There are all sorts of epic uses for camera drones--from taking wildlife photos, to capturing your kids' sporting events from a new angle, to scouting the nearby woods for a good campsite.
RC drones have widely been used for government or military use in the past, and have just recently become available for personal use.
We've deeply researched every drone with a camera on the market. We investigated hundreds of models, read thousands of reviews, and collected every piece of data we could find in order to come up with the list of the very best drones for sale today.
We studied all three categories: High End, Mid-Range and Low End. The result, we have compiled the list of the best RC drones on the planet. You're welcome.
In search of a starter drone that won’t break the bank? Both MyFirstDrone and Drone Lifestyle name this as one of their favorite beginner toy drones. If you’re looking for a cool gift this holiday season, your kids may like this fun and easy to control unit.
While this is easy to control, it does take some practice in learning how to use and calibrate it. Be patient if you’re new to drones and give this one a try.
Performance: If you’re looking for something speedy and fun to play with, then this will satisfy your performance requirements. However, if you’re looking for a little something extra (like intuitive controls, safety features, spare parts, etc.), this may not be the right drone for you.
Operation: Some customers have found this one to be easy to control, while others say it takes time trying to figure out how to balance and calibrate in order to get it to fly smoothly. If you don’t have the patience to play around with this, then you may want to pass.
Features: This drone is pretty light on features.
Price: If you think you’ll need collision-protective parts, factor that into the total cost.
For professional aerial photographers in need of a speedy and reliable drone that enables them to focus on grabbing that perfect 4K ultra HD shot instead of fiddling with the settings, this is a good pick.
Like with most DJI products, the biggest complaint is about how buggy the drone is… and how poorly the company handles repairs and customer service. However, if you check out MyFirstDrone's comments on this, you’ll see that they’re currently working on fixing the issue.
Performance: Previous customers report issues with losing control of their drones shortly after taking them out of the box. Others have also had issues with image distortion. DJI drones, unfortunately, are known for these sorts of bugs, so be sure to purchase yours from a reputable outlet with a return/repair policy.
Operation: Regardless of any problems you encounter with performance, the operational control of this drone is highly rated. Users rave about how stable and easy this is to fly, so you shouldn’t have any issues focusing on grabbing your footage when using this one.
Features: Camera: 4K ultra HD, app control, built-in video editor. Other premium features: GPS for auto takeoff and landing and gimbal stabilization.
Price: If you need a solidly built drone to help you capture (and edit) aerial photography, you may want to consider shelling out the extra dough for this one.
Offers amazing images and video; durable, easy to maneuver, and has agreat range. Very cheap for what you get in value. This DJI quadcopter camera drone can capture high speed sports from never before attempted angles. It features a 4k video recording from the UHD camera and allows you to view live streaming video from the quadcopter. Excellent value for the price! For what you get - this can be considered a cheap camera quadcopter drone. But whatever you do, don't fly this anywhere near the White House!
It's no secret that the company is known for their poor customer service.
Features: If you're looking for a machine that offers crystal clear, no-shake video and images, the DJI Phantom 3 Professional is definitely the drone for you! The 12 MP camera captures amazing quality footage, which is stored on microSD cards built into the drone. Both 1080p and 4K are awesome, but the image clarity is excellent even at 720p. The range on this bad boy is well above average--1.2 miles, compared to the usual 0.5. Some users have even flown it up to 400 feet high!
The flight time for the Phantom 3 Pro hovers between 17 and 18 minutes, well above average. The battery is a 100-watts (compared to the industry standard 57-watts), meaning it has a faster charge time. The machine weighs 2.8 pounds and is very stable even in heavier winds, so it can handle weather conditions lighter drones cannot. The flight control app takes time to learn, but once you master it, you'll find it offers a wide range of functions you don't get with other options. (Definitely worth reading the app's User Manual!)
Users rate the gimbal on this device VERY highly. The gimbal keeps the camera very stable, taking crystal clear images and video without shake or blur. The Pilot app allows you to see what your copter sees, making it easier for you to control the takeoff, landing, and flight. Despite the tricky upgrades, the app offers a wide range of features, including Return-to-Home, Orbit, and Waypoint.
Price: At just under $1,300, this is one of the pricier models around. However, if you want high quality images and video from a copter that's built to last, you won't find a comparable model in the same price range. It's cheap enough for hobbyists to afford, yet it's a professional-grade device!
Inexpensive, perfect for beginners; great for performing tricks; tough little quadcopter.
Doesn't handle well in high winds.
Performance: The UDI U818A HD+ RC Quadcopter Drone is great for those who want to practice with a cheaper drone before buying a more expensive one. The camera snaps decent-quality images at up to 1280x960 resolution, and it's excellent in low-light situations. The video camera can stream live to your smartphone, or it can be set to store the footage/images to the onboard storage device. The USB cable makes it easy to transfer your footage/images from the drone to your computer. While the range on the drone is not ideal (less than 100 feet), it zips through the air with surprising speed.
Operation: The battery life on this drone only gives you about 9 minutes of flight time, but it also only takes 45 minutes to charge. However, it includes a bonus battery pack to extend your flight time. It handles well, but you have to keep a close eye on it. If it flies out of range, it will disconnect and drop. Do not use in heavy winds. Thankfully, the on-remote switches allow you to adjust the drone's stability in-flight, making it easy to keep it trim and level. On days when there is no wind, it handles like a dream, even for newbie pilots. It's got a surprisingly good speed for such a cheap, small drone!
Features: The camera can be a bit shaky if the wind is high, but on calm days it takes clear, blur-free pictures. The controller allows you to adjust the throttle, trim, camera, and even monitor the battery life. Press the 360 inversion button, and you can make the drone do flips. The "Headless" feature makes it easy for beginners to use the drone, as it auto-adjusts the drone to improve control. It even has a "Return Home" to bring the drone automatically back to its starting place.
Price: Priced at $100, it's a solid little copter that can take a beating and still run well. It's a great first-timer drone, as it handles easily and can survive crashes thanks to the plastic rotor guards.
This is definitely a beginner-friendly drone, not just because it’s easy to get the hang of, but also because of its durability. So if you’re nervous about crashing your drone and losing money (and time in repairs) on your investment, check out the Hubsan X4.
The one major drawback to this drone is that you’ve got to purchase additional stuff in order to maximize your use of this drone. (For example, this doesn’t come with an SD card, so you won’t be able to capture and save pictures without anteing up more money.)
Performance: In terms of performance, you really can’t go wrong with a drone that’s built to take a beating—especially if you’re new to drones. While this is a little bit trickier to fly with the camera on top, it’s a quick learn and performs reliably well.
Operation: MyFirstDrone calls this their favorite beginner’s drone (with a camera) because of how easy it is to control from the get-go.
Features: Aside from the camera and the guard protectors, there isn’t much else you get with this drone.
Price: If you’re planning on purchasing additional parts and accessories, factor that into your decision-making since it makes this a little more expensive than it seems at first glance.
Smaller and easier to control, uses a classic RC quadcopter controller, and easily charged via USB port.
Adding cameras makes the unit less versatile.
Performance: The SYMA X5C is a simple machine, one built for anyone to use. For the beginner this is a good model to get your feet wet with drones. Features a flight time of 5-8 minutes, built-in photography capability, and charge time of 100 minutes. It comes with a built-in HD camera that takes decent images, and it captures video (webcam-quality) in up to 720p. However, this can be remote-controlled, allowing you to adjust the angle, tilt, and zoom before taking photos. The range is not as good as the others, but this is more due to the limited flight time than connectivity issues. The quadcopter uses the classic 2.4 GHz wireless connection to allow you to control it remotely.
Operation: This is one of the best quadcopters for beginners! You can learn to fly it in just a few minutes, and it's a user-friendly device that's controlled via your classic RC controllers (with the familiar joysticks). Thanks to the 6-axis Gyro stabilization system, it handles well even in moderate winds, though removing the photography capability will make it even more versatile for tricks. You only get about 7 to 9 minutes of flight time with this little device, but what would you expect for such a low price? It takes roughly 100 minutes to re-charge the device, which can be plugged into your computer via USB port for easy charging.
Features: The camera is integrated into the drone, but it can be removed to reduce weight and improve maneuverability. This can be remote-activated and controlled, and the unit is surprisingly durable. It lacks the features of fancier drones, but it's a great option for newbies!
Price: At just under $65, this is one of the best-priced models on the market. It's a child- and adult-friendly quadcopter that is easy to start using right away, making it an awesome choice for those looking for a first device.
Many people focus on all the cool stuff you can do with drones, but safety should factor into the decision-making process too. If you’re looking for GPS flight assistance, easy recovery if your drone happens to go out of range, and intuitive controls that are easy (and safe) enough for a child to handle, this is the drone you want.
As far as we can tell, there are no drawbacks to this drone—especially since this one specializes in safety.
Performance: Because this drone is all about flying safely, crashes and lost drones are something you won’t have to worry about with this one. And because the live video feature works so well, you can use this for professional photography purposes or for something more practical (like chasing down a loose dog in the neighborhood).
Operation: This heavy duty and highly intuitive drone is not only easy to fly, but it’s fun too. And since it requires little training, this works just as well for kids as it does adults. (Geek Wrapped named this their favorite drone for kids.)
Features: HD camera, GPS flight assistant, live streaming, works with tablets and phones, excellent range/flight duration.
Price: Drone Lifestyle calls this the “best bang for your buck”.
Looking for a drone that does it all? You’ll be hard-pressed to find another fully-loaded drone like this one: portability, easy to setup, takes amazing aerial footage, has incredible stability, outstanding range, and includes so many built-in features that it’s a struggle to pick which one to start with.
Because this is so small and lightweight, agility and stability may be an issue if you try to fly this in strong winds. This also isn’t a drone that’s meant for the novice.
Performance: UAV Coach calls this one “a game-changer for aerial photographers and filmmakers” because of its portability and built-in power. We have to agree.
Operation: The more stable the drone, the easier it’s going to be to fly. In addition, the Mavic Pro has three different control settings. You can use the remote controller, your smartphone, and even your hands.
Features: Compatible with iOS and Android. Obstacle avoidance sensors. Tap-to-fly functionality. Variety of modes, including: follow mode, sports mode, WiFi mode, tripod mode, and more. Self-piloted landings. Geofencing
Price: Yes, this drone is expensive… but you’re paying for all those beautifully built-in features and convenience.
You'd be surprised by how many different types of drones there are on the market today! In the last few years, the number of drones has increased significantly, with models available for all sorts of purposes:
Toy Drones are inexpensive, compact, and usually offer little more than something fun to fly. Some have cameras, GPS features, and a few basic functions, but they're more for people (adults and kids alike) who want to fly drones without all the fancy tech.
Mini-Drones are compact—often small enough to fit in the palm of your hand—and lightweight. They can be either toy drones or camera drones, but they are usually designed for indoor use. They're not suited for outdoor use, where they can be blown around by the wind.
Camera Drones are larger, heavier drones, usually with a high-grade or professional-quality camera built in. These drones are purchased specifically for aerial and overhead photography, and they offer special features focused on snapping excellent videos and photographs. The controls come with just enough advanced functions to make the drone easy to use over a long range. However, expect to pay a hefty price tag (upwards of $500) for a high quality camera drone.
Selfie Drones are similar to camera drones, but in toy drone or mini drone size. They have decent cameras built into them, and they're meant to be controlled using your smartphone rather than a controller.
Racing Drones are drones built for speed and precision handling, and they can come in either "Ready to Fly" or "Build Your Own" models. The drones come with a camera that allows you to see where you're driving, but the camera isn't good enough for serious photography. These drones are for competitive racing, and they can reach speeds on par with a quality RC airplane.
Unmanned Cargo Drones are built to carry heavy packages, and are equipped with GPS systems that allow you to program the drone to fly to a certain location to deliver the package. They're just now being used by Amazon, Domino's, and a few other companies.
Of course, drones are used for security, surveillance, aerial filmography, inspections, and search and rescue. However, the types of drones used for these activities are not the sort commercially available to you. Your options are typically limited to the types listed above.
When buying a drone, it's important that you find the right features—features that will make it easier to fly, take better pictures, and enhance the durability of the drone. Here are the most important ones to consider:
GPS Navigation – If you're flying a drone that has a decent flight range (beyond a few hundred feet), you'll need a way both to track the drone's position and for the drone to track your position (for the "Return Home" feature). GPS navigation built into the drone and controller/controller app is a must for a long-range drone.
Single-Point Navigation – This is essential for long range drones, as it will make it easier for you to get your drone to its destination without having to manually control it. You'll use the drone's GPS positioning system to tell it where to go automatically.
Autopilot – Autopilot allows you to set the drone to "Hold Position" or to "Return Home" on its own. It's a handy feature that is vital if you're using the drone for long range photography or filmography.
Hold Position – This feature essentially tells the drone to remain in the same place, hovering at the location or events you want to photograph. For photography and videography drones, this is a must-have feature for taking steady, blur-free shots.
Dynamic Position Hold – This feature enables you to keep the drone in the same position, but gives you the freedom and flexibility to move it slightly in order to improve the angle.
Altitude Hold – Instead of having your drone remain at the same GPS location, this instruction helps keep the drone high enough off the ground. The throttle of the drone will keep it hovering steady, giving you a good altitude for action shots. This feature is often used in tandem with position hold.
Return Home – You won't always be able to keep the drone within your line of sight, especially if the drone is small and far away. By clicking the "Return Home" button, you will call the drone to come to the location of its controller—you—automatically.
Automatic Flying – If you're not the best at handling the drone flights, you'll love this feature. Essentially, it enables the drone to take off, land, fly, and navigate between waypoints automatically. It uses a variety of sensors and its built-in camera to fly, and you can pre-program it to snap pictures at the waypoints before flying back to its original location.
Waypoints – This is a handy feature that allows you to program multiple destinations on its flight path. Higher-grade drones give you the option to control the drone from your tablet or smartphone, programming in the destinations (and actions, such as triggering the camera shutter) when the drone reaches those destinations.
Relative Waypoints – This is ideal for large scale mapping or panorama pictures. Instead of going to a specific location, you designate a relative waypoint within a certain range of the original waypoint. For example, if you find a better angle for photographs 50 yards to the right of your original waypoint, you can set the relative waypoint for easy automatic piloting next time you want to take photographs at that same location.
Circle Hovering – If you want to take pictures of yourself flying the drone, this feature sets the drone flying in a circle around you. The circle usually has a 20-foot or higher radius, giving you plenty of space to be safe while still giving you great angles for taking pictures.
Geo-Fencing/No Fly Zone – Geo-fencing gives you the option to set certain boundaries for the drone, preventing it from flying farther than you can see/control. No Fly Zone is a feature that prevents the drone from flying into certain locations, such as private property or airports.
Tracking Mode – You can set your drone to track and photograph/film certain objects as they move. The drone will track and follow the object, and you can pre-set it to maintain a certain altitude for better pictures.
Failsafe Mode – What happens when your drone is out of range of your GPS controller? How do you get it home? Failsafe Mode solves the problem by setting an automatic return point for the drone. Some drones will return to their take-off location, but some will return to the location of the GPS controller.
Built-In Sensors – Most drones have built in gyroscopes and accelerometers, which help to stabilize and control the acceleration of the drone. If you're going to be taking aerial photographs or videos, the gyroscope will give you control over the X and Y-axis of the drone, making it easier to keep the drone stable. The accelerometer will help to keep the drone steady even as it's picking up speed.
Video Transmission – If you want immediate access to the drone footage or don't want to risk losing your photographs in a crash, it's often better to stream the video to your smartphone, tablet, or computer. This eliminates the need for a built-in SD card for the drone, and ensures all your footage and photographs are stored safely.
If you're new to the world of drone flying, the idea of piloting these little aircrafts may seem daunting. There's so much you need to learn about flying your drones that RC airplanes just can't teach you.
If you want to be a BOSS at flying your drone, here are a few tips to help you out:
Use automatic mode as long as necessary. All high-end drones come with both automatic and manual flying modes. Auto-flying mode lets the built-in computer do the work of flying, and it's where you should always start with a new drone. Experiment with the manual mode indoors or in a safe, enclosed location until you get the hang of manual flying. If you're going to do more than just fly (such as take pictures or shoot video), you should let the auto-flying mode focus on the navigation and altitude while you focus on the other tasks.
Use GPS mode whenever possible. GPS mode is a feature on pricier models, and it's 100% worth the price tag. It allows you to pre-program your drone to fly to various locations and return to your location automatically. It will use more battery than manual mode, but will prevent you from losing the drone.
Avoid heavy winds. Even the largest, heaviest drones are susceptible to winds—imagine how rough windy conditions can be for the smaller, lightweight drones! Some drones have automatic stabilization for heavy winds, but it's better not to risk your drone being blown out of range or into a tree or house by a heavy wind. Make sure to switch your drone to outdoor mode if you're flying outdoors.
Learn the basics first. Don't waste your time on the fancy tricks (rolls, flips, etc.) until you've mastered the basics of up, down, right, left, backward, and forward. Always try to practice on days with little to no wind, and in locations where you can see the drone clearly.
Learn how to crash. Crashes are inevitable with drones, and you need to learn how to protect your drone in case of a crash. Learn how to shut off the throttle immediately, or you could damage the copter blades and motor. You'll also want to invest in propeller guards to protect the blades from being damaged in case of a crash.
Learn how to hover. It's easy to fly in a certain direction, but the real challenge is learning how to keep the drone hovering at a specific altitude and in a specific location. Mastering hovering will enable you to take steadier, clearer images and video. Spend time practicing the pitch control that is required to keep your drone hovering.
Understand the terms. You need to understand what the various flying terms are: yaw, pitch, roll, and throttle. UAVCoach has a good definition of the terms and how they relate to your flight performance.
Know your way around the remote. Your remote or controller gives you total control over the drone. There are a lot of features built into the remote, all of which are intended to give you better control over the drone's piloting and its various functions (camera, autopilot, etc.). Spend time reading your user manual to make sure you understand every button and stick on the remote.
Always go through a pre-flight checklist. Before you take off, go through your pre-flight checklist to make sure everything is ready:
Keep the drone in range. Make sure to test the drone's range of connectivity to the controller. The last thing you want is to lose your drone because it flies out of range. Use the Geo-Fencing option to set the boundaries of your drone's flight range, and program the "Return Home" feature to bring the drone back to the right spot.
Find safe flying zones. There are many no-fly zones that you need to avoid, or else you may get slapped with a fine or even jail time. Check the US Air Space Map to find the areas in your city where it's safe to fly your drone.
Avoid people. Try to avoid flying over and around people as much as possible. The last thing you want is to hit someone if your drone malfunctions or falls out of the sky. Avoid people's homes and private residences as well. Stick to locations with as few people as possible.
Avoid public locations. Try to avoid flying over highways and public roads, as well as any airports—both large and private. NEVER fly above military bases, and be wary when flying under bridges (the interference could sever your connection to the drone).
Watch your altitude. Most drones won't go over a couple hundred feet off the ground, but some high-end drones are capable of impressive altitudes. Keep your drone below 400 feet in order to avoid collisions with airplanes, gliders, and small aircraft.
Drones can be an amazing tool for stunning photography. Here are a few tips to help you take amazing pictures with your drone:
Shoot in Auto Mode – While many photographers are dedicated manual mode shooters, most drone cameras aren't built for the precision settings of a DSLR camera. Setting the drone in auto mode also allows you to focus on flying the drone and snapping precise images, without worrying about exposure, light balance, and all the other detailed settings.
Test various filters – Most drone cameras have just one lens aperture, so you won't have many options for changing shutter speeds. Neutral density filters can be integrated into the lens of the camera to restrict light exposure, thus lengthening shutter speed.
Bracket the photos – Use 3-shot brackets (a feature of many camera drones) to under- and over-expose your shots. It's the best way to ensure you get at least one shot you like, or you can use the 3 shots to blend the exposures for the perfect photograph.
Always have back-up batteries —Drones burn through their power pretty quickly, and even more so when you're filming or taking images. Have no fewer than 3 batteries for your drone, as that will give you upwards of an hour of flight/photography/filming time.
Stick to 100 feet or less –Higher flights don't equal better pictures. Instead, you'll get a view more like Google Earth. For the most detailed, beautiful pictures, keep the drone lower than 100 feet off the ground.
Be aware of the drone blades – When piloting the drone, there's always the risk the blades will get in your camera's line of sight. Try to keep the camera angled downward, but be aware that steeply angled shots could catch a bit of the blades.
Tinker with the settings – The drone camera will have a variety of settings that you can tinker with, from white balance to resolution to exposure to frame rate. Dig into the camera manual and see what you have to work with, and experiment with different settings.
Use post-production tools – It may not be ideal, but you can always correct defects in the photographs using post-production software (like Photoshop). Focus on taking the best quality pictures possible, but accept that you may need to correct some defects in the photo later.
Shoot in RAW – Shooting in RAW format allows you to correct exposure or color flaws as precisely as possible BEFORE the image is compressed into JPEG format.
Drone racing has become a popular sport, and will continue to be so as drone technology becomes more advanced. The Drone Racing League currently offers a $100,000 prize, and the 80 MPH drone races are absolutely breathtaking—and quite terrifying at the same time!
Amazon Prime Air is one of the most hotly anticipated services of the decade. Amazon plans to use drones to ship packages (under 5 pounds typically) anywhere in the United States, with drone "bases" around the country. The Australian company Zookal plans to do the same with textbooks. 7-Eleven was the first company to successfully complete an FAA-regulated drone delivery—the drone delivered a Slurpee, chicken salad, coffee, and donuts to a Nevada family in just a few minutes.
Emergency services are also looking for more ways to integrate drones. Drones are being used for remote surveillance and monitoring by law enforcement, and they are being loaded with medical supplies to be carried quickly to emergency sites for use by EMTs and rescue services. They play a vital role in search and rescue services in mountains, forests, and wildernesses around the country.
Google and other companies are looking into the possibility of using drones to provide internet connectivity. The drones are designed to circle the Earth in the stratosphere, using laser beams to provide internet access to remote parts of the planet.
At CES 2017, a number of new drone innovations were unveiled:
It's estimated that the drone industry could expand to up to $90 billion within ten years. There are agricultural applications (helping farmers know where to apply fertilizer), military applications (many of which are already in use), energy applications (monitoring infrastructure or analyzing wind turbines for damage), and even emergency relief applications (using drones to map the extent of damage after an earthquake or hurricane).
The truth is that drones can be used in so many ways in the future—it's all up to the drone manufacturers and the tech they are able to come up with.