Best Drone Cameras 2019 – Complete Buyer’s Guide and Review
Drone tech keeps expanding, providing higher quality optics and even easy handling. As hundreds of civilians and military companies expand their product line we are slowly moving towards a modular system of drones where you can mix and match your parts. That isn’t happening yet so for now single system units are the best choice.
Why Listen to Me?
In May 2015 I started using my drone in the off season (main business involves outdoor movie systems) and started filming aerial photography for several real estate agents selling exclusive lakeside homes. The videos helped potential buyers a feel for how the property was situated and also the actual size of the lot.
Fast forward 2 years later and we have a full-fledged business going now run by my eighteen year old son. Our business films promotional videos for a wide range of industries.We’ve gone through 16 drones at this point. Some just broke, others were to expensive to fix and one was even attacked by an Eagle (true story).
We always look for the highest quality optics systems to get the best footage for our clients. The range of cameras has really expanded and now for under $1000 you can get access to extremely high quality systems.
How to Use This Guide
At the top you’ll find my top two recommended options below that you’ll find 5-6 other choices that are all decent but aren’t the “best”. I’ll assign a score to each one and highlight what I like about them and what I don’t.
Let’s get into it. :):)
Install Your Own Camera or PreInstall?
I just want to give everyone a heads up if you’re looking for cameras to install into your drone this guide isn’t the one you want. Quadcopters or drones are either made with a camera built into the system or have a modular system where cameras can be installed onto the drone. Generally speaking the built in systems offer much higher quality video and are more stable.
Systems that involve installed cameras are good but I’ve personally found that they don’t work as well as the complete systems. Also when you add the price together you will often find that they are the same.
Recommended Use : Professional Level Photography
If you’re looking for military grade flying precision and an incredible camera made for high quality video photography you won’t beat the Mavic Pro. While it’s a bit pricey compared to other drones its video quality can’t be compared to.
Originally a Chinese product developed by Da Jiang Innovations and Science Co the Mavic Pro become very popular after the Youtube Vlogger start Casey Neistat endorsed them in several of his Q/A Youtube videos for aspiring vloggers.
We have 2 Mavic Pros which we use for our higher end video photography. Casey Neistat is also a big fan of this drone and did a pretty awesome twelve minute review which shows you the unit in action. Take a look if you want a super detailed review.
One of the things I love about this little guy is how compact it is. It’s extremely portable to pack and I’ll often put it right into my snowboarding backpack without any issues. It’s comes with a protective case and pouch. I’ve even dropped mine a few times without any issue.
The MDJ Mavic has a great transmission system with a 24-set computing core and a 4.3 mile range. The camera is securely stabilized on a 3-axis mechanical gimbal which provides an ultra secure mount to avoid an excess movement.
Fly Further Than Any Other Drone
The Mavic is one of the only drones with highly advanced internal circuity that allows for more of a transmission range than other units. This allows for HD 1080 long range and Full HD 1080 short range.
Made to Last
As drone technology progresses so does their ability to withstand collisions or the accidental bump. After you get used to flying you’ll know that you’re not gonna get a soft landing every time. There are all sorts of factors that make it pretty hard to judge how fast your landing ; wind, velocity and the controller itself. The Mavi utilizes a Flight Autonomy technology that allows the unit to automatically steer clear of obstacles and other potential dangers.
Objects will be sensed and the Mavic will either brake or hover above them avoiding any accidents.
Some older drones have a really hard time hovering, they either drift off course or aren’t able to stabilize themselves. Mavic has powerful sensors that allow it to maintain its position with the use of multiple sensors that detect its location both vertically and in a forward position. The result is an extremely steady drone that can function regardless of GPS.
Great for Travel
The size of the Mavic Pro make it a great choice for travel photography or anyone looking to shoot a location out of town. It’s easy to pack into your luggage and carry around. Travel blogger wannabes this is the one for you.
OcuSync Transmission System – Making Flying Easy
With a range of 4.3 km (7km) this system has a really simple operating system that you can master in a few days (picture below). With a speed of 40 mph (64km/hour) it’s pretty damn fast.
The system also features the patented AtiveTrack and TapFly system which follows you along and films you using extremely high quality 4k video.
The drone’s internal navigating system make avoiding trees and other large objects easy. It will automatically avoid objects in its flight path and redirect itself back on course.
Recommended Use : Sports Recording/Nature Videos (Professional Quality)
The GoPro Karma is the drone camera responsible for the majority of high end nature photography as well as lots of extreme sports videos. The only reason it’s not my top pick is the lack of “follow mode” which is a feature I find a lot of people want. Other than that it’s a great choice.
GoPro has a long history of making exceptional cameras for outdoor use. The Karma is no exception to the rule. Badass 4k video and an easy to use system have made the Karma the top choice for people looking to film their own high quality drone videos.
GoPro made a badass promo video with the Karma. While some of these scenes might seem insanely hard to film you would be surprised what kind of footage you can get with a camera like this. Add some music on the top and you have yourself a music video!
Going on a trip? No problem. Fits right inside your bag.
The Karma supports a lot of different cameras including the Hero 4, Hero 5 Black as well as any of the basic Hero Models. The attachment is pretty easy to use and has some great quality video. There is a built in stabilizer to stop that bumpy recording that sometimes happens with other units. It keeps it stable and avoids a lot of extra editing work cutting out those unstable bits of recording.
Easy to Use Interface
It’s incredibly easy to use with very intuitive controls and a pretty simple UX. The app Passenger is acts as the main interface for the camera. Anyone who knows how to use a regular GoPro will find it’s a very similar system.
Recommended Use : Sports Recording/Nature Videos (Professional Quality)
Another DJI product that brings some serious camera firepower to the game. Not much to bad to say about the DJI. Great quality drone that comes 4k ready with a built-in stabilizer. Not sure about what makes the DJI so good at recording colors but I find that anything I record with this just “pops” really well.
If you take some time to edit the colors on your recording you can create some seriously kickass effects. This is a music video remix we helped make all of the camera work was done with the DJI. We filmed this over a few and the video quality remained the same despite the alternating sun/wind/cloud conditions.
Yup, the DJI is pricey but check out our video we submitted to Epic Drone Videos . Boom!
I personally find this a bit better than the Phantom 4 which has stolen a huge market share of the drone market thanks to their aggressive sponsorship and advertising. The DJI also comes with two controllers which is helpful if you’re worried about the signal cutting out on longer range shots.
Navigation and Flying System
Below is a quick picture of the navigation system. I won’t lie it will take a little bit of time to get used to the DJI just like it would to get used to using high end DSLR. With more functionality comes more power.
That being said, it’s not overly complicated. Give yourself two weeks of test flying and you’ll be used to it pretty quickly. The DJI hooks right up to your iPhone or Android device and you can get a live feed of whatever it is your filming. It streams pretty fast without any noticeable lag.
The the DJI is pretty light and its arms/wings (whatever you want to call them) are made of a lightweight alloy that is also extremely strong. Although some people occasionally worry that the arms will intrude in the video – they definitely won’t.
The only issue with the DJI is the battery. You’re looking at just under 20 minutes of constant flying around back and forth. That’s a little bit lower than some of the other models we covered. You might be thinking that 20 minutes isn’t much but when you’re practicing you’ll definitely be putting in a hell of a lot more time than that. I’m sure DJI is going to come up with an upgraded battery in the future but for now that’s how it is.
The Other Guys – Additional Drone Camera Reviews
The below models are all products I’ve used before and while they are definitely pretty good they aren’t the best. If you’re reading this page it’s probably because you searched for the “best drone cameras” well… the below models definitely aren’t the best but they still work well.
Recommended Use : Good All Around Drone Camera/ Not Portable
This is a good mid range drone despite the fact that it’s often advertised as a high end drone. I would tend to somewhat disagree for a few reasons. Let me explain them below…
- Color Quality – I’ve filmed on the Yuneec in sun, cloudy conditions and regular daylight conditions and I find the color quality slightly lacking.
- Not Portable – The Yuneec isn’t portable and the case is just way too big. We’re talking about twice the size that it needs to be.
The Yuneec comes with a 12 megapixel camera that can record in 4k and produces some really sharp beautiful colors. The controller not the Yuneec has a pretty interesting design that utilizing a first person view when flying. You can control the entire unit right from the visual display when flying like a video game.
The battery life is about average giving you roughly 19 mins of flying time however the basic package also comes with 2 extra batteries to ensure you have a few backups. Like I mentioned the case that comes with the unit is a little too big. This makes it less than idea for anyone that is looking for a high end drone for traveling.
One of the coolest things about the Yuneec is it’s nav system. It comes with a system called the “waypoint navigation” system that utilizes GPS and a built in tracker in the remote to know exactly where you are. Other units have this but the Yuneec is supposedly better than anything else on the market. I haven’t actually tested the ability of different navigation systems that rigorously so I’m not in a position to say which drone has the best system.
Here’s a video of the Yuneec is action. Pretty damn nice.
5. 3D Robotics Solo – The Best Drone Camera for the Money
Recommended Use : Good All Around Drone Camera/ Not Portable
The 3D Robotics is a newer brand that wants to fill the discount yet high quality drone category. There is nothing bad to say about the 3D Robotics Solo and also nothing exceptionally wonderful to say either.
It’s a great value drone that can definitely hold its own when compared to other units. Quick heads up forpeople looking to get a drone with an integrated camera system, the 3D Robotics Solo requires a camera to be installed. You’ll need to buy the camera separate for this one, any Hero version of the goPro will work well.
I just wanted to list this one as the drone itself is actually a great choice and works very well. It’s easy to use, flies well and has a great navigation system. Getting the 3D Robotics Solo and attaching a goPro onto it will save you considerable money.
So if you want to save money get this unit and just add a camera on it. You can upgrade and get the “Gimbal Bundle”, it comes with all the tools you’ll need need and also a case as well.
3D Robotics Navigation System
The navigation system is really easy to use and has a great follow me function which will allow you film yourself while walking around. The UX is really easy to use comes a mobile app and a host of other cool features to get you going.
Bottom line, if you’re looking to save money and have a good camera drone this is your best bet.
6. Parrot AR Drone 2.0 – Best Middle of the Line Drone with Camera
I wanted to add one last model in here that is both economical and also not so insanely expensive. The clear winner in that category is the Parrot AR Drone. This unit offers a good starting point for any beginner who wants start filming with a drone but doesn’t want to go out and spend $1500 doing so.
First off the Parrot is a pretty popular item and I believe is one of the more commonly bought drones. It’s a tiny little guy being one of the smallest drones out on the market. Despite it’s relatively small size it’s actually pretty powerful.
Wi-Fi Powered Quadricopter
The Parrot is easy to control using either your tablet or smartphone. The UX is pretty learn and I’m confident that anyone new to drones will be able to fly it within a few days.
The unit can function in a few different modes including Freeflight and also Director Mode. With Freelight your using the primary android app to fly the drone, just like a video game.
Director’s Mode allows you to program some automatic movements into your flight path. This one is a big difficult to explain, it’s best to see it in action.
Surprisingly High End Camera for the Price
The Parrot 2.0 has a high def camera mounted on the front that will allow you to see exactly what the drone is viewing. This of it like a first person shooter game but with a drone. The Parrot has its down wifi network that allows you to stream any video feeds seamlessly. There is also a built in automatic stabilization system that allows avoids having the video become choppy or otherwise unusable. This same system also auto adjusts any video making sure that regardless of whether you filmed it inside or outside the video image is clear and sharp.
Couple Things I Like About This System:
- You can record right to your device
- Much easier to share
- Flip option – press a button and the drone flips!
The only major drawback to this unit is battery is weak. We’re talking max 12-13 minutes of flying time before it’s totally drained. So if battery is something that you look for I might avoid this unit altogether. Other than that it’s a super cheap option that would work for a lot of people.
Know Your Drones – Laws and Operating Tips
First of, not all drones are designed to hold camera modules. Just because a drone can fly it does not mean that it is automatically powerful enough to carry additional weight. Do not be surprised if your new drone will fail to take flight because you have not followed the aforementioned rule.
Even then, drones that are designed to carry cameras must still be analyzed. In some countries, drone requirements are imposed in order to operate said devices. In the United Kingdom, drones that weigh 20 kilograms and up (payload included) must have special license. If you do not have said license, you must choose a drone that weighs less than 20 kilograms with the camera module onboard.
Of course, the drone and the camera are not your only problems when choosing. You must also take into account of the additional instruments that could be essential depending on your situation. Gimbals, GPS, live feeds and the smart flight controls are additional modules or features that you may or may not need. The auto return home is also one of the best add-ons that you may need especially when the drones are far away.
As mentioned in the prior subheading, laws pertaining to the usage of drones (with cameras or none) have been passed by a number of countries. It is imperative that you must know the laws, rules and regulations about drones that are imposed in your area. Countries may have different ways on how to regulate drone usage. Even the local government in your area might have a different rule in place (or modifications). You do not want your drone to be embargoed just because you were not attentive to the rules.
Although laws may vary from place to place, there will always be some common ground in the implementation of said rules. For example, most countries would prohibit the flying of drones within the vicinity of airports. This was done in order to avoid aircraft accidents. Also refrain from using drones in crowded areas. Accidents will likely occur if there are too many variables in the element and having too many moving objects (i.e. humans) will raise the possibility of accidents.
The most important rule that you must follow is to register your drone with the proper authorities. Most countries with drone laws will ask the owners of said devices to register. Do not fail to heed this rule as failure to do so may lead to the forfeiture of your drone.
Drones just do not fly on their own. You should have a power source in order to keep your drones afloat. The only power source for most commercial drones in the market is the battery. As such, your drone must have capable batteries on board in order to use said device in the first place.
The drone must have a relatively powerful battery on board in order to power the device and the other modules in said drones. The camera module, GPS and other devices on board will also demand power.
A faulty or poor battery might bring untoward consequences like the drone falling out of the sky because the batteries inside were not powerful enough to run the whole thing.
Seeing from a Distance
Operating a drone entails that you will control the drone at a distance. As such, it is imperative to know the limits of the area that can be covered by your drone. You do not want to operate a drone without reading the manual and be subsequently surprised that you have lost contact with said device.
Take note of the signal capability of your drone. Know the limits of said signal viability. Also, invest in a good GPS module so that you will always know where your drone is. You will also need a live feed from the drone so that you will know what your drone is seeing.
As stated, drone photography is not about drones and cameras only. There are lots of stuffs that one can add on the mix in order to garner the best experience and results in drone photography. This is even made more evident because of the technology that is available today. The drones used in the prior years might be considered as obsolete, or at least barebones in its design, when compared to the drones of today.
Add-ons that can be availed by drone users are the following:
- Auto-take off (landing and braking)
- Autonomous Flight Modes
- Selfie Modes
- 360 View
- A-to-B Point Setting
- Home Mode
Making the Most of it
Getting the drone in place is just one step in the arduous process of developing a picture. You must also consider the camera and the software that fits your needs. Most cameras available for rone placement follow the mold of the GoPro line. As such, expect the camera that you will be choosing to look like a GoPro.
You must also choose the correct software of which to process your images. Taking the picture is one thing, but enhancing it to get the desired effect is another. Take note of the image formats so that your images will not be incompatible with image processing software.