What Can Drones See at Night?

David Lemay21 Oct 2022

Many people have voiced concerns about invasions of privacy since drones have become popular and commercially available.

And as the prices of drones continue to drop, privacy concerns continue to grow. With some drones having built-in high-quality cameras that could record even in the dark, it's pretty understandable why so many are worried.

A high-quality digital camera means someone could take close-up images of your yard or house from afar. Because of this, drones pose a serious threat to individuals' privacy and the security of businesses. Because drones could be used for spying, learning more about them is important. Your privacy can only be protected in this way.

Can Drones See in the Dark?

Drones need to keep track of their location and position in space if they are to fly safely. Commercial drones get around this issue by using GPS, however, this is spotty and only works best out in the open.

Moreover, traditional cameras installed on drones are only effective when there is a lot of light, and the drone's speed needs to be controlled so that the final image is not shaky and therefore unusable by computer vision algorithms. Professional drones combat this issue with the help of costly and clunky sensors like laser scanners.

But the question remains, can all drones, in general, see in the dark and capture clear photos?

Even in low-light settings, most consumer-level drones can see adequately.  This essentially implies that most drones have a decent vision and can capture readable images just with enough ambient light.

How Well Can Drones See at Night?

Most consumer-grade camera drones with a middle-ground price point can "see" reasonably well at night or in dim lighting. What this means is that they are capable of capturing images with sufficient ambient light for further processing into usable forms.

A normal camera drone however will not be able to capture as much detail at nighttime or in low-light circumstances as it would during the day, and the image will likely be grainy as a result of there not being enough light.

For drones to see well at night, they need to have a special type of camera that is either built-in to the drone itself, or an accessory feature that can be added.

How Far Can Drones See at Night?

A top-level drone camera can detect an object to up to 165 feet distance at night before the image starts to fade away. Drone camera range is affected by many factors, including topography, proximity to barriers, camera quality, and weather conditions.

The question of how far a drone sees at night is a bit tricky since there is no simple answer. This is because there are a number of factors that affect how far a drone camera can actually see. Some examples of such elements are:

Topography and Barriers

Since a drone can't see through solid objects, a drone's camera probably won't be able to see very far if you're in an area with a lot of structures or terrains.

Camera Quality

Due to their higher resolution, some drone cameras can capture more of their surroundings than others.

Flying Conditions The range a drone camera can capture is also affected by the air conditions under which it is flying. A drone camera's picture quality and range will suffer in bad weather, but it will be able to capture clean shots from much further away on a day with no rainfall or turbulence.


Exposure Drone cameras have zero night vision but can see a little further in bright light. Because of this, a drone camera has better visibility during the day compared to at night.

At night or under low light conditions, a basic drone can detect objects up to 165 feet (50 meters) away. At greater distances than this, the drone camera will only capture indistinguishable blurred figures. Unless your drone's camera has night vision capabilities, it won't be able to see clearly in the dark.

There are more costly drones available with superior optics and zoom capabilities, but they cost big bucks to get clear images from further than 165 feet away in the dark.

Do Drones Have Night Vision?

Night vision for drones is a complicated term since it refers to three separate technologies. But they all have one goal which is to let drones capture images in the dark or at night.

Low Light Camera

In order to capture an image with the highest possible quality in low-light conditions, the cameras on many high-end drones will use a big lens and a large CMOS chip. Controlling the ISO and shutter speed, among other factors, allows the camera to capture the most light possible in its natural environment. Nighttime shooting and videography with a quality 4K camera on your drone is possible without additional lighting or equipment in most mid to low-light situations.

Infrared Camera

An infrared camera often has an infrared LED nearby that generates infrared light for the camera to detect. Images obtained with an infrared camera are typically grayscale. A standard consumer drone is unlikely to include an infrared camera for a full night vision experience. There are, however, some drones that do include infrared cameras.

Thermal Camera

A thermal camera stands apart from other types of cameras because it does not use visible light to create an image but instead uses the infrared radiation emitted by various objects to do so. Some drones have both thermal and standard cameras built in, while others include an adjustable payload system that lets you easily attach a thermal camera.

Which Drones Have Night Vision?

Enterprise-level applications including rescue operations, power line inspections, wildlife monitoring, and hunting make extensive use of drones equipped with night vision and infrared cameras.

Here are some of the best drones with night vision:

Autel Evo II Dual

This is a powerful and portable thermal drone. It features a thermal camera and an extremely powerful 8K visible camera. Both sensors come in a compact, detachable gimbal system for steady imaging.

DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual

The Mavic 2 was an anticipated upgrade on the original Mavic drone. Due to its superior sensors and flight time, it is now among the best drones on the market. Its 1-inch sensor allows for improved light sensitivity and color accuracy.

Walkera F210 Professional Deluxe Racer Quadcopter

This drone features a high-definition night-vision camera with a tiltable lens that can send live video to the headset in real-time. The camera's 1,000,000 pixels come from a high vision lands and high-performance sensor, and it can capture images from an angle of 120 degrees.

To conclude, because drones can see at varying distances and under lighting conditions, what a drone can see at night really depends on the capabilities of the drone's camera.

David Lemay

David Lemay

I'm David Lemay, a lover of tech and have had an interest in drones for years. Bought my first few drones, before I started building my own. I want to share my passion with others, so I started this site to help others who want to get into the hobby.

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