Game of Drones: The Best Money Can Buy

The age of drones is upon us. Aerial photography and videography is now as simple as playing a video game, and innovative manufacturers are taking advantage. Drones have become the platform of choice for those looking to record high-quality footage in the wilderness, and the market has exploded over the past few years. With 4k video and 3-axis camera gimbals becoming commonplace, drone manufacturers have begun to step their game up, introducing never-before-seen features such as collision avoidance and customizable flight pathing. Whether you’re looking to film a car commercial or simply record yourself shredding through some fresh powder, these five drones have you covered.


AirDog: $1599

Man’s best friend just got a lot cooler. AirDog, the aptly named drone developed for action sports junkies, is part of a recent paradigm shift in drone technology, which is moving away from clunky, dual-joystick control mechanisms and toward something much simpler. The AirDog, a fully functional UAV, is designed such that an enterprising surfer — or skier, skater, or wakeboarder — can head into the wilderness alone and easily film themselves without any additional help. This is because the AirLeash, a water-resistant control panel that fits on your wrist like a quarterback’s playbook, allows for a selection of pre-programmed flight patterns unique to your individual sport. You can also control the drone manually, if you desire.

Although the AirDog doesn’t come with a camera, its gyro-stabilized gimbal fits a number of third-party cameras. Its lightweight frame also makes it as close to a grab-and-go toy as any drone, though the price might make you think twice about playing football with its folded-up body. It can reach speeds of up to 40 mph, too, and depending on how you fly it, can last anywhere between 10 and 18 minutes on a single charge


3DR Solo $784

For those who want complete command over their aerial footage, California-based 3D Robotics created the world’s first “smart drone,” aka the 3DR Solo. The Solo offers more control over aerial videography than any drone before by isolating the camera movement from the movement of the drone itself, thus allowing the user to choose exactly how they want to film. Powered by dual 1 GHz Linux Companion computers, the Solo can pilot the drone along a predetermined flight path while you control the camera (or vice versa). As for compatibility, the Solo works with GoPro Hero4 cameras.

The Solo also brings a number of unique features to the table, not the least of which are the selectable flight modes. Cable Cam mode allows you to select two different locations, and pilot the drone along an invisible line between Point A and Point B. The aptly-titled Orbit mode, meanwhile, allows you to select a single location, one which the drone will encircle at a specified distance. Follow Me mode is pretty self-explanatory, as is the Selfie mode, which sees the drone close in and out on your location.

The Solo does all this while streaming live video directly to your mobile device using a remote control that’s designed to feel like a video game controller. The remote is HDMI-compatible as well, meaning you can stream live footage to any monitor or VR. Sadly, the price is a little misleading, as the 3DR Solo doesn’t come with a camera or a gimbal mount. If you’re looking to purchase both accessories to complement the drone, you’re looking at a total price of about $1,500.


Yuneec Typhoon H $1300

The Typhoon H, the newest offering from Chinese manufacturer Yuneec International, utilizes the power of six rotors to help keep the itself aloft, automatically switching to five-rotor mode should one of the rotors give out. The Typhoon H also offers unparalleled video and photo resolution from its native 3-axis CG03+ gimbal camera, which is capable of capturing 4k footage at 30 fps or 1080p footage at 120 fps. The camera captures vivid 12-megapixel stills in 360 degrees, and conveniently streams 720p video to the 7-inch display housed on the bundled remote control.

The Typhoon H’s carbon fiber frame and collision avoidance system, which is powered by sonar sensors located on the front of the drone, combine to make this one of the sturdiest drones currently available. Moreover, it also features some flight modes similar to the 3DR Solo. “Orbit Me” and “Point of Interest” mirror the 3DR’s Orbit mode, and “Curve Cable Cam” takes the 3DR’s Cable Cam mode to the next level, allowing the drone to fly from point to point along a series of preset coordinates while you control the camera. The Typhoon H is capable of flying for around 25 minutes on a single charge, and is currently available for pre-order.


DJI Phantom 4 $1399

The Phantom 4 is the newest edition in the best-selling drone series of all time. DJI’s latest offering introduces a few new features to stay ahead of the game, and they don’t disappoint. The Phantom 4 comes equipped with automatic collision control, which alerts you and automatically stops your drone if you get too close to an obstacle. The all-new Sport Mode, on the other hand, disables the collision detection and transforms the Phantom into a bat-out-of-hell racing drone capable of reaching (and recording video at) over 45 mph.

The Phantom’s new ActiveTrack technology allows the user to select any moving object — i.e. a car, a cyclist, another drone — and the Phantom will automatically follow the object without any assistance from a beacon or tracker. The integrated 3-axis gimbal camera captures 4k footage at 30 fps and 1080p video at 12 fps for slow-motion shots, and captures 12-megapixel still images in Adobe DNG Raw. DJI claims the Phantom 4’s battery lasts for 28 minutes on a full charge, but we found that 20 minutes is more accurate if you spend a lot of time on the throttle.


DJI Inspire 1 Pro $3,899 + DJI Inspire 1 RAW $5,999

If you thought the Phantom 4 was cool… you were right. But the Inspire 1 Pro, the flagship drone from DJI, ascends to another plane when it comes to aerial videography. The Inspire 1 Pro and Raw editions include Micro 4/3 cameras, the Zenmuse X5 and X5R. The X5, which is capable of recording in lossless 4k resolution and snapping 16-megapixel stills, produces some of the most pristine footage in the consumer drone world, making the Inspire 1 a great choice for photographers and videographers alike. The X5R, in particular, is capable of capturing 4k raw footage — a feature no other drone-compatible camera can boast.

While the hefty price tag may dissuade some from considering both the Inspire 1 Pro and Raw, their recording power is second to none. The DJI app, available on Google Play and the App Store, features remote focus technology that allows for quick one-tap focusing on any mobile device. If you get your hands on a second remote control, the Inspire 1 is capable of dual-operator control, meaning one user can control the camera while the other user flies the drone. With all this power, though, comes a short list of drawbacks. The Inspire 1 takes much longer than most drones to set up and fly, and its heavier frame makes transporting this guy a little tougher than its little brother, the Phantom 4. The sheer power of the cameras also reduces battery life, too, with the X5 clocking in at around 18 minutes and the X5R around 15.


Parrot Bebop 2 $499

If you can’t manage to cough up the cash for the Inspire 1 Pro, the Parrot Bebop 2 might be for you. The Bebop, like the other drones profiled here, features an integrated 3-axis camera that’s capable of recording 1080p footage even at speeds over 40 mph. It also features a litany of sensors, gyroscopes, and stabilizers that help the drone stay balanced in most wind conditions. Although the Bebop 2’s ultra-light frame is composed of ABS plastic and reinforced with glass fiber, it can still handle wind speeds of up to 40 mph. The accompanying mobile app for iOS and Android also features an auto-land button in case things get too crazy. The drone’s battery life is one of its strengths, too, and allows it to achieve 25 minutes of flight time.

The Bebop’s default control mode is accessible through the aforementioned app, though for a cool $250 extra, you can purchase the Parrot SkyController remote control, a more traditional joystick-powered gizmo that allows for video streaming via a compatible smartphone or tablet attachment. Optional in-app purchases also serve as a way to unlock waypoint functionality for the drone, but otherwise, the drone is only as smart as its operator. The Bebop 2 — though a refinement of the first iteration of the Bebop — remains a far cry from DJI’s more expensive drones in many ways, but for first-time drone users or anyone who isn’t looking to spend their entire life savings on a flying camera, it’s an excellent choice. 

Author: Nick Hastings, Digital Trends

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