2018 saw the continued expansion of the consumer camera drone market. New releases hit as companies looked to differentiate themselves from the competition. the new entries still left consumers with one burning question. What are the best drones for sale? While the market is dominated by DJI, new and older companies are popping up to offer solutions across the price spectrum. There is something for everyone to push your creativity beyond its current boundary and to new heights.
In the past, aerial photography and videography used to involve strapping into a helicopter and hanging outside the door with a camera. Yeah… Not sure how I feel about trusting a harness that’s probably seen better days and dangling out of a helicopter. They don’t make anti-anxiety pills that large and then there’s the cost. Renting a helicopter for a video or photography session isn’t cheap.
The solution is a camera drone. We stay on the ground and use our amassed gaming skills with the controller to get the shot we want. Personally, those shots include between two cliff faces to get the perfect angle on a waterfall. Multiple storm chasing shots. And I may have chased my nephew through the woods once …
You know you want a camera drone, but a quick search reveals an endless list of drones for sale. Which drone is right for you? It depends. Yeah, I know. Who doesn’t hate hearing that? But this guide will walk you through the best drones for sale on the market whether you’re a professional, enthusiast or an amateur looking to smack one into a pine tree. Our old Phantom 3 smelled like a pine tree for weeks.
Drones for Sale in 2019
Prosumer / Professional Camera Drones
It’s a space thoroughly dominated by DJI. Yuneec is making a play, but the recent additions to DJI’s lineup leave it as nearly the only game in town. From enterprise solutions to the high-end consumer Mavic 2, P4P, and Inspire 2, the company is solidifying itself as the dominant force.
It will depend on your use case, but dollar for dollar the best prosumer/professional drone is the DJI Mavic 2.
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.
While it leaked, the dual Mavic 2 lineup is still a pleasant surprise. Those looking for an optical zoom will find themselves at home with the Mavic 2 Zoom. You won’t get the one-inch sensor, but you do get one of the cooler shot modes with Dolly Zoom. And you save a bit of cash off the Mavic 2 Pro’s $1499 MSRP. The Zoom comes in at $1249. In a departure from old combos, the FlyMore kit for either Mavic 2 is sold separately for $369.
While the Zoom’s benefit is obvious, where the Pro shines is low light and overall quality of images and video. Take a look at a head-to-head between the Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom in low light conditions:
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. And the hyperlapse capability is sublime. You can check out a steady dose of YouTube for all things hyperlapse but my favorite so far has to be of Chicago:
Yep, that’s the song you hear in Avengers: Infinity War.
Check prices for the Mavic 2 Pro or Zoom at these retailers: DJI / Amazon / B&H
Photographers or videographers looking to add an aerial platform will not go wrong with the Phantom 4 Pro. We wanted a higher bitrate, and it delivered H.264 4K videos at 60fps or H.265 4K at 30fps at a 100Mbps bitrate.
The Phantom series had been languishing at 60Mbps through the series 3 and into the Phantom 4. DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro changed the game. It didn’t stop with bitrate. The P4P upgraded the camera’s sensor to a full one-inch at 20 megapixels. Compare that to the 12MP sensor on the discontinued 4.
And the sharpness is incredible in low light situations. When compared with the Phantom 4, the Phantom 4 Pro blows it out of the water:
It’s not even close. If you’re looking for usable video or stills in low light, the Phantom 4 Pro is an insane value at $1500. Other features on the camera include a mechanical shutter erasing rolling shutter issues when taking images of fast-moving subjects or pulling a ‘me’ – flying at a high rate of speed.
The oops moments are taken care of with 5-direction obstacle sensing. A quick note on object avoidance. It’s there as an assist, not for us to play chicken with the side of a building. The building will win. Trust me.
Flight performance maxes out at 30 minutes, but that’s with you hovering in no wind. Hell, I know the weather picks ups when I grab my drone. Here comes a breezy day. Expect 25-28 minutes on average of flight time. The range is increased to 4.3 miles, but like battery life, understand it’s under optimal conditions. Bank on two miles and be impressed as hell when you stretch past it.
Livestreaming. It’s a nice touch and you have to wonder if wireless carriers knew what they were getting into with the unlimited data plans.
At $1500, there’s not a better deal on the market. Yes, you can opt for the dedicated screen on the controller, but with tablets and smartphones introducing brighter displays, it’s hard to recommend it unless you have an older phone or tablet. The extra $300 can be used on batteries.
A quick note on the Phantom 4 Pro V 2.0. It’s a relatively new addition to the Phantom lineup and replaces the Phantom 4 Pro. It incorporates the sound dampening tech used in its Mavic Pro Platinum. It keeps the same price point but ditches the high-pitched whine of the original Phantom 4 Pro.
Here’s where you need some cash. The new DJI Inspire 2. Take the Inspire 1 and improve it in all areas and you get one sleek videography platform. The Inspire 2 is now a true dual operator thanks to a front-facing 720p camera for one operator, while another controls the 360-degree camera.
And it’s here where things get interesting. DJI has three cameras to add to the base $3000 drone. The X4S, X5S and X7. If you choose the X4S, the total hits $4100. Being honest, unless you need the 360-degree gimbal, paying double over the Phantom 4 Pro makes no sense. There’s not a lot of difference between the two sensors or capabilities.
There are a few benefits thanks to the processing power onboard the Inspire 2. Burst mode hits 14fps in both DNG and JPEG formats. The 4K video is oversampled to 5.2K, giving you more data to work with. Bitrates and the megapixel stay the same.
Where the Inspire 2 shines in regards to the camera is the X5S. It’s a damn monster, and its burst rate can hit 20fps stored on the CINESSD. 5.2K video. It drops the one-inch sensor for a micro 4/3. Same MP count, but 12.8 stops and 12-bit raw.
The Inspire 2 with the X5S can support eight M4/3 lenses (including zoom) with focal lengths hitting 9mm-45mm (the equivalent on a 35mm camera is 18-90mm). Stills can also be captured during flight – a feature drone enthusiasts have wanted for years.
Another benefit of the X5S is the optimized gimbal. If you want butter-smooth shots, the accuracy of the gimbal is within .01 degrees and powered by a dedicated processor.
The X7 is DJI’s first move into the Super 35 sensor. 6K CinemaDNG. 14 stops of dynamic range. 24MP stills.
Outside of the camera selection, the Inspire 2 is everything you want in a dedicated aerial platform. Top speed can hit 58 mph, so the car chase you’ve always dreamed of filming is within your grasp. Obstacle avoidance is covered on all sides, including upward avoidance.
Common sense says you’re looking at it when flying in tight spots, but you never know when your nephew grabs the control and sends it on a ride.
Self-heating batteries power the Inspire 2 in less than ideal temperatures, and nearly every system has double redundancy. Dual batteries. Redundant IMUs. Two Barometers. You get the idea.
Flight time with the Inspire 2 is rated at 25-27 minutes and the range is the same as the Phantom 4 Pro.
The Inspire 2 Professional package prices out at $9,850 and includes the X5S camera, the CINESSD station with two 240GB SSDs, a cedence controller and two 7.5-inch Crystal Sky Monitors. Also packed into the Professional edition is Apple ProRes.
Next is the Inspire 2 Premium which includes everything listed in the Professional package with the addition of a CinemaDNG license. At $12,300, it has nearly everything you could need for a great aerial filming platform.
Need something more? The $20,179 Inspire 2 Cinema Premium is the ultimate in aerial filmmaking. Trade in the X5S camera for the X7 with all five lenses. Inside the box is everything you’d need in five 480GB CINESSDs. It’s DJI’s flagship and you know if you need this level of quality.
Think baby Phantom 4 Pro, and you’re on the right track. The Phantom 4 Advanced will replace the Phantom 4, which ends its life cycle. It knocks a couple of hundred dollars off the price and keeps the vast majority of the features. The one-inch, 20-megapixel camera is there from the Phantom 4 Pro, as is the range, battery life and most of the sensors. What you are losing in the price difference are the 5.8Ghz band and the rear vision sensors.
Similar Phantom 4 Pro, you have two options. One is a regular remote controller where you supply the tablet or smartphone. The other is the Phantom 4 Advanced+ which comes with an integrated, ultra-bright screen. Its loss of the 5.8Ghz band does hamper it when it comes to a professional drone, but it’ not a deal breaker. The rear vision sensors are more for indoor flying. So, buy accordingly.
A bank account buster. The Matrice 600 Pro is for the professional that wants their own payload. Slap a Sony a7s2, RED EPIC, or any DSLR on it and go. It takes everything about the Matrice 600 and improves upon it. Better flight performance and loading capacity complement the modular design. The arms of the hexacopter come pre-installed along with the antennas for quicker deployment.
What about the camera? Here’s where you need some spare cash. The platform itself retails for $4999.00. The camera is extra and can handle anything from DJI’s Zenmuse X5S up to the RED EPIC. Those owning a RED EPIC or perhaps a 4K-capable DSLR can opt to add the Ronin MX. At $1599.00, it can attach to the Matric 600 Pro and can handle a variety of payloads.
As an example, say you went all in with the Ronin MX + RED, the flight time you can expect is a max of 16 minutes. It’s a scenario like that when having a Mavic Pro would come in handy. Six batteries power the Matrice 600 Pro and all six can be charged at once via a charging hub.
The A3 Pro flight controller features triple redundancy from three sets of GNSS units. Its compatibility with D-RTK GNSS enables the Matrice 600 Pro to withstand magnetic interference – making it ideal for industrial uses. While it doesn’t come cheap, the Matrice 600 Pro platform is the top of the line solution for professional videography along with industrial and enterprise customers.
Need an option outside the DJI ecosystem? The Freefly Alta series more than delivers. It’s decidedly in the realm of professional videographers and photographers, but it incorporates tech seen on enterprise level camera drones. Take a look at the FreeFly Alta 6. Pick your camera and decide if you want the traditional underslung mount or look to the sky with the optional top camera mount.
Camera options are nearly limitless as the Alta 6 can handle a maximum useful payload of 20 pounds. Strip out the weight of the drone, and you have 15 pounds to dream up the ultimate camera drone.
Price? Not cheap, but you already knew that. The base model hits nearly $12,000 and if you want the controller and FPV module installed, it adds up to $12,964.98. Without a camera. Add whatever you need to make the job easier. Maybe a Sony mirrorless camera. A Nikon D850. Or a RED video camera.
Take the Alta 6 and juice it. It grabs an additional five pounds of useful payload over the Alta 6. The number of motors powering the camera drone leap from six to eight. All the features from the FreeFly Alta 6 get a little more intense with the Alta 8. As does the price. It starts at $17,495.00 and hits nearly $18,500 with the controller and FPV module.
It’s for the professional, but come on. You know you see it and instantly want one.
You are all set with your new purchase, but you need a few extras. You should already have extra batteries. No matter what you choose, it will chew through batteries. A good rule of thumb is to have three. That gets you close to an hour with most camera drones. ND filters. The best analogy is sunglasses for your camera. Keeping the cinematic look to your footage will demand you have the shutter speed double your frame rate. Most record in 24p, so the shutter speed should be 50. In sunny conditions, lacking the ND filter will create a blown out exposure. My personal favorite are Polar Pro ND filters. Get them for your Mavic, GoPro or Phantom 4.
First teased back in 2016, the DJI Goggles are finally seeing the light of day. Made for those wanting an FPV (first-person view) experience. Control the camera via head movements or get into the racing drone scene. If you’re ok with a VR-like experience, you’ll love the accessory. It can be a bit trippy for those with vertigo, but there’s no denying the wow factor of a true bird’s eye view of your surroundings.
If you want a more immersive experience, opt for the DJI Goggles Racing Edition. The addition of Sphere pano viewing and local playback more than justify the $549 price tag.
Enthusiast Camera Drones
Stepping away from the professional/prosumer drones comes the enthusiast category – those new to the market but with some experience. There is a bit of overlap with the Phantom 4 Pro and especially the Mavic Pro but introduces other manufacturers who are battling it out with DJI for a piece of the consumer drone market.
The number one value in the category is the Mavic Pro. Its price point of $899 is a sweet spot, and you can’t argue its pros over other drones in the category.
8. DJI Mavic Pro
Editor’s note: With the Mavic 2 on the market, the original Mavic Pro is relegated to playing backup or entry-level camera drone over its featured-packed younger sibling.
Here’s where I’m diverging a bit from the upper reaches of professional camera drones. The Mavic Pro. And there’s one glaring reason. Portability. It fits in your (oversized) pocket. It may not have the camera tech of the Inspire 2 or the Phantom 4 Pro, but damn if it doesn’t punch above its weight class.
When folded, it has a footprint of H83mm x W83mm x L198mm. The wish of a drone that fits in the palm of your hand is now a reality. For a size comparison, it is a sixth the size of a Phantom 4, yet it can stretch out to a 4.3-mile range.
It shoots 4K video with a 12MP sensor. You’re thinking 12MP and 60Mbps bitrate. How is this pro-grade? You cannot overlook the portability factor. Inspire 2 owners could have a Mavic Pro to scout locations before unpacking the Inspire 2. What’s easier? Unpacking the behemoth to fly around, or literally taking a Mavic out of the bag, unfolding it and you’re in the air.
It may not have the same bitrate or megapixel count, but the images and video are just as stunning. Here’s a video with zero editing or color grading:
At $999, the Mavic Pro is a steal with its feature set. Especially for those who want to lighten their pack. Landscape photographers have a brand new tool in their arsenal.
The bigger update came to the Mavic Pro. Dubbed the Mavic Pro Platinum, it now enjoys better battery life and noise reduction through electronic speed controllers and new prop designs. Good news or Mavic Pro owners is you can buy the new props. It does increase the price over the Pro to $1,099 and the $1399 for the FlyMore Combo. With the Mavic 2 out in the wild, the price points are hard to justify and should see sharp price drops in the coming months.
10. Mavic Air
Not a traditional successor to the Mavic Pro, the ultra-portable drone takes what made the Mavic Pro popular and expands on it. It’s a smaller footprint. The bitrate was bumped from 60Mbps to 100Mbps, and it makes a huge difference. While the camera specs are the same, the Mavic Air is pushing the limits of camera drone technology with a sub-$1000 price (Fly More Combo).
There are some key differences in the system. Battery life dropped to 21 minutes. The range is a bit more limited than the Pro. But with the footprint it has and the starting price of $799. What the Mavic Air does is cannibalize the sales of the current Mavic Pro and with the release of the Mavic 2 lineup, it’s a better positioned Mavic in terms of value.
If any non-DJI drone on this list represents a challenge to the market leader, it will be the Anafi. It’s ultra-portable and the camera sensor is bumped way past the 12MP competition in the Mavic Air and Pro. It does lose some of the technology found in DJI and the three-axis stabilization is a hybrid, including EIS into the system.
Where it separates itself from the pack is its ability to look up. That’s right. The camera is on a forward mount, enabling a full 180-degree vertical range of motion. It’s a hell of a feature and one normally left to higher-end drones. And the price is intriguing, with Parrot wanting to go head-to-head with the Mavic Air at $699.
It’s one hell of an intriguing camera drone. It’s priced right and Parrot isn’t a newcomer to the drone market. One has to wonder if it can withstand whatever DJI is cooking up next. You only have to look at GoPro to how an announcement of a camera drone was quickly overshadowed by DJI looking to maintain its iron grip on the consumer drone market.
12. Yuneec Typhoon H and Beyond
Another major player in the market is Yuneec. Some will make the argument the upper tier belongs in the Pro category with its Intel RealSense object avoidance, but this is about the camera. Sticking with a 12MP sensor holds it back, though expect that to change soon.
What makes it a standout is for under a grand, you get a capability found in the Inspire 2. A full 360-degree gimbaled 4K camera. It records 30fps with a 60Mbps bitrate. A 98-degree FOV captures plenty of action.
Where it falls short is the range. The 720p downlink drops after a mile, keeping you fenced in. The ST16 is a dedicated ground station and offers a 7-inch display. A nice addition to those who may not want to use their phone as the display.
Protip? Turn on ‘Do Not Disturb.’ Getting a phone call while flying between two cliff faces is a recipe for disaster. Personal experience.
The Typhoon H is a solid enthusiast drone as long as you realize you won’t be setting distance records. Having the 360-degree gimbal is a nice touch along with Intel RealSense object avoidance. Now, the company needs to up the camera specs.
Dubbed a Mavic clone, 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.
Looking to save money and still have a solid platform? The Phantom 3 Series is a clear winner, while Yuneec and GoPro’s Karma (assuming you own a GoPro) round out the beginner class. Deals abound, especially with DJI’s Phantom 3 Series and the new DJI Spark.
14. DJI Spark
DJI finally entered the beginner drone market with the DJI Spark. It’s tiny and at $499, a steal considering the onboard technology. You are giving up some features with the low price point. There is no 4K or three-axis stabilization. It makes up for it with intuitive gesture control, and incredible 1.2-mile range and solid battery life for a camera drone that’s smaller than the Mavic Pro and weighs in at around a soda can.
For the drone market, it’s DJI’s show and everyone else is a distant second. If you’re looking for more power, look towards the upper tier of the Mavic, Phantom 4 Pro or Phantom 4 Advanced. Especially if you want quality stills and video.
15. Yuneec Mantis
DJI’s domination of the consumer drone market has its first taste of true competition on the low-end, beginner market. Enter the Yuneec Mantis. At first glance, you’re thinking Mavic competitor but a closer inspection of the features and price and the Mantis is a direct shot across the bow of the DJI Spark.
Where DJI introduced gesture control within the Spark, Yuneec has introduced voice controls. That’s damn impressive for a sub-$500 camera drone. The Mantis relies completely on electronic image stabilization (EIS), whereas the Spark has a 2-axis gimbal, with the third axis using EIS.
Yuneec’s latest drone does outstrip the Spark in terms of battery life, hitting a max of 33 minutes with no wind and a constant 15mph. On this end of the drone spectrum, image quality is decent for what it is. These are the types you pass on to your nephew to fly around. At $499, it’s one hell of a competitor to the Spark.
16. DJI Phantom 3 SE
Want to get your feet wet with a 4K camera drone without breaking the bank? The DJI Phantom SE offers that in a $600 package. It’s a nice starter and is built pretty damn well. It can handle a front flip on landing with ease. Not quite sure how my dad pulled that off, but he did. It can handle brushes with trees and shake it off like nothing happened. Features on the Phantom SE include a 12MP sensor capable of 4K video. Full three-axis stabilization and a battery life rated at 25 minutes.
The video and stills won’t compare to the Phantom 4 Pro or the Mavics, but its not a slouch either. While it’s in the beginner area, the Phantom SE punches above its weight class.
The ultimate in starter drones. $400 for 4K video, though it’s electronically stabilized. No three-axis stabilization to be had on this bargain, but it will keep the kids happy. I’d happily hand this off to my nephew before any other system. It won’t knock your socks off in the quality department, but that’s not the point.
It is designed to get you in the market and see if drone photography/videography is for you. I’ll go ahead and answer that question. It’s a yes with a side of hell yes.
It varies based on features. DJI’s prosumer flagship, the Phantom 4 Pro starts at $1500. The entry-level Spark and Yuneec Breeze are sub-$500. Rigs like the Inspire 2 can hit $6000, while custom solutions can easily stretch past $20,000. Price comes down to personal preference. What are you using the drone for? If you want the latest tech, you won’t break the bank with a Phantom 4 Pro, but if you need a gift for a kid or someone new to the market, the Spark or Breeze is where you to focus.
Most of the drones for sale on this list have a three-axis mechanical gimbal. It allows for the smoothest footage. The two that don’t are the entry-level Spark and Breeze. The Breeze relies solely on electronic image stabilization while the DJI Spark has a two-axis mechanical gimbal paired with EIS. It won’t have the same smoothness as its more expensive counterparts, but the lower in price we head, the more features are left on the table.
Will I Need Extra Batteries?
Yes. There’s nothing on the market with battery life rated greater than 30 minutes. Even that number is under perfect conditions. The most you can expect out of your new camera drone is 25-27 minutes for the flagships, and 15 minutes for the entry-level offerings. If you want to keep flying, having an extra battery or two is a solid investment.
Do I Need Drone Flying Lessons?
That depends. Have you ever played a video game? If so and are halfway decent, you’re fine. If you want to be extra careful, find an open field and practice. Most of the drones on this list come packed with safety features to prevent an ‘oops’ moment. Having said that, you can expect object avoidance to kick in if you decide to play chicken with the side of your house at top speed. It won’t end well. Most people will not need drone specific lessons outside of running through the tutorial baked into the drone’s app.
What Can a Drone Capture?
The best spots to see are Dronestagram & SkyPixel. Both are communities of drone enthusiasts who capture amazing images and videos. Prepare to be inspired.
Are Drones Legal?
Yes with a ‘but.’ Currently, the drone registration with the FAA in the United States is working its way through the court system. As for common sense parameters, the FAA has released guidance to cover the entire United States. Two areas to note. Do not fly in any United States National Park and stay away from airports. Can’t emphasize those two points enough. Hopefully the National Park rule changes, but for now, all of them are no-fly zones.
Our Pick for Best Camera Drone For Sale in 2019
What’s the best drone for sale? Strictly from a value proposition, it’s the Mavic 2 Pro. At $1499, it’s damn hard to find a better deal. Its camera eclipses the Phantom 4 Pro and you save a bit of money. Sure, the Inspire 2 or Matrice 600 Pro with a RED EPIC would be grand, but based on value and features, the winner is the Mavic 2 Pro. Until the Phantom 5. We know it’s coming sooner rather than later and the integration of Hasselblad into the Mavic line can only mean incredible features ahead for the Phantom series.