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“In just a few minutes I was hooked. In near silence, the drone rose, hovered, and dove, silently and surreptitiously photographing us and the landscape around us. The photos and video were stunning. The drone allowed me to ‘see’ so much more of my surroundings than usual,” remarked Martha Stewart.
So Martha is convinced, but are you? And which one should you try out? We’ve scoured the web to find the best, most popular drone models out there including the pros, cons and pricing for each one. Drones (or Unmanned Arial Vehicles, aka UAV’s) can be used as a personal toy around the house or used for a number of business endeavors, both large and small. From photography to safety, there are endless possibilities. Whether you are an amateur or a professional, most UAV’s on the market right now are pretty easy to use. With so many options, how do you know which is the right one for you? Read on to find out. Learn more about the history and uses of drones here.
Why Get a Personal Drone?
Here are just a few reasons to invest in a hovering camera (in case you weren’t already convinced):
- They make great gifts for your kids (or yourself)
- Experience the enjoyment of flying a drone
- Show off your skills to your friends and neighbors
- Be an early adopter on a new technology before anyone else
- To record footage of a party, news story, concert or sporting event
- Get a bird’s-eye view of your home or a city
- Capture information, data and research
- Because, even Martha Stewart has one (and loves it!)
Personal Drone Reviews: What’s the Best?
While there are a number of classifications of drones, the most recreational type on the market are Quadcopters. These 4-winged propeller gadgets use variations of propeller rotations to get lift and torque. Most also come equipped with a camera installed or a mounting device to attach your own camera. They all have a pretty comparable battery life, flight time and range, but some have additional features like GPS. It’s just a matter of your experience level, the quality of the stabilization and picture quality, and the price you are willing to pay.
Where to Buy Personal Drones?
Because personal drones are fairly new to the commercial industry, you won’t see many for sale at your everyday retailer like Target or Best Buy…yet. Even when they do become more mainstream, your best bet is to shop online at Amazon and have them delivered right to your doorstep (perhaps delivered by a Drone!?). Or better yet, give one as a gift this holiday season! All the models featured below are for sale on Amazon and, depending on availability, can be sent within a day or two.
From the backyard enthusiast to professional film and television production personnel. The DJI Phantom is by far the best quad on the market. While the price is higher that most, it’s more than worth it for a number of reasons. The DJI Phantom has the widest range, highest speed and longest flight time. Plus the quality and ease of use easily exceeds that of its competitors. If you are looking for a top of the line drone that will be a good investment for the long haul, the DJI Phantom can’t be beat.
DJI Mavic Pro
Also from DJI is the new Mavic Pro released on November 15, 2016. The best camera in DJI’s family of drones, it retails at just under $1,000 but is well worth it for the price given the quality and compact size. It folds as small as a water bottle and has other smart, advanced features like OcuSync transmission, ActiveTrack and TapFly making it truly the best drone on the market for professional photographers.
There are several different models available for purchase depending on what type of camera you want (or already have). The pricing here is all at time of writing:
- DJI Phantom 2 Vision + (Built in camera): $600
- DJI Phantom 2 Vision (Built in camera, but a less flexible attachment): $599.99
- DJI Phantom Aerial for GoPro (Drone only, if you already have a GoPro): $449.95
- DJI Phantom 3 Professional (4K camera quadcopter): $807.77
- DJI Phantom 3 Standard (2.7K camera quadcopter) $740
- DJI Mavic Pro MSRP $999
The DJI Mavic Video
We couldn’t help but share a video for the new DJI Mavic Pro. It’s just so good and the quality speaks for itself. This video highlights some of the other features as well.
You don’t have to be experienced to use the Parrot. Even beginners (like Martha Stewart) can be a pro in no time with this drone. It’s been on the market longer than the rest and is the most popular drone in circulation. It is no wonder it’s a leader in this market. Operate in Basic mode or Director mode to program automatic movements. Weighing in at just under a pound, the lightweight Parrot has a pretty solid range (300 ft), flight time (20 minutes) and speed (20 miles per hour) compared to many others. It’s ready to fly out of the box and can be controlled from your smart device.
There are 2 different models: The Power Edition comes with an extra HD Battery 1500 mAh and 3 sets of colored propellers and the Elite which has a camo-style body. All pricing referenced here is on Amazon.com at the time of writing.
- Parrot AR 2.0 Elite Edition (Snow, jungle or sand): $207.49
- Parrot AR 2.0 Power Edition (Blue, red or orange): $269.99
The Hussan X4 is the perfect beginner drone to get started without investing a lot of money. Its low price makes it great for first-timers. It also has an advanced mode for those aiming to become more proficient at performing acrobatic flips & barrel rolls. Its small (2-3 inches), lightweight frame (just over 1 pound), provides a pretty stable flight. However, for the low price and size you sacrifice a few features like camera quality, flight time and battery life. Be prepared to crash, and order plenty of extra blades to replace when you do. Bonus: It comes with a USB charging cable and the machine has lights and a night vision camera for flying in the dark. For less than $50, you can’t find a better drone!
- Hubsan X4 H107C: $38.99
We reviewed other drones that didn’t quite make the cut but are worth reviewing below.
The IRIS Pixhawk’s best feature is its autopilot system. This system allows you to program automated takeoffs and landings, and customize missions by drawing the flight route. Set it up to automatically track any GPS-enabled device such as your iPhone or Android and it will return home to its original location and land itself, even if it runs out of battery. The Iris has up to 20 minutes of flying time and, compared to the others, is a little on the heavier side (almost 3 pounds). It comes ready to go out of the box complete with a remote control, battery and charger. (Note: the camera will cost you extra.)
At time of writing the price was as follows:
- 3D Robotics Iris+ (without GoPro camera) $549
Note: The GoPro Karma is currently under recall at time of publish date. Read more about the GoPro Karma recall.
The highly anticipated GoPro Karma drone is the latest product from GoPro that was released in October 2016. The drone is GoPro’s attempt to do everything that the GoPro already does great (which is capturing high-quality footage) with much greater capabilities including a large range, integrated GPS and image stabilization which keeps the shot steady as the drone vibrates and moves. In addition, the Karma features collapsible wings making it fold and pack up as well as a detachable Karma Grip camera stick that also captures the same stable footage. Their touchscreen controller is the sleekest design of the drones we’ve reviewed and has the ability to stream live footage to others. Since the Karma is on the pricier side and new to the market (at time of writing) it didn’t make our top three picks (yet) but this drone is sure to takeoff (pun intended) soon!
The new Hover Passport drone is a lightweight drone that folds into the size of a book. The square shape makes it safe to handle and easy to pack into your bag. It operates using your smartphone, so no additional controller is required making it convenient to transport. The Hover comes in sleek packaging (like Apple products) and has face and body tracking so it can automatically follow you as you move. However, the smaller size and lighter weight comes with some tradeoffs including the image quality, speed and flying time. Overall, the Hover Passport is great for amatures who are wanting to capture glorified selfies for a low price.
- At time of writing the Hover costs $599
We learned about the Lily Camera, which is a self-flying, waterproof drone. Lily Drone is currently taking pre-orders but orders will not ship until December 2016. Users who paid deposits for their cameras more than a year ago have not been happy about the delay, hopefully it will be worth the wait!
- Price at time of writing is $999 (preorder for $899 now)
- $20 shipping
Ready to Fly?
Convinced to come aboard the drone bandwagon? Getting a personal drone now, will make you a pro UAV pilot in no time! As always, we encourage you to use safety and caution when operating these products. Also check local laws to see if there are any restrictions in your area. We wrote another article where you can learn more about drones and their possible uses.
What do you think of drones? Have you ever flown one?