DJI Spark ($399)
Next on our list of top five best drones is the DJI Spark – a truly value-for-money machine with a compact and portable form factor, impressive footage quality and some other cool features that we’ll cover as we go along.\
From a design viewpoint, the Spark is endowed with a lightweight, compact and super portable body that comes with four rotors/propellers, a detachable battery, a micro USB port, one micro SD and a 12-megapixel camera, capable of recording stabilized footages at 1080 pixels.
The Spark is available in five attractive colors, including Alpine White, Meadow Green, Sunrise Yellow, Sky Blue, and Lava Red; however, what’s important to note is that each of the color options is slightly different from the others in terms of price.
When the Spark is flying in its Sports Mode, it is quite capable of holding its own in winds as fast as 31 miles per hour – thanks to the Spark’s design engineering.
The Spark’s 2-axis mechanical gimbal provides the machine the stability you need when shooting footages of those awesome locations you choose to bring your drone to.
Again, using the DJI GO 4 app instead of the included controller is what we would recommend, simply because it offers you so much more, including plenty of filters, editing templates, and modes; moreover, it allows you to instantly share your footage on social media.
Here’s a quick insight into some of the modes that you can take advantage of in the DHI GO app
Tap Fly Mode: This mode allows the drone to follow you, based on your taps on your smartphone.
Palm Control Mode: This mode lets you control the drone’s movements with palm gestures.
Active Track Mode: You can activate this mode when you want the drone to track the objects that you’re looking to capture footages, or stills, of.
The battery on the Spark is good to keep you airborne for 16 minutes on a full charge, which is not bad for that price point.
If you must have a high-quality drone full of features, yet not looking to invest too much in it, then look not beyond the DJI Spark.
Xiaomi Mi ($460)
The Xiaomi Mi is a good-looking 4K drone that oozes class, right from its camera and its battery to its negligible charging time and its 6-axis Gyro stabilization system and more.
The Mi’s attractive white body is equipped with the usual four propellers/rotors at the end of each arm and a rounded 4K camera attached to the front underside of the drone.
There are four LED lights under the propellers, including two white lights to indicate the front of the drone, while the other two (green and red) are navigation lights, all of which are particularly useful when flying at night.
Even in unfavorable weather conditions, the Xiaomi Mi’s brushless motor ensures a steady performance, regardless of the speed at which you’re flying this quadcopter.
The MI is available in two variants, a professional model with a 12.4-megapixel 4K camera setup and a standard version with a 1080p shooter.
As with most drones today, using the drone app is a better option than using the included controller as your central control point, especially if you are a feature fanatic.
To give you a couple of examples, the app allows you to set up your drone to follow you or the route you want it to and it can even be set up to circle your desired subject, in addition to the usual stuff that drones are supposed to do, like take-off, land, return, and so forth.
The app is intuitive enough to make even beginners feel at home with the controls, doing stuff that you’d expect from a typical drone geek.
While twenty minutes of battery life might not sound too impressive, the fact that it takes only three and a half minutes to fully load up the battery certainly does, if the manufacturer’s claim is anything to go by.
Well, if shooting 4K videos is what you’re looking to promote yourself to, then the Xiaomi Mi should find its way on your final list of three before you decide on a winner.
Parrot Bebop 2 Power ($550)
The Parrot Bebop 2 Power is one of the best options on the market, this year if you’re looking for a drone that combines an affordable price with dozens of cool features that are sure to give you a great flying experience.
Design-wise, the Bebop 2 Power features a lightweight plastic body offering three color options to choose from – red, black, and white.
Each of the four rotors attached to the main body come equipped with rubberized dampeners that help minimize vibrations as much as possible to maintain the quality of footage you shoot.
On the front of the drone, you have a 14-megapixel camera with fisheye lens, while the rear of the drone houses the battery pack with a blue LED light that notifies you of the battery’s condition.
While you can easily operate the Bebop 2 Power using the included controller over a USB cable, you’ll be better off using the Parrot Freeflight Pro app because it offers you plenty of fun options that are free and some that you ’ll need to pay for in order to unlock them.
The Bebop 2 Power comes with an FPV headset that lets you feel the imagery you are recording in depth while flying over land, which is a really neat feature to have.
The FHD 1080p camera performs exceptionally well and even in bright sunshine, the quality of the visuals doesn’t get affected much.
The 3-axis digital stabilization on this drone ensures consistent footage quality regardless of how you maneuver your Bebop 2 in the sky.
The Bebop 2’s visual recognition and GPS tracking technology allow the drone to track and follow you wherever you go once you have paired it with your smartphone.
The massive 2,700mAh battery on the back of the unit gives you up to 25 minutes in the air on a single full charge, after which, you need to detach the battery before you can juice it up again.
To sum it up, the Bebop Power 2 is a must-have for everyone who is looking for an affordable, yet powerful drone.
DJI Mavic Air ($799)
At $799, the new Mavic Air is, basically, an improved version of DJI’s cheapest drone, Spark ($399) and incorporates features of the company’s most expensive unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) the Mavic Pro ($999).
Mavic Air can fold up like the Pro and, at 15 ounces, weighs just a little over half the Pro’s weight.
Folded up, it is smaller than the Spark and can easily fit into a jacket pocket, as was demonstrated by DJI executive Michael Perry during its announcement earlier this year.
With 4K video footage and 32-megapixel panoramas, the new “ultraportable” drone is a big improvement on the 1080p shooting and 12-megapixel still capabilities of the Spark.
With a flight time of 21 minutes, the Mavic Air is five minutes better than the Spark; however, it does fall way short of the Pro’s staying power of 30 minutes.
The Air has a top speed of 42.5 miles per hour, 11 mph faster than the Spark, and can hold its own in winds of up to 22 mph.
Plus, by virtue of a new antenna design, it has a visible-to-the-sight range of 2.5 miles.
An improved ventilation system will prevent the UAV from overheating, and the new 3-axis gimbal camera mount will ensure smoother footages, claims DJI.
A good obstacle avoidance system, including seven cameras and an array of sensors and improved software, offers relative safety for the $800-dollar drone.
AND, not only is the Mac Air foldable, it comes packed with a remote control that is also foldable and has detachable joysticks, as well.
DJI’s continuing innovation in terms of UAV size, weight, and portability, with no compromise on quality, specs or features and making these drones available at affordable prices, make it seem unlikely that there will be much competition any time soon.
Skydio R1 ($2,500)
The Skydio R1 is a real drone in the true sense of the word because we somehow seem to miss the line between an actual drone and an RC (remote controlled) flying device.
While an RC quadcopter needs manual control, the drone is supposed to be a self-flying machine not dependent on any direct control, and that’s exactly what the Skydio R1 is – a fully autonomous drone.
The main purpose behind developing this drone was to provide consumers with a flying machine that was basically a flying camera, with the ability to fly unaided, while filming a subject that could be walking, running, or even cycling, for that matter, and it seems that the R1 has hit the bull’s eye with this one – well, almost.
To put it simply, computer vision is what the drone uses to achieve that autonomy, processing images from its thirteen cameras to track a given subject, rather than using wearable devices, or Lidar sensors for the purpose, as we have seen on a couple of autonomous drones in the past.
Out of those 13 onboard cameras, the one on the nose of the R1 is the subject-tracking camera. It is mounted on a three-axis gimbal, which not only allows it to move as it tracks its subject but also gives it the steadiness required for the perfect footage.
While drones like the Mavic Pro and the Phantom 4 also boast subject tracking capabilities, they are definitely not in the same league as the R1, largely due to the fact that it has a number of tracking modes, including a standard follow mode, tripod mode, side-tracking mode, orbit mode and lead mode.
Of course, all of this would not have been possible without the obstacle avoidance system supported by 12 cameras all around the R1.
There are two pairs on each flank, with two cameras on top of the drone and two underneath it, making it a total of 12 – the 13th being the gimbal camera just discussed.
All these cameras work in harmony to create a 3D mapping of the surroundings, providing the drone with the depth perception needed to avoid obstacles.
The Skydio R1 is, arguably, the best there is out there today when it comes to tracking and filming a subject with such versatility – producing breathtaking footages as a result.
The Skydio R1 comes with two batteries, with an advertised flight time of 16 minutes on a single charge; however, tests have shown that 12 to 14 minutes is what you actually get before you have to bring it back to terra firma for a recharge.
The app control for manual operation of the drone is pretty handy, designed for one-handed flight control.
At $2,500 it’s certainly not cheap, but not a bad buy either – if you can afford it.