Drones have many uses, but most people use them as flying cameras. You can capture amazing videos and photos thanks to the advances in camera quality and the invention of brushless camera gimbals. Drones are also used for many industrial applications such as: search and rescue missions, fire fighting, police operations, wildlife monitoring, crop surveying, crop dusting, structure inspections, 3D map generation, professional video production, controllable lighting, signal repeating, and communication.
The Contixo F18 Advanced GPS Quadcopter is loaded with interesting features that make this drone a great value compared to similar drones on the market. Thanks to built-in GPS, the F18 knows its location and where it is in relation to you. The return-to-home system commands the drone to move back to the home point when the battery gets too low or when the control signal goes out of range, so you are less likely to lose your drone after a long day of flying. Four powerful brushless motors give it the ability to quickly gain or drop in altitude and stop on a dime, yet they consume less battery life than non-brushless motors so you can fly longer. The onboard FPV FHD camera gives you a drone’s eye view – simply link the camera to the Contixo F18 app and the 5.0GHz band Wi-Fi beams you real-time images with zero latency up to 500 meters away.
A key part of our evaluation is testing out various flight modes, and putting the battery life to the test to see if it lives up to expected flight time and range. More advanced drones may have pilot assistance systems and the ability to perform advanced flight maneuvers, which is something we also test. If the drone includes a camera built-in we use it and evaluate the camera resolution, focus, tracking, frame rate, and other key features. Finally, we take a look at the price of the drone and compare its features to a competitor in the same range to make our final judgement. All of the drones we test are purchased by Lifewire; none are provided by the manufacturer.
Every adventure needs a Spark of creativity! Spark is a mini drone that is great for taking quick selfies. With Gesture mode, you can use simple hand gestures to get Spark to follow you, take photos, and record videos. Spark can be operated without a controller, but if you prefer more traditional operation, you can fly with a remote controller or use your smartphone.
Another great cheap drone with camera, this awesome quadcopter by QCopter is sure to be a great time. If you're a beginner this is a perfect choice as it comes with a bonus battery and crash kit. This includes replacement drone gear parts, mounts, and shafts, as well as snap-on motors and propellers. This drone allows for an incredibly long flight time and provides up to a 30-minute drone experience. This makes it perfect for those on the hunt for cheap drones with long flight time. The Wi-Fi + HD camera feature allows you to take photos and videos from your smartphone. this allows you to document your drone photos and video and easily post them to share with your friends. This drone is easy to fly making it perfect for kids, beginners, and drone enthusiasts. The stable drone design with colorful LED lights makes it fun and exciting to fly.
If you look at drones like the Falcore from Connex and the Vortex 150 from ImmersionRC, although both can be great beginner drones, they aren’t really in a low enough price range for a lot of people who are just getting started. Yes, you’re getting what you pay for, but sometimes you don’t have that much to spend and you still want something reasonable. That’s where the Vision 250 comes in.
The flight time is 25 minutes of filming and it makes use of an intelligent Li-Po battery that charges 60% with the PD USB Type C charger. The design is a light carbon frame in an ultra-compact form, which takes it to speeds of 55 kmph in the Sport mode. There is a parrot Skycontroller 3 for remote control. Other features include Geofence, SmartRth, and Find-My-Drone. It is ergonomic and easy to use with the FreeFlight 6 app being powered by AI for automatically taking cinematic shots. GeoFence enables defining the virtual perimeter so that it does not fly out of the specified area. The Smart RTH means that it will return home if the battery is low.
The thing that makes the Mavic 2 Pro stand out from the Mavic 2 Zoom and all the other drones out there is the Hasselblad camera. If you aren’t familiar with Hasselblad, they’re a camera company that makes the best medium format cameras in the world. Hasselblad was actually bought by DJI a while back and now the two companies have worked together to create the Mavic 2 Pro camera.
The Mavic 2 Zoom has a few features that make it different from the Mavic 2 Pro. The first difference is the smaller 12 megapixel 1/2.3" CMOS sensor. This sensor is the same size as the Mavic Air, and delivers similar image quality. The most important feature is true optical zoom. With optical zoom there's no loss in image quality because you’re zooming using the optics of the lens instead of pixels on an image sensor. You also get a 2x zoom in 4K instead of 1.4x on the Mavic 2 Pro and Parrot Anafi.
For the power system, it has Lumenier RX2206-11 2350Kv motors and Lumenier 30A BLHeli_S ESCs with DSHOT Multishot and all of the other high-speed communication protocols you need. The flight controller is a MPU6000, STM32F405 (what a mouth full!). Basically, it’s a clone of a flight controller called the REVO that originally cost over $100 to make and had a super fast F4 processor. The FPV system is nothing that will blow you away like on the Falcore drone. It’s just your standard 200mW 5.8GHz Raceband TX and 600TVL camera, but it gets the job done for pro pilots, so I guess we can’t complain!
There is a DJI Pilot application for both iOS and Android, enabling total camera control and live viewing. It also has a Beginner Mode for learning to fly. The drone comes including all the tried and trusted features of a DJI drone, with auto-takeoffs and landings, intelligent high-powered flight battery, safety database for no-fly zones and an efficient mobile app. It also locks itself if you use it within a 15-mile radius of the White House, as this is restricted. The dimensions are 18 x 13 x 8 inches and it weighs 9.2 pounds.
Jim Fisher is our lead analyst for cameras, drones, and digital imaging. He studied at RPI and worked on the retail side of the industry at B&H before landing at PCMag. He has a thing for old lenses, boneyards, and waterfowl. When he’s not out with his camera, Jim enjoys watching bad and good television, playing video games (poorly), and reading. You can find him on Instagram @jamespfisher
If drone racing and freestyle flying sounds like something crazy you would see in a movie, you’re right! If you’re even considering getting into the sport of drone racing, do it! This is the intense, fast paced, super addictive side of drone flying. Racing drones are like race-cars. They will take a lot more research and time than any other type of drone to start out with, but the experience you get when flying is unlike anything else in the world.
When the AR Drone 2.0 first came out, it was one of the coolest drones for sale on the market. It has a 1GHz 32 bit processor, 1GB of ram, gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, a pressure sensor, an ultrasonic sensor, 2 cameras and more. Even though it’s over 2 years old, the AR Drone is still one of the most advanced quadcopters available in its price range which is $299.
DJI refurbished products are available at reduced prices, while simultaneously meeting performance and quality standards. The refurbished products are thoroughly tested before they are sold, and they include a full standard product warranty and new packaging. And if you’re not happy with your refurbished product, you can return it within seven days (just make sure that you haven’t activated it yet).
Altitude Hold allows a drone to maintain a consistent altitude by analyzing the pressure data further provided by a drone’s barometric pressure sensor. If a drone has an ultrasonic sensor, this is also used with Altitude Hold. This feature ensures even a small drone with camera will be able to hold itself in place while you snap some shots or record a video.
If you want to take drone activity to new heights (literally), the DJI Mavic 2 Pro makes a pretty great splurge. This drone is an evolution of its predecessor, capable of staying airborne for 31 minutes and hitting speeds of 44 miles per hour during flight — faster the previous generation. But we think drone aficionados will find their true joy in the new DJI software. Features like ActiveTrack 2.0 assist the drone with following moving subjects autonomously. Seeing real-time video is better than ever in 1080p with the addition of OcuSync 2.0, and eight gigabytes of storage (with SD card capacity up to 128GB) allow for plenty of HD footage or images from the 20MP camera.
There are a few downsides to this drone, the main one being the price. At $1,999 USD, not everyone will be able to afford it. It also uses a 2 axis gimbal, so panning motion is not very smooth. Since it doesn’t have a controller, that also means you can’t fly the drone farther than wifi range will allow. The biggest issue with this drone in my opinion is the size It’s not much larger than the Mavic 2 when unfolded, but that’s the problem, it doesn’t fold up at all. This means if you want to fit it into a camera bag or small backpack, you’re just out of luck.
The best camera drones in 2020 are equipped with a handful of smart flight features. These make capturing stunning footage in difficult situations much easier and fun. For example, for times when you are shooting fast-moving objects, a feature like ActiveTrack will direct the camera drone to recognize and track a subject while keeping it in the frame. There are a variety of other intelligent features available on camera drones, so do be sure to check those out before buying yours.
The Phantom 4 is an impressive photography drone that features a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 4K 30fps video, and 12MP stills. If you don’t require 4K video, there are also options to shoot in 2K, Full HD, or 720p. The 12MP sensor on the Phantom 4 camera has an ISO range of 100-1600, and the camera also supports auto exposure bracketing, EV bias, and HDR imaging.
You get up to 9 minutes of flight time, have a 640x480p camera, and video capabilities that lack audio as there is no microphone. You can do flips in the air at the touch of a button on the transmitter, and there is a button that lets you share a video on social media instantly. The LED lights located at the center of each propeller and the headlight are pretty useful for flying at night, too.
It has a built-in positioning system which allows for ONE-KEY RETURN. If you’re flying outside and happen to loose track of it, just push one button on the remote and it will return to the remote. Well… it will return sometimes. Like all of the other toy drones, ONE-KEY RETURN doesn’t really work that well since there’s no GPS onboard, but it will send the quad back in your general direction which is cool.
Removable cameras: In some models, users can remove the cameras and fly the drone without the camera attached, excellent if this is a gift for a beginner who still needs to learn to fly. This helps to reduce the weight of the drone, thus enabling longer flights. More importantly, this feature enables camera upgrades when there are advances in the technology. Perhaps your gift to mom or dad next year will be just such an upgrade.
It is easy to fly the quad. You just hold it in front of you and double tap on the power button. The camera scans the surroundings and locks onto your face and then spins the propellers. The gesture control works remarkably well and all it needs is just some practice related to the gestures. The gestures are cool but limited to a few actions useful for taking a quick selfie or a video clip. For other actions, you can use the DJI app. There are different flight modes to select from and with ActiveTrack, it can be set to follow you or any other subject selected from the screen.
The TBS Vendetta is a quadcopter designed specifically for FPV (first person view) racing and freestyle flying. Today, you can find quite a few mini FPV racing drones that come ready to fly, but the Vendetta was one of the first racing drones to come out with everything you need to fly. It comes with almost everything you need to start learning to race. The only things that it won’t come with is a controller, battery, charger and FPV video goggles, but in the world of drone racing you’ll usually want to choose that stuff to fit your needs anyway.