While DJI may be the first name you think of when it comes to drones, it isn't the only game in town. You can also look at models from Autel Robotics, Parrot, PowerVision, and Yuneec. Others have dabbled in the consumer drone space and exited quickly—GoPro pulled its Karma after a rocky launch and poor sales, and 3D Robotics tried to get in with the Solo, but also gave up the fight to focus on the industrial and enterprise spaces.
Go for a model which has easy-to-find spare parts even from your local store. It’s highly recommended that you should have at least an extra pair of propellers, apart from the ones already on your drone, including the appropriate tools needed to replace them when they accidentally break down. Furthermore, there should be sufficient protectors available for your quadcopter, so as to prevent damage both to the device and injury to people or property damage in case of any clumsy flights or landings.
For video quality, we shoot a variety of clips at various resolutions and frame rates, including the maximum available. We film high contrast and low light scenes, along with close-ups of people to evaluate detail and skin tones. Special automated modes like DJI’s Quickshots are also tested. These uncompressed files are then evaluated on a calibrated monitor, along with the drone’s still photos. Stills are shot at maximum resolution and, if available, in Raw. We check for colour, noise and dynamic range, and also look at other shooting modes like HDR and panoramas.
Some people will tell you that beginner pilots should cut their teeth on lower-end drones, but in our expert opinion, that’s nonsense. Why? Crappier drones are harder and less reliable to fly, which means that you’re far more likely to crash and destroy them. We think its a smarter idea to start out with a slightly nicer drone with reliable, responsive controls, a decent warranty, and a design that’s easy to repair or upgrade.
The word “drone” has taken on a few different meanings over the years. Some people think of a drone as a bee, others might think of those predator drones that the military uses. The drones that most people talk about today are simply radio controlled aircraft that have some level of autonomous features. A drone can be a plane, a helicopter, a quadcopter, or any combination in-between. Most of the drones sold today are quadcopters. They have 4 rotors and a flight controller that is used to stabilize the lift from the each propeller.
If there’s one thing DJI is good at, it’s stuffing a ton of features and functionality into increasingly small drones — and nothing showcases this talent more than the Spark. Despite the fact that the drone’s hull is roughly the size of a Twinkie, DJI somehow managed to cram in many of the same goodies you’d find under the hood of the Spark’s bigger, bulkier, and more expensive brothers.
And now the bad news. You get what you pay for, and if you want an aerial video platform that can capture stunning footage, you need to be ready to spend some cash. Because drones are such pricey propositions, it pays to do your research before buying one. We've tested many of the ready-to-fly models on the market to determine what's important to look for, and the best models available.
For those looking for a basic done that has FPV camera capabilities that are still pretty decent, but at a fair price, the Hubsan H502S is definitely the way to go. There are minimal features, mostly just the GPS function, which is a nice touch that makes all the difference, and you get up to 12 minutes of flying time on a single charge. You also get Return to Home, Follow Me, one-key control, the whole set.
Yuneec also has a model with a Micro Four Thirds camera. Its Tornado H920 is a huge drone with six rotors and room to hold three batteries, giving it an unheard of 42-minute flight capability. Its CGO4 camera is essentially a custom version of the Panasonic GH4, a favorite of many a terrestrial videographer. It doesn't record uncompressed video like the Inspire 2, but it's less expensive.
the first thing we do when we get a new drone is beat it up a little bit. We don’t kick it down the stairs or anything, but we’ll give it a few knocks, twists, and shallow drops to assess the build quality and durability. Does it feel flimsy, or does it feel like it could survive a crash landing in the park? We give each review unit a light beating (and usually a couple unintentional crash landings) before we give you a definitive answer on how durable it is.
It also can’t handle itself outdoors, with the slightest breeze gusting it away (not only that, but because of how small it is, it’s easy to lose line of sight). Charging takes somewhere around 20 minutes with the usb charger, however you’ll need your own usb to wall adapter or a computer handy to plug it in. Unfortunately, unlike some other quacopters on this list, due to the size and engineering of this drone, repairs are extremely difficult, requiring a very tiny screwdriver to open it up, the solder pads for the motors are also tiny. Repairs aren’t impossible, but it is more difficult.
This is the drone you start with if you're worried about crashing. Thanks to flexible plastic and propellor protectors, you could drop this on the ground or fly into a wall without too much damage. It has a camera if you are just getting into drone photography, but we prefer this model as a starter quadcopter. Beware: when it has low battery, the drone tends to lose connection with the controller. This could become tragic if you've flown the drone over water.
A. The law is a bit murky here in terms of licenses and registering of drones, and as such your best bet is to check local regulations and brush up on the latest requirements from the FAA. In general, you won’t need a license if you’re flying a drone recreationally and the drone weighs under 55 pounds. Anything heavier than that and you might need to register it. If you’re trying to earn money with your drone, you’ll need to be licensed. The FAA is more than willing to fine or even jail those who violate drone rules, so this is definitely not an area you should ignore.
The Holy Stone F181C is our second best drone under $100. The Remote Uses a modified controller that resembles a pad of the playback station with an additional LCD screen connected to the front end to provide direct images of the buzz. It has a small fragile button and Joystick, never force the accelerator/controller too much, it can break easily. Battery 750mAh, 7-9 minutes. You must drain the battery before recharging it to increase the life of the battery. Camera Comes with a fully equipped 2MP camera that can record videos and take 720P resolution images and save to the 2GB SD that comes with the alternate drone or bottle disc attached to the USB drone drive.
On the other hand, ATTI is a partially different tool, whereby the quadcopter uses other techniques and not necessarily external sensors to firmly hold the drone in correct altitude and orientation. ATTI allows the drone to hover in place, as well as to gently drift around while being pushed by the wind. Some drones also have GPS which offers great precision and coordination during flight.
While the Mavic 2 Zoom will still set you back £1,099, that is £250 less than its brother, which makes choosing between the two a tricky choice. While it lacks the one-inch sensor, 10-bit HDR video and adjustable aperture of the Pro, its image quality is still excellent and more than good enough for epic YouTube videos. That spare change could also be put towards a spare battery or a ‘Fly More’ bundle. Whichever way you go, the closely related Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom are the best all-round drones you can buy right now.
Lead camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H... See Full Bio
And the best part? Parrot also gives you the option of piloting via smartphone or with a dedicated dual-joystick controller. The Flypad, as it’s called, is sold separately for $40 bucks, but it might be worth the extra dough if you don’t have a spare smartphone lying around and don’t feel like handing your kid your brand new iPhone every time he/she feels like flying.
Because some drones can carry small payloads, such as still and video cameras, many photographers have added them to their equipment arsenal. For example, a wedding photographer can capture a panoramic or overhead shot by flying a camera-equipped drone over the wedding location. An amateur filmmaker can create pro-like crane shots and close-ups by using a drone with a stabilizer.
The other reason we love this drone is that it’s not super complicated to fly or maintain, so it’s a great choice for beginners and pros alike. Even if you’ve never raced a drone before in your life, you’ll likely be able to learn the ropes with a Draco after just a few hours of practice. Alternatively, if you already have some FPV racing experience under your belt, you’ll feel right at home with this rig.
Similarly, having a few extra batteries won’t hurt, especially if you want to use the drone for extended periods of time at a go. Most drones over 50 have batteries that are available in six pack sets, with a charger also found within the set. These batteries can give you an average flight time of between 5 to 10 minutes before recharging, or replacing them if you don’t have a power source near you. Also note that battery time is usually affected by blade protectors, as well as when there’s a camera attached to the machine.
One of the cheaper options for an autopilot drone is the Hubsan H501S. It doesn’t have as many camera features as some of the more professional drones, but it is still equipped with some great auto features. It comes with a 1080p HD camera and has automatic return, altitude mode, and follow-me capabilities. It’s small, compact size makes it good for traveling and you get an average of 20 minutes of flying which is great for the price you’re paying. While more professional drone features are missing, you’re still getting a nice drone for less than $300.
If you are a beginner just learning to fly with these cheaper drones, take your time to learn the controls by flying in a safe area that is a wide open space, with no wind, and no obstacles. At first, fly low to the ground until you can maneuver your drone correctly. Practice flying on a single battery charge and then let the drone cool down for ten minutes before flying more.