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The Best Drones of 2018

Friday November 9, 2018
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Looking to get some unique aerial footage for your next cinematic adventure? After many hours of research we brought the 13 most compelling camera drones on the market into our lab for some rigorous, side-by-side testing. Drone technology has been rapidly evolving in the last few years, making it very difficult to know the best way to spend your hard earned money. But don't worry, we've kept pace so you don't have to. Whether you're looking for something that has a good camera while still being small and portable, want a workhorse that can produce Hollywood-quality video, or just something for fun flying and selfies, we can guide you to the latest and greatest aerial machine for every application.


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Awards    Editors' Choice Award  
Price $1,000 List
$899.00 at Amazon
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$1,699.00 at Amazon
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$1,199.00 at Amazon
$800 List
$629.00 at Amazon
$1,250 List
$1,169.01 at Amazon
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Pros Small and packable, good video, great flight performanceTop quality, stable video, great flight performance, built in controller screenTop quality, stable video, great flight performanceGreat video quality, portable, easy to use, many intelligent flight modesGood video quality, optical zoom, portable
Cons Relatively expensive, can't match video quality of Phantom 4sExpensiveExpensiveExpensive, relatively short battery lifeExpensive
Bottom Line Really the only option if you want a capable filming tool that can fit in a normal daypackPerfect for those looking for professional quality video and that appreciate the convenience of not needing to connect a smartphonePerfect for those that want professional quality video and don't mind sacrificing a built in controller screen to save a little moneyTop of the line consumer drone for travelOptical zoom adds interesting creative possibilities to an already great product
Rating Categories DJI Mavic Pro DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ DJI Phantom 4 Pro DJI Mavic Air DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
Video Quality (40%)
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Specs DJI Mavic Pro DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ DJI Phantom 4 Pro DJI Mavic Air DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
Video Resolutions 4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p 4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p 4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p 4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p 4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p
Weight 1.6 lb 3.1 lb 3.1 lb 0.95 lb 2 lb
Maximum Speed 40 mph 45 mph 45 mph 43 mph 45 mph

Updated November 2018
In anticipation of the holidays, a slew of new drones have been released. DJI has done it again, with the new Mavic 2 Pro earning an Editors' Choice Award, and the Mavic 2 Zoom being the first consumer-level model to offer an optical zoom. We also tested new offerings from Autel and Parrot. While these models are somewhat interesting, neither can really compete with the performance and/or value of the comparable DJI models.

Best Overall Camera Drone


DJI Mavic 2 Pro


Editors' Choice Award

$1,439.95
(4% off)
at Amazon
See It

Maximum Video Resolution: 4K | Maximum Speed: 45 mph
Excellent video quality
Great flight performance
Relatively portable
Expensive

There was once a time when you had to choose between high-end video quality or having a drone that could fit into a backpack, but no longer. The DJI Mavic 2 Pro somehow manages to fit a Hasselblad camera with a 1-inch sensor into a body that folds up to the size of a large water bottle and weighs just 2 pounds. This results in a drone that can hide away when you don't need it, but can quickly provide incredibly crisp and vibrant 4K video when you reach your shooting location. It also makes no sacrifices in flight performance, maxing out at an impressive 45 mph and providing a flight time of up to 31 minutes, with many intelligent flight modes to choose from.

Literally, the only downside to this drone is its price. At $1500 it is quite an investment. Otherwise, it is as good or better than every other consumer model on the market. Sure, the Mavic Air is a bit more portable and the Mavic 2 Zoom offers an optical zoom, but both models are clear steps down when it comes to video quality. If you're looking for the best possible drone footage in a package that you can take with you pretty much anywhere, the Mavic 2 Pro is the clear choice.

Read Review: DJI Mavic 2 Pro

Best For Most People


DJI Mavic Air


Editors' Choice Award

$629.00
(21% off)
at Amazon
See It

Maximum Video Resolution: 4K | Maximum Speed: 42.5 mph
Small and packable
Good video
Great flight performance
Expensive
Can't match the video quality of Phantom 4 Pro models

The average drone user is looking for something that provides good video quality, is small and portable enough that they can tote it along on trips even if they're not sure they'll be flying, and ideally costs less than $1000. The DJI Mavic Air is the one model we've found that checks all of those boxes. The 4K camera is able to capture footage that looks clear and bright with good color accuracy, the battery offers a maximum flight time of 21 minutes, and it folds into a burrito-sized package that weighs slightly less than a pound. Plus, you get all this for a relatively reasonable price of $800. This combination makes it the only drone we have no reservations about tossing into a pack wherever we're going that can still capture incredible, 4K footage.

The only time you can notice any shortcomings in the Mavic Air is when you compare it to the high-end, $1000+ models. These devices (like the Mavic 2 Pro and the Phantom 4 Pro) do have better cameras that produce better color profiles and can generally fly for 30 minutes or more. However, those gains are relatively small when you consider you'll be paying close to twice as much. For most people, we think the Mavic Air can get all the shots you want without weighing you down or hurting your wallet too much.

Read review: DJI Mavic Air

Best Bang for the Buck


DJI Spark


Best Buy Award

$500
See It

Maximum Video Resolution: 1080p | Maximum Speed: 31 mph
Portable
Easy to fly
Fun
Mediocre video quality
Shorter flight time

Drones are currently at an odd juncture, where they've become inexpensive enough that many people can afford them, but they're still enough of an investment to warrant some serious purchase consideration. If you want to get in on the aerial video game for as little as possible, the DJI Spark is the best choice. For $400 you get a quadcopter that can take quite good 1080p video at a short distance. If you drop another $120 on a controller you get a fully-fledged camera drone that can fly over a mile away and get sweeping cinematic landscape shots. It is also one of the lightest models around, tipping the scales at just 2/3 of a pound.

While we feel the Spark is quite a capable little hummingbird, it just can't quite compare to the higher powered hawks and eagles that you can get by spending a bit more. The Spark's maximum flight time of 16 minutes and maximum speed of 31mph (in sport mode) can feel a bit limiting after you've flown some of the higher-priced models. For example, the $800 Mavic Air ups those figures to 21 minutes and 42.5mph, and the $1500 Mavic Pro 2 hits 31 minutes and 45mph. Both these models also have better color saturation and up video resolution to 4K. However, the Spark can still do some serious flying and get some decent footage, and does so for much less than the rest of the field.

Read review: DJI Spark

Best for Beginners and Kids


Ryze Tello


Top Pick Award

$79.00
(21% off)
at Amazon
See It

Maximum Video Resolution: 720p | Maximum Speed: 18 mph
Inexpensive
Simple operation
Small and light
Slightly choppy video
short range

For beginners, kids, or those that want to get the feel of flying a fully-fledged camera drone without investing many hundreds of dollars, you can't beat the Ryze Tello. Created in partnership with DJI, this budget model features flight sensors similar to those in many of the much more expensive DJI offerings. This results in incredibly stable flight, and the ability to maintain a steady hover without any user input. In contrast, most budget models offer a more fly by the seat of your pants experience, requiring a lot of subtle and precise movement of the joysticks to keep them anywhere near stable. The Tello's flight is both more intuitive and less frustrating for kids and beginners, and provides a good introduction to what flying one of the more advanced models feels like, all for just $100.

The biggest flaw of the Tello is its lack of video quality. The small, 720p camera's footage looks a bit grainy, and often comes out choppy with missing frames. However, this is still better than most models in the price range. You also fly it using your smartphone using virtual joysticks on the touchscreen. This takes away a bit from the flight experience, but that problem can be rectified by getting a compatible, 3rd-party Bluetooth gaming controller. Overall, this is the most drone you can get for $100, and is a great entry point for pretty much anyone.

Read review: Ryze Tello

Top Pick for Autonomous Flying


Skydio R1


Top Pick Award

$2,500
List Price
See It

Maximum Video Resolution: 4K | Maximum Speed: 25 mph
Unmatched autonomous flight and obstacle avoidance
64 GB of onboard storage
Short range of 300 ft
No controller option outside of phone screen
Expensive

The Skydio drone is unlike anything else available to consumers. It can autonomously follow you through dense woods, choppy waters, and down steep slopes regardless of whether you're on foot, skis, a bike, or boat. It's difficult for us to overstate how impressive its autonomous flight is. The Skydio can turn on a dime through obstacles that would stump even the most experienced pilots. None of the DJI drones have remotely comparable autonomous flight modes, which puts this in a class of its own.

The biggest sacrifice you make with the Skydio (besides shelling out a whopping $2000) is the lack of an actual controller. To get this quadcopter in the air you use virtual joysticks on your smartphone. The use of a phone also limits the range a few hundred feet, so you can't fly the Skydio far out and get cinematic landscape shots. If you're looking to do that, even the $520 DJI Spark with a controller would do a much better job. So while the Skydio has far and away the best autonomous follow feature of any model we've tested, it is a bit of a one trick pony. It is also quite large and must be lashed to the outside of a backpack if you want to take it skiing or mountain biking.

Federal regulation concerning consumer drones has constantly been changing, most recently with the Trump administration resurrecting the registration requirement. Once again you must register every unmanned aerial vehicle that weighs more than 0.55 pounds (all of the models we tested fall into this category). You can register your drone here.


Analysis and Test Results


In recent years small unmanned aerial vehicles, more colloquially referred to as drones, have been getting less and less expensive. This has made them economical enough for some commercial applications and has even allowed the technology to be leveraged to do some real good in the world. This has also made camera angles and perspectives available to the amateur videographer that were once the sole domain of big-name directors working on grandiose, huge budget blockbusters. As a result, there is a whole new community of people producing footage that uses unique angles to highlight the innate beauty of the things us crazy humans do every day. Whether you're already engaged in this community or are excited to become a part of such a creative enterprise, our testing results and scores can guide you to the model that is going to give you the best possible experience.

Drones make it possible to get shots that would otherwise be inconceivable.
Drones make it possible to get shots that would otherwise be inconceivable.

All of our scores are based on real-world tests, which we designed around the goal of discovering which model can deliver the highest quality footage in the most reliable manner. For all of our tests, we flew and captured footage ourselves, and rigorously compared the results side-by-side. For more on our testing procedures, check out our how we test article.


Value


The above chart compares each model's price and their performance in our testing (you can see names by hovering your cursor over each dot) so that you can easily find the best model in your price range. This chart shows why we love the Mavic Air so much, as it's near the top in terms of performance, but at a relatively middle-of-the-road price. you can get better video and performance out of the Mavic 2 Pro but at nearly double the cost. The Best Buy Award winning Spark falls behind the top scorers, but also sells for significantly less, providing a good choice for those on a budget. Finally, the Ryze Tello is clearly inferior to the top models, but its incredibly low price still makes it a worthwhile purchase for kids and beginner pilots.

Video Quality


As fun as it can be to pilot remote-controlled aircraft, the resulting video footage is the ultimate end goal of most users, thus we made its quality our most heavily weighted metric. The resolution, sharpness, and color quality created by a camera is vital to creating a good image. To test this we took similar footage with each one of our models and carefully examined the resulting video files side-by-side on the same high definition monitor. The best resolution and most vivid colors can be ruined if the video itself is shaky and unstable, or if there are rotors impeding on the camera's view. We tested these attributes of video quality by recording both broad panning shots and fast-paced tight shots while following a fast subject. We then evaluated this footage based on how smooth and stable it was, how well the horizon was kept horizontal, and whether or not there were any visible rotors or rotor shadows present.


Two models earned rare perfect scores of 10 out of 10 in this metric, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro and the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ (and it's non-plus sibling). Both of these models feature 4K cameras with 1-inch sensors that capture vivid, true colors with impressive clarity. In general, we think video captured on either of these drones could be slipped into a Hollywood blockbuster without the audience blinking an eye. There are some differences between the cameras, however. If anything we think the Hasselblad camera of the Mavic 2 Pro produced a slightly better color profile. Unlike any other consumer drone, the Mavic 2 Pro has the option to shoot video in a 10-bit Dlog-M color profile, which is an advanced feature that professionals will appreciate. The Phantom 4 Pro's camera offers both a mechanical shutter (to cut down on rolling shutter when filming at high speed) and a higher 4K frame rate of 60fps, which allows for better slow-motion video. While these features did make the Phantom 4 Pro perform slightly better at filming high speed and slow-mo scenes, the difference was again minimal.


The above video compares footage from the three models that are likely on most people's short list: the Mavic Air, the Mavic 2 Pro, and the Mavic 2 Zoom.

Just behind the top scorers, earning an 8 out of 10, was the DJI Mavic Air. This incredibly portable model produces great color accuracy at a 4K resolution. It also has a locked focus, which limits your options a bit but prevents the problem of bumping your screen and then realizing a=later on that all of your footage was out of focus. It lost out on a top score because its blacks aren't quite as true as the top scoring models, resulting in an image that looks artificially bright but still well balanced.


The optical zoom lens of the Mavic 2 Zoom allows for a disorienting dolly zoom effect.

Also earning an 8 out of 10 in this metric was the Mavic 2 Zoom. This is one of the first consumer models to offer an optical zoom, which lets you create a dolly zoom effect, amongst other things. The images this camera produces are also quite good, but like the Mavic Air, it tends to brighten some of the darker colors due to a narrower dynamic range, making the image look just slightly washed out when compared to the likes of the Mavic 2 Pro. However, we still think the video quality is exceptional and worthy of pretty much any cinematic venture.


This video compares unedited side-by-side footage from the DJI Mavic Air, Mavic Pro, and Spark. These models offer different levels of portability and camera performance. In our opinion, the Mavic Air has the best camera and is the most portable of the three.

The DJI Mavic Pro earned a score of 7 in this metric and produced less impressive footage than the Mavic Air. It had nearly no issues with propellor intrusion in our testing. Despite its small size the gimbal was surprisingly stable but did shake a bit more in quick maneuvers than the Phantom 4 Pro models. The 4K footage is generally crisp, and the colors look bright. The Mavic Pro's camera does have a relatively small sensor, and to make up for this the camera plays some tricks with exaggerated sharpness and saturation. This results in very vivid colors and a seemingly crisp image, but often with a sacrifice in quality. This results in footage that looks spectacular upon first glance, but doesn't quite stand up to scrutiny and cannot be extensively edited. For example, when first viewing some footage from the Mavic Pro we thought, "Wow those trees look so green and crisp," and then when we watched again with more discerning eyes we thought, "those trees kind of look like they're made of playdough." Bottom line, it's footage that is fantastic for a Youtube highlight reel of your adventures, but not worthy of a visually stunning documentary or professional work. DJI addressed many of the Mavic Pro's camera issues in the newer Mavic Air.


The above clip compares the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+, Spark, and Mavic Pro. The 4 Pro+ represents some of the best video quality you can get in a consumer drone, the Spark is most economical model DJI makes, and the Mavic Pro is a midpoint between the two that balances portability and video quality. However, the original Mavic Pro has been somewhat usurped by the Mavic Air and Mavic 2 Pro.

The Parrot Anafi also earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric. Its footage is generally stable and crisp looking, but it tends to add a warm hue to everything. This is fine if you're filming landscapes with lots of trees and greenery, but if you're filming a field the amber waves of grain look a bit too amber.

The DJI Spark produces footage at the low end of what we would call good, which earned it an average score of 5 out of 10 in our video quality testing. It sports a 2-axis gimbal, which makes its footage much steadier than that of other models in this size and price class, but we did start to see some shake when flying fast. The 1080p resolution looks perfectly clear on almost any screen, but it does lack that over-the-top sharpness many of us are becoming used to as 4K becomes more and more common. The colors are quite good and don't suffer from the over saturation of the Mavic Pro footage.

The Autel Robotics Evo also earned a 5 out of 10 for video quality. Its 4K resolution is better than that of the Spark, but in our testing it had real issues with color accuracy. Everything we filmed had an overly blue tint that made things look a bit odd. This is also one of the few models we've found that still suffers from severe propellor intrusion. Most models only have propellor intrusion when screaming along at 40+ mph, but the Evo managed to get its propellors in the frame even when flying at a casual clip.


As you can see in the footage above, the Ryze Tello's video is slightly pixelated and somewhat choppy, but is more than adequate for some goofy selfies and young kids dreaming about a future sitting in a Hollywood director's chair.

The Ryze Tello was the only model that earned a 4 out of 10 in our video quality testing. It produces surprisingly stable and smooth footage given its price. The video from the 720p camera looks less than high definition, but is adequate when viewed on a smartphone screen. The resolution actually gets noticeably better when taking still images, so you can still get a decent selfie from the cameras. The one thing that really hurt the Tello's video quality score is its choppiness. It often drops frames, causing the video to suddenly jump forward 1-2 seconds. This is fine for goofy home videos and just playing around, but it certainly isn't a cinematic machine.


The above video displays the kind of propeller intrusion that is possible when flying fast and aggressively. This is one of the few weak points of DJI's Phantom line, though this really only occurs at speeds that exceed what you would hit during normal aerial filming.

At the bottom of the leaderboard in our video quality scoring were the YUNEEC Breeze 4K and the Parrot Bebop 2. These models both scored a 3 in our testing. Lacking proper gimbals, these devices just were not able to produce smooth footage like the other models. The video was inevitably jumpy, both due to a lack of camera stabilization and the inevitably jerkier flight of these smaller models. Additionally, their small size and lack of heft meant wind significantly affected their flight performance. Even a light breeze was able to push them around, a problem we didn't experience with any of the gimbal models. The footage these models produce might be fun for kids to look at after they have fun zipping these little helicopters around, but really would not be suitable for any sort of filmmaking venture.


While fun to fly, non-gimbal models, like the YUNEEC Breeze, tend to produce quite shaky footage.

Ease of Use


It's easy to forget how much much technology is stuffed into these little quadcopters, and just how complex the required algorithms are that bend that technology to the will of the user. Effectively distilling all of this technology into a simple yet versatile user interface is a challenging task, and some manufacturers certainly do it better than others. Our ease of use testing covered every facet from opening the box, getting in the air, landing safely, and downloading footage. We evaluated initial setup, including charging batteries, installing rotors, downloading apps, and linking each model to the requisite controllers and smart devices. We also considered the controllers themselves, determining how they felt in our hands, how intuitive they were, and the usability of on-screen menus. Finally, it is not a good feeling to realize the battery is about to die when the drone is still far away, or that a connection was lost and you no longer have control. We thus scored each model on how adequately they warned the user of such less than ideal situations in order to avoid a catastrophic ending to the flight.


In general, we found that the gimbal models we tested were all relatively easy to set up and get in the air, and had nice controls. The non-gimbal models were also easy to set up but tended to have less streamlined user interfaces. The DJI Phantom 4 Pro models, DJI Mavic Air, Mavic 2 Pro, the Mavic 2 Zoom, and the Mavic Pro all earned the top score of 9 out of 10 in this metric. All had seamless initial setup processes and were in the air within 20 minutes of them arriving in our eagerly waiting hands. The Phantom 4 Pro+'s built-in control screen streamlines use as you don't need to fumble around with connecting a smartphone. The Mavic Air is so much easier to transport than any of the other gimbal models that we always felt pleasantly unencumbered when carrying it around.

The DJI Mavic Air's folding design and light weight enable you to take it anywhere.
The DJI Mavic Air's folding design and light weight enable you to take it anywhere.

Apart from the Phantom 4 Pro+ nearly all of the DJI models we tested were identical in their out of the box setup and controller design, thus most of them shared the same score of 9 out of 10. Setting each copter up out of the box and installing the rotors was easy using the quickstart guide. Downloading the DJI GO 4 app onto your mobile device of choice and making it talk to the controller and drone was similarly painless. The DJI models did require downloading an update on a computer and transferring it to the drone, which was less than ideal but not particularly troubling. Most of these models share very similar controllers, which our testers generally enjoyed. They felt good in your hands, the joysticks felt solid and responsive, and are long enough to accommodate flying with just thumbs or using the more advanced technique of pinching with thumb and pointer finger. The only downside to the controller interface was the menu present on whatever mobile device was in use. While it allowed navigation through DJI's expansive catalog of options and adjustments, it felt a bit crowded on the screen and was not super intuitive upon first use. DJI controllers are quick to provide clear warnings about low battery, loss of signal, or flying in a poor RF environment, all of which made us feel confident we wouldn't unknowingly wander into a sticky situation.

Physical controllers  like those used in DJI's Phantom line (left)  provide a much more intuitive and natural flying experience than touchscreen controllers  like the one used for the Parrot Bebop 2 (right).
Physical controllers, like those used in DJI's Phantom line (left), provide a much more intuitive and natural flying experience than touchscreen controllers, like the one used for the Parrot Bebop 2 (right).

The Autel Robotics Evo, which earned an 8 out of 10 in this metric, is generally user-friendly. We particularly like that the controller has a built-in screen (though that screen is somewhat small). However, both the initial setup and general user interface just didn't feel quite as intuitive as DJI's.

The DJI Spark earned a 7 out of 10 in this metric. After initial setup, it was incredibly intuitive to fly and we think beginners would have fun with this quadcopter within 10 minutes of opening the box. The only reason we didn't give it a higher score was some difficulties getting the hand gestures to work, and initially connecting the optional remote controller (which we highly recommend) can be a little confusing.

The Parrot Anafi, which also earned a 7 out of 10, offers a fairly streamlined user experience. However, it's interface is just a bit less intuitive than DJI's, and the controller feels a bit clunky, so it lost a few points.

The Ryze Tello fell slightly behind the top scorers in this metric, earning a 6 out of 10. We found getting it out of the box, setup, and flying to be very straightforward. However, it lost some points because adjusting advanced settings with the app was slightly more difficult. Also, Ryze does not offer any alternative to the phone based controls on the app. However, if you'd rather fly with some physical joysticks, some third-party Bluetooth gaming controllers are compatible with the app.

The DJI Spark is very intuitive and easy to fly.
The DJI Spark is very intuitive and easy to fly.

The worst scorers in our ease of use testing were the Parrot Bebop 2 and the YUNEEC Breeze, both of which earned a score of 3. We found both of these models to be a bit finicky when connecting them to a smartphone. Both also use only a smartphone or tablet as a controller. This means virtual touchscreen joysticks that provide no tactile feedback, making flight feel much more tenuous and much less controlled.


Portability


Over the past few years, consumer models have become increasingly compact and lightweight, with pilots no longer having to choose between camera quality or portability. Traveling with a drone ensures that you'll never miss a shot and enables you to get footage in locations that several years ago would not have been feasible. The Air sets a precedent for high-performance travel drones, furthering what DJI began with the Mavic Pro.


The Ryze Tello easily took home the top score of 10 out of 10 in our portability testing due to its fit in the palm of your hand size and its feather-light weight of 0.2 pounds. However, it also isn't powerful enough to fly outdoors on any but the calmest of days, so it's not exactly a usable tool for the filmmaker on the go.

The Ryze Tello is quite tiny.
The Ryze Tello is quite tiny.

The DJI Spark and Mavic Air tied as the most portable full-fledged camera drones in our review with scores of 9 for portability. The Spark is lighter and can be flown out of your hand. In its case without a controller, it weighs only 1.8 pounds and takes up as much space as the Mavic Air does in its case with the controller separate. Both can be flown without controllers but the Spark's controller is an accessory that must be purchased separately, while the Air includes one.

It's almost hard to believe the combination of performance and portability found in the Mavic Air. We liked its camera more than that of the Mavic Pro and found it to be just as portable as the Spark.

The Mavic 2 Pro and 2 Zoom have identical bodies and both weigh about 2 pounds.
The Mavic 2 Pro and 2 Zoom have identical bodies and both weigh about 2 pounds.

Both the Mavic 2 Pro and the Mavic 2 Zoom sit slightly behind the top scorers. Both of these models fold up to the size of a large water bottle and weigh about 2 pounds. Neither feels very cumbersome in a pack, but can't match the barely-notice-it's-there quality of the Mavic Air or Spark.

Flight Performance


Drones that are more responsive and fly in a more predictable manner don't only result in better footage, they reduce the stress of buzzing your $1000 investment around trees and over rivers. Additionally, being able to maintain solid flight control at higher speeds increases your possible repertoire of shots. Takeoff and landing are some of the riskiest points in an aircraft's flight, so in our testing we closely evaluated the stability of each model during these possibly tenuous maneuvers. We also determined how steadily each model was able to hover in variable conditions, and how well and smoothly each responded to the commands from the remote controls. We also tested each model's various autonomous flight modes and automatic return to home functions (note: it is our opinion that return to home functions should only be used as a last resort, click here for our full thoughts). Most models also have a follow function that will automatically follow a particular subject. This function works well but can become finicky for high-speed activities like mountain biking and skiing.

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ and Phantom 4 Pro both shared the top score of 9 out of 10. Across the board, these models are incredibly stable and flight always felt solid and locked in. Both have sport modes that allow them to break 40 mph and fly like they were designed to race rather than capture footage. No other model was able to match this combination of strong stability and sporty maneuverability. Combine that with rock-solid takeoffs and landings, reliable autonomous flight functions, and incredible responsiveness, and you've got a fleet of top-notch fliers.

Despite its small size the DJI Mavic Pro also earned a score of 9. We found it to be impressively stable in all aspects of flight, and it also has a sport mode that allows it to hit 40mph. The only slight downsides were due to its size. The smaller quadcopter did feel a bit less maneuverable in high winds, and its short stature meant we had to be very careful of high grass during takeoff and landing.

Coming in just behind the Mavic Pro, the Mavic Air received a score of 8. It was just as maneuverable as the Mavic Pro but felt a bit less stable in windy conditions, which was not a significant issue since we generally avoid flying during periods of high wind.


Orbit point of interest functions fly a circle around a determined point.

The DJI Spark scored a 7 for its flight performance. Its small size limited its acceleration, top speed and maximum flight time (16 minutes) slightly, but we were enamored with the fact that it could take off and land in your hand. The Spark could only reach 31 mph in sport mode and was otherwise very slow, maxing out at roughly 7 mph. It feels fairly responsive, and being able to fly it with simple hand gestures is great for taking selfies.


The DJI Spark can perform some basic maneuvers using only hand gestures. This is great for framing and taking a quick photo.

The Phantom 4 Pro+ speeding away from the camera. Members of DJI's Phantom 4 line were the most capable fliers in our testing.
The Phantom 4 Pro+ speeding away from the camera. Members of DJI's Phantom 4 line were the most capable fliers in our testing.

In this metric, the non-gimbal models were again at the bottom of the scoreboard, with the YUNEEC Breeze, the Parrot Bebop 2, and the Ryze Tello all picking up a score of 5 out of 10. The YUNEEC and Parrot were shakier on takeoffs and landings than most of the other models, and drifted more during flight. The Tello was actually more stable than both of these much more expensive models, providing much more predictable flight behavior. However, the YUNEEC does have some autonomous flight functions that the Tello does not, and the Parrot's maximum flight time of 25 minutes is much longer than the Tello's 13 minutes. The YUNEEC maxes out at a surprisingly short flight time of 12 minutes.


Conclusion


Drones are incredible pieces of technology that have brought some of the tools of professional filmmakers into the hands of creative hobbyists. We think the Mavic Air is the best option for most aspiring aerial filmmakers, as it offers great video in a very portable package, at a price point that isn't too ridiculous. If you want truly professional looking footage you can shell out for the Phantom 4 Pro+, but you do sacrifice some portability. We know buying a drone can be stressful and confusing, but we believe we've completed the most exhaustive and scientific side-by-side comparison of the current models available on the market, and we hope this has helped you decide which one you will use on your path to spreading awe on Vimeo, Facebook, and Instagram.



Max Mutter and Steven Tata