To find the best drone for you, first you’ll need to figure out what it is you want out of a flying camera. Are you an action sports junkie trying to capture your sick moves for a highlight reel? An aspiring cinematographer aiming to up your production values? Or a social media star hoping to supercharge your selfie game? There are great drones across a wide range of sizes and prices, and the best match depends on your answer.
Okay, you say, but what if I’m not sure exactly what I want out of a drone? Well, if you are intrigued by the category and want to get a taste, we’ve picked the perfect starter drone, a unit that won’t break the bank, but can still deliver serious footage and range. Along with that, we’ve picked the best drone for amateur filmmakers and a unit that can satisfy all the needs of an outdoor athlete.
This article will be continually updated as new drones are released and reviewed, so be sure to check back if you’re not buying a drone right now.
The best starter drone right now: DJI Spark
At $500 and 300 grams (less than the weight of three iPhone 7 phones), the Spark is DJI’s most approachable drone. You don’t have to learn how to fly a two-stick controller to get results. You can launch and land it from the palm of your hand and use gestures to move it around and snap photos. With the tap of a button in the app, you can initiate more complex maneuvers for more dramatic shots or set the drone to follow a particular subject.
If you control the Spark with your gestures or a smartphone, the range is rather limited. But if you want to get more ambitious, DJI sells a remote control that will allow you more fine-grained control and over a mile of range and a top speed of just over 30 miles an hour in “sport mode.”
The camera only records in 1080p and is stabilized with a two-axis gimbal. But the results, when compared with most drones of this size and price, are spectacular. If your goal is to make great memories and have footage good enough to share on social media and YouTube, the Spark has you covered.
A second option: DJI Mavic Pro
If you want a drone with a range and speed that goes well beyond the Spark, the next-best option is DJI’s Mavic Pro. Like the Spark, it’s quite portable. With its legs folded up, the Mavic fits easily into my messenger bag, and can even slip into a large jacket pocket. It has over 25 minutes of flight time on a single charge, a top speed of 40 miles and hour, and a range of over four miles when used with a remote. Importantly, it also has a larger camera with a three-axis gimbal, meaning your video footage is better stabilized, and can shoot in full 4K.
The trade-offs for this extra power and performance over the Spark come in the form of size, price, and complexity. The Mavic is portable, but definitely larger and heavier than the Spark. It’s also twice the cost, retailing for $999. Lastly, unless you’re a very confident expert, you need to have a flat surface to take off and land, not just the palm of your hand. And while you can use the Mavic indoors, it’s much bigger, louder, and more intimidating to bystanders than the Spark.
There are plenty of other drones on the market. Some might be better for you if you’ve already bought into the company’s ecosystem, or want more flexibility out of your camera gear. Others should be avoided at all costs.