So you want a drone that can film from the sky? DRIVE/Aerial is here to help. A few years ago, if you wanted to dabble in aerial photography or cinematography, you only had a handful of options. Today's offerings, however, come with a wide array of features and can range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, which makes trying to find the right one daunting.
So to help you sort out the good from the bad, we at DRIVE/Aerial decided to put together a list of our favorite camera-ready drones available as of February 2017. That way, you'll be all ready to film your family on your next vacation to Aruba.
If you'd like to dip your toe in to the aerial filming market, the Holy Stone F181 is a good place to start. This feature-packed drone comes with an attachable 720p camera, a push-button return, and an altitude hold function that can help any pilot stay up in the air. Unfortunately, it doesn't come with an external gimbal to stabilize your footage, which means your camera is only as steady as your flying. But for the $109 price tag, this drone is hard to beat.
We like to call the Breeze the budget DJI Mavic (see below). It's a portable 4K drone that is easy to use and fits in a backpack. The only drawback is its lack of stabilized footage. The portable design means Yuneec sacrificed an external gimbal, so you'll have to stabilize your footage in post-production. But for the price and feature list (4K video and 13MP stills, as well as selfie, orbit, journey, and follow-me modes) the Breeze is a good entry into filming from the air.
Although the Yuneec Q500 4K is a little older than some drones here, it makes the list because of its modularity. The Yuneec Q500's removable gimbal is not offered on any other drone on this list. This means you can detach the camera and film beautiful, stabilized 4K footage by hand. Unfortunately, it doesn't contain some of the accident avoidance features we'd like to see in this price range...but for the filmmaker on a budget, its versatility is perfect.
The Xiaomi Mi is the most affordable stabilized 4K drone on the market. For $459, you get a lot of the bells and whistles that you see on the more expensive drones (GPS-assisted hover, tracked flight, surrounded flight) with only a slight loss in picture quality, which is really only visible during editing and color correcting.
Some time has passed since we last wrote about the Snap, but we're still eager for its arrival. We like the Snap because it of its novel approach to modularity, and the safety guards around its propellers. What makes Snap interesting is that the fuselage housing the camera and battery can come off completely and the propellers fold up, making it able to fit in a laptop bag. But the longer this drone takes to get to market, the likelier the competition may catch up.
The Bebop uses a novel approach to filming. Instead of having a separate gimbal to stabilizes the camera, the drone uses electronic stabilization (like the iPhone) on the front-facing camera. The limitation of this is the camera and drone are directly attached, which means the drone has to make any moves you want the camera to perform. On the upside, the setup makes it easier for pilots trying aerial cinematography for the first time. You see what it sees (hence FPV, or "first person viewing"); instead of trying to orient the drone by looking at it in the air, your left is its left, and so forth.
The DJI Inspire 2 is a powerhouse. It can shoot 5.2K in CinemaDNG raw and Apple ProRes on the biggest sensor available in a RTF (ready-to-fly) drone on the market. It offers a separate FPV camera, so one pilot can steer and fly the drone while another pilot operates the camera from a separate controller. The footage is top of the class; entire movies have been shot just using this drone. The downside: the price tag. Fully decked out, the DJI can cost upwards of $8,000 dollars. But if your budget stretches that far, this is the drone to get.
The DJI Mavic is our favorite drone on the market today. Its portability and crisp 4K video make it the drone to beat. It doesn't compromise on quality photo (12MP) or video (4K video at 30 fps) just because it's small, and it still packs a five-kilometer range and a 27-minute flight time.
The biggest drawback to drones prior to 2016 was the clunky packaging. Each professional drone needed its own case, which often meant leaving it behind when using a small crew. The Mavic changed that; it's small enough for users to toss it in a back pack. The only downside is that it costs nearly $1,000, but for the price, you get one of the most feature-packed drones on the market—one you can take anywhere in the world.