Maybe you are in love with photography and in the process of turning it into a passion. You might be a professional photographer who’s always searching to improve, or you might just like capturing those beautiful trips like no other. If you’re in any of these categories, you might want to consider buying yourself a drone.
This guide is all you need to help you make a choice. I have experimented with most of the drones on the market so you don’t have to.
How useful is a drone for photography?
I think you already imagine how cool it could be to reach those places you always wanted. No more climbing trees for great panoramas. And best of all, you can literally fly your camera wherever you like (within the law, of course).
Bonus: You’ll be able to take unbelievable videos as well.
Maybe, you always thought taking pictures is where you’ll stop, but don’t tell me you’ve never been fascinated by one of those cool drone videos on YouTube.
The great thing about a drone is that most of the time, it comes with an included gimbal that stabilizes the image perfectly. That feat alone makes both video and photography easy to do and cinematic almost straight away.
Will you be able to afford it?
Gone are the days where only blockbuster movies had the budget to record and shoot photos from the air. Today, thanks to less expensive technology and increasing popularity of quad-copters, almost everyone can afford a drone. And the results are absolutely fascinating.
These are my general recommendations when it comes to pricing for a good camera drone:
- If it’s a drone that comes with a camera, you will need to spend over $400 if you want to have image stabilization.
- You can also pick a cheaper drone with GPS and stabilization that comes with no camera. That might be a good option if you already have a GoPro or action-camera and a tight budget.
- If you want a beginner drone just to learn how to fly, don’t spend more than $50.
How to pick your first camera drone
So you decided to get into drones and skyrocket your photography/videography. I have created an infographic explaining the main things you should look for in a camera drone. Now you have two paths you can choose from:
- Get a small beginner drone (under $50) to learn the basics of piloting it, and only after that buy a more expensive one.
- Get a more expensive drone with GPS, which is stable enough when flying and can return to home automatically if you mess up.
What are the best inexpensive beginner drones?
Ways you can go about buying your first beginner drone:
- Get two or more VERY cheap drones (at $15 each) and simply learn the basics of flying in the house, while having a backup.
- Get one cheap beginner drone (around $50), that usually comes with a low-quality camera (I don’t recommend this because it’s nothing like the more expensive ones).
- Choose a cheap beginner drone and the more expensive one at the same time, if you want to just try it a few times and then jump into the action.
Here are my top beginner drones you can start with:
- JJRC H36 – A super resilient drone that works great inside. This is what I would recommend any friend. About $18.99 on Amazon
- Cheerson CX-10 – A very small drone that’s around $20 and can do flips. About $18.99 on Amazon.
- Hubsan x4 – A very sturdy and well-made drone with a camera. About $32 on Amazon.
What are my top choices for a camera drone?
This is my top three list of recommendations I have for different types of consumers, ranging from $500 to $1500 USD.
I’ll underline the main features you should look for in each drone, while also spotting the drawbacks of each.
#1 – DJI Mavic Pro Platinum – My overall winner
This quad-copter is one of the most popular right now, for some really good reasons. The DJI Mavic Pro Platinum is the newer version of the Mavic, but it is quieter and has a longer battery life. This is why I would recommend it.
I’d recommend it to anyone from travel enthusiast to the professional photographer and so on. It has its limitations, but for the price of about $1000, here’s why it rocks:
- It comes with a stellar gimbal (a motorized system that stabilizes the camera while in the air).
- Has a 4K camera with a fixed aperture of f/2.2 – This makes it pretty good even in low light conditions.
- You can take amazing photos in 12mp resolution.
- It’s foldable – This makes it the most portable high-quality camera on my list, and pretty much on the market. You can simply take it in a small bag and go on your vacation, no problem.
- Long range – it can go up to 7 km in perfect conditions, which is more than enough for anyone.
- Long battery life – it promises about 30 minutes of flight time, but in real life conditions, 26 minutes is more likely.
- Has great GPS and return to home features.
- Has front sensors for detecting obstacles and stopping in time.
Disadvantages: Can’t really think of anything. It’s amazing for the price.
#2 – Xiaomi MI 4K drone – The cheapest, yet still amazing
The Xiaomi MI 4K drone costs about $500 and comes with all you need for great photo/video results.
- Just as the Mavic before, it comes with an amazing gimbal and camera attached to it, in order to keep the image steady in the air.
- Again, you can shoot 4K photos (12.4 mp) and video or go lower in resolution so you can record in more frames, and do slow-motion.
- The range is over 3 km, which is absolutely fantastic.
- Battery life is said to be 27 minutes, but in real life, I got a maximum of 24.
- It comes with very good GPS and returns to home when the battery is low and also when the signal is lost (just like the Mavic)
Disadvantages of the Xiaomi 4k drone
- It’s not nearly as portable as the Mavic.
- It is louder.
- It doesn’t have the front facing sensors to stop before impact that the Mavic does.
Consider how much these drawbacks mean to you when you take into account the super cheap price. Don’t get fooled thinking a smaller price means lower quality. Xiaomi, just like DJI, is a Chinese company with a focus on creating high-quality hardware, that’s impressive even by western standards.
#3 – DJI Phantom 4 Professional – the pro choice at a small price
You have probably heard of drones like Phantom 3 or 4 by now, and they were all amazing, but the DJI Phantom 4 Professional is on the next level.
If the DJI Mavic Pro Platinum is not enough for you in terms of camera capability and you want more professional freedom in your work, this is the best way to go.
Here’s what this $1500 drone comes with:
- The 4K camera we’ve been used to has a 1-inch sensor now. This means nighttime photos will be considerably better and less noisy compared to any of the previous drones.
- The 20mp sensor also delivers amazing quality photos and video.
- It can shoot 4K in 60fps and Full HD in 120FPS and comes with a mechanical shutter (just like your DSLR), so you get a smooth video image and no rolling shutter effect.
- It’s super secure with obstacle sensing in 5 directions: 2 front sensing cameras, 2 side infrared detectors, Sonar and cameras on the bottom (to land precisely), And even one in the back!
- Just like the Mavic Pro Platinum, it comes with 30-minute flight time, 3-axis gimbal stabilization and 7 km range (but, this time, it’s dual-band transmission, so the signal is more secure).
What are a few disadvantages: It’s bulky and loud. It can’t fold up, so if you want to take it on vacation, it will be harder to carry.
I recommend this drone for the more professional bunch of people, who want to use it more intensely for professional projects and don’t mind the bigger form size. This drone is great for people who want to have more control over their images, and it’s perfect if you want to shoot at high ISO in lower light.
Over to you
I only gave you three choices because I believe these are the best of each price category. So, depending on your budget, you can confidently choose one of these, as there’s simply no competition on the market right now.
Don’t forget to fly safe and check the regulation in your area!