I like using new technology to make pictures. For a story I am working on for NGM I needed low level aerials of an archaeological site on South Africa's southern coast. The site gets decent light for about 3 minutes in the morning and is a long way from the nearest airport. It seemed like the perfect time to try a remote aerial vehicle.
Much like you don't want to fly your own helicopter to shoot photos, you don't want to operate your own drone either. Skylab Productions from Cape Town agreed to come out and try flying their octacopter out over the ocean if I was willing to risk my camera on the bottom of it.
A 5D MK III is a big camera to lift on an octacopter and you don't get a lot of flight time. We'd hoped to get 6 minutes on a set of batteries, but battling the wind like we were on the coast we got more like 5. That means there is no looking around for the picture like you usual do in aerial photos. There were some tense moments on the first flight fighting a headwind to get the aircraft back before the battery ran out.
It takes a lot of people to make run one of these remotes. There is a pilot who actually flies the aircraft, a pilot's assistant who keeps track of remaining battery power and wind speed, then there is a camera operator who controls where the camera points then the photographer who tells the pilot where the helicopter should be and the camera operator where the camera should look. It is a dance between 3 people and much more like film making than still photography.
Drone technology is still in its infancy and we had some problems. A software malfunction led to a hard landing that damaged one of my camera lenses. However, I have broken more cameras simply getting in and out of helicopters than anything else. The bottom line is that we got the camera where it needed to be when the light was right. I am not sure that I could have done that with a full sized helicopter.