Camera drones are everywhere in 2018, and the expectations are for the market to continue to explode. While it’s DJI’s market, the consumer market does have new players trying to dethrone the giant. And it all boils down to one critical component. The drone camera.
Drone photography has lifted off thanks to its low cost and feature-rich cameras. It’s either opt for a camera drone or rent a helicopter. The latter isn’t cheap by any stretch. Then there’s the whole fear of flying. Get the shots and video you need without leaving terra firma.
Looking for the best drones for sale? We have you covered along with the best DJI drones on the market. Today, it’s all about finding the best drone camera. Let’s get after it. Click our jump links for better overviews, but first, we are going to rank them.
Top Drones With Cameras in 2018
1. DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
Right now, it’s the premier camera drone for those looking for the right mix of camera specs and price. It retails for $1500, though you can opt for the integrated 5.5” screen for $1799. Shooting 4K60p is excellent on the 20MP sensor with a flight time of a bit under 30 minutes.
I know what you’re thinking. Why is the Air ranked higher than the Mavic Pro? The camera specs are nearly the same with a 12MP sensor shooting 4K30p. But, the Air adds a 100Mbps bitrate to the equation. Flight time sits around 21 minutes. And a starting price of $799 and $999 for the Fly More Combo at $999.
Can’t leave a Mavic Pro behind. It has the same sensor as the Mavic Air at 12MP and shoots 4K30p. It falls a bit on the bitrate but makes up for it with the 27-minute flight time. At $999, it’s a solid deal with the $1299 optional Fly More Combo. It should be noted at some point the Mavic Pro II will be announced, but DJI has postponed the unveiling indefinitely.
You better come with a stacked checking account. The Inspire 2 dives into the professional realm of DJI’s product lineup. The base model sports the X4S camera with aa one-inch 20.8MP sensor with the ability to record 5.2K at 30fps and 4K at 60fps. All at $4100. Stepping up to the X5S gives you an MFT sensor with similar recording functions and a burst rate of 20fps. Those who have money burning a hole in their pocket can put the Zenmuse X7 on the Inspire 2. It’s a Super 35 sensor with 24MP stills at 6K CinemaDNG and 5.2K Apple ProRes.
The return of Parrot is a good thing. Competition breeds innovation. And the Anafi certainly does with its 4K videos with a built-in HDR mode. The sensor has serious pedigree with the Anafi sporting a 21MP Sony CMOS sensor. A 2.2x lossless zoom with the gimbal pushed forward allows for 180-degree movement on the vertical axis.
While not quite the same camera quality as DJI, the Yuneec Typhoon does succeed where DJI doesn’t. Those looking for Inspire 2-like features including a 360-degree gimbal 4K camera, it hits that mark. The drawback is its at 12MP on sensor and price in at $1899. The high price is thanks to Intel’s RealSense Technology. But with the Phantom 4 Pro features, it’s hard to make that leap.
Dubbed a Mavic close, the Autel EVO was first shown off at CES and has finally jumped to production. It does succeed where the Mavic lacks with 4K60p with its 12MP sensor. Flight time hit nearly 30 minutes. Where it will fall short is though priced at $999, the Mavic is waiting on a refresh that could take the sensor to 20MP and introduce a laundry list of new features.
The ultimate beginner drone. DJI has a winner on their hands for the category of ‘comfortable passing the controller to my nephew.’ The camera lacks the features of the Mavic or Phantom, but the 1080p recording and the sturdy frame make up for the pitfalls. The Spark knows what it is and stays in that lane. It’s a beginner camera drone, and at less than $500, it excels in the area.
Another camera drone solidly in the beginner category is the Parrot Bebop 2. It outshines the Spark with a 25-minute flight time but keeps with the 1080p camera. While Parrot is quickly becoming a contender, the drones with camera market remains dominated by DJI. Still, don’t sleep on the company as it may surprise us all in the end.
That’s our list of the best drones with cameras. Below we will cover each in more details as we hope to find the best camera drone for you. First, let’s get safety out of the way. Sure, most camera drones are damn intuitive. Especially with tap-to-fly and return home functions. However, there are some rules of the air.
The average drone hobbyist has a set of basic rules from the FAA:
Register your drone
Fly your drone at or below 400 feet
Keep your drone within your line of sight
Be aware of FAA Airspace Restrictions
Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people
Never fly near emergencies such as fires or hurricane recovery efforts
Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Been dreaming of starting a drone business. Part 107 is the certificate you need. How much is drone certification? Licensing centers are scattered throughout the states, and there’s a $150 testing fee.
Once you knock that out here are the rules to abide by:
Fly for recreational OR commercial use
Register your drone
Get a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA
Fly a drone under 55 lbs.
Fly within visual-line-of-sight*
Don’t fly near other aircraft or over people*
Don’t fly in controlled airspace near airports without FAA permission*
Fly only during daylight or civil twilight, at or below 400 feet*
Notice the asterisks dotting the list? It means you can grab a waiver and be exempt from the rules.
Other rules are just common sense. Get used to flying your drone in a controlled environment. I’m lucky because I have an 11-acre front yard.
Our poor Phantom 3 Pro was put through its paces in the front yard. It’s been front-flipped by our father on landing. It’s taken an aerial powerslide into a group of young pine trees. Smelled like pine for a month after. And almost lost to the outflow winds of a thunderstorm. Yeah… Practice and then venture out for killer shots and fantastic video.
Want a deep dive of the best cameras on drones? We got you:
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
As stated from the start, the Phantom 4 Pro is the best bang for your buck in what you get in terms of aerial photography and videography. The 20MP one-inch CMOS sensor nearly doubles up the megapixels from its predecessor, the Phantom 4. The Pro variant also features a mechanical shutter up to 1/2000 of a second. Stretch it past that shutter speed, and the P4P relies on an electronic shutter up 1/8000 of a second.
Still photography modes grow by the update to the DJI GO 4 App. Past single shot, there are burst modes at 3/5/7/10/14 frames. Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) has two choices at a 0.7 EV bias. Three or five frames for image stacking. Interval shooting covers 2/3/5/7/10/15/20/30/60 seconds.
The P4P shoots stills in JPEG, DNG (RAW), or JPEG + DNG. The aspect ratios for photos breaks down as 3:2 Aspect Ratio: 5472 × 3648; 4:3 Aspect Ratio: 4864 × 3648; 16:9 Aspect Ratio: 5472 × 3078.
Video. Here’s where the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 shines. It can hit 4K60p under the H.264 codec. Bitrate maxes out at 100mbps – a jump from 60mbps on the Phantom 4. Recording modes are extensive:
While still photography enjoys a RAW format, the Phantom 4 Pro does limit you to MP4/MOV(AVC/H.264; HEVC/H.265). A quick way around this is to immediately shift video settings to DLOG. Here’s a quick tutorial on the how and why you want to use DLOG:
Check out our list of YouTube channels for the best tutorials and inspirations for both drone photography and videography.
DJI Mavic Air
Big on traveling? Need portability? Both and quality? The DJI Mavic Air manages to hit those points and prices it sub-$1000. While the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 has the most value, it’s damn hard to overlook the Mavic Air in the same conversation. It takes the Mavic Pro 1/2.3” CMOS sensor at 12MP and shoves it into an even smaller footprint. The FOV sits at 85-degrees, and its lens is a 24mm (35mm format equivalent).
Packing a lot of tech does shed some of the features the P4P has like the mechanical shutter. It relies on an electrical shutter at 8 – 1/8000 of a second.
The Mavic Air release tipped DJI’s hand on shot modes. Especially on still photography. Single shot is joined by a dedicated HDR mode along with Burst shoot capabilities up to seven frames. AEB and Interval shooting is the same as the Phantom 4 Pro.
The new shot modes included Pano: 3×1: 42°×78°, 2048×3712 (W×H), 3×3: 119°×78°, 4096×2688 (W×H), and 180°: 251°×88°, 6144×2048 (W×H). A sphere mode is included at (3×8+1): 8192×4096 (W×H).
Video steps above the Mavic Pro with the bitrate bump to 100mbps. Unfortunately, the 4K60p is missing and instead has the following video formats:
None of the consumer-oriented drones have a RAW video format, so DLOG is a must if you want to grade footage. Below is a short tutorial to create more cinematic shots with the Mavic Air:
DJI Mavic Pro
2018 and the Mavic Pro. We know a second generation is coming through leaked pictures, a canceled DJI event and more. But, if you are always playing the waiting game, you’re missing out on incredible photos and videos. I’d recommend the Mavic Air over the Mavic Pro, but this guide is all about the cameras.
It features a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor capable of 12MP. The FOV is 78.8 degrees, and the lens is a 26mm (35mm equivalent). It’s a damn solid camera. Electronic shutter speed clocks in the same as the Mavic air – 8s -1/8000 of a second. Photography modes are not as expansive as the Air or P4P. AEB bracketing is there along with single and burst to seven frames.
Want 60p? You have to drop down to FHD and Mavic Pro is stuck with the 60Mbps bitrate. Here’s a quick video showcasing the difference:
DJI Inspire 2
The Inspire 2 is a bank account buster. If you have the budget, the different cameras you can use fulfills nearly every want of a hobbyist with a lot of money or a filmmakers dream.
Let’s start with the Zenmuse X4S. Using an 8mm (35mm equivalent), the aperture ranges from f/2.8 to 11. It’s not unlike the Phantom 4 Pro when it comes to the sensor size and megapixel count. Both have 20MP one-inch sensors. The same still photography resolutions apply as the P4P:
3:2, 5472×3648 4:3, 4864×3648 16:9, 5472×3078
Video is where the difference becomes stark. It shines with the various codecs:
It’ll eat bank accounts for lunch, but DJI didn’t stop there.
Zenmuse X7. A Super 35 camera with a 24MP MFT sensor. It supports the following DJI lenses:
DJI DL-S 16mm F2.8 ND ASPH (with lens hood and balancing ring/filter) DJI DL 24mm F2.8 LS ASPH (with lens hood and balancing ring/filter) DJI DL 35mm F2.8 LS ASPH (with lens hood and balancing ring/filter) DJI DL 50mm F2.8 LS ASPH (with lens hood and balancing ring/filter
14 stops of dynamic range along with 6K Cinema DNG offers the best cinematic experience for owners of the Inspire 2 platform.
Three gimbaled cameras. One drone. It is expensive and by no means is this a starter drone.
Let’s take a break from the DJI stranglehold of the consumer camera drone market. The recently released Anafi shows Parrot still has fight left in the battle of market share. It also has one hell of a unique angle when it comes to a drone with a camera. The bitrate is there at 100Mbps. A dedicated HDR mode to enhance the details in a shot. And a 2.8x lossless zoom. All in a footprint similar to a Mavic.
But what’s the standout feature. The 21MP sensor and the 180-degree tilt on the forward slung gimbaled camera. It is missing 4K60p, and you have to drop down to FHD to achieve that frame rate. While the camera competes decently, the next generation of the Mavic is right around the corner.
Yuneec is another company battling out for a slice of the camera drone market share. It’s Typhoon H is an impressive entrance into the P4P price range thanks to its 360-degree gimbal. The upgraded plus variant also introduces a one-inch 20MP CMOS sensor. At the $1899 price, it isn’t bad, but you can get the same feature set and more on the P4P.
H.265 – 4096×2160 & 3840×2160 (24/25/30fps) / 2720×1530 (24/25/30/48/50/60fps) / 1920×1080 & 1280×720 (24/25/30/48/50/60/120fps). It’s solid, but it’s battling from the rear and the always looming threat of a DJI announcement that upends the market.
It has the Mavic looks and mimics the internals. That’s both good and bad for the Autel EVO. We all immediately consider it a rival to the current Mavic. The problem is the Mavic is due for a refresh in a matter of months.
The EVO has a 12MP sensor capable of burst shooting and AEB. On the video front, it does impress with the 4K60p, 2.7K60, 1080p120, 720p240. Another issue that crops up is the price.
At $1000, it’s camera spec sheet is about to be eclipsed by the second generation Mavic, and the Air undercuts the price in a significant way. Autel is one to watch. They aren’t slouches, and if it refines the product, it’ll only benefit consumers.
The first of our beginner drones. The DJI Spark has the portability and more importantly the durability to get any novice used to flying a camera drone. On the camera front, it borrows the sensor off the Mavic line and puts it in a mechanical 2-axis gimbal.
The camera isn’t much to write home about. It only shoots up to FHD at 30p with a 24Mbps bitrate. It’s a pure trainer camera drone.
Parrot Bebop 2
Rounding out our beginner drones is the Parrot Bebop 2. Think the DJI Spark, and you’re spot on. The Bebop 2 features a 14MP sensor with a fish-eye lens. Unfortunately, it relies purely on digital stabilization and the fisheye lens isn’t the best when it comes to still photography and videography. Think old GoPro, and you’ll remember the effect.
And that’s our guide to drone cameras. It’s the must-have feature on any consumer drone. Right now, DJI controls the market. It’s just how it is. GoPro tried and flopped. It’s on Autel, Yuneec, and Parrot to push boundaries of what we can expect.