In 2010, the drone market exploded with the launch of the first consumer drone, the Parrot AR.drone. But now there are hundreds of drones and camera systems to choose from. Want to get into racing? Photography? Enterprise uses? Use this drone buying guide to find the right drone for you.
For hobby and “prosumer” photographers
The DJI Mavic Air combines the best of both worlds of the Mavic Pro and Spark. It’s about the size of a Spark in flight, but folds up like the Mavic Pro to become even smaller. It has the Spark’s nifty gesture control, but it also has the Mavic Pro’s 4K video. It’s also got great safety features with a collision avoidance sensor on the front and back.
Flight time: 21 minutes
DJI Mavic Pro ($999): The DJI Mavic is everything a drone should be. It’s high quality aerial video, in a small package that will have you wanting to bring it everywhere you go. The DJI Mavic Pro wins major points simply because it is so small, light, and can easily tuck into my purse. I find myself bringing it on all my hiking trips without having to haul a huge drone around.
Flight time: 27 minutes
Autel X-Star ($799): The Autel X-Star Premium drone is an easy-to-fly quadcopter, designed for photographers. The X-Star has similar camera quality to the Mavic, but loses some points because it is quite a bit larger (and certainly won’t fit into your purse).
If you are on more of a budget, then the X-Star is an excellent drone for $200 less than what you’ll pay for the Mavic.
Flight time: 25 minutes
DJI Spark: This is the cheapest of the hobby photographer drones. At $500, the Spark is designed to be accessible, easy to use and is incredibly compact (it could fit in a large pocket)! The most incredible feature with the Spark is “gesture control,” where it can operate completely based off your gestures — no need for a remote controller.
There is an element of “you get what you pay for” with the Spark. The Spark has the lowest quality camera in this series, shooting at 1080p vs. 4k resolution for the other drones. If you are looking for high quality, 4KK images, you may want to pass with this one.
It’s also worth noting that for precise flight, you’ll want to upgrade to have the traditional RC controller, which in reality will put you at $699.
For professional photographers
DJI Inspire 2
The DJI Inspire 2 has an image processing system records at up to 5.2K in CinemaDNG RAW, Apple ProRes and more. This drone also has obstacle avoidance on two sides for safety.
It is also an ideal drone for live broadcasters, because the drone’s video can be broadcast live using its dedicated 1080i50 and 720p60 transmission signal, simply by plugging the remote controller to the satellite truck.
Flight time: 27 minutes with dual-battery system
For enterprise users (looking to start a business in mapping, surveying, etc.)
DJI Phantom 4 ($1,199): The Phantom 4 is nearly crash-proof. Two forward-facing optical sensors scan for obstacles and automatically direct the aircraft around the object if possible. A redesigned gimbal provides stability, vibration dampening, and reduced risk of propellers being seen in the frame.
- Buy it on B&H Photo for $1,199.00
- Buy it from Amazon.com for $943.98.
- Buy it directly from DJI for $1,199.00
Flight time: 28 minutes
DJI Phantom 4 Pro ($1,499): The Phantom 4 Pro is pretty similar to the Phantom 4 — but one big difference. Instead of sensors on just the front of the drone that can detect obstacles, the sensors are on all 4 sides. This could be a game changer for many professional use cases, who need that “crash-proof” piece of mind.
- Buy it from Amazon.com for $1,499
- Buy it directly from DJI for $1,499.00
- Buy it from B&H Photo for $1,499
Flight time: 30 minutes
For kids (and kids at heart)
This drone streams video quality live to your phone, so you can see what the drone sees in real time. The video quality is not amazing — but that’s to be expected for something priced that low.
Flight time: 14 minutes
AICase CX-10WD-TX Wifi Remote Control Quadcopter ($47.88): This drone is super tiny — small enough to actually fit in your pocket. This drone is an FPV drone, meaning it can live stream what the drone’s camera is seeing to your phone. I like this drone because you can control it through your phone or the remote controller (many drones in this price point do not provide a remote control option).
This drone is definitely more difficult to fly and keep stable than the UDI U818A drone, so it may be worth paying more for an easier flying experience.. Just like the UDI R/C, the video quality is not amazing, but you get what you pay for.
Flight time: 4 minutes
Aura gesture controlled drone ($99): Fascinated by the idea of gesture-controlled drones like the DJI Spark, but not willing to drop more than $100? This Aura drone from KD Interactive is controlled entirely via a glove — and it is just $99. The drone embodies the spirit of a Jedi using the Force — you don a controller on your wrist, and control it entirely with the movement of your hands.
Flight time: 5-7 minutes