Which is Better – Airplane or Drone Field Imagery?

If you are looking to obtain imagery of your field, you have several choices. Two of those are airplane and drone. In this article we compare imagery from an airplane and drone and talk about the pluses and minus of each system.

When we fly a drone over a field to generate a whole field map, we generally fly at 400′ (the max allowed by current regulations). This allows us to maximize our flight efficiency. During this flight, thousands of images are collected over the field and then “stitched” into a composite using computer software.

Airplanes, on the other hand, typically capture the entire field in one image. This saves time in collecting and processing imagery.

So what kind of image quality do we get from a drone and an airplane when mapping an entire field?

The following example shows a 90 acre corn field from both airplane and drone imagery. There is not a huge difference in image quality when looking at the whole field.


The biggest difference in image quality is seen when we zoom in…


For the drone imagery on the right we can clearly see individual rows and even individual corn plants – a lot more detail!

So which imagery option is right for you?

It depends on…

  • How specific your time frame for collecting imagery is. 

If you want imagery to assess a specific crop condition at a given point in time, it is best to purchase on-demand imagery (imagery flown on a specific date or window of time that you specify). Both airplane imagery and drone imagery can be ordered on-demand, however airplane imagery that is ordered on-demand is generally more costly.

  • How many images you want to collect over a growing season.

Some airplane services offer routine flights rather than on-demand and can be more cost effective, however imagery may not be obtained at critical times when you need it. The benefit is having numerous flights over your field to compare over time. If you want a lot of images during the season, this can be a good option. On the other hand, scheduling drone flights at a few key times can ensure your imagery captures the growth stages you are interested in.

  • The level of detail you need or want.

Drone imagery generally produces higher quality and resolution of imagery, allowing you to see more detail as shown in the example images. Detailed drone imagery can help identify problems in the field by directing crop scouting efforts to areas which need attention. Interested in how drone imagery can be used early in the growing season?

Read What Can Early Season Drone Imagery Really Tell Us?

Are you interested in using drone imagery to get a detailed view of your field? We would love the opportunity to visit with you!

We are a local small business serving southeast Nebraska, northeast Kansas, and northwest Missouri. We have numerous years of boots-on-the-ground agronomy experience. Our goal is to help you get information that can help you make more informed decisions to increase your yields and profitability.

If you would like to visit about using drone imagery this season, drop Laura and Nate an email at laurajoy08@gmail.com or call/text at 402-245-0199 or 402-440-4127. Leave a message if we don’t answer!

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