Hey Old People and Stay-At-Home Mums - We're Not Spying On You With Our Drones

Published: February 4, 2019
Drones are the jet-skis of the sky - objects of hatred - misunderstood by many and despised by legions more. In the space of a couple of years, they have gone from being the niche toys of hobbyists and real estate photographers to mass-market symbols of terror.  Thanks to recent incidents such as the phantom drone of Gatwick, they are on everyone's shit-list. I'm pretty sure that I'd get a better reception down the pub if I announced I had recently contracted ebola and not recently purchased a Mavic 2 Pro.

Of all the reasons that the general public hate drones, the one that keeps on coming up time and again is spying. There is a certain sector of society, primarily the older generation, who seem to think that every Spark, every Mavic, every Phantom, every Evo and every Karma (alright maybe not every Karma) is a spy in the sky. And if you are one of those fine upstanding members of society that thinks that every quadcopter they spot in the wild is spying on them - I have news for you - they are literally the least of your problems.

Pie in the Sky

So, leaving aside for a moment why anyone in the known universe would want to film packs of old ladies in activewear out on their morning whinge constitutional, let's consider what the drone can actually film. Now assuming that the drone pilot has managed to work out that the two pixels on the 5" smartphone screen (displaying their drone's live feed) is an actual live person, they would then have to fly to within about 10m of said person in question in order to get anything remotely wank-worthy.

The reason a drone would have to get so close is because their lenses are wide angle - they are designed to work best with fast movement and to capture as much of a scene as possible. The vast majority do not have zoom lenses and even those that do, such as the Mavic 2 Zoom, would be useless for spying because even with the improved focal range, they still have to get in close to capture anything resembling detail. Sure, you could buy a professional grade drone and stick a DSLR with a big old zoom on it, but nobody would go to those lengths because the drone would be extremely noisy and large and as visible as the Good Year fucking Blimp. So, given that a drone needs to get really close in order to capture anything close to resembling human features - they are singularly useless for spying because at that range they sound like a hornets nest on full alert.

So leaving aside the fact that the lens on 99% of drones is spectacularly ill-suited to creeping on people and the fact that they are about as stealthy as a pneumatic drill, there's the issue of battery life. If they want to get their drones home safely then most owners give their batteries a good degree of latitude when flying, which means that if they get 20 minutes of flight time from a battery they're doing well. That's not much time in the air to be roaming around the neighbourhood, making a racket, trying to find naked people. Then there's the lights. Now admittedly a pervert flying a drone at night would probably find a way of disabling or obscuring its lights, but if they didn't it'd be like having a Christmas tree hovering outside the bathroom window.

So, to recap - they're noisy as fuck, have limited battery life, are (usually) lit up like a Christmas tree and have lenses that are utterly ill-suited to photographing the intimate details of humans. The bottom line is this - commercial drones are about as well-suited to spying on people as a shopping trolley is to off-roading through the desert.

Reality Check

Let’s get real here. The kind of people that do spy on people in their backyards and at the beach do so with a traditional DSLR camera and a massive zoom lens. If you don’t believe me, have a look at Voyeurweb (the biggest voyeur site on the web) and tell me how many drone videos or photos you find. If you don’t want that site in your browser history then let me save you the trouble – you won’t find any – not a single one – because (and I’m not sure if I’ve made this clear enough yet!) – drones are shit at spying on people. 

It amazes me that the same people who worry about a drone spying on them, will cheerfully send nude pictures of themselves via unsecured messaging services, or will have zero concern for the security of that little webcam built into their laptop and which government agencies can tap into any time they damned well please, or will not even consider the idea that someone can buy a Nikon P900 zoom for under $600 and admire their camel-toe from miles away.

The sad situation is that the mainstream media have decided that drones are this decade's designated object of hatred and they have done a sterling job whipping up ill-feelings towards them, but the level of delusion from the average member of the public is really quite staggering.

So before you get on social media and hit up your local community Facebook group, complaining that a drone was spying on you – consider this. There are a hundred perfectly valid reasons why a drone might be flying around your neighbourhood and virtually no chance it is a pervert spying on you. In the vast majority of cases, a drone in the neighbourhood will be a real estate agent taking photographs of a property they’re selling. But it could equally be the powerline company employing a licenced drone pilot to inspect wires, or the police using a drone for surveillance purposes, or a farmer running a crop or cattle inspection, or a building company surveying a site. Just because you see a quadcopter up in the air, does not mean it is looking at you and, to be honest, the fact that you’d think you were being spied on says way more about you than it does about the dude controlling the drone. So calm the fuck down and direct your anger at your government and big businesses, who spy on every minute aspect of your life and couldn’t give two shits about your privacy.

For the last 16 years I’ve been photographing, blogging (and more recently vlogging) about everything I find, see and enjoy here in South Coast, New South Wales. This is my blogging site focused on my hobby (and part-time job) of photography. Please enjoy my little writing and my photography and I’d love to hear your feedback.
© 2021 Andy Hutchinson