The drone revolution is here, and it’s fun as hell. For dizzying amounts of outdoors fun for the whole family — in an FAA-sanctioned environment, of course — there’s nothing better than a remote-controlled vehicle that can take great pics. But which one to buy? The wrong purchase can be a huge money sink since these can cost five figures for the pro models.
While more expensive isn’t necessarily better, a pricier drone does do more cool stuff. A few things to keep in mind before springing for one, though: look at battery life first, to make sure it doesn’t die on you within minutes. If you’re getting a drone to shoot gorgeous footage, make sure it offers up a solid camera. Look for a return-to-home feature, which gets your drone back to you, as you might have guessed. And take a look at its range, which lets you know how close you have to stay to it before you lose control of it. The more expensive the drone, generally, the greater its range.
These are the ones we recommend.
Like that old gum ad, the DBPOWER Discovery doubles your fun in the field, thanks to an extra battery pack included. Whether you’re spending time with your child or simply want another crack at capturing that hero image, this is your drone.
Pros: Listen, if you and your son or daughter are really going to give this drone thing a go, the first accessory you’ll need to buy for any drone is a backup battery. The Discovery already comes with one, boosting total flight time to up to 18 minutes. You also get a 720p (HD) camera, one-button takeoff and landing, two speed settings, and altitude hold.
Cons: We have a sneaking suspicion that the reason this drone included an extra battery is because it squandered the first: With as little as six minutes of flight time per battery, you may want to choose a drone that does more with what it’s got. Also, the critical “return home” function is absent, which can be especially useful for inexperienced pilots wishing to avoid dropping their drone from the sky after losing track of time.
Sometimes companies make mistakes, as is clear with Snaptain, which priced its S5C much too low for all the features it includes. For just over twice the price of entry-level models, it includes many functions that are not only appreciated but requisite to take your drone flying from zero to hero.
Pros: Piloting is a good and necessary skill to develop, but the S5C’s altitude hold function, which hovers in location, is absolutely crucial for the greatest variety of shots. And about those shots: 720p video (the lowest still considered HD), recorded in the ideal youTube aspect ratio, is ready to go shortly after capture, thanks to its proprietary editing app. Premium functions like one-button takeoff and return, flight plan plotting (via your connected smartphone), and three-speed settings allow for a marked latitude for such an affordably-priced drone.
Cons: This is, in effect a drone that would get a solid C+ in freshman algebra. Its 10-minute flight time is fine but not great; its video and still capture is better than the basic but far from the quality you would need to create things for anyone other than extended family. Still, for a first drone, you could do far worse.
There are few moments more heartbreaking than watching your drone crash, but the Cheerwing Syma X5SW-V3 does its best to alleviate this by virtue of its price and durability. While this should be considered more toy than footy-making machine, it’s nevertheless capable of creating impressive images for the person wishing to dip his or her toe into the quadcopter pool.
Pros: The jaw-dropping price on drone, as modest as it may be, shouldn’t distract from the fact that it captures both stills and video, which is stored directly to your phone via an in-body WiFi signal. For show-offs, it also executes flawless barrel rolls. And for ease of operation, its controller has a holster for your phone, which you can use to clearly line up shots from a bird’s eye view.
Cons: Forty bucks may get you something, but it won’t get you all the premium functions of other drones on this list. Hamstrung by a small range due to RC frequency (50 meters), short fly time (max seven minutes), and the antiquated 4:3 video ratio (fine for Instagram, but strange for the youTube-standard 16:9), if your footage is destined for greater things, you may want spend a few more bucks.
While we’re reserving judgment until more flight time, the reality is that a landslide of Amazon buyers can’t get enough of this category-leading entry-level drone.
Pros: Two batteries. A max 100-meter range. An auto-return button. This machine either does it better or twice as long as others on this list, making it unsurprisingly the most popular drone on Amazon. HD video is on par with others on this list; its two-megapixel camera takes stills similar to others. But make no mistake, this is for the adrenaline junkie. A four-speed function allows you to come close to the sound barrier.
Cons: Our only gripe — and one we expected more customers to report — was its lack of first-person view (FPV) via a connected smartphone screen. In essence, most copters come standard with an ability to see your scene as you capture it. This drone does not, meaning that you’ll have to previsualize footage and stills and simply hope you captured them. Because of this, it’s not our favorite for footage, but it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser for speed demons.
There are people who dip a toe into a cold pool, and others who cannonball right in. The Parrot PF728000 is for the latter. Upgrading every possible area is costly, but the quality, for the ambitious, just might be worth it.
Pros: Like the guy in your gym class who went through puberty first, it’s almost not fair to pit the ANAFI drone against others on this list. An f/2.4 wide lens allows in tons of light for tack-sharp 21-megapixel photos and 4K HDR video, while a digital zoom allows for a versatile number of looks it can accomplish. Twenty-five minutes of flight time on one battery is also head-and-shoulders better than competitors. But our favorite function is its portability, as it folds up and stores in its included case for on-the-road portage.
Cons: While this may be splitting hairs, the key function Parrot fails to include is obstacle avoidance, which is standard on its competitor DJI’s drones. Beginners may ultimately prefer this, as dropping a more expensive machine during the steep learning curve can make someone sick to his or her stomach.
Forgive us for sounding elitist, but there is just something relaxing about encountering near perfection. Industry-leading DJI’s category-leading Mavic Air is beautifully designed inside and out, capable of capturing the widest range of footage and stills on this page, while making it easy to bring along on the journey.
Pros: It’s hard to know where to start. Is it the mile-plus range? The 4K video? The slow-motion footage capture? Or is it the baked-in features DJI added as a bonus, like HDR photos, sphere panorama, active follow, and pre-planned flight patterns for the ultimate self-footage? The bottom line: the Mavic Air has so many features that we’re in love.
Cons: As the most expensive drone on this list, it may be too much for many to drop on what might be a passing interest. We get that. But for anyone that has done a modicum of research on drones, he or she will recognize the respect that is held for DJI and feel confident that the limitations over the next few years will be from the user him- or herself.
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