June 8, 2024 ·

Swindy

A Personal Perspective

   As a professional photographer and videographer who has used DJI drones for almost ten years, I have relied heavily on DJI’s advanced technology to capture stunning aerial images and videos.

The proposed ban on DJI and Autel drones is troubling not just due to the practical limitations—since no other manufacturers match their imaging, flight capabilities, and competitive pricing—but also because it appears to be riding the wave of anti-China sentiment. DJI, in particular, has been a leader in innovation within the field, consistently pushing the boundaries of what drone technology can achieve.

Understanding the Legislation

The “Countering CCP Drones Act” (H.R. 2864), introduced by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, seeks to restrict DJI, a leading Chinese drone manufacturer, by adding them to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Covered List. This would prohibit DJI technologies from operating on U.S. communications infrastructure. The bill’s supporters claim that DJI drones pose a national security threat, alleging they could be used for espionage by the Chinese government (The Drone Girl)​​ (Congress.gov)​​ (DroneDJ)​.

Funding Behind the Legislation

  Recent discussions suggest that U.S.-based drone manufacturer Skydio has spent significant sums lobbying the U.S. government, likely supporting legislation that would restrict or ban DJI drones. Reports indicate that Skydio has invested over a million dollars in lobbying efforts since 2022, which could benefit their market position if DJI faces restrictions​ (Congress.gov)​. Skydio’s camera technology lags significantly behind DJI’s, particularly in terms of Hasselblad color accuracy and advanced flight technology.

Impacts on Photographers

For photographers, particularly those involved in aerial photography, the potential ban on DJI drones has several significant implications:

  1. Limited Choices: DJI dominates the consumer drone market with its innovative and competitively priced models. They make a good product. Alternatives are fewer, lagging in imaging and often more expensive, making it difficult for photographers to find suitable replacements​.
  2. Increased Costs: If the ban passes, the second-hand market for DJI drones could see a sharp rise in prices due to scarcity, and adopting alternative technologies will be costlier. This financial burden could impact photographers and businesses that rely on affordable, high-quality drones​
  3. Innovation Stagnation: DJI has been a key driver of innovation in the drone industry. Removing them from the market could slow technological advancements, limiting the tools available to photographers and other professionals​. Skydio does not even have a drone on B&H or Amazon listed for purchase.

What Happens to Existing DJI Drones?

The proposed legislation states that existing DJI drones already authorized by the FCC would be grandfathered in and allowed to continue operating. However, no new DJI products would be permitted to enter the U.S. market (at least not without significant tariffs), posing challenges for current operators needing to replace or upgrade their fleets. Additionally, the severity of the laws is not yet fully known, raising concerns about the potential inability to fly existing drones in the future. (Newsshooter)​​ (UAV Coach)​.

Should You Buy DJI Drones Now?

Given the current legislative climate, purchasing DJI drones now might be a strategic move to avoid future tariffs or restrictions.  It could also be a gamble.  Here’s why:

  1. Potential Price Increases: DJI makes qulaity photographic drones at a great price. If the legislation passes, prices for DJI drones could go up significantly rumurs suggest at least a 30% increase. Also, on the second-hand market prices are likely to rise due to increased demand and limited supply​.
  2. Advanced Features: DJI drones offer unmatched technology and innovation at competitive prices. Their obstacle avoidance compbined with the imaging advancements are amazing. Purchasing now ensures you benefit from these advanced capabilities​.
  3. Regulatory Uncertainty: Future regulations could make it harder to buy or import DJI drones. Buying now could circumvent these uncertainties, ensuring you have the equipment you need​(Congress.gov)​​ (Congresswoman Elise Stefanik)​.

Recommended DJI Drones to Buy Now

For photographers looking to invest before the potential ban or increased tariffs, consider these DJI models:

  • DJI Mavic 3 Pro: Known for its superior camera quality with a Hasselblad sensor, 5.1K video resolution, and excellent flight time, the Mavic 3 is ideal for professional and serious photographers.
  • DJI Air 2S: Offers a 1-inch sensor, 5.4K video, and compact design, making it perfect for both hobbyists and professionals.
  • DJI Mini 4 Pro: A more affordable option with impressive capabilities including 4K video, obstacle sensing, and a lightweight design that’s easy to travel with.
  • DJI Avata 2: For the ultimate flying fun, the Avata 2 FPV drone is a small drone designed to deliver immersive flight experiences. It features a 4K Ultra HD camera with a 1/2-inch CMOS sensor. Paired with DJI’s latest FPV goggles, it offers a seamless, low-latency live feed, making it ideal for capturing stunning aerial footage, perfect for video fly throughs (think real estate)

Alternative Drone Models Not Affected by the Ban

If you’re looking for alternatives not included in the ban, look at these models:

  • Skydio 2+: Known for its autonomous flying capabilities and obstacle avoidance, it’s a solid alternative for videography and action shots. Only 12mp. Have to contact company for pricing and ordering.
  • Autel Robotics EVO Lite+: Offers a 1-inch CMOS sensor, 6K video, and up to 40 minutes of flight time, providing a great balance between price and performance. BUT- also Chinese made- probably will be affected by legislation as well.
  • Parrot Anafi USA: Designed with enterprise users in mind, it includes features like 32x zoom, thermal imaging, and a 4K HDR camera, suitable for professional applications. The largest sensor is (1/2.4 CMOS) which is very small in comparison to comprable DJI models. Runs close to 7,000.00$.

Action Plan for Photographers

If you are so inclined (and in the U.S.), to protect your creative interests and ensure your voice is heard, consider:

  1. Contact Your Representatives: Reach out to your local representatives in Congress. Emphasize how the ban would impact your work as a photographer. Specific examples and personal stories can be very compelling. You can find and contact your representatives here.
  2. Support Advocacy Groups: Join and support organizations like the Drone Service Providers Alliance (DSPA) that advocate for drone users. These groups have more resources and a louder voice to lobby against such restrictive legislation​.

Immediate Action Needed

This legislation will affect both recreational and commercial pilots. The United States Congress is currently considering the Countering CCP Drones Act, or H.R. 2864, which would prevent new DJI products from coming to market in the United States and would potentially revoke FCC authorizations for existing drones. The U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee has included the Countering CCP Drones Act in their draft of the FY 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In addition, a Senate Committee will be considering their NDAA bill this week.

To protect our industry and ensure that drone users can select the best drones for the job, we need to be vocal in opposition. Please don’t delay, if you agree. We need to make our voices heard once more before the June 11th deadline!

Conclusion

The proposed ban on DJI drones presents significant challenges for photographers and videographers who rely on these tools for their work. By understanding the legislation, its implications, and actively participating in advocacy efforts, photographers can help shape a more balanced approach that considers both security and the practical needs of the creative community.

For further reading and detailed information, you can visit sources such as DroneDJ, UAV Coach, and Congress.gov.

Key Resources:

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Jon 'Swindy' Swindall, based in Atlanta, GA, is a seasoned photographer, cinematographer, and skilled drone pilot, known for his dynamic visual storytelling and passion for capturing the world's diverse beauty through his lens. Sr. Editor Click, connect, and create at Luminous Landscape.

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