What is the point of a drone? For many, a drone in the now-popular multi-rotor configuration, is an extension of a passion for RC aircraft. For others, a drone is a tool to put a camera into the sky. We are pretty passionate about the camera in the sky experience.
Whether for personal use or for commercial application, let’s take a look at a list of our favorites, some of the best camera drones in the sky.
Best camera drones
What to look for in a camera drone
There is much to discuss when we talk camera drones, what it really boils down to, what are you trying to accomplish? At the very bottom, you can buy a toy-class drone equipped with a 2 MP camera. This will be the kind of camera experience you don’t share with friends and family. No offense to the drone manufacturers that pump out these toy drones and market them as being “camera drones,” but they are misleading consumers into thinking they’re getting more than an adequate FPV camera for flying purposes. FPV is fine at this level, but HD is not in the cards here.
Stepping things up, you can get into a decent hobby drone for under $500, it may even pack a 4K sensor, but there is more to a sensor than the pixel count. Machines in this class can accomplish recording aerial video worth sharing, but just. At this level, you are at best on-par with a GoPro camera. Don’t mistake what I’m saying, I have high respect for GoPro cameras, they just are not optimized and tuned for drone footage.
Stepping up, you can get into drones up to $2000, many under $1000 still, but there are more than a few options between about $600 up to $1800 that produce the aerial footage you probably came looking for today. Sorry to say, if you want serious video from the sky, you’ll need to spend some money. The standout drone in this segment is the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, you can read about it below, but it’s perhaps the best flying camera with a price below $2000. The DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is close to the same price, and is a much larger platform if you need to carry more than just a camera. Both of these drones pack a 1-inch sensor with 4K video capture, industry leading object avoidance to ensure clean autonomous flight, and OcuSync so you can do more.
From there, we’d like to highlight the DJI Inspire 2, it’ll run you at least $3000 to get started, but bump that to $6000 if you want the camera with that. Inspire 2 is a monstrously capable drone, 60 mph, 5.2K video, hot swapping dual batteries, internal SSD storage, powerful video streaming up to Hollywood level, or at least for the local news. As far as buying a ready to fly camera drone, this is, perhaps, the very best that you can get.
Finally, getting well beyond the needs of any home use camera drone, there are many machines that can carry really high end cameras, like the 100 MP Hasselblad or a RED 8K camera. These machines range anywhere from $10K up to $250,000. Yes, you can spend a quarter of a million dollars on a drone, more even, but you’ll then be able to shoot commercials for car companies or get a job with a legit Hollywood crew. I keep talking about making movies, don’t forget there are plenty of opportunities in commercial inspection, zoom lenses, thermal cameras and more are ready to put drones into the air in place of helicopters.
Consumer camera drones
Dji Inspire Series
DJI Inspire 1
The Inspire 1 has an onboard camera with a 9 Element lens capable of taking 12 megapixel photos, and shooting video in two settings: 4K at up to 30 frames per second (fps) or 1080p at up to 60 fps.
The camera is set in a 3-axis gimbal that dangles from the drone’s bottom, allowing it to take images in 360 degrees. The two carbon-fiber arms on which the four propellers rest can raise and lower, to move out of the camera’s path.
While you fly the Inspire 1, the video from its camera is streamed live in 720p to your mobile device via the app, so you can find the perfect angle for your shots. Footage is also saved on the drone’s internal storage, which is accessible via a microSD card slot.
The Inspire 1 can get up to 18 minutes of flying time on its battery, which is around or just above average for commercial drones. The upcoming Parrot Bebop, for example, gets 11 minutes on its battery. DJI Inspire 1 owners can purchase extra batteries from the DJI website, and swapping batteries out is simple and fast.
The Inspire 1 is also faster and handles better than its predecessor, DJI’s Phantom drone. The Phantom’s top speed is 30 miles per hour; the Inspire 1 can reach 50. And, if you let go of the Inspire 1’s controls, the drone will come to a tight stop, while the Phantom will skid a bit in the air before it stops.
DJI Inspire 2
The original DJI Inspire may have set a tone for what a professional drone should look like, but the newer DJI Inspire 2 set the tone for what it should be able to accomplish. At launch, the Inspire 2 was equipped with the Zenmuse X5, a 5.2K camera with interchangeable lenses, ready to take on tasks in Hollywood. Since then, DJI has added the Zenmuse X7 camera, a 6K shooter even more capable of professional filming tasks.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
If your aerial photography needs are a little more complex, another DJI drone can get the job done for you. The DJI Mavic 2 is the best drone for videographers and photographers looking for an all-in-one aerial platform. (There are other, more expensive drones that let you mount DSLRs and other third-party cameras, but are much more expensive).
The Mavic 2 is available in two versions: the $1,449 Mavic 2 Pro offers a 1-inch Hasselblad sensor for capturing high-quality photos and video, while the $1,249 Mavic 2 Zoom features a 2X optical zoom lens. Either version is a good choice, though the Zoom proved a little more versatile in our tests. Whichever Mavic 2 you opt for, you can count on an easy-to-fly drone that now features 360-degree obstacle avoidance.
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
DJI’s drone isn’t the first to have an optical zoom — the Parrot Anafi pioneered this feature — but the Mavic 2 Zoom makes better use of the 24-48mm lens. A new video mode, called Dolly Zoom, causes the camera to zoom in while the drone flies away from the subject. Also known as the Hitchcock effect, it looks cool and helps convey a sense of disorientation. Dolly Zoom is pretty easy to use; just select the camera mode, then the subject, and the drone does the rest before returning to its starting position.
If you run down the spec sheet, the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Pro are the same machine, with one major exception, the camera. The folding quadcopter design offers great portability, the multi-direction obstacle avoidance sensors assist in safe flight, and the new capabilities of OcuSync 2.0 add versatility for control and accessories. That is true for both of the drones, the Mavic 2 Zoom, on the other hand, rocks a 2x optical zoom lens on top of a 12MP camera. It shoots 4K video at 100Mbps and can digitally double that zoom for an impressive close-up.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
The DJI Phantom series of drones are some of the best machines on the market, every iteration makes improvements on the previous and in the case of the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, we’re talking about improved motors, more efficient propellers and the first Phantom drone to rock OcuSync connectivity.
The Phantom 4 Pro series was DJI’s best drone at launch for object avoidance technology, a trend that continues and is improved upon with the V2.0 series, adding radar and more obstacle avoidance goodness. The newer drone comes with the same 20MP 4K camera as previous, still one of the best camera drones on the market.
The difference between the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 for around $1,499 and the Phantom 4 Pro+ V2.0 for $1,749 is the inclusion of a 5.5-inch built-in display on the remote of the Pro+. The bright, Android powered display is the only difference between the two machines.
DJI Mavic Air 2
The DJI Mavic Air 2 drone is more than just a successor to the original Mavic Air, it’s more of a transition from its own form-factor into a true Mavic drone. The Mavic Air 2 maintains its place as a mid-tier drone in DJI’s lineup and one of the Best rc camera drones under $1000. In terms of size, price, and capability, the Mavic Air 2 sits almost perfectly in between the Mavic Mini and the Mavic 2 series drones.
In the same way that the Mavic Air stepped up the camera game for small drones, the Mavic Air 2 is an exciting update in the camera department as well. You’re looking at a new 1/2-inch sensor that shoots 12MP stills, but does so from a 48MP sensor! You can capture 48MP stills as well, but the 12MP shots are better, using pixel binning managed by Quad Bayer technology. Photos are great, but the new 4K video capture at 60fps, and a data bit rate of 120Mbps, are more exciting to many users.
Check out the DJI Mavic Air 2 for a starting price of $799 for the base package, $988 for the Fly More combo at launch in May 2020.
DJI MAVIC AIR
DJI found great success with the Mavic Pro, they followed that up with the far less expensive Spark. The Mavic Air bridges the gap between these two, offering all the fun features from the smaller Spark as well as all the pro flight features of the Mavic Pro. Better yet, the Mavic Air introduced a 100Mbps data rate for video capture on a DJI drone under $1500.
That sounds like a mouthful, suffice to say that the Mavic Air instantly took the crown for the best video at the lowest price of any drone on the market.
After the launch of the Mavic 2 series of drones, we had to recommend the newer Mavic line as the best camera on a compact drone, but the Mavic Air still remains our top pick if ultimate portability is your concern. The Mavic Air manages to pack down to almost fit comfortably in your pocket.
DJI Mavic Pro
The DJI Mavic Pro is a compact, folding drone that was a pioneer for portability. This quadcopter folds down to fit easily in a backpack, or large pocket, while opening up to take 4K video to over 40mph in the sky.
The 3-axis stabilized gimbal offers very smooth footage and OcuSync enables long range and HD live video streaming. The Phantom line of drones may have established DJI as a leader in the consumer drone market, but the Mavic Pro made high-quality aerial photography fun and highly accessible.
Autel Robotics Evo
The Autel Robotics Evo folding drone offers a familiar design and flight features for a DJI Mavic Pro owner. This familiarity is not a bad thing, it means a compact folding design, 4K stabilized camera and reliability you can take to the bank, so to speak.
Autel Robotics is one of the few drone manufacturers to build a machine in this form-factor that isn’t a toy builder trying to step it up, the Evo has roots in commercial quality, down-sized to fit in your backpack.
The Autel Robotics Evo offers a solid flight experience, to the level that very few can compete, and the introduction of the Live Deck takes video transmission to a new level. To be fair, it’s just a video receiver that can hook to your TV or other HDMI device, making it an important tool news crews or for safely recording footage on the side.
Autel Robotics Evo II
The Autel Robotics Evo II (Evo 2) is an exciting update to the initial Evo. Sharing much of the same ideology for form-factor and flight characteristics, the newer machine is an update in almost every way. Primarily, pilots should be excited for 40 minute flight times, extended connectivity range, and an 8K camera. Sure, you can upgrade to a Pro model that has a larger sensor and only a 6K camera, but base model Evo II buyers are getting their hands on one of the first consumer products to shoot 8K video, not just drones, one of the first, period.
This orange folding drone is a machine that satisfies consumers, but also tackles commercial and professional needs. Notably, the top model of the new Evo II line comes with a dual-camera configuration, sporting an 8K sensor and a decent IR camera. The base model and the commercial model each get that 1/2-inch 8K sensor, while the pro model gets a full 1-inch 6K sensor. They can all send the camera feed back to the Autel Robotics Live Deck, for your studio and independent recording needs as well.
The Parrot Anafi is one of the best entries from Parrot for the consumer camera drone market. Recognizing the power of an articulating gimbal, the new 21MP, 4K camera is able to point all the way down and rotate to pointing all the way up. This is extremely powerful for inspection services on commercial drones, but is built into a consumer friendly folding quadcopter design.
The drone itself is a step up from Parrot’s usual mostly-foam build. Foam is great for building size without adding much weight, instead the Anafi is a much sleeker package with a plastic body.
Look for the now-common set of features in the Anafi, such as folding propeller arms, folding propellers, a compact size and a stabilized 4K camera. The remote control uses your phone as a display and you can swap batteries to expand your flight day. The Parrot Anafi sells for $699, but you can often find deals to save a few dollars.
Yuneec Typhoon H
The Yuneec Typhoon H is a folding hexacopter with 4K camera and effective flight features. The design has become iconic of Yuneec drones, offering the safety and stability of six propellers and the versatility of a center-hanging camera. The remote control of the Typhoon H is an Android powered device with built-in 7-inch display and all the controls needed to navigate the aircraft and operate the camera.
GPS connectivity and multiple smart flight modes ensure a successful flight for most pilots and operations. Basic obstacle avoidance sensors help keep things safe, with the option of the Typhoon H Pro with equipped Intel RealSense collision avoidance sensors.
The attached CGO3+ camera offers 4K video resoplution at 30 fps and still images at 12MP. As a discontinued drone, you can still find the Yuneec Typhoon H for about $950.
Yuneec Typhoon H Plus
The hexacopter design of Yuneec’s Typhoon line of drones has been quite popular, if not successful. The design has become an icon in the industry and the safety of having extra propellers has been well accepted in the commercial market.
The Yuneec Typhoon H Plus is a second generation model of their consumer focus. The Typhoon H Plus lands somewhere in between the DJI Phantom and DJI Inspire line of drones in terms of specs and price. Packing a 20MP 4K camera on a 3-axis gimbal, folding design and market average flight times and speeds, the Intel RealSense obstacle avoidance sensor may a leading reason to consider this drone over others.
You’ll be able able to check out the Yuneec Typhoon H Plus for about $1899 from a few retailers.
Yuneec Tornado H920 Plus
If you are looking for the largest off-the-shelf drone that Yuneec produces, you’ll be looking at the Yuneec Tornado H920 Plus. This is a sizable hexacopter made to haul a fair sized camera.
By default, you’ll launch with the CGO4, which compares nicely to the Panasonic GH4. Was that a collaboration? Well, go ahead and install the camera gimbal to launch with the GH4 itself. In the end, the H920 Plus is an older drone, it’s still reliable and masters the basics, but runs Yuneec’s older in-house software. Their software is not bad, but their newer drones use PX4 and Dronecode software, which is more robust.
Bottom line, if you need a powerful drone for your more basic Hollywood camera flight needs, the Yuneec Tornado H920 Plus is a solid consideration.
DJI Mavic Mini 2
The original DJI Mavic Mini was a very important machine for the consumer hobby drone market. The DJI Mini 2 is the next generation of super-compact camera drone, it’s a solid improvement over the original Mini, especially in terms of the camera and flight capabilities. You still get a sub-250 gram drone, but now get a 4K camera, vastly improved connectivity, a more durable design, and more power.
The newer 1/2.3-inch sensor produces 12MP stills, and 4K video at 30 fps and 100Mbps data rate. For some, the most exciting update is lossless zoom. With up to 4X zoom, you can safely fly at distance from your subject, perfect for those pet photos or to capture shots of a waterfall in the distance.
DJI continues their accessory package trend, you can get the DJI Mini 2 for $449, or grab the DJI Mini 2 Fly More combo for $599.
DJI Mavic Mini
With a long list of drones that start with the name Mavic, DJI has launched yet another consumer machine, perhaps their most consumer friendly yet, the new, very compact, folding DJI Mavic Mini.
As the name implies, the DJI Mavic Mini is a very small machine, and in true DJI fashion, it has few compromises to make it all work. The first thing to note is that the Mavic Mini weighs less than 0.55 lbs, which means you do not need to register it with the FAA before flight. Registration is quick and easy, but not requiring it at all is a bonus.
Don’t let the small size fool you, this drone packs a 12MP camera, shoot 2.7K video from a 3-axis stabilized Gimbal and has all of the flight features you’d expect from a Mavic drone today.
Yuneec Mantis G
The Yuneec Mantis G is everything we had hoped for in the original Mantis Q. We can’t see the difference between these drones, save for the new stabilized camera Gimbal. Superb flight time, easy controls, voice activated features, a compact design that folds small for transport and a 4K camera all sound good to us.
Yuneec understands they have stiff competition in this portion of the drone market. They build mostly for the commercial space, but fun drones like the Mantis line and larger Typhoon hexacopters have a tough battle. The Mantis G is a leap forward for the company. We had a hard time recommending the Mantis Q to users that cared about shooting video, now we can put the DJI Mavic 2 drones and this new Mantis G in the same sentence.
Based on price and camera sensor size, the Yuneec Mantis G best competes with the DJI Mavic Air, which is to say it is a viable option for hobby pilots looking for a reliable drone to fly.
The Yuneec Mantis G is $699 today.
Yuneec Mantis Q
The Yuneec Mantis Q is an easy drone to get excited about, it packs a slim, folding form-factor, it flies for longer than most drones on the market, it has DJI Mavic Air level specifications and it has a cool trick, voice commands. We must admit, the long list of flight features and modes exceeded our needs of a drone, but the things we asked it to do, it did very well. 33 minutes of flight time allows for a lot of action in the air, the voice control features make for a good time as well.
We understand that this is a first generation of the product, we really like it, but the camera is not stabilized. It’s obvious that this drone was made for pilots, not for photographers. That about sums up our opinion of the machine: if you are looking for a fun drone to fly, the Mantis Q is fantastic, if you are looking for a flying camera, this isn’t the drone you’re looking for.
Check out the Yuneec Mantis Q for about $450 on Amazon, down from its original $499 price at launch.
PowerVision PowerEgg X
The folks at PowerVision first captured attention with their Dolphin underwater drone, a submarine, of sorts. Their PowerEgg flying drone was a cool design, but the PowerVision PowerEgg X is a versatile machine that embraces some extra features we might have inadvertently used drones for from time to time. In addition to having a dedicated shell that allows the drone to fly in the rain, and floats to let it land and take off from water, the PowerEgg X breaks down into a compact form-factor, embracing its ability to operate as a camcorder.
Attach the hand strap to get a basic camcorder feel from your PowerEgg X drone. That’s a 3-axis stabilized Gimbal, 4K camera with object tracking functions to automate some of your cinematography.
Special consideration: high-speed flight and 4K camera drone
The DJI FPV is not your typical camera drone. While it has rock-steady image stabilization from a 4K shooter, it does not have sideways twist gimbal movement. The result is that the camera turns to the right when the drone turns to the right – this is a very immersive and aeronautically accurate perspective, and huge fun when the drone is zipping along at up to 87 mph, but may not be ideal for those that just want a flying camera. Check it out.
DJI FPV Combo
Drone racing is terribly fun, especially when you use VR goggles to enjoy the FPV video, but those drones can be tough to control. DJI’s camera drones are super easy to operate, but few are tailored to the FPV experience. DJI blended the two with the new DJI FPV.
Hold onto your controller, this drone is fast! Enjoy most of the best camera drone features that DJI produces, but in an agile machine that goes more than double the speed of the Mavic drone you are used to.
Let the 4K 60p camera capture superb video from the sky, while you enjoy a crisp experience right in front of your eyes, with the DJI FPV from $1299.00.
Turn any drone into a camera drone
DJI Osmo Pocket
There’s more to it than just gluing the new hand-held DJI Osmo Pocket to the top of your drone, but that’s the general idea. In much the same way as many early drones launching with a GoPro attached, the 3-axis stabilized camera on the Osmo Pocket offers DJI Mavic Air level quality for near any drone that can lift the light-weight camera system. Learn more about our efforts attaching the Osmo Pocket to a drone before you decide for yourself. Currently going for $349.Buy DJI Osmo Pocket
That is the end of our list of best camera drones for now. There are many great drones on the market, some of which provide exceptional camera capabilities, for us, these few are the best of the best.
Is there a drone out there that you think deserves to be on this list? We can think of a few that are near as good as some of our recommendations, but we want to hear what you have to say in the comments below. FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between the consumer drones and the professional drones?
The biggest difference between many consumer and pro drones is the camera, where a consumer drone has a built-in camera and a pro drone offers a mount to haul a higher-end cinema camera. Most of the built-in cameras use the same sensors as you’ll find on smart phones, they’re good cameras, but a far cry from the cameras that Hollywood uses. As the pro drones hold lager cameras, they are also much larger drones.
What cameras are good?
For the most part, a camera with a 1/2.3-inch sensor is going to be good, but should be considered the smallest viable sensor for a good camera drone. A 1-inch sensor is going to be about the best you can get on a consumer drone, while the DJI Inspire 2 offers a micro four thirds sensor. These larger sensors make it easier for the camera to capture better images, particularly in lower light situations. Also look for the video data rate, as 100Mbps seems to be the new minimum for silky smooth video capture. The lens offerings are important to be aware of. A single focal length is normal, and typically offers better focus, but zoom lenses offer more versatility. Last, look at the MP count, 12MP is solid, offering more than what’s needed to capture 4K video, but the new trend of a 48MP sensor that pixel bins down to 12MP images is a great idea.
How much should I spend on a camera drone?
Your needs should determine your budget for a camera drone. Generally speaking, for under $600, you can expect a smartphone caliber image. Working up to about $1,400 you can expect a smartphone sensor, but with better supporting hardware to exceed what most smartphones can offer. Beyond $1,400 is where you’ll start to see DSLR and cinema grade cameras. In case you missed it above, the Hasselblad 100MP camera runs about $30,000.
Can I attach any camera to any drone?
If it fits, and the drone has enough power to lift it, you can attach things, but you may not get the best camera experience. Two very important factors affect the captured media from a flying camera: First, stabilization, and second, controls. Drones in flight are actually very jittery, with lots of vibration, and they tilt every which way constantly and rapidly in order to manage stable flight. Your camera will either need powerful stabilization built in, or a supported Gimbal on the drone. Next, the ability to control a Gimbal remotely is one thing, but being able to start and stop recording, snap photos, control zoom, and/or focus the camera by remote is super important, else you must set the camera, start recording, and then take off into the sky and hope you got all the settings right.
Do I need a license to take photos from a drone?
Sort of, yes. You may fly a drone for hobby purposes and capture all of the aerial photos and video that you desire, but you may not sell those photos, or otherwise be compensated for your flight without a commercial license. This includes putting your videos on YouTube with the monetization option turned on.
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