Once the stuff of a madman’s dreams, drones are now very much a reality – so much so that it’s possible to own one of these flying technological wonders for a surprisingly small amount of cash.
As the general public’s appetite for these devices grows, so too does the sheer volume of options available. The drone market has exploded in the past few years, catering for everyone from those who simply want to fly something around the sky for fun to industry professionals who use them to capture 4K aerial video without the need for a helicopter.
Below you’ll find a selection of drones which we consider to be the best ones available right now. We’ve included a wide range of price options as well, to cater for those shopping on a budget as well as luckier, deeper-pocketed individuals.
Before laying down your hard-earned cash for one of these drones, it’s wise to investigate what kind of regulations exist in your particular region. Many countries require users of large drones to register them officially, so make sure you’re in possession of the facts before taking to the skies to avoid any brushes with the law.
The DJI Inspire 1 may look like some kind of fearsome war-robot from the far future, but once you’ve gotten over its rather intimidating appearance it’s all too easy to fall in love with this agile and feature-rich device.
It comes with its own controller, which boasts amazing range (you’ll need to supply a monitor via your smartphone or tablet’s screen, though), and the camera – which is mounted on a gimbal for aiming – is upgradeable, so you don’t need to worry about your investment becoming obsolete after a few months.
Performance in the air is nothing short of exemplary, even in quite windy conditions. The DJI Inspire 1 is also incredibly swift and – when twinned with that excellent controller – easy to manoeuvre. It’s only shortcomings are its cost and the fact that the bundled battery only gives you around 15 to 20 minutes of flight time before it needs recharging.
A refinement of the already impressive DJI Phantom 3 Professional, the Phantom 4 brings with it a more sturdy construction, updated object-avoidance technology and – like so many of DJI’s offerings – an excellent dedicated remote control which connects to an equally feature-rich smartphone app.
4K video recording is supported, and the gimbal design means you get rock-steady footage even when the drone is moving at speed and changing direction. The biggest downer – and you’ll notice this is a common complaint with many commercial drones – is battery life, which is only around 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how hard you’re pushing the drone.
While it’s not quite in the same league as its Inspire 1 sibling, the Phantom 4 offers a similar degree of performance and functionality for a lower price, making it an excellent option for budding aerial photographers rather than experienced professionals.
Read the full review: DJI Phantom 4
The Bebop 2 is a mid-range offering which won’t break the bank yet offers a surprising amount of features for the price. The camera utilises a fisheye lens, and stabilization software removes the need for a gimbal; combined with the intelligent construction of the chassis, which uses rubber dampeners to reduce vibration in-flight, this results in video footage that’s refreshingly judder-free.
If you’re feeling especially flush you can take the Bebop 2 to the next level by purchasing the optional flight controller and FPV headset. The former connects to your smartphone and offers proper flight controls, while the latter uses your phone’s screen to present a first-person view of what the Bebop 2 is actually seeing. It’s initially quite jarring to fly the device in this fashion, but after a while you’ll wish all drones came with such an accessory.
On the downside, Parrot has locked away some of the Bebop 2’s more interesting features, such as route planning and ‘follow me’ functionality, behind a paywall, which means the cost increases further if you want to use these. Battery life is also somewhat disappointing, so it may be worth investing in a spare power cell.
The Mavic Pro is the smallest drone in DJI’s lineup, and features folding arms so it can be stowed away in your bag. Don’t let its diminutive size fool you though – this pint-sized flyer boasts the kind of performance that DJI’s other drones are famous for.
The camera is mounted on a gimbal, which is unusual for drones of this size. It delivers fantastic results with both photos and video in good lighting, although the small size of the sensor means low-light shooting can sometimes be tricky. The Mavic Pro has a top speed of around 40mph, so it’s no slouch in that department, and the battery is good for around 20 to 25 minutes of aerial action.
As is the case with other DJI drones, the Mavic Pro comes with a dedicated remote control that uses your phone’s display to show you exactly what the device is seeing. Range is quoted as being over 4 miles, giving you the opportunity to capture some amazing stills and video without worrying about the connection dropping.
Read the hands-on review: DJI Mavic Pro
It’s rare for a company to put the looks of its drone ahead of core functionality, but the Xiro Xplorer V certainly looks unique, especially when it’s up in the air. This device really does look the business thanks to its sharp edges, LED lighting and fetching camo color scheme. All of this fits nearly into a specially designed backpack, which is an optional extra but comes highly recommended.
Like the Parrot Bebop 2, the Xiro Xplorer V uses a fisheye lens to grab wide shots and capture stable video footage. Sadly the implementation of this lens isn’t as impressive as on Parrot’s drone, and there’s quite a bit of distortion towards the edges of the frame, especially during video recording.
That aside, the Xplorer V is recommended purchase, especially when you consider that it’s priced a little lower than some of its rivals. Battery life is good as well, topping out at around 25 minutes per charge.
This is the smallest drone featured in this list, and also one of the cheapest. Despite its humble status (and rather odd name) the Dobby is a surprisingly powerful and versatile piece of kit. Pitched by ZeroTech as a ‘selfie drone’, it’s small enough to fit in your bag, which gives it an advantage over many drones, which are often too large to be carried around easily.
The small size of the Dobby means it gets battered around in strong winds, but on a good day its performance is impressive. It’s controlled via a smartphone application and features such as orbital moves, object tracking and facial recognition are all included as standard, and are easy to execute. The drone’s audio and visual sensors, fixed on its underside, mean you can perform palm take-offs and landings, and you can use it indoors.
For such a small drone it should come as no surprise to learn that stamina is perhaps the biggest sticking point with the Dobby – the battery lasts between five and 10 minutes, depending on variables such as wind speed and recording time. Photo and video quality are also a step down from some of the more expensive drones on this list.
By Damien McFerran
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