What is the point of a drone? For many, a drone in the now-popular multi-rotor configuration, is an extension of a passion for RC aircraft. For others, a drone represents a way to put a camera into the sky. We are pretty passionate about the camera in the sky experience.
Whether for personal use of for commercial application, let’s take a look at a list of our favorites, some of the best camera drones in the sky.
Fly for fun
It is our presumption that most of you will be flying for personal reasons, just to have fun. If you are looking to fly for commercial reasons, that is, if you are going to be paid to fly, please remember that you require a Part 107 remote pilot’s license from the FAA in the United States.
Our list today will all be drones above 0.55 lbs, requiring you to register with the FAA before you fly. Be sure to see our new drone things to know for more info.
DJI Inspire 2
With an impressive launch event in November, DJI promotes the Inspire 2 as a one-stop-shop for videographers. Equipped with a selection of cameras, topping out with the Zenmuse X5S, a 5.2K micro 4/3 camera with RAW support and more. Basically, you’ve got a high-end DSLR-quality camera in hand before you even leave the ground.
A large and powerful drone, the Inspire 2 will keep your stabilized video shooting at up to 58 mph. Allowing for two person operation, one to fly and one to work the camera, this is one of the most advanced camera drones on the market today. With a starting price of about $3000, and a full setup cresting $6000, we can’t think of a better drone with built-in camera to recommend, if you can afford it.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
More in the realm of affordability, as well as in the more well known form-factor of drones, the Phantom 4 Pro is the latest in the Phantom line, and by far the most capable. Adding extra directional sensors for object avoidance, and a full 1-inch camera sensor at 20mp, this is a 4K at 60fps shooter with wings.
Available for $1799 as a full kit, it balances consumer drones with professional gear – we predict that the Phantom 4 Pro will take over from the Phantom 4 and Phantom 3 as the most popular drone for aerial video. Perhaps not the most used drone however, but we’ll talk about that next.
DJI Mavic Pro
The compact size, folding design, excellent flight time and 4K video recording make the Mavic Pro the easiest quality camera drone to transport and take to the skies. It will be a while before we recommend a different drone as our top pick for non-professional fliers – the Mavic Pro packs in all but the very best that DJI has to offer for flight methods and securities, and does so in a package that is super fun and simple to fly with a reasonable price tag.
We’ve spent a considerable amount of time with the Mavic Pro, I hope you get the chance to check out our coverage.
Admitting that there are certainly better cameras available, the Mavic Pro proves our drone of choice every time. Grab the DJI Mavic Pro starter kit for $999, or the Fly More combo with extra batteries and more for $1299.
GDU Byrd Premium
GDU, formerly called ProDrone, has a few versions of their Byrd available. The earlier versions came with decent cameras, or mounts for GoPro action cameras, making the Byrd Standard or Byrd Advanced just another set of options among a handful of GoPro equipped drones. The Byrd Premium steps things up.
Packing its own 4K camera, we found the image quality top notch in good lighting, but maybe a little muted on a cloudy day. The drone itself is highly capable… maybe a little too capable, as you’ll need practice before you’ll be able to fly slow and steady for those epic shots. Despite it all, the Byrd Premium deserves its spot on our best camera drone list.
Yuneec Tornado H920
We almost put the Yuneec Typhoon H on this list today, as it is an exceptional hexacopter drone with Intel RealSense Technology, but we landed on the Tornado H920 instead. Also a hexacopter, the Tornado H920 comes with either the latest CGO4 Yuneec camera, or mount up a Panasonic GH4 4K camera.
Promoting itself to the professionals out there, the Yuneec Tornado H920 starts at $3499 for a kit that does not include a camera.
Commercial and Industrial drones
DJI Matrice M600 Pro
If you did not already know this, DJI has been servicing the high-end and professional aerial photography space for a while. Most consumers will not be familiar with the expensive offerings that are the Matrice and the Spreading Wings that you’ll see later.
Providing few, if any of the conveniences and safety measures of the consumer focused drones, the M600 Pro is a massive, six armed drone that takes six batteries and can handle the best of the best in DJI cameras or carry over 13 lbs of RED or other high-end camera rigs.
At around $5000 before you choose your camera, the DJI Matrice 600 Pro is a serious machine for serious video work.
Intuitive Aerial Aerigon MK II
If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it. A full blown rig from Intuitive Aerial can set you back $25000 or more, including Hollywood style monster video cameras. The idea of the Aerigon MK II is simple, put your camera in the sky. We’re not talking about mounting your phone, GoPro, point and shoot or even your DSLR, we’re talking about 15 lb professional camera rigs.
With an example rig costing a full quarter of a million dollars in hand, the media team at BrainFarm shoot 4K commercials and more, and you can too, if you can afford it.
DJI Spreading Wings S1000+
While the M600 Pro is designed to offer the best cameras that DJI has to offer, or RED and Hasselblad, if that’s your choice, the Spreading Wings line looks to put your camera in the sky. Eight propellers provide enough lift for about 14 lbs of your DSLR camera as this minimalist designed rig gets the job done without much flash.
Providing a basic flying experience with a powerful drone for your DSLR is actually quite affordable, you’ll need about $1499 to get the Spreading Wings S1000+ into the air today.
Lockheed Martin Indago UAS
As a leading aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin takes to the sky with more than just fancy fighter jets for the military. The Indago UAS is a professional drone designed for a multitude of operations. The real power of this camera in the sky is not the 720p video capture, which sounds extremely weak, but rather the 30x zoom.
Despite the low resolution, the Indago UAS promises the ability to make out a car license plate at over 1000 feet, or inspect bolts on an otherwise unreachable point of a structure from a fair distance out. Civil and military operations can put the Indago UAS to work for as low as $25000.
Old, but still good
DJI Phantom 4 / Phantom 3 Pro
Looking to save some cash and still get great images from the sky? DJI’s older drones in the iconic Phantom line pack a serious punch for the money. Both the Phantom 4 and the later Phantom 3 Pro come with 4K video recording on a sensor roughly the same size as that of the Mavic Pro. Extremely popular drones, it is easy to find accessories, parts and more.
The Phantom 4 is now a tad under $1000 and the Phantom 3 Pro will run you about $800. These are still fairly pricey units, for a casual flier, but offer a huge bang for the buck if you do not have a lot of money to spare.
DJI Inspire 1
As far as iconic professional drones are concerned, none stand out to me more than the DJI Inspire 1. A flying machine that morphs mid-flight to lift the landing gear out of the way of the camera, this was the standard of cool for drone buyers, and certainly screamed unattainable for most wallets.
With the Inspire 2 hitting the market, the price of the Inspire 1 has come down considerably. A starting point of now just under $2000 will put the Inspire 1 in your hands. A fully decked out kit with the latest Zenmuse X5 camera, however, will get upwards of $7000. Last generation flight with current generation camera technology may be an ideal solution for you.
That is the end of our list of best camera drones for now. There are many great drones on the market, some of which provide exceptional camera capabilities, for us, these few are the best of the best.
Is there a drone out there that you think deserves to be on this list? We can think of a few that as near as good as some of our recommendations, but we want to hear what you have to say in the comments below.