The era of drones is upon us, but how to you pick the right flyer? For the most part, your options range from tiny, cheap, radio-controlled quadcopters that can bmavic puzz around your backyard to full-fledged drones equipped with high-quality cameras and and flight distances measured in miles.
Before you get started, you’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the FAA’s regulations (if you’re in the States) so you can determine where to fly your drone and if you’ll need to register it. Now, here are the six drones that are the best fit for people ready to take to the skies.
DJI’s Phantom drones have consistently been among the most recommended for serious drone pilots, and its Phantom 4 Pro is just the latest and greatest. Among other upgrades, the Phantom 4 Pro comes with a new 20-megapixel camera and a large 1-inch image sensor, which is capable of shooting 4K video at 60fps. As PC Mag notes in its review, that sensor is about four times the size of most other drones in its class. This means the Phantom 4 Pro will give you noticeably better results—unless you’re ready to invest several thousand dollars into your new aerial friend.
If you’re looking to save some money and don’t necessarily need the best video quality out there, some of the earlier Phantom drones are also worth considering. The standard Phantom 4, which still does 4K video, is just under $1,000 and, as of this writing, you can still find the older Phantom 3 for only $400.
The first thing you’ll notice about Yuneec’s Typhoon H is that it has six rotors instead of four, which promises better stability and the ability to keep flying if you lose one. But it’s what’s below that’s just as important. Because of the Typhoon H’s design, the attached 4K camera can be rotated a full 360 degrees, opening up possibilities you won’t find on other drones in this price range.
Wired and Digital Trends both found that the drone delivered when it came to stable flight and good quality video. But the Typhoon also isn’t great at battery life with long recharge times, and its construction is a bit flimsier than DJI’s drones.
If you need evidence of just how advanced drones have gotten in a few short years, you don’t need to look any further than DJI’s Mavic Pro. Not only does look weirdly sci-fi, but it packs capabilities that were until recently reserved for far larger and more expensive drones.
It’s not exactly inexpensive, but that buys you fully stabilized 4K video (or 12 megapixel still images), a control range of just over four miles, flight time of 27 minutes, and speeds up to 40 miles per hour. In his extensive review, DC Rainmaker says “it’s without question the drone I’d recommend folks buy.” If the Pro is a little out of your price range, the new Mavic Air might be more to your liking. A mid-range drone, the Air keeps most of the Pros impressive specs while borrowing what’s best from its beginner DJI Spark.
Although technically a minidrone, the Parrot Mambo FPV is the perfect starter drone. Able to hold up to outdoor conditions but also small enough for some indoor flying, the Mambo lets you practice your drone skills anytime, anywhere. Also singled out by The Wirecutter as a great starter choice, it’s included 720p camera won’t give you stunning shots like other drones on this list, but it will help teach you the basics of drone photography.
The best part is it’s significantly cheaper than every other drone on this list, which is a great deal for anyone worried about crashing (and destroying) an expensive piece of aerial equipment.
Believe it or not, you can get a drone equipped with a HD camera for less than $100, but it’s best to temper any high expectations. Among the options available, Syma’s X5C-1 Explorers is a clear favorite, with The Drone Files noting that it’s “remarkably stable and a lot of fun to fly,” and that it delivers decent (if shaky) video for the price. CNET also liked the earlier X5C model, saying that it’s “better than its price suggests.”
As you might expect, however, you won’t get very far with this drone. It offers only seven minutes of flight time on a single, but takes a full 100 minutes to replenish the battery.
While most consumer drones are of the quad or hexacopter variety, they aren’t the only option. Parrot’s fixed-wing Disco FPV costs about the same as DJI’s Spark, but it’ll give you a markedly different flying experience—not to mention a longer 45 minutes of flying time.
As we found in our time with the Disco, you’ll want to have even more of open area for your flights than with a quadcopter—especially for landings, which can take a bit of practice. It’s also probably not the best option if capturing video is your top concern. While it has a 1080p camera, PC Mag described the video quality as only “so-so.”
If you’re looking for something more robust that the Parrot Mambo, but don’t want to get too ahead of yourself, the DJI Spark is the perfect choice. With easy-to-use features, even for beginners, the Spark can also follow hand gestures and land in the palm of your hand thanks to its 3d sensing camera mounted on the front.
It takes 1080p resolution footage, so not professional grade 4K, but not bad either, and is much more compact and portable than some of the more unwieldy options on this list. Under $400 you can rest easy that you’re not flying a gadget that’s worth thousands through the air. If you want all the bells and whistle, including extra batteries, wing guards, and controller, you can also opt for the Fly More combo package.