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Finest digital camera drones: Images from the sky in any value bracket


What is the point of a drone? For many, a drone in the now-popular multi-rotor configuration, is an extension of a passion for RC aircraft. For others, a drone is a tool to put a camera into the sky. We are pretty passionate about the camera in the sky experience.

DJI FPV camera

Whether for personal use or for commercial application, let’s take a look at a list of our favorites, some of the best camera drones in the sky.

Jonathan Feist, Drone PilotJonathan Feist

Why trust Drone Rush?

I’ve been a fan of flight since a young age; while I’ve had few opportunities at the helm of manned aircraft, the hours on my fleet of drones continue to grow. I enjoy putting cameras into the sky, silky smooth aerial imagery makes me happy. My goal is to help all pilots enjoy flight legally and safely.

 

Before you fly: You may need a drone license, and there are laws to follow

 

Off-the-shelf consumer drones


Consumer camera drones

 

1. DJI Inspire 2: Professional drone

DJI Inspire 2: Professional drone

Drone Rush RecommendsThe DJI inspire 2 has been a leader in the camera drone market since it launched in 2016. The airframe itself offered the kind of forward-thinking features that keep the drone relevant today, and the interchangeable camera system has allowed photographers and videographers to keep up with newer standards. With up to 6K video capture, multiple lens support, advanced on-board file storage configurations, and hot-swappable batteries make the Inspire 2 a tough package to beat, especially since it sells for half the price of many competing alternatives.

 

Not only is the Inspire 2 a capable camera system, it’s also tons of fun to fly. It has a rated top speed of 58mph, and is best operated by two people one two controllers, one to pilot the craft, one to control the camera. One of the better features is the use of a dedicated FPV camera, allowing the camera to spin freely without confusing the pilot.

 

Ignoring the high-end capabilities of the Inspire 2, it’s just as safe and easy to fly as any Mavic or Phantom drone you’ve handled.

Should I buy the DJI Inspire 2?

We really like the Inspire 2. If I could afford one for my personal fleet, I would fly it every chance I get. Make no mistake, it’s too large to comfortably sling over your back to take on a hike, and it is not designed to haul high-end Hollywood cameras, which limits its market. It’s more than good enough to shoot for the studios, you’ve absolutely seen Inspire 2 aerial footage in many popular tv shows and movies in the last few years, but it ranks as more of a high-end consumer-grade professional drone than as a cinema drone.

 

If you are looking for the very best camera drone possible with a budget of up to $10,000.00, we can’t think of a better option than the DJI Inspire 2.   

Pros

  • Powerful and fast
  • Fun to fly
  • Two operators
  • Up to 6K camera
  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Surprisingly easy to fly
  • Well supported

Cons

  • Best flown with two people
  • Older drone
  • Proprietary payloads, cannot hang your DSLR

 






(9.8)

  • 27 – Minutes
  • 6K – 30 FPS
  • 58 – MPH

November 2016

Release Date


2. DJI Mavic 2 Pro: Best consumer drone

DJI Mavic 2 Pro: Best consumer drone

The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is simply the best hobby-class camera drone on the market. The Mavic 2 series may be getting older at this point, but the all-direction obstacle avoidance sensors make them some of the safest drones in the sky, and the 1-inch Hasselblad camera on the Mavic 2 Pro stands up to newer cameras as well. This drone is reasonably portable, but is fairly heavy for its size. That doesn’t keep it down, as the Mavic 2 Pro is one of the fastest hobby camera drones around, and enjoys above average battery life.

Should I buy the DJI Mavic 2 Pro?

For those of us that cannot afford the Inspire 2, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is a reasonable alternative. We very much enjoy flying the Mavic 2 Pro, it somehow feels safer and more sturdy than other drones, and the camera output is still top-notch, even if only 4K resolution. 

Pros

  • Best consumer-class camera drone
  • Easy to fly
  • One of the safest drones in the sky
  • Great camera

Cons

  • Older drone
  • High price tag

 






(9.7)

  • 31 – MIN
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 44 – MPH


3. DJI Air 2S: 5.4K camera for under $1,000

DJI Air 2S: 5.4K camera for under $1,000

DJI Air 2S

The DJI Air 2S is probably the drone you’re going to buy if you’re shopping for a hobby camera drone today. The 5.4K camera is better than it should be for this price, the airframe is capable, and the entire package is small and light for easy transport. The angled top front sensors improve safety at high-speed operation, and the newest version of Ocusync connectivity rocks up to 7.5 miles of range.

Should I buy the DJI Air 2S?

Simply put, the DJI Air 2S is our top pick for a consumer camera drone today. The camera is better than anything else in the same price range, and the drone is unmatched in terms of flight range for a consumer drone. If you can only own one drone, make it this one.

Pros

  • Great 5.4K camera
  • Superb value
  • Easy and fun to fly

Cons

  • Still just a hobby drone
  • No display in the controller

 






(9.8)

  • 31 – MIN
  • 5.4K – 20MP
  • 42.5 – MPH

April 15, 2021

Release Date


4. DJI Mavic 2 Zoom: See things from afar

DJI Mavic 2 Zoom: See things from afar

DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

The DJI Mavic 2 Zoom was one of the first consumer drones to offer a zooming lens for its camera. 4X optical zoom is a fantastic start, but then you an double that with 4x more digital zoom, the result is the ability to focus in on the mountain in the distance, or track your pet without having to fly dangerously close.

Should I buy the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom?

If you truly require the ability to zoom in, such as for inspection tasks, the Mavic 2 Zoom is a good choice, but, if zoom is just a fun feature that you are not relying on, the Air 2S is less expensive, has a better camera, and offers a digital-only 8x zoom itself. The Mavic 2 Zoom is an older drone as well, it might be a hard sell, but in its own right, it’s still best in class, so check it out.

Pros

  • 4x optical zoom
  • Additional digital zoom
  • Proven Mavic 2 series airframe
  • All-direction obstacle avoidance sensors

Cons

  • Older drone
  • Zooming cameras are not unique anymore

 






(9.5)

  • 31 – MIN
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 44 – MPH


5. DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0: Large consumer drone

DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0: Large consumer drone

DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2 stock image 2

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 remains the best consumer-build of the iconic Phantom line of drones. As such, it is also one of the very best consumer drones on the market. Thing is, the Phantom line have fallen by the wayside in favor of smaller and more portable machines. The Phantom drone still packs a larger camera package, and can haul other payloads, but if all you care about is the best camera in the sky, you can enjoy similar results with smaller, lighter, more portable, and less expensive options out there.

Should I buy the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0?

The iconic Phantom series became popular for a reason, they’re superb drones. The latest iterations offer multi-direction obstacle avoidance sensors while being fast and smooth in the sky. We really enjoy flying the Phantom drones in the backyard, but we don’t like hiking with all that weight. 

Pros

  • Large and powerful drone
  • Safe and fun to fly
  • Easy to fly
  • Great cameras

Cons

  • Older drone
  • Difficult to transport

 






(9.7)

  • 30 – MIN
  • 4K – 60 FPS
  • 45 – MPH


6. DJI Mavic Air 2: Great value camera drone

DJI Mavic Air 2: Great value camera drone

DJI Mavic Air 2 package

The DJI Mavic Air 2 hit the market as a fantastic option for pilots. With upwards of 34 minutes of flight time, a 48MP camera sensor, and a convenient size and configuration for transport, it was both extremely convenient to own, and one of the better cameras around at the time.

Should I buy the DJI Mavic Air 2?

We must admit that we think you would be better served by saving up for the Air 2S, but if the extra price is a breaking point, the Mavic Air 2 remains one of our favorite flying cameras, and we think you’d like it too. Seriously though, the Air 2S is a far better camera, and the DJI Mini 2 is far more accessible if you’d like to spend even less.

Pros

  • Big 48MP camera sensor
  • Great overall package
  • Easy and fun to fly

Cons

  • No display in remote
  • Older drone
  • Quickly outdone by the newer Air 2S

 






(9.6)

  • 34 – MIN
  • 4K – 60 FPS
  • 42.5 – MPH


7. DJI Mini 2: Best camera under $500

DJI Mini 2: Best camera under $500

DJI Mini 2 flying angle bushes

The DJI Mini 2 is not the best camera drone around, however, when you consider the size, weight, capabilities, and the price tag, the Mini 2 cannot be beat! The value of getting a reliable, compact, folding drone with 4K camera for under $500 is unmatched on the market today. The drone itself is super easy to pack along for a hike, the camera is about as good as your smartphone, and with the drone weighing under 250g, you don’t even have to register it before you fly.

Should I buy the DJI Mini 2?

Yes. We think any pilot will enjoy having a DJI Mini 2 in their fleet. Beginners get to enjoy easy how easy it is to fly, experienced pilots get all the flight features they are familiar with in a GPS-enabled camera drone, and professionals can either fly for fun, or use the Mini 2 as a test flight tool, to save the battery on their professional rig until it’s time to film.

Pros

  • Best camera under $500
  • Respectable 4K camera
  • Easy to fly
  • Fun to fly
  • Weighs under 250g
  • Very portable

Cons

  • Smartphone quality camera
  • Few safety features

 






(9.4)

  • 31 – Minutes
  • 4K – 12MP
  • 36 – MPH

November 2020

Release Date


8. Autel Robotics Evo II: Useful HDMI receiver

Autel Robotics Evo II: Useful HDMI receiver

Autel Robotics Evo 2 Dual front camera CES 2020

The Autel Robotics Evo II hit the market with a splash back in 2018, noted mostly for its extreme flight time and 8K camera. That’s the same camera sensor as in higher-end smartphones at the time, and the newer DJI Mavic Air 2, which is to say that it best shoots 12MP stills, pixel binned from the 48MP sensor, and best records 4K video, again using the extra pixels for stabilization and to blend together to improve the overall image quality. Camera sensor aside, it’s hard to argue with over 40 minutes of flight time, and the ability to connect to an HDMI receiver on the ground.

Should I buy the Autel Robotics Evo II?

Three versions of this drone exist, all with different camera capabilities. Regardless, you’re looking at an older drone now, one that is reliable and safe, but perhaps lacks some of the consumer-focused flight features that make some drones fun to fly. We love the ability to connect to an HDMI receiver, making this drone ideal for a news crew, just let the drone hover over a scene, sending that live feed back to the news station.

Pros

  • Up to 8K video capture
  • Superb flight time
  • Safe and easy to fly
  • HDMI recevier

 






(9.1)

  • 40 – Minutes
  • 8K – 48MP
  • 45 – MPH

January 2020

Release Date


9. Parrot Anafi: Flexible gimbal

Parrot Anafi: Flexible gimbal

Parrot Anafi folding drone camera tilt

The Parrot Anafi has an invaluable feature that you either really need, or will never use, the ability to point the camera straight up. This drone is fairly average in most respects, with good flight time, a solid 4K camera, GPS-enabled flight, and a folding design for easy transport. The very nature of that camera gimbal has inspired Parrot to launch commercial versions of this drone for inspection tasks, smart.

Should I buy the Parrot Anafi?

We are on the fence about the Parrot Anafi. It is easy to fly, reliable and well supported, but it is old enough at this point that we worry about continued viability. That said, if you need an inspection drone that can point upwards, and can’t afford a big commercial unit, maybe you’re looking in the right place.

Pros

  • Good flight time
  • Easy to fly
  • Reliable drone
  • Camera points up

Cons

  • Older drone
  • Fairly average drone

 






(8.9)

  • 25 – MIN
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 32 – MPH (50 km/h)


10. Yuneec Typhoon H3: Reliable hexacopter

Yuneec Typhoon H3: Reliable hexacopter

Yuneec Typhoon H3

In conjunction with Leica, Yuneec has launched one of the best camera drones around, the Typhoon H3. The hexacopter design promises safe and smooth flight, and the design allows for great camera flexibility. Sadly, Yuneec is struggling to enjoy accessibility of their products globally like they used to, you may have to jump direct to their site to get your hands on this powerful aircraft.

Should I buy the Yuneec Typhoon H3?

The Typhoon H3 is a commitment, we think you’ll be happy with this aircraft if you go for it, but like a good sportscar, please prepare to overcome some hurdles for your purchase and subsequent service.

Pros

  • Powerful and reliable hexacopter
  • Great camera
  • Easy and safe to fly

Cons

  • Big drone, hard to transport
  • Limited availability

 






(9.5)

  • 25 – Minutes
  • 4K – 60 FPS
  • 45 – MPH

September 2019

Release Date


Fun racing drone: DJI FPV

Special consideration: High-speed flight

DJI FPV camera

The DJI FPV is not your typical camera drone. While it has rock-steady image stabilization from a 4K shooter, it does not have sideways twist gimbal movement. The result is that the camera turns to the right when the drone turns to the right – this is a very immersive and aeronautically accurate perspective, and huge fun when the drone is zipping along at up to 87 mph, but may not be ideal for those that just want a flying camera. Check it out.






(9.4)

  • 20 – Minutes
  • 4K – 60fps
  • 87 – MPH

Custom commercial drones


Commercial and Industrial drones

Special note: In the United States you will need special licensing to operate a drone for pay. That is not to say that you need licensing to fly the following drones, the rule goes for any drone you fly for hire. We’ll be going more in-depth on the process at a later date, but for now, know that if you will be paid to fly, including getting paid for the footage you capture, you’ll need what they call the Part 107. Hit the following resource for more info:

DJI Matrice M600 Pro

Also see in our Best professional drones list

DJI Matrice 600 Pro camera drone

If you did not already know this, DJI has been servicing the high-end and professional aerial photography space for a while. Most consumers will not be familiar with the expensive offerings that are the Matrice and the Spreading Wings that you’ll see later.

Providing few, if any of the conveniences and safety measures of the consumer focused drones, the M600 Pro is a massive, six armed drone that takes six batteries and can handle the best of the best in DJI cameras or carry over 13 lbs of RED or other high-end camera rigs.

At around $3,999 before you choose your camera, the DJI Matrice 600 Pro is a serious machine for serious video work.

 


FreeFly Alta

FreeFly offers two sizes of their drone, the Alta 6 and Alta 8. Aside from physical dimensions, the number indicates how many propellers are equipped. Size is the name of the game here: the DJI Mavic Pro is about a 335 mm frame, that is, 335 mm from the center of one motor diagonally across to the far corner motor. The DJI Inspire 2 is about twice the size of the Mavic, and the FreeFly Alta 8 is about twice the size of the Inspire 2. That’s a frame size of 1,325 mm. Good thing it folds down for transport.

Dual batteries give this monster machine upwards of 40 minutes of flight and a 20 pound payload can handle many Gimbal and camera assemblies. The only thing preventing you from using the FreeFly Alta to put your high-end camera into the air is the $17,495.00 price tag for the Alta 8, or $11,995.00 for the Alta 6.


Modular Commercial systems

Modular systems

DJI Matrice 300 series

The DJI Matrice 300 series is powerful and versatile commercial platform. Several load points allow for multiple payload options, including infrared cameras, cameras that point upwards, and more. RTK ensures the most accurate GPS positioning possible, and the ability to connect multiple controllers allow for a pilot and camera operator.

 






(9.6)

  • 55 – MIN
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 51.5 – MPH


DJI Matrice 200 series

DJI XT2 thermal camera on M200 commercial drone landed

The DJI Matrice 200 series has three main versions, offering different payload options or RTK GPS. The newer M300 series is basically the combination of all three M200 drones in one. That is to say, these drones are similar, and all very powerful, but the M200 series is a little less versatile. Most payloads are cross-compatible, so you can haul around infrared cameras, spotlights, speakers, and more.

 






(9.5)

  • 38 – MIN
  • 6K – 24 FPS
  • 50 – MPH

February 2017

Release Date


Yuneec H520 hexacopter

The Yuneec H520 has proven to be one of the better commercial platforms for mapping-type tasks. This drone is used by law enforcement for accident reconstruction tasks, as well as by utility companies for infrastructure inspections. The reliability of the hexacopter design gives it an advantage in more sensitive environments.

 






(9.1)

  • 28 – Minutes
  • 4K – 30 FPS
  • 38 – MPH

September 2017

Release Date

 


100 MP camera for the sky!

DJI recently unleashed a beast for your aerial capture needs. Utilizing the M6oo or S1000+ you’ve seen already, DJI’s stake in Hasselblad has resulted in a 100MP camera for the sky. The H6D-100C hangs using the Ronin-MX, but you’ll be able to utilize the new Ronin 2 when it hits the market later this year. Read more about the new 100MP camera from DJI and Hasselblad here.

Serious equipment comes with a serious price, budget about $40,000 to fly this camera, or grab just the shooter for around $32,500.

Check out the Hasselblad H6D-100C for $29,995 on Amazon today.

 

What to look for


What to look for in a camera drone

DJI Air 2S

There is much to discuss when we talk camera drones, what it really boils down to, what are you trying to accomplish? At the very bottom, you can buy a toy-class drone equipped with a 2 MP camera. This will be the kind of camera experience you don’t share with friends and family. No offense to the drone manufacturers that pump out these toy drones and market them as being “camera drones,” but they are misleading consumers into thinking they’re getting more than an adequate FPV camera for flying purposes. FPV is fine at this level, but HD is not in the cards here.

Stepping things up, you can get into a decent hobby drone for under $500, it may even pack a 4K sensor, but there is more to a sensor than the pixel count. Machines in this class can accomplish recording aerial video worth sharing, but just. At this level, you are at best on-par with a GoPro camera. Don’t mistake what I’m saying, I have high respect for GoPro cameras, they just are not optimized and tuned for drone footage.

Stepping up, you can get into drones up to $2000, many under $1000 still, but there are more than a few options between about $600 up to $1800 that produce the aerial footage you probably came looking for today. Sorry to say, if you want serious video from the sky, you’ll need to spend some money. The standout drone in this segment is the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, you can read about it below, but it’s perhaps the best flying camera with a price below $2000. The DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is close to the same price, and is a much larger platform if you need to carry more than just a camera.  Both of these drones pack a 1-inch sensor with 4K video capture, industry leading object avoidance to ensure clean autonomous flight, and OcuSync so you can do more.

From there, we’d like to highlight the DJI Inspire 2, it’ll run you at least $3000 to get started, but bump that to $6000 if you want the camera with that. Inspire 2 is a monstrously capable drone, 60 mph, 5.2K video, hot swapping dual batteries, internal SSD storage, powerful video streaming up to Hollywood level, or at least for the local news. As far as buying a ready to fly camera drone, this is, perhaps, the very best that you can get.

Finally, getting well beyond the needs of any home use camera drone, there are many machines that can carry really high end cameras, like the 100 MP Hasselblad or a RED 8K camera. These machines range anywhere from $10K up to $250,000. Yes, you can spend a quarter of a million dollars on a drone, more even, but you’ll then be able to shoot commercials for car companies or get a job with a legit Hollywood crew. I keep talking about making movies, don’t forget there are plenty of opportunities in commercial inspection, zoom lenses, thermal cameras and more are ready to put drones into the air in place of helicopters.

That is the end of our list of best camera drones for now. There are many great drones on the market, some of which provide exceptional camera capabilities, for us, these few are the best of the best that are attainable for folks at home like you and I.

FAQ


Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between the consumer drones and the professional drones?

The biggest difference between many consumer and pro drones is the camera, where a consumer drone has a built-in camera and a pro drone offers a mount to haul a higher-end cinema camera. Most of the built-in cameras use the same sensors as you’ll find on smart phones, they’re good cameras, but a far cry from the cameras that Hollywood uses. As the pro drones hold lager cameras, they are also much larger drones.

What cameras are good?

For the most part, a camera with a 1/2.3-inch sensor is going to be good, but should be considered the smallest viable sensor for a good camera drone. A 1-inch sensor is going to be about the best you can get on a consumer drone, while the DJI Inspire 2 offers a micro four thirds sensor. These larger sensors make it easier for the camera to capture better images, particularly in lower light situations. Also look for the video data rate, as 100Mbps seems to be the new minimum for silky smooth video capture. The lens offerings are important to be aware of. A single focal length is normal, and typically offers better focus, but zoom lenses offer more versatility. Last, look at the MP count, 12MP is solid, offering more than what’s needed to capture 4K video, but the new trend of a 48MP sensor that pixel bins down to 12MP images is a great idea.

How much should I spend on a camera drone?

Your needs should determine your budget for a camera drone. Generally speaking, for under $600, you can expect a smartphone caliber image. Working up to about $1,400 you can expect a smartphone sensor, but with better supporting hardware to exceed what most smartphones can do. Beyond $1,400 is where you’ll start to see DSLR and cinema grade cameras. In case you missed it above, the Hasselblad 100MP camera runs about $30,000.

Can I attach any camera to any drone?

If it fits, and the drone has enough power to lift it, you can attach any camera to any drone, but, you may not get the best camera experience. Two very important factors affect the captured media from a flying camera: First, stabilization, and second, controls. Drones in flight are actually very jittery, with lots of vibration, and they tilt every which way constantly and rapidly in order to manage stable flight. Your camera will either need powerful stabilization built in, or a supported Gimbal on the drone. Next, the ability to control a Gimbal remotely is one thing, but being able to start and stop recording, snap photos, control zoom, and/or focus the camera by remote is super important, else you must set the camera, start recording, and then take off into the sky and hope you got all the settings right.

Do I need a license to take photos from a drone?

Yes. If you will fly a drone for hobby purposes, to capture aerial photos and video that you will not be selling, or are otherwise compensated for your flight, you will need the TRUST certification.  For all flights for which you will be compensated, including putting your videos on YouTube with the monetization option turned on, The FAA you to acquire your Part 107 certification, and fly under the rules of Part 107. The FAA basically recommends that all pilots get their Part 107, so they are safe to sell their photos at a later date.



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