With over 50% of the market cornered, it’s not an opinion that DJI owns the consumer camera drone market until a major company comes along and makes a play. Sony? Canon? Anyone? Competition fosters innovation, and we all know it’s all about the camera. Sure, it’s great I can wave at the drone, but deep down, it’s all about the image and video quality.
And the market is only getting larger. Head over here for an infographic on the growth of the consumer drone market expected over the next five years in the United States alone.
Best DJI Drones of 2018
1. Mavic 2 Pro/Zoom
DJI’s successor to the Mavic Pro is everything we wanted and a bit more. We have been clamoring for the one-inch sensor to make an appearance in the Mavic lineup, and DJI did one better. The Mavic 2 Pro features a Hasselblad camera with a one-inch sensor. It doesn’t hit 4K60p, leaving that feature to the Phantom 4 Pro, but a 10-bit Dlog-M color profile and 10-bit HDR video is one hell of a consolation.
Outside of the cameras, the drones share the same features outlined in DJI’s announcement video below:
Unless you absolutely need a Phantom 4 Pro, the Mavic 2 is the best DJI drone on the market in terms of value. And it doesn’t have the horrible motor whine which plagued the last generation of DJI drones.
Those wanting a dedicated screen can add it on for $300. Personally, I prefer using an iPad. We all have a tablet at this point, and you’re not locked into DJI’s app ecosystem. Nothing wrong with the DJI Go 4 App, but it’s nice to have options. The extra $300 you’d spend can grab two batteries. Which would you rather have?
I have used it with the dedicated screen and without. Without a doubt, the dedicated screen is nice and bright, but so are our smartphones. If you asked me during the days of the iPhone 7 launch, I’d say opt for a dedicated screen. Apple, Samsung, and Google are all making strides in screen brightness. Our phones may not be hitting 1000 nits yet, but they are close enough.
Why isn’t the Phantom 4 Pro first? The Mavic Air wins by combining a crazy feature set with portability. And with extra batteries, props, charger and more, the Mavic Air stays under a grand. The Phantom 4 Pro is portable, but not toss in a small bag small. It’s the price you pay for better tech, camera sensor, and more. And then there’s the low light capability. It’s off the charts when compared to the regular Phantom 4:
A few accessories you’ll want is a hell of a backpack and ND filters. DJI sells their own, but I’m a Polar Pro fan for ND filters. Lowepro for anything camera/drone backpack related.
3. DJI Mavic Air
The Mavic Air is the happy middle of value and features. DJI launched it in early 2018 to wide acclaim, and frankly, it’s been eating the Mavic Pro’s lunch for the first half of 2018. You are sacrificing battery life but gaining more portability and a bump in the video bitrate. The two drones share a sensor, but the Mavic Pro is locked in at 60Mbps while the Air is loving life at the 100Mbps.
DJI is quickly trying to clear its inventory of the Mavic Pro in what most observers assume is a Mavic Pro II launch in July. Right now, the Mavic Air is just the better value. The Fly More Combo comes in under $1000 and you get one hell of a camera drone for the money.
Will the Mavic Air lose its #1 spot with the release of the Mavic Pro II? It depends. You can create some amazing content with the Air and you can’t discount the absurd portability of the camera drone. As for the type of content you can create, take a look:
That kind of look for under $1000 is damn hard to beat.
4. DJI Spark
DJI’s answer to those wanting an entry-level drone. Think of it as a selfie drone and at $499; it’s hard to beat the price for something brand new. There are compromises. First, the camera is not on a 3-axis gimbal. You get a two-axis setup with electronic image stabilization. Next is the limited battery life of 16 minutes, but you can plug it in without removing the battery to charge it. The range is limited to an advertised 1.2 miles. Figure just under a mile in normal conditions.
What makes it #4? It’s tiny and the perfect camera drone for kids or those just wanting a selfie drone. If you’re not interested in flying two miles out for the perfect shot, the Spark is in your wheelhouse. It’s built like a tank, so handing it off to my nephew is no problem.
The $499 is a bit of headline grabber. For the remote controller, extra batteries, charger, case, etc.exact same, the true cost is $699. Still a solid deal, but that represents a more realistic price point.
5. Phantom 4 Advanced
It’s $300 cheaper than the Phantom 4 Pro, but you lose the 5.8Ghz band and a variety of sensors. Initially, the Phantom 4 Advanced was priced within $150 of the Phantom 4 Pro. Since then, DJI has had sales and the P4A has settled in the $1200 range.
When you look at the Phantom 4 Advanced and look back at the Phantom 4, It’s almost feels as if it was supposed to be the Phantom 4, but DJI wasn’t quite ready. You lose the 5.8Ghz band, a few safety sensors and it doesn’t take advantage of the noise-reducing props and motors the Phantom 4 Pro recently earned.
Why not go with the cheaper option? It’s really user preference. The $300 you save can be put towards extra batteries. For me, I like having the 5.8Ghz band for transmission range and with the Pro adding noise reduction in the second generation, I’d prefer having all the features over a nerfed camera drone.
6. Inspire 2
If you’re a professional, this will be at the top. Hobbyist? There are better ways to blast through a minimum of $6,000.00. I’d go with the Phantom 4 Pro and buy a plane ticket somewhere amazing. Probably two tickets. Those needing it have a true dual operator camera drone now. The front-facing FPV camera for the pilot, while the second operator controls the 360-degree gimbal.
The Inspire 2 oversamples 4K footage to 5.2K and the burst rate on still photography is 14fps in RAW+JPG or 20fps in RAW only. It’s a monster, and you either know why you need it or have serious disposable income.
Other DJI Drones?
Those looking for the Phantom 4 should know it’s no longer being manufactured by DJI. You can snap it up off Amazon. The Phantom 3 Pro is still one of my favorites because it can take a damn beating. Talking pine tree collision, a front flip on landing, another tree impact chasing my nephew, and it still fires up every time. It’s also on Amazon but is showing its age.
This list is about what you can purchase for a reasonable amount, and it’s ready to fly out of the box. Left off includes the entire Matrice line which is for professionals or industrial use cases. Wouldn’t mind the Phantom 5 or whatever is next to have a dual camera payload setup, but that’s dreaming a bit too much. Maybe interchangeable lenses? Come on DJI. You know you want to give the Phantom series interchangeable lenses.
Last update on 2018-11-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API