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 (budget: $500-$1000)
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
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 Mavic 2: For photographers who don’t want something as bulky as the Inspire 2 but still incredible image quality, the Mavic 2 is your best bet. It folds up into the size of a water bottle, so it won’t take up much extra space in your camera bag or be a big burden if you’re bringing it out on a shoot.
The Mavic 2 Pro has a three-axis gimbal with a Hasselblad camera and 1-inch CMOS sensor and F\2.8 EQV 28mm lens, capable of capturing 4K video and 12MP images. It also includes the DJI OcuSync transmission system with a transmission of 1080p and a maximum range of up to five miles.
The Mavic 2 Pro also has a sister drone, the Mavic 2 Zoom, which utilizes a two-time optical zoom camera with a 12 MP 1/2.3” CMOS Sensor.
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)
(budget: less than $100)
Ryze Technology Tello Drone ($99): The drone is Tello, a $99 kid-friendly drone that combines DJI flight technology and an Intel processor to create a budget camera drone that also can be used to teach newbies the basics of programming. It’s a great little drone for people looking for a low-cost introduction to stunt flying and shooting videos, as well as people looking to learn how to use drones how to code. The Tello drone, which weighs just 80 grams, can fly for 13 minutes and shoot 5 megapixel photos.
Flight time: 13 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
Propel Star Wars drone ($69.95): If you’re a Star Wars fan and you like the idea of a Jedi Mind Trick drone, why not just get an actual Star Wars drone? Propel’s new line of Star Wars battle drones are essentially a basic 4-ounce toy drone that is operated via remote controller — but there’s a whole lot more to it than just that. These highly-detailed, hand-painted (and very pricey) drones are a perfect gift for the Star Wars fan in your life, and an incredible keepsake item for the collectors in your life.
Flight time: 5-7 minutes