The drone industry has exploded in the last few years. Between significant advancements in technology and increased consumer interest in drone technology, a variety of manufacturers are now offering drones ranging from $100 toys to professional-grade systems costing thousands.
While there is certainly a drone model available to fit every skill level and budget, there are a few camera drones that stand out as the absolute best in flying camera technology in 2015. These drones are more expensive than many available drones, but the additional features and video quality that can achieved with the models described below rival cinema quality…and they’re fun to fly too.
If you are thinking about purchasing a flying camera, look no further than the three drones listed in this article as they represent the absolute best in camera drone technology.
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Yuneec Q500 4K Typhoon
Yuneec is a leader in professional-grade drone technology and the Q500 is no exception to the mark of quality exhibited by all Yuneec flying camera products. Capable of capturing videos in 4K and still images at an impressive 12MP, the Typhoon boasts enough features to satisfy even the most particular flying camera enthusiasts.
The drone comes complete with a CG03 camera mounted on a precision 3-axis gimbal for consistently steady shots, the ST10+ personal ground station, two batteries, charger, a 16GB microSD card for onboard video storage, and an extra set of propellers. Unlike some of the Typhoon’s competitors, the included ST10+ personal ground station allows the pilot to view the camera feed in real-time while simultaneously recording the video to the onboard microSD card.
The 115 degree wide angle lens on the CG03 creates no distortion and is even capable of recording slow motion video at a resolution of 1080p and 120 FPS.
The Q500 is extremely easy to fly and includes two flight modes. One flight mode is designed for novice pilots and helps keep the drone flying level even if a mistake is made. The other flight mode is for advanced pilots who require precise control of their aerial shots.
The high-quality camera and gimbal system and docile flight characteristics of this flying camera make it one of the best choices for enthusiasts looking for professional performance at an affordable price.
Key Features of the Q500 4K Typhoon Include:
- 25 minute flight time (two batteries are included for a total flight time of 50 minutes before recharging)
- Custom aluminum carrying case protects the drone when being transported or stored
- 4K camera (CG03) with zero-distortion lens and real-time control
- Remote unit contains 5.5” Android tablet displaying real-time telemetry data and video feed
DJI Inspire 1
DJI has been a leader in the camera drone industry since its inception and the company continually raises the bar by introducing new products featuring the latest in flying camera technology. The Inspire 1 is DJI’s latest flagship product and for good reason – this drone captures professional-quality HD video and has an effective range of nearly 1.5 miles, a feat which very few other camera drones can even come close to matching. For my full stand-alone review, see this article.
The Inspire 1 comes with a 4K/30fps video camera mounted on a three-axis gimbal. The camera is also capable of shooting in 1080p and capturing 12MP still shots. The gimbal allows the camera to pan 360 degrees and tilt 135 degrees. Unlike the Spreading Wings (where the landing struts retract independently), the Inspire 1 raises both the propeller arms and landing struts together, but the result is still the same: no accidental landing gear shots.
Full-resolution video is recorded onboard the quadcopter, but a 720p video feed is also transmitted from the camera that can be viewed in real-time up to one mile away using an iOS or Android app. The app allows users to start and stop recording as well as manually adjust camera settings. The camera can also be controlled using dials found on the radio control unit. The Inspire 1 also supports the use of a second radio control unit – allowing one person to concentrate on flying the aircraft while the other person controls only the camera equipment onboard.
One of the truly unique features of this flying camera is the retractable landing gear. For people already familiar with drone aerial photography, you know that it can be difficult to keep the landing gear and/or propellers out of the shot when the camera is panned. DJI solved this problem with the Inspire 1 by raising the propeller housings up and away from the camera after take-off to ensure clear, distraction-free shots every time the Inspire 1 is in the air.
The DJI Inspire 1 performs exceptionally well in the air due to its large size and onboard stability program. Multiple flight modes make it easy for novices to fly the drone safely while providing the precise control required by professional aerial videographers. With a control range of nearly 1.5 miles, the Inspire 1 is capable of covering a much larger area than competitive drones and the large 4,500mAh battery provides flight times of 18 minutes. Speed isn’t a problem for DJI’s flagship either…the drone can reach a top speed of 50 MPH to capture even the fastest action shots from above.
Perhaps the only drawback to the Inspire 1 lies in its camera. Even though the camera is a solid performer capable of recording 4K video (the 3-axis gimbal system is also exceptionally well-designed), the camera can only record 4K at 25FPS. Comparable cameras, such as the GoPro Hero 4, can record 4K at a full 30FPS. Aside from that, there is nothing bad that can be said about one of the most advanced flying camera drones on the market. Professional or amateur hobbyist, you really can’t go wrong with the DJI Inspire 1.
Key Features of the DJI Inspire 1 Include:
- Completely integrated flying camera system right out of the box
- Enough features to satisfy any drone enthusiast or professional videographer
- Long flight times of 18 minutes
- Extremely long control range (1.5 miles)
- Return to home function
- Remote control designed to accommodate many FPV accessories
Parrot Bebop Drone
Parrot is perhaps better known for producing toy and enthusiast-grade flying camera systems rather than top-rated drones worthy of this list. That all changed, however, when Parrot released the Bebop.
Significantly smaller and lighter than both of the other drones in this list, the Bebop is still packed with features that one would expect to find in a high-end enthusiast drone. While it lacks a few of the features that would make the Bebop a true professional-grade flying camera, most pilots will find that the lightweight Bebop offers everything they need in a camera drone and then some.
Controlled via WiFi using a compatible Android or iOS mobile device equipped with the Parrot FreeFlight 3 app, pilots can view a real-time video feed from the Bebop’s onboard 14MP 1080P fisheye-style camera complete with digital 3-axis stabilization. Note that the stabilization is all performed digitally by the Bebop’s onboard computer system. Although this system is better than no stabilization at all, it simply doesn’t compare to the true 3-axis stabilization provided by the active gimbal systems on both the Inspire 1 and the Q50 Typhoon.
The Parrot Bebop is very easy to fly and even includes a Return to Home function thanks to the onboard GPS. That said, there a two possible drawbacks to the Bebop. First, this flying camera weighs a fraction of the other drones on this list meaning that it is very difficult to control in windy flying conditions. Wind speeds of over 10 MPH are too much for this small but nimble flying camera. The other drawback is the short flight time of only 12 minutes. In the Bebop’s defense, it does manage these 12 minute flights using only a 1,200mAh battery but drone enthusiasts looking for more than just a toy will be disappointed with the short flight times.
Key Features of the Parrot Bebop Include:
- Flight range can be extended to over one mile using the optional WiFi extender
- 14 MP Full HD 1080p camera with fisheye lens and 3-axis digital image stabilization
- 180° field of view with exceptional image quality
- Onboard GPS for Return to Home and high altitude flight control
- FreeFlight 3 app available for iOS, Android, and Windows 8.1 mobile devices
All three of these camera drones represent the most advanced flying camera technology currently available although each platform takes a slightly different approach. Parrot, for instance, opted to use a digital image stabilization program instead of an active gimbal to keep costs lower than the competition. Likewise, the camera on the DJI Inspire 1 is 4K-capable, but only at 25FPS. While this is more than adequate for many aerial shots, high-speed action shots may suffer when recording at the reduced frame rate. No matter which drone camera you choose as your next aerial videography tool, know that any of these models offer enough features to satisfy just about everyone from novice pilot to professional photographer and everyone in between.