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Great Camera Drones, Our Top Eight

Great Camera Drones, Our Top Eight

A guide for the aerial photographer and videographer
by Team PhotoDrone

It‘s no secret that rotor drones and aerial-camera systems are a match made in heaven. With the increasing quality of cameras and downlink video links and the amazing developments in flight controller and stabilization systems, getting those exciting bird’s-eye-view images is easier than ever before. This camera drone guide highlights eight of our top-rated picks, including price and spec information so that you can see how they all stack up to help you make your purchasing decision. Whether you are looking for a basic “selfie” drone or you’re in the market for a  top end professional rig for production-quality imaging, this guide has something for you.

DJI Inspire 2
Improving on the popular, well-built, and tested Inspire design, the Inspire 2 is a little bigger and faster than its predecessor. We tested out the package that came with the Zenmuse X5S and two transmitters.

Highlights
The Inspire 2 comes in a nice case that holds everything you need for a successful flight: the Inspire, two transmitters, a Zenmuse X5S camera and case, up to four batteries, a charger, and extra props. Setup only involves powering up the transmitters, installing the two battery packs (one of the updates is that the Inspire 2 uses two flight batteries), pressing the start button five times to get the quad from storage configuration to landing configuration, and finally attaching the X5S camera and props. One of its new features is an obstacle-avoidance system that can detect obstacles up to 30 meters ahead, which means protection at up to 35mph. The Inspire 2 also has much larger motors and props to lift the larger
overall bird, and it has a top speed of 58mph in Sport mode. Recorded video can now be stored simultaneously on the DJI Cine SSD (inside the fuselage between the batteries) and an easily accessible micro SD card.

The Zenmuse X5S camera is right up there with some of the best. It is compact but still able to produce some impressive stats. It has a micro 4/3 sensor and mount that can support up to eight professional lens from different manufacturers. It can
shoot 5.2K video at 30fps and 4K video at 60fps, plus up to 20.8 megapixel stills.

Aerial Recap
Flying the Inspire 2 is a lot of fun. It’s precise, and it’s easy to get it from one point to the other. Then there is the impressive speed at which this bird can fly. In most cases, you don’t really want that much speed because the shot will look rushed, but the gimbal does an excellent job of maintaining a nice level and smooth video, even when in Sport mode and while doing some very aggressive flying. Flying with a dedicated camera operator allows you to concentrate on a nice, smooth flight, working around your subject and getting the drone precisely in the right position. The new flight modes also make it easier to fly as a single pilot while capturing great video. Even flying close to the ground at high speed, the Inspire 2 has solid feel and control. Even if you should lose your orientation on the drone, the Return to Home function requires just the push of a button and the Inspire will come back, avoiding obstacles along the way as it returns.

Specifications
Model: Inspire 2
Manufacturer: DJI (dji.com)
Type: Pro camera drone
Size: 605mm
Assembly time: 5 minutes
Flight duration: 25 to 27 minutes
Camera quality: 20.8MP photos and 5.2K 30fps video
Price: $6,495.00 (as tested); $2,999.00 (for just the Inspire 2)

What We Like
• Well-built drone
• Precise flying capabilities
• Solid gimbal performance
• Fast! Able to keep up with most subjects

 

DJI Mavic Pro
Pre-assembled and ready to go out of the box, all you have to do to get the DJI Mavic Pro into the air is charge the battery and controller, download the app, and you’re ready to go. It is constructed well; when the arms are snap into place, they feel very solid. The Mavic Pro’s clever design keeps it small with all four arms folding up underneath and to the sides. The compact size makes it easy to transport in nothing more than a large jacket pocket, but the big advantage is the ability to keep the props on all the time.

Highlights

The unit, ready to fly, with battery has an all-up weight of only 1.62 pounds. The remote is one of the smallest ones we’ve used and is just a little bit bigger than a smartphone, with a small screen in the center to relay all of the essential telemetry information for flying and navigating. To maximize the full functions of this bird, you just connect your smartphone to the transmitter and download the DJI GO app. The bottom of the remote unfolds and allows the phone to fit into the housing of the transmitter. The phone provides a live video feed and access to the more complex autonomous modes along with a wide array of camera functions.

Aerial Recap
Flying the Mavic Pro is easy, and the automatic takeoff and landing function makes it simple to get the Mavic into the air. From there, piloting is straightforward, and the Mavic is quite responsive. The stabilization works well, and we have flown in some heavy wind conditions without adverse results. The obstacle-avoidance system works well, but the Mavic will not avoid small things like tree branches, ropes, or wires, so be careful around those. When it encounters a solid obstacle, the Mavic will stop its forward movement and wait for a command to send it around the obstacle.

Be careful of your takeoff and landing locations as the Mavic Pro’s camera barely clears the deck. The blades could hit tall grass or cause loose gravel to be kicked up. The Return to Home function is impressive; even from great distances, the Mavic Pro will always come back and land within a foot or two of its original takeoff point.

Specifications
Model: Mavic Pro
Manufacturer: DJI (dji.com)
Type: Sport/camera drone
Size: 335mm
Assembly time: 5 minutes
Flight duration: 27 minutes
Camera quality: 12MP photos and 4K video
Price: $999.00

What We Like
• Three-axis gimbal with
solid performance
• Long flight times
• Compact size
• Foldable arms for easy transportation

 

DJI Phantom 4 Pro
With more and more professional photographers and videographers adding drones to their tool kits, it is not surprising that DJI released the Phantom 4 Professional as an affordable drone with features designed specifically for professional photographers and videographers.

Highlights
An extensive overhaul of the previous Phantom 4, the Professional has an all-new collision-avoidance system for five directions of protection using dedicated forward-, backward-, left-, right-, and downward-facing sensors. DJI also included new automatic flight modes such as Active Track Profile, Terrain Follow, and Tripod modes. All this is significant but not nearly as significant as the new camera. The Professional has a 20.1MP, 1-inch CMOS sensor on the Phantom 4 Professional. Having a mechanical shutter, the camera eliminates the rolling-shutter effect so often seen in drone videos, and it can record 4K video at a maximum of 60 frames per second. Also, video can
be recorded in either H.264 or H.265 codecs, with the H.265 codec offering a  production-ready bit rate of 100Mbps!

Aerial Recap
The Phantom 4 Pro is one of the easiest-flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that we’ve ever experienced. Featuring true rock-solid position holding, it hovered flawlessly in one spot, with zero pilot input—a level of performance seldom seen with other consumer grade UAVs. With collision avoidance active, the Standard flight mode behaves mellow and slow—beneficial for shooting smooth video. DJI also includes a Sport mode for more aggressive flying. In this mode, it can bank at an angle of up to 40 degrees and reach a top speed of 45mph.

DJI has also released a second version of the Phantom 4 Professional: Professional Plus. For an additional $300.00, the Pro Plus comes with a custom 5.5-inch screen with 1080p resolution and 1000 cd/m2 brightness for easy viewing in direct sunlight. Also included are an HDMI port, a micro SD card slot, a microphone, a speaker, USB ports, and a rechargeable battery giving you five hours of use. With the new camera, added collision-avoidance sensors, and new flight modes, DJI also decided to release a separate app, DJI GO 4, to be used specifically with the Phantom 4 Pro, Inspire 2, and
Mavic Pro.

Specifications
Model: Phantom 4 Pro
Manufacturer: DJI (dji.com)
Type: Video/camera drone
Size: 350mm
Assembly time: 10 minutes
Flight duration: 23 minutes
Camera quality: 20.1MP photos and 1080p HD video
Price: $1,499.00 (Pro); $1,799.00 (Pro Plus)

What We Like
• Extremely smooth flight performance
• Long flight times
• Collision avoidance
• Exceptional camera quality

 

GoPro Karma
Designed for the beginner pilot, the Karma comes 100 percent assembled and ready to fly, and has a foldable video platform with a stabilized gimbal. The frame is made out of molded plastic, and the GoPro HERO5 Black camera comes installed on the gimbal and ready to go. All you need to do to get the drone in the air is to add an SD card to the  camera and charge the drone and controller’s batteries.

Highlights
Available with or without a camera, everything comes in the well-designed backpack ready for action. Other than the core components, you will find a couple manuals, a nicely designed motor wrench, and a couple of extra props. The only assembly required for the Karma is installing the four propellers and unfolding the arms and landing gear. No tools are required, and installation takes about a minute at most. Also, the gimbal is easily removed and is interchangeable with the included Karma Grip. The Grip allows  you to move the gimbal and camera to a handheld unit that has full control of the camera. This is great for getting action shots of the family, doing walk-arounds, or even capturing action-sports footage using the actioncam mount system for the grip.

Aerial Recap
This drone is purpose-built to carry a GoPro HERO5 Black camera, and it performs great right out of the box. The Karma has plenty of power, and the flight controls are smooth but responsive. There are two flight modes: Easy Mode on and Easy Mode off. The Karma feels controllable and is perfect for beginner pilots with Easy Mode on. With Easy Mode off, it is more responsive and nimble for more advanced pilots. The Karma
also has several auto shot paths. These include the Dronie, Cable Cam, Reveal, and Orbit. These shot paths help the operator get that dramatic shot. Another nice feature is the Karma Passenger app. This gives you the ability to allow someone else with a smartphone to ride along and operate the camera while you concentrate on the Karma. The lightweight gimbal does an amazing job stabilizing your shots.

Specifications
Model: Karma
Manufacturer: GoPro
(gopro.com)
Type: Camera drone
Size: 411mm
Assembly time: 1 to 2 minutes
Flight duration: 20 minutes
Camera quality: 12MP photos and 4K video
Price: $1,099.99 (with HERO5 Black); $799.99 (w/o camera)

What We Like
• Smooth video
• Ready to fly
• Karma grip
• Easy to fly

 

Traxxas Aton+
This all-in-one aerial drone package with three solid flight modes is great for pilots of all  levels. Because everything you need is included, this is an aircraft that you can buy and  take right to your flying site!

Highlights
The Aton+ is camera ready and comes with a two-axis brushless gimbal and a large-capacity LiPo pack. The gimbal is made for a GoPro HERO or similar camera (not  included), and the fit is right on when locked in place. The included “batwing” 2.4GHz transmitter has a small digital screen, which gives you info such as flight-mode status, throttle level, transmitter-battery level, and flight-battery level. The included flight pack is a 3-cell 5000mAh LiPo. A push-button airbrake feature commands the Aton + to stop in its tracks and enter a stable hover, which can be a lifesaver! The Flight-Link app allows you to use your smartphone to check flight status, adjust the speed of the Aton+ in Film mode, and program the transmitter buttons and LED light settings. Add an optional SD card and you can even record your flights, and use an app like Mission Planner to  review your flight. The Aton+ is also equipped with a Traxxas High-Current Connector.

Aerial Recap
Features like Auto Takeoff and Landing, Return to Home, and Geo-fence provide a  stress-free flight experience. The Aton+ comes set in Film mode for smooth, stable flight, allowing you to concentrate on getting the aerial shot you want. To ensure  stabilized footage, it slowly returns to a hover when the quad exits a turn or stops abruptly. In Sport mode, you can fly faster, perform high-banked turns, and do flips by  hitting the Trick button. The higher flight speed also allows filming faster-moving  subjects. In Expert mode, the Aton+ will do just about anything except fly or hover inverted. Without a camera, you can expect up to 20-minute flights; with a GoPro HERO4 you can expect up to 15-minute flights.

Specifications
Model: Aton+
Manufacturer: Traxxas (traxxas.com)
Type: Multipurpose drone
Size: 370mm
Assembly time: 10 minutes
Flight duration: 15 to 20 minutes
Camera quality: Designed for use with GoPro HERO4 (not included)
Price: $399.95

What We Like
• Easy set up
• Three flight modes
• Speeds up to 50mph

Yuneec Breeze 4K
If you’re into social media and like posting all of your adventures, then the Yuneec Breeze should be at the top of your list. Designed for people who want to document their life in movies and photos, the Breeze has some terrific features.

Highlights
The Breeze comes fully assembled and only requires downloading the Breeze Cam app along with a quick charge of the batteries (two are included) before getting it in the air. A solid little quad, it has the camera gimbal mounted on the back so that it always faces the pilot, ready to capture photos or video selfies. Foldable legs keep the props up and
away from the ground and make it simple to take off from tall grass. The Breeze is easy to take anywhere and is ready to capture life’s moments in minutes. Any smartphone can give you control using the Breeze Cam app.

Aerial Recap
By using the various flight modes, you can capture complex shots with little or no drone-flying experience. The Breeze incorporates optical-flow and infrared-positioning sensors that allow it to hold its position both indoors and outside. There was little drift during our flight tests. The Pilot mode allows you to have manual control over the Breeze, and is so
stable and easy to fly that anyone can fly it. In Selfie mode, positioning the Breeze only requires moving the clearly marked sliders to the correct position to guide it into the perfect location for a nice shot. Once you’ve captured that perfect image, just select the photo or video to share, choose which social network you want to use on your phone, and send. A drone that’s made for everyone, the Breeze is stable, safe, and easy to fly. If you want a drone that can take good images and allows you to easily share them, the Breeze is the perfect quad for you.

Specifications
Model: Breeze 4K
Manufacturer: Yuneec (yuneec.com)
Type: Sport/camera rig
Size: 200mm
Assembly time: 5 minutes
Flight duration: 12 minutes
Camera quality: 13MP photos and 4K video
Price: $499.99

What We Like
• Easy to fly
• Quick to get in the air
• Rapid posting of images or videos to social media
• Works with a smartphone or tablet

 

Yuneec Tornado H920 Plus
The H920 Plus is a multirotor hexacopter designed as an aerial photography and  videography platform. Its unique modular design and folding-arm design make it easy to transport, allowing professionals to capture impressive photographs and video footage with a minimum of setup time.

Highlights
The H920 Plus is equipped with quick-release carbon-fiber propellers so that there is no need to use a screwdriver during assembly and disassembly. The propellers attach with a quarter-turn rotation and are released at the push of a button. The retractable landing gear provides a full 360-degree camera view without anything obstructing your shot.

Mounted on a three-axis gimbal, the included CGO4 camera was developed by Yuneec in close cooperation with Panasonic, and features a 3x optical zoom lens, 16 megapixel photos, 4K-resolution video, and distortion free picture quality. The zoom lens can be  adjusted either by using the zoom slider on the screen or by using the K6 control slider. The large 7-inch integrated screen on the ST16 ground-station controller displays  real-time footage of your flight, eliminating the need for an external device. Powered by a 6S 4000mAh 8C LiPo battery pack, the H920 Plus comes with a 100W dual output  AC/DC balancing charger.

Aerial Recap
Flight modes include Waypoints, Orbit Me, Follow/Watch Me, Point of Interest, Journey, Smart, Curve Cable Cam, Angle, and Home modes. The ST16 controller is an  integrated transmitter, receiver, and Android platform that gives you full control over  H920 Plus, allowing you to easily program autonomous flight and capture stunning  photos and videos. You can now also program waypoints on the basis of Google Maps or Amal. Programming is easily done directly on the ST16’s touch display. The Tornado H920 Plus is a solid and stable camera platform, and it is easy to set up for flight. The various flight modes worked perfectly during our flight tests, and when it comes to aerial duration, the included three flight battery packs provide impressive airborne hover and  flight times.

Specifications
Model: Tornado H920 Plus
Manufacturer: Yuneec (yuneec.com)
Type: Professional camera hexacopter
Size: 920mm
Assembly time: 5 minutes
Flight duration: 24 minutes
Camera quality: 16MP photos and 4K 30fps, 100 Mbps video resolution
Price: $3,500.00 (w/o camera); $1,500.00 (GCO4 camera/gimbal)

What We Like
• Several flight modes
• Rugged design and construction
• Minimal setup time
• Impressive flight performance

 

Yuneec Typhoon H
Requiring minimal assembly time, Yuneec’s Typhoon H can be airborne within minutes of opening the box. In fact, for this review, most of the time was spent charging the included battery pack (a second pack is also included).

Highlights
Everything you need to get the Typhoon H ready to fly comes in the box. With its arms folded down, you can see just how compact the Typhoon H truly is. Setup is easy; everything that needs to be installed or repositioned for flight produces an audible click when correctly locked into place. The Typhoon H has a compact body with molded construction that has a solid feel. The foldable arms have durable locking mechanisms, and the wire power leads that snake through the arms are wrapped to prevent any chaffing or damage. The included CGO3+ camera comes with a no-distortion lens and is mounted on a three-axis, anti-vibration gimbal. All in-flight camera operations are controlled from the ST16 controller, and with the legs retracted, you get an unrestricted 360-degree view. The Typhoon H also has a number of integrated autonomous flight modes and a built-in ultrasonic collision-avoidance system.

Aerial Recap
Extremely easy to fly and control, the Typhoon H features automatic takeoffs and landings, but we found that manual operation is just as smooth. The Typhoon H feels comfortable and solid in the air, so it is easy to concentrate on setting up and shooting video or photography. While it is not recommended for a beginner to start out with this particular model, it would nevertheless be easy to learn how to fly with the Typhoon H.
It has a maximum airspeed of 22mph, but while filming video, it looks much better when shot at the slower speeds—closer to 13mph. Flight speeds are adjustable with a simple slide switch on the side of the transmitter: Turtle for slow flight and Rabbit for fast flight.

Specifications
Model: Typhoon H
Manufacturer: Yuneec (yuneec.com)
Type: Video/camera drone
Size: 520mm
Assembly time: 5 minutes
Flight duration: 20 minutes
Camera quality: 12MP photos and 4K resolution video with 1080p HD video
Price: $1,299.00 (basic model)

What We Like
• Solid flight performance
• Automated flight modes
• Excellent value
• Easy-to-understand menu system

Updated: November 14, 2017 — 4:22 pm

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