Drones are big business. Currently, non-military drones are a billion dollar industry and growing. There are hundreds of drones available, and with so many options and features, trying to figure out which drone is best for you can be a difficult task.
From RC toys to professional rigs the size of small cars, drones can be specialized to specific tasks and functions. Determining what you will use your drone for will help make your decision much easier. Filmmakers use drones to capture shots never before seen by audiences. Action sports use drones to capture amazing runs and tricks while law enforcement use drones to protect property and gain insight into tactical situations. Amazon’s delivery drones are making their promise of quick and convenient shopping a reality. We’ve identified a number of drones below that would be suitable for beginners, amateur filmmakers, and more!
If you’re interested in learning how to pilot your drone to capture the best shots possible, we are excited to offer Aerial Cinematography this summer to help you learn the skills and workflows necessary to become a professional drone operator and filmmaker.
Best Drone Under $100: SYMA X5UW ($89.99)
In this category, there are far more drones than there were just a few years ago. Some features to look for in this category include a camera to capture those lofty views, a 6-axis gyro to keep the drone stable in the air, a large enough battery for a reasonable flight time of around 8-12 minutes, and the ability to view what the camera is capturing from the ground. For the camera, we recommend at least a 2 MP camera to capture an image suitable for sharing on Instagram. With some drones, you can unmount the camera and replace it with your own GoPro or Mobius action sports camera for even better quality or take it off completely for a longer flight time.
Piloting drones for the first time can be a tricky experience. A 6-axis gyro stability system will help keep your drone in the air, especially in windy conditions. It also helps beginner pilots gain control and confidence behind the sticks. Batteries are a tricky component at this price bracket, as even the best drones will only get, at most, 12 minutes of flight time. Make sure your battery is large enough, but also look for the option to replace the battery (and keep extras around) or charge it quickly. Finally, if your drone has a camera, you’re going to want to see what the camera is looking at while its up in the air. Some drones have apps that connect to your phone to allow you to view the camera feed, or offer a screen in the controller. If filming and photography is your passion, this is an essential feature. We’ve chosen the SYMA X5UW as our choice for best drone under $100 as it balances the features we like for beginners while also offering room to grow piloting skills and functionality.
Best Beginner Filmmaking Drone: DJI Phantom 3 Standard (Refurbished) ($399)
For this category, we looked at the best drone in the mid-level pricing tier that would be suitable for a filmmaker. The camera’s has to be able to record in HD with a suitable gimbal to give it stability and prevent the “jello” effect. The drone should also give the pilot a good view of the camera feed in order to get the perfect shot for their short film or video. Preferably, these drones will be able to mount an action camera such as a GoPro. Additionally, these drones should have a good flight time and range powered by a good battery that can be swapped out on set.
We’ve chosen the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, which is an older DJI drone, but still one of the best. We highly recommend finding a refurbished drone, as this will be cheaper than a full-priced model, but still come with all the great features that make DJI the premier drone manufacturer. The controls on the DJI are easy to use and offer some great flight assistance. The controller has a mount on it for your phone in order for the pilot to view the camera feed. The drone also tracks its GPS coordinates so it can fly back to its take-off location if it ever flies out of range or a signal is lost. The camera also offers great quality, capturing 2.7k HD video thats stable and usable for any film projects you may be working on.
Best Top-Tier Filmmaking Drone: DJI Mavic Pro ($999)
For this category, I asked our Aerial Cinematography curriculum developer what drone they would be suggesting to their students. Ben Dominguez, a long-time DMA instructor, teaching assistant, and student, has been shooting with drones for years and has developed a preference and taste for a number of different drones. Ben suggests the DJI Mavic Pro drone because of how full-featured it is for the price. It is comparable with the top-of-the-line DJI Phantom drones, but with a few notable exception that make it the perfect drone for an aspiring drone filmmaker. The DJI Mavic can be folded and placed into a backpack with ease, making it an amazing option for amateur filmmakers who don’t want to carry around lots of equipment or are filming in hard to reach areas. The Mavic has an incredibly long range and can beam back HD video from up to 4 miles away. With a 27 minute flight time, its also one of the longest running drones. The sensors monitor the area around the drone which also allows it to avoid obstacles during its flight, which can get up to speeds of 22 mph. The camera also offers 4k video at 30fps, and is stabilized by an amazing gyro. Its an absolutely fantastic drone and tops our list for so many reasons. Learn how to pilot this drone, or one of the others in this list, this summer with Ben in our Aerial Cinematography class!