There are so many options, from cheap toys to expensive “pro-grade” drones that it can be very confusing to know what’s right for you. If money is going to factor heavily in your buying decision, you should also check out our guide to the best cheap drones. If you’re more interested in great quality aerial video,
There are so many options, from cheap toys to expensive “pro-grade” drones that it can be very confusing to know what’s right for you.
If money is going to factor heavily in your buying decision, you should also check out our guide to the best cheap drones. If you’re more interested in great quality aerial video, you’ll need to budget a lot more, but there are some good mid-range options such as the DJI Spark.
What to look for in a drone
At the entry level, toy drones start at just £10, but you won’t get a camera unless you pay around £40-50. Increase your budget towards £100 and you should expect to get live video (first-person view) on your smartphone via a free app, or even a colour screen on the remote control.
None of these will shoot good-quality video, though. For that you will need to spend £300+.
At higher prices, though, you get more for your money and not just better cameras. As well as longer flight times, more expensive drones should also be easier to fly thanks to auto-hovering. Without this, you will have to work hard just to keep it in the air.
Flight time and range
Cheap drones tend to fly for about five- to 10 minutes before they need recharging, and USB chargers tend to take 30- to 60 minutes to recharge the batteries. Try to get a drone with replaceable batteries and buy a couple of spares.
Although some manufacturers claim a range of over 100m for cheap drones, it’s best to assume you’ll never get more than about 50m. By law in the UK, you must keep drone in your line of sight at all times, anyway.
Small and light drones will be blown around in the wind, so warm, windless days are the best times to fly, although the smallest micro drones can be flown indoors.
For bigger drones, which means those over 250g, expect flight times around 20-25 minutes and a range measured in miles, not metres. These use big batteries but are of course bigger and heavier than toy drones. Even the most expensive consumer drones (and we’re talking £2,000) don’t fly for longer than 30 minutes.
Although it’s rare on most of the drones below, crashing is a distinct possibility. Almost all drones come with a full set of spare propellers, but as two rotate anti-clockwise and the other pair clockwise, you’ve got only two spares for each pair of spindles.
Check first if spare parts are easy to obtain for a particular drone, and also their prices.
Not all drones come with cameras. You don’t need a camera, since you should always have the drone in your line of sight while flying it.
At the cheaper end of the price scale you’ll be lucky to get even 720p (1280×720) video, but if you want a drone for aerial video go for at least 1080p (1920×1080). Bear in mind that – as ever – you can’t trust specs alone. Read our reviews to find out how good each drone’s camera is.
However, you’ll only get great quality footage if you buy a drone with a gimbal. This is a stabilised mount for the camera which keeps it steady when the drone tilts or moves around. Parrot’s Bebop 2 has a fixed wide-angle camera that does a decent job without a gimbal, but the quality from DJI’s drones is generally noticeably better.
Some drones record video directly to a microSD card but others record from the remote control, or even over the air to a smartphone. Direct recording is usually more reliable and better quality as the video doesn’t have to be transmitted before being recorded.
Also check out our best drone photography tips.
Best drones 2019
Although you may not consider it cheap, the Mavic Air is astounding value for money. It’s the most advanced consumer drone you can currently buy and shoots great-quality video and panoramic photos.
The Quickshot modes are brilliant, there’s best-ever obstacle avoidance and it’s small enough to carry everywhere with you.
Ultimately, this is the drone you’ve been waiting to buy.
Read our DJI Mavic Air review.
If you can afford a few hundred over and above the Mavic Air, the Mavic 2 Zoom is an excellent drone. Its long flight time is a real advantage, and it remains fairly portable.
Its obstacle avoidance system is also better, as is its object tracking and video transmission system. But it’s the zoom lens which really makes the difference, letting you get closer to your subject.
Read our DJI Mavic 2 Zoom review.
3. DJI Spark
The DJI Spark may not offer the best photo or video quality, but as a package it’s one of the best you can buy under £700. It’s so small it will fit in practically any bag, it’s easy to use and it has features – such as object tracking and obsctable avoidance – that you’d expect only in more expensive models.
Read our DJI Spark review.
Folding drones are undoubtedly the future. GoPro thinks so, and now that DJI has unveiled the Mavic Pro, it’s sure to become the bandwagon on which to jump. The Mavic may seem expensive, but the fact that it has even better tech inside it than the Phantom 4 means it’s actually very good value.
If there’s one downside it’s that you can’t remove the gimbal and camera for ground-based filming as you can with GoPro’s Karma. But the Mavic Pro’s portability and the fantastic new controller are the real winners, though. It means you don’t have to lug a big case around as you did for the Phantom, and that it doesn’t have to be a special occasion: you can take the Mavic Pro everywhere.
Read our DJI Mavic Pro review.
5. Parrot Anafi
With a 180-degree tilting gimbal, a battery that charges via USB-C and the ability to record 4K HDR video, the Anafi is a well-priced drone. The snag is that it won’t avoid any obstacles and some of the autopilot modes have to be unlocked with in-app purchases.
Read our Parrot Anafi review.
The Phantom 4 Advanced is another top-notch drone from DJI. It’s not cheap, and spare batteries are expensive, but it is very easy to fly and offers a plethora of ‘smart’ modes that will help you get decent aerial footage. For some the 20Mp camera will make it worth the upgrade from the Phantom 3 or 4, but remember it lacks the rear vision sensors of the Phantom 4 Pro, which isn’t a whole lot more expensive.
Read our DJI Phantom 4 Advanced review.
The Bebop 2 Power is really a dual-purpose drone. You can use it for shooting cinematic footage or dart around at 40mph and have fun with the FPV headset. It’s large batteries mean it flies for longer than its competitors, but the downside is that it isn’t as portable because it doesn’t fold up.
If your main aim is to get the best possible video quality, though, then there are better alternatives.
Read our Parrot Bebop 2 Power FPV review.