when you unbox it;
  2. Download the mobile application for your drone. It varies within brands and models. Check the owners manual of your device to see which third-party app works with your smartphone. 
  3. Turn on your drone (it will boot up) and the remote control;
  4. Connect you smartphone to the drone with the usb type c, micro usb cable, or a Apple lightning cable;
  5. Open the drone application and check connectivity;
  6. Complete firmware updates for the drone and the mobile app,  if available;
  7. Adjust flying settings like maximum distance between drone and controller (with phone) and maximum height. Check what the maximum height is you are allowed to fly in your country. 
  8. Adjust camera settings like ISO, shutterspeed, exposure value, and white balance (or use manual mode if you are new to using a drone);

So now you are prepared to start taking aerial images!

DJI Drone App

What is the best drone app?

Although the quality of the drone application matters for aerial photographers, manufacturers will deliver a matching app with the brand they put on the market. So the quality depends on the brand and model of your drone. 

Here are the most commonly used drone apps:

DJI drone mobile apps

  • DJI Fly for Mavic Mini, Mavic Air 2, DJI Mini 2, DJI FPV, DJI Air 2S, DJI Mini SE (iOS & Android);
  • DJI GO 4 for het Mavic series, Spark, Phantom 4 and more (iOS & Android);
  • DJI GO for Phantom 3 series, Matrice series, OSMO series and more (iOS & Android);
  • DJI Ronin for filming with DJI RS2, DJI RSC 2, Ronin-S and Ronin-SC (iOS & Android);
  • DJI Pilot for the latest DJI enterprise drones (iOS & Android);

I won’t mention other models because DJI has the best drones and applications on the market. However, if you are looking for a beginner drone, you could give the Holy Stone HS120D GPS Drone a try. 

Which drone is best for photography?

The best drone for photography comes with a price tag. But if you are looking for an impressive drone that can create stunning professional-looking images and videos, you can’t go wrong with the DJI Air 2S and the DJI Mavic 3 (ultimate choice). Both these drones have professional settings and specs you can choose from. 

DJI Air 2S

The DJI Air 2S is a small, light yet powerhouse drone for adventurous photographers. This device has advanced functions, a compact body, and weighs less than 600 grams—a great photograph drone for someone that likes to travel a lot. The DJI Air 2S can even take good quality low-light images thanks to a high dynamic range. You can shoot RAW photos and take advantage of intelligent HDR technology. The drone shoots 5.4K video at 30 frames per second (fps) or 4K at 60 fps and takes 20MP pictures. Due to the power of this drone, you are likely to register it and take flying lessons (depending on your country of residence).

DJI AIR 2S

You can find the DJI Air 2S on Amazon for a very reasonable price. In addition, they’ve put together a package deal called Fly More Combo with an extra battery pack to keep you going. 

➽ Also available from one of my favorite online stores, the Moment Shop.

DJI Mavic 3

The DJI Mavic 3 is one of the most powerful folding drones. It weighs just under 900 grams and measures 348x283x108 mm. Photographers will be delighted with the dual-camera setup of 20MP (wide) and 12MP (zoom) lenses. In addition, the DJI Mavic 3 comes with a 4/3 CMOS-sensor with a dynamic range of 12.8 stops which captures more high lights and shadows and shoots effectively in low-light situations.

DJI Mavic 3 drone

You can find the DJI Mavic 3 in the DJI store on Amazon. It comes with a More Combo package full of indispensable accessories. 

➽ Also available from one of my favorite online stores, the Moment Shop 

What is a drone phone? Is Vivo really launching a drone camera phone?

You could say that a drone phone is a smartphone equipped with drone propellors to create aerial images without an actual drone. Earlier this year, Chinese manufacturer Vivo has patented a mobile device with a cavity large enough to fit a miniature drone with four propellers. We might be able to fly our smartphones to great heights in the future. 

Vivo Phone Drone Concept
Vivo Phone Drone Concept by Yanko Design

For now, Vivo calls it a ‘device shell with flight camera.’ The patented smartphone camera has at least two cameras and an optional room for a third and fourth. We will have to wait and see what they come up with in the future. Likely, Vivo won’t market with this potential device because just a tiny portion of patented ideas go to market. You can find the patent documents on patent scope.wipo.int.

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