What is the point of a drone? For many, a drone in the now-popular multi-rotor configuration, is an extension of a passion for RC aircraft. For others, a drone represents a way to put a camera into the sky. We are pretty passionate about the camera in the sky experience.
Generally recognized as one of the best camera drones on the market, the DJI Inspire 2 offers great cameras, superb flight and robust controls for...
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DJI called the Mavic 2 Pro an iterative update over the original Mavic Pro; It may look like a simple upgrade, but the Mavic 2...
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The DJI Mavic Air 2 is the first "air" to look like a Mavic drone. It's the perfect midway between the Mini and larger Mavic...
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Taking the core of the solid DJI Phantom 4 Pro, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 adds more efficient motors, OcuSync connectivity and more.
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The Parrot Anafi is one of few drones that looks up as well as it looks down. The 4K front mounted camera is on a...
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Whether for personal use or for commercial application, let’s take a look at a list of our favorites, some of the best camera drones in the sky.
Best camera drones
Important note: The FAA is enacting new drone laws for hobby pilots, you can no longer fly in controlled airspace with a simple call to the local airport, you now require full authorization for each flight. Coming soon will be a new testing and licensing requirement for hobby flight, plus Remote ID for all craft. Safety is the name of the game, convenience is not.
Fly for fun or get paid to fly?
It is our presumption that most of you will be flying for personal reasons, just to have fun. If you are looking to fly for commercial reasons, that is, if you are going to be paid to fly, please remember that you require a Part 107 remote pilot’s license from the FAA in the United States.
What to look for in a camera drone
There is much to discuss when we talk camera drones, what it really boils down to, what are you trying to accomplish? At the very bottom, you can buy a toy-class drone equipped with a 2 MP camera. This will be the kind of camera experience you don’t share with friends and family. No offense to the drone manufacturers that pump out these toy drones and market them as being “camera drones,” but they are misleading consumers into thinking they’re getting more than an adequate FPV camera for flying purposes. FPV is fine at this level, but HD is not in the cards here.
Stepping things up, you can get into a decent hobby drone for under $500, it may even pack a 4K sensor, but there is more to a sensor than the pixel count. Machines in this class can accomplish recording aerial video worth sharing, but just. At this level, you are at best on-par with a GoPro camera. Don’t mistake what I’m saying, I have high respect for GoPro cameras, they just are not optimized and tuned for drone footage.
Stepping up, you can get into drones up to $2000, many under $1000 still, but there are more than a few options between about $600 up to $1800 that produce the aerial footage you probably came looking for today. Sorry to say, if you want serious video from the sky, you’ll need to spend some money. The standout drone in this segment is the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, you can read about it below, but it’s perhaps the best flying camera with a price below $2000. The DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is close to the same price, and is a much larger platform if you need to carry more than just a camera. Both of these drones pack a 1-inch sensor with 4K video capture, industry leading object avoidance to ensure clean autonomous flight, and OcuSync so you can do more.
- DJI Mavic 2 drones review
- DJI Mavic Air 2 review
- DJI Phantom 4 Pro review
- DJI Mavic Pro review
- Best drones under $1000
From there, we’d like to highlight the DJI Inspire 2, it’ll run you at least $3000 to get started, but bump that to $6000 if you want the camera with that. Inspire 2 is a monstrously capable drone, 60 mph, 5.2K video, hot swapping dual batteries, internal SSD storage, powerful video streaming up to Hollywood level, or at least for the local news. As far as buying a ready to fly camera drone, this is, perhaps, the very best that you can get.
Finally, getting well beyond the needs of any home use camera drone, there are many machines that can carry really high end cameras, like the 100 MP Hasselblad or a RED 8K camera. These machines range anywhere from $10K up to $250,000. Yes, you can spend a quarter of a million dollars on a drone, more even, but you’ll then be able to shoot commercials for car companies or get a job with a legit Hollywood crew. I keep talking about making movies, don’t forget there are plenty of opportunities in commercial inspection, zoom lenses, thermal cameras and more are ready to put drones into the air in place of helicopters.
If you are really interested in some of the high-end stuff, we cover a few below, but check out our visit to the NAB Show in Las Vegas in the video below. Fun Fact: Acecore drones were used to film in Iceland for the latest Game of Thrones season – sadly, we spent only a brief moment visiting them at the tradeshow. (Skip to about the 3:30 mark if that’s all you care to see.)
Consumer camera drones
DJI Inspire 2
November 2016Release Date
The original DJI Inspire may have set a tone for what a professional drone should look like, but the newer DJI Inspire 2 set the tone for what it should be able to accomplish. At launch, the Inspire 2 was equipped with the Zenmuse X5, a 5.2K camera with interchangeable lenses, ready to take on tasks in Hollywood. Since then, DJI has added the Zenmuse X7 camera, a 6K shooter even more capable of professional filming tasks.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
August 2018Release Date
Introduced in August of 2018, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro instantly became the best consumer-class folding drone that DJI had to offer. A marked upgrade over the original Mavic Pro, the Mavic 2 Pro rocks a 1-inch camera sensor for 4K video capture at 100Mbps, multi-direction obstacle avoidance sensors for some of the safest drone flight possible, and much more. OcuSync 2.0 enhances connectivity to the remote control and other accessories, now able to transmit 1080p live stream video well beyond the legal line-of-sight.
With an initial launch price of $1449, plus another $319 to get the Fly More kit with extra batteries, there is a barrier to entry with this machine, but if the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is within your budget, we think you will not be disappointed.
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
August 2018Release Date
If you run down the spec sheet, the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro are the same machine, with one major exception, the camera. The folding quadcopter design offers great portability, the multi-direction obstacle avoidance sensors assist in safe flight, and the new capabilities of OcuSync 2.0 add versatility for control and accessories. That is true for both of the drones, the Mavic 2 Zoom, on the other hand, rocks a 2x optical zoom lens on top of a 12MP camera. It shoots 4K video at 100Mbps and can digitally double that zoom for an impressive close-up.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
May 2018Release Date
The DJI Phantom series of drones are some of the best machines on the market, every iteration makes improvements on the previous and in the case of the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, we're talking about improved motors, more efficient propellers and the first Phantom drone to rock OcuSync connectivity.
The Phantom 4 Pro series was DJI's best drone at launch for object avoidance technology, a trend that continues and is improved upon with the V2.0 series, adding radar and more obstacle avoidance goodness. The newer drone comes with the same 20MP 4K camera as previous, still one of the best camera drones on the market.
The difference between the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 for around $1,499 and the Phantom 4 Pro+ V2.0 for $1,749 is the inclusion of a 5.5-inch built-in display on the remote of the Pro+. The bright, Android powered display is the only difference between the two machines.
DJI Mavic Air 2
May 2020Release Date
The DJI Mavic Air 2 drone is more than just a successor to the original Mavic Air, it's more of a transition from its own form-factor into a true Mavic drone. The Mavic Air 2 maintains its place as a mid-tier drone in DJI's lineup. In terms of size, price, and capability, the Mavic Air 2 sits almost perfectly in between the Mavic Mini and the Mavic 2 series drones.
In the same way that the Mavic Air stepped up the camera game for small drones, the Mavic Air 2 is an exciting update in the camera department as well. You're looking at a new 1/2-inch sensor that shoots 12MP stills, but does so from a 48MP sensor! You can capture 48MP stills as well, but the 12MP shots are better, using pixel binning managed by Quad Bayer technology. Photos are great, but the new 4K video capture at 60fps, and a data bit rate of 120Mbps, are more exciting to many users.
Check out the DJI Mavic Air 2 for a starting price of $799 for the base package, $988 for the Fly More combo at launch in May 2020.
DJI Mavic Mini
November 2019Release Date
With a long list of drones that start with the name Mavic, DJI has launched yet another consumer machine, perhaps their most consumer friendly yet, the new, very compact, folding DJI Mavic Mini.
As the name implies, the DJI Mavic Mini is a very small machine, and in true DJI fashion, it has few compromises to make it all work. The first thing to note is that the Mavic Mini weighs less than 0.55 lbs, which means you do not need to register it with the FAA before flight. Registration is quick and easy, but not requiring it at all is a bonus.
Related reading: DJI Mavic Mini review
Reminder: You may not have to register the Mavic Mini, but it's still a drone, you still have to follow the rules!
Don't let the small size fool you, this drone packs a 12MP camera, shoot 2.7K video from a 3-axis stabilized Gimbal and has all of the flight features you'd expect from a Mavic drone today.
Autel Robotics Evo II
January 2020Release Date
The Autel Robotics Evo II (Evo 2) is an exciting update to the initial Evo. Sharing much of the same ideology for form-factor and flight characteristics, the newer machine is an update in almost every way. Primarily, pilots should be excited for 40 minute flight times, extended connectivity range, and an 8K camera. Sure, you can upgrade to a Pro model that has a larger sensor and only a 6K camera, but base model Evo II buyers are getting their hands on one of the first consumer products to shoot 8K video, not just drones, one of the first, period.
This orange folding drone is a machine that satisfies consumers, but also tackles commercial and professional needs. Notably, the top model of the new Evo II line comes with a dual-camera configuration, sporting an 8K sensor and a decent IR camera. The base model and the commercial model each get that 1/2-inch 8K sensor, while the pro model gets a full 1-inch 6K sensor. They can all send the camera feed back to the Autel Robotics Live Deck, for your studio and independent recording needs as well.
The Autel Robotics Evo II will be available in early 2020 starting at $1495. Exact prices and availability yet to be announced.
July 2018Release Date
The Parrot Anafi is one of the best entries from Parrot for the consumer camera drone market. Recognizing the power of an articulating gimbal, the new 21MP, 4K camera is able to point all the way down and rotate to pointing all the way up. This is extremely powerful for inspection services on commercial drones, but is built into a consumer friendly folding quadcopter design.
The drone itself is a step up from Parrot's usual mostly-foam build. Foam is great for building size without adding much weight, instead the Anafi is a much sleeker package with a plastic body.
Look for the now-common set of features in the Anafi, such as folding propeller arms, folding propellers, a compact size and a stabilized 4K camera. The remote control uses your phone as a display and you can swap batteries to expand your flight day. The Parrot Anafi sells for $699, but you can often find deals to save a few dollars.
DJI Mavic Air
January 2018Release Date
DJI found great success with the Mavic Pro, they followed that up with the far less expensive Spark. The Mavic Air bridges the gap between these two, offering all the fun features from the smaller Spark as well as all the pro flight features of the Mavic Pro. Better yet, the Mavic Air introduced a 100Mbps data rate for video capture on a DJI drone under $1500. That sounds like a mouthful, suffice to say that the Mavic Air instantly took the crown for the best video at the lowest price of any drone on the market.
After the launch of the Mavic 2 series of drones, we had to recommend the newer Mavic line as the best camera on a compact drone, but the Mavic Air still remains our top pick if ultimate portability is your concern. The Mavic Air manages to pack down to almost fit comfortably in your pocket.
DJI Mavic Pro
November 2016Release Date
The DJI Mavic Pro is a compact, folding drone that was a pioneer for portability. This quadcopter folds down to fit easily in a backpack, or large pocket, while opening up to take 4K video to over 40mph in the sky. The 3-axis stabilized gimbal offers very smooth footage and OcuSync enables long range and HD live video streaming. The Phantom line of drones may have established DJI as a leader in the consumer drone market, but the Mavic Pro made high-quality aerial photography fun and highly accessible.
Yuneec Typhoon H Plus
July 2018Release Date
The hexacopter design of Yuneec's Typhoon line of drones has been quite popular, if not successful. The design has become an icon in the industry and the safety of having extra propellers has been well accepted in the commercial market. The Yuneec Typhoon H Plus is a second generation model of their consumer focus. The Typhoon H Plus lands somewhere in between the DJI Phantom and DJI Inspire line of drones in terms of specs and price. Packing a 20MP 4K camera on a 3-axis gimbal, folding design and market average flight times and speeds, the Intel RealSense obstacle avoidance sensor may a leading reason to consider this drone over others.
You'll be able able to check out the Yuneec Typhoon H Plus for about $1899 from a few retailers.
Yuneec Tornado H920 Plus
February 2017Release Date
If you are looking for the largest off-the-shelf drone that Yuneec produces, you'll be looking at the Yuneec Tornado H920 Plus. This is a sizable hexacopter made to haul a fair sized camera. By default, you'll launch with the CGO4, which compares nicely to the Panasonic GH4. Was that a collaboration? Well, go ahead and install the camera gimbal to launch with the GH4 itself. In the end, the H920 Plus is an older drone, it's still reliable and masters the basics, but runs Yuneec's older in-house software. Their software is not bad, but their newer drones use PX4 and Dronecode software, which is more robust.
Bottom line, if you need a powerful drone for your more basic Hollywood camera flight needs, the Yuneec Tornado H920 Plus is a solid consideration.
Drone legal and safety
Commercial and Industrial drones
Special note: In the United States you will need special licensing to operate a drone for pay. That is not to say that you need licensing to fly the following drones, the rule goes for any drone you fly for hire. We’ll be going more in-depth on the process at a later date, but for now, know that if you will be paid to fly, including getting paid for the footage you capture, you’ll need what they call the Part 107. Hit the following resource for more info:
DJI Matrice M600 Pro
Also see in our Best professional drones list
If you did not already know this, DJI has been servicing the high-end and professional aerial photography space for a while. Most consumers will not be familiar with the expensive offerings that are the Matrice and the Spreading Wings that you’ll see later.
Providing few, if any of the conveniences and safety measures of the consumer focused drones, the M600 Pro is a massive, six armed drone that takes six batteries and can handle the best of the best in DJI cameras or carry over 13 lbs of RED or other high-end camera rigs.
At around $3,999 before you choose your camera, the DJI Matrice 600 Pro is a serious machine for serious video work.
FreeFly offers two sizes of their drone, the Alta 6 and Alta 8. Aside from physical dimensions, the number indicates how many propellers are equipped. Size is the name of the game here: the DJI Mavic Pro is about a 335 mm frame, that is, 335 mm from the center of one motor diagonally across to the far corner motor. The DJI Inspire 2 is about twice the size of the Mavic, and the FreeFly Alta 8 is about twice the size of the Inspire 2. That’s a frame size of 1,325 mm. Good thing it folds down for transport.
Dual batteries give this monster machine upwards of 40 minutes of flight and a 20 pound payload can handle many Gimbal and camera assemblies. The only thing preventing you from using the FreeFly Alta to put your high-end camera into the air is the $17,495.00 price tag for the Alta 8, or $11,995.00 for the Alta 6.
Old, but still good
DJI Phantom 4
March 2016Release Date
Carrying the DJI Phantom line torch from early 2016 until late 2016, the DJI Phantom 4 offered a familiar flight experience and solid camera performance for pilots. It may have held only a short time in the lime-light, taking over from the Phantom 3 and being replaced by the far more capable Phantom 4 Pro, but it was a well respected drone in the series. This was the last Phantom drone to ship with a 1/2.3-inch camera sensor, all Phantom drones since are equipped with a full 1-inch sensor, but it still offered 4K video capture and 12MP photos. With a flight time of about 28 minutes and a range of about 3 miles at 45 mph, the Phantom 4 remains on par with some of the best drones on the market today.
Check out the DJI Phantom 4 for about $999, but keep in mind that the drone has been discontinued, prices may fluctuate with availability of remaining stock.
DJI Phantom 3 Pro
April 2015Release Date
The original DJI Phantom 3 was an iconic drone. Its design is still emulated and celebrated on many machines today. There were a few versions of the Phantom 3, with the DJI Phantom 3 Pro topping things off with a 4K camera, extended flight range and better GPS and positioning tools. The industry has come a long, long way since the Phantom 3 Pro hit the market in 2015, but it's still a fin drone to play with.
Check out the DJI Phantom 3 Pro for $770 on Amazon today, just keep in mind that prices and availability will fluctuate for this discontinued drone.
November 2014Release Date
Few drones captured the reputation of being a monster of a drone quite like the DJI Inspire. We call it now the Inspire 1, to differentiate it from the newer Inspire 2, but it's still that same killer drone that got people excited. The retractable landing gear, 360 articulating camera gimbal and design captured imaginations. Sadly, the drone gained popularity through a bunch of drone crash videos, but in the industry, it marked the beginning of being able to access a superb drone for a price that a consumer can handle.
High speeds, superb cameras, a unique drone design and more sold for a price well above double what you can snag it for today. Check out the DJI Inspire 1 for about $1229 today. As a discontinued drone, stock and prices may fluctuate.
DJI Matrice 200 series: 200/210/RTK
February 2017Release Date
When DJI re-imagined their commercial drone platform, they had inspection services in mind. Previous drones struggled with looking up, so DJI added a mount to point a camera up. Previous drones struggled with only having room for one payload, so DJI put three mount points, and thus the DJI Matrice 200 series was born. The Matrice 200 is the started machine, a quadcopter that accepts two bottom mounted payloads. The Matrice 210 adds a third mount on top of the drone, for an upward facing camera. The Matrice 210 RTK adds in that crucial GPS performance for demanding environments and precision operations.
These are powerful, fast and weather resistant drones that are almost custom order from DJI. Budget about $6,500 to get started, with a full flight package of the 210 RTK running north of $10,000.
September 2017Release Date
After some success with the hexacopter design, Yuneec decided to head over to the commercial drone market with the Yuneec H520. A commercial-grade, folding machine that ships in construction orange. A range of payloads are available, mostly allowing the H520 to serve your inspection, surveying, mapping and search and rescue needs. Retractable landing gear allow 360 degree rotation of the camera, and the platform promises stability, even in high winds.
The Yuneec H520 alone costs less than $2000, but you should expect to pay around $4000 for a full flight package with multiple batteries and a camera or two.
100 MP camera for the sky!
DJI recently unleashed a beast for your aerial capture needs. Utilizing the M6oo or S1000+ you’ve seen already, DJI’s stake in Hasselblad has resulted in a 100MP camera for the sky. The H6D-100C hangs using the Ronin-MX, but you’ll be able to utilize the new Ronin 2 when it hits the market later this year. Read more about the new 100MP camera from DJI and Hasselblad here.
Serious equipment comes with a serious price, budget about $40,000 to fly this camera, or grab just the shooter for around $32,500.
Check out the Hasselblad H6D-100C for $27,995 on Amazon today.
If you are flying for pay, or any other form of compensation, you must operate under a different set of rules and possess a commercial drone license. We call it the Part 107, it’s not too hard to get, but it will take some time to learn all the rules. We want to help you learn the rules and get your commercial license, check out our drone pilot training material.
Autel Robotics Evo
June 2018Release Date
Announced at CES 2018, the Autel Robotics Evo folding drone offers a familiar design and flight features for a DJI Mavic Pro owner. This familiarity is not a bad thing, it means a compact folding design, 4K stabilized camera and reliability you can take to the bank, so to speak. Autel Robotics is one of the few drone manufacturers to build a machine in this form-factor that isn't a toy builder trying to step it up, the Evo has roots in commercial quality, down-sized to fit in your backpack.
The Autel Robotics Evo offers a solid flight experience, to the level that very few can compete, and the introduction of the Live Deck takes video transmission to a new level. To be fair, it's just a video receiver that can hook to your TV or other HDMI device, making it an important tool news crews or for safely recording footage on the side.
Check out the Autel Robotics Evo for $999 most days.
Coming soon: XDynamics Evolve 2
XDynamics Evolve 2
April 2020Release Date
The XDynamics Evolve 2 drone offers a carbon fiber fuselage and propeller arms with magnesium undercarriage, plenty of power and flight time, and a slick micro four thirds camera. The payload makes the purpose of this machine very clear, this is a high-end camera drone.
The original Evolve drone was a good stepping stone for the company, but now that they've learned how the market works, we're glad to see the huge jump from a 1/2.3-inch camera up to a micro 4/3 system. The camera we use to record our videos for the site, the Panasonic GH5, is the same size of sensor, and cost close to the same price as the Evolve 2, with lenses. we have very high hopes for a machine with a camera of this caliber, and we look forward to putting some of our lenses on this drone. The XDynamics Evolve 2 also offers crazy connection range, clocking over six miles of connectivity. Laws make it hard to use this in the Unites States, but waivers can be had, and other countries can take advantage of this.
The XDynamics Evolve 2 is set for April 2020 release with a price of $3,699. You can pre-order today for $50 down.
Special consideration: PowerVision PowerEgg X
PowerVision PowerEgg X
January 2020Release Date
The folks at PowerVision first captured attention with their Dolphin underwater drone, a submarine, of sorts. Their PowerEgg flying drone was a cool design, but the PowerVision PowerEgg X is a versatile machine that embraces some extra features we might have inadvertently used drones for from time to time. In addition to having a dedicated shell that allows the drone to fly in the rain, and floats to let it land and take off from water, the PowerEgg X breaks down into a compact form-factor, embracing its ability to operate as a camcorder.
Attach the hand strap to get a basic camcorder feel from your PowerEgg X drone. That's a 3-axis stabilized Gimbal, 4K camera with object tracking functions to automate some of your cinematography.
Turn any drone into a camera drone
DJI Osmo Pocket
There’s more to it than just gluing the new hand-held DJI Osmo Pocket to the top of your drone, but that’s the general idea. In much the same way as many early drones launching with a GoPro attached, the 3-axis stabilized camera on the Osmo Pocket offers DJI Mavic Air level quality for near any drone that can lift the light-weight camera system. Learn more about our efforts attaching the Osmo Pocket to a drone before you decide for yourself. Currently going for $349.
That is the end of our list of best camera drones for now. There are many great drones on the market, some of which provide exceptional camera capabilities, for us, these few are the best of the best.
Is there a drone out there that you think deserves to be on this list? We can think of a few that are near as good as some of our recommendations, but we want to hear what you have to say in the comments below.