Even if you have no good reason to justify buying one, you have to admit that drones are cool. Some are glorified tech toys, but most models we highlight here are fit for use in imaging and cinematic applications small and large. If you think you can use a flying camera in your next project, there's some good news—the tech has come a long way in a very short time. There are models on the market now that put earlier copters to shame in terms of video quality and stabilization.
Likewise, ensure that your device is equipped with headless mode, which is a cheater mode that allows you to treat any direction that the drone goes as forward so that you don’t have to worry about how to flip it around safely and control it back to your location after completing a flight. With headless mode, all you need to do is just push the joystick in the corresponding direction that you want the device to travel.
The controller has an LCD screen that displays important information such as battery life, range, and trim adjustments. The acceleration power is also displayed in percentage form. The controller also has a return to home button. Press this and the drone flies back to you. This is not a feature commonly found on a drone at this price point. The 2MP camera on the F181 is of 720p resolution and can take images at a 1280 x 720 resolution.
For example, OPTI has a built-in Optiflow Sensor (a downward facing sensor), which functions by picking out the patterns on the ground to ensure that the drone maintains a straight position. ATTI, conversely, works a bit differently. With the ATTI, the drone employs other techniques apart from the external sensors to keep the drone in the right orientation and altitude. Thus, the drone can hover in place, or drift slightly around with the wind serving as a push. You will also find a GPS in some drones, and they help the drone to maintain coordinated and precise flights and landings.
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If you're looking for a cheap drone, the Eachine E010 Nano Quadcopter is bound to grab your attention. On second glance, though, it's really just a toy, and the lack of a camera is a major restriction. It has its benefits as an introductory drone — a serious crash wouldn’t make a big hole in your pocket — but many consumers would soon grow bored of just zipping it around.
Another great feature is you can use your fingertip to chart a flight path. You do this by dragging your finger across the video image from the drone that is shown by its app on your smartphone. Then, the drone will automatically fly the flight path you have chosen. You can also teach the drone to respond to voice commands that you record with your smartphone.
There is such a wealth of options in this rapidly growing field that we wanted to share a couple more drones that we like. The first is the Holy Stone HS170 Predator Mini RC Quadcopter. This UAV offers a great feature set at an economical price, and its fast charge time (under an hour) will have you back in the air in a hurry. The Force1 U45WF Quadcopter offers features rarely seen at this price point, such as a custom route mode that allows you to trace out a path on the screen that the drone then follows. We also love that this drone ships with three batteries to greatly extend your flying time.
Most drones are pretty easy to fly, but the controls will be slightly different depending on what kind of drone you get. Camera drones are the easiest drones to fly, while toy drones can be harder (because of their lack of sensors and flying aids). To fly a camera drone, people usually use a controller with their smartphone attached to it. The smartphone will let you see a live video feed and all of the most important flight data you need. Some drones like the DJI Mavic Air, DJI Spark, and Yuneec breeze allow you to fly just using your smartphone.
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.
Finally, in the number five spot for this list is the Syma X11. For the drone enthusiasts who may feel a little intimidated by some of the larger drones, the Syma X11 R/C Quadcopter is a perfect alternative. This little R/C unit is 15 x 4 x 8 inches in its dimensions, and weighs just over fifteen ounces. It is a good drone for those who are more comfortable with other R/C units and want something that is easier to control with a price point that is reasonable.
It can take aerial shots with the altitude hold function, accessed by releasing the throttle. The drone hovers in place to get the shot. If you’re first starting out, you can operate it in headless mode to get a better idea of what it can do. It has a one-key return, and you can even perform aerial tricks and flips once you’ve mastered necessary controls.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the camera. In addition to a 12-megapixel camera that shoots video in 1080p at 30 frames per second, the Spark also sports a two-axis gimbal. This lets it mechanically stabilize the camera and cancel out any jarring, shaky movements — resulting in smoother, better-looking footage. This also gives it a leg up on the competition; most selfie drones only feature single-axis mechanical stabilization.
Since repairs are as easy as soldering a couple motors and the flight controller has proven reliable and capable, people have developed a few nice modifications for it. Modifications such as a chassis swap with lighter and more durable materials are fairly easy, even for those without electronics skills, and yield longer flight times as well as further improved handling.
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.
The Altair Aerial Outlaw Drone is one of the best GPS drones around and the absolute best that you can find for under $300. Thanks to the stabilization features in GPS flight mode, this drone will keep itself hovering in midair at whatever place you choose for it to go, making it easy to line up the perfect shot for your photo or video camera. It also has a 1000 meter flight range and a flight time of nearly 20 minutes, which is great for aerial photographers who need time for a longer shoot. If you want high definition, pro-quality photography at a price that won’t break the bank, the Outlaw is the choice for you!