After we’ve taken the drone out to play for a while and jotted down a few notes about how long the battery lasts, we put it on the charger and grab a stopwatch to determine recharge time. Then we take it back out and do a hover test. By flying the drone in the least demanding conditions, we can get a sense of what the maximum flight time is. And finally, we take it out a few more good, hard flights to find out how long the battery lasts (on average) under normal conditions.
To gauge flight performance, we put the drone through a number of tests to see how the manufacturer’s claims hold up. First we take it to a local football field and see how fast it can clear 100 yards, then do some calculations to get an objective reading on speed in miles per hour. After that, we do a similar test to assess ascent and descent speeds, and all the while, we’re also taking notes on how responsive the controls are, how stable the craft is, how far it can go before it’s out of range, and what the overall piloting experience is like compared to other drones.
The drones we review are ready-to-fly models, so you can use them right out of the box. In most cases, you'll need to bring your own Android or iOS device to view the camera feed in real-time, but we've reviewed a few models that stream video directly to a remote control. We don't cover racing, industrial, or agricultural aircraft here—our focus is on aircraft intended for aerial imaging and videography.
Often repainted and re-branded (sometimes at a much higher price) the Syma x5c is positioned at a competitive price for what you get in the box. For about $50+ shipping depending on where you order, you get the quadcopter itself, a transmitter, one battery, and a charger. Extra batteries are inexpensive and you’ll certainly want them if you plan to fly for longer than 6 minutes, but they charge quickly, which is nice. At 9 and a half inches diagonally motor to motor, its not small enough to fly indoors.
This drone seriously has it all. It’s powerful. It’s portable. It can dodge obstacles autonomously. And to top it all off, it has a camera that produces some of the best-looking aerial imagery we’ve ever seen. Truth be told, you can get a lot of these features in the original (and still very good) Mavic Pro, but the Mavic 2 Pro just does everything better.
Nevertheless, no matter the dimensions of your craft it’s not permissible for hobbyist drone users to fly their machines over 400ft above the ground, plus you’re required to always maintain a clear line-of-sight with the machine at all times. Furthermore, it’s your duty to carefully inspect the device before each flight session to ensure that it’s airworthy so as to avoid unnecessary accidents. Generally, the best drones under 100 (over 50) weigh less than 0.55lbs, but it’s your duty to ensure that you fly responsibly.
All of these multirotors include the essentials; a battery, charger, remote (more commonly referred to as a transmitter), and of course the quadcopter itself. All of these are controlled using a standard mode 2 style transmitter with the throttle on the left and adjustable trim settings. They all also handle using the same basic control scheme and the same basic auto-leveling flight mode, but much like a car, they all feel distinctly different to control.
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For a beginner, there are a few drones that stand out on this list, but the drone you get heavily depends on what kind of beginner you are. If you’re looking at getting into drones because you like flying things and you want something to learn on, the Bugs 3 is a great choice. If you’re just looking for something to fly for fun around the house and bash around, you will probably want to look at the Mambo FPV.
Along with a smooth stability in the air granted by its four propellers, the Syma X5C-1 Quadcopter also comes equipped with a 720p HD camera. This convenient addition makes the X5C one of the most affordable cheap drones with camera attachments. Wildly popular with beginners, and drones for kids are also a great gift for parents to give them and not break the bank at the same time.
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.
The GPS systems in autopilot drones are what allow them to have the autopilot capabilities they do. Without them, hands-free flying wouldn’t be possible. GPS systems make it easier to fly longer ranges without losing control. Autopilot drones are some of the most stable drones on the market which is why professionals love them. They can capture smooth and clear footage for anyone to enjoy.
The included 3.7V 650 mAh battery takes about an hour to charge, and will give you up to 9 minutes of flying time. You can extend your flying enjoyment time with the purchase of extra batteries. The controller will give you up to 120m of control range, but limited to 50m when the FPV mode is active. This still allows you to take videos at fairly moderate distances.
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.
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.
The most recent variant, the cx10c, is another small improvement over the other two. Again, it only adds one feature, but this time its a little bit more substantial, this time, they’ve added a camera. With a micro sd card you can watch videos of your flights from the perspective of the drone. It may not be a great camera, its not even a good camera, the footage is mediocre and would never compare even slightly to a high end multirotor, but for the price ($25) and the size (roughly the same as before) its amazing that it includes one.
Another big addition is Spark’s obstacle avoidance system. While the ability to sense and avoid objects is usually a feature reserved for larger drones, DJI went ahead and built one into the hull of the Spark. It’s not quite as robust as what you’ll find on the Phantom 4, or even the Mavic Pro, but it still serves its purpose, and helps you avoid crashes.
DJI models currently dominate our top picks, and there's a good reason for that. The company is simply a few steps ahead of its competition right now, and has a product catalog with models at various price points, which take up a good number of the slots in our top ten. It made a huge splash with its iconic Phantom series, and now makes the best small drones we've tested in the form of the Mavic series.
Unfortunately, this one doesn’t come with a controller, which means you’re forced to pilot Tello via virtual joysticks on a smartphone app: a control method that’s notoriously mushy and imprecise. The good news, though, is that Ryze built the drone with third-party peripherals in mind, so if you prefer to fly with physical sticks under your thumbs, you can pick up a GameSir T1d controller and link it to your bird. We think it’s well worth the extra $30 bucks!