The 10 Best Drones For Photographers
This wiki has been updated 29 times since it was first published in June of 2015. For all manner of shutterbugs – from low-budget photojournalists to professional cinematographers with deep pockets – these drones are designed to capture visually stunning images from afar. Employing advanced navigational technology, they can can take to the air or plunge into the sea to provide high-resolution videos and stills from their built-in cameras or one of your own choosing. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 09, 2020:
Year after year, drone manufacturers offer up ever more advanced features in ever smaller packages, so we've had to make significant changes to this list to reflect the latest and greatest options on the market. Perhaps the most impressive new addition is the Autel EVO 2 Pro, which is taking the place of the once undisputed market leader, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. The newer quadcopter offers superior video resolution, collision detection, and battery life, while matching its competitor's impressive 1-inch image sensor. But the real reason we felt it earned the top spot is its modular frame, which allows the user to swap out the gimbal for expansions with specialized capabilities like thermal imaging or 8k footage. This makes it a potentially superior long-term investment for professionals, since you can expand its shooting options without purchasing an entirely new machine.
Another new high-end option is the Yuneec Typhoon H3, which sports a premium-quality camera slung under a powerful hexacopter airframe, capable of generating unbroken 360-degree panorama shots due to its raised landing gear. It's one of the few competitors to the DJI Inspire 2, an older model that has nevertheless held up well due to its cinema-quality camera, incredible wind resistance, and interchangeable lenses.
We've also added a couple of lower-end options for those on a tighter budget. The Eachine E520S and the Holy Stone HS720 won't deliver the absolute highest image quality available, but they won't break the bank either, and they feature a number of intelligent flight control features that make them great for newer users. The HS720 ranks higher due to its better camera and stabilization, but both are solid low-cost picks.
The PowerVision PowerEgg X Wizard also secured a place on our list, due to its versatility and its all-weather capabilities. It's one of the few drones that you can fly over water without constantly worrying that a rotor failure or a stray wave will fry it, since its polystyrene floats allow it to land on the water's surface. Its rotor arms can also be detached completely if you want to use it as a handheld or tripod-mounted device.
We offer overviews for all kinds of photography equipment, from camera carrying bags to telephoto lenses. Or if you're more interested in quick aerial snaps of you and your friends, you may want to look over our list of the best selfie drones.
November 19, 2019:
Since the day the first drone came to market, the technology behind them has constantly been improved upon, so it may be no surprise that every time we revisit this list a lot of changes need to be made. What may have been cutting-edge technology just a year ago can now be common place in the most affordable models. In the same right, what may once have only been a pipe dream just a few months ago could now be a reality in top of the line models. Hence, there has been a lot of mix up in our rankings.
With the release of the DJI Mavic Mini, there really isn't any reason for anyone to choose the DJI Spark anymore, so we have decided to remove it from our list entirely. Not only does the newer Mavic Mini have better camera specs, but it offers a longer control range and flight time than the Spark. And perhaps most importantly, it comes in at just 249 grams, which means it evades flight restrictions in most countries.
Some readers may be surprised to see a list of the best camera drones without a Phantom model on it, considering that this is the line that made DJI famous and there is no debate on how well it performs. Unfortunately though, it is no longer being produced by the manufacturer and there are reports of trouble finding authentic replacement parts for it. Taking its place in the company's lineup, and the place of both it and the Mavic Pro on our list, is the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. This newer iteration offers a 44.7-mph top speed, 31-minute flight time, and an omnidirectional obstacle sensing system. Plus, it is equipped with a premium Hasselblad camera with a one-inch CMOS sensor.
Though the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, DJI Mavic Air, Autel Robotics Evo, PowerVision PowerEye, Husban Zino Pro, Parrot Anafi are all capable of stunning aerial pictures and videos, professional cinematographers will want to look to the DJI Inspire 2 and Yuneec Tornado H920. These both require you to purchase a main camera separately, but few other models can compete with them once they are fully equipped. The Tornado H920 has a hexacopter design that allows it to continue flying if one of the motors fails. It also has retractable landing gear for completely unobstructed 360-degree shots. On the other hand, the Inspire 2 is considerably quicker, making it better for tracking fast-moving subjects, and has a longer battery life.
The PowerVision PowerRay is a rather interesting offering on our list that allows you to explore the murky depths of the ocean, or any body of water for that matter, rather than the skies. Since you won't have line of sight with this model and it doesn't have the ability to easily return home in an emergency, it comes with a 210-foot tether that makes for easy retrieval if needed.
If you aren't really serious about your aerial photography, but still want something that allows you to take a few interesting pictures or videos from up in the sky, you might prefer one of the models on our list of budget drones, some of which have basic camera functionality.
Freefly Systems Alta X Many videographers looking to capture aerial shots prefer the ability to load their existing high-end camera rigs onto a flying platform. The Alta X answers this demand with a huge 2.2-meter quadcopter that can lift up to 35 pounds of shooting equipment, mounted either above or below its low-vibration rotors. Its quick-release system allows users to rapidly change out its payload, and it can fold up to just over half its operational size for storage and transportation. freeflysystems.com
Take Your Photos Higher
Whether that camera is part of the copter package – or the mount arrives empty and waiting for whatever camera you fit to it – depends entirely on the brand and model.
Whether your goal is to capture still photographs or stunning video, the drones on our list provide you with range, altitude, and an interface that keeps you in control of the camera as well as its flight path.
Most of the drones on this list are quadcopters, which are flying machines powered and propelled by four rotary blades situated parallel to the horizon. Two of these rotors move clockwise, and the other two move counterclockwise. If all the blades spin at the same velocity, they create a force against the air beneath the body of the quadcopter, causing it to rise. With a decrease in power, the copter can hover or decrease its altitude.
By increasing the power to the two blades moving clockwise, or to the two blades moving counterclockwise, you will spin the copter along its Y axis, or yaw, without affecting its angle of flight. By increasing the power to only one of the clockwise rotors and decreasing the power to its clockwise partner (and vise versa with the counterclockwise rotors), you can affect the copter's pitch, providing a tilted, momentous turn. Increase the power to any of the two rotors next to each other, and the copter will move in the direction opposite them.
There are other possible rotor combinations that allow you to achieve more advanced maneuvers, but what's important about these copters is that they all have a little mount on their underbellies to hold a camera. Whether that camera is part of the copter package – or the mount arrives empty and waiting for whatever camera you fit to it – depends entirely on the brand and model.
Once airborne, the camera interfaces with its video monitoring system while you control the copter with a handheld radio controller. Sometimes the drone controls are incorporated into the app that controls the camera, and other times the video relay for the camera is built into a physical controller for the drone.
Take Your Tests
Even the most inexpensive combination of drone and camera isn't cheap, and the most expensive among them ought to require an insurance policy. Too many times have I heard a woeful story from a young photographer or cinematographer who got their hands on a shiny new drone, only to run it into the ground on their first flight and break the drone, the camera, and their bank.
These will give you an inexpensive, low-risk opportunity to familiarize yourself with the nuances of drone flight before setting aloft equipment worth a couple grand or more.
The best thing you can do for the insurance of your gear before picking up a drone for photography is to get your hands on a cheap, tiny kid's drone like you see those depressing salesmen playing with in the hallways of malls across the nation. These will give you an inexpensive, low-risk opportunity to familiarize yourself with the nuances of drone flight before setting aloft equipment worth a couple grand or more.
Then, once you've honed your skills and purchased your photography drone, if it's the kind to which you affix a camera of your own, take it for a test flight or two (or twenty) before strapping your camera to its chassis.
When you're ready to purchase that photography drone, the choice between a drone with a camera built into it and one with a bracket designed to receive popular models of action camera is a tough one. While the brands and models with cameras attached to them already tend to be slightly less expensive overall investments, they run the risk of becoming obsolete a lot sooner than a drone whose camera you can quickly replace.
The other major variable to consider is the control interface. If you find that you require separate controllers for the camera and the drone, you're liable to give up hope of ever coordinating a proper shoot, unless you have a talented drone operator and a talented cinematographer working in effective concert with one another.
The far better layouts are the drones whose apps allow for total control on your smartphone or, preferably, your tablet, and the models whose physical controllers also have interactive touchscreens for camera feedback and control.
A Long, Slow Ascent
In 1907, Louis Breguet, a French designer and builder of aircraft, created a four-rotor aircraft that achieved brief flights, momentarily hovering a few feet above the ground. Repeated attempts to achieve flights greater than a few meters off the ground, without overworking the pilots on board, were largely unsuccessful for the next sixty years or so.
Then, in the late 1970s, Bell Helicopter and Boeing came together on a joint military endeavor to research the possibility of an tiltrotor quadcopter aircraft that could operate as a quadcopter during takeoff and landing, but that could also tilt its rotors into the configuration of a more traditional airplane to achieve greater speeds once airborne.
While Bell and Boeing chipped away at the project, which would eventually get shelved in the early 21st century, advances in the use of drone aircraft for military strikes began a reintroduction of radio-controlled aircraft to the public. Suddenly, radio controlled fliers seemed less like the domain of the outcast enthusiast, and more like the domain of the rugged military man, a shift that allowed a whole new market of consumers to take the technology seriously.
Once people started mounting their GoPro cameras and other action cams onto the bodies of their drones, all bets were off, and the photographic and film industries would never be the same.