Drones come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and prices. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can get a nanocopter for a few bucks, or an industrial-strength rig for thousands. We’ve picked out what we think are some of the best options for a variety of budgets and applications. Aside from the sheer fun of hobby flying, photography (and videography) are the most popular application of drones, so we have several of those among our picks. In the commercial market, site surveys, industrial inspections, and architectural research and planning are some typical applications.
For $500: Parrot Bebop 2
Next to DJI, Parrot is one of the most well-known makers of drones, having jump-started the toy drone market with the Parrot AR. Its Bebop and newer Bebop 2 model are more than just toys, and are suitable for someone who wants to learn about drone photography, but isn’t able to spring for a more capable version. Bebop achieves its price point of just over $400 by replacing a stabilized mechanical gimbal with the lightweight and inexpensive option of electronic image stabilization shot through a 180-degree fish-eye lens. Since you control the Bebop with your smartphone, it also eliminates the need for a dedicated remote control. Its camera shoots 1080p video and 12MP still photos during its rated 25-minute flying time. The 1080p video is created by cropping the full resolution 12MP image, so you can actually pan the video digitally around within the field of view of the lens. You can also record a low-resolution live feed on your smartphone, or rely on the 8GB of on-board storage.
Adding a Skycontroller remote control and smartphone-compatible headset will set you back another $250 (or $300 if purchased separately). That combo gives you more flexibility in how you pilot the drone, as well as FPV (First Person View) capability and an extended control range of up to 1 mile. After you read about some of the other drones in this roundup, you may mourn what the Bebop 2 lacks. But if you’re on a budget and want to set started flying, it’s one of the best options out there. Because you can purchase it separately and later add on the Skycontroller capability, it also allows you to get into the hobby over time. In my experience, flying a drone with a mobile phone app is tricky, so if you’re in doubt you’re better off making sure you also purchase the remote control. Unfortunately, Parrot doesn’t seem to be selling the remote control separately any more, so you might need to get it as part of the FPV bundle.
For $1,000: DJI Mavic Pro
Anyone who has lugged a drone into the field or traveled with one an a plane knows they’re awkward to carry. DJI has worked to address that issue with its Mavic Pro. The unit folds down to the size of a water bottle (albeit a largish one) between flights. As to the specs of the drone itself, DJI has taken some popular features from its Phantom product line, and put them in a smaller and slightly less expensive unit. The Mavic Pro has collision avoidance and a 4-mile range, like the Phantom 4 (below), but uses your mobile device for control and has a lower-resolution 12MP sensor. It can still capture 4K video, but only up to 30fps.
Like the Phantom 4 Pro, the Mavic Pro can track objects, which can include people, pets, vehicles, and bike riders, for example. It can capture 1080p video at 96fps, which is fast enough for some slow-motion effects.