Looking for your first camera drone to make a breathtaking aerial video? Well, let me say it upfront: a good camera drone is going to put a serious pressure on your bank. It won’t cost your arm and leg, but be prepared to shell out a substantial amount of money.
As with everything else in this world, you get what you pay for. Drones that are sold around $100-$200 price range are more of glorified toys than functional videography tools. They may fly all right, but don’t expect them to stabilize the camera movement, let alone get you an eye-popping footage. The ones I cover in this article fit more the second type of drones: professional-grade consumer quadcopters with impressive video recording capability. You don’t have to invest more than $1000 to get started, but even the affordable drone in this category can easily set you back around $300.
Since drones are not cheap, you can benefit a lot if you do enough research before deciding to buy one. Are drones with 4K camera better than the ones with full HD shooter? Does safety feature like automatic Return-to-Home functionality really work? Are there any drones better than the ones made by DJI? This article may help answer all your questions regarding drones. Not only does it show you the top list of drones with camera, but also some important considerations that may help you make up your mind.
- Top 10 Drones with Camera of 2017
- DJI Phantom 4 Pro – Best Professional Camera Drone
- DJI Phantom 3 4K – Best Budget Drone with 4K Camera
- DJI Mavic Pro – Best Portable Camera Drone
- GoPro Karma – Best Drone for GoPro Users
- Autel Robotics X-Star Premium – Solid Alternative for DJI Phantoms
- Yuneec Typhoon H Pro
- Yuneec Typhoon 4K
- Parrot Bebop 2
- DJI Spark
- Traxxas Aton Plus
- What Makes the Best Camera Drone
- FAA Regulations
Top 10 Drones with Camera of 2017
|Drones||Videos||Stills||Battery / Flight Time||Range||Automation||Price|
|DJI Phantom 4 Pro||4K/60fps||20MP||5870 mAh / 30 minutes||4.3 miles||Return-to-Home, Orbit, Waypoint, Follow||$$$$$|
|DJI Phantom 3 4K||4K/30fps||12MP||4480 mAh / 25 minutes||0.74 miles||Return-to-Home, Orbit, Waypoint, Follow||$$|
|DJI Mavic Pro||4K/30fps||12MP||3830 mAh / 21 minutes||4.3 miles||Return-to-Home, Orbit, Waypoint, Follow||$$$|
|GoPro Karma||-||-||5100 mAh / 20 minutes||1.9 miles||Orbit, Waypoint||$$$|
|Autel Robotics X-Star Premium||4K/30fps||12MP||4900 mAh / 25 minutes||1.2 miles||Return-to-Home, Orbit, Waypoint, Follow||$$|
|Yuneec Typhoon H Pro||4K/30fps||12MP||5400 mAh / 25 minutes||1.1 miles||Return-to-Home, Orbit, Waypoint, Follow||$$$$$|
|Yuneec Typhoon 4K||4K/30fps||12MP||5401 mAh / 25 minutes||0.5 miles||Return-to-Home, Watch Me, Follow Me||$$|
|Parrot Bebop 2||1080p||14MP||2700 mAh / 25 minutes||1.2 miles||Return-to-Home, Follow||$$|
|DJI Spark||1080p||12MP||1480 mAh / 16 minutes||1.2 miles||Return-to-Home, Orbit, Follow||$$|
|Traxxas Aton Plus||-||-||5000 mAh / 20 minutes||656 feet||Return-to-Home||$|
DJI Phantom 4 Pro – Best Professional Camera Drone
DJI Phantom 4 Pro is the second most advanced drone in DJI’s Phantom series. Released only 8 months after the company unveiled the original Phantom 4, this drone brings a whole lot of pleasant improvements both for the hardware and software. The biggest game changers are probably the sensor upgrade and the addition of dual rear vision sensors as well as infrared sensing systems. The new Phantom 4 Pro no longer uses small 12MP sensor as in DJI Mavic. Instead, it brings forth the power of 1-inch 20MP sensor that can give you image quality on par with high profile SLR cameras.
Another upgrade that has lured many people away from the original Phantom 4 is the improved FlightAutonomy system. DJI Phantom 4 Pro sports dual camera obstacle avoidance not only on the front but also on the back. In addition to that, it’s armed with infra red sensors on its left and right. The drone is well protected from all five directions, allowing you to be more confident in taking shots in more difficult places. To help you get started, there are various preset intelligent flight modes that you can choose. For beginners, Draw Mode will be very helpful as it automatically steers the drone through a route that you draw on the screen without changing its altitude.
As good as it gets, DJI Phantom 4 Pro still has some rooms for further improvement. For starter, the infrared sensors on its left and right sides can only be used in certain flight modes. Also, it doesn’t function as well as the dual protective sensors on its rear and front. Another thing is its standard remote control doesn’t have any display, so you’re going to have to use your smartphone or tablet. A super bright 5.5-inch full HD display is available in the bundled package, but it’s going to add $300 more to the already pricey DJI Phantom 4 Pro.
DJI Phantom 3 4K – Best Budget Drone with 4K Camera
Being inferior isn’t always bad; at least, not in the case of DJI Phantom 3 4K. It might not be as powerful as the Phantom 4 and its higher up incarnations, but it’s a solid flying machine with superb video recording capability. I wouldn’t label this drone as the best budget option in the first few days after it released as it was still quite expensive. Fast forward today, the price has dropped to nearly the same as the Phantom 3 Standard. With the 4K video supports, more powerful battery, and also a couple of new features, I think it’s a no brainer to pick this drone over the Phantom 3 Standard.
Currently, DJI Phantom 3 4K is the cheapest DJI’s drone capable of shooting video in Ultra HD resolution. The 2.7K HD video offered by the standard model is not bad at all. But if you can get a much better video with just a few more bucks, why bother choosing the lower resolution? Anyway, aside from the increased camera resolution, this drone also has Visual Positioning technology, a nice little feature that’s missing from the standard version. Basically with this technology, you can fly the drone indoor and much closer to the ground with more ease, thanks to the visual and ultrasonic sensors.
DJI Phantom 3 4K also has many important safety as well as automated flight features that you’ll appreciate for sure. These are like Return-to-Home function, automatic takeoff and landing, and the likes. Unfortunately, the Lightbridge technology is not on board. The drone still has to rely on Wi-Fi to connect with your mobile device and even with the built-in Wi-Fi extender, its operating range is still limited to around ¾ mile. Another minor complaint is it takes more than an hour for the battery to fully recharge.
DJI Mavic Pro – Best Portable Camera Drone
Sporting a foldable design, DJI Mavic Pro comes up on top of all other drones in terms of portability. The drone is no bigger than a plastic bottle when folded, making it an ideal option if you’re not keen on carrying a huge backpack. This little guy is not just about portable design, though. As a drone manufactured by DJI, the Mavic Pro offers a slate of convenient features that will help you fly it with more confidence. Its Flight Autonomy function can activate the drone’s 4-vision sensors, enabling it to track potential obstacles up to 50-feet away and avoid them with ease. The battery lasts up to 27 minutes, which is one of the longest I’ve ever seen.
In camera department, DJI Mavic Pro excels just as well. Despite its tiny size, this quadcopter can capture super sharp Ultra HD footage in 4K. Armed with 3-axis mechanical gimbal, the resulting video is almost completely free of shaky feeling that’s common with cheap drones. If aerial photography is what you’re in here for, you’ll be thrilled to find that it can also take RAW and JPG stills up to 12MP. Controlling the drone to make a nice aerial video is absolutely a breeze with preset intelligent flight modes like Orbit and Follow.
Sounds like a perfect drone, right? Sadly, it is not. Although it performs incredibly well as a camera drone, DJI Mavic Pro falls short against strong wind. Because of its diminutive design, the drone struggles to remain steady when some stiff winds blow. Such an issue is not apparent with the more muscular Phantom series. Also, for some reason, it refuses to take off when you put it on grass. Other than that, DJI Mavic Pro is a fantastic choice for those wanting a portable drone.
GoPro Karma – Best Drone for GoPro Users
If you’re an outdoorsy type of a person, chance is you already have one or two GoPro action cameras. In that case, GoPro Karma could be the right drone for you. While it’s not the company’s specialty to build a drone, GoPro Karma proves to be a pretty good quadcopter. The flight assistant features it offers are not as many as those found in DJI’s drones, but the controller does allow for one-push takeoff and landing. It has no obstacle avoidance sensors, so you have to be extremely careful with it. Don’t even think about flying it close to the ground or in any tricky places because Precision Vision Positioning is also nowhere to be found. Basically, the learning curve is steeper with GoPro Karma.
Where the GoPro Karma fails to impress, it makes it up with other set of great features. First off, the drone comes with Karma Grip, the official versatile mounting system by GoPro that’s sold over $200. In addition to that, the mechanical gimbal on the drone is removable, allowing you to use it with the Grip. The gimbal works well in stabilizing the camera. You’ll find your footage to be very smooth and almost shake free. The included controller is not very ergonomics, but it has an integrated display that’s pleasantly bright. If you haven’t had any GoPro camera, I suggest getting the GoPro Hero 5 Black. It’s the most advanced GoPro’s camera to date, capable of shooting ultra crisp 4K videos. It’s waterproof, rugged, and can take quite some beating.
Autel Robotics X-Star Premium – Solid Alternative for DJI Phantoms
Autel Robotics X-Star Premium gives a serious competition to the already popular DJI Phantom 3 and Phantom 4 series. The company behind the drone is relatively young (non-Chinese, unlike DJI), but it’s been featured in so many tech media, thanks to its highly capable drones. The X-Star premium, in particular, can stand shoulder to shoulder with the excellent Phantom 4, especially in the camera department. Capable of shooting footage in 4K/30fps, the drone camera delivers distortion-free, ultra crisp videos that can impress even professionals. Burst and Time Lapse mode allows users to capture still images up to 12MP.
DJI Phantom 4 Professional can get you 20MP photos for about $200 more, though. So, if photography is important to you, I think it’s worth noting. Still, Autel Robotics X-Star Premium has the upper hand when it comes to flexibility. The gimbal along with the camera can be easily removed. So, if in the future the company rolls out a better camera and you want to upgrade, you can just buy the camera without the drone, saving you a lot. This is not possible in any DJI’s drones. Unlike GoPro Karma, however, the gimbal is not compatible with any wearable mounts
Autel Robotics X-Star Premium is an advanced drone that shouldn’t drive beginner pilots away. The maker has squeezed in so many features that make flying the quadcopter almost effortless. First and foremost, the GPS is paired with GLONASS to reinforce the drone’s connectivity in low signal environments. You will very unlikely run into problems where the GPS suddenly shuts down and the drone drifts away. Starpoint Positioning System allows for low altitude flight and it also has some nice Smart-Flight features like Orbit, Follow, and Waypoints. To minimize the risk of crashing for beginners, you can activate the Beginner mode to apply some restrictions on the drone’s range and speed.
Yuneec Typhoon H Pro
You’ve probably never heard of it before, but Yuneec Typhoon H Pro drew the most attention in CES 2016. The company itself is backed up by the tech giant, Intel. Those two facts should give you a better peace of mind, should you do decide to invest on this guy. On paper, the hexacopter is almost similar to DJI Phantom 4. It offers a lot of convenient flight assistant features, captures 4K videos and 12MP still photos, flies using Smart Flight presets, and many more. However, like everybody says, the devil is in the details. Some small points on the drone’s functionality might tempt you away from DJI’s drones.
First, although both drones offer Follow Me smart flight mode, the one in Yuneec Typhoon H is better in my opinion. Instead of using visual reinforcement to track your location like the Phantom 4 does, the hexacopter relies on GPS on the Wizard remote (sold separately). The drone will still follow you even if it can’t see you, which is great if you want the drone to fly above you while you’re swimming. Another minor difference is, the gimbal on this drone can be turned up to 360-degree. You no longer need to move the drone to pan the camera in other direction. Simply use the camera controls to turn the gimbal and you’ll get smoother video. All in all, Yuneec Typhoon H is a solid alternative to DJI Phantom 4.
Yuneec Typhoon 4K
Unlike the previous drone from the company, Yuneec Typhoon 4K is a quadcopter. Both the drone and the remote control are on the big side of things, but I doubt you will make a big fuss out of it once you get your hands on them. The large dimension of the drone helps it remain steady on the air, hovering smoothly even when there’s some wind blowing. The remote control, on the other hand, is integrated with 5.5-inch 720p display. It runs on Android too, meaning you don’t need to hook it up with any of your mobile devices. This bird is slower and has smaller operating range than DJI Phantom 3, though.
As you can tell from its name, Yuneec Typhoon 4K is able to take video shots in 4K. The gimbal is different from the one used in the Typhoon H, in a way that it can’t be turned in all direction. However, it’s removable. This is great, especially if you buy the drone in bundle with the Yunnec SteadyGrip handheld. You can take off the camera and use it to capture video on the ground with the same smooth and shake-free results. Smart flight modes are available, but not as many options as the Phantom 3. Overall, it does require a bit more of manual control on your end, but the drone’s stability makes it very easy to fly it.
Parrot Bebop 2
Parrot Bebop 2 is not a professional-grade consumer drone, but it’s also far from being a toy. The 14MP camera it comes with can capture pleasant full HD videos at acceptable frame rate. Its major selling point, however, is the FPV headset that allows you to control the drone in first-person point of view. You’ll be able to see what the drone is seeing through its camera, giving you much more immersive experience than what you normally feel with other drones. The headset doesn’t have any screen, though. You have to plug your mobile phone into it to use the FPV feature. When you’re in FPV mode, controls are made through Parrot Skycontroller 2, which is nicely sized. It boosts the drone’s range up to 1.24 miles.
Parrot Bebop 2 is not a fly-out-of-the-box drone. There’s some calibration to be done and settings to be adjusted before you can fly it. It pays a lot to read the included manuals. Built into the drone’s body is its camera. It doesn’t have any mechanical gimbal, but the footage is stabilized using software. While it doesn’t work as well as hardware stabilizer in keeping your video shake-free, it’s more efficient. It doesn’t add more weight to the drone and not prone to breakage. Also, it’s worth noting that the camera uses wide-angle 170-degree fisheye lens. It allows you to capture more objects as it has wider field of view, but you might see some distortion and lens flare on occasions.
If the Mavic Pro weighs too much on you tight budget, you might want to consider switching to DJI Spark. Not larger than the palm of an adult, DJI Spark offers similar portability as the Mavic Pro. By reducing video resolution to 1080p and also removing unnecessary bells and whistles, this drone attracts many hobbyists with its affordable price. Essential functionalities are retained so that it doesn’t lose its edge against competitors. You will see the mechanical stabilizer is still there along with an excellent camera that can record full HD video at 30fps, in addition to 12MP still images. There are no other recording options available, but hey, it’s a hobby-grade drone.
The company’s signature safety and automatic piloting features are squeezed into DJI Spark too. Steady positioning is facilitated by GPS and GLONASS satellite, which is the same thing that will bring the drone back to you, should the communication fail. Front-facing sensors give this little bird eye to see obstacles ahead and promptly change its flight path. Flying at low altitude won’t be a problem, thanks to Vision Positioning System that lets the drone hover in place. Some important things that you need to be aware of are probably its short battery life (which is normal, given the drone’s size) and its limited range. You can increase its range significantly by using the remote control, but you might want to forget that idea because it’s sold separately for nearly $200.
Traxxas Aton Plus
For over $600, GoPro Karma might be too expensive for some of you. If that’s the case, you might be interested to look at Traxxas Aton Plus. This drone is spectacular! Heck, if it wasn’t for the included Karma Grip and detachable gimbal, I’d go on and say that it’s better than GoPro Karma. It packs so many convenient features that make it completely a breeze to fly this thing. In Film mode, the drone becomes exceptionally steady yet still responsive to controls. You can take some great shot without shaking the camera too much. Even if you do, the 2-axis gimbal will smooth things out for you. It also has the Return-to-Home function, which can be very helpful when the battery is low.
For more experienced pilots, Traxxas Aton Plus provide Sport and Expert mode. Both will unlock the drone’s true capability. The speed restriction is removed and the drone can fly up to 50mph. There’s an air brake button that will put the drone to a halt immediately, making it hover in place. You’re going to need it when you find there’s no more space or time to maneuver away from crash. Just be cautious, because this drone is not a cheap toy. Anyway, the included mount is only compatible to GoPro Hero 3 and 4 series. So, if you own a GoPro Hero 5 Black or tiny other action cameras, you’re going to need to buy the mount separately.
What Makes the Best Camera Drone
The 10 unmanned aerial systems I’ve shown you above are what I considered as the best drones with camera. You may have a different opinion with me, but I made the list based on what I know and what I’ve learned. Below are some important things to consider when you’re out looking for a new drone.
Will you be needing a camera that can capture 4K videos? Is full HD resolution just fine for you? What about still shots? Do you need a drone that can get you professional looking aerial photos? Which do you prefer: software stabilization or mechanical gimbal? Would you like it if the camera and the gimbal can be detached, so you can make some impressive steady footage on the ground? Do you want a camera that can be turned in all angle? Or front-facing camera is cool enough for you?
Those are some questions that you must ask to yourself before buying a camera drone. There’s a drone for every needs. Most of the drones on the above list are capable of capturing 4K videos, which is all the rage today. Only a few of them allow the gimbal and the camera to be detached and used for ground shooting.
The FAA orders all drone pilots in United States to keep their bird within their visibility, but it’s always nice to know that your drone can wander up to a couple of miles from where you are now. Don’t you think so? DJI Phantom 4 series is known for their unbelievable range, thanks to the Lightbridge technology that reinforce and strengthen the transmitter exponentially. Some drones have very small range when used with mobile devices, but if you control them using the remote control, their range will be improved. Drones with smaller range are commonly more affordable.
Battery Life and Recharge Time
From all the drones I’ve listed above, DJI Phantom 4 Professional has the longest battery life. But even so, it’s still under 30 minutes. Some smaller drones like DJI Spark can only fly for 12-13 minutes before it runs out of juice. As for recharge time, DJI drones beat them all. They’re wickedly fast when it comes to recharging. Some drones can take up to 2 hours to fully recharge, which is a pain. So, if you think you’re going to use your drone for extended period frequently, it doesn’t hurt to get spare batteries. Just make sure you buy the official ones from the manufacturing company, not those made by third party.
Accessories and Replacement Options
Even an RTF (ready-to-fly) drone can use some nice accessories before it makes the first flight, so don’t spend all your money on the drone. At the very minimum, you’ll want to have some spare batteries, prop guards, gimbal guard, and carrying case. Spare propellers can be essential too because even the most experienced pilots do crash sometimes, and the propellers are the most fragile part of all drones. For such a reason, buying a drone with easy-to-find spare parts is a big plus. No wonder DJI is getting more and more popular these days.
It doesn’t matter what you expect from your future drone because in the end, you can only buy what you can afford. If the drone of your dream stretches beyond your current budget, you will have to make a do with the more inexpensive model. They might not live completely up to your expectations, but if you do your research right, you can get the one that’s closest to your needs. Alternatively, you can wait for several months or years until a new and more advanced drone releases, dropping the price of your target drone. Sounds silly? Well, it’s because it is. I wouldn’t want to wait for years until the drone of my dream come within my budget. I’d just go get the one my money can afford.
Anyway, if money isn’t really a problem for you but you still doubt whether it’s the right drone for you because it looks sophisticated and you have zero flight experience, hear this: cheaper drones are not suited for beginners. With cheaper drones, you get less flight assistance features, not to say smart flight functionality as well. The drone might require more manual controls from your end and come with other inconveniences that can easily frustrate you. Remember what I said at the beginning of this article? A good drone is going to to cost you; that’s the hard truth.
Drones are not passenger vehicles but it doesn’t mean there are no any guidelines that regulate the pilots. If you’re in United States, you must know that we have Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) here. FAA has explicit regulations that apply to all drone pilots. Some of the rules require all drone pilots out there to not fly their bird more than 400-feet. There are many other important rules, so make sure you read it. Also, you must register your drone with FAA before you can take it to the sky. Up to this day, the process is still free of charge. In addition, FAA has also set a number of no-fly zones which are mostly on the areas near an airport. Never ever think of violating any FAA guidelines, even if it’s only for a joke, unless you’re ready to pay a huge fine, or worse, spend some time in jail.