Camera drones are everywhere at this point. The fantastic images fill our social media feeds and the videos captured by hobbyists and professionals alike expose the world to us in ways we could only dream about a few short years ago. Down below we take a deep dive on the best camera drones for sale today.
Strapped for time? Here’s our top pick for the best camera done on the market. It’s the perfect blend of features, value, and portability.
Before the arrival of inexpensive, off-the-shelf camera drones, aerial photography and videography used to involve strapping into a helicopter and hanging outside the door with a camera.
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? Slap a camera on a quadcopter, and you’re in business. I don’t have a panic attack hanging outside of a helicopter, and who among us haven’t played video games? Put those skills to use and get the perfect shot or footage.
For me, that includes dropping a Phantom between two cliff faces to get an amazing waterfall shot. Multiple storm chasing shots and video. Chasing my nephew through the woods. A tree won that particular battle but showed DJI drones could take a beating and come out on top.
Want to jump to a particular drone? Below is our list of the best drones for sale today:
Before we dive deeper into the specs and what you can expect from each drone, it pays to know what you’re getting yourself into. Camera drones are a blast, but these are the questions which always pop up.
Your Camera Drone Questions Answered
Are drones legal?
The short answer is yes. The long answer dives into new regulation passed in the recent FAA Reauthorization Act. It lays out general guidelines for both hobbyists and those looking to use their new camera drone for commercial purposes. A lot of it is common sense, but let’s go over it:
Keep your done within line of sight at all times. Stay below 400ft. Don’t fly near other aircraft. Respect people’s privacy. Stay away from first responders. Don’t fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Do not fly in National Parks. Be aware of FAA airspace restrictions.
Where can I fly a drone?
Here’s where it can be a bit tricky thanks to different rules governing hobbyists and commercial users. There are plenty of apps to help you figure out where you can fly, any temporary FAA restrictions and help commercial drone pilots (Part 107) automatically apply for waivers to operate within controlled airspace.
A few include the B4UFLY FAA app, Kittyhawk, Hover, and DJI’s app are integrating airspace warnings, LAANC approval systems, and any local ordinances regarding the use of terms. A big one we haven’t seen change is if there will be waivers granted for National Parks in the same way commercial pilots can immediately apply to fly within the five-mile buffer around airports.
Hobbyists can stick to local parks, your backyard, etc. Use the apps with updated info, and you’ll find there are quite a few areas you can fly your brand new camera drone.
Can I fly in a city?
Yes with a major caveat. An app becomes necessary when flying in a city. You need to know where you can fly, if the FAA has any temporary airspace restrictions, etc. While not necessary, you may want to invest in earning a Part 107 license even if you have no intention of using your drone commercially. It’ll open up an array of options to fly within city limits.
How high can I fly a drone?
400 feet. Yes, any off-the-shelf camera drone can easily push 1000 feet, but it’s a no-go zone after 400 feet. Why is there an altitude limit? It protects other aircraft. Even if you don’t live anywhere near an airport, stay under the limit.
A perfect example is where I live. Nowhere close to an airport, but military choppers love using the area as a training ground. Keep it under the legal ceiling, and everyone wins.
Do I need a license to fly a drone?
Not if you’re a hobbyist user. If you want to fly around your backyard, document your camping trip, or anything non-commercial, you do not need a license. However, if you plan on integrating it into a business, you’ll need the Part 107 license. It’s a $150 test on general aviation principles and laws. Honestly, the low cost makes it worth taking even as a hobbyist. You’re more educated about the airspace around you, and the number of spots to fly grows exponentially.
And if your Instagram blows up because of the amazing photos or videos, you can quickly monetize your newfound fame. There are multiple study guides and courses for the Part 107 license.
Need some help with the editing process? Here’s our constantly updated list of the best YouTube channels for all things post-production.
Let’s Look at the Best Drones
Now that we know the basics, it’s time to get kitted out with the best camera drone for you on the market. Remember the old adage of just because it’s expensive, doesn’t make it better. Photography and videography have a lot to do with the user over the equipment.
The Mavic 2 Pro is our pick for the best drone for sale in 2019. It merges a laundry list of features into an ultra-portable and affordable package.
DJI’s current flagship consumer camera drone. It takes everything we loved about the original Mavic Pro and Phantom 4 Pro and combines it into one hell of a photography or videography platform.
The Mavic 2 Pro is the first of DJI’s consumer drone line to benefit from the company’s partnership with Hasselblad. Name sound familiar? It was a Hasselblad camera snapping photos during the first moon landing. That’s a hell of a pedigree and the Mavic 2 Pro sports a Hasselblad L1D-20c camera with a new one-inch CMOS sensor.
The Spec Sheet
The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is packed with the latest tech for camera drones. A one-inch sensor leads the way in headline features along with an array of new sensors and capabilities:
Camera Resolution: 20 megapixels
Video Resolution: 4K with 10-bit HDR and maxes out at 30 frames per second.
Adjustable Aperture: f/2.8-f/11
Battery Life: 31 minutes. Real World: 28-29 minutes.
A headline shot mode for the Mavic 2 lineup is the hyperlapse. You can set it to four different modes, and the Mavic 2 will start shooting images in both JPEG and RAW at the interval you set and stitch them together to form an aerial timelapse.
What Can You Capture?
The better question may be what can’t a Mavic 2 Pro capture. I already mentioned the hyperlapse, but let’s dive deeper and get visual. You can select from Free, Circle, CourseLock, and WayPoint.
Why stop at a hyperlapse? DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro has an enhanced HDR toolset to stack multiple images at various exposures for a crystal clear image free of artifacts and no ghosting across a 14 EV range.
Panoramas are improved across the Mavic 2 allowing for a sphere, 180-degree, horizontal and vertical panoramas.
Need more control? The Mavic 2 Pro offers a 10-bit-Dlog-M flat profile to really make videos your own through extensive color grading. Add in the 10-bit HDR video and the H.265/HEVC codec, and you have a beast of an aerial video platform which folds and fits into an oversized pocket.
Mavic 2 Pro Aerial Photography
Mavic 2 Pro Buying Options
There are four purchasing options for the Mavic 2 Pro. The base drone-only package which is $1499. The recently released DJI Smart Controller offers up a bundle at $1899. Interested in FPV (first-person view) flying? You can snap up The Mavic 2 Pro with DJI Goggles RE for $1948. And finally, the best deal is combining the drone-only package at $1499 with the Mavic 2 Fly More Kit for $379.
Why is the Fly More Kit the better value over the Smart Controller or the DJI Goggles? Batteries. You end up with a total of three which means up to 90 minutes of flight time. The Fly More Kit also includes a car charger, battery hub, extra props and a shoulder bag which fits everything.
If it were me, I’d opt for the extra batteries and consider the Smart Controller later down the line. On the FPV goggles, that’s an individual case. I have vertigo and equilibrium issues, so you won’t catch me wearing those, but they always get rave reviews.
Want to save a bit of money but still get nearly all the perks of the Mavic 2 Pro? The Mavic 2 Zoom is for you priced at $1249. The difference between the two flagships is the sensor size, and the Mavic 2 Zoom has 2x optical zoom and up to 4x lossless digital zoom.
Other differences are on the video front with the Zoom not having access to the HLG 10 bit and other ‘pro-centric’ features.
Owners also get access to a special shot mode dubbed the Dolly Zoom.
Yes, you can get this effect on the Pro, but it involves some skill with video editing. On the Mavic 2 Zoom, it’s a button push.
The Spec Sheet
There’s considerable overlap between the second generation Mavics, but here’s what you need to know for the Mavic 2 Zoom.
Camera Resolution: 12 megapixels (Pro has 20MP)
Video Resolution: 4K30p
Zoom: 24-48mm optical. Up to 4x lossless digital zoom.
Battery Life: 31 minutes. Real World: 28-29 minutes.
Omnidirectional Obstacle Avoidance
The Mavic 2 Zoom is one hell of a drone, and if you’re looking for an aerial platform with optical zoom, you can’t go wrong. Yes, you lose the one-inch sensor in favor of the smaller sensor found on the original Mavic or the Air. 12MP versus 20MP. A lot of the color profiles advertised in the Mavic 2 Pro are gone, but you still have access to the D-Cinelike.
It’s one hell of a drone, and if you’re fine with the output of the smaller sensor, the Mavic 2 Zoom could just as easily be number one on the list.
What Can You Capture
I mentioned it above, but the amount of overlap in features is deep on the Mavic 2s. Making up for the sensor difference is the ability to shoot super-resolution photos at 48MP. DJI accomplishes the feat by shooting nine separate images before stitching them together into a final image.
Another feature exclusive to the Mavic 2 Zoom is the Dolly QuickShot. It’s easier to show you versus explaining the effect:
Like its more expensive sibling, the Mavic 2 Pro, hyperlapses are the most impressive of the shot modes. There are amazing creators making unbelievable videos using various modes. Take a look below:
Other QuickShots include Panoramas, Asteroid, and Boomerang. What you can capture is only limited by your imagination.
Mavic 2 Zoom Aerial Photography
Mavic 2 Zoom Buying Options
It’s the same setup as the Mavic 2 Pro. DJI offers four buying options:
After settling on which Mavic 2 Pro package you’re getting, there are a few accessories you can add to maximize your the footage and images you capture. And then other accessories are quality of life improvements. Let’s break them down.
ND filters. Think sunglasses for your camera and you’re on the right track. If you don’t want to invest in a solid set, you can make use of the Mavic 2 Pro’s adjustable aperture. On bright days, you can move to a higher aperture to allow less light in to get your desired shutter speed for video.
Prefer to leave the lens wide open? ND filters are a must. Polar Pro and Tiffen are the go-to filters, with Polar Pro offering long exposure photography filters. Need a primer on ND filters?
Next up would be a solid bag. Yes, the Fly More Kit comes with a shoulder bag, but most of us want extra room and protection for our gear. My favorite bags come from Lowepro.
The DroneGuard BP 250 is perfect for the Mavic 2 and has space for days. It strikes the right balance of protection and comfort. Sure, it’s not a hard pelican case, but the idea of a portable drone is portability. You can mix and match what gear you want including your drone, another camera plus a lens, batteries and dedicated space for your laptop and tablet.
Another accessory you don’t readily think you need? Landing gear. One of the biggest pros of the Mavic 2 is its size. Then you notice on takeoff and landing how close the camera and gimbal are to the ground. The solution is snap on landing gear. PolarPro makes a set that retracts for easy storage. You don’t need them, but for $30, it qualifies as a quality of life accessory.
While the Mavic 2 series is outstripping it in technology, the Mavic Air still impresses when you consider just how small the drone is compared to the rest of the lineup. ActiveTrak, QuickShots, SmartCapture, and TapFly all make their appearance on the Mavic Air. No hyperlapse mode, but you do get Rocket, Dronie, Circle, Helix, Asteroid, and Boomerang.
Not too shabby for a camera drone which can easily fit in your pocket. Let’s run down the specs:
12MP Sensor / 4K Video
3-directional environment sensing
Smart capture / gesture control
21 minute max flight time
Weighs less than 1 lb.
Foldable and portable
What Can You Capture
Thanks to the incredible portability, the Mavic Air is designed to be kept close at hand. It may not have the range of the Mavic 2 line, but the SmartCapture feature signals the drone’s market is clearly in the travel sphere and those beach or camping trips where you want some great aerial group shots.
Sharing the same sensor and bitrate as the Mavic 2 Zoom means the video is no slouch. It can take incredible 4K video and features 120fps at 1080p for slow-motion work.
Mavic Air Buying Options
Without OcuSync 2.0, there’s no smart controller option, but DJI does have the Fly More bundle under $1000.
The bank account buster. DJI’s Inspire 2 is the only true, off-the-shelf professional camera drone. One of the biggest selling points is it’s more of a platform thanks to its interchangeable lenses and the variety of camera payloads DJI offers.
It breaks down into three separate buying options, each offering its own list of specs and performance options. There are a few specs that are standard across the line of options.
The Inspire 2 Spec Sheet
Max Flight Time: 27 minutes
Max Speed: 67 mph
Dual-Operator Mode, Two Cameras, Obstacle Avoidance
What Can You Capture
DJI’s Inspire 2 is a professional system. You can shoot professional films using this aerial platform and the price more than reflects its capabilities.
DJI Inspire 2 Aerial Photography
Inspire 2 Standard Combo. Priced at $2999, it features the Zenmuse X4S camera with a one-inch sensor. It can handle 4K60p and oversamples to 5.2K at 30fps. Burst rate on the photos can hit 20fps, and like all Inspire 2 combos, it has the option for a dual operator mode with the forward facing camera.
Inspire 2 Professional. Get ready for a massive price leap. The Inspire 2 Professional combo prices out at $10,110 and includes the Zenmuse X5S over the X4S. In addition to the standard remote controller found on the standard edition is the Cendence Remote allowing for dual operator mode.
The X5S is an upgraded 20.8MP MFT sensor capable of Apple ProRes video at 5.2K. Dynamic range is expanded on the X5S camera to 12.8 stops.
Also in the combo are two 7.5-inch Crystal Sky monitors. No more sunshades over your tablet to see where you are flying the camera drone.
The ultimate beginner drone. It’s affordable and rugged. Perfect for your 10-year-old who insists on getting a drone.
It’s built to withstand nephews who can be more than a bit rough on controllers and drones. While it lacks the features of more expensive camera drones, it holds its own on getting you started with the hobby.
The Spec Sheet
Battery life: 16 minutes
Range: 1.2 miles
Speed: Up to 31 mph
Gimbal: 2 axis
Yeah, it won’t blow the doors off when compared to the Mavic 2 Pro. It’s not meant to. The DJI Spark is firmly entrenched in the beginner market or something to hand off to a younger camera drone hobbyist. They get to enjoy flying around, and you don’t cringe when it accidentally smacks into a tree.
Stepping away from DJI brings out the company’s largest competitor, Yuneec. The Typhoon H does have an ace up its sleeve thanks to its retractable landing gear and 360-degree gimbal.
It’s not all DJI. While the company does control a sizable share of the market, it’s not the only camera drone maker in town. Yuneec has its own variety of prosumer drones including the Yuneec Typhoon H with Intel RealSense.
Yuneec feels like it’s one generation away from having something extraordinary. The 360-degree gimbal with a price which doesn’t break the bank is great. The 12MP sensor? Not so much when compared to the competition.
The Spec Sheet
Retractable Landing Gear
Intel RealSense Obstacle Avoidance
Integrated Screen on Controller
Battery Life: 25 Minutes
Range: One Mile
What Can You Capture
Much like DJI, Yuneec is big on various flight modes, or what the company dubs Task Modes. Orbit, Point of Interest, Journey, Cable Cam, and Follow Me are the modes you can set waypoints and create your video.
One look at the Autel EVO and you see a Mavic competitor. And on the specs, it gets close, especially with the camera drone shooting 4K60p. Still, DJI’s ecosystem and reliability win out.
The Autel Evo can be considered a direct competitor to the Mavic line. Where it falters somewhat is on the resolution at 12MP, but its price point put it in the range of the Mavic Air and Mavic 2 Zoom, both with 12MP sensors. It checks all the right boxes on features, including flight time and the fact its video capability hit 4K60p for under $1000.
The Spec Sheet
Flight time: Up to 30 Minutes
Range: Up to 4.3 Miles
Integrated Screen on Remote
Front and Rear Obstacle Avoidance
It shares similar specs and similar stylings as the Mavic. Can it outpace the Mavic in sheer features? Not yet. DJI keeps innovating new shot modes, new camera drones which swallow up the competition. But it is damn nice to see companies willing to compete against DJI. We need that to keep pushing innovation forward.
One of the more unique camera drones in 2019 is the Parrot Anafi. While a quick glance it looks like a Mavic clone, it’s all in the gimbal. It can rotate 90-degree down and 90 degrees up along its vertical axis.
The Spec Sheet
Three-Axis Gimbal Which Rotates 180 degrees Vertically
Now that we are four months into 2019, all eyes are on summer for potential new drone releases. Expectations are high DJI will continue its Phantom line with the Phantom 5. Rumors continually surface on it featuring interchangeable lenses. It would need something special as the Mavic 2 Pro borrowed its sensor.
Then there are the wild cards. Will a major company step into the camera drone space. Sony has a patent for a consumer drone. Is it just a patent to store or something else?