Reach New Heights: The Best Drones
Drones, at their core, are fun but they also are a great tool for aspiring photographers. Aerial still shots and video footage are quickly becoming sought-after gems. Whether you’re looking for a drone with a built-in or a camera attachment, or just want to hone in on your flying skills, these are the best drones for you.
Many cities, counties, and countries require drones to be registered and users licensed in order to operate them. This usually doesn’t apply to mini drones because of their small size. But it’s important to know your area’s policies and laws before taking your drone from a fly.
Best overall: Holy Stone HS720 foldable drone
Source: Holy Stone
The Holy Stone HS720 drone can be set to follow you during intense activities and movement, so you don’t have to worry about framing, or getting the best shot while also concentrating on the task at hand. It captures 4K high definition video and great still shots, plus has Image Stabilization to grab clear action shots and reduce bumpy video, too.
The remote control has a holder for your smartphone. This allows you to use the app and see exactly what your drone is recording. The app also allows for quick editing and photo touchups. The drone itself has a TF slot and can hold a 32GB SD card to make saving and transferring files easier between the drone and other devices.
This drone comes with two smart batteries, each 26 minutes long, for a total of 52 minutes of battery life. Automatically returns back to you when the battery gets low, so there isn’t a risk of it dropping or getting lost when power is out. It is built to only accept the Holy Stone batteries. Using another brand could potentially cause the drone to malfunction and cause a safety hazard.
- Built-in camera
- Follows you while recording
- Returns home
- Quick sharing
- Can’t use other brands’ batteries
Best value: Hasakee Q9s quadcopter
This drone doesn’t have a camera and it isn’t built to support one attached to it. This is because this basic design is more for learning how to steady and control a drone than for work or pleasure purposes. The bright lights make it fun to fly and race against others in the dark and all four propellers are protected by a circular guard around them, so the drone won’t break as it falls and bumps against things. The drone can do flips and rotate to create fun aerial tricks.
The Q9 drone comes with two batteries for the drone itself. Together they give you a total of 13 – 16 minutes of flying time. This really isn’t very long, especially since it takes almost an hour to recharge each battery. You also get replacement propellers, a screwdriver for changing them out, and two charging cords.
- Guards around the propellers
- Bright LED lights
- Can do tricks, including flips
- No camera
- Short battery life
- Takes a long time to recharge
Best for beginners: DEERC D20 mini drone
Unlike other drones marketed for kids and beginners, this drone includes a built-in camera. While it only shoots 720p video, it does have auto hovering and voice controls to help ensure they are clear and exactly what you want to capture. You can use this drone for simple entertainment, too. It’s made to do flips while the headless mode means the drone itself always knows which part of it is the front and will take off and recenter itself for you.
The drone connects to a smartphone app that can attach to the remote control. Using this in real-time gives you instant feedback to get great shots along with seeing exactly what the drone is seeing. This is also required to save any photos or video taken since the drone doesn’t have onboard storage, nor a place to use a sim card. It is capable of connecting to Wi-Fi and sending the recording to a cloud storage program, but it takes a minute to set up and there isn’t a guarantee that images will make it since Wi-Fi isn’t the most reliable with this drone.
The DEERC drone comes with two rechargeable batteries. Each gives you 10 minutes of fly time, or a total of 20 minutes before needing to be recharged. It takes over an hour – 80 minutes – to recharge.
- Built-in camera
- Headless mode
- Voice control compatible
- Doesn’t capture the best video
- No onboard storage
- Long battery charging time
Best high-end: DJI Mini SE
The DJI will stay stable in winds up to 29 miles per hour and can still be controlled with the included remote control up to 4,000 feet above your head. It holds a micro SD card to instantly store captured footage and still images. It records in 2.7K high definition, which is a step up from most drones, though there are many available with 4K resolutions. The drone does have templates to reduce the need for editing videos, which is great for beginning videographers.
There are a couple of features missing on this drone, especially for a higher-end unit. For one, it doesn’t have ActiveTrack. This feature would allow to drone to automatically follow the object being filmed without you needing to continually keep pace or the subject in focus. Another missing function is vertical shooting. Even if you can flip the drone a bit, the camera doesn’t take true verticle footage.
This drone comes with replacement propellers and several extra screws, just in case one or two go missing. It also comes with a rechargeable battery that gives you 30 minutes of fly time before it needs to be recharged.
- Good built-in camera
- Wind resistance
- Long-distance control
- Decent battery life
- No vertical video
- No ActiveTrack
- A lit pricey
Ready to Fly: Our Recommendations
There are two really good drones that we recommend if you’re serious about capturing great aerial shots. The first is the Holy Stone HS720 drone. This captures 4K high-definition images that look amazing. It’s compatible with 32GB micro SD cards, like those from SanDisk, and with an app that makes it super easy to edit and share what you’ve captured. This drone has ActiveTrack. This means you can set a specific person, animal, or object in its sights and the drone will automatically follow it while recording action shots. It has the longest battery time, a combined 52 minutes between the two included batteries, Plus, it has a GPS system to help it find its way back “home” even in dense areas or high altitudes. It automatically returns to you when the battery is getting low.
Another great option is the DJI Mini SE. Because of its size, you don’t need to acquire a license or register it before using it. It, too, has a built-in camera, though it only shoots in 2.7K definition. This drone is resistant to high winds, so it will stay pretty steady as it shoots. You can also keep a signal and in control of it up to 4,000 feet away. That’s a quarter of a mile! The DJI mini drone only comes with a single battery, but it keeps a charge for up to 30 minutes, which is a bit longer than one of the Holy Stone batteries. The DJI doesn’t have ActiveTrack.
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Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Nikki Johnston writes for multiple Future Publishing brands covering topics from antivirus to kitchen appliances to SAS. She has over 15 years of research and writing experience, including eight years of testing and reviewing consumer products. Nikki earned bachelor’s degrees in both English and Political Science with a focus on empirical research. In her spare time, Nikki serves as a member of several school councils and volunteers for a local arts board.
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