Fall 2016 Camera Drone Slugfest – GoPro Karma vs. Mavic Pro vs. Phantom 3 & 4 vs. Yuneec
With the recent introduction of the DJI Mavic Pro and GoPro Karma, the 2016 Fall and Holiday Season lineup of consumer camera drones has taken shape. The internet chatter, as usual, has built to a crescendo as to “which is the best drone?” and “which company will bury the others?“. We think it’s time for Dronflyers.com to step into the ring as referee and decide which models are contenders for the crown and which should perhaps be sent back to the gym for some additional work. Put another way – which drone should you buy if you want to have one (or gift one) in the 2016 Holiday season?
Are You Serious?
Two small models, both based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon drone platform, have hit the market recently. These are the Yuneec Breeze and the Zerotech Dobby. Both are quite small and operated from your smartphone. A similar drone, the Wingsland S6, is also slated for release soon. These models – with the needed extra batteries and case – will cost approx. $500.
The serious “dronie” – or, more accurately, the budding aerial photographer who desires to get further into the drone world, is not the target market for these models. They lack a brushless gimbal – and therefore the capability to achieve the buttery-smooth aerial video we are accustomed to seeing. They are controlled via your smartphone – as opposed to a real R/C controller. These are high tech toys and gadgets for those who want a drone – but don’t have the time or inclination to delve much further into the pursuit. The size and design makes them ideal for close-in “selfie” and “follow me” type of work and the portability might come in handy for some. Snapshot (still photos) from these models will generally satisfy – especially if post-processed (cropped, rotated, etc.).
Parrot sells a small model called the BeBop 2 – somewhat similar, but perhaps more capable, than the newer models above. However, our experience with Parrot drones over the past three years has been poor so we are reluctant to recommend them.
In short, while the models above are cool tech gadgets, those who are more serious about aerial photography and video will move on to the more capable models with brushless gimbals, longer range and R/C controllers (joystick based).
Duking it out for the sales this holiday season, we have the following in the price range of $450 to $1900. Listed below they are priced approx. from low to high.
DJI Phantom 3 Standard (at DJI – at Amazon)
DJI Phantom 3 Advanced (at DJI – at Amazon)
Yuneec Q 500 4K (at Amazon)
Autel Robotics X-Star Premium (at Amazon)
DJI Phantom 3 Pro (at DJI – at Amazon)
DJI Mavic Pro (at DJI at Amazon)
Yuneec Typhoon H base, no Realsense – (at Amazon)
GoPro Karma (at this price it includes handheld gimbal stick and Hero camera) – RECALLED – OUT OF RUNNING.
DJI Phantom 4 (at DJI – at Amazon)
Yuneec Typhoon H Pro – Realsense – (at Amazon)
Grouping the Contenders
The question arises as to whether all of these drones are in the same market segment – that is, whether the same buyer should consider any one against any other. In our opinion, these differ so greatly that they should be separated into categories – as we’ve done below. The notes in () explain some of the reasons for grouping.
GoPro Karma (the complete package for those who already have a GoPro – or want or need one) – recalled…out of running!
Yuneec Q 500 4K (less capable in wind, mid-level camera, built in small tablet).
DJI Mavic Pro (highest technology, most portable, most capable in everything other than Image Quality).
(models below are roughly designed for the same function – aerial photography platforms with decent wind resistance).
DJI Phantom 3 Standard
DJI Phantom 3 Advanced
Autel Robotics X-Star Premium
DJI Phantom 3 Pro
DJI Phantom 4
Yuneec Typhoon H (base, no Realsense)
Yuneec Typhoon H Pro (Realsense)
Money IS an Object – Value Matters – but reliability and capabilities do also
One can’t help but notice that the Yuneec Typhoon H machines are among the most expensive of the bunch – so the question arises as to whether the consumer gets more for the extra dollars spent. In our opinion they do not – mostly due to the mediocre quality of the Typhoon Camera and lack of features in the included App. There have also been some reported reliability problems. If you desire further information, check our hands-on review of the Yuneec Typhoon H here on Droneflyers.com.
Based on these factors as well as an app and UI (user interface) which needs improvement, we feel that the Yuneec Typhoon H is not likely to emerge as the Champion of the 2016 Holiday Season.
Update: Yuneec has lowered the price of the Typhoon H to less than $1,000 for the standard model and about $1500 for the deluxe package with RealSense and backpack. At this price it is more competitive but still does not present the maturity of the DJI Phantom 4 (app, range, 3rd party software, portability, etc).
Anything but DJI
There are some buyers who, for their own reasons, don’t want to buy the major or most popular brand (DJI) and therefore look elsewhere. In the mid-priced section of this lineup there are two such models, the Autel Robotics X-Star and the Yuneec Q500 4K.
The older Yuneec Q500 4K is more mature than the Autel – but the lack of wind resistance as well as a generally fragile construction gives us concerns. The app is also dated and the small (5″) built in screen may not suit some photographers.
The Autel Robotics X-Star is essentially a “visual clone” (other than the orange color) of the Phantom 3 series. Reviews have been good with most owners claiming they can “get the shot” that they want…which is the whole idea of this category of consumer camera drones!
Therefore, the Autel remains in the Ring even as others suffer a KO or TKO.
Old Faithful(s) and Reliability Champs
The Phantom 3 series, despite being introduced 18 months ago, has blossomed into a mature and reliable platform with many 3rd party accessories and apps. The prices have come down while the capabilities have increased (due to apps and some DJI improvements). This being the case – it’s hard to come up with a better value than the Phantom 3 series. The Standard is for the (relative) beginner who is on a budget and wants to get his or her feet wet in aerial photography – while the Advanced and Pro models have advanced features that still keep the competition on the ropes. Many experts claim DJI is 2+ years ago of most other camera drone makers – and the P3 line seems to prove that point.
The middleweight crown, therefore, goes to the DJI Phantom 3 series…with the “sweet spot” of pricing/capabilities probably being the Phantom 3 Advanced (about $699 plus additional batteries, etc.). Those looking for a real bargain can dig around in DJI’s “Refurb” store on Amazon – a current deal on the Phantom 3 Standard was priced at $339 while the Phantom Advanced was only $589.
Latest and Greatest
The DJI Phantom 4 is an amazing piece of kit – and will satisfy (or blow away) most consumers entering or stepping up in the field of Aerial Photography and Video. It features “computer vision” as well as all the advanced features first introduced in the Phantom 3 line – all rolled up into an improved package. Check out our three part hands-on review for full details.
The Phantom 4 easily wins our heavyweight crown for the Holiday Season of 2016/2017.
As if the Phantom 4 was not already the heavyweight…on Nov. 15, DJI introduced the Phantom 4 Pro model – this is an even more advanced machine with a Sony 1″ Sensor as well as beefed up specs and more obstacle avoidance. This machine start at $1499 – 90% of users would be fine with the regular Phantom 4 ($1050-$1199 now), but those who are more advanced photographers will want to check out our new article on this machine.
But wait….sneaking up into the Ring underneath the Phantom 4 is a diminutive “martial arts” newcomer – making moves which are quick and agile…does the new DJI Mavic Pro have what it takes to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee?
The DJI Mavic Pro is undoubtedly the most advanced consumer drone ever built – by a long shot! But that doesn’t mean it is the model for everyone to run out and buy. In fact, the Phantom 4 may exceed the Mavic Pro in image quality – although you’d need a keen eye to tell the difference. Where the Mavic shines in portability – size does matter in some situations and those needing to work indoors and in confined areas – as well as outdoors – may want to consider this new model. The Mavic also features advanced programming including “computer vision” which is superior to even the Phantom 4, the former champ of optical capabilities.
Orders for Mavic Pro are being taken by DJI – with volume shipments started in late October. We have received one and you will find some articles about it on our main blog (front page).
(update – the Mavic Pros are selling at the fastest pace of any drone ever – deliveries of new order are now into January, 2017. Get your order in if you want one)…
The GoPro Karma – The Coach Sparring Outside the Ring?
The GoPro Karma, instead of engaging in a frontal assault on the others, seems content to be both a sparring partner and a boxing and wrestling coach. The strength of the Karma is not the technical specs of the drone itself (which is somewhat lacking in terms of advanced features). Rather it is on the entire package deal – the camera is removable and can be used on the included stabilizing stick. The Karma Drone, although fairly large, folds flat into a relatively small (included) case. The controller includes a screen – so no need to use a phone or tablet.
This makes the Karma an attractive value proposition for those in the GoPro orbit – who like or trust the brand and who desire the other capabilities of a sports camera and handheld gimbal.
Update – GoPro seems to be delayed in the full launch of the Karma. Small numbers of certain models are dribbling out – and THEN A RECALL. PLEASE CROSS KARMA OFF YOUR LIST.
As it stands the Heavyweight Boxing Card is largely decided for this year – and the Belt goes to long time Industry Leader DJI with its entire consumer product line scoring at the top of the heap. Specifically, we’d rate the most capable and pleasing (and best Value) Camera Drones in this order:
DJI Phantom 4 – (at DJI – at Amazon) – DJI Phantom 4 Professional at DJI Store.
DJI Mavic Pro (with caveats – see our for Mavic update).
DJI Phantom 3 Line (Standard for Budget, Advanced or Pro for others) – (at DJI – at Amazon)
DJI Store Link for all 5 of the above models
Autel Robotics X-Star Premium or HD (Runner up for those wanting an alternative to the DJI Brand).(at Amazon)
Looking for a bargain? DJI has a refurb store with full warranty and drones starting at less than $350.
Consumer Camera Drones are likely to be on a LOT of gift lists (especially self-gifting) in the coming months. We hope the above information – combined with the other material on our web site – helps those considering one of the many models being offered for sale this Fall and Winter.
Questions? Comments? Hit us up in the facebook comments below or use our contact form – or head over to our forums.