Last month I did a review on the Walkera Runner 250. This was a highly anticipated quadcopter that was supposed to do for quadcopter racing what the DJI Phantom did for aerial video. Unfortunately Walkera dropped the ball, and sadly the Runner just did not live up to the hype. One thing it did do however is help shine a light on this fast rising segment of the drone universe. Drone racing is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. The Walkera Runner was supposed to be the quad that brought drone racing to the masses, but by dropping the ball they have left the door wide open for somebody else to pick up that ball and run with it. Enter the Eachine Racer 250.
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 [Read more…]
The advances in consumer Camera Drones have come quite quickly, outpacing similar technologies such as smart phones, computers and flat screen TV’s. As one example, an iPhone 3 in 2009 sold for a similar price as an iPhone 6 in 2016 (when inflation is considered). Of course, the newer iPhones are much more powerful and capable due to increased processing power.
When it comes to consumer camera drones, the price/performance (value) evolution is much more drastic. As an example, we will use the first Phantom/Gimbal combination to illustrate the point.
Mid-2013 Consumer Camera Drone Example
The first models of the Phantom (Phantom 1) were followed by an optional gimbal (stabilizer) – designed for the GoPro Hero 3 models. The gimbal was named “Zenmuse H3-2D” the “2D” meaning it was a 2-Axis gimbal. The Gimbal sold for $700 US, however existing Phantom owners also had to buy a PMU (power management unit) as well as the GoPro 3 Camera. A basic unit would therefore be:
$650 Phantom 1
$780 – Gimbal with PMU
$400+ – GoPro Hero 3
This setup required installation and tuning – the Phantom had to be opened up to install the wires and the PMU. Having this done by a dealer…plus a couple extra batteries, would bring the minimum price up to approx. 2K. [Read more…]
When DJI announced the Mavic Pro, they also showed a pair of advanced FPV/VR Goggles. Unfortunately, these have not yet been available – until now! In the meantime it appears they have cut the price in 1/2 (based on original projections). The goggles are available to order for just $449.
DJI has provided us access to an early shipment of preproduction – we have now received them and are in the process of a full review. If you are interested in getting in line to order, check out the DJI order page – all of the specs are there also.
Give the price and the features, these may be the first “mass market” goggles in the camera drone world. Sure, they won’t be used by most professional racers who have customer (read that speedy) setups which fit their uses – but for everyday control and an immersive flying experience, these should do the trick!
Stay tuned…..the entire reviews will follow here as it moves along.
First, here is the owners manual. It’s nice to have – for example, I didn’t get one with my (pre-production) set, so didn’t even know how to charge the batteries!
Which are the best drones and quadcopters to buy as of the Spring of 2017? Read on!
UPDATED April, 2017 – We update this “best drones” listing regularly as new products are released and reviewed.
If you are looking for a ($400-$1500) “stabilized camera drone with GPS” – we have another article comparing the popular 2016/2017 models here.
Please note – one of the top pics in the 1K range, the DJI Mavic Pro, has been far backordered since launch in Oct, 2016 but is now available for quick shipment direct from DJI – click the banner below for current lead times:
Here are some of suggested best drones and quadcopters for 2017
Please note that some of these are not for beginners! Rather they are upgrades after you’ve learned the basics of flying and know exactly what features you desire. Quads best for beginners are marked with an *
We do not suggest the very tiny “nano” thumb size quadcopters for learning or beginners! Here is why.
We currently DO NOT recommend the following brands – 3D Robotics, Walkera, OnagoFly, GoPro. Also, we have had poor luck with Parrot models in the past – however, we are going to look at more current models soon to see if reliability has changed. Also, be wary of ANY crowdfunded (Kickstarter, etc.) models.
Be sure to pick up at least one extra battery and any spares you may want to have on hand (motors, etc.)
Micro-Sized – generally the size of your open hand including the propellers
Read the Entire Article by clicking —>> [Read more…]
DJI’s Phantom line is well known as the standard for consumer level Camera Drones. In our recent “Slugfest” of popular 2016 models we gave it our highest rating – an opinion shared by most experts. However, consumer-level ($400-$1200) Camera Drones have some limitations, especially when it comes to Photo and Video quality. Drones at this price level are closer to “smartphone quality” than the level of what many expect from fancier “prosumer” mirrorless cameras. As an example, my Sony RX-100 takes stunning pictures and videos – so good that many Aerial Photographers have attempted strapping them to drones to get these high quality images from aloft!
DJI has now, in effect, put the Sony RX-100 level imaging into the new Phantom 4 Professional (P4P) model – ($1499) providing an unheard of level of Aerial Photography for a price that won’t break the bank.
Until today, the pilot who needed better quality than the Phantom 4 had to step WAY up in price and size to the DJI Inspire line with the X5 Camera ($3400 plus extra batteries). With the release of the P4P, the price for a somewhat similar setup has now been cut in 1/2 or more – and cut down in size to allow for easier portability.
(Note – DJI also announced a new Inspire 2 today (starting at $2999) – see this link for details)
Sensors, Bitrate and Quality
Hang on, my dear novice friends! You are about to learn something! In general the quality of a video depends on the camera sensor size and type, the lens – AND – even more – by the ability (speed, bitrate) that the camera sensor can send those images into memory (the sd card). After all, 4K video at 30fps (30 frames per second) is a LOT of data (memory, bits and bytes). All things being equal, the larger the sensor and the faster the rate…the better the potential quality of the final image and/or video. Technology also plays a role here – smaller sensors have gotten better and good results can be gotten from these new marvels by various tuning of both hardware and software.
The bitrate of a video camera is the speed at which it writes data to a storage device (usually an SD or MicroSD card). This is expressed in Mbps or MBits/s – both meaning “millions of bits (1’s or 0’s) per second. Another way to think of it is similar to your internet connection…often called “bandwidth”. This expresses how quickly data can download and upload from the internet to your computer.
Most consumer-level Camera Drones use bitrates of 20-50 Mbps with the Phantom 4 (plain) topping out at 60. Sports cameras such as the GoPro Hero are also in the range of 45-60 Mbps. All of these cameras shoot still photos in the range of 12MP – or 4000 x 3000 resolution.
In contrast, the new P4P features a video bitrate of up to 100 Mbps and a still photo resolution of 20MP. It uses a larger sensor – the well-known Sony Exmor 1″. This sensor is 4X the size (116mm vs. 29mm) of the 1/2.3 sensor used in most other consumer drones (as well as smartphones and GoPro cameras). This means more light hitting the sensor – and a better image quality. The combination of a better sensor and higher bitrate takes the Phantom 4 Pro to another level.
The Basics of the Machine
The improvements in the camera are the primary reason that that Phantom 4 Pro will become an Object of Desire for many photographers. However, DJI added a LOT more to the P4P – making it the most advanced drone – by far – in its class. Here are some of the improvements over the P4:
Longer range – now up to 4.3 miles (7KM).
Longer flight times – up to 30 minutes
Improved Computer Vision System rear and front- more speed, more range, etc.
New TOF Sensing System – Infrared Obstacle Avoidance on left and right side of Phantom
Improved Intelligent Flight Modes and Options!
Note: The physical size and weight are quite similar to the standard Phantom 4.
The camera is slightly larger – but if you didn’t already know this it would be hard for the average person to discern.
Another difference is the choice of Remote (R/C controllers). DJI offers a package with a built-in device/screen (Android) for those who desire such a setup. This Remote also features a standard HDMI output as well as a GPS, microphone and speaker capabilities. They also offer a more standard R/C controller which accepts a phone or tablet of your choice. The inclusion of a screen is a first for a DJI product and is very important to certain buyers for various reasons. [Read more…]
DJI Mavic Pro vs. DJI Phantom 4 (and other models) – Still Picture Quality
No doubt that the DJI Mavic Pro is the hot item this holiday season. However, in the rush to line up for latest and greatest in new technology, buyers often forget the basics. In the case of Camera Drones, the IQ (Image Quality) is paramount and therefore worthy of some study.
The Mavic Pro features a completely different camera than previous DJI models. Not only is it tiny in size, but it also has a new feature called Tap To Focus. This is similar to many smartphones where you touch your finger to the screen in the area where you want the best focus…and also often the best exposure (light). Let’s examine this new feature as well as compare the final results to the Phantom 4 and to other popular mid-priced ( <$1200) Consumer Drones. Note that picture quality is often subjective – what looks good to some may not to others. For this reason we have included and linked to a number of samples – you can study them to make your own determination.
Still Picture Formats [Read more…]
The UDI 818 has always been one of our suggested drones for beginners – however, we have based this recommendation on experiences of others, price and other factors. Having never actually flown the model I was happy when a review model was offered to use by Usatoyz, a prime seller on Amazon.
Different Models Available
The UDI 818 can be found for as little as $50 and as much as $100+…this brings up the question of what the differences are. Well, some are just overpriced – I found the same model I received for $150 on Amazon (another seller), whereas the FPV model we flew was on sale at less than $95.
The major difference between other packages is whether the model is “FPV” or not. The lower priced birds do not have a wireless connection to your smartphone and the ability to both see and control certain aspects of the machine through the app. So if you just want to fly and take some pics and vids without seeing what you are getting, the plain UDI818 may do the job. [Read more…]
In part one and part two of our first look at the DJI Phantom 4, we explored the improved construction and upgrading of the various assemblies. At first glance it would appear a Phantom 4 is a “perfected” Phantom 3 Pro. However, there is one major new innovation which makes this a revolutionary model- Computer Vision! This feature – and the current and future ramifications – will be explored in this post.
Computer Vision, Artificial Intelligence, Obstacle Avoidance – what does it all mean? [Read more…]
Yuneec Typhoon H Hexacopter Camera Drone – Droneflyers Review and Rating
Prelude – If you are a drone newbie or beginner and/or technically challenged we would caution you that this model – and, in fact, most delicate and complex camera drones over $1,000, are not for your first attempts at flying. The exception would be if you have a local hobby shop or dealer who is willing to do setups, troubleshooting and education. Most beginners should consult our series of articles and recommendations and start with the basics.
The Yuneec Typhoon H created excitement at the 2016 Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. Much of the buzz was about the Intel Realsense obstacle avoidance system slated to be included on the H. However, Yuneec was late in delivering Realsense (they are just starting to sell the Pro models now – August, 2016) and instead released the Typhoon H at a lower price of $1299 (about $1125 discounted on Amazon) without the Realsense module. Although they promised an easy upgrade, they are not currently offering this…the full Realsense H “Pro” (about $1899+) is currently the only way to get the full OA (Obstacle Avoidance) system.
Our Typhoon is the standard model which also comes with a “Wizard” controller – a hand held wand that can substitute for the Remote controller in certain situations.
Some customers have been confused by Yuneec shipping the H without the RealSense. There is a so-called “obstacle avoidance” front facing sonar built into even the base model but it is not very useful (low range, only front..not on aircraft bottom, not “vision” but sound, etc.).
To clear up this matter, here are the three Yuneec H models and approx. prices as well as features.
- Base model – this is the basic hexacopter unit sold from launch until beginning of August, 2016. It comes with a single battery and no Wizard wand. Current “street price” is approx. $1100.
- Base model with Wizard – this is the same as #1 but includes the Wizard wand. Current “street price” is approx. $1180.
- YUNEEC Typhoon H PRO Hexacopter with Intel RealSense and Backpack- this is currently selling for approx. $1899.
The H is a consumer level camera done which features a 4K camera capable of video or still pictures and a large remote controller with a built-in 7″ screen. The OS (screen) runs on Android. In terms of other offerings in the same segment, here are the current popular choices:
Only #4 above has true “computer vision and obstacle avoidance”, and so can be compared to the H Pro. All units have 4K cameras. At the end of our review we will offer specs, suggestions and opinion on the pros and cons of the various units.
The H is marketed as having three main selling points: [Read more…]
DJI Phantom 4 – First Flights and Rating – Part 2 – Camera, Gimbal and Propulsion System Improvements and Differences over Phantom 3 and earlier models.
Thousands of articles and videos have detailed the features and workings of the Phantom 3 series of Camera Drones. Rather than repeat these details, we will note the improvements in the Phantom 4.
As we often note, the Phantoms are “Flying Cameras”…and so improvements over the existing models should be in the imaging (camera) and flight systems. The Phantom 4 features a completely redesigned Gimbal and camera body – both of which are designed to provide more stability and a better image quality.
The Phantom 3 had the gimbal and the associated electronics mounted below the main body of the quadcopter. The pictures above (L) show that the camera is held in place on one side only – the left when looking at the Phantom from the front. A small metal arm then connects the gimbal/camera assembly to the external gimbal electronics.
The Phantom 4 features a refined design where the gimbal holds the camera on both sides – see the lower right P4 picture above. The gimbal electronics have been moved to inside the Phantom body and are connected by much more robust shaft.
The Phantom 4 camera also has an improved lens. [Read more…]