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.
The main thing that you will need is a relatively new IOS or android device. Usually you can use any iPad or iPhone made in the last 3 years. However, some drones don’t have controllers that were designed to hold tablets, so keep that in mind. If you’re buying the bugs 3, you won’t need a smartphone since it doesn’t have a built-in camera that you can control. All of the drones in this list come with batteries, chargers, controllers (if needed), extra propellers, and anything else you might need to go for your first flight.
The Altair AA108 is durably built and will not break easily. You can count on a solid flight time of around 10 minutes, a bit less when you’re running it FPV. However the 720p camera really works well and connects to your phone through WiFi. It’s easy to fly because it has 3 flight modes, 1 beginner, 2 intermediate and 3 advanced mode. It also has Altitude Hold which allows you to take your thumb off the control and the drone holds it’s own altitude, making it very stable because it’s not bouncing up and down as you try to maintain altitude!
If a drone in this category has first-person-view (FPV) capability, you can see what the drone sees. All except one of these drones require a smartphone (not included) to be able to view and record the video. The smartphone is held in a bracket and then it is connected to the controller. Some of these drones can be flown by only using the smartphone with a downloadable app installed that controls the drone.
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.
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
DJI’s control system is also fantastic. The revamped DJI Go app puts all of the camera’s advanced controls right at your fingertips. Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO can be adjusted with just a few taps, and focus can be set by simply tapping on the subject. With a setup like this, you don’t even need prior film experience or piloting skills to get professional-looking footage.
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!
This FPV drone focuses more on the actual drone than it does the camera aspects, however, considering you get more features and capabilities. You can use a FPV real time HD live transmission with your mobile device using the FPV WiFi feature, have Headless mode, a low voltage alarm, 360-degree flips, and gravity induction that allows you to fly at all angles and in every direction.
There are a number of products on the market that are sold as drones, but don't quite fit the bill. Remote-controlled aircraft have been around for ages. (Check out this clip from Magnum, P.I. if you don't believe me, or just want to see Tom Selleck in a bathrobe.) But with the recent surge in popularity, quadcopters that would simply be sold as RC products are now being tagged as drones. These don't include GPS stabilization, return-to-home functionality, and other automated flight modes that make a drone a drone.
If you’re looking for quality, the Inspire 2 is the best camera drone you can buy that comes ready to fly out of the box. The next best option is the Phantom 4 Pro and after that, the Mavic Pro. If you’re concerned about video quality, just pick one of the three drones mentioned above (which ever one matches your price point) and you’ll be more than satisfied. There are really no other drones that come close to what these three can do. Some people who shoot videos for a living will buy the Mavic Pro, Phantom 4 Pro, and the Inspire 2, because each of them can be useful for different situations.
There’s one other type of beginner that isn’t looking for either of those things. Some beginners just want a drone to take pictures and videos with. They need whatever drone they get to be easy to fly and have decent specs, but not break the bank. For those people, the DJI Spark is going to be the best option. There’s no reason to buy the other two drones I mentioned if you want to shoot videos and take pictures. The Spark is actually easier to fly than the Bugs 3 and Mambo FPV, so you don’t have to worry as much about the flying part.
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.
Generally speaking, drones that cost less than $100 bucks aren’t worth your time. They’re flimsy, they lack advanced features, and they’re almost always squirrely as hell in the air. But Tello is different. Despite the fact that it retails for only $99, it boasts a boatload of high-end features and functionality. Under the hood you’ll find a 14-core Intel vision processing chip, flight stabilization tech from DJI, a 5 megapixel camera capable of shooting 720p HD video, and a battery that gets you 13 minutes of flight time.