Which photography drone is best?
Over a short period, drones went from hobbyist toys with low-resolution cameras on the front to commercially viable gadgets with powerful digital cameras attached underneath. This expanded the capabilities of photographers who could now capture breathtaking images and never-seen-before footage.
While the photography drone market is fierce, DJI is one of the best-known brands globally, filming Hollywood blockbusters and sideline action at international sporting events. The DJI Mavic 3 Camera Drone is a good example, as it can record video in 5.1K resolution and has a flight time of 45 minutes on a single battery pack.
What to know before you buy a photography drone
Built-in camera vs. external camera mount
Your quest for a photography drone should start with the camera — not its capabilities but how it mounts to the drone. There are typically two types of photography drones: those with built-in cameras and those that attach a digital camera through an external mount.
- An external mount lets you use your digital single-lens reflex camera as the capturing device, mounting to the drone’s underside through a bracket.
- Built-in cameras are self-explanatory, as the drone has a camera on the front and records the footage to a memory card.
Image quality is important
If you attach your own digital camera to the drone, you know its capabilities and image quality. But if you are looking for a drone with a built-in camera, its functionality can be a deciding factor. Of course, the image quality must be sufficient for your filming type, but anything lower than full HD (1080p) isn’t worth your time or money. You also might want to consider whether the camera is better at still photography or recording video.
They have a limited range
Drones have several limitations to their flying: their batteries only last about half an hour before needing a recharge, and most can only operate within a specific distance from the controller. Basic photography drones have an average range of about 320 feet, while professional drones can go as far as 9 miles.
What to look for in a quality photography drone
Finding its way home with GPS
If you are spending more than $1,000 on a photography drone, you don’t ever want to lose your camera. However, this can happen if it goes outside the controller’s transmission range or interference messes with the signal. Most drone makers consider that and program a “fly home” feature into the device. So, a good-quality drone lets you set a GPS location as the home base, and if anything untoward happens, the drone automatically makes its way there.
Stability with a three-axis gimbal
One of the most significant differences between mediocre and amazing footage is the visuals’ stability. You might have the perfect subject or scenery, but it will ruin the moment if the camera isn’t held steady. A good-quality photography drone has a built-in camera on a three-axis gimbal. This means the camera can automatically change its pitch, trim and yaw to remain laser-focused on the subject.
Supported image formats
This can be a bit tricky, as different image formats only matter when you use sophisticated photo editing software. But if that’s a requirement for you, look for a photography drone that can shoot in RAW or DNG file formats. These files include all the data from the camera’s sensor, making it easier to tweak in the editing room. Otherwise, the standard formats of JPG for photos or MP4 for video are perfect.
How much you can expect to spend on a photography drone
The price mainly depends on the drone’s capabilities and the built-in camera. A basic photography drone recording at full HD costs $50-$100. But a professional model with a powerful camera can retail for $2,000-$2,500, while cinematic bundles can add another $2,000 to the price tag.
Photography drone FAQ
Is flight time important for a photography drone?
A. Most people stress too much about a drone’s flight time. Almost all drones can’t fly for longer than 30 minutes on a single battery, but that should be more than enough time to get the shot you need. On the other hand, a shorter flight time will force you to practice making the best use of your time. If it’s a concern, buy an extra battery pack.
Is it worth getting a 4K drone or camera?
A. That depends on the content you produce. If you use the drone for commercial aerial shots of vivid and exciting places, 4K could be worth it. On the other hand, if you mainly upload content to Instagram or Facebook, your video is automatically down-scaled, so 4K won’t matter.
What’s the best photography drone to buy?
Top photography drone
What you need to know: Few photography drones can compete with the powerful Hasselblad camera on the Mavic 3. Suitable for recording Hollywood films, it has a sensor with a 12.8-stop range to give more details to shadows and highlights.
What you’ll love: It has one of the most extended flight times of all photography drones, as it can remain in the air for 45 minutes on a single battery. It records video at 5.1K resolution, has a transmission range of 9 miles, and can provide you with a live video feed.
What you should consider: The drone is prohibitively expensive for most, and if you include the Cinematic Combo with more batteries, propellers and Apple ProRes 422 HQ encoding, the price doubles.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top photography drone for the money
What you need to know: This drone is perfect for vloggers who want to get amazing footage of their holiday or a friend’s wedding. It captures video in full HD, and the camera has a 120-degree field of view.
What you’ll love: You don’t need an expensive controller with this drone, as it is compatible with most mobile devices. The two included batteries provide 20 minutes of flying time, and the drone has an operational range of around 330 feet.
What you should consider: While it can provide you with a live video feed, it is limited to a 196-foot transmission range.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: The Mavic 2 is a favorite among aerial and sports photographers, as the built-in camera has a 20-megapixel sensor that captures footage at a 4K resolution.
What you’ll love: The drone has a flight time of 30 minutes, a maximum speed of 44 miles per hour and comes with 8 gigabytes of internal storage. The camera sits on a three-axis gimbal, and the drone avoids flying into hazards through Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing.
What you should consider: The Pro is considerably more expensive than the Mavic 2 Zoom, which comes without the smart controller with 5-inch display.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Charlie Fripp writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.