13 Best Drones to Buy and How to Use and Fly Them

Rating: 5.00 based on 3 Ratings
Pia Lopez
September 18, 2017 By Pia Lopez
13 Best Drones to Buy and How to Use and Fly Them www.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.

Our Top 3 Picks

 
DJI Phantom 3 Advanced
  • DJI Phantom 3 Advanced
  • 5 out of 5
  • 2.7K Image Quality
  • Price: See Here
Check on Amazon!
Jump to Full Review
Parrot Bebop 2
  • Parrot Bebop 2
  • 4.5 out of 5
  • Great for begginers
  • Price: See Here
Check on Amazon!
Jump to Full Review
Parrot AR Drone 2 Elite
  • Parrot AR Drone 2 Elite
  • 4.3 out of 5
  • 3 Camouflage finishes
  • Price: See Here
Check on Amazon!
Jump to Full Review

dji phantom

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.

dji phantom

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.

drones

13 Best Drones Reviewed in 2017

 

DJI Phantom 3 AdvancedGo to Amazon
If you think of the word drone, there is no better representation than DJI. As a brand, it is synonymous with prestige, quality and performance; When it comes to price, the main drawback that these drones by DJI have is that they are considerably expensive - we should look at them as more of a long-term investment rather than as a luxury item that plays with until we grow tired of it.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
82
Design:
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91
100
Price:
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75
100
Flight Speed:
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80
100
Image Quality:
0
80
100
Pros
  • Easy to fly
  • 2.7K Image Quality
  • Good stability controls
  • Built-in GPS
  • 5km autonomy range
Cons
  • No 4K support
  • Limited operation time
  • Some wide angle distortions
  • Fixed camera on gimbal
Click to read the full Review
As usual, DJI presents three different versions of this drone: Standard, Advanced and Professional. Standing on the middle ground, the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced provides enough tools for hobbyists and professionals alike to produce quality work.
Though originally intended to meet up with FullHD Video Recording standards, an update over its existing firmware put the Phantom 3 Advanced under a new light, making it capable of recording in 2.7K with 30 fps: ideal for those who seek adventures a little bit higher than the usual 1080p resolution.

There aren’t many noticeable changes between this model and its predecessor, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+, although batteries from such model won’t work on this device as DJI introduced a revision of its battery slot to pair this device with a longer flight time.

Introducing the Gimbal

Flight system suffers some minor upgrades, with a three-axis gimbal on the bottom for reinforcing its own stabilization, allowing the device to withstand sudden movements or wind gusts without compromising video recording quality. The camera is permanently attached to this gimbal, which proves to be a downside due to the replacement cost in case of damage to the gimbal (while also keeping a probably still-useful camera with you); however this new system allows the camera to do a 90-degree tilt, giving us more liberty to shoot incredible scenes without much effort – ideal for sport photography! The other downside we can also mention over this fixed camera system is that we cannot replace the packed camera with a more precise model for our needs, like a GoPro Hero5 Black for example.

Fixed camera mode for this device shoots in a 12 mpx resolution, pairing a Sony CMOS sensor with an f2.8 20mm lens for giving us a versatile 94-degree FOV. By reducing the FOV angle in comparison with its predecessor, DJI is also improving its image quality in terms of minimizing any possible distortion.
The gimbal isn’t just meant for helping us to reach new camera positions, it’s mostly meant for improving the flying conditions of this unit, especially for indoor ambiences where GPS accuracy isn’t available. The newly-introduced Vision Positioning System works with a set of sensors but in a limited 3-meter range: not ideal for those who feel confident enough to fly anywhere they go.

GPS performance considerably improved in comparison with previous models, grabbing 10 satellite connections or more in a blink of an eye thanks to the introduction of GLONASS Russian navigation system: a smart move for a gear meant to be used outdoors.
DJI Go app is the revision of the former Pilot app used by this company. A minimalistic design ensures an efficient layout of the tools to be used, where we can find controls for starting/stopping recording, still-image mode, gallery, and controls to manage parameters as Exposure Compensation, ISO and Shutter Speed. But its most noticeable update is the Return-to-Home button: ideal for both amateurs and professionals. What happens if we are running low on batteries and we know the device is pretty far away from our reach? Instead of losing the unit courtesy of an evitable accident, simply hit the Return-to-Home button and the drone will fly its way back to your position.
Only one power supply is needed for charging this DJI unit: the charger works both for the controller and the drone itself, hence it includes two cables to meet up with such needs.

Flying Performance

To the already easy-to-use flying system, DJI decided to include a flight simulator available through an iOS only (sorry Android users), which isn’t just fun to use but also educative. Yet when its response isn’t exactly as what you can experience with the device itself, it’s best to learn how to work and fly properly prior deciding to work your way through the drone in public spaces.

Despite requiring more battery time, GPS still remains the best way to operate this unite for amateurs and advanced users. Erratic behaviour can be expected from this model when the GPS system is turned off, unless you know exactly what you are doing. For a device that’s rated over the $700 range, maybe it’s best to put any kind of showing off attitude in this regard.

Flight time is expected to be around 23 minutes, which is more than plenty to get a good glimpse of what you are planning to experience in a nearby area; though it isn’t a bad idea to carry some spare batteries if your intent is to take several shots of the area you are visiting.

Parrot Bebop 2Go to Amazon
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.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
78
Design:
0
75
100
Price:
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90
100
Flight Speed:
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67
100
Image Quality:
0
79
100
Pros
  • Cheap
  • Easy to operate
  • Ideal for beginners
Cons
  • Imprecise tablet controls
  • Limited battery life
  • Limited autonomy
Click to read the full Review
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.

Image Quality

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.
There is an upgrade from previous models regarding the overall quality of the camera to compare with predecessor is notorious: not only we count with a better camera in terms of use, but the increased field of view (estimated in 180-degree FOV) can produce some really interesting footages if we don’t mind some minor image distortion.

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.

Flying Experience

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 AR Drone 2 EliteGo to Amazon
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.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
69
Design:
0
61
100
Price:
0
94
100
Flight Speed:
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67
100
Image Quality:
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55
100
Pros
  • Cheap
  • Easy to operate
  • Ideal for beginners
Cons
  • Imprecise tablet controls
  • Limited battery life
  • Limited autonomy
Click to read the full Review
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.

Flying Experience

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.

Video Footages

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.

Blade 180 QX HDGo to Amazon
As a drone designed for beginners, it packs SAFE technology, which is a system designed by Blade to ensure the stability of the device using a gyroscope and an accelerometer.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
69
Design:
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45
100
Price:
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83
100
Flight Speed:
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81
100
Image Quality:
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67
100
Pros
  • Cheap
  • Easy to operate
  • Ideal for beginners
Cons
  • Cheap material quality
  • Poor range
  • Poor flight time
Click to read the full Review
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.
Yuneec Q500 4KGo to Amazon
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.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
82
Design:
0
97
100
Price:
0
61
100
Flight Speed:
0
80
100
Image Quality:
0
90
100
Pros
  • 4K Video
  • Incredible sensible controls
  • Sturdy body
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Long charge time
Click to read the full Review
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.

Image Quality

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.
Xiro Xplorer GGo to Amazon
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.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
57
Design:
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57
100
Price:
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60
100
Flight Speed:
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48
100
Image Quality:
0
61
100
Pros
  • Works with GoPro Hero 3/4 cameras
  • Automated takeoff and landing
  • Cheap
Cons
  • Can be tricky to fit cameras on its gimbal
Click to read the full Review
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.
Syma X5C Quadcopter HDGo to Amazon
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.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
55
Design:
0
40
100
Price:
0
98
100
Flight Speed:
0
40
100
Image Quality:
0
40
100
Pros
  • Amazingly cheap
  • Records in HD 720p
  • Individual parts are apt for replacement
Cons
  • Its body is made out of plastic
  • Poor flight time
  • Takes long to recharge its battery
Click to read the full Review
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.
DJI Phantom 4 ProGo to Amazon
Just what you can expect when deciding to take the leap towards serious drone photography. Image quality, superb flying controls and outstanding performance are just words to describe the DJI Phantom 4 Pro.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
89
Design:
0
97
100
Price:
0
70
100
Flight Speed:
0
94
100
Image Quality:
0
95
100
Pros
  • Camera features
  • Easy-to-master flight controls
  • 4K Recording
  • Weather resistant
  • Long-distance control
  • Return-to-home
  • Forward and rear obstacle detection
Cons
  • Price
  • Low battery life
Click to read the full Review
DJI never ceases to amaze us in what quality respects. The Phantom 4 comes out as a big revolution for the industry, now introducing 4K recording to its models Pro and Pro+. The only difference between these two models is the integrated tablet available in the Pro+ model controller.

Design and Flight Performance

There isn’t much extra that can be said on what quality respects on its body. DJI made this model look somewhat fattier than its predecessors, partly because of the recent sensor developments and overall hardware upgrades but also to meet up with the new gimbal design for the Phantom 4 line-up. Since this model weighs 3.1 pounds (about 1.6 kg), it needs to be registered with the FAA prior taking it up for a shooting session.

One of the most acclaimed upgrades introduced with this model is the forward-facing obstacle avoidance sensors, which for the money we are investing in this unit prove to be a necessity for the safeness of our drone. Downward facing sensors are also included to work with the Vision Positioning System, improving the overall low-altitude flight experience while also making it easier to land the unit as well. Even with all the effort made to include this new system of sensors, we can still question why the same logic was applied to include lateral sensors, as most common damage in sensors is just made over those areas if your flying skills are somewhat above beginner level.

However, there is an opportunity for those who seek a more stable control over their units: fly it under Beginner or Tripod mode. Both slow down the maximum flying speed and under Tripod mode you can make very fine adjustments to your current position with the control sticks. Flying speed is rated in 31 mph in normal mode, and 45 mph under Sport Mode.

GPS link takes about a minute to reach a proper signal, and satellite status is displayed in the DJI Go app with a very clean layout. There is, however, essential to have LTE connection to get all the features available like the tiny location map that proves to be incredibly useful.

For flying indoors or over areas with low GPS coverage, you need to switch the remote control to A setting, but this will require advanced flying skills to avoid potential impact to your unit.

With automatic and semi-automatic flight modes controlled with the app, this isn’t exactly your hard-to-use gear you can expect for its price range, quite the opposite. Of course you need to have sufficient skills to take it up to open air. Thus it’s entirely possible for a beginner user to learn its way towards mastery.

There are many flying options. Point of Interest makes the unit to fly in perfectly circular orbits for a pre settled area, with the camera pointing to the center of that space the entire time. Waypoint requires you to fly a path manually and then the drone will keep travelling such route on its own. Course Lock makes the drone fly in a certain direction using the aircraft’s nose as a sort of north pole; whereas Home Lock adjusts the position of the aircraft in relation with you’re the DJI’s remote control.

With Active Track mode, we can draw a box around a subject and the drone will not just recognize it but also follow it as it moves. Just try not to use it for small pets or the unit won’t get accurate results.

With TapFly, we can set the direction to fly by drawing a path in Live View feed while avoiding the obstacles in the way courtesy of its sensors.

Something worth to be considered is that obstacle avoidance is disabled whenever the unit is operating under Sport Mode, which makes this mode entirely up to advanced users, but also rotors are displayed at the footages, which isn’t the case in other operative modes.

The covering range for this unit is around 4.200 feet in rural setting and about half that autonomy under suburban zones. That’s mainly because of WiFi signal interference and the way it works with both GPS and GLONASS systems.
Flight time ranks about 30 minutes of flight time if weather conditions are good enough.

Video and Image Quality

Among the many upgrades introduced with this new line of products, DJI redefined its camera, now featuring a 1-inch image sensor capable of 4K video recording at 60p, and 20 MPX RAW/JPEG still images.

Aperture control and Mechanical Shutter are also new additions to this model. Pairing it with a 24mm FOV, you can go all the way down to f/11 settings.

4K Video footage is compressed at 100Mbps bit rate using H.264 compression. But also you can work with 2.7K mode with frame rates ranging from 30fps at 65Mbps. FullHD footage is compressed at a large range of options depending on your preferred frame rate.

Still images get the many benefits of the sensor upgrade, now producing much sharper results, especially at high ISO settings.
DJI SparkGo to Amazon
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.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
84
Design:
0
100
100
Price:
0
73
100
Flight Speed:
0
83
100
Image Quality:
0
80
100
Pros
  • Pocket sized
  • Supports gesture controls
  • Smartphone-controlled flight
  • Automated shots
  • Subject tracking
  • Forward obstacle avoidance
  • GPS stabilization
  • Easy to Use
Cons
  • Really Low Flight Time
  • Limited range and speed when controlling with phone
  • Video limited to 1080p
  • Remote Controll is a pricey add-on
Click to read the full Review
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.

Video/Image Quality

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.
DJI Mavic ProGo to Amazon
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.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
96
Design:
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Price:
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Flight Speed:
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Image Quality:
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Pros
  • Small, foldable design
  • Obstacle avoidance system
  • 4K Stabilized Recording
  • 12MP Raw and JPG stills
  • Records in portrait or landscape mode
  • Compact remote control
Cons
  • Not as steady in strong wind as Phantom models
  • Not able to take off from every single place
Click to read the full Review
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.

Video Quality

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.

DJI Inspire 2Go to Amazon
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.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
99
Design:
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100
100
Price:
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Flight Speed:
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Image Quality:
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Pros
  • 4K video recording
  • 360º camera rotation
  • Carbon Fiber build
  • Fast
Cons
  • Poor flight time
  • Expensive
  • Bulky
Click to read the full Review
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.
Parrot DiscoGo to Amazon
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.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
64
Design:
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Flight Speed:
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Image Quality:
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Pros
  • Fun and easy to fly
  • Detailed flight logs
  • Android and iOS compatibility
  • Curious plane design
Cons
  • Pricey
  • Not so good image quality
  • Requires large space for take off/landing
Click to read the full Review
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.

Flight performance

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.
GoPro KarmaGo to Amazon
We cannot do a proper review guide of the best drones available in the market without including GoPro first attempt in the industry: the GoPro Karma. Much buzz has been made prior its release to sale, so let's see what's so special about it.
Watch video review
Overall rating:
85
Design:
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Price:
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Flight Speed:
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Image Quality:
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Pros
  • Works with Hero4 and Hero5 cameras
  • Includes handheld grip for gimbal
  • Detachable camera
  • Solid tutorial for beginning pilots
  • Remote has integrated display
  • Automated flight features
  • Maps available offline
  • Includes backpack
Cons
  • Short 15-minute flight
  • Very limited suburban operating range
  • Remote screen prone to glare
  • Lacks obstacle avoidance and follow mode
Click to read the full Review
With a foldable design planned to compete with DJI’s star Mavic Pro, the GoPro Karma features a nose-mounted gimbal in which we can install our GoPro Hero4 or Hero5 cameras, in case we have one, or simply buy the bundle that already includes a GoPro Hero5 Black.

It weighs 2.2 pounds, meaning you will have to register the unit with the FAA before flying. Compared with the Mavic Pro, there’s still plenty room for improvement in the foldable specs, not to mention body weight. Its propellers must be screwed before flying, which despite being an easy task to accomplish is not as convenient as the foldable system used by DJI.

A very fashionable backpack is included in the bundle to transport the drone. Capable of carrying the unit and its accessories with ease, you can use it like a briefcase or strap it to your back. Bundle also includes the Karma Grip, a handheld accessory for detaching the gimbal from our drone, the aircraft’s remote control, six propellers and a battery charger.

The remote control is top-notch design: in a clamshell fashion, it shows a glossy 5-inch LCD screen with 720p resolution and 900 cd/m2 brightness rating. Very prone to glare, though accessories like film protectors with anti-glare features are expected to be released in a close-by future. There are two control sticks, a power button, the Return-to-Home button (very handy!) and Start/Stop buttons. The speaker available in the remote is needed since audio cues are given in addition to the visual information displayed on its screen. The wheel works for tilting the gimbal up and down (which is located at the top left side of the controller), plus Mode and Record buttons are located on the right side.

Flying Experience and Performance

One of the things we loved about this drone is how serious GoPro takes the whole drone experience, including a very thorough guide on how to fly a drone for beginners (to which experienced users can get a tip or two to improve their skills).
Since the Karma remote does not have an LTE connection, you can’t access online data map as DJI models do. Therefore it becomes essential to download the map files back at home, especially if you are not familiar with the surroundings of the region you desire to fly.

Access to GPS signal is done very quickly, though the speed is very limited for the price we are paying for this aircraft (between 20-35 mph, depending on weather conditions).

Operating range is its Achilles Toe. In suburban settings where we can get Wi-Fi network interference, the max distance you can operate your unit without experiencing odd behaviour is 700 foot from your current location. Once the signal from the controller is lost, the drone automatically enters the “Return-to-Home Mode”, thus minimizing the chances of losing your aircraft due to signal interference. In a rural setting, the Karma can take off to about 3k feet distance.

Battery life is something we recommend GoPro to improve. You can’t just simply plan to compete with professional drones with a 15-17-minute flight time: it’s roughly 8 minutes less than DJI Mavic Pro, plus you need to consider that once the unit hits the 10% battery mark, it automatically enters the Return-to-Home mode, clipping, even more, the flying experience. If the battery gets down to about one minute of remaining charge, the unit will automatically land over a safe place, regardless of its location.

The GoPro Karma also features some automated flight modes. To access them, just turn off the default Easy operation mode and enjoy either Cable Cam mode (moves from point to point) or Dronie mode (pinpoints the camera on you and pull up and away to reveal your surroundings). It does lack of a follow mode, which is a much considerable downside from a drone that’s expected to be an adventure’s partner.

Video Quality

Packed with the GoPro’s flagship, the Hero5, we can enjoy some 4K footages at 30fps frame rates with ultra-wide FOV. Faster frame rates and tighter FOV becomes available at 2.7K resolution, fixing the curved lens distortion of such pronounced FOV as seen in 4K mode.

GoPro still needs to improve their camera’s capabilities for aerial flights, as it’s not the intent of this line of action cameras. The reason is directly linked to the FOV effect in 4K, resembling a fish-eye effect, that’s simply unflattering for professional photography work. Also, we cannot adjust exposure on the fly, which most drones actually allow by using EV compensation in Auto-Mode or manual exposure control through shutter speed and ISO. The evident results are images that look somewhat dull if exposed to too harsh climate conditions, a true shame for what can be a stunning drone to own.
RAW format is supported for still-frames, working with the GPR format file.

Selection Criteria

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. With 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 this guide, both the DJI Inspire 2 and the GoPro Karma offer different choices of cameras to pick from, being the Xiro Xplorer G the only one who doesn’t pair a fixed camera and does not depend on a manufacturer’s made camera like the other two. 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.

FAQs

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.

dji phantom operating

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!.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Above the Clouds Workflow - Sleeklens

Image edited with our bundle Above the Clouds Workflow for Adobe Lightroom

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.

Google Earth

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.

Niza

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.

Elevation Profile

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.

street view

Climate Information

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.

dronestagram

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.

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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.

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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.

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Pia Lopez

Pia Lopez

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.

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