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 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.
The DJI Mavic Pro is a game-changer for aerial photographers and filmmakers.
Originally marketed as a professional (and portable) aerial media system, it’s small size actually hides a pretty high degree of complexity and sophistication, and it’s priced in a range that makes it available for the novice aerial cinematographer.
The DJI Mavic Pro 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 latest update to the Mavic Pro is the Mavic Pro Platinum, which flies much more quietly than the Pro, and for much longer.
The Mavic Pro Platinum is 60% quieter than the Mavic Pro, and has 11% more battery life, bumping its average flight time up from 27 minutes to 30 minutes.
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 is one of the top drones on the market right now.
It’s the fastest Phantom so far, capable of reaching top speeds of 45 miles per hour. It also gets an excellent flight time of 28 minutes — great for pro pilots to get the shots they need and minimize downtime.
The Phantom 4 also has a built-in camera that can record video at 4K, 2.7K, 1080p and 720p. But one of it’s most notable features is the obstacle avoidance system. The drone can intelligently position and maneuver itself around obstacles mid-flight.
Couple all of this with a Tap to Fly system, DJI’s reliability, and robust software, and you’ve got a tough drone to beat.
These extra parts are available for the DJI Phantom 4:
DJI recently released the Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian, which comes with a magnesium shell and anti-fingerprint coating, not to mention the super cool-looking matte-grey obsidian coloring.
Check it out:
You can buy the Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian now on the DJI website.
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.
DJI recently released the ZenMuse X7 camera, a Super 35mm camera created for aerial cinematography, which is compatible with the Inspire 2.
Learn more on the DJI website, or by watching the video below.
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 H520 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 H520 was built for both industrial use and ambitious professionals. It comes with a long focal-length lenses that allows the drone to fly at a greater distance from an object and data storage that may be shared instantly from the ST16S Ground Station or delivered directly in 4K/2K/HD video or 20Mp still images.
The GoPro Karma Drone is a great mid-range camera drone to use for high quality action shots or simply recording important moments from your life.
You can buy the Karma bundled with GoPro’s Hero6 Black camera, or with earlier versions of the Hero camera line, which is a huge value add since you save money on a great 4K camera and you get a drone that will allow you to capture aerial shots.
At 20 minutes, the battery life on the Karma means you can get long flights in without having to switch out the battery.
Pro Tip: Buy an extra battery when you buy your Karma, so that you can have even more time in the air before having to pack it in and recharge.
The U49C Red Heron quadcopter looks sleek and is a great camera drone for the beginner drone pilot.
Force1 RC includes an extra battery in this model, which doubles your flight time and is great for folks logging those first few hours of flight.
The Red Heron also comes with spare motors, which is a great value add, especially for beginner drone pilots.
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!
The U45 Raven is another awesome Force1 drone, with a great value at $59.99.
This drone also comes with an HD camera for 720p high def aerial photos and videos with 2MP. It comes with headless mode, and you can fly it right out of the box without needing to adjust the drone’s position or orientation prior to flying.
Another features to note for the Raven is one touch take off and landing, which means the drone automatically hovers at a set altitude after take off and before landing, which makes it easy to control and maneuver, especially for beginners who are not yet skilled. It also has an altitude hold function, which makes it super easy for beginners to fly since this allows for stability in the air, and also comes in very handy when you’re taking photographs.
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 U818A, one of my favorite aerial photography and videography training quadcopters.
The UDI U818A 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.
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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