Which are the best drones and quadcopters to buy as of the end of 2017 and first 1/2 of 2018??
UPDATED Feb, 2018 – We update this best drones listing regularly as new products are released and reviewed. Note – we cover the consumer and lower-end Pro market, so you won’t find expensive (over $2,000 base) Drones in the listing below.
Our recommendations are based on 100’s of hours of testing and research as well as our personal experience and that of the experts in the field. ALL DRONES ARE NOT EQUAL, so don’t be fooled by marketing or other claims. With over 50 years experience in model rocketry, ham radio, computers and other technologies, we KNOW DRONES.
The current list is broken down into three (3) categories in descending order of price/features as follows:
1. Consumer Camera Drones – stabilized camera and GPS – we suggest numerous models but all are well below $2,000 for a complete working package. Other models are in the realm of commercial and expert users who don’t need advice from us as to what to purchase.
2. FPV and Selfie Drones, Brushless – are models which can be used for learning, racing and/or taking simple pics and video. Most will not have GPS so can easily get lost if flying in wind or far away. A price range of $100 – $400 is typical for these models.
3. “Toy Grade” models, most of which used “brushed” motors. These are for learning and gifting and, in general, will need parts replacement after a couple hours of use (motors, gears). Typical prices are $15 – $90
Consumer Camera Drones – GPS Based – w/stabilzed cameras.
NOTE: The DJI Mavic Air has been introduced – and it is definitely on the winners list. Be sure to check it out….it’s similar to a Mavic Pro but smaller – some better specs but less range. The link to the Mavic Air (available immediately) is here.
These models are built for taking aerial video and still photos. Taking smooth aerial video requires either a mechanical or electronic “gimbal” (article explaining gimbals) which steadies the camera and removes shake and vibrations. These models all feature GPS so they know their position in space – and can automatically return to the launch point if something goes wrong. Most have a long feature list including multiple sensors and even obstacle avoidance (article – How Modern Camera Drones Work).
Best Overall Camera Drone
If we had to suggest only a single unit it would be the DJI Mavic Pro. Actually, now it is two units since DJI recently introduced an slightly upgraded model called the Mavic Pro Platinum. This is a foldable model which is packed with technology and features and yet is easily transported most anywhere. All drones make compromises between size, weight, cost, flight time and other factors – the Mavic Pro is the rare bird that hits most of the right buttons for most users.
Mavic Pro at DJI
Mavic Pro Platinum at DJI
Mavic Pro at Amazon
*The Mavic Pro, in general, has the longest range of any consumer camera drone – a nice feature if this is on your wish list!
*The NEW Mavic Air is smaller in size – shorter range but claims some better other (camera, wind) specs – link to the Mavic Air here.
Best Imaging (pics and video) Drones
For those who know their way around a camera and its settings and have a larger budget, the Phantom 4 Pro (here is our introductory review) and Phantom 4 Advanced have, by far, the best cameras available in a drone in the consumer price range (under 2k). This is due to their use of a Sony 1″ sensor as well as a mechanical shutter and sophisticated control software.
The Phantom 4 Pro and Advanced are available with or without the built-in screen/device.which is called CrystalSky. This is a custom Android tablet with a super-bright screen that be seen even in sunlight. Most buyers, however, use their own devices (IOS or Android) – these will require a sunshade or you to move to a shaded area for the best view of the DJI Go App.
Note – the Advanced Model is a couple hundred dollars less in price and has most of the same features and the exact same camera. Missing are the rear OA (obstacle avoidance) and the side infrared OA – it also has a slightly lesser range due to using only one frequency (2.4 GHZ) as opposed to 2.4 or 5.8 on the P3P.
DJI Phantom Pro at DJI
DJI Phantom Advanced at DJI
Phantom Pro at Amazon
*If you are not a real camera “pro” you may find that the advanced features actually get in your way – so even if you have the $$, pick the best drone for your intended use.
Best Budget Camera Drones
Note – there are a number of older DJI models being sold new and/or refurb…most of which are decent models. However, these two models do a pretty good job covering the budget end of the market.
Preferred Budget Drone – The new Phantom 3 SE (Special Edition) contains a 4K camera as well as many other advanced features. It sells for only $599 which is certainly a great value. We have a short article on the Phantom 3 SE here.
Lowest Price Budget Drone – Phantom 3 Standard – This Phantom lists for $499. Refurb models are available at about $100 less with full warranty. It is a very decent drone – however, the camera is not quite as good as that on the SE and it has a shorter range. We’d suggest the Phantom 3 SE model unless you can find a discounted price on the Standard or a refurb for less than $400.
Other Budget Camera Drones – older models such as the Phantom 4, the Phantom 3 Pro and Advanced are still up to modern standards. Some retailers have stock of these so they can be considered. Two other worthy of mention – although not making it to the top of the “best” lists, are the Parrot BeBop 2 FPV and the Autel X-Star. The X-Star is somewhat similar to the Phantom but at a slightly higher price ($750-800). The BeBop is a completely different type of machine so prospective buyers should do their research to make sure it fits their needs.
Smallest and Lightest Stabilized Camera Drone
The DJI Spark. At $699 the Spark fits somewhere in the middle of the pack above in terms of price. It won’t have the range or flight time of the Phantoms but it has more versatility in that the same drone can be used for racing around the local field, for selfies and for regular photo and video work. As with all models, do your research – you can start HERE at one of our recent articles detailing our long term testing of the Spark.
Spark at DJI
Spark at Amazon
FPV, Smaller Brushless and Selfie Drones
These models can be used for racing, learning, some basic pics and also just messing around. Most are short range and many don’t have GPS. Note that we will mention some of the best values and brands – but there are many choices in this category and so we hesistate to promise any are truly the “best”.
All the models below use “brushless” motors which are far superior to the very cheap “brushed” drones. Here is an article regarding the difference between brushless and brushed motors.
Note that the DJI Spark mentioned above is a “crossover” in that it can be operated as a close-in “selfie” drone controlled by your mobile device. It can also be an FPV (first person view) model and can even tie into DJI googles.
Selfie and FPV Drones (w/Brushless motors – long lasting and powerful)
The Yuneec Breeze ($450 approx) is a popular selfie model – controlled by your smart device (phone or tablet) and preprogrammed for various Point of View shots. Yuneec maintains sales and support offices in the USA and elsewhere, making it a decent choice as compared to some companies which may not have US support.
Breeze features GPS and proper RTH (return to home) – these features make it less likely to blow away in winds or get lost.
Amazon link to Breeze
A similar Selfie Drones w/GPS is the Zerotech Dobby – about $275 w/two batteries.
The Wingsland S6 is yet another “selfie GPS” model- about $275 w/two batteries.
Note – all of the above are likely based on the same platform – a “ready to go” circuit board sold by Qualcomm.
Note 2: Make certain to read Amazon and other reviews on the above models – the entire concept of mobile phone operated “selfie” drones is in question for some users. Many prefer “real” hardware R/C controllers.
FPV and Race-Around Brushless Drones
There are literally hundreds of FPV (first person view) drones on the market. Many of them come incomplete with the buyer/user expected to add various parts as desired. For example, many come with just the machine – no camera or monitor or googles. Basic units such as this start at about $100, however the sky is the limit if you want top of the line googles and other options. Many pilots enjoy flying these machines without cameras – just for “park flying”. They are fast and fun and the budding pilot will learn a lot about control. For an idea of what is involved with a typical FPV drone, check this link (note – this is DIY, but still shows the systems involved).
XK 251 – Banggood – Amazon –
ZANTEC MJX Bugs 3 – Amazon
Walkera Rodeo 110 Racing Drone with Devo 7
Toy Grade Drones
These are starter models – most of them have “brushed” motors which tend to wear out after only a few hours use. They are good for learning and for gifts. Price is very important in this category – no need to spend a lot to get something worth your while. In fact, we often suggest buying two of the same model as that gives you an extra battery and a bunch of spare parts – and the price is still usually under $60 total.
Although many customers will be tempted, you will learn best with the simplest models – that means without a camera or video capabilities. Some low cost models come stradard with a camera – no problem, just don’t use it for the first number of flights! Instead, keep your eye on the drone and your remote.
Note – we do not suggest “nano” sized drones as there are more difficult to control and you will have a difficult time telling which way they are pointed. The smallest sized drone for everyday learning is the Syma X20), which we really like for beginners. Smaller “micro” models such as the Syma, Hubsan X, and Eachine H6/8 are in the $30 range and can be flown both indoors and our. In general, these are the best starter models.
Eachine H8) same as JJRC H8
If you intend to learn outdoors in calm winds, the llarger Syma X5 has been the standard for Newbie Drone Pilots for years. Another model we like is the UDI 818A in the lower priced configurations. The UDI 818A is often loaded up with lots of extras and can run as high as $150…we suggest you stay at $60 or under for this model and stay with the basics. As has been repeated often, “toy grade” models are for learning and will wear out quickly. The handy pilot can learn to replace motors, gears and other parts. This is why we recommend only popular models where parts are available.
Be sure to pick up one or two extra batteries – or, take our advice and buy two of the low priced models which will give you extras of all parts.
You can’t go wrong with the advice and models listed above! However, if you want to dig deeper into this hobby check out our free eBooks on this site as well as many of our newest articles on the front page of Droneflyers.com.
Vendors – We prefer to purchase most of our drones through 3 sources – DJI Direct, Amazon and Banggood. All have decent return and warranty policies and often have units in stock. While many other companies sell drones, these vendors have been in the business for the long run and are not likely to be here today and gone tomorrow.
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