Aerial photography is more accessible than ever with the latest breed of smart drones; here’s our pick of the best you can buy
Drones have become hugely popular over the past few years for a number of different reasons. They’re fun to fly, for one, and much easier to handle than traditional remote control aeroplanes or helicopters. But the true appeal of modern drones is that they can put the ability to shoot aerial video and photographs in the hands of amateurs.
Cheaper drones below £100 are commonplace but these are mostly toys and the quality of their cameras tends to be pretty poor. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend thousands to get professional-looking aerial footage and photography. In fact, you can get started capturing semi-pro footage for significantly below £1,000.
But what are the best models you can buy at this sort of price and what features can you expect? We’ve put together a buying guide to help you make the right choices and a list of the best camera drones you can buy.
How to buy the best drone with a camera for you
What should I expect from my drone’s camera?
Drones today usually come with integrated cameras that are very much like smartphones or action cameras in the quality of image and video they produce. That’s because sensors they use are typically the same size: around 1/2.3in. Better quality cameras with larger sensors are available but these don’t start to kick in until around £1,500 or more and if you want proper DSLR-level quality you’ll be looking at a big drone costing many thousands of pounds.
Modern drones can record video up to 4K in resolution, though, with cheaper ones at sub-£500 restricted to 1080p. They can produce stills at decent resolutions, too, up to 21 megapixels in the case of the Parrot Anafi.
But just as important as the quality of your stills and video will be the smoothness of the footage you’re recording. Drone cameras are typically mounted on what’s known as a gimbal. Gimbals use a series of tiny motors to detect vibration and motion to keep the camera still so footage looks smooth, and photographs aren’t blurry. All the drones listed here have gimbals, and they offer different levels of stabilisation. Some drones offer single-axis stabilisation (roll or pitch), some two-axis (roll and pitch usually), some three-axis (roll, pitch and pan/yaw). Others only offer digital/electronic stabilisation, which provides inferior results.
And what about the rest of the drone?
Each of the drones in our list has extremely good flight capabilities, but some are more agile and operable than others. Naturally, if the drone isn’t easy to fly that will affect the quality of what you shoot but, equally, the more precise and reliable a drone is in flight, the more confident you’ll be about the types of shot you can pull off. Beginners will be grateful for object avoidance systems that prevent crashes as well as beginner-level flight modes that keep the drone close by and flying at limited speeds.
There’s also the matter of flight time, and how much you wish to film and record in a single flying session. Do you need your drone to move quickly? If so, look out for the top flight speed in the product specifications. Are you anticipating windy conditions? Think about the strength of the drone’s gimbal. And consider how you’ll be transporting your drone. Consider getting a foldable drone if you’re going to be travelling light.
Also, all potential drone users should read over the UK Dronecode, which lays out the rules of flying drones. It dictates that your drone never leaves your line of sight when you’re operating it, that you don’t fly it at altitudes above 400ft (120m), that you keep the drone at least 150ft (50m) clear of people or occupied buildings and at least 1km away from airports, aircraft and airfields.