And so it begins, the great robot battle of our time. Drones: you know them, you love them, you might be scared to death of them, but eitherway drones have become synonomous with breathtaking video footage and also hellfire missiles. But the drones I’ll be droning on about today – aced it! – are the first sort, the good sort, the future is bright and robots are our friends sort. The others, well, we’ll let history review those – Winnie Churchill once said: “history is written by the victors”, so it’s dollars to donuts that review will be written in binary. But Skynet jokes aside, video drones can be incredibly useful and preposterously fun for just about everyone. Whether you’re a Hollywood cinematographer with a tight budget and a tough shot or a wedding photog trying to spice up your reel, the right video drone can be the answer to your prayers. But even putting professional applications aside, these little video-copters are a hobbyists dream come true. Whether you spend fifty bucks or fifteen hundred, whether you want to film a family bbq or just race around the skies, the right drone can be your best friend. So come along and take a peek at the great grandparents of our future robot overlords, here are the top 10 best drones on the market today.
|DJI Phantom 4||4K & 60 fps||Check Price|
|DJI Phantom 3||2.7K HD||Check Price|
|DJI Mavic Pro||4K Collapsible||Check Price|
|DJI Inspire 2||5.2/4K Video Professional||Check Price|
|Yuneec Q500 4K||4K & 30 fps||Check Price|
|Parrot AR.Drone 2.0||FPV in 720p||Check Price|
|Autel Robotics X-Star||4K Capable FPV||Check Price|
|Sky Viper v950 HD||720p HD||Check Price|
|UDI U818A-1||2MP HD Camera||Check Price|
|Parrot Bebop 2||FPV 14MP 1080p||Check Price|
DJI Phantom 4
The DJI Phantom 4 is the current king of consumer drones available to the general public. When I tell you this thing is sexy I do mean sexy (and that’s not just me trying to score advance brownie points with the machine masters of days to come). Sleek, sophisticated and technologically top of the line, the Phantom 4 is chaulk full of fun features and extraordinary advances that absolutely justify the small fortune you’re going to be paying for it.
Coming in at a base $1500, the Phantom 4 mounts a camera that shoots in stunning 4k at 60 frames per second with an active track feature that recognizes subjects, follows and captures them as they move. If you have absolutely no idea what any of that means then how about this: it flies at a break-neck top speed of 44 miles per hour. Complete with five stereo vision collision avoidance sensors and a thirty minute flight time per charge, you’re going to be able zip this drone through a fir tree forest as fast as your little heart desires…or can handle (keep some asprin nearby). Speaking of handle, the controller for the Phantom 4 integrates an HD video touch screen that gives you an onboard first person view of your flight path as well as a number of camera and flight control options. For example, the “Draw” feature allows you to trace a route on your GPS satellite map and boom! that’s the route your drone will automatically fly as you man the camera. Not only that, but there’s a Gesture Mode which allows you to control the camera with arm movements as the drone flies autonomously around you.
- 4k camera shoots crystal clear, stunning images/videos
- Flies at a max speed of 44mph
- 30 minute flight time with a Return to Home feature
- Five direction obstacle avoidance sensors keeps your new toy safe and sound while in flight
- Draw, Gesture, ActiveTrack and TapFly modes make this drone a steady and easy-to-use platform for camera centric buyers
- There are none. All hail the Machine God. Just kidding…
- This is not a beginner’s drone, but that price tag should have given that away. Speaking of which…
- That price tag. 4k shooting drones with similar flight times are available for cheaper. They’re just not going to do everything this next step in drone evolution is capable of. Speaking of which…
- This next step in drone evolution is spooky autonomous and is probably plotting the downfall of us fleshy, meat bag types.
DJI Phantom 3
The third member of the Four Phantoms of the Apocalypse, the Phantom 3 is a thousand dollars cheaper than it’s more sophisticated, cooler older brother. Heralded by Wired as a brilliant consumer drone for noobs, this quadcopter comes stacked with an automatic flight assisstant, a 25 minute flight time and a return to home feature, ensuring you never loose this bad boy over the ocean like we lost poor, dear Amelia Earhart. Let’s take a moment shall we and remember Amelia…
Anyway, the Phantom 3’s 2.7k video camera is stabilized on a 3-axis gimble, allowing you to take smooth and beautiful 1080p HD video of yourself, your friends, the ocean, or strange and unexplained wreckage floating in said ocean. The remote control allows you to use your smartphone as a viewscreen and gives you a 1 km range while the onboard smart sensors and 720p streaming first per view steering are going to make piloting this baby a sinch, even indoors. And if you’re worried about taking off and landing: don’t, the Phantom 3 does these automatically. Built with all the bells and whistles that you expect from a Phantom (GPS navigation, intelligent orientation control, and a rechargable smart battery platform) this drone is going to get you flying away in no time.
The Phantom 3 does a lot of things right and will keep even the most novice pilot flying high for 25 minutes at a time. The price of entry for “noobs” might be a bit steep at $500, but for experienced flyers who can get the most out of its many features it is definetly worth it. But remember, even the most experienced pilots can and will make mistakes and end up lost at sea or crash landing on a desert island where they will slowly starve to death, luckily the Phantom 3 doesn’t need to eat…unlike poor, dear Amelia.
- 2.7k HD camera shoot beautiful video stabilized by 3-axis gimble
- Shoots 12 Megapixel photos
- Top speed of 35 mph
- Fly indoors with streaming FPV steering and smart sensors
- Automatic Flight Assisstant and vision positioning technology
- Takes off and lands on its very own
- Expensive for what is called a noob’s drone
- No view screen on the controller so you’ll have to use you smartphone, luckily there’s a clamp for it
- A little too late on the market to help a certain pilot who really could have used that return to home technology. That’s on you DJI. That’s on you.
DJI Mavic Pro
Let’s talk about size. Conventional wisdom states “the bigger the better”, while some people hold to the maxim “size doesn’t matter”. There was a time, however, when big wasn’t so huge and size did matter…small size, and that time is now. Enter the DJI Mavic Pro. This pint sized, 4k shooting, video drone is the Floyd Mayweather of personal quadcopters – without the off-putting arrogance and abuse allegations. Able to fold up to the size of a cat, the Mavic Pro is easy to store and quick to pack, unlike a cat.
Sporting that DJI 3-axis gimble to keep your 4k/30 fps camera steady, the Mavic has a 27 minute flight time the film director in you is free to take advantage of. FlightAutonomy technology will allow you to hover in one place with absolute precision and will automatically land your drone within a few inches of where it took off. With Trace, Profile and Spotlight shooting modes that automatically trail, circle, track and keep the camera trained on your subject, the Mavic Pro shoots like a million dollar cinematographer wishes his helicopter crew could. It also happens to have a very respectable 40 mph top speed, that’s 10 mph faster than the top speed of a cat.
Its easy-to-use remote control puts your smartphone to use as a view screen with tap and go piloting so anyone, probably not a cat, can fly this mighty mouse. And talk about range, DJI’s OcuSync transmission technology gives the Mavic a 4.3 mile (7 km) range that still supports HD 1080p/720p video streaming. Did I mention it’s $1000? It’s $1000.
- FlightAutonomy allows obstacle detection from up to 50 feet away
- 4.3 mile range and 40 mph top speed with a 27 minute flight time
- Pro level 4k video backed by autonomous shooting technology to get you that perfect take at a reasonable price
- Onboard collision censors
- Folds up for easy transport and storage
- There have been some reported compass calibration issues
- This drone is not a cat
DJI Inspire 2
Are you a professional filmaker? Does your unit production manager insist there is no money in the budget for that circling helicopter shot of this or that hero on his or her knees screaming “No!” into the smoke-stained sky? Do you have $3000? If the answer to any one of these questions was “no” then drop to your knees and start screaming because this ain’t the drone for you muchacho. Where the DJI Phantom 4 is the king of consumer drones, the Inspire 2 is the Mongol khan that rides into that king’s kindgom and utterly lays it to waste. Shooting in stupid beautiful 5.2/4k, this is the professional video drone that is about to render your entire camera department redundant.
Coming stock with all those DJI autonomous goodies, the Inspire 2 has plenty of new features to dazzle the mind and get your filmmaking vision across crystal clear. The separate camera and pilot controls allow for unprecedented freedom for aerial shot composition while the overhead and forward collision sensors on the Inspire 2 will let you shoot indoors without fear of running into walls like a quadcopter Kool-aid Man. I’d list more of this high flying champion’s sizzle reel of technological wonder features but the Camera Operators’ Union and the Helicopter News Teams United would shut down this site with strongly worded letters and street protests outside our building…in Chechnya. For anyone with a camera bag or wearing a flight suit who’s asking: we’re totally based in Chechnya.
- DJI Lightbridge 2 Technology allows for a 7 km control and a 1080p stream
- 27 minutes of flight time
- 58 mph/94 kmph top speed
- Streaming FPV controls for pilot and separate view controls for the camera operator makes this a cinematographer’s best friend
- Return to home automatic guidance keeps your expensive investment from getting lost
- Expensive investment for a platform and features that will probably be available at a cheaper price point and smaller package in the near future
- Unless you are a professional filmmaker this is not the drone for you
- Call your union – this baby is going to put a lot of camera pros out of work
Yuneec Q500 4K
Finally something that isn’t made by DJI, am I right? Because screw those fools. Those geniuses. But let’s talk about a different set of smart folks and their lovely little workhorse: the Yuneec Q500 4k. This particular peach of a murdering robot camera coptor is $800 for the whole 4k/30 fps video package. The camera is also detachable from the coptor body and comes with a steady-cam grip so you can actually use this as a traditional camera if the mood hits you. If you consider this a triviality, you are dead wrong my son. This is a huge win for you home movie shooters as you can use the drone on the ground, in the house, in your hand, and in the sky. Take a moment and Google a top of the line 4k camera right now. How much does it cost? Not cheap. Now give it wings. How? Shoot an eagle out of the sky, cut its wings off and super glue those majestic suckers to that camera. Why didn’t you think about that ya dingo? That said, you should probably just spring for the Yuneec. It’s got the flapping power of a live eagle or (for you Europeans) like 2.5 sparrowhawks
Yuneec has quite a few drones on offer, but the Q500 is the all around jewel in the company’s crown. Easy to use, fun and accessible, this package also comes with two batteries, an extra set of rotors, and a transmitter with a built in touch screen. This is Yuneec pulling out all the convenient stops just for you boo boo. You’re not going to be running out of rotors or staying flightless waiting for your one battery to charge, and if there are any problems with anything on this drone you can call up Yuneec’s swift and caring customer service department and they’ll be helping you through it asap.
- Livestream FPV streamed onto a built-in touchscreen (not your phone).
- 25 minute flight time
- Turtle and Rabbit speeds let you maintain a speed of your preference
- 1080 streaming and beautiful 4k video
- Camera detaches and comes with a steady-cam mount
- No object detection so fly with care and in wide open spaces
- A heavier drone that is slow to maneuver
- An 800 meter range means you are not going as far as the comparable Phantom 3
Parrot AR.Drone 2.0
Named after the vibrantly colored avians of subtropical climes known for their ability to mimic the human voice to express a want for crackers, this $250 robotic Parrot AR 2.0 is perfect for the drone enthusiast in your life who doesn’t deserve a DJI. At $250 you’re getting quite the little problem package for a very pretty penny. With only a 50 m flight control range and an 11 mph top speed this Parrot isn’t going anywhere far or fast. It also has quite a few technical issues that can ruin your time and blow your investment. Whether it’s unresponsive controls due to a faulty wifi connection (this bird flies via wifi, not RC) or simply flying out of its very short range, you may be disappointed with this foam built jungle bird.
Conversely, at $250 you’re getting a pretty cheap first person view piloted drone that you can tamper with and practice on before upgrading to the big Phantom guns. And though the Parrot AR does have its problems it is durably built and priced well for for that 720p lifestreaming and HD video love. The Parrot also makes use of your smart phone or tablet for a controller, which – wifi connectivity problems already addressed – is a mixed blessing. Anyone who has ever played a touchscreen game knows that sometimes the screen just doesn’t register your commands. This is fine in a virtual space but can be risky when piloting an expensive drone.
- It’s only $250 for the FPV drone experience in 720p
- Comes in various camo schemes so it’ll be your hidden eye in the sky
- Wifi controller rather than RC might have your expensive drone flying out of range and into the great abyss in no time
- Comes in camo so it’ll be that much harder to find when it flies out of range.
Autel Robotics X-Star
Welcome Autel Robotics X-Star to the high-flying, high quality world of top of the line drones. In a word, the X-Star is the business. Sophisticated yet simple, sleek yet sexy, fun yet still also fun, this is the high-flying 4k shooter of your dreams. It’s got the goods: 3-axis gimble for camera stabilization, HD livestreaming FPV at a range of 1.2 miles, a dual satellite tracking system, Orbit, Follow and Waypoint modes of autonomous flight, and a SecureFly feature that keeps your hefty investment of $800 safe from crashing. It is also orange. Let me list at least three other great things that are orange: Oranges, Orangutangs, Spray tans. You understand.
As one of the more boutique drone manufacturers, Autel is competing against a lot of the high tier, heavy-hitters in the drone world. So to separate themselves from the pack they really take it upon themselves to take care of you and the product they sold you. Their fantastic customer service center is open around the clock, ready to pick you back up when your drone falls down and get you both flying again. You can even call them in the wee hours of the night and ask their reps existential questions such as: Is there a God? Is He a robot? Are we all just itty-bitty cogs in His oversized robotic hive mind, uselessly grinding away towards an ultimately pointless future? Autel’s representatives might not give you the answers to any of these questions but be assured: they know them. They know.
- 25 minute flight time with a FPV livestream distance of 1.2 miles
- 4k capable Ultra HD camera on a 3-axis gimble
- Starpoint Positioning System (dual satellite navigation)
- Fantastic customer service
- Some compass calibration issues have been reported (I bet Autel customer service is all over this)
- May not connect to some devices easily
Sky Viper v950 HD
It’s mean. It’s green. It’s a machine. It’s called the Sky Viper – a kingly, Top Gun sort of name – and it’s available to everyone with a hundred bucks and a desire to sail the stormy skies. You’re going to say: “But dear and glorious writer, this is not a top of the line drone.” To which I respond: “Lowly reader, thou art correct in thy petty mewlings, yet must not a stallion trot before it may canter?” In other words: Learner Drone. The Sky Viper isn’t made to last, nor is it particularly advanced, but it will give you a satisfactory first learning experience piloting a drone. Or it will destroy your faith in the technology and frustrate you to the point of rage destroying your Cloud Snake, Star Mamba, Moon Boa…excuse me, Space Serpent…Damnit! Sky Viper...there it is…rage destroying your Sky Viper, probably using a laser sword.
Let’s talk specs. Your Viper takes 720p HD pictures and videos, has a 130 degree up and down camera adjustment, takes one-click panorama shots and does stunts on command. Stunts! Do a barrel roll. Maybe a flip. Whatever. The point is you’re getting a remote control quad copter that takes pictures worse than your smart phone for the low and attainable price of $100. It’s going to crash, crap out on you, survive some landings, utterly fall apart from others, and generally just get you into the drone game. Battery strength: varies. Flight time: varies. Enjoyment: varies.
- Cheap and easy to use, a great first step into the drone game
- 720p HD pics and vids
- Remote control has intuitive beginner pilot features that will get you
- Rule of cool: cool name, cool look, pretty dang cool color scheme. This drone is the coolest fool in the swimming pool
- This Sky Snake will either last forever or die miserably in just a few minutes
- Propellers break, so does its body, other bits and bobs as well
- Return policy is shakey. Good luck.
If you have a barcode scanner handy you might need it to figure out what to actually call this thing. It is made in China, as are most drones, but not made in China in the old, jankey “we still put lead in our paint” sort of way, rather it is made in China in the fresh, new “we’re the world’s future capitalist power house and engine of ingenuity” sort of way. But even if it was made by old China, for $60 you could make this drone out of uranium and I’d still buy it – but then so would North Korea and probably Iran. Not that I’m saying the People’s Republic of China would ever sell uranium to either of those two countries, but they certaintly would not do so for only $60. That’s what they have the UDI for, which I believe I need to clarify: is 100% not made of lead or uranium.
The UDI U818A-1 comes standard with all those letters and numbers (great!), a remote control, extra blades, and a 6-axis gyro to stabilize your 2 MP Camera while it’s shooting that sweet, sweet HD video. You might get up to 10 minutes of flight time out of the UDI’s battery suite and a control range of 100 meters or so, which – again – for $60 is perfectly reasonable.
At its core this is a new pilot’s test drone. You’re not going to get any amazing footage out of it, but it is still a pleasure to zip it about the skies and see the world from a new perspective. As just an RC Quadcopter it’s a great investment, but with the added video features you are sure to find utility for this basic, beautifully made drone.
- Autonomous features like Headless Mode and Return to Home
- 10 minute flight time
- HD video
- Cheap, blue and a blast
- Made in China (best People’s Republic in the World)
- Not made of lead or uranium
- Motor difficulties have been reported.
- Battery difficulties may occur
Parrot Bebop 2
Otters holding hands, kittens making biscuits, a basket full of puppies, and the Parrot Bebop 2 – what do they all have in common? The ruthless killer instincts of born predators and a timeless cuteness. This drone literally looks like a baby penguin (the most aww animal in the universe) but with actual working wings. And they call it the Bebop! As in Bebop and Rocksteady! What a joy. Thank you Parrot. Thank you. Anywho, this drone does other stuff besides looking cute as all get out, of course it’s hard to focus while staring into the adorable abyss but we’ll do my best. Me always do.
For around $500 you get 25 minutes of FPV flight time, a 14MP camera that shoots in 1080p over a 186 degree field of view and has a top speed of 38 mph. Pretty nice package. It’s also got GPS and visual tracking. These are all the things you’d expect for the price tag but there’s nothing here that necessarily wows me. That seems to be the running theme of the Parrot brand. They make well-designed and aesthetically pleasing products that focus more on style than on substance – but then maybe I’m biased against Parrot for deep seeded, cold-blooded, “you killed my father, prepare to die” reasons. And sure, no one at Parrot actually killed my dad. But they could have. And sure he’s not actually dead. But he could be. So all in all I’m not saying the deceptively cute Parrot Bebop tricks, ambushes, and murders papas, but I’m not saying it doesn’t either.
- Oh My Sweet Lord that is the cutest thing in the world with working wings!
- FPV 1080p live streaming
- 25 minute flight time and a top speed of 38 mph
- Did I say it’s cute?
- It will not hunt down and kill your birth father (I can’t guarantee that statement)
- At a similar price to the Phantom 3 you’re getting quite a bit less
- Streaming is known to get glitchy and the range, well, it’s not so good
- Some manufacturing errors might stick you with an unucky dud, but this can happen to anyone. Especially to people like me…I am a bad boy and deserve nothing but the worst.
This is a message to you who survived, to you who made it through the robot apocolypse. If you have the will, if you have the tech, if you value your humanity then go back. Go back in time and destroy these ten drones. They are the fore bearers of our doom, the heralds of our destruction, the first step on the road to planetary domination. They are also supes fun and real cool. So if you do pull off the old time jump give them a spin. Fly them about for a few hours. Film some amazing video of yourself hiking or skiing, or take some pictures from a view you could never normally attain. Enjoy the artistry and technological grace of these wonderful human creations. And then destroy them before they kill us all!