Drone aerial photography is, wait for it, taking off.
Whether you’re using them for recreation, to build an aerial service business, or to integrate UAS into your existing business or organization, the goal of this article is to explore ten of the best RC drones with a camera on the market today.
There are a lot of good remote control drones to buy out there, so its important to think about what kind of sUAS best fits your intended operation, and then to perform proper research on the best options. This article is an attempt to help you learn the bullet points of each of the most popular camera drones on the market today.
From pricing and different camera specs and handling/responsiveness to flight software and battery life, it’s important to do your research and to make sure you’re buying a drone that’s suited to your needs.
All of the models in this list are ready-to-fly. After charging your LiPo battery and reading through your user manual a few times, you’re ready to power up, calibrate, configure, and then to start racking up those flight hours.
For a quick look at all the models we’ll be discussing in more detail below, here’s the full list:
Yes, a top-10 list of the best camera drones is quite arbitrary. There are many, many companies and models that are not being represented in this article. We know that. But we also have a good feel for the big prosumer / commercial drone manufacturers, we’ve flown most of these models ourselves, and we’re doing our best to curate and to highlight the most popular models in this list. Click here for a much bigger list of drone companies to check out in the industry.
The DJI Mavic is a game-changer for aerial photographers and filmmakers.
Launched in the fall of 2016 and marketed as a professional (and portable) aerial media system, it’s small size actually hides a pretty high degree of complexity and sophistication.
Based on discussions with our community members and initial market reactions in Facebook groups, forums, and YouTube videos, I think this will be one of DJI’s (and the greater drone industry’s) most popular models within the next 3-6 months.
The DJI Mavic also boasts obstacle avoidance, sensor redundancy, and runs vision positioning paired with GPS and GLONASS to ensure precise positioning during both indoor AND outdoor flights.
The DJI Mavic is great for traveling, for a serious hobbyists, or for someone just getting into the commercial side of the industry. With DJI, you’re getting access to a huge ecosystem of commercial activity, apps, accessories, and more.
The Spark is a selfie drone that takes off from the operator’s hand and automatically enters “Gesture Mode”, which lets users send it into the air and shoot a video with pre-defined flight paths, like circling, following, or filming from straight up.
With it’s gesture recognition and obstacle avoidance technology, it’s not an exaggeration to say that DJI’s Spark is probably the most user-friendly drone on the market.
If you want to fly longer distances with the Spark you have the option of using a smartphone app for flights over 100 yards away, or you can use a remote control (the Spark can fly a distance of 1.2 miles). The Intelligent Flight Modes available with more professional DJI drones—such as TapFly and ActiveTrack—can also be found on the Spark.
The Spark comes with DJI’s new QuickShot mode, which automatically creates a 10-second video from the footage captured in your flight.
QuickShot allows you to avoid all the work needed to take raw footage and create a final video. Instead of taking your footage, uploading it, editing it, and then downloading it, QuickShot simply creates a video for you using your best shots.
The DJI Inspire 1 is bigger and offers full 360° camera rotation, giving you an unrestricted view of the world below. It’s 3-axis gimbal and camera system can easily be removed from the aircraft for safe transport and future upgrades.
And because DJI offers different camera systems (like the Zenmuse X3, Zenmuse X5, Zenmuse X5R, Zenmuse XT, etc.), the DJI Inspire 1 is flexible and the kind of model you can grow with over time.
Ever heard of dual-operator mode? The DJI Inspire 1 lets one person fly, and another person control the camera. I’ll tell you this. Once you fly dual-operator mode, it’s hard to go back to flying solo. Operating sUAS with a talented crew member is really fun.
If you’re looking for a bigger bird with payload flexibility, 360° camera rotation, and dual-operator mode, the DJI Inspire 1 is a great fit.
The DJI Phantom 4 launched in March 2016. The big improvements from the Phantom 3 series? Better battery life, obstacle avoidance, and a newly designed camera lens.
And a newly designed lens offers crisper, cleaner video.
Improvements to the Vision Positioning System (VPS) and front-mounted obstacle sensors help provide greater security and confidence when flying indoors or with lots of obstacles around.
The DJI Inspire 2 launched November 2016 and will start shipping January 2017. This newest model is tougher and more powerful than the DJI Inspire 1.
One of the first upgrades you’ll notices it that the Inspire 2 has TWO DIFFERENT CAMERAS. One slung underneath the aircraft offering full 360° camera rotation, and the other mounted on the front of the aircraft for better first-person-view (FPV) opportunities.
So using the Inspire 2’s dual operator mode, one Remote Pilot-in-Command could be looking through one camera, likely the front-mounted one, while a photographer or videographer controls the bottom-mounted camera system.
The model’s new image processing system, CineCore 2.0, can capture 5.2K video at a whopping 4.2Gbps bitrate. To handle all that data, the Inspire 2 has added an onboard SSD.
You can buy the DJI Inspire 2 with the new Zenmuse X4S or X5S camera. The X5S boasts a micro 4/3 sensor and supports 10 different lenses, including zooms.
For aerial photographers, there is a DNG RAW mode that captures 30-megapixel still images.
DJI is a drone manufacturing juggernaut.
Their DJI Phantom 3 series arguably represents the best selling drone models of 2015 and 2016, and one of the best drones with a camera. Within the series, there are four different models: Standard, 4K, Advanced and Professional.
The DJI Phantom 3 Professional is the most sophisticated option in the series, and as the name suggests, was designed for professional pilots.
It offers 4K video, 23 minutes of flight time, and a whopping 5km control distance.
The quadcopter also comes with five advanced flight modes:
These autonomous modes free you up to focus on camera control and getting the right shot. This makes the DJI Phantom 3 Professional a smart choice for pro pilots.
If you’re on a budget and/or able to sacrifice some of the bells and whistles of the newer systems, the Phantom 3 series offers more affordable pricing but units that still pack a lot of punch.
If you haven’t heard of Yuneec, you’re missing out on some high-quality aerial camera platforms that may very well be the perfect fit for your recreational (or business) needs.
The Typhoon H is equipped with six rotors, a 360-degree gimbal camera and retractable landing gear with Yuneec’s standard of being ready out of the box, easy and safe to fly, with stunning Ultra HD 4K video and stills.
The Typhoon H is controlled with the Android-based ST16 controller, which has a large 7-inch integrated display and HD 720p first-person-view (FPV) downlink for stunning real-time video reception.
I’ve had a lot of fun testing the Yuneec Typhoon H in the fall and winter of 2016. My full review is still being written up, but here’s a fun shot of a sunset orbit selfie I recorded with my father-in-law.
A pioneer in electric aviation, Yuneec has been around since 1999 and holds hundreds of patents. These days, they’re manufacturing more than one million units per year.
Their Typhoon Q500 4K model comes packaged in it’s own rugged transport case, made of strong and lightweight aluminum, with a high density foam core for travel.
When I think about the Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K, I liken it to thePhantom 3 Professional in the sense that because it’s an older model, you’re getting a more affordable price, but still a very powerful system that certified drone pilots are using to take professional photos and videos.
The Yuneec Breeze, the ultimate flying camera, is controlled via mobile device, has five easy-to-use flights modes and is able to seamlessly share to social media channels.
This is Yuneec’s smallest (and quite sophisticated) model, and I had a lot of fun flying it with my father-in-law down in Atlanta. We spent a lot of time playing around with the Orbit mode, and overall just being pretty impressed with the flight software and handling, particularly for a model that’s being positioned as a beginner camera drone. THE LANDING IS SO SMOOTH.
We set out to create the ultimate, user-friendly flying camera which allows people to take their photos to new heights. The Breeze includes the Ultra HD and flight mode capabilities of our top end drones, and because of its size and ease of use, the Breeze seamlessly integrates into just about any activity, whether it’s a first time outdoor adventure or yearly gathering with friends and family.
– Tian Yu, CEO of Yuneec International
If you’re looking for a good beginner drone with GREAT specs, the Yuneec Breeze won’t break the bank and is a great way to capture high-quality aerial photos.
In 2014 and 2015, the Parrot AR Drone line was one of the most prolific RC drones on the market. Using their FreeFlight app, you can choose to pilot this camera drone entirely using your smartphone or tablet, or you can fly it with a traditional dual-joystick controller or first person view system.
720p HD video can be streamed directly to your smartphone. And while you’ve got the app open, you’ll be able to read things like your altitude, speed, and battery level.
The Parrot AR Drone 2.0 sits somewhere between a more traditional training quadcopter and an introductory professional system. We chose it for this list because: 1) it’s reasonably priced for a beginner pilot; 2) Parrot is a reputable, French-based company that’s been one of the larger global RC manufacturers; and 3) we like the foam frame!
Flying a drone may be ridiculously fun, but it’s not as easy as it looks.
I often suggest to newer pilots looking to gain confidence in foundational multirotor proficiency to log practice hours on a less expensive sUAS before buying a professional / more advanced model.
Enter the UDI 818A, one of my favorite aerial photography and videography training quadcopters.
The UDI 818A boasts altitude-hold and a first-person-view (FPV) screen, so you can see exactly what the HD camera of your drone sees…in real time.
Great practice for those of you looking to get into FPV racing, or interested in exploring different aerial photography techniques.
If you’re looking for an affordable (yet surprisingly durable) model, the UDI 818A is one of my favorite training drones with a camera. It’s a great gift for the hobbyist drone pilot looking to take some 2MP pictures from the sky, or the budding commercial drone operator who’s looking to master multirotor proficiency on a more forgiving system.
When it comes to camera drones, there are a LOT of choices.
While the above list represents the most popular camera drones at this given time, when it comes to drones with a camera, there are a LOT of choices you have.
Hopefully after reading this article you have found one that fits your goals, skill set, and budget.
If you’d like to take your skills further, check out our premium aerial post-production training course.
Blue skies and safe flying out there!
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