What are the best camera drones I can buy right now?
Update, April 2017: Added the DJI Mavic Pro to the list, but the DJI Inspire 1 is still tops!
Whether you’re an independent filmmaker looking to step up your game with drone videography, or simply a hobbyist looking to record stunning video to share with friends and family, you’ll want to invest in a top-of-the-line camera drone.
This probably isn’t a list for someone buying their first drone, however we will note which options are most beginner friendly. Considering how expensive high-end drones are, you’ll want to be sure of your competency as a pilot before you get behind the controller. Our list of best drones under $300 might be a better starting point if you’ve never flown a drone before in your life.
DJI Phantom Inspire 1
If you’re looking for the best camera drone, then look no further than the DJI Phantom Inspire 1.
Featuring 4K video capabilities up to 30FPS, 1080p video up to 60FPS, and 12 megapixel photos from the gimbal-mounted camera, the Inspire 1 is fully capable of shooting the professional aerial footage you’ve dreamt about.
The drone itself is also a marvel of technology, featuring aerodynamic transforming design that allows the carbon-fiber arms to move out of the way of the camera at the flip of a switch while in flight. It’s one of the smartest drones you can buy, as DJI has included revolutionary technology, including intelligent battery power management that always lets you know how much battery power remains, and will ensure your drone never dies on you before returning home. Max flight time is around 18 minutes, and if the battery starts running low or your handset loses connection with the drone, sophisticated onboard GPS-positioning algorithms will flip into auto-pilot mode and have the drone fly back to its launch point.
That’s not all, as the Inspire 1 also features a Vision Positioning system, that uses both the camera and sonar sensors to detect where it is when hovering, and will automatically raise or lower the legs if it’s taking off or landing.
The DJI Inspire 1 is an real investment at over $4000, but you’ll be getting everything you’ll need, including a second battery, two controllers, replacement props, a 64GB microSD card and a Pelican case for easy transport.
See at Amazon
DJI Mavic Pro
The Mavic Pro is the latest high-quality camera drone released by DJI, and it’s a very compelling option.
For starters, it’s extremely portable with arms that fold in to pack it down to the size of a bigger water bottle. The Mavic Pro offers up to 4.3 miles of transmission range and flight speeds of up to 40mph with average flight times of around 27 minutes. It’s also packed with the latest smart features including Activetrack which uses advanced image recognition algorithms to track a moving object with the camera without using GPS. TapFly lets you control your drone with simple taps on the touch screen. And it’s also loaded with advanced sensors for obstacle avoidance, flight safety, and reliability.
Considering all the smart design that went into this drone, along with its portability, the DJI Mavic Pro offers great value at under $2000 for a state of the art drone.
See at Amazon
Parrot is a reliable name in the drone game, and the Parrot Bebop is a great entry-level camera drone for anyone just getting into the hobby.
The body of the drone is built around the 14-megapixel fisheye camera — capturing 180-degree range of 1080p video at 30FPS, but without the horizon-distortion you’ll find with other wide-angle action cameras. There’s also smart built-in safety features to protect your drone, including emergency mode that will land the drone safely and props that will stop spinning instantly when a collision is detected to avoid damage.
You control the Parrot Bebop with the Freeflight 3 app, available for Android and iOS devices, which includes one-touch return home function: this flies the drone back to its take-off point, where it hovers six feet off the ground until recovered. If you’re a serious fan of Parrot drones, you might be interested in buying the Parrot Skycontroller, which increases the range of your Bebop drone and allows you to pull off advanced tricks and, most importantly, offers significantly improved controls over the touchscreen controls.
Set up an account on the Parrot Cloud to have your photos and videos backed up and shared with Parrot’s growing community of over 100,000 pilots. Ready to fly out of the box with beginner-friendly features, the Parrot Bebop should better fit your budget (at $399) while still providing stable, quality video, with a battery that allows for 22 minutes of flight time.
See at Best Buy
DJI Phantom 4
It should come as no surprise to see another DJI drone on this list. The DJI Phantom line has been a favorite amongst drone enthusiasts, and the Phantom 4 is as sleek and well-designed as consumer drones get.
Featuring much of the same technology found in the Inspire 1, the Phantom 4 comes with a gimbal-mounted 4K camera which shoots at 30FPS.
Enjoy stable, precision hovering thanks to the Vision Positioning System, so even when you let go of the joystick controls, the Phantom 4 will brake and hover in place — even if the wind picks up. Use the ActiveTrack mode to easily set your drone to follow and record a moving subject, while it avoids running into trees or other objects with it’s built-in Obstacle Sensing System.
And then there’s the overall look and design of this thing. It’s by far one of the sleekest all-in-one drones on the market and is sure to turn heads whenever you take it out flying. Available for $1400 with a package that includes a backpack carrying case, blade guards and a 64GB half the cost of the Inspire 1, it’s a little easier on the wallet.
See at Amazon
3DR Solo Smart Drone
If you’ve already invested in a GoPro camera that you’d prefer to use with your drone, the 3DR Solo Smart drone would make a fantastic vessel for shooting your aerial GoPro footage.
This all-in-one drone comes with a capable controller that features a mount for your smartphone, convenient camera controls on the shoulders, and both on-screen flight time display, as well as a vibrate function to let you know when the battery is low. On-board stabilization lets you focus on setting up your epic shots without having to worry about keeping the drone in the air.
If you buy the optional gimbal for your GoPro, you’ll be able to execute Smart Shots — pre-programmed movements such as Orbit, Follow and Cable cam which allow you to capture professional, cinematic shots.
The 3DR Solo also has important safety features, including a maximum altitude of 400 feet to keep it FAA compliant, as well as a “pause” button that instantly sets the drone to hover in one place if you feel like you’re losing control.
See at Amazon
Blade Chroma 4K/GoPro
The Blade Chroma 4K is another solid choice that comes in four options, but all of which are essentially ready to fly out of the box.
There’s two pricier versions that include a 4K camera, as well as a controller with a built-in screen for recording video and keeping track of important flight information such as altitude, speed, and remaining flight time. Upgrade to get an extra battery as well as a handy carrying case for your drone.
Then there’s the cheaper versions, which allow you to mount your own GoPro (Hero 4 is recommended), with an option for a 3-axis gimbal. These versions feature the same drone as the 4K camera version, except with a standard wireless transmitter, which means you’ll have to stream video from your GoPro to your smartphone.
No matter which drone you decide to go with, they all come with both Smart Mode for beginners still learning the basics and AP Mode for more advanced pilots who want maximum control over their drone. There are also amazing features like Follow Me Mode and Tracking Mode which allow you to set altitude and distance settings in advance and then focus on getting those epic shots.
It’s an amazing package for a reasonable price — just over $1400 — considering all the professional features that’s included.
Shop at Amazon
Yuneec Q500 4K Typhoon
The Yuneec Q500 4K Typhoon is a sharp-looking quadcopter that will take stunning video at a reasonable price (under $800 on Amazon).
It comes fully assembled out of the box — just attach the props and you’re good to go. The controller features an integrated touchscreen that lets you control video settings such as video resolution, white balance and light exposure on the fly (pun intended). The camera is mounted on a 3-axis precision gimbal and can record 4K video at 30fps, or 1080p slow-mo video at up to 120fps.
Design-wise, the Q500 Typhoon stands out with it’s industrial-style supports along the arms that stand out from the streamlined look of DJI drones. Yuneec also includes an aluminum carrying case for safe transport so you can take your Typhoon wherever you go. This kit also includes a really cool accessory, the Handheld SteadyGrip. Essentially a compact Steadicam rig you can hold and operate with one hand, simply attach the Q500 camera and you’re set to record smooth footage from the ground straight to your smartphone.
Shop at Amazon
Which drone do you love?
Do you have any experience with the drones we’ve mentioned here? Got a recommendation for one that we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below!