WHICH DRONE IS BEST?
Fitting a high-definition camera to a drone means you can capture amazing images for personal or commercial use. There are lots of photography drones on the market, but with a range of technical specifications and prices it’s difficult to know which is best.
We’ve put together a concise buying guide to help you find the right model for your video and photography needs. We’ve also made several recommendations at the end to help you get started on your search. Our top pick is the DJI Mavic Pro Platinum, which combines excellent flight characteristics with advanced image technology to deliver professional-quality video and stills.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU BUY A DRONE
Resolution and fps
Many drones now have a camera attached — but that doesn’t make them great photography drones. It’s important to consider the kind of images you want to take and their intended use. A 1080p camera is called High Definition (HD) — and might be fine for survey work or family outings — but 4K captures around four times as much detail and is the standard required by pros. You also need to look at the number of frames per second (fps) — because that’s going to affect how smooth the video is, particularly if the drone is moving. A reasonable minimum is 24 fps. A 60 fps camera will produce high-quality video, but some photography drones will take 120 fps videos.
If you want to take high-quality stills, you need to look at megapixels (MP). While sensor size plays its part, it’s really a question of the more pixels the better — anywhere from 1MP to 32MP is common.
Another aspect of photography drones you’ll need to consider is memory size. High-resolution images take a lot of disk space. Your drone may come with an SD card — typically 16GB — but you’ll probably find yourself needing more.
Cameras can be either fixed or mounted on a gimbal that can be set at different angles. Zoom is not usually available on budget drones.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A QUALITY DRONE
Drones have fairly limited batteries, and most photography drones can run for 15 to 30 minutes. This means you should plan out your shots ahead of time so that you don’t waste any time and can capture as much footage as possible.
Controls and display
Some photography drones come with a controller that can mount your phone or features a built-in display, while others are controlled with a smartphone app. In most cases, photography drones can stream video directly to your phone so you can see exactly what you’re capturing. Drones without this feature do not work well as photography drones.
Learning to fly
Photography drones take a while to master — and the last thing you want is a serious crash with your expensive investment. There’s no substitute for practice, but most have built-in safety features so they’ll return to base and land themselves if the battery is getting low, or they can sense they’re getting out of control range. Some have auto hover, advanced models also have collision avoidance.
HOW MUCH YOU CAN EXPECT TO SPEND ON A DRONE
You’ll need to spend around $200 for even the cheapest photography drone, and camera quality is modest in entry-level models. Semi-pro equipment costs around $500 and makes for decent photos and videos, but the best models cost $1,000 or more. That’s quite an investment, but you will be buying a machine with extraordinary capabilities.
Can I just buy a cheap drone and attach my own camera?
A. It may be possible — some drones have the ability to attach a separate camera (usually action cams). However, without testing a drone yourself, there’s no way to know how the weight of your camera will affect flight characteristics, duration, or image stability.
Are there any regulations associated with photography drones?
A. It depends on the weight of the drone and whether you intend to use images for commercial purposes. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets the rules, and they do change from time to time. Check faa.gov for up-to-date info.
WHAT ARE THE BEST DRONES TO BUY?
DJI’s Mavic Pro Platinum Fly More Combo
Our take: This is the ultimate drone bundle for photographers who demand the best.
What we like: It is highly rated by enthusiasts and pros. It offers multiple camera resolutions up to 4K and a great set of flight features. It’s a comprehensive kit with spare batteries, all in a nice shoulder bag.
What you should consider: A few owners had problems, but nothing that crops up often.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
Top drone for the money
Our take: This is a good choice for those who want an introduction to drone photography at a modest cost.
What we like: It is easy to fly. Plenty of features to let you explore the potential of airborne images. It offers “follow me” selfie mode and trace GPS path. It offers great fun and good value if you accept the camera limitations.
What you should consider: Phone pairing can be problematic. The return home function has failed on some.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
Worth checking out
Autel Robotics’ EVO 2 8K Rugged Bundle
Our take: This is a high-specification model with a super-protective case to take your photography just about anywhere.
What we like: It takes 8K HDR video, plus 48MP stills. It has a 3-axis gimbal for image stability. The controller has a built-in OLED screen. It offers a flight time of 40 minutes. The GPS allows hands-free hover and return to base.
What you should consider: The app doesn’t work properly on tablets and there are occasional issues with automated flight features.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
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Bob Beacham writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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