These days, whether you’re wanting to pick up photography as a hobby or start your own small business, having access to a high-quality photography drone has the potential to really set your work apart from the competition. Drone-based photography can allow for beautiful photos and videos, but upfront investments in this cutting-edge technology can be extremely expensive, especially for those on a tight budget. At the same time, not all drones are created equal, and just because a particular model is priced higher doesn’t mean that it will yield aerial photos or videos that are any better than more affordable competitors. With these factors in mind, we’ve curated a list of the top five photography drones that represent a reasonable investment on almost any budget.
Key features to keep in mind:
Before we jump into reviewing each of the drones we have selected, let’s cover some key features that those in the market for a new photography drone should always keep in mind:
- Camera Quality: As all of the drones on this list are manufactured with photography or videography in mind, the camera quality available onboard the drone is of utmost importance. After all, what good is a drone to a photographer if it can fly well, but can’t take a decent picture?
- User Friendliness: As an aspiring drone photographer, chances are that flying your new drone is not going to be your main priority. With this in mind, we plan on factoring in whether or not each drone offers a user-friendly interface to potential pilots, with extra consideration given to features that help to automate aspects of the flying process.
- Flyability in Rough Weather: This could be considered to be a part of a drone’s user-friendliness. However, for this category, we plan on paying extra attention to how well a particular drone can perform in adverse weather conditions. Oftentimes, photo or video shoots will be on-location in areas that have the potential for wind or rain, so knowing how your drone will perform under these conditions is of utmost importance for aspiring photography drone pilots.
- Registration Needed?: In many countries, government regulators are now requiring drone pilots to register their vehicles with agencies such as the United States of America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This shouldn’t be too much of a stressor for those in the market for a new photography drone, as the registration process is oftentimes quick and easy. However, it is still good to be aware of whether or not your drone needs to be registered, and so we plan on making a brief mention of this aspect within each review.
With the key features that we will be keeping in mind throughout our reviews now defined, let’s jump right in.
Best Drones for Photography
1. GoPro Karma Quadcopter
As the only drone on this list offered from GoPro, the makers of arguably the best action cameras on the market, this drone presents an intriguing value proposition to those who already own a GoPro camera. As the drone does not have a built-in camera, it is dependent on users supplying their own GoPro or purchasing one bundled with the drone itself.
Camera quality: With the camera utilized by this drone being either the GoPro Hero 4 or Hero 5 or Hero 6, users can think of this drone as one large, expensive GoPro mount. The camera quality is exactly what you’d expect from a GoPro camera, just placed within a drone chassis and able to fly to unique locations not possible with typical GoPro mounts. With this being said, the camera is probably best suited for action footage, such as live sporting events, as this has been shown to be the area where GoPro really shines.
User Friendliness: Unfortunately, this particular model hasn’t proven to be the most user-friendly option available for new drone pilots. In fact, many features that now come standard on other drones, such as collision detection and the ability to follow the user or a particular subject are sorely lacking on this model. However, the controller is quite robust, with an onboard screen for following live stream video, and fits well in the hand. It is important to note that this particular model only has a fly-time battery life of about 18 minutes.
Flyability in Rough Weather: As this model is about the same size and weight as the DJI Phantom 4, it is more than capable of handling well in light to moderate wind and rain. In addition to being highly durable, users have reported that despite this model’s lack of advanced features, it is in fact very easy to fly and control, even in less than ideal weather conditions.
Registration Needed?: Yes, users are required to register this drone with the FAA.
2. DJI Mavic Pro
In recent years, DJI has become what many consider to be the standard for photography drones. So, how does one of their newest offerings measure up?
Camera quality: An onboard, 4K camera allows users to capture beautiful aerial footage in the highest resolution currently available. This quality is complemented by DJI’s proprietary gimbal assembly, which helps to ensure that steady and clear footage is guaranteed from this drone, regardless of your flight pattern or the current weather conditions.
User Friendliness: This drone is jam-packed with user-friendly features, such as Intelligent Flight Modes, which nearly automate the flying process in some cases so you can focus on capturing the best pictures and video possible. With a sturdy design that is very easy to transport, this drone may be hard to beat when it comes to user-friendliness.
Flyability in Rough Weather: With a crazy long range of 8.1 miles, a flight time of 30 minutes, and lots of in-flight stability features built-in, this drone is a great option for those that know they will be flying in adverse weather often. Additionally, the robust camera gimbal helps to ensure that quality photography or videography is possible, regardless of the current weather conditions.
Registration Needed?: Yes, users must register this drone with the FAA.
3. Parrot Bebop 2
While a lesser-known manufacturer, Parrot makes some great drones aimed at hobbyist photographers. Yet, the original Bebop was plagued with issues that made it cumbersome to use. So, how does the Bebop 2 compare to its predecessor and the other drones on this list?
Camera quality: Parrot takes a unique approach with the Bebop 2’s camera. The camera is actually front-mounted fisheye lens capable of shooting 1080p video or 14-megapixel pictures. Interestingly, Parrot relies on a software package to turn the fisheye footage into footage that is more typical of a normal camera. Despite being mounted in place, users are able to pan and tilt the camera angle with ease thanks to the proprietary software package utilized.
User Friendliness: While not the most user-friendly drone, it is much improved when compared to its predecessor, the original Bebop. While the original had a cumbersome battery removal process, the same process has been streamlined on the Bebop 2, earning it extra points. The controller is ergonomic and comfortable to hold for long periods of time.
Flyability in Rough Weather: As a lighter drone, users have reported that the Bebop 2 does not handle well in inclement weather. While successful flights have been recorded in light wind, it is important to note that such conditions will cause the estimated flight time to greatly decrease, which would limit opportunities to capture photos or video.
Registration Needed?: Yes, those who buy this drone are required to register it with the FAA before they are able to fly.
4. DJI Inspire 2
As the newest model of what many consider to be DJI’s flagship offering, the DJI Inspire 2 offers a unique combination of user-friendly features and high-quality photography capabilities. While oftentimes listed at a higher price than other drones on this list, customers can oftentimes find great deals on this model if they are patient.
Camera quality: As with DJI’s other offerings, the camera quality on this drone is second to none. While users are able to attach a wide variety of cameras to this drone, the Zenmuse camera that comes pre-bundled with this particular drone is a phenomenal choice for professionals who are willing to invest a little bit more money for some stellar features. With a 4K resolution capable of capturing both live videos and still photographs, the only thing limiting what this drone is capable of helping you to create is your own creativity.
User Friendliness: DJI is known for producing drones that anyone can fly easily, regardless of their prior experience as a drone pilot. The DJI Inspire 2 is no different, as it comes with a number of robust intelligent flight modes that allow filmmakers and videographers to worry less about controlling the drone and more about their creative endeavours. While most of the drones on this list are capable of first-person point of view (FPV) flight, the Inspire 2 is capable of providing an immersive FPV experience that is unmatched. Additionally, there are a plentiful number of accessories and upgrade options available for those interested in getting the most out of their Inspire 2. Overall, it may be difficult to find another drone that is as user-friendly as this one is in the current market.
Flyability in Rough Weather: Users have avidly reported on the Inspire 2’s extremely high level of reliability. This reliability centers on the drone’s ability to fly in any type of weather that is reasonable for drone operation. Those professionals who can’t miss a day of shooting should rest assured that they only thing keeping this drone from DJI grounded is the most extreme weather situations.
Registration Needed?: Yes, as one of the largest consumer drones currently on the market, you are certainly going to need to register the DJI Inspire 2 with the FAA before taking it out for a spin.
5. Xiro Xplorer 4K Aerial UAV
The Xiro Xplorer 4K Aerial UAV is one of the most affordable drones on our list. However, it appears that a good price might not lead to a recommendable photography drone. In both look and design, this drone seems to be comparable to the DJI Phantom series, which is an iconic and highly touted family of drones. However, this appears to be where the similarities end, as user reviews have not been kind to this reasonable drone.
Camera quality: While the camera is rated for 4K video, users have complained that this is not at all accurate, as the video produced from this drone is much closer to 1080p than 4K quality. The 3-axis camera stabilization system has been found to be unreliable and is prone to breaking quickly, especially if the drone lands roughly. Overall, we can’t suggest this camera to our readers in good conscious, at it seems to be okay at best, and the money spent on this drone could buy a comparable DJI or Parrot product (or two) that would allow for a far better video and picture quality.
User Friendliness: Just as the camera quality is lacking for the Xiro Xplorer 4K Aerial UAV, so too is the user-friendliness. This drone is notorious for breaking easily and doesn’t appear to come close to matching the durability of its competition. In addition to this fact, multiple different users have reported that this drone is plagued by software bugs, and sometimes incapable of taking off at all due to these issues and the lack of proper documentation for troubleshooting.
Flyability in Rough Weather: While we couldn’t find much user feedback on its ability to fly in inclement weather, those who have tried to do so have not had much success. It is not suggestable to even try to fly this drone in poor weather conditions, as its subpar durability could easily make a bad day worse if a crash occurs due to poor visibility.
Registration Needed?: Yes, users who choose to purchase this drone (at their own risk) must register it with the FAA before first flight.
Final Verdict: Which Drone is Best for You?
While finalizing your decision on which drone to purchase, it is important to keep its intended use in mind. Are you an entrepreneur who is looking to start a small drone photography business, or a hobbyist who wants a photography drone for weekend adventures? In an effort to help aid with your decision making, here are what we believe to be the best drone options for both professionals and hobbyists.
Best Drone for Professionals: The DJI Inspire 2
The best photography drone on our list for professionals willing to invest a little bit of money in a great tool is the DJI Inspire 2, hands down. With a great suite of features such as numerous intelligent flight modes, a strong history of reliability, and a pre-bundled camera that is second-to-none in quality, this is the clear choice for those willing and able to shell out a little bit of extra money for a fantastic photography drone.
While not mentioned in the earlier review of the DJI Inspire 2, it is important to note that DJI’s drones typically come with a fantastic user warranty. In fact, if you somehow crash and destroy your drone, DJI is willing and able to send you a replacement model under most circumstances. Such information is good to know, especially when making such an expensive investment, as having some piece of mind while operating this creative beast of a drone will allow you the freedom to use it to the fullest extent of its capabilities.
Best Drone for Hobbyists: The Parrot Bebop 2
With a unique combination of flyability, quality video, and value, the Parrot Bebop 2 is a great choice for hobbyists who are looking to get started with drone photography or videography. A strong camera offering pairs well with an easy to operate interface that will allow you to spend less time worrying about how to fly the Bebop 2 and more time enjoying the great photos and videos you are able to take with it.
For those that do decide to purchase the Parrot Bebop 2, we highly suggest opting for the Skytroller when shopping for a controller. As one of the highest quality controllers available for a drone in this price range, the Skytroller is able to pair professional controls with live-stream video playback capabilities, all for an extremely affordable price. The best part about the Skytroller is the fact that if you choose to upgrade and purchase one of Parrot’s higher-end offerings, or simply buy the next iteration of the Bebop when it becomes available, you won’t have to worry about purchasing another controller, which will likely help to save money in the long run.