Best Drones For Photography
Like anything, there is photography and then there is ‘photography’. That is why we are compiling our best drones for photography as well as providing different options for different budgets (and levels of quality).
Drones For Photography
Using drones for photography is hardly a new concept and whilst the use of drones has radically changes the moving and still image world for the better there is still a huge chasm in terms of attainable quality when it comes to different models. Professional standard photography and videography is certainly possible in 2019 in terms of the hardware and software – and although you will need to have the necessary skills in composition and editing, the accessibility and affordability of studio quality gear is now more prevalent than ever.
Depending on whether you intend to be the next Tobias Hägg (checkout the @airpixels Instagram account) or fancy yourself as more of an unknown amateur – aerial drone photography can not only create some of the most stunning visual imagery – it is also a hell of a lot of fun to do – not least because you are going to end up travelling to more and more exotic locations to take more and more stunning shots.
We have compiled our ‘best drones for photography’ in to three levels of budget and quality. We think all levels represent excellent value for money and although generally drones are more affordable now than ever, to get the best you will have to pay more than less. That being said, we have discounted a number of high profile models as we didn’t think they packed enough snap for their pound – so you can be assured that these really do represent the best drones for photography while still providing excellent value.
We have made some generalisations here and of course amateur photographers can opt for the drones we have classified in the professional categories – but be aware that these drones may have a steeper learning curve and are also likely to come with a higher price tag.
Amateur Photography Drones (lower budget)
Drones for amateur aerial photographers don’t have to be low quality and in fact we have seen some amateur drone photography that would put that of a professional to shame. Generally speaking, amateurs will spend less time in post edit than their paid counterparts and so the flexibility in terms of editing options is also something we have considered when choosing these two drones, in addition to budget.
DJI has dominated the drone market for the last couple of years so it is hardly surprising that we have started this list with a DJI drone. The Spark is no longer the new kid on the block but for price and functionality it will take some beating.
The DJI Spark is one of the more ‘fun’ drones featured in this buyers guide and although fun might not be the first thing a photographer looks for, it will probably bring aerial photography to a wider audience. Fun doesn’t mean cheap and lacking in quality either. Although the Spark doesn’t take 4K video, it does shoot very good quality 1080p full HD and does so with the support of a 2 axis mechanical gimbal that provides very steady footage.
For photography, the camera is capable of taking stills at 12MP with the aid of a 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor. Effective image size is 3968x2976px at full size and there are also a range of handy shooting modes to help you get the best shot including burst shooting and auto exposure bracketing – all designed to help you take the perfect shot with minimal fuss or technical knowhow.
The Spark is perfectly capable of taking landscape photography but is perhaps even better suited to portrait photography – and even DJI label it as a selfie drone.
At just 300g, the Spark is the lightest of the drones on this page but has a battery life of around 16 minutes. It can be controlled by gestures, a smartphone with app or a dedicated controller – the latter providing a range of just over 1km!
If you are looking for an entry level drone for taking high quality photographs but also need the ability to take decent video then the Spark is quite possibly the best option for any aspiring photographer.
As one of the early pioneers of UAV’s, Parrot has taken a bit of knock to the ego over the last few years with some less than inspiring drone releases. Last year they launched the Anafi in a bid to revitalise their image in the industry – and we were more than impressed with what we saw.
The Parrot Anafi quickly became a direct competitor of the DJI Mavic Air and it had a pretty decent stab at putting itself in top spot. Whilst it is cheaper than the Mavic Air, it didn’t quite take the crown. That being said, when focusing purely on photography (and at an amateur or semi-professional level) then the Anafi could well be the perfect choice.
The first thing to point out is that this drone takes 4K video (at 30FPS) and features a 180 degree tilting gimbal. In addition to this, the 1/2.4″ Sony camera can take still photographs at 21MP – not too shabby.
The Anafi has one string to its bow that is not found on most drones – it has 2.4x digital zoom with zero loss of clarity. Yes, that is 2.4x lossless zoom.
Although we have included the Anafi in the amateur section (largely due to the lowish price) it will suit many professional photographers. The ability to export footage in Adobe DNG/RAW formats provide exceptional editing opportunities and are easy to process. An equally impressive battery life of 25 minutes is also going to help professionals to have the time to compose their shots.
The biggest drawback of the Anafi is the Freefall app that Parrot still persist with and the omission of collision avoidance. That being said, the Anafi is pretty easy to fly and features all the GPS tracking type shots you would expect from a drone of this calibre. It will also appeal to photographers due to its foldable design which makes it more portable.
Professional Photography Drones (mid-range budget)
Now we enter the realm of the mid budget professional photographer drones. Expect to pay anything in the region of proper money for the basic models in this category – although you can still find promotional pricing from time to time. At this price point you should expect 4K as standard and better quality cameras with bigger sensors as well as a range of image and video output options.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2
There was some uncertainty in 2018 as to whether DJI would release the Phantom 5 or would update the much loved Phantom 4 Pro – what we ended up with was the Phantom 4 Pro V2 – and we loved it. It won’t appeal to all photographers purely because of its size and shape – which ultimately makes it the least portable of the two drones in this category. However, as you start to move through the ranks from amateur to professional drones, function starts to take priority over design.
When it comes to functioning, the Phantom 4 Pro V2 is hard to beat. It comes equipped with no less than a full 1 inch CMOS sensor that can take 20MP stills. It takes 4K video at up to 60FPS and has a flight time of up to 30 minutes. What really helps photographers is the ability to sync the live stream to a full 1080p HD controller or the DJI Goggles – allowing for some of the easiest shot compositions.
The P4P V2 has 5 directions of obstacle sensing (which is needed with a 7KM range) and has some of the best video stabilisation we have seen.
Put simply, the Phantom 4 Pro V2 is about as good as it gets at this price point although the Mavic 2 Pro is a little cheaper and has very similar tech – so read on to find out more.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
The Mavic 2 Pro is pretty much our favourite drone of 2019 and although that alone does not mean it is the best for photography, we do think it is about as good as it gets at this price point. DJI always make it clear through their marketing who they are aiming their drones at and they are very clear that the Mavic 2 Pro is designed with aerial photographers very much in mind.
The Mavic 2 Pro is the flagship in the Mavic series and boasts pretty much everything that the Phantom 4 Pro V2 has but in a more compact and sophisticated design. Although retaining the foldable arms, the Mavic 2 Pro is not quite as light as its predecessor and does feel quite weighty in the hands or in a bag/box. But then it is packing an awful of tech under that sleek hood.
The Hasselblad camera features colour enriching HNCS technology and has a 10-bit Dlog-M colour profile – which basically means it can produce over a billion colours – increased from just the 16 million colours available with 8-bit technology (sense our sarcasm there).
Professional photographers will be happy to know that they can change the aperture from f/2.8-f/11 depending on the lighting conditions they are shooting in or the effects they want to produce. This makes the Mavic 2 a big hit among wedding photographers.
When it comes to flight, you won’t find many drones that provide more solidly smooth flight than the Mavic 2 Pro thanks to the 3 axis gimbal and with up to 31 minutes of time in the air – this is about as good as it gets. With no less than 10 obstacle avoidance sensors you can concentrate on your snaps rather than worrying about your surroundings too.
In short, if you need a drone that can take professional images and video without spending over £2000 then the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is probably your number one pick.
Yuneec Typhoon H Plus
If a quadcopter isn’t enough for you or you simply want a high end drone that is not manufactured by DJI then the Yuneec Typhoon H Plus might be up your street. This UAV features 6 propellers that not only provide extra stability and manoeuvrability in the air, it also cleverly switches from 6 to 5 blade flight mode should one rotor malfunction – although this would be a highly unusual occurrence it does provide extra peace of mind.
Like the Mavic 2 Pro, the Typhoon H Plus is designed with high end photography and videography in mind. Also sporting a 1 inch sensor and 4K 60FPS camera (20MP stills), the Typhoon H Plus also features a handy 360 degree rotation gimbal. That means that once your drone is in position it doesn’t matter which way it is facing, the photographer really can just focus on getting the shot by rotating the camera.
We found this drone to be extremely stable in flight and in most cases did live up to the claimed 28 minutes of flying time. The control of the drone is carried out with the ST16S controller that provides a 720p HD display – we found this to be perfectly sufficient for composing shots. It does include a handy HDMI port so that you can push the live feed out to a larger monitor – which for video production will be a real plus point. The controller and drone also allows for team collaboration – which in essence means that you can have one person controlling the flight of the drone whilst another person controls the camera – this is perfect for more complex shots or for moving video that you want to capture manually.
The Yuneec Typhoon Plus is a great buy if collaborative video is your thing or if you just need a bit more value from your budget.
Professional Photography Drones (high-range budget)
Entering the realm of the high budget photography drones means spending at least £3000 and this can spiral in the £13k+ territory. For studios and real high end photographers and videographers the investment certainly can be worth it given the quality that can be achieved using this level of technology.
There are options at this level but for now we are focusing on the one that we think is the best – the Inspire 2.
DJI Inspire 2
The DJI Inspire 2 has been around for a couple of years now but there is still little that comes near to it in terms of image quality and flying ability. The Inspire 2 series is customisable in as much as you can select three different camera types to mount – the Zenmuse X4S, Zenmuse X5S and Zenmuse X7. There are also various combinations of packages that will provide you with anything from additional batteries to extra displays and lenses.
The CineCore 2.1 image processing system can record video at up to 6K in CinemaDNG and RAW formats and at 5.2K in Apple ProRes format when combined with the X7 camera. The controllers feature HDMI and USB ports and can be used in master-slave mode to extend capability without loss of image quality.
You of course get all the usual shooting and flying modes that you would associate with a DJI drone but you also get a drone that is very adept in the air. A dual battery system means there is plenty of juice to power your flight and because of this, the Inspire 2 can be flown in the most testing of conditions – including at cold temperatures. With acceleration from 0 to 50MPH in 5 seconds and a top speed of 58MPH, you can use the Inspire 2 to move to shot composition quickly or for high speed aerial videography.
The Inspire 2 also has a handheld mount available which allows it to be used on the ground too – something that has been used in Hollywood movies.
Expect a maximum flight time of 27 minutes and some of the best aerial (and ground) footage that can possibly be taken. If you are in need of the top end then you have just found it.