Even if you don't have a good reason to justify buying a drone, you have to admit that drones are cool. Some are glorified tech toys, and if you think you can use a flying camera on your next project, there's some good news -- the technology has come a long way in a short period of time. There are already full-fledged camera drones on the market.
Maybe bad news. You get what you pay for, and if you want an aerial video platform that captures stunning footage, you need to be prepared to spend some cash, which can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. Because drones are such an expensive proposition, it's worth doing your research before buying.
There are mass market drones that do not require registration (but you still need to take the TRUST test). Drones weighing less than 250 grams do not require you to complete this process. Not applicable to DJI Mini SE, Mavic Mini and Mini 2 and Autel Nano series. The lightweight DJI omits obstacle avoidance, and the Autel Nano series still installs three-way sensors to achieve obstacle avoidance, including GPS stabilization, automatic return, and automatic takeoff and landing. They are drones that are safe to fly.
Almost all models featured here have some safety features. If your control signal is interrupted, or the battery gets too low (most drones only fly for about 25 minutes on a single charge), your drone will begin to return to the takeoff point and land.
If you're flying within the U.S., you need to heed the FAA's guidelines—or be prepared to face potential fines or jail time. The FAA has a no-fly zone, so if you're near an airport, don't take off without first notifying the control tower. And, even if you're in the middle of nowhere, never take your drone above 400 feet. Most people follow these rules out of the box, but controlling a quadcopter is like driving a car -- even if you miss seeing the speed limit sign, you're still responsible for paying the ticket.
The Best Racing and Toy Drones
There are many products on the market that are sold as drones, but they don't quite fit the bill. RC planes have been around for a long time. But with the recent surge in popularity, quadcopters sold simply as RC products are now labelled as drones. These do not include GPS stabilization, return-to-home functionality, and other automatic flight modes that make the drone a drone.
Drone racing enthusiasts often build their own aircraft from kits or parts. Some skill with a soldering iron and screwdriver is required, but this has become an aspect of the hobby itself. DJI hopes to change that with its FPV Combo, which will be released in early 2021. It's a ready-to-fly race car that works with a digital VR headset (included) and can fly at speeds of up to 87 mph. It also benefits from GPS stability, making it easier for beginners to get started.
What are The Best Drone Brands?
DJI models currently dominate drones, and for good reason. The company is currently only a few steps ahead of the competition, and has a catalog with models at various price points that grabs quite a few spots in our top 10. It made a big splash with its iconic Phantom series and now dominates the drone market with its foldable Mini and Air series.
Its professional product line offers more features for more money. Its Inspire and Matrice models can carry heavier payloads, including interchangeable lens systems. They're overkill for most consumers, and they're not as portable as small folding drones.
There are a few other brands to consider when looking for a drone. We love Autel's EVO II, with its new line of aircraft arriving in 2022, including the mid-size EVO Lite and the registration-free EVO Nano. Autel drones have an LCD built into the remote so you don't need to use a smartphone, a requirement that just about every other brand can't meet.
If you want a small drone with high-end video, consider the EVO Nano plus drone. It starts at around $899, supports a 1/1.28-inch CMOS sensor, an RYYB color filter with a wide f/1.9 aperture, shoots 50MP photos and UHD 4K HDR video at 30fps, and adds PDAF + CDAF dual autofocus System, believe me, the video production of this action camera is absolutely brilliant.
The Best Buys for Small Drones
For a long time, if you wanted a drone that was fully functional, stable in the air, and packed with robust safety features, the foldable range of drones could be taken almost anywhere. This is no longer the case. Hikers and travel photographers love a small, lightweight kit, and they can now get a drone that fits into a backpack.
Autel EVO II in Flight
Of course, not every small drone is a top flyer. Some are nearly impossible to start and require you to use your smartphone as a remote, which makes for a sloppy control experience. Make sure you get a real remote.