While they may appear to be toys, a high-quality quadcopter is a serious investment that can easily add production value to a film project or give your trip vlog a new perspective on the globe. We’ve flown a lot of drones, and these were the best in our tests.
You have to admit that drones are cool, even if you have no compelling reason to buy one. Some are just glorified tech toys, but the versions we’ve chosen are suitable for a variety of imaging and cinematic applications. If you believe you might be able to use a flying camera in your next project, there’s good news: the technology has come a long way in a short period of time. In terms of video quality and steadiness, there are models on the market presently that put prior copters to shame.
Then there’s the bad news. You get what you pay for, and if you want an aerial video platform that can capture spectacular footage, be prepared to spend a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Drones are expensive, so doing your homework before purchasing one is a good idea.
Although a drone can be purchased for under $100, we believe it is worthwhile to invest a little more at first. The DJI Mini 2 is our top-rated beginning drone, costing $450.
The drones we review are all ready-to-fly versions, which means you can use them right away. To view the camera stream in real time, you’ll almost always need to bring your own Android or iOS device. If you don’t have a smartphone, the Autel EVO II series, which includes a built-in screen on the remote, is worth considering. We don’t cover racing, industrial, or agricultural aircraft; instead, we concentrate on imagery and video.
Drone Regulations by the FAA
The rules of the air differ by location; we’ve covered what you need to know about flying in the United States. However, if your drone weighs more than 8.8 ounces (250 grams), you’ll need to register it before flying it outside legally—even on your own land. You’ll also have to pass a basic knowledge test, which can be taken for free online and isn’t too difficult to ace.
There are drones on the market that do not require registration (but you still need to take the TRUST test). You don’t have to go through the process if your drone weighs less than 250 grams. The DJI Mini SE, Mavic Mini, and Mini 2, as well as the upcoming Autel Nano line, are all excluded. Obstacle avoidance (which is present in the Autel Nano) is absent from the DJIs, although GPS stabilization, automated return-to-home, and automatic takeoff and landing are all included. They’re drones that are completely safe to fly.
Almost all of the devices on this list have some level of safety. If your control signal is lost or the battery runs out (most drones can only fly for around 25 minutes on a single charge), the drone will begin to return to its takeoff point and land.
Flyaways still happen, and horror stories abound on numerous online discussion boards. Negative experiences are accentuated in this atmosphere, simply because routine flights that don’t end in a crash or a missing drone aren’t discussed. Some manufacturers provide extended warranties that will replace a lost aircraft, but before purchasing something like DJI Care Refresh, make sure to read the fine print—there are restrictions and expenses to consider.
Drones for Racing and Toys
There are several items on the market that are marketed as drones but do not meet the requirements. Remote-control planes have been around for a long time. Quadcopters that were previously offered as RC toys are now being referred to as drones due to their current popularity. GPS stabilization, return-to-home capabilities, and other automatic flight modes that make a drone a drone aren’t included in this list.
Which Drone Brands Are the Best?
There’s a reason why DJI models are now dominating our top picks. The company is simply a few steps ahead of its rivals at the moment, and it has a product catalog with models at various price points that fill a large portion of our top ten. It made a big statement with its legendary Phantom series, and its foldable Mini and Air lines are now the best tiny drones we’ve tested (formerly called Mavic).
The Best Drones for Small Spaces
For a long time, the DJI Phantom series was about as small as you could get if you wanted a full-featured drone with excellent safety measures and steadiness in the air. That isn’t the case now. Hikers and vacation photographers value a compact, lightweight kit, and they can now purchase a drone that fits into a bag.
Drones for Professionals: The Best Drones
Professional cinematographers, journalistic organizations, and indie filmmakers will benefit from the DJI Inspire 2. And it’s priced accordingly: the camera isn’t included in the $3,000 MSRP. You can choose from a fixed-lens camera with a 1-inch sensor, a Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens model, or a Super35mm cinema mount with its own proprietary lens system and 6K video capture capabilities.