You’re not dreaming. Camera drones for sale are everywhere. And it can be a bit of an information overload. Which one is right for you? There are choices for every user; budget-conscious, not so budget-conscious, videographers, photographers, beginners and of course, portability.
There will be overlap between the categories, but you can easily find that happy middle we all want in our gear. Also, head over to our drone editing guide for the best YouTube channels to get you started on editing your videos or photos.
Choosing Your First or Next Drone
Cheap or Beginner Drones
Two schools of thought here. Go ultra cheap, and you get what you pay for or stick with the $500-ish budget and get something worth having. There are two new options in this range and a couple of older drones that still stand the test of time. Let’s hit the two main options.
The newest entry to the market, it gets the headline number of $499. Yes, you can grab it right now for that price, but if you want to take full advantage of the Spark, it will set you back $699 for an extra battery, the remote controller, charging hub and prop guards.
Think of it as the ultimate selfie drone. DJI has been working on gesture control for a bit now, and the Spark seems to be the culmination of the hard work. And damn is it built for people rough with their gear.
The price point does give up some features we are used to in the more exciting drones. There’s not a three-axis gimbal. Instead, it relies on a two-axis gimbal with electronic image stabilization. Not a deal breaker because it can be smoothed out in post-processing or by thinking ahead on the use you want out of the drone. Something to pass off to your parents or nephew? It’s spot on.
The Spark’s competition is the Yuneec Beeze. It comes in at $100 cheaper but lacks the battery life, relies completely on electronic image stabilization, and there’s no gesture control. What it does have is the ability to shoot in 4K, which the Spark lacks. Again, these are budget drones, so take the image capabilities of both with a major grain of salt. These are designed to get you into the drone market and flying. Doesn’t mean you can record or snap amazing images.
Both can, but if you want a few more bells and whistles, the Spark wins out for the extra $100.
DJI Phantom 3 Series
Remember the $500-ish budget. Sometimes buying into a generation older pays off. I own the Phantom 3 Pro and can attest to its ability to capture wonderful shots. Matter of fact, here’s a great lightning shot I grabbed directly from the 4K footage:
Why a previous generation? You are saving money, and you get the three-axis gimbal. It may not look the best or have all the advanced safety sensors, but you get the same quality video and still images of the Phantom 4. You’ll lack in battery life and other areas, but if you want to save money or you’re new to the market, don’t overlook the older drones.
Drones for Videographers
Here’s where it can get expensive in a hurry. Do you go all in with the DJI Inspire 2 and drop upwards of $6K? Head towards the Matrice platform? A DIY system? Or stick with an out-of-the-box drone with more than enough capability and won’t break the bank?
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
Let’s go with not breaking the bank first. At $1499, it offers a 20MP one-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor, 100Mbps bitrate and 4K at 60fps. Compare that to the 60Mbps bitrate of the Phantom 3s and the original Phantom 4.
For the price, that’s damn hard to beat. Video codecs include H.264 which gets the 60 frames per second at 4K and H.265 which limits the 4K fps to 30. Flight time is advertised at 30 minutes, but that’s perfect conditions. Those simply don’t exist, so count on 25-27 minutes depending on what you’re doing.
DJI Mavic Pro
I might catch heat for this because the camera specs are nothing like the Phantom 4 Pro and above, but can you match the portability of it fits in an oversized pocket? It was DJI’s most portable offering before the Spark, but it punches way above its weight class when it comes to image and video quality.
First, let’s note the YouTuber knows how to color grade like a champ. Toss in the cinematic music and perfect storyboarding of the video, and it’s damn impressive.
Another notch for the Mavic Pro is the price. The Fly More combo is $1,299 and comes with two extra batteries, a shoulder bag, extra props, charging hub and car charger. You’re set, and it’s below the $1,499 price of the Phantom 4 Pro. Where it lacks is the bitrate is stuck at 60Mbps, and you don’t get 4K at 60fps. The sensor borrows from the older generations of Phantoms, so no one-inch 20MP Exmor R CMOS sensor.
But, it’s portable, and you can see above, if you know what you’re doing, it’s a beast.
While it endured a recall, it’s back on the market. The action camera market has seen better days, and Mavic Pro essentially ate the GoPro Karma's lunch, but if you want an alternative, this is it. Especially if you’re in the market for a Hero5 Black. You get the drone, the camera and the grip for just under $1100. It lacks the technology of the DJI drones in the same category, but the Hero5 can be detached and tossed in the water. You’re not doing that (at least on purpose) with anything from DJI.
Yuneec Typhoon H
Think on the scale of the Mavic Pro in terms of video quality, but it adds the 360-degree gimbaled 4K camera the Phantom 4 Pro lacks. It just doesn’t have near the same sensor quality or bitrate performance. The Yuneec Typhoon H also sticks with a 12MP sensor, though for the $1500 price point, having Intel’s RealSense tech makes it compelling.
Welcome to the bank account busters. The Inspire 2 is the videographer’s dream out-of-the-box solution. Add in the X5S camera, and you have an aerial platform with a 360-degree gimbal. Dual operator mode allows for a pilot via the 720p front-facing camera, while a second operator controls the gimbaled camera.
For video, it over samples 4K to 5.2K at 30fps and 4K at 60fps. Both H.264 and 265 are at 100Mbps bitrate, and the X5S accepts a variety of lenses.
Think $6K is bank account busting? Meet the Matrice 600. The aerial platform alone is priced at $4,999.00 without a camera. But, that’s not necessarily a bad feature. It opens up the payloads from everything from the X5R from DJI to a RED EPIC. Let’s use the Panasonic GH4 as an example. You’ll need the camera ($1500 – body only), the gimbal ($999.00) and of course, the Matrice Pro ($4999). The price is $6500, and you don’t have a lens for the camera.
And here comes the overlap. What makes the drones great for videography also extends well into the photography category. It comes down to needs and wants. The 20MP sensor on the Phantom 4 Pro wins out at $1500. It adds a mechanical shutter with a speed 1/2000 of a second and 1/8000 using the electronic shutter. Burst shooting hits up to 14fps, and AEB bracketing is 3 or 5 frames at a 0.7 EV bias. If you don’t want to break the bank, you’re not going to get a more well-rounded camera drone. ISO ranges from 100-3200 in Auto and 12800 in manual.
The Mavic Pro lacks the mechanical shutter and burst shooting is capped at seven frames. Still photography ISO ranges from 100-1600.
The GoPro Karma relies on the Hero5 Black. You get the GoPro effect, so the wide FOV is something to be aware of. But its dual purpose does have its benefits.
Next up is the Inspire 2. Great video quality translates into amazing stills. The price is up there, but it can handle 20fps in burst mode, so hammer away. Bracketing modes are similar to that of the Phantom 4 Pro. If you’re going for still photography only, it’s hard to recommend the Inspire 2 unless you really want payload options.
You need something to travel with. Do you want to lug around a Matrice platform or an Inspire 2? Nope. You already hate checking luggage, why add another bag fee?
It folds into a shoulder bag or can be tossed in your suitcase. It checks all the right boxes in terms of specs for video and photography. And it’s the king of portability. Yeah, I wish it had the same sensor as the Phantom 4 Pro, but compromises have to be made. And this is the happy middle.
Phantom 4 Pro
Need the extra tech and don’t mind the extra bag fee? You can’t go wrong with the Phantom 4 Pro. We’ve been over the specs, and while you’ll need a dedicated backpack, it’s hard to overlook the P4P.
Best Drone For Sale?
If you’re a hardcore traveler and value portability and want a happy middle, the Mavic Pro without a doubt. If you don’t mind the extra weight and few hundred dollars more, the Phantom 4 Pro punches way above its class. Almost absurdly so considering the alternatives on the market. Sound off below in the comments on what you use and link those YouTube or Instagram accounts.
Last update on 2017-07-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API