The 10 Best Drones
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in May of 2015. Rated for overall bang for your buck, ease of use, flight technology, portability, and imaging capabilities, our selection of remote-controlled and app-enabled aircraft runs the gamut from resilient and budget-friendly options for novices that won't empty your wallet, to highly-maneuverable, premium drones ideal for capturing professional-quality aerial photographs and videos. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 05, 2020:
For this update, we've replaced several older models with newer versions and added a new item. The DJI Mavic Air has been replaced with the DJI Mavic Air 2 and the Contixo F22 sees the Contixo F24 Pro take its place. Though in many cases, the older items are still available, the new ones are worthy upgrades to the original models. You'll find for example, that the DJI Mavic Air 2 has a bigger camera sensor and the ability to take clearer photos than the older version, while the Contixo F24 Pro can stay in the air for significantly longer than the older F22.
The Force1 U45WF Blue Jay has been removed and replaced by the Snaptain S5C, which is similar in many respects but offers a better value and is more highly rated. Rankings of most of the models have been revised to reflect pricing changes and customer reviews, and the Hubsan Zino Pro has had its listing updated to reflect changes in availability.
November 22, 2019:
We realize the plethora of drones out there can make it difficult for the average consumer to pick the best one for their needs, so we have done our part to make the selection a little bit easier for you. We made sure to include models in a variety of price ranges and which suit both beginner and expert pilots so there would be something for everyone on this list.
During this update, we had to replace a number of outdated drones. For example, the DJI Mavic Pro was replaced with the newer DJI Mavic 2 Pro, which is just the most recent iteration of the same model. We also removed the Autel Robotics X-Star Premium, which seems to have been discontinued by the manufacturer, and replaced it with the Autel Robotics Evo. Taking the place of the DJI Spark is the DJI Mavic Mini. Not only does the latter have a longer flight time and more advanced camera capabilities, but it is also more affordable and lightweight enough to avoid regulations in many countries. The DJI Mavic Air is another relative newer DJI model making its debut on our list. It has a number of preset flight patterns that makes capturing cinematic-quality videos easy for beginners, and it can do so in 4k ultra HD.
Of all the options on our list, the Hubsan Zino Pro may represent the best value. It is equipped with a three-axis gimbal, a 2.4-mile control range, brushless motors, GPS and GLONASS, automatic return home, and a number of other features for a couple of hundred dollars less that most other models with similar specs.
For the beginners out there who are just starting their drone piloting journey and not ready to lay out too much money, we recommend the Contixo F22, Holy Stone HS160 Shadow, Syma Z1,Force1 U45WF Blue Jay. However, if you find that even these models cost a bit more than you were hoping to spend, you may want to check out our list of the best budget drones.
The Camera And The Bird
Now, your modern drone video setup includes everything from physical gimbal stabilizers to 4K capture and live video feedback transmitted to your mobile device.
Twenty years ago the primary reason there was little to no such thing as aerial drone videography wasn't the absence of interest or industry need. Just look at any of the hundreds of aerial scenes shot from helicopters in the brief history of film to see that the market was there, waiting. The problem was that if you did manage to somehow get your camera airborne, the likelihood was that you were shooting on film was small, which adds just a little too much weight to the flight package.
Now, your modern drone video setup includes everything from physical gimbal stabilizers to 4K capture and live video feedback transmitted to your mobile device. Flagships like the DJI Phantom 4 (botDB) are redefining what we can do in the air.
Do you really need all that stuff? Probably. Especially if you have aspirations of showing your footage to anyone who's so much as taken a video on their iPhone. You want something of comparable quality, so here's why each element is important.
Think of the gimbal as a system of counterweights that allows for occasional erratic movement in your flying, either from pilot error, unexpected winds, or a hungry eagle mistaking your drone for prey. These counterweights will immediately adjust to the smallest turbulence in your flight, allowing for that super smooth video we already see Hollywood employing.
You may not have a 4k TV just yet, but, it turns out that most serious video production always shoots in 4K Video Capture which means it captures a higher resolution than the most common displays available. Why is that? Cropping. You see, if your framing isn't quite right, or you want to be a little closer to that character, or you find that the winds were so intense your gimbal can't cut down on all the shake, you can fix it in post, but only if you have room to crop the image and not lose resolution by the time it makes it to that 1080p television. 4K gives you all that freedom.
Are Lithium Batteries On The Way Out?
If you've flown a drone before then you understand the limiting factor that comes with them - battery life. The best drones out there are generally powered by rechargeable lithium ion batteries, however, these are still limited in the sense that they don't truly contain that much energy, hence the short flight times. Not only that, but these batteries are expensive.
Why are they so expensive, if their energy reserves are low? That's due to the materials it takes to manufacture them, and due to the fact that they are usually rechargeable as previously mentioned. All batteries have ions and electrons. What separates lithium from regular batteries are how these ions and electrons react. With ordinary ones, the chemical reaction taking place happens in one direction, which equates to a use-it-and-toss-it scenario. Lithium batteries can reverse this chemical reaction, which causes the battery to absorb power. So, they've already got a leg up compared to their non-rechargeable cousins.
What separates lithium from regular batteries are how these ions and electrons react.
Are there other sourceable energies available other than batteries? Yes, but no. Some technology is out there, but they haven't been engineered to work in conjunction with drones, at least not yet. And other readily available power supplies just don't make sense. Take gasoline for example, which has a higher energy density than lithium. It seems like it'd make sense to pair it with a drone motor, but this adds weight to the body and it also produces propeller lag that wouldn't prove well on such a small scale. Besides, can you imagine using a mini-gas can to refuel the unit? That sounds highly inconvenient and potentially disastrous to us.
The other potential power source can come from hydrogen fuel cells. In theory it sounds like a smart alternative to batteries - they generate electricity through chemical reactions and they do so with little pollution. After all, these fuel cells only require hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity. Its exhaust is simply water vapor. If this sounds familiar even in the slightest regard, you're not crazy, as this technology has slowly and recently been pushed into the vehicle market, and in some cases in homes too.
If drones started enabling fuel cells it would mean fly times that can last up to a few hours, and refilling these cells would take minutes compared to a batteries lengthy recharge time. But why isn't is being employed in drones yet? Actually, it is, but only in prototypes since it still hasn't been researched enough to become a standard norm.
Luckily, the industry is starting to shift and soon enough drones with fuel cell sources will become available. Their price will increase astronomically no doubt, but some may be willing to invest if it results in a longer flight time. Until then, lithium batteries are the next best thing.
There are a lot of examples throughout history of military technology making its way into the lives of everyday citizens. Wealthy nations often set aside considerable sums of money for their military expenses, and research and development into the next competitive advantage can drive technological advancements forward at an incredible pace.
Drone technology followed much the same path, though most early implementations of it were designed to give soldiers something to shoot at as they trained.
Remember the Internet? Sure you do! Why, that started out as something called the ARPAnet, which is, let's face it, considerably less catchy.
Drone technology followed much the same path, though most early implementations of it were designed to give soldiers something to shoot at as they trained. The first known attack use of an unmanned areal vessel was in Venice in 1849, when Austria sent balloons loaded with bombs into the country.
In the early years of the 21st century, hobbyists, engineers, and downright geeks began building DIY drones out of simple materials and basic model plane and helicopter motors. That enthusiasm, and its concurrent development with cheaper, smaller, higher resolution cameras combined to rocket the drone market into something that no one could have predicted.
It's still early in the game for the technology, and the rules and regulations of development and deployment are still being debated, but for now, the sky's the limit.