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You’ve seen the incredible aerial photos and videos that people have taken using state-of-the-art camera-equipped drones and you want some of that action.
Well, you’ve come to the right place: we’ve curated a list of five top camera drones that don’t cost the earth. Any one of these flying machines will produce beautiful aerial photos and ravishing videos of the earth from a vast range of high-up perspectives that would have previously involved sitting in a helicopter.
All about the camera drone
Drones have exploded onto the market and revolutionised the worlds of both photography and videography. Think of the drone as an aerial tripod because that’s basically what it is. Every decent camera drone is equipped with a 3-axis gimbal that holds the camera in position, swaying in sympathy to the drone’s movements to keep video rock steady and still images as sharp as a tack.
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There’s no guesswork involved with image framing because everything the drone’s camera sees is streamed to the user’s mobile phone, which is usually clipped into a hand controller. The controller itself comes with two steering/power sticks, plus buttons and rocker switches to control the camera shutter and the gimbal’s tilt mechanism. All models require an app for full functionality and to make changes to the drone’s flight parameters and camera settings.
The drones themselves are a doddle to fly and nothing like the last model helicopter you bought and then immediately crashed into the garden fence. Every drone on this page is equipped with GPS: they will always find their way back to you and hover in one spot with your fingers off the joy sticks, even while straining against a cross wind. You could literally leave any one of these models in the air, nip home and make a cup of tea, and on your return it’ll still be hovering in the same spot.
All of these drones can be folded up for easy transport and they all boast a minimum flight time of around 25 minutes. Similarly, most models can fly as far as five miles away and many hundreds of metres up, though this is actually illegal (see drone regulations below).
If you want to start getting into drone photography and videography, there are a few things you need to know before taking to the skies. New international drone laws require that any pilot flying a drone above 250g (that’s every drone on this page bar one) must register for a pilot ID.
This involves the user taking a relatively easy online multiple-choice test and paying £9 per annum for a Flyer ID. You can find out more about drone registration at the CAA website: https://register-drones.caa.co.uk/individual
If you’re thinking of taking up drone videography as a professional career (property filming, TV and film use etc), you will need to apply for a proper drone licence which involves a costly and complex course, akin to getting a driver’s licence. Once you have that under the belt, you’re free to earn monies from flying your drone. However, bear in mind that the professional aerial cinematography arena is already saturated, so you will need to demonstrate great skill and creativity if you wish to make a go of it.
The Drone Code
•Always fly the aircraft within direct line of sight.
•Don’t fly closer than 50m to people.
•Never fly above an altitude of 400ft (120m).
•Don’t fly closer than 50m to buildings, cars, boats and trains.
•Never fly closer than 150m to a crowd of 1,000 people or more.
•Don’t fly closer than 150m to a built-up area.
•Never fly within an airport’s flight restriction zone. In fact stay well clear of any airport, no matter how small.
DJI Mini 2
Key specs: Weight: 249g; Maximum camera resolution: 4K/12mp; Flight time: 31 mins; Transmission range: 6 miles
This is the only 4K camera-equipped drone on the market that weighs under 250g (249g to be precise), and that means you don’t need to register it with the CAA. Simply head out into the hills, unfold its four little propellor arms and fly.
The new Mini 2 is an exceptional little drone. It flies beautifully in winds up to 23mph (which is very breezy), has a sensational top speed of 35mph in ‘Sport’ mode and its battery provides an exceptional 31 minutes of flight time.
Furthermore, with DJI’s rock-solid OcuSync 2.0 video transmission system on board, you can fly it up to 10km (about six miles) away and video from the front-mounted camera remains crisp and detailed with very little interference.
As is the case with most modern camera drones, the Mini 2 also features a selection of ‘quick-shot’ functions to shoot video automatically with no input from the pilot. While the drone is in hover mode, simply select the function of choice (dronie, circle, etc) and it will automatically produce a smooth sequence of video that is normally very difficult to perform manually.
Despite the drone’s low weight, DJI somehow managed to fit it with a top-notch camera capable of shooting extraordinarily detailed 4K video at up to 30 frames per second and pin-sharp 12-megapixel photos.
This drone doesn’t come equipped with obstacle avoidance sensors like its more expensive stablemates, but that’s not a deal breaker because in every other sphere it truly excels.
If you’re seeking a drone that’s as compact as an iPhone 11, one that shoots exceptional video and still images, then this is unequivocally the model to buy. Perfect in every way.
DJI Mavic Air 2
Key specs: Weight: 570g; Maximum camera resolution: 4K/48mp; Flight time: 34 mins; Transmission range: 6 miles
Although you will need to register this drone to fly it legally, the Mavic Air 2 takes aerial videography and photography to the next level. With its 1/2-inch CMOS sensor, this drone is capable of taking higher quality 4K video footage at up to 60 frames per second and stills with a staggering resolution of up to 48 megapixels.
The Mavic Air 2 is about 4cm longer than its little brother the Mini 2, but it’s still compact and light enough when folded to take on a hike up a mountain without it encumbering your progress. It’s also an ideal drone for shooting in tight spaces or around trees because it has three-way obstacle avoidance and active tracking.
This means you can command the Mavic Air 2 to follow you – or any other moving subject – and it will avoid all obstacles and even work its way around them.
Obstacle avoidance also prevents the pilot from accidentally flying the drone into a building, or worse, a crowd of people – it will literally stop dead in its tracks the moment its sensors detect a barrier.
The Mavic Air 2 has a video transmission range of six miles, a blisteringly quick top speed of 42.5mph and a maximum flight time of 34 minutes.
For most wannabe cinematographers, this is the drone of choice for capturing striking aerial footage and stills without being too big and heavy to lug around. A complete all-rounder, no less.
PowerEgg X Wizard
Key specs: Weight: 544g; Maximum camera resolution: 4K/12mp; Flight time: 30 mins; Transmission range: 3.5 miles
This relative newcomer is not only the prettiest looking drone in the sky, it also comes with a few extra surprises.
Ask any drone pilot what type of scenario gives them the heebie jeebies and you can be sure that it’s the act of flying over water. Well this particular drone is equipped with a transparent waterproof housing and two floatation tubes that make it completely impervious to water and inclement weather.
This means that it will never sink to the bottom of a lake if it’s attacked by a bird or you ill advisedly fly it with very low battery power. It also means you can confidently fly it in rain or snow.
But that’s not the only thing this unique egg-shaped flyer can do. Aside from flying reliably and shooting decent 4K video and 12mp stills, it can also be used as a stabilised ground camera by clipping in the wrist holder or by attaching it to the supplied tripod and setting it up to track a moving subject.
In transit mode, the PowerEgg X resembles an ostrich egg; in fact it clips together so well you can hardly see the seams. To fly it, simply remove part of the cover and clip in the four long propellor arms, launch the PowerVisionMe app and take to the skies.
The drone has a flight range of 3.5 miles and will stay in the air for up to 30 minutes on a full charge. Like all the drones on this page, it too features a plethora of autonomous flight modes for hassle-free video shooting.
Although the PowerEgg X’s camera isn’t quite up to DJI standards and the package as a whole is a bit cumbersome to carry around, this model is still well worth considering, not least for the confidence it instills when flying over water.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Key specs: Weight: 907g; Maximum camera resolution: 4K/20mp; Flight time: 31 mins; Transmission range: 11 miles
Yes, it’s yet another DJI drone but make no mistake, this is the model to grab if you want to produce professional quality video and stills that are good enough for TV broadcast and possibly even cinema use.
The Mavic 2 Pro’s high-end Hasselblad camera features a large one-inch CMOS sensor which produces truly stunning 4K UHD video at up to 30fps, 2.7K video at 60fps and 1080p footage at up to 120fps.
It also shoots 20mp RAW stills of such depth and clarity your jaw may drop to the floor. Naturally, it’s equipped with a full gamut of video recording profiles and manual camera settings.
While the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is larger than its brethren, it’s no less portable since it folds into a tidy, albeit weighty, package small enough for a shoulder bag or even a large jacket pocket.
Like the Mavic 2 Air, its response to joystick input is simply magic; few drones are more confidence inspiring to fly. It also features full obstacle avoidance and ultra stable video transmission for reliable, fuss-free video and stills shooting.
And it will comfortably stay airborne for up to 31 minutes, which is more than enough time to capture the ‘money’ shot.
If you’re really serious about photography or videography and can afford the higher asking price, then there is no better drone on the market to help take your creativity to a new level. Trust us, you will not be disappointed.
Key specs: Weight: 320g; Maximum camera resolution: 4K/21mp; Flight time: 25 mins; Transmission range: 2.5 miles
Although DJI is far and away the most dominant force in the arena of consumer and professional drone manufacturing, it was actually Paris-based Parrot’s hugely popular AR Drone of 2010 that kickstarted the whole consumer drone craze.
Although originally launched in 2018, the Anafi is still a very worthwhile cinematic contender, not least because its camera and stabilising gimbal are set into the nose of the craft. This means it can film 90˚ upwards as well as down, a perspective that is impossible to achieve with any DJI model.
While the Anafi’s flight software isn’t quite as robust as DJI’s, it’s still more than reliable enough for line-of-sight duties, like filming yourself on a sunny beach or grabbing a gorgeous shot of a beautiful geographical feature from the comfort of a camping chair.
The Anafi camera’s 1/2.4-inch CMOS sensor and and five-axis stabilising gimbal are capable of producing detailed 4K UHD video and striking 21mp stills. Moreover, the camera also has a 3x zoom function so you can shoot more delicate subjects like wildlife without causing any undue stress on the animal.
The zoom function will even let you recreate the famous Hitchcock ‘Vertigo’ dolly zoom effect (also used in ‘Jaws’), whereby the main subject remains the same size in the frame while the entire background morphs towards the viewer.
The Anafi uses GPS positioning for rock steady outdoor flight and has a running time of about 25 minutes and a top speed of 33mph. For those who like slapping a pair of goggles on the face, it’s also available as an FPV package for the full immersive flying experience.