Best Camera Drones of 2016

A List of 2016’s Best Camera Drones

Professional-quality camera drones are now a reality, and thanks to excellent drone technology, we can now take images and even videos from new angles. Back in the day, this kind of drone was mostly used by the military for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. They have lately been made available for the public and a lot of people have enjoyed the advantages of this device, not only professionals but drone enthusiasts as well. There are a range of camera drones, ranging from consumer to prosumer, professional surveying to filmmaking, and even drone racing.

This article will discuss the most popular drones with cameras on the market.

Prosumer Drones

We begin by looking at prosumer drones, a step up from consumer drones, but a step below the much more expensive professional drones. These are drones for the serious hobbyist, or someone looking for professional aerial photography and video on a budget, that doesn’t need cinematic-quality footage. The typically range from about $800 to $1500, have lots of community support, and are definitely a cut above consumer units that go for hundreds more.

DJI Phantom 4 Quadcopter

$1,199.00
$995.00
69 new from $ 994.99
49 used from $ 759.70
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as of February 21, 2017 11:01 pm

Features

  • Auto takeoff and auto return home with GPS technology, makes controlling easy. App enables monitoring/camera operation easy
  • Capture 4K ultra HD video at 30 fps, supported resolutions include: 12.0MP (4000 x 3000) photos. The f/2.8 lens with a broad field of view delivers crisp, clear images
  • Gimbal stabilization technology, along with a hover function allows you to capture smooth, clean footage while the camera is in the air
  • Use DJI director software with a built-in video editor to add music, text, and more to your videos.

DJI is the granddaddy of camera drones. Having dominated for years with its Phantom line, it has also expanded into professional camera drones with the Inspire 1. But they haven't let their most well-known brand linger. Have reached a zenith with the Phantom 3, DJI had a high bar to clear to beat their own product. With the Phantom 4, they were able to. Some of the vaunted features of the Phantom 4, that previous models lack, are as follows:

The Phantom 4 includes several sensors that allow it to survey its surroundings and automatically adjust itself to prevent collisions with objects in its way. This is fantastic for its subject tracking mode, a one-touch feature that allows it to follow you while you do whatever it is you want filmed. With collision avoidance you don’t have to worry about your drone running into something while you’re not looking.

Its picture quality is so good that DJI had to upgrade the Inspire 1 to a version 2.0 model with an enhanced new camera (the X3) to surpass it. That’s one heck of an endorsement, given that this drone goes for under $1500. The Phantom 4 is quite simply the pinnacle of prosumer camera drones, and one that you can feel good about purchasing. DJI has hit a home run.

Additional advantages the Phantom 4 holds:

  • Collision avoidance
  • 3.1 mile operation
  • Longer battery life (up to 28 minutes)
  • Subject tracking (follow me)
  • 10 mph faster than the Phantom 3
  • Superior image quality to the much pricier Inspire 1 (V1.0)

Enjoy some sample footage:

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DJI Mavic Pro

$999.00
10 new from $ 999.00
1 used from $ 924.08
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as of February 21, 2017 11:01 pm

Features

  • The DJI Mavic Pro folds down as small as a bottle of water, making it small enough to bring with you everywhere.
  • New OcuSync transmission system offers up to 4.3 miles (7km) of transmission range. Fly at up to 40mph (64kmh) or for as long as 27-minutes.
  • ActiveTrack, TapFly and other smart features make professional looking video effortless. True 4K, fully stabilized ensures smooth footage
  • Obstacle Avoidance combined with sensor redundancy increases flight safety and reliability.
  • Vision positioning paired with GPS and GLONASS ensures precise positioning indoor and outdoors.

Product Description

Wherever You Go The DJI Mavic Pro is a small yet powerful drone that turns the sky into your creative canvass easily and without worry, helping you make every moment an aerial moment. Its compact size hides a high degree of complexity that makes it one of DJI’s most sophisticated flying cameras ever. 24 high-performance computing cores, an all-new transmission system with a 4.3mi (7Km) range, 4 vision sensors, and a 4K camera stabilized by a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, are at your command with just a push of your thumb or a tap of your finger. POWERFUL Fly for miles. From your pocket. Inside the Mavic’s pocket-sized remote controller is DJI’s brand new OcuSync transmission technology, with a range of 4.3mi (7km) and Full HD 1080p video streaming. No bumps and scrapes When you know what’s in front of you, you won’t bump into it. The same is true of the Mavic. Using Flight Autonomy it can see obstacles as far away as 49ft (15m) in front, so that it can fly at up to 22mph (36kph) while avoiding the things it sees. Absolute Precision Flight Autonomy technology means the Mavic can hover precisely in more environments, and automatically land almost exactly where you took off. Stay flying longer Why fly for 10 or 15 minutes when you can fly for up to 27? With the Mavic you can. Use every single pixel The Mavic is the only drone of its size to carry an integrated high-precision 3-axis mechanical camera stabilization system, giving you crystal clear photos and smooth videos, without losing a single pixel.

The range alone opens up new possibilities for creating amazing footage, allowing you to fly where you never could before. But when DJI put in a completely new camera that equals that of all but the priciest Inspire 2, that goes for several times more money, they made the Mavic Pro a serious contendor for one of the best drones with cameras on the market. It’s already one of our favorite drones, and we  think it’s worthy of  your consideration, too.

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Autel Robotics X-Star Premium Drone with 4K Camera, 1.2-Mile HD Live View & Hard Case (Orange)

$1,199.00
$789.01
11 new from $ 739.00
3 used from $ 380.10
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as of February 21, 2017 11:01 pm

Features

  • 4K Ultra HD video camera with quick-release 3-axis gimbal stabilizer
  • HD Live View up to 1.2 miles away and autonomous flight modes via the free Starlink app for iOS or Android (mobile device sold separately)
  • Dual GPS/GLONASS outdoor navigation, SecureFlyTM magnetic interference protection, and the Starpoint Positioning SystemTM
  • Intuitive remote controller with LCD display and one-touch action buttons
  • Included accessories: Premium hard case, 64-GB MicroSD card, intelligent battery, 1-hour fast charger, spare propellers and small parts

Autel burst onto the scene earlier this year with three drones, the X-Star, X-Star Premium, and X-Star Go. While the X-Star Go was designed to be outfitted with an aftermarket GoPro camera, and was discontinued almost immediately, the other two models came with their own camera. Essentially the same model as the standard version in almost ever way, the Premium doubles the controllable distance for 1.2 miles of travel; its control frequency is unlike any other in its class, which allows for this amazing distance. Only the Phantom 4 can beat this, which, admittedly, is much further at 3.1 miles, but you'll pay for it. Coupled with the Autel's 2-4 minutes longer flight duration than the DJI Phantom 3, and its included 64GB MicroSD card (DJI includes 16GB,) Autel has been a very viable alternative to DJI's lineup. Autel also includes a robust carrying case for its Premium model.

Both models feature the same camera, so if you’re looking to save a few bucks, and don’t need the extra distance, go ahead and get the standard model. Both offer advanced autopilot flight modes like Follow, Orbit, or Waypoints. Its GPS and GLONASS navigation systems make it extremely accurate in place hold and waypoint mode.

Autel has received acclaim from the community for its 7 day a week, US-based support team.

Here’s some beautiful footage for your consideration:

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DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter 4K UHD Video Camera Drone

$1,359.00
$799.00
44 new from $ 784.99
27 used from $ 650.00
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amazon.com
as of February 21, 2017 11:01 pm

Features

  • 4k UHD video recording with fully stabilized 3-axis gimbal; Vision Positioning system allows stable flight indoors
  • Lightbridge digital streaming allows live viewing of 720p video (full resolution video is simultaneously recorded on the internal microSD card)
  • Included flight battery and rechargable remote controller means this system is ready to fly out of the box. Fying this product is restricted within 15 miles radius of the White House.
  • DJI Pilot app for iOS and Android allows live viewing and complete camera control (phone/tablet sold separately; see DJI's website for compatible models)
  • **VERY IMPORTANT** Kindly refer all the Tutorial Videos given in the Image Section on the Catalog before use for the proper training.

While the latest DJI Phantom 4 is getting a lot of attention, one cannot ignore the price drop of the DJI Phantom 3 line that make them very attractive for those looking for quality at a reduced price. The DJI Phantom 3, due to its fantastic performance, is always included on many aerial photography enthusiasts’ lists. They are pretty straightforward to assemble, are easy to fly and its already stabilized camera takes excellent 4K videography. It is high priced though, and can only accommodate 20 minutes of flight time, thus spare batteries are a requirement if you want to take more images, which adds to the overall cost. In spite of this, because of the simple work it requires and superior images it provides, the Phantom 3 Professional is a must for any individual who wants to get a head start on aerial videography/photography.

Some beautiful Phantom 3 Professional footage:

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Yuneec Q500 4K Typhoon Quadcopter Drone RTF Aluminum Case with CGO3 Camera+ST10+ Steady Grip

$1,299.99
$799.00
16 new from $ 799.00
10 used from $ 380.10
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as of February 21, 2017 11:01 pm

Features

  • Personal Ground Station with built-in touchscreen
  • Integrated 3-axis precision gimbal camera
  • 4K/30fps ultra high definition video, 1080p/120fps slow motion video
  • User controlled video resolution, white balance and light exposure, 12 megapixel photos with No-Distortion Lens
  • Handheld SteadyGrip for capturing video footage

The Q500 4K from YUNEEC is a ready-to-fly (RTF) unit that comes with a CGO3 camera and UHD resolution. These advanced elements give way to superior-quality pictures and the unit itself is capable of delivering slow motion 1080p resolution at 120fps, and can deliver 12 mega pixel images. Now you can take images with excellent detailing and a realism that is pro level. This unit is also known for its Watch Me mode, which makes flying the model easy and straightforward. You can also set up the unit to keep track of you anywhere you go for selfies and videos. It's one of the best camera drones for the money. Its picture quality rivals the Phantom 3, and Yuneec's support and upgraded firmware have received acclaim from many owners. At its price, it competes with the Autel X-Star for best prosumer camera drone in its class.

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Hubsan H109S X4 Pro 5.8GHz FPV With 1080P HD Camera 6 Axis Gyro and 3 Axis Gimbal Rotation GPS RC Quadcopter Middle Edition

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as of February 21, 2017 11:01 pm

Features

  • Hubsan quadcopter 4 channels and 5.8GHz transmitter FPV & 2.4GHz receiver.
  • 1080P HD Camera real time FPV ,adjustable visual shooting .
  • Latest GPS locating system ,headless mode and altitude mode ,automatic return ,follow me function .
  • 3 Axis Gimbal Rotation and latest 6-axis flight control system with adjustable gyro sensitivity.
  • Standard edition controller multi-function FPV remote controll FPV1 .

The Hubsan X4 Pro Middle Edition may be the lowest priced camera drone we'd consider to still be prosumer. It doesn't feature a 4K camera, but it does have a 3-axis  gimbal for its better than average 1080p camera. Be sure not to fall for the cheaper models that only feature 1-axis gimbals! The videos at the beginning of this article will show you that the 1-axis model is wholly unsuited to aerial photography and video. The Hubsan X4 Pro camera drone differs from the DJI and Autel models in that it includes a display for FPV mode, lilke the Yuneec Q500. You do not need to use your phone or a tablet for the video downlink. The controller is essentially an android tablet and performs all manner of control functions and displays flight information as well. The Hubsan X4 Pro boasts some of the longest battery life in this list, with up to 30 minutes, and features advanced flight modes as well. Its dropping price makes for an alluring choice, especially if 4K is not on your checklist.

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Important factors to take into account before buying

Range

A standard camera drone includes a range starting at 50 meters up to 100. High-end ones usually feature a range of up to 1/2 mile. But range can vary for both control and streaming video back to the pilot. The effective range of a drone can be limited by this unless you are configuring your drone for a pilotless, waypoint-driven flight, where it will rely on its GPS for guidance. Typically, this scenario is not right for those doing aerial photography and video (AVP), due to not being able to frame shots in real-tme.

Camera quality

The majority of drones include a camera, even drones for kids, but if you intend on using the unit to take high-quality pictures or videos, it is important to pay attention to the specifications and abilities of the included camera. Some models share the same sensors, but their enclosures and lenses, as well as post-processing capabilities may separate them in final picture quality. Other drones have inter-changeable cameras, and some other drones have the capabilities of mounting tradition professional cameras that are typically used on the ground. Many professional drones allow for two pilot control, where one flies the drone, and the other controls the camera.

Gimbal

A gimbal is responsible for stabilizing images while the drone is on flight. It also keeps the camera from vibrating to give better quality pictures. There are several types of gimbals, that range from one axis, to three axis in stabilization. Gimbals combat the natural yaw (spinning), roll (leaning left or right), and pitch (leaning forward or back) that comes with piloting the drone, or combating gusting wind. A gimbal may also be used to reposition the camera for better shots or angles. A gimbal may be limited in control range, and may or may not be able to sping 360 degrees, or angle the camera up or down to shoot straight forward and straight backwards. Typically, pilots can easily work around these limitations. For the best camera drones, look for 3-axis stabilization, although 2-axis can give an equally stable picture, just with less flexibility. We typically do not recommend single-axis stabilization gimbals for those looking for excellent video quality.

Here is a great example of a drone (Hubsan X4 Pro) with the same camera mounted on a 1 axis (“Low” model) vs 3 axis (“High Model”) gimbal:

Flight time

Affordable models only have a limited amount flight time, ranging from 5-7 minutes. More expensive models’ flight times can range from 10-15 minutes, while high-end ones are longer, from 17-25 minutes. Most of the best camera drones of 2016 feature flight times of well over two hours.

Charging time

Recharging the battery for most brands clock in about 1-2 hours. Get an external charger and several extra batteries for critical shoots is a wise thing to do.

Price

Prices vary, and a unit’s price is often dictated by its number of features. The more features a camera drone has, the more expensive it will be. But if you are serious with your photography and videography plans, or have been in the business for a while, it is okay to splurge on a more expensive unit with better image-taking features. Models like the Phantom 4 start under $1500, but professional models can easily reach into the several thousand-dollar range.

Advanced Flight Features

Many of these features don’t necessarily make for a better picture, but they do make for an easier time piloting your drone, and allow you to focus on getting the shots you want to get.

  • Ready To Fly – this basically means that the drone is pre-assembled, with very little configuration necessary before flight. All you need to do is charge a battery, calibrate the drone for GPS, and off you go. These days, most of the drones that AREN’T ready to fly (RTF) are racing drones that come in kits.
  • Bind And Fly – this is a drone that is RTF but doesn’t come with a controller. You’ll need to supply your own compatible controller.
  • GPS Compatible – the drone can be connected to a GPS system, tracking where it is always within its greatest operating range.
  • Altitude Hold – this is one of the more desired features for someone that wants to focus on filming and not flying. Altitude hold will automatically adjust thrust to account for the loss in lift associated with pitching forward to achieve forward movement. Without altitude hold the drone would naturally lose altitude without increasing thrust. There are sensors on board that allow it to carry this out, typically two: ultra sonic for low level, and barometric for greater heights. These are combined with an accelerometer to control altitude.
  • Position Hold – an advanced mode that incorporates altitude hold with GPS to keep a drone in place, regardless of wind gusts (to an extent.)
  • Flight Planning – allows you to pre-program your drone’s flight path prior to launch. Once planned, the drone will automatically follow the waypoints you have set. Requires GPS.
  • Autonomous Flight – when a drone can fly itself without user input. Typically used in conjunction with flight planning, but may be associated with automatic recover modes like return to home or automatic landings.
  • Return To Home – if you lose sight of your drone, or lose signal, the drone is able to return to its point of origin without user input. This can be initiated by the user (you’ll see the term ‘one-click return to home) or by the drone itself if it senses it has lost connection with the controller. This is an excellent thing to have for both beginners and pros who own very expensive drones.
  • Collision Avoidance – a relatively new feature that is making its way into the drone market and allows the drone to automatically adjust its flight to avoid tree branches, buildings, and other obstacles to flight. Typically found on more expensive drones, it’s making its way into models under $2000, like the Yuneec Typhoon H or the DJI Phantom 4.
  • Headless Mode – a very useful flight mode for those that may become disoriented while flying any R/C aircraft. Instead of having to keep track of the perspective of the drone while it is flying back to you, the drone’s controls always move the drone relative to the USER, not the direction of the drone. This means that even if it is facing you, and flying towards you, moving the stick left will make it fly left relative to your point of view. This is also a great mode to have for beginners, but is not always present in lower cost drones.

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