So you want to pick your first drone to start capturing beautiful photos and images like never before.
There’s an important distinction you must make when choosing a camera drone, at least if you care for not spending more money than what’s necessary.
In this guide I’ll try to help you understand the things you might want most in a drone, how expensive these are and what features might end up being just gimmicks for you.
If you want to get straight to buying your camera drone and are low on cash, better check out my top 7 camera drones under $200, trust me, you can’t go wrong with this.
What are you going to do with it?
There are many uses to a flying device with a camera attached to it. You can spy with a drone (actually that would not be feasible at all), you can take nice shots for your vacation or do some cool real estate video.
There’s simply to many uses to list, but here are the main categories of people who want such a drone:
- Professionals – who use the drone to make money either by enhancing their video or photo creations with an aerial shot or by inspecting certain hard to reach places and making money that way.
- The weekend amateur– most people fall in this category, they want a drone because it’s fun to fly and see their town from the air. Maybe they want to create a short video and post it on Facebook or show their friends where their grandparents live in the mountains.
Both these categories of people can save money on their drones, albeit the professionals might want to spend more if they intend to have a better final product.
What are the Most important features in a drone you should care about?
These are the things you should put the most emphasis when picking a camera drone. In the section bellow I’ll tell you which features might be an overkill for you and which you might need the most.
I always start with this part, because, let’s face it, drones are pretty much flying cameras and you’re interesting mostly in capturing good video that will impress or be useful.
An important feature of a drone camera (and sometimes cameras in general) is stabilization.
In most drones this is achieved with a 3 axis gimbal that work just like a chicken head to hold the camera in the same spot.
Below there’s a comparison between a stabilized video and a non-stabilized one
You can see that the image of the camera behind the gimbal is shaky, but the one on the right (filmed on the gimbal) is very smooth and cinematic.
Some bad news…
The gimbal is usually one of the most expensive parts of a drone, so the price will increase (by at least $100).
There are many drones who come with a gimbal already included with the camera and drone. DJI Drones have very high quality stabilization, but they tend to be rather expensive.
Do you really need to spend money on stabilization?
If you want to just capture aerial imagery and happen to have a gopro(or any action camera) lying around you might want to look into a cheaper drone under $100 that can hold an action camera. The best one by far I can think about is the MJX Bugs 3, that not only can fly 200m in range, but also has powerful brushless motors.
Here’s a video showing what you can do with a little effort and no gimbal:
What about camera resolution?
If you’re an amateur and want to take nice looking video, resolution might be your last concern. I’d suggest you get a drone that has at least FULL HD resolution (But most drones over $100 these days can do it).
There’s also the option of combining an action camera with a drone like we saw before.
Personally, I record at 2.7k resolution with my DJI Mavic so I can get a little more detail and be able to zoom in if I need to.
Why don’t I record in 4k, you ask?
The higher the resolution, the harder it is for a computer to edit such footage. So, I prefer the middle ground and keep my workflow smoother. Most people still don’t have 4k monitors, and trust me, 2.7k is enough…. Heck… 1080p might be enough for years to come.
Do real estate videos require more than 1080p drone video?
I’d say no, most of the time, but you should make sure the video is will stabilized and the quality of the footage is good enough.
Resolution is not all when it comes to final video quality
When buying a drone, especially if you want to use the footage commercially, you should check the sensor size and aperture of a drone. These two things will insure the footage is not grainy in low light.
Sensor size should be higher and the aperture number as low as possible. For example, DJI Mavic (price $1000) has an aperture of f2.2, which is pretty good in low light, but a Phantom 4 Professional has a bigger sensor, which makes it superior in dim environments.
Is GPS and long range worth in a camera drone?
GPS can be a life saver sometimes, but good GPS modules will also be adding quite a lot to your drone. The cheapest GPS drone that I know of which also works great is the MJX Bugs 2 or the Hubsan 501S, but keep in mind they don’t have stabilized cameras.
What can GPS do for you?
GPS will ensure your drone will not fly away and stay in a spot without you needed to constantly adjust the sticks at the first wind blow.
It can also return your drone to home when signal is lost.
This is why bigger range is also important!
If you have a range of let’s say 50m, you might not even realize when signal is lost, and if the drone doesn’t have a GPS module, it will probably drop from the sky or do a flyaway.
In terms of range, I’d say 200m is enough if you want just to scout around the neighborhood or get some shots at the beach.
Personally, I couldn’t do without at least 500m, simply because sometimes I want to capture the bigger picture or explore places I can’t go to by foot.
Now, let’s finish this article with my recommendations for different price ranges of drones and what I think you should buy:
- <$100 – MJX Bugs 3 – a powerful quadcopter that can hold an action camera and the battery lasts for 15 minutes
- >$200 – Hubsan 501s or Bugs 2 – both with GPS connection, over 1 km range and Full HD Cameras (not stabilized)
- >$400 – Xiaomi 4k drone – This is the lowest price I would go if you want all the features we’ve talked about. This drone is very good for the price, but it can be pretty big compared to others.
- >$500 – DJI Spark – Very small and inconspicuous drone that shoots stabilized video, takes 4k photos and more. It has a lot of gimmicks that can be interesting, but if you’re tight on a budget I don’t recommend it.
- >$1000 – DJI Mavic – My top pick at this price – Has all the nice features, cool flying modes, smart sensors, amazing 4k camera and is super compact. But yea, not everyone can afford it, and that’s not a problem.
- >$1600 – Phantom 4 pro – If you’re a professional and want to record in low light environments and capture very high quality footage, this is it.