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Best Photography Drones

Updated August 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
Bottom Line
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 107 Models Considered
  • 5 Models Tested
  • 42 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 235 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best photography drones

    Last Updated August 2018

    The world of photography drones opens the skies to photographers looking for new point of views. Thanks to cameras that are professional quality and can shoot in 4K, you can take your photos to new heights.

    But most of these drones come with a high price tag and lots of fancy bells and whistles. It's important to think about exactly what you'll be looking for. Are you trying to capture high-speed sports? Or would you rather photograph stunning landscapes from hundreds of feet in the air?

    To ensure that you buy the best photography drone for your needs, it helps to have some general knowledge about both cameras and drones. And that’s almost like receiving double the homework, which seems unfair. But photography drones are so much fun to use, in the end you’ll say it was time (and money) well spent.

    Understanding drones

    You may have heard the term unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, associated with drones. These terms can be used interchangeably. We’ve listed some interesting facts about UAVs below.

    As you learn to fly a drone, you will likely crash it multiple times

    And sometimes, the crash will destroy the drone. Be ready for this possibility. Flying a drone can be quite challenging for a novice. It takes a lot of practice to get a feel for the controls and to figure out how the drone responds. If you're heading out for a long shoot day, bring extra parts with you in case you break a propellor.

    Consumer-level drones and military-level drones are quite different from one another

    Military drones operate at high altitudes, can fly extremely fast, and are often large enough to carry weapons. A military drone looks a lot like a miniature airplane, whereas a consumer drone resembles a miniature, futuristic helicopter. There's also a big difference between hobby and photography drones. Hobby drones can cost under $100 dollars and are primarily for fun. Photography drones can cost well over $1000 dollars and are more for professionals.

    Drones run on battery power

    You can expect to get anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes of battery power per charge for your drone. It’s wise to keep your drone on a recharging station when not in use.

    Photography drones have a remote control that can be paired with a display screen

    You’ll have a remote control for directing the drone. Almost all photography drones allow you to mount your smartphone or tablet to the remote control, providing a display screen for first-person piloting and finding your frame.

    Drones move very precisely

    A drone looks a bit like a multirotor helicopter. This design allows for precise movement while flying. You can position the UAV in just the right location and have it hover in place, taking photos or shooting video.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Many drones will automatically return to base when the battery power runs low or when they reach the edge of the range of the remote control.

    Understanding digital cameras

    A digital camera attached to a drone has many of the same capabilities and components you’d find on a standalone digital camera. However, our top picks can shoot up to 20 megapixels - exponentially better than the point and shoot camera your parents might have. Plus they can shoot RAW, a must for any professional. Although you aren’t going to find high-end DSLR camera features on a photography drone, you can get similar quality.

    Here are some key facts to understand when looking at cameras on a photography drone.

    Cameras in drones can record video

    Video resolution in a photography drone ranges from standard definition to 1080p high-definition to 4K video. Different numbers of frames per second (fps) for recording are available too, such as 24fps or 30fps. Higher resolutions and frame rates produce better-quality video, but they also require a lot of storage space.

    Some drone cameras allow you to change the aspect ratio

    Aspect ratio is the ratio of a photo’s length to its height. Some common aspect ratios for photos are 3:2, 4:3, and 16:9. A 16:9 aspect ratio matches that of a big-screen HDTV. Look for a camera that offers a 16:9 ratio if you want to display your drone’s collected imagery on the TV.

    A standard model drone camera’s lens almost certainly will be a fixed lens

    This means it will only offer one focal length and no zoom feature. However, top drone manufacturers may offer camera upgrades that have zoom. For example, DJI recently release a camera that can zoom up to 16x.

    Hands on: high end drones

    Hands on: high end drones

    The camera records images and videos using its image sensor

    The image sensor is a silicon chip that measures the light traveling through the lens and creates digital pixels to represent the photo. A physically larger image sensor will create better-looking photos than a smaller image sensor.

    More megapixels equals greater image quality

    The image sensor’s megapixel measurement is the number of individual dots it uses to create a photo.

    Many photography drones store photos and videos on a memory card

    The memory card (often, a Micro SD card) is inserted into the camera on the drone. To retrieve imagery, simply remove the memory card and insert it in a computer. Some drones have a USB port for downloading images, too.

    Photography drone cameras contain a gimbal that tilts the camera upward or downward

    This feature comes in handy for shooting photos at angles that the drone itself can’t achieve. Most gimbals can tilt the camera downward a full 90 degrees, for example, allowing you to photograph objects directly below the drone. Some can also tilt 30 or 45 degrees upward. Notably, when tilting upward, you run the risk of having a propeller blade appear in the corner of the image.

    A photography drone should allow you to see the camera’s real-time positioning on a separate screen or through a smartphone app. This makes it easier to precisely position the drone for photos.

    EXPERT TIP

    When judging the camera in a photography drone, pay attention to the physical size of the image sensor. In most cases, a digital camera with a larger sensor will take higher-quality photos.


    EXPERT TIP

    Location and timing are important. If watching for deer, pick a spot they will frequent according to the season — a water source during the summer, a reliable food source in the winter, or an ideal “scrape area” during rut season.


    EXPERT TIP

    Before you buy a photography drone, pay attention to the capabilities of the camera that’s attached, especially if you'll be using it for photography. A poor camera, even if attached to a great drone, will record poor photographs.


    Testing photography drones: our results

    At BestReviews, we tested a number of photography drones ourselves. Below, we highlight some of findings.

    DJI Phantom 4

    • Even in winds of 5+ mph, the Phantom was 100% steady. This was probably the most impressive thing about it.

    • The Phantom offers a beginner mode – a great feature for novice flyers.

    • Although the Phantom has a lot of features, DJI made the controls incredibly easy to use.

    • The Follow Me Mode, where the drone will follow a moving object, works well as long as it is flying below 20 mph.

    • We loved the Point of Interest mode, where we could choose a target and a radius and the drone would rotate around it.

    DJI Mavic Pro

    • It’s easy to select among the DJI Mavis Pro’s many fly modes, such as Active Track and Follow Me. However, for these modes to work properly, you need the drone to be at least 100 feet in the air.

    • The DJI Mavic Pro is an easy-to-land drone; you just press a button and swipe. It does everything else itself.

    • We achieved a battery life of 21 minutes with our DJI Mavic Pro. Swapping out batteries was easy.

    • The DJI app does drain a smartphone battery quickly. The DJI Phantom’s remote control actually charges the connected smartphone, but this is not the case for the Mavic.

    • We were impressed by the quality of the Mavic’s photos and videos.

    Holy Stone HS170

    • When the Holy Stone HS170’s battery started to die, it kept losing the connection, which forced it to land wherever it happened to be. This could have been hugely problematic if we were flying it over water or another risky area.

    • We were able to fly the Holy Stone up to about 50 feet in the air, which should be plenty for anyone using this drone.

    • We tried to use the Return Home feature with little success outside. However, it worked well inside.

    • The Holy Stone’s camera quality is decidedly not good enough for professional shots.

    • All in all, the Holy Stone HS170 is a good toy drone or starter drone for its price. But we’d suggest sticking to your backyard with it.

    Hands on: best drones for your money

    Hands on: best drones for your money

    FAQ

    Q. Do I need to register with the FAA to use my photography drone?

    A. The rules regarding drone flying depend on a few things. If your drone weighs more than 55 pounds, or if you’re going to fly the drone for commercial purposes, you need to register it and carry a drone operator license.

    As a recreational or hobbyist pilot, you must register a drone if it weighs between 0.55 and 55 pounds, but you don’t need a license. Regulations sometimes change, however, so check the FAA website for more information.

    Q. What are the requirements for selling my photographs and videos shot via drone?

    A. The FAA’s rules regarding using a drone for commercial purposes when shooting photos changed in late 2016. You will need to have a drone operator’s license if you plan to sell your images or use them for your business. Obtaining a drone operator’s license requires passing a written test and paying a licensing fee. Should you be found guilty of using your drone for commercial purposes without a license, you could incur a fine of more than $1,000.

    If you plan to use your drone shots in this way, you must also register the drone.

    Q. How does an octocopter differ from a drone?

    A. Actually, it doesn’t really differ. Think of the word drone as the overall term for aerial vehicles people can fly via remote control. The term encompasses all types of remote flying machines that can be precisely controlled.

    Fitting under the term drone, you’ll see terms like quadcopter, hexacopter, and octocopter. The prefix refers to the number of rotors on the device, where quad equals four and octo equals eight.

    Q. I want a photography drone, but do I have to buy a drone with a camera already attached?

    A. No. Some drones contain a camera bracket rather than an actual camera. This means you can attach your own camera to the drone and use it. This may save you a little bit of money if you already own a camera you want to use when flying. That said, not all photography drones come with the ability to attach a separate camera.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Alvina
      Alvina
      Photographer
    • Amos
      Amos
      Director of Photography
    • Branson
      Branson
      Videographer
    • Ciera
      Ciera
      Production Assistant
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Kyle
      Kyle
      Writer
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor
    • Vukan
      Vukan
      Post Production Editor