Zoom In or Out: Drones with Zoom Lenses


Drones have never been as inexpensive and capable as they are today and, because of this, we are starting to see some brand-new features pop up in the latest releases. Among these functions is the implementation of optical and digital zoom, which promises no loss of quality during use. This is a huge advance in tech for consumer aerial image acquisition, providing more options for photographers and videographers, and delivering a different perspective into their images.

Making the biggest splash in the past few months is the DJI Mavic 2, and we are going to focus on the Zoom specifically for this article, with its 24-48mm equivalent optical zoom lens. This is unheard of for a drone in this class. Previously, to get different focal lengths, you would need a high-end drone with modular camera systems. Now, all it takes is the the press of a button to control focal lengths. The most significant benefit is that your shots no longer have to look the same as everyone else’s, with a wide all-encompassing perspective. Commonly known as “lens compression,” being able to use a longer focal length can result in a more dramatic and “cinematic” look to your footage, with objects in the background now filling the frame and taking the parallax effect to another dimension.

DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

You may be familiar with how photographers will opt for a telephoto lens instead of a wide for shooting portraits. This is because the way they position themselves to use and frame the subject properly with a telephoto lens results in a perspective that is more flattering to the face. Being able to work from farther away while maintaining framing results in that “zoomed-in” look, where the background seems larger and can be less distracting. When trying to direct the viewer’s eye to a specific part of the scene or subject, this can be a great benefit.

An obvious advantage to a zoom lens is that it can sometimes be a lot safer to zoom in than to fly closer. It seems a common occurrence, for which drones make the news, is unsafe flying, so the ability to capture some subjects from a greater distance could be extremely helpful—and safer. Optical zoom is preferred because it results in no loss of image quality, and the full sensor area can be used for maximum effect; however, lossless digital zoom is a very viable technique these days. By using an image sensor with greater resolution than the final video, you can crop into the image while still capturing a complete Full HD or even 4K picture. The Parrot Anafi is one such drone, using lossless zoom to achieve a different perspective by cropping in on the 20MP sensor to create either an 8MP 4K video or 2MP Full HD clip.

Parrot Anafi 4K Portable Drone

One outstanding function being offered is something called the “dolly zoom.” If you have seen a lot of movies, you are very familiar with this effect. It occurs when the camera is moving toward or away from the subject while the camera lens is zoomed in or out, creating an odd, warping feeling where the perspective shifts but certain elements of the frame remain in position. You really have to see this effect to completely understand it, but it can add a lot to what would be a standard shot. The ability to vary shot types without needing to land or waste time switching out gear can dramatically improve productivity and efficiency on a shoot while simultaneously making your production feel more pro.

The addition of zoom functions to modern drones is a huge step toward bringing complete cinematic control to the average shooter. Are you excited to pick up a drone that offers some form of “dolly zoom” function? Or is this a feature you could care less about? Make sure to tell us your thoughts in the Comments section, below!