Drones are no longer just a novelty gadget or solely for Hollywood tech crews. Innovations in camera technology and – even more importantly – image stabilisation have turned the humble quadcopter into a serious creative tool, both for photography and video.
Most mid-sized drones now boast high-quality cameras which enable you to capture video and stills of subjects and scenes that would otherwise be impossible. It is this high-quality image capture that has made them such a firm favourite with photographers and filmmakers.
Even at the lower end of the market, on the surface some of the small, compact drones might just seem like toys, but even these offer amazing filmmkaing potential. Some, such as the Tello, even come with full Scratch drag and drop programming integration.
So let’s get down to brass tacks. What are the best drones for photography and video? We’ve flown quite a few over the years, and these are our top picks.
Best drone under £100
- Compact Size
- Scratch compatibility
- Compatible controller
The DJI Tello is a small advanced drone that packs in features that will appeal to pilots of all levels. Although it’s primarily aimed at kids, the advanced features make it an ideal choice for anyone new to drones.
The flight characteristics are almost identical to the larger DJI drones, which is really not a surprise as the Tello utilises DJI flight technology.
The Tello records 720p HD video footage at 30fps in MP4 format, and captures 5-megapixel stills with a field of view of 82.6º. When it comes to camera specs that’s nothing to write home about, but then this drone only has a flight distance of 100m, a max flying height of 10m and a top speed of 8m/s.
What the Tello gives you is a window into the larger world of drones; you get a taster of the imaging side with the simple image-stabilised camera, but you can also experiment with VR, and learn how to code your own drone apps.
For anyone thinking about getting their first drone, or who already owns a drone and wants to improve their piloting skills, the Tello is a fantastic buy.
Best drones under £500
- 4K camera
- Lots of personal drone options
The Breeze is a small, compact drone that’s ultra-portable, thanks to its fold-down wings. Inside is a high-resolution 4K camera that captures detailed video and stills, and you control it via your smartphone.
Where the Breeze really excels is in its personal drone features, which enable you to select a variety of flight modes through the app. Modes such as Selfie, Orbit, Journey and Follow Me all add to the experience. Follow Me mode lets you launch the drone and then the Breeze captures all the action autonomously.
Those autonomous features come in handy, whether that’s capturing fun at a beach BBQ with friends, or you’re out riding the trails and want to capture your exploits.
- Easy to use
- Good image and video quality
Technically, the Spark’s RRP is £519, but these days you can find it for around £450 or even less. And what a drone it is for that price.
The Spark is aimed at people who have never flown a drone before and packs a number of enticing features to, as DJI says, ‘remove the barriers between you and your camera in the sky’.
Chief among these is a Gesture Mode that allows you to control the Spark using a series of simple hand and arm movements, as well as take a selfie. You can also control the Spark using its remote control handset, or via the DJI Go 4 app on your smartphone (available for iOS and Android).
When flying Spark with the remote controller accessory, you can capture 720p real-time video transmission from up to 1.2 miles away.
The DJI Spark’s camera uses a 1/2.3in CMOS sensor that captures still images in 12-megapixel resolution and can record stabilised video in Full HD 1080p. The Spark is designed with an incorporated 2-axis mechanical gimbal and UltraSmooth technology to help reduce shake and rolling shutter effect to keep this video footage stable.
Spark also inherits some of its siblings’ drone shooting modes, as well as new Pano and ShallowFocus modes. In Pano Mode, the Spark’s camera creates horizontal or vertical panoramas by automatically adjusting its gimbal and heading. It then captures a series of images and stitches them together.
In ShallowFocus mode, Spark will create the effect of shallow depth of field by rendering part of an image in sharp focus while the rest of the picture is soft.
The Spark is an incredibly sophisticated – and very fun – drone that packs a lot of tech for its modest price tag.
Best drones under £1000
DJI Mavic Air
- Compact, foldable design
- Excellent obstacle avoidance system
- Stable footage and blur-free stills
The DJI Mavic air may be small but it has an impressive collection of features. Most importantly for many people, its 12Mp 4k-enabled camera is mounted in a 3-axis gimbal. This means it can compensate for sudden movements and gusts of wind to produce steady footage.
A key part of the appeal of the Mavic Air is that it can be folded down to something that can fit on the palm of your hand. It’s a great little drone and one that has convinced many first-time pilots to take to the air.
We must admit: we’ve fallen a little in love with the Mavic Air. It’s a great drone for beginners. It’s easy to fly and has clever automatic flying options that enable you to produce really slick looking videos. You can also take control, add an ND filter and get a bit more serious with it.
Best drone under £1,500
DJI Mavic Pro 2
- Compact size
- Intelligent flight modes
- Hasselblad camera
With no real competition in the drone market you’d think that DJI could sit back and enjoy the ride. But no chance. The Mavic Pro 2 is in many ways the ultimate drone.
Small, compact, high-quality camera, stable flight like nothing we’ve seen before. It’s built like a very elegant tank with a slight sharky look. It’s difficult to find or a pick fault with this drone.
Let’s start with that camera. It’s a Hasselblad, albeit a small one, but still, it’s rather lovely and takes pride of place at the front.
The camera is something special, especially when you consider that this drone costs £1299 for camera, drone and controller.
As yet we don’t know the true ins and outs of the technology behind the camera, but what we do know it features a 20MP 1-inch CMOS sensor. That’s pretty big for a camera of this size.
Action cameras and the cameras that feature on many drones have fixed apertures, but here we see an adjustable aperture of between f/2.8 and f/11.
On a drone flying at a distance from its subjects aperture is going to make very little difference to the depth of field, but it will make a huge difference to the exposure control, especially in low light.
For film makes it features 10-bit Dlog-M colour profile which will make it easier to blend the footage in with that filmed on other drones or systems,.
HDR has been a buzz in photography for a few years and now that’s crossing over to video with 10-bit HDR video capture.
Want a drone? Buy the Mavic 2 Pro. Own a drone? Sell it, buy the Mavic 2 Pro.
Best drone under £2,000
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
- 1-inch 20MP sensor
- 5-Direction of Obstacle Sensing
- 7km max transmission range
The Phantom is the drone range that changed everything. Now in its fourth generation, the Phantom’s minimalist looks hide the high level of technology packed inside.
Featuring a high-quality 4K camera mounted on a 3-axis gimbal for ultimate image stabilisation, footage from the Phantom 4 is so good that it’s often used for broadcast.
Superior image quality and high-tech features are what has made the Phantom such a popular choice among photographers and videographers.
One of the major changes with this latest version is its flight time. This now rests at around 30 minutes, making it ideal for both home and professional use.
The Phantom is also available with a series of dedicated accessories that will appeal to filmmakers, including filters and full compatibility with DJI Goggles.