Best Drones to Buy and How to Use and Fly Themwww.sleeklens.com
Many may say that with modern advancements in technology, anybody can become a photographer very quickly. While we have to agree that this is partially true, we also need to carefully consider what it means to be a photographer. It is not just a matter of pointing and shooting whatever that strikes your fancy, but learning about techniques, art, having your pictures tell a story and sharing a bit of your soul in every single picture you take.
To that point – how can technology make someone a better photographer if machines can’t express feelings like we do? Technology on its own can’t replace what many years of experience and proper training actually gives a user, but it can become a really good companion for boosting our hidden potential and encouraging users to go further with their work.
Not so long ago, thinking about aerial photography was quite the challenge. You couldn’t just say, “Okay, I am going to take a picture of my city from above” without considering the complications. You would need to have access to at least a really tall building in order to catch most of your city, or – if you are wealthy enough – be able to pay for a photography trip via helicopter with good camera equipment. These days, with the technological advancement in the photography field, drones can completely replace the old-school experience, making even aerial photography look like child’s play.
16 Best Drones Reviewed in 2018
MJX Bugs 2W[2 Batteries Included]Go to Amazon[2 Batteries Included]
[2 Batteries Included]
A really curious drone, don’t be fooled by the somewhat ‘childish’ appearance of this drone, it’s one of the cheapest and reliable drones you can find in the market. Let’s meet the big brother of the MJX Bugs family, the MJX Bugs 2W!
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GPS + GLONASS Reception
Long battery for a cheap drone
WiFi FPV mode requires a smartphone compatible with 5GHz WiFi
Needs to be calibrated before each session
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It is a not-so-known brand, but that shouldn’t be something to set you back before considering what this drone has to offer. In their third lineup of products, MJX has done quite the work to ensure the quality of their products, and this MJX Bugs 2W is the big brother of the series.
First and foremost, the size is pretty noticeable if you compare it with the Bugs 3 and Bugs 3 Mini Units. The propellers also look tougher and its body has been redesigned to ensure the best aerodynamic performance. The fact that it includes both GPS and GLONASS reception technology is an incredible bright side for a drone that goes below the $300 price tag, but that’s not all as you can record your flights in both FullHD quality or in 720p FPV mode that requires a 5GHz WiFi connection to work.
The Air Press Altitude Hold is amazingly useful for stabilizing our shots thanks to its built-in barometer, yet a gimbal would have been a good addition for this unit to meet up with the standards of the industry.
The operative range of this unit is set around the 500-600 meters mark, though spec sheet claims it can meet up to 800 or 1000 meters. That’s if you operate under the normal flight mode. FPV mode, in 720p recording quality, is said to be able to reach over 500 meters flight distances, however, do keep in mind that 5GHz frequency connections are more susceptible to obstacles, though they won’t suffer the channel overlapping issue that’s quite common with 2.4GHz frequencies.
In what respects to its camera, it’s a balanced option for those who are looking for a budget-intended option without falling into a children’s drone unit. You will require, however, to calibrate the unit prior each take off, which for us it’s a considerable nuisance that could have been fixed no doubt.
Finally, battery life is said to last up to 18 minutes, something that surprised us as it can meet up with some DJI models as the Mavic Air or the Spark itself.
Parrot never ceases to amaze us with their ability to create incredibly attractive products, with good image quality, and ideal for beginners. Frankly, if you going out and buying your first drone, and the budget is an item to consider, this one is probably your best option.
Portable to the point of being able to join your routes right inside your backpack, this is Parrot’s shot on pocket-sized drones meant for beginners and video students mostly.
Whereas some people tend to misjudge these units for their childish appearance, the truth is this easy-to-use drone might surprise many users with its versatility and amount of features to offer. We can control the unit by using a phone or tablet, though using a touchscreen system isn’t the best experience we can relate to, it isn’t as bad as it sounds: you just need to tap or slide your fingers at the smartphone/tablet screen to make your drone move. The app is entirely free, but if you wish to have more control over your flying abilities, you can always make a $20 in-app purchase to unlock its advanced flying mode. There’s a valid alternative in the Parrot’s Skycontroller, but we’ll talk about such accessory later on.
The Price of Innovation
For some people, this isn’t a budget-minded solution but a cult device to own, as we can safely say the difference between the Parrot Bebop 2 and the DJI Phantom 3 Standard isn’t noticeable, being the balance tilted in favour of DJI regarding image quality, sturdiness and overall flight experience. That’s why the Parrot Bebop 2 must attend the needs of another kind of market currently unaware of the vast amount of knowledge to acquire prior even starting to use a drone.
If your intent is to use a drone for family meetings, friends’ gatherings or to stay by your side when making minor journeys, then look no further as this model is fantastic – plus the Skycontroller makes the experience as easy as to pilot a kid’s helicopter RC model. However, if you consider you fall under the “enthusiast photographer” label, then you should look at Parrot’s professional line products or what DJI has to offer for this price range.
Parrot did a great job in protecting the gear against most common climate factors we can encounter such as dust or raindrops, though it would be imprudent to label this product as waterproof just because of a good weather-impact prevention attitude.
Adding a Gimbal
Like what we studied above with the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced, Parrot also features this technology to ensure image quality while flying but also to protect the unit against most common bad-move damages. With a three-axis digital stabilization system, the overall experience is a smooth video that can even compete with the “more professional” footages made with GoPro cameras. Panning and tilting techniques work digitally, as the model cannot allow any kind of gear movement or it will risk the flying capabilities of the device, and the effect crafted is so convincing that you need to look closely at the unit to realise there isn’t any physical movement linked to it.
Though it’s possible to fly this unit up to 300 meters away from us using a mobile device, we should be cautious as this depends mostly on three factors: current firmware, flying skills and conditions of the place to fly (i.e.: flight distance will be reduced if the area is too crowded either by buildings or nature as signal is chopped).
The Return-to-Home option is a much-expected upgrade for this drone in comparison with its predecessor, helping us to have greater control without compromising its physical integrity.
In case you are willing to enjoy a truly marvellous flying experience, feel ready to spend a couple of hundred dollars for acquiring the Parrot Skycontroller: full manual controls for the drone in RC-fashion and amplified WiFi radio for reaching distances as far as 2km from your current position if flying conditions are optimal. Another key advantage of the Skycontroller is that you don’t lose track of your current flying position as an HDMI output allow us to pair this control with any compatible tablet, smartphone or even television.
Battery life for this unit is the same as the original Parrot Bebop drone, though support system for the battery was revised to make it more stable when doing any kind of intrepid flips.
Is there a downside with this drone? Unfortunately yes, and it is directly linked to its storage capacity, being only 8 GB available to use as internal hard drive, with no option for microSD card slot. You can upload files wirelessly to your computer or use a micro-USB cable – the drone needs to be turned on the entire time of the transfer process.
Parrot is not only limited to produce beginner-level drones, but it also manufactures medium-range drones. This model in particular is a quadcopter that comes in 3 different camouflage finishes: sand, winter and jungle. The difference between them is merely a fact of aesthetics, since the functions remain the same.
Even if it can trick us due to its price, most certainly this product is a step forward towards professional quality work from Parrot. The Parrot AR. Drone 2.0 is a quadcopter entirely operative with your smartphone or tablet.
Regardless of the natural resistance to quadcopter systems due the higher skillset needed to fly the unit, the Parrot AR. Drone 2.0 features two built-in cameras, helping us to quickly switch viewpoints and improve our flying experience. With a plastic body with foam rings surrounding the rotors for extra protection, this unit takes in consideration the high accident rate drones tend to show, though we cannot say it’s entirely shockproof.
Like the Parrot Bebop 2, the AR Drone 2.0 does not include any specific controller as it’s meant to be used directly with your smart device. There is, however, a nice alternative to operate this drone with the help of a joystick layout thanks to its compatibility with Nvidia Shield Technology, and whose physical analog sticks make the flying experience entirely more realistic.
For those who pick the standard flying mode, the app shows two stick controls:
1) Left stick meant for controlling elevation and drone direction
2) Right stick for moving the unit around (forward, backward, left or right depending on where the drone is currently facing as its own North).
Since four rotors take action to move this unit, battery life isn’t as desirable. Swapping batteries is needed each 12 minutes of flight, which is not what we can expect from a high-end drone, though for its price it certainly does a decent job. Battery charge time is rated around an hour and a half, and unit also includes its AC adapter.
How is flight experience in general? Unless you decide to do risky tricks like flips and barrel rolls, the 10-12 min flight isn’t as discouraging as it sounds. However, as much energy you require to put the unit in movement is the amount of battery life you’re chipping in the process: keep in mind battery span can be reduced to just 5 minutes by doing practice flips on air. When battery is entirely out of power, the unit will shut itself and attempt to land safely thanks to its energy reserve for reducing massive impacts.
The 720p quality, for the price paid for the unit, is more than what we can ask for. Of course this not compete with DJI or Yuneec lines, though the technique required to properly fly it certainly puts this compact drone among the products worth to be tested. Don’t expect any sound to show up, drone rotors would easily disrupt the sound, meaning the device would be wasting energy in trying to process.
If you are looking for a device to test if flying a drone is your thing, then you are heading towards the right direction! The Blade 180 QX HD is a cheap product for those who desire to enter this world for under $200.
This drone model features SAFE Technology (Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope, which in plain English ends up being an innovative combination of multi-axis sensors and software tailored for allowing a model aircraft to know its relative position to the horizon. By doing so, beginners can feel the benefits of learning how to operate a drone with ease, though this model isn’t intended for entire beginners. Its light body allows the unit to display considerably good flight speeds, though not the ones that can compete with professional devices which, normally, don’t even get highlighted as key features as its bulkier bodies and strong rotors allow such speeds.
The limited battery life only permits sessions of up to 10 minutes’ flight, which of course depends on the amount of flips you happened to make through the course of it. On this regard, it’s an average flight time for drones ranked in this price range, though it can feel discouraging if you plan to train for harder working sessions. It takes up to an hour for charging these batteries, though we recommend you to buy some spare batteries to enhance your shooting sessions.
Finally, one extra fine feature to consider is the drone’s LED lights included, which significantly change your night flight experience. Even if the camera isn’t as you dream for these harsh videomaking conditions, the Blade 180 QX HD has plenty aspects to surprise us with.
As a company that we could label as a direct competitor of DJI in regards to product quality, we could say that this drone is simply not as commercially well known as the DJI Phantom 4K, but the overall quality is right up there with it.
Being able to pair a GoPro camera isn’t the endgame for drones, and certainly, Yuneec knows how to craft an impressive device featuring one of the finest 4K drone cameras we can see in today’s market.
Targeting DJI as their main competitor, there’s no surprise in finding the price range of this unit to be similar to the Phantom 4K Pro, with a yet more aggressive look that resembles the Mavic models. Stepping right below professional quality material, the Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K is meant to be used for both amateur and professional work. Why can’t it be labelled as a professional level device? Two reasons: sturdiness and its flight capabilities.
One of the aspects we liked about this drone is its size: label it as big, since it overpowers the DJI Phantom 3 by 120 mm on the motor-to-motor measurement. Easy to spot from a distance but requires you to carry it around in its own large, sturdy aluminium case.
Alongside with the drone, we can find two batteries, its charger, two sets of propellers, the controller, a neck-strap, and the SteadyGrip handheld mount. Add to that good range of accessories a cable to charge the unit with our car’s battery, and we can safely welcome one of the best travel-intended bundles we can find.
Body and Flight Performance
The setup procedure for this drone is quite simple: just load the propellers, charge batteries, controller, and that’s all. It will take around three minutes to get the system to respond as It needs first to load the interface via smartphone, then about two minutes for GPS satellite acquisition. Since we cannot program an automatic takeoff, you need to work your way with the controller. Press and hold the button will set the rotors to start spinning and then you need to increase the speed on the left stick. Landing is also manual as you can imagine, but the device is stable enough to land whenever close to the ground, in comparison to other models we can find on the market – much appreciated for beginner users.
Since its body is mostly made of plastic, you get that false sense of threat whenever thinking of operating this unit, as potential damage is prone to happen if you are not careful enough. A little disappointing when investing so much money for a drone if we compare this device with DJI units.
The controller features a tiny screen at the bottom, which in my opinion isn’t suitable for most users as you would prefer to see it above the sticks, not cover it with your hands when operating this drone. The drone will move in the direction set by the right switch, so consider it like a sort of joystick you need to get used to. Smart Mode is available for these two options: Follow Me and Watch Me – both entirely relied on GPS signal. The difference between both is that Watch Me mode keeps the pilot framed in the camera no matter how the pilot moves, tilting the camera if needed in the process.
We can work with several resolutions when recording, the highest one being 4K Ultra HD at 30 fps. High-speed video can be recorded but in FullHD, and same can be said for Slow Motion mode at 120 fps. The focus is sharp. Therefore you shouldn’t have anything to complain about unless your camera happens to be damaged.
With the three-axis gimbal, drastic movements aren’t noticeable in your clips. However, you can still appreciate some interference in the case of heavy wind gusts.
If ever you thought of an ideal partnership between action cameras and drones, here is the closest answer. Instead of having a camera integrated into most of the drones designed for photography do, Xiro Xplorer G comes with a gimbal on which we can place the action camera that we want; although the maximum size it will support is the equivalent of a GoPro Hero 4. This gives us complete freedom to purchase the camera we want, especially if we take into account that as a drone in itself, is a quite economic gear for everything that offers.
If you are looking for a drone to pair with your very own Action Camera, then the Xiro Xplorer G should be your go-to option.
Compatible with GoPro Hero3 and Hero4 cameras, this compact aircraft can offer you much control with a GPS-stabilized system that doesn’t have much to envy to more expensive models from Yuneec or DJI.
Design and Flight Performance
This drone’s gimbal is designed for quick mounting your GoPro camera, which means you just need to slide it from the side. The downside of this setup method is that bulkier cameras like the Hero5 aren’t compatible with this drone, thus you are limited to now outdated action camera models. After the camera is placed, plug your camera to the drone’s body through an USB bridge and that’s all. In case you feel paranoid enough about risking your gear, some duct tape can do the work of reinforcing the already rigid enclosure.
Speaking of its size, the Xiro Xplorer is somewhat larger than the Parrot Bebop 2 we reviewed, and since its weight is estimated at 2.2 pounds (1 kg approx.), you need to register the unit with the FAA prior to flying it outdoors in the US, like what happens to most DJI models.
Four rotors and four plastic legs that you manually need to extend prior takeoff are all that this unit needs for flying. With the lights included underneath each propeller, we can safely fly this unit under low-light conditions as it helps our visibility.
For the estimated flight time, we can rank it around 20 mins per charge. The device will return home automatically and land if battery level drops to 10% or below – that’s one cool feature to count with. Extra batteries are rated about $130 each.
The maximum flight altitude is estimated at 120 meters, while the maximum distance ranges out to 600 meters. This is limited by a system of 3 switches, where each setting establishes the limits of altitude and horizontal distance - Mode 1 being the one with the shortest range and Mode 3 of greatest. Flight speeds can be as high as 17.9mph in horizontal and 6.7mph in vertical, for Mode 3 setup.
Some Control Considerations
What we need to be aware prior buying this gear is the actual size of the smartphone we own to pair it with this unit. Even if the attachment included works for most smartphones available in the market these days, models that rank about the size of the iPhone 6 Plus won’t fit in the so-called area, thus discarding altogether the chance of using a tablet as your drone’s monitor to keep an eye on the flight to make.
Another option we should consider when getting a new drone, the Syma X5C is intended for amateur pilots who seek to familiarize themselves with this whole drone photography world without making it a big fuss or investment. In order to provide that to the user, this model features a 720p capable camera, able to record while keeping the image quality clear thanks to its stabilization by the software system.
In appearance, it looks as if it was inspired by the DJI Phantom line, although for the price we cannot expect such material quality - in fact, this model is mostly made out of plastic, which we can lead to some doubts about its durability, however, every single part is easily replaceable.
The major drawback of this model is that only lasts up on the air for 6-7 minutes, without any previous warning system of running out of power, so the answer is: yes, you're likely to encounter yourself dealing with a crashed drone if you're not careful enough. The amount of time needed to recharge this drone (up to 90 minutes) only make things worse, however for the price you can acquire this unit, that should be the lesser of your worries as it isn't intended for any serious aerial photography sessions, but mostly for some quick videos and for training your skills without investing as much money as it would be with any other brand model.
The control layout is quite easy to handle, even educational for beginners, and it also features a 720p HD camera. 4GB microSD card is included for storage. What sounds attractive for most people is the fact that you can replace any part of this unit, as they happen to be available online for a modicum fee but also the drone includes a printed guide on how to dismantle the unit whenever needed.
Also, do consider there is no stabilization system for this drone, thus shaky recordings are to be expected. Good and bad thoughts can be stated in this regard since when it does not prove to be reliable enough to produce quality work, it also teaches us how to improve our flying skills to minimize its impact.
No one can deny the popularity of DJI drones. Out of the industry, this sole brand is like the “Apple of Drones”, sort to say. Cool design, extremely reliable performance, a good bunch of tutorials and accessories to experiment… you have it all!
This time we’re analysing the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, the professional option available at the moment from this brand for those who want to put their drone experience to a higher level but without needing to acquire a high-end product.
Conceived as a revision of the DJI Phantom 4, the Phantom 4 Pro features some significant improvements, being the new 5-direction obstacle avoidance system the most noticeable one. How does this work? DJI has added better quality sensors on its front, back, left, right and bottom so the entire environment as a 3d experience, helping to avoid elements as trees, buildings or any other hazards to the unit that the user may not be able to see from its position.
This unit’s camera has been revised as well. Including a 1-inch image sensor and raising the recording resolution to 4K 60fps the quality leapt is considerable, aiming for these units to become the preferred choice of both amateurs and professionals. And if that sole statement wasn’t enough, 20 MPX still images may do great good to your photography business!
Build Quality and Performance
Sans for the positions of the new sensors, there aren’t any noticeable differences between the Phantom 4 and the Phantom 4 Pro, as even the new sensors have been placed into the drone’s legs whereas the infrared and optical sensors are nested into the drone’s sides. The updated camera is only a bit bigger than its previous one, so unless you’re a trained critic, it will take you some time to spot the differences between the two.
Flight time is expected to be circa 30 minutes, but that battery life is obviously affected by real-world elements as climate conditions, the ability of the pilot to fly it, the elements it has to dodge… you get the point. Still, the flight time is way better than the DJI Mavic Pro despite this unit not being as portable as DJI’s flagship. The battery takes about 1.5 hours to fully recharge, so it’s advisable to pack extra batteries and acquire one of those multiple battery chargers offered by DJI to compensate for that idle time.
Flight speed is topped at 45 mph (72 kph), which can also get the benefits of climate conditions if we fly with a tailwind behind us. When putting this unit under obstacle stress, speed time is limited to 31 mph, which is far more than acceptable when compared with other units available in the market, and also without putting the unit in jeopardy to reach such speed.
Autonomy and Range
The Phantom 4 Pro is using the knowledge gained with the release of the Mavic Pro to improve its autonomy. The usage of Point of Interest Mode, Waypoints or Follow Me modes is much appreciated for a unit that’s meant for work rather than a hobbyist. Course Lock and Home Lock modes are also included with this unit, which is also part of the Phantom 4, but the Terrain Follow, Tripod Mode and Active Track system improvement are some of the inherited knowledge that comes from the Mavic Pro to this device.
The return-to-home mode has also been revisited, as previous units didn’t have any sort of control regarding obstacles, rather choosing to go towards the operator in a straight line and, most likely, crashing themselves to the first tree that may be available in the route. For the Phantom 4 Pro, the obstacle avoidance system helps a great deal to prevent this, but also the drone retraces its steps in an attempt to fly the same path it covered to get to the point where it is located. Not that we can guarantee a crash-proof performance, but it ranks among the very best systems available in the market.
The video transmission technology has seen a quality improvement by including the Mavic Pro’s OcuSync technology, opening the gates to live HD videos feeds from up to 4.3 miles of distance. Take into consideration that it also requires optimal climate conditions to achieve such a thing.
Camera and extra stuff
The update made to the camera sensor instantly translates into more detail, increased capture area and avoidance of quality loss under high ISO values for low-light conditions.
Another amazing feature this drone includes is a mechanical shutter and aperture control, meaning you can go from f/2.8 to the f/11 whenever required.
Video recording offers a wide range of options in what applies to record quality. Cinematic 4K DCI at 24, 25, or 30 fps is the top-notch reference, or you can choose 4K UHD at 24, 25, 30, or 60 fps. In case you’re struggling with such heavy-sized video files, you can always downgrade to 2.7K, 1080p, and 720p. Slow motion is also an option 720p 120 fps.
Do also consider that there’s another, a bit pricey, version of this drone, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro Plus that includes a new version of the controller, now with a built-in touchscreen display to operate the drone. Say goodbye to troublesome notifications or running out of battery in your smartphone with this cool controller!
Small, cute and easy to use. Is there anything else to ask when first experiencing the drone adventure? DJI outdoes themselves by introducing the DJI Spark to our life: a selfie-intended drone for everyone who enjoys photography.
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Supports gesture controls
Forward obstacle avoidance
Easy to Use
Really Low Flight Time
Limited range and speed when controlling with phone
If there is a product that has surprised me over these latest months, that would be the DJI Spark. The company’s smallest aircraft to be released and yet you can consider it as the first ever selfie drone to which you can interact by just waving your hand.
In what technical aspects regard, we can safely assume this model as a short-range quadcopter that can be controlled either with your smartphone or with a dedicated remote control that needs to be purchased separately. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages, and though control proves to be pricey, in fact, it acts as a range extender for this drone, which otherwise can fly up to 100 meters away from your current position.
Is there a downside to such a promising product? Undoubtedly, and that would be battery life, which just stands a bit above 12 minutes. Hence, this product isn’t intended as an alternative to their professional line products (so if you are looking for a small sized professional solution better start looking for the DJI Mavic line), but as a way to introduce drone photography to your lifestyle without much hassle.
Design and Flying Performance
You really got to love the aspect of the DJI Spark! I mean, just look at such a tiny cutie with these versatile tools to be used. If someone said before you can easily carry around a drone for a family outdoor gathering, I’d say they would be joking; but the truth is this small-sized buddy only needs your hand to takeoff and to land.
There are some interesting color layouts you can choose from: Alpine White, Lava Red, Meadow Green, Sky Blue and Sunrise Yellow.
To store your images and videos, the device uses a microSD card, which doesn’t require to be high-end as 4K footage isn’t compatible with this unit. Though DJI states their battery lasts for 16 minutes per charge, truth showcases that span to be limited to 12 minutes, truly disappointing. However, since batteries are removable, you can always buy several ones to carry around, though you would need to consider the price factor to weigh if it’s worth the investment. For most travel photographers who desire to travel lightweight, it certainly does.
GPS and GLONASS satellite positioning are available with this model to keep steady flying experience outdoors or just to meet up with the requirements of the Return-to-Home feature. The Vision Positioning System helps the aircraft to land safely thanks to a set of downward-facing sensors, even without requiring the aid of GPS.
As the DJI Spark uses your hand as takeoff/landing spot, you need to be extra wary about the position of your fingers: your palm needs to be always extended with fingertips facing downwards just in case. Cutting your hand with fast-spinning rotors can be a truly painful experience – and in case you don’t believe me, just ask Enrique Iglesias about it. The best way to avoid these nasty experience to happen is to buy the propeller guards for your aircraft: not only they are cheap and make the drone look more menacing, but also they protect the propellers from any kind of damage as well as your hands.
The most exciting feature to test with these little devices is the gesture controls introduced by DJI. You need to get the knack of it prior succeeding in video recording sessions, thus the experience is totally worth the effort. To activate the Gesture Mode, after the DJI Spark takes off, take a step back and place your hand towards the camera as if you were doing a stop signal. The front lights will go green as soon as the device recognizes you. From that point, move your hand left and the drone will fly to your left, same can be said to the other direction. Wave your hand and the Spark will take off and start tracking your movements.
Want a selfie? Simply do the “framing gesture” we all know from popular culture, and the DJI Spark will get the clear sign you desire to take a selfie. If you want the drone to land, throw your hands up straight into the air and then the aircraft will fly back to your position where it will gently land on top of your palm. In case you wonder what happens if you cannot land it on your own, rest assured the device will land automatically after battery hits the 10% remaining charge mark.
Automated shot modes are Circle, Dronie, Helix and Rocket. Circle and Helix are similar, with the drone hovering nearby your position and orbiting around an identified subject in the space whilst the camera locks the target the entire time. Circle makes the drone to move in perfect circular orbits around your position, while Rocket starts over your head, with the camera pointing down and starts to gain altitude to show your surroundings. Dronie moves back and forth to reveal your surroundings but keeps close tabs to your current position.
Flying the app with the on-screen control sticks for the smartphone control proves to be easy enough for beginners. Left stick adjusts the altitude and yaw, right one controls your drone position in relation to the space. When using this device under smartphone control, you are limited to a 100 meter georeferenced from your position in horizontal direction and 50 meters in altitude. Flight speed is limited as well to 12mph top.
The dedicated remote, though it’s an investment to consider, lifts these mentioned limitations by increasing the overall cover range to 1.2 miles from your current position and also allowing to use the Sport Mode, which increases the operative speed to a maximum of 31 mph while disabling obstacle avoidance and eating up battery life.
Keep in mind you MUST register your drone at DJI website in order to unlock its full flying capacities. This system was introduced as an alternative to FAA regulations to fill up for any potential legal void that can make the usage of this units a potential threath to public life.
The camera paired with this device is a 1/2.3-inch CMOS image sensor one, with a fixed lens 25mm f/2.6 equivalent, which allows the aircraft to capture 12 MP still images. Not bad for a selfie-intended drone.
Max video resolution is limited to 1080p at 30fps, thus you cannot record slow-motion videos or get a 24fps for a more cinematic look. That’s a point in which the Mavic Pro wins, as it also supports 4K capture with additional options and much better autonomy for just $200 more than the DJI Spark Flight More bundle. What’s this bundle? It adds to the drone itself all the accessories as the propeller guards, extra propellers, batteries, microSD card, etc. If we consider the so paired price range difference with professional ranked Mavic Pro, the obvious choice would be to go for this option; although Mavic Pro drone does not feature any kind of Gesture Mode.
Small sized drones are tomorrow’s answer for drone photography. DJI is doing a wonderful work in updating their gear to meet up with the needs of such high expectations, so after reviewing the DJI Spark it’s time to meet a small professional choice for photographers.
Delivering almost every feature of the Phantom 4 line, the DJI Mavic Pro is the answer all drone photographers were looking for when it comes to small-sized professional work.
What’s the main difference, putting size aside, with the Phantom 4 line? First of all, the stability that can be gained with such sturdy build as is the case of the Phantom 4 products. Despite being strong to meet up most users’ expectations, you cannot guarantee a safe flight experience under strong wind conditions with the Mavic Pro. On the other hand, battery life is significantly lower for the Mavic Pro in comparison with its big brother Phantom 4, not to mention the latter one can reach much longer distances as also happens with the Inspire line.
Design and Flight Performance
If you were amazed by the convenient size of the Mavic Pro in flight, then picture it folded, ready to pack for your upcoming expeditions. This is where the Mavic Pro defines a new game for travel photographers who cannot carry around heavy gear not just because of traveller’s autonomy but also due to fees to pay in airports.
Weighing 1.6 pounds, you need to register this drone with the FAA before flying and get familiarized with the regulations to follow.
The app to go, as usual, is the DJI Go smartphone app, compatible with both Android and iOS. Thankfully for us, it includes a flight simulator to help us to understand Mavic controls.
With a gray color scheme, the Mavic Pro somewhat sneaks into urban space without catching much attention; and those yellow accents help the design to look more aggressive.
You always need to unfold the unit prior flying, pulling the front rotors out and locking them to forward position, same with the rear ones for the rear position. It also features a dome, which can be removed, that protects the camera, but you need to remove the gimbal clamp prior flying.
In absolutely ideal conditions, this versatile drone can fly up to 4.3 miles, which would be in a rural environment with clean weather conditions and not much obstacles in the way.
Smartphone flying experience does truly limit the capabilities of this drone, as for instance, we can fly in obstacle avoidance mode at 22 mph, which drastically change to 40 mph flight speed in Sport Mode.
The controller features dual joysticks, left one as usual controls altitude and right one moves in the direction you want to push. With the two control wheels – left ones manage gimbal tilt and right exposure control for the video – and buttons to take still images, start and stop recording, Return-to-Home mode, and pause flight, certainly the controller is a tool to have if your aim is to get the most out of this device. The two antennas are foldable as well for storage, and our smartphone can be clipped at the bottom part of it, with Lightning and micro USB connection (USB-C connector requires an accessory cable).
Flight modes are the same as Phantom 4 but introduce a Terrain Follow mode, with uses the downward sensor obstacle to keep its constant altitude above the ground: ideal for those scenarios in which we fly over uneven terrains. Like Spark, Gesture can be applied, though it’s not as smart as that tiny buddy’s features to offer: just wave at your Mavic Pro, and you can get a still shot.
Telemetry information is constantly displayed: current altitude, distance from the home point, speed and orientation. GPS and GLONASS systems will control its flying performance.
Even if the camera to be used is smaller than the Phantom 4 one, the video modes match in both quality and bit rate. Its FOV is slightly narrower than Phantom 4’s one, though Landscapes won’t be displayed as wide as in the first one, but you get a quality coverage either way.
Flight time for this unit allow us to record 23 minutes of uninterrupted footage, unless for some reason you desire to switch to Sport Mode and reduce remaining battery life.
The Mavic Pro camera supports focus adjustment technology, though locking focus actually translate in distant objects getting blurred. Just consider this tool as a choice for still-frame images.
You won’t spot any noticeable barrel distortion, and the three-axis gimbal ensures our footages won’t be affected by any sudden movement. Photos are captured at 12 MP resolution, in JPEG or RAW DNG format. Still the same as you can expect from a common point-and-shoot camera, or a smartphone one, but worth mentioning.
The first upgrade to the DJI Inspire line, this drone is considered as DJI flagship for professional photographers. Featuring a Micro Four Thirds X5 4K camera, significantly improved speed and obstacle avoidance system, the DJI Inspire 2 stands out as the preferred choice of pro filmmakers, tv stations and enthusiasts who don’t care how much money they need to spend on their hobby.
Defining high-end drones, the DJI Inspire 2 not only is the answer for professional aerial video making but a revolution to today’s technology in digital imaging solutions.
Powered by four rotors, this drone is one heavy airship to consider, weighing 7.3 pounds without the camera and gimbal, thus requiring FAA registration before any outdoor flight.
With a magnesium alloy body, a much-appreciated change from the plastic body of the Inspire 1, this drone means business. This unit counts with two cameras: a 2-axis gimbal fixed camera, for providing a constant forward video feed to the pilot (which rests in front of the unit) and underneath the body is a stabilized 3-axis gimbal with a detachable camera for making our footages.
Design and Flight Performance
One interesting aspect to consider with this professional drone is that there are two controls: one for the pilot and another for the camera operator. These controls do not have an integrated tablet and give the users much freedom to perform the tasks needed for professional work. Operators must be within 100 meters range, and only one remote control is included in the bundle, the other one must be bought separately.
There are many improvements to the flying system, featuring dual Inertial Measurement Units, barometers and flight transmission system with a backup communication path. This, however, requires the DJI Inspire 2 to operate with two batteries: if one of the two fails, the drone can still land safely thanks to the other one. These batteries are also self-heating, allowing us to work in temperatures as low as -20ºC (-4ºF) for an altitude level of 5km.
TapFly system is available for this drone, as well as other Phantom 4/Mavic Pro operative modes (except Point of Interest and Waypoint, which will be released in future firmware updates), but this drone includes as well the Spotlight Pro mode, which identifies a subject, tracking it as if it was another operator handling the camera control.
In order to operate this drone, you need to download the specific DJI Go 4 app to your Android/iOS device. This app can support importing flight logs from the cloud, including some extra features that make the flying experience of the DJI Inspire 2 a much richer one.
Flying speed is rated to 40 mph in cruising speed, turning up to 69 mph in Sport configuration, though you need a clear area to fly under this mode to avoid accidents due to its high speed and aircraft size. In a clear WiFi area, you can make your drone travel up to half a mile in the distance easily. Flight time is, approximately, between 20-25 minutes depending on weather conditions, camera to pick and flying mode.
Return-to-Home function is automatically displayed when the communication between pilot and aircraft is lost, ensuring our investment’s safety. Obstacle avoidance sensors can detect objects as far as 30 meters (100 feet) away from the drone’s nose, with sensors on the underside to detect the conditions of the terrain, so altitude gets easily adjusted if flying low.
Which camera to pick?
Another interesting value we get with the DJI Inspire 2 is the camera range options. Unlike other product lines of DJI, you need to buy the camera separately, with the options being:
- Zenmuse X5S: A small Micro Four Thirds camera which supports lens changes, features 5.2K video recording in CinemaDNG, and can capture 20 MP still image in both DNG and JPEG formats.
- Zenmuse X4S: A smaller-sized camera paired with a 1-inch CMOS sensor with a fixed lens and 4K max video resolution.
Video and Image Quality
Like we’ve seen, much can be said about the image quality that can be achieved with this unit, and all that is courtesy of the breathtaking Zenmuse X5S. Just the possibility of changing lenses like a common DSLR camera opens a brand new market for drone photography that we’re eager to test. Lens options are quite limited by now but expect in a short while to meet up with a large range of lenses to create almost everything you ever dreamed.
The other thing you need to consider when buying this drone is the licenses for CinemaDNG or Apple ProRes, which are included in the Zenmuse X5S bundle. A nice choice for professionals, as they bring in much functionality and nothing to envy to other software alternatives, thus allowing us to continue later on in software like Adobe After Effects or Premiere to finish our footages.
A 16GB microSD card is included, though you will need to buy an SSD for using the 5.2K formats. My recommendation in this is: get the biggest one you can afford in storage capacity, it pays itself over time and it’s only reasonable to do this after making such investment in a professional drone. CineSSD Station is also a recommended accessory to buy to offload your clips to a computer without much hassle.
If you are looking for an oddity among drones, then the Parrot Disco is your choice to go. Instead of being your conventional quadcopter or hexacopter, Parrot opted for a fixed wing design to resemble an airplane. The result? An easy-to-fly experience as soon as you get accustomed to how the physics of an airplane work, with the downside of needing a lot of open space for landing.
A big sized drone, no doubt, in the fashion of an airplane with a single rear propeller, detachable wings and its camera mounted right on its nose. It's weight? 1.6 pounds, thus you need to register the drone with the FAA before flying and stick to the same regulations as if you were using a quadcopter.
In a black-and-white color scheme, the Skycontroller 2 remote is included as well as a VR headset that reminds a lot to Samsung’s Gear VR. The reason for this is because Parrot Disco allows first-person view flight (FPV), in fact, it’s its most acclaimed feature.
The first thing you need to do after unpacking your drone attached the wings and locking the motors in place is to set the drone down on the ground and power it on. Compass calibration is a step-by-step process guided through the app and will improve the time needed to get GPS signal. The app to use is the Parrot FreeFlight Pro app.
Once the rear propeller starts to spin, you can move the right stick upwards to gain altitude until it meets the set altitude controlled by the app. Up to that point, the Parrot Disco will start flying in a circular orbit until you tell the unit to move towards another place.
The right control stick is used to ascend, descend or move towards left/right. The left stick is meant for getting back into a holding pattern or to alter its flying speed. Horizon line, much like a real-life airplane, is going to be displayed on your phone’s screen, as well as a live feed from the drone’s camera, telemetry data and video/still capture controls.
Though the FPV googles are included, in fact, there is plenty room for improvement on this behalf. FAA considers them insecure as you can’t keep an eye on the drone during the operation, and image quality worsens for the user if you use this device. Refrain from such temptation if you still consider yourself a beginner in what regards to flying skills.
The operating range of this unit is 1.2 miles, though that will happen only under absolutely ideal weather conditions. Top speed for this drone is 50 mph, and average cruise speed around 35 mph. The battery life is entirely dependable on your flying speed and wind conditions, but circa 35 minutes per charge is considered the average flying time for this unit, though Parrot claims it to be 45 minutes (consider that takeoff and landing also require extra time.
Video and Image Quality
The maximum video resolution for the Parrot Disco is 1080p Full HD. Sometimes that resolution isn’t available if the firmware isn’t updated, thus leaving the unit with just 720p video resolution mode. When flying under FPV mode, 720p is the max video resolution available.
Regarding its image quality, the truth is that Parrot could have done a much better work. Footages are shown as soft, without much detail, which would be expected for a cheap unit and not for the investment we are making. Image stabilization through digital means is appreciated. However, the performance isn’t as nice as with a gimbal as seen in other models analysed in this guide.
The camera cannot be tilt, due to its fixed position over the nose, and a small portion of the lens is used in fact, giving us a strange fish-eye feeling sometimes.
Summing up, for the investment to be made, it’s better to opt for a DJI unit or a Yuneec instead of this drone. Though if you are an RC aircraft fan, this is your chance to enjoy two hobbies at the time.
Another petite option introduced by DJI. And yes, this extremely portable drone comes to fix all the issues the DJI Spark wasn’t able to meet – especially in what regards to battery life.
Should the DJI Mavic Air be your go-to choice? Let’s find out!
Regarded as the smallest drone ever made by DJI, the Mavic Air comes as a revolution to the industry given its extremely portable layout. You can fold it and pack in the included carrying case, measuring 1.9x3.3x6.6 inches, and its weight is rated at 15.2 ounces – believe it or not, lighter than your common iPad.
The main difference with the DJI Spark that you will notice at first sight is the included remote controller, that doesn’t exactly mean you need to rely on it for every single flight experience as this drone is also compatible with both hand gestures and your smartphone. Using the remote control, however, will turn into a more pleasant flight experience, especially under windy climate conditions, and it extends the operating range of this unit in a considerable way (2.5 miles with the remote control vs 262 feet when using smartphones). This controller shares the aesthetics used by the bulkier Mavic Pro drones, but in a smaller size to fit the Air style. One thing to mention is that the control doesn’t feature any LCD screen, so you need to plug your smartphone to it in a relatively tight housing that, most likely, will require you to remove your smartphone case to fit in; the max supported size is 160 mm and between 6.5-8.5 mm thickness.
The battery for this unit is seated in the bottom of the chassis, another difference from the Mavic Pro units, but unlike the Spark, you won’t be able to charge it via USB – the included charger is required, which also works for the controller’s internal battery. Like other DJI units, the Fly More bundle is an extremely recommended purchase, featuring the power hub, two batteries and three sets of propellers aside from the items listed with the drone itself.
DJI also put the design into consideration, making it possible to buy this drone in either Arctic White, Flame Red, or Onyx Black coating finish.
For such a petite unit, its flight times are not that disappointing, ranging in an average of 20 minutes – DJI states 21 minutes but actual flight times can vary from 18-20 minutes depending on obstacles and climate conditions. Do keep in mind that you will require about a minute and a half to ensure a safe landing, plus it takes about half a minute to take off and start flying, so actual operative time on air is roughly a bit over 15 minutes. Of course, this device isn’t meant to meet the near half-hour standards of the Mavic Pro lines, but for the not so considerable price difference between both devices, please put autonomy into consideration prior purchasing either one of these drones.
The Mavic Air includes 8GB of internal memory and a USB-C port as a bridge for transferring your files to the computer. Obviously, you will require extra storage capacity, and for this regard, it is compatible with microSDHC and microSDXC cards.
A common issue for new users is when trying to flight and getting the notification that a firmware update is required. These updates are performed via smartphone only, and take between 15 to 30 minutes to be completed. Though you can fly without the firmware updates it’s advisable to do so in order to fix potential bugs and ensure battery efficiency (and also to avoid the warnings).
As with other DJI drones, the Mavic Air is equipped with both GPS and GLONASS satellite technologies; meaning that you can fly your unit in either automated and semi-automated flight modes with a precise return-to-home feature. No-fly zones are clearly delimitated, despite enabling users to override some areas with the authorized flight licenses.
The gesture controls, named SmartCapture by DJI, work the same way as with the DJI Spark. The recording quality for it is limited to FullHD quality, but frame rate can be altered by using the smartphone DJI Go 4 app, with the options going from 24 to 60fps.
Control sticks, when using the smartphone interface to operate the device, aren’t exactly user-friendly for beginners. In our opinion, it’s best to stick to the controller whenever possible or leave the smartphone interface for entirely automated flights.
Movements are also inherited from the Spark, which is labelled as QuickShots, being these automated camera movements Rocket, Dronie, Circle and Helix, but also introducing Asteroid – ideal for creating hyper aerial shots – and Boomerang. Remember that these flight modes are entirely automated and it’s your responsibility to ensure the safety of the unit in what regards to obstacles and avoiding collision.
On that previous point, the Mavic Air obstacle detection system has been improved by the introduction of the Advanced Pilot Awareness System (APAS), allowing the unit to check out the environment and adjusting its flight rout to avoid the obstacles. The flight speed under obstacle avoidance mode is limited to 17.9 mph, whereas you can meet up to 42.5 mph in Sport mode, where the obstacle detection system is disabled.
Video recording and Image Quality
Do not be fooled by the compact size of this drone. The Mavic Air pairs a 4K camera, seated on its nose, and using a
stabilization system controlled by a three-axis gimbal.
Video recording quality under 4K UHD resolution meets up with 24, 25, and 30fps in what respects to frame rate. Under 2.7K the frame rates go up to 60fps, and for FullHD and 720p you can get values up to 120fps, ideal for slow motion recording.
Still images are captured with a 12MP camera, which has a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and packs a 24mm f/2.8 (full-frame equivalent) prime lens. RAW DNG format is supported as well as JPEG, which surprisingly allows HDR capture. Panorama mode is also an introduction for this drone, and works by allowing the Mavic Air to pivot about its axis to capture a series of photos, automatically stitching it into a panorama shot. The options range from three-shot vertical pano, nine-shot horizontal pano, or a 21-shot 180-degree pano. Spherical images are also a possibility, requiring the unit to capture 25 photos to create them.
Do keep in mind that this drone is the first one to introduce the panorama option for its camera, so exposure issues are to be expected, especially in clear sky conditions, as the camera does not do a superb job in adjusting its exposure values in such a short span. Firmware updates are to be expected to fix any potential bug on this regard.
Does this drone remind you of the DJI Phantom line? Certainly it does, and it’s one of the reasons why this Autel Robotics X-Star Premium is considered a serious competitor to the DJI giant.
Considered as an upgrade of the Autel Robotics X-Star, you’ll certainly consider getting this unit after reading what it has to offer.
With a sturdy design, it’s a drone intended for heavy aerial usage, but incredibly easy to fly even if you are just a beginner who wants to start a name in this industry. You can get this drone in either white or orange coating, and the main material used for it is a high-resistance plastic that, whereas it’s not advisable, it can hold up collisions without much trouble.
This is one of the coolest surprises for those unaware of the products Autel produces. The X-Star Premium pairs a camera with a 108-degree FOV and 4K video resolution. This means you can record videos at 4K with up to 40fps, or downgrade to 2.7K to meet the 60fps frame rate. FullHD videos can be recorded at 120fps, but its high key is the slow-motion recording in 720p at 240fps.
As this camera is fully built into the unit you won’t need to install it on your own, and the 3-axis gimbal used for the stabilization works perfectly to deliver crystal clear videos. The quality for still shots is 12MP, again nothing too fancy that DJI doesn’t offer already, and you can store your files in microSD cards up to 64GB.
For a drone of its size, getting up to 25 minutes of flight time is a blessing, mostly if we consider that between take off and landing we’re losing about 2 minutes of that battery time. The charger does look professional enough, though it can remind you of some car battery chargers – perhaps because of the cables and its color.
Its included controller is able to meet up with a 2,000 meters operative range under the 2.4GHz frequency. As the controller doesn’t feature any LCD screen you need to use your smartphone or tablet plus the Starlink app to fly this drone. Joysticks are quite comfortable and you will get used pretty soon to the function keys, ideal for those with none experience in drone photography.
GPS and GLONASS technologies take part of this drone, making easy to track its position when being far away from it; however, do take in consideration that this drone does not pair any obstacle avoidance system. That’s the most significant downside of the Autel Robotics X-Star Premium, as one would have expected such technology in a drone that’s considered to be a potential competitor to the DJI Phantom line, but also if we remember the struggles that can be experienced when performing landing maneuvers.
The top speed for this drone is 36 miles/hour, which is more than fair for this device, but remember that speed and overall altitude are also affected by climate factors.
If you are looking for a drone with which you can learn the basics of this niche, this might be the unit to consider. Cheap, easy to operate, with a decent image quality, the Altair Aerial AA108 is mainly targeted for beginners as it lacks stability controls as most high-end units tend to feature. But do not feel as if this unit can’t do an outstanding job as it’s, in fact, quite the opposite.
As a beginners’ device, there’s a white cardboard with holes to place on top of the controller that explains what each joystick and button controls or does. Amazingly handy for those who bought a drone by following a hunch rather than after taking some lessons on how to fly it beforehand.
Given its small size, you can operate this drone either indoors or outdoors, but do mind the obstacles as there won’t be any obstacle avoidance system to warn you prior to a collision. The guards placed on both sides of the unit can hold a significant amount of the impact the drone takes, though don’t consider that a guarantee for a high-speed impact.
Its autonomy is averaged in a bit over 8 minutes. If we consider this either a mix between a beginners’ drone and a toy-quadcopter, it shouldn’t surprise us at all, but it would be appreciated to, at least, meet up with the 10-minute range as there aren’t many helpers for both landing and takeoff, and that obviously will consume some extra time. When the drone gets low on battery, the controller starts a low beeping sound. In comparison to other products in the industry it’s a cool feature to count with as often light indicators aren’t visible during daylight conditions. Also, if you run out of battery you can be certain the unit will land smoothly if you did take off with the 1-touch button feature.
The image quality isn’t something absolutely extraordinary to expect, and its highest quality output is 720p with a 120-degree FOV. The issues start when you decide to fly this drone under windy conditions, as the lack of a gimbal makes it a nightmare to watch the footage afterwards. Do not fret at all by this, eventually, you will learn the drill on how to operate this drone and get the most out of it; plus it’s a good practice if you plan to get a more serious unit in a close-by future.
Yuneec is one respected brand in the drone industry, and certainly the Typhoon H is a drone to include in every single best drone article listing. Why should a six-rotor beast catch our interest when the trend goes to the line of quadcopters? Time to answer that question and many other stuff!
Watch video review
4K Max video recording
360-degree rotating camera
Retracting landing gear
Autonomy between drone and camera
Sonar-based object detection
Intel RealSense technology
Carbon Fibre built
Not a sturdy built
Controller layout requires some previous experience in drones
The hexacopter system is implemented for a very good reason. Despite being a bulky unit, it only needs five of its six rotors to operate, so in case the drone detects a rotor to become faulty, the flight session will be automatically aborted and the unit will be sent back to takeoff position for repairs. Seems amazing, right?
However, you ought to take in consideration that, putting carbon fibre built aside, this unit isn’t meant for heavy damage. The built isn’t just sturdy enough, and the folding arms – though handy for transportation – make it more vulnerable than what you would expect from a $1k+ drone in the market.
The Typhoon H is one wild beast to tame. The camera is nested on a 3-axis gimbal that can rotate in 360 degrees for incredible recording performance. But it that doesn’t sound attractive enough, Yuneec has done its homework in what regards to obstacle avoidance technology. Using a sonar, the unit is almost shock-proof protected in both low light and complete darkness scenarios, but there’s a downside: the obstacles are only detected if they show up in front of us, there’s no lateral avoidance detection, something that DJI does feature for their drones.
There’s a huge range of autonomous flight modes, freeing the user from the hassle of operating the drone and allowing to control the camera to desire.
The controller, as you would notice, isn’t meant for beginners. In its 7-inch touchscreen display the telemetry data will be displayed as well as the live video from the drone camera; but this isn’t the only drone you need to use, as you can link another control at the same time to control the 4k camera, meaning you will require a dual pilot setup to get the most out of this drone.
This drone is expected to meet up to around 23 minutes of flight time; meaning that after hitting that mark an automated system will be triggered to perform an emergency landing back at home position – you cannot override it. Batteries take about two hours to be fully charged, so getting spare batteries is mandatory for outdoor sessions far away from home.
The Typhoon H can cover a mile of flight distance, and, if by some chance it loses signal, the auto-return mode will be triggered for the user not to lose its device.
The multiple flight modes can alter its battery efficacy, so before you decide to cover lengthy miles with your drone perhaps it would be best to trace a good route that allows you to replace batteries.
Video Recording and Image Quality
It isn’t surprising the fact that the Typhoon H includes a 4K capable camera. Its top frame rate under 4K resolution is 30fps; half of what you can get when working under 1080p setup. The difference with its competitors is that it boats a higher sensor size, with a 115 degrees FOV.
For Still Shots, this unit meets the standard of 12MP images, however, the distortion-free lens is a great feature to list for this drone.
As usual, we would like to state the parameters we used to narrow the search for these drone units we reviewed in this guide. There are many aspects to consider when picking a drone, but overall these were the deciding factors that made this list a reality:
Flight Time: Crucial aspect for any drone these days. Yet when models are being upgraded through both hardware and firmware, for most units the flight time is something to improve in regards to better battery management as at least 20 minutes of flight time is what users expect from their drones. Not all the units we reviewed here manage to get such prolonged flight time, but when measuring the other aspects they count with, such disadvantage can be slightly overlooked.
Flight Speed: What’s the point on piloting an aircraft if it moves as slow as a tortoise? With a limited time to fly, speed is important to reach new horizons quicker. For most units, the average flight speed ranges from 25-35 mph in cruise mode. Some of them peaking up to 65 mph in their faster flight modes. Battery management for faster flying speeds must also be noted, as in some cases it really becomes a battery life killer.
Operative Range: This, in short words, means how far our unit can take both horizontally and vertically for the signal it gets. For units that work with both smartphone and controllers, there are significant differences in this regard as controllers act as signal boosters. On average, consider the current optimal range for a drone operated with a smartphone between 100-150 meters (328-492 foot), and distances over 1.2 miles for remote-controlled aircraft. Altitude to reach ought to be above 100 meters, reaching up to 1km as a desirable value, though most units hover the 500m range.
Design: Putting aside ugly-beautiful discussions on this topic, what we mean with design covers not just the material finish for the units (being magnesium alloy as the industry high-end standard) but also if the drone sports an aerodynamic design, if it’s easy to operate under common scenarios due its size, if design decisions can chop its recording capabilities, etc.
Image Quality: Most drones come equipped with their own fixed cameras, as is the case of most DJI units, Parrot models, and several other brands. For acceptable image quality we must consider the max video resolution – either 5.2K, 4K, 2.7K or FullHD as acceptable choices for professional work, the still-image shooting capabilities, and manual controls for the camera itself to adjust parameters such as Exposure and ISO.
Is a necessity to register my drone with the FAA? For quite the long time it was needed to register any drone over the 1-pound weight range to the Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S.; however, recent news tells us that the FAA’s drone regulation rules of 2015 were violating a law passed by the Congress in 2012. Hence, after the resolution of a lawsuit won against the FAA, drones whose purpose does not fall under commercial categories do not need to be registered with the FAA for flying. However, regulations still apply for flying areas, especially in suburban scenarios. My personal recommendation? Do register with the FAA, especially if you buy a professional drone. Better safe than sorry, and later on you can make a business out of your hobby.
What would happen if my drone falls into the water or faces rainy scenarios? For most drones, the water question is handled in two different ways. Drones, like any other electronic appliance, are not waterproof. They can resist, somewhat, a mild exposure to rain conditions (like in the case of professional DJI units), but in the case where the unit runs out of battery and falls into a water area, or if that happens due a hit-and-fall casualty, don’t expect your drone to tell the story.
What does the wind do to my drone? Like any RC aircraft, the wind can be labeled as an enemy if wind patterns are moving towards our drone direction. Depending on the intensity it can make the drone overheat due to propellers fighting to keep their flying course, or it can tear pieces of the drone’s body if we talk about plastic-made units. Battery life is also compromised as the drone must do an extra effort to keep flying, but in general, if we use wind patterns to our advantage we can gain some flying speed if we fly towards the proper wind direction.
Is it essential to buy spare batteries? In short, yes. Consider the overall flying time of your drone prior to making that decision. For most units, batteries range from $50-100, and battery chargers allow multiple batteries. Even if you consider you are making a big investment over here, it will pay off in flight autonomy.
Which would be the ideal microSD Card size to buy? As memory cards keep getting cheaper and cheaper since high-end units require SSD drives to store such bulky footage, go directly for a set of 64GB memory cards if both your drone and your budget allow. Any video footage over FullHD quality directly translates into GBs of file size, so don’t miss your chance of creating amazing footages due to lack of storage capacity.
Advantages of buying a Drone
Not only are you making an investment with respect to your photography equipment: if you plan to make photography your business, you are then taking the first step into your future photographer’s business. Advances made in technology will end up replacing traditional methods and criteria for taking pictures, forcing users to adapt to new times.
Real estate takes advantage of these new advancements, as drone photography creates a new way of advertising buildings for sale. Future owners can get a very realistic look of how the neighborhood will look, the amenities in the building itself, the size of the lot, etc. For these purposes, photographers are finding themselves more and more in demand by the real estate industry, as it takes a good knowledge of photography techniques in order to make a short movie interesting enough for future potential buyers.
By using drones for taking aerial photographs, not only are you saving money as far as not having the need to take a trip by helicopter to take pictures, but rather doing it from the ground? It is no longer necessary to take such risks as climbing on dangerous areas in order to catch a good glimpse of the city from above, instead you can take pictures or film the process with your own drone, and having fun while doing it!.
Disadvantages of Drones
As with every single electronic device, battery life is an issue. Although the batteries for most DSLR cameras last 3 hours under heavy use, the battery life of drones can be as short as only lasting 10-15 minutes of flight. This fact can be incredibly annoying, considering how much of an investment you are making with your new device, although high-end models actually have a longer battery life.
Price is also something to be concerned about, as getting a good drone costs as much as buying a mid-range DSLR camera for something that can be lost or damaged much more easily than normal cameras. Perhaps as time goes by, the amortization of a Drone will happen much faster, but right now, you really should work a lot with aerial photography, if you plan to use high-end models.
Camera definition on most drones is Full HD. Some models even provide 4K cameras on their units (such as DJI Phantom and newer models), but then again the price is an issue, as drones with acceptable camera quality are normally over $400.
It is also necessary to have a live preview of the flight made by the drone, especially if you are using it in urban areas where the unit could be easily damaged by impact with buildings and infrastructure. Flying a drone in an urban area without knowing the route it is taking could be labeled as neglectful, as it carries a potential risk of hurting somebody if the drone flies near people walking in the streets.
The learning curve of using a drone is quite high. Most people think it is just a matter of turning on a device and using the controls as though it were a common RC car – it is quite the opposite. Learning how to fly your unit takes time and practice, and it is most advisable to do it in large areas, such as parks, in order to minimize the risk of losing your unit or damaging somebody through your learning process. Climate factors such as strong wind and rain significantly affect the performance of the drone during flight, even compromising the lifespan of the drone, if it is forced to endure conditions for which it is not suited.
Films/Pictures produced by drones are saved in the most common formats available nowadays – and the good thing is, you can post-produce it with software such as Adobe Lightroom, enhancing your pictures with only a few clicks. Then again, we are showing how useful technology can be for photographers: you can crop areas of the video that don’t suit your purpose, post-produce it with Lightroom Presets, and share it worldwide to make your work tell a story.
Well, fortunately for us there are many ways to learn how to operate a drone. From attending local courses at photography schools to online courses on drone photography, the options are as broad as you would have imagined. We, at Sleeklens, decided to take things to the next level and offer you all not only an Aerial Photography bundle for Adobe Lightroom, but also a full course that covers every single aspect of the Mastering Drones challenge.
How to find the Best Spots for Drone Photography
As many may already know, these versatile aircraft tools seem to be here to stay, setting the trend as a new and dynamic way of experiencing photography; However, not all sites are suitable for aerial photography. Here are some reasons that will keep your drone out of certain airspace:
1) Municipal restrictions: Certain cities have strong regulations concerning the use of the radio control devices by the possibility of interference with medical, aviation and police equipment; as well as to prevent an overpopulation of devices over tourist areas. If you are not sure about a spot, please check this resourceful app.
2) Physical restrictions: Somewhat related to the previous point; in places where there are narrow passages is not possible to operate our devices with such ease, which could lead to situations that are risky for both the device (from severe damage) as well as for people in the immediate area (remember, the drones have propellers that can be very sharp when operating).
3) Environmental constraints: not all drones are capable of withstanding the same forces of the wind or extreme climate conditions such as heavy rain, snow/hail or even high temperatures.
Therefore, and as a way of preventing future inconveniences, it is best to sit down and plan your future shooting session. In this beginners guide you will find several tips that will help you to locate the best and most suitable places to experience drone photography, within the limits of your equipment and skills.
Many already know this, but for beginners out there, Google Earth can be a great helper for when you need to study the locations where you plan to photograph.
To get started, first access and explore in Satellite Mode to learn about the conditions of the site you plan to visit – Google will display the location by either using photos from Panoramio, indicating routes or trails that cross the site, or even with an advanced feature called Elevation Profile.
To do this, it is necessary to select the Path tool, draw two arbitrary points, then save the defined route. When you select the created route, right-click on it and select the option “Show Elevation Profile”. It won’t be like using a complex GPS device, but it is worth a look to get a clear image on how rough the terrain is where you will be constantly walking to follow your drone.
Another excellent resource is to take a look at your desired location in Street View Mode. To do this, just zoom in on the area that you wish to explore and Google Earth will adjust to the Street View Mode, where you can look at photos of the site to get a better idea of how this selected location is going to look like.
After getting a good amount of data on the location that you want to visit, be sure you know the climate conditions before you set off. There’s nothing worse than ruining your equipment because of neglecting to think about how the climate is going to be on the day of your shoot – drone equipment can be quite pricey, and also there’s no way to retrieve your data after losing the device.
Use either the Accuweather smartphone app (Apple’s Climate app works better for iOS users unless you have an iPad), or check your local weather station to get an accurate update prior to visiting the site.
Looking for some Inspiration?
Check out Dronestagram, an amazing website that is like an aerial version of Instagram. With the very same idea in mind, you may find this not so well-known social media network to be the go to the site to check if your chosen location is actually worth the visit. Tons of pics and videos from many users worldwide, with an amazing range of drone devices used. Certainly, you can’t go wrong after knowing the sweet spots of your desired shot location beforehand.
Unlike Instagram, you can also access their new Forum area where you can interact with other drone photographers, or even take part in some of the contests this website host from time to time. Looking for new challenges? Then take a look at the portfolio of this network’s top users and compare them with your own work.
Take into consideration your skills and mindset
If patience isn’t your thing, then don’t force yourself to visit areas where concentration is a must if you’re still not completely familiarized with how to fly a drone – things can go horribly wrong and you will turn a joyful experience into a sour one. Like anything else, you have to take baby steps, one at a time.
My personal advice, I suggest avoiding areas with a large tree population or over water, unless you feel pretty confident in your drone piloting skills, and even so, ask a friend to give an honest opinion on how good you are at flying your drone. Better to be safe rather than sorry, right?
Remember to always calibrate your drone’s compass prior to flying over a new location – some devices tend to show weird malfunction issues due to GPS confusion, therefore keep this as a “pre-flight check”. Hover for a few seconds prior to setting off once the propellers are running – this is the best way to ensure your device is working as it should, as it is easier to land if the drone isn’t high up if problems occur.
In the end, this is all about having fun. Grab your device and set your route; don’t be discouraged if the first attempts end up in failure, you’re also learning a good lesson, even in not so great situations.
Pia Lopez is a self-taught photographer, architecture student and ArchViz artist. As Editor in Chief of Sleeklens.com, technology and art are two of her passions, which take active part in her professional training. Being an authentic Montevidean, travelling is daily routine; enjoying both the green meadows and urban surroundings as well as the beautiful beaches that are so characteristic in Uruguay's landscape.