- Jonathan Feist | Drone Rush
The best drones around are a diverse set of flying machines. There are some amazing UAS out there for everyone from the living room pilot and mountain climbing photographer all the way up to the drones used in Hollywood or for passenger flight. These are fun times, and 2018 is proving to be a turning point where hobby pilots, like you, can step up to pilot drone deliveries and more as flight takes hold around the globe.
We’re here to explore the best of the best in the drone industry, today is all about the best drones that you can buy on a store shelf in 2018. Please note, we are going to focus mostly on the sub-$2000 range, you can get some amazing machines for top dollar, let’s instead focus on the machines that most of us can afford at home. Join us for our rundown of the best drones for sale today.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
In August 2018, DJI announced the DJI Mavic 2 series of drones, including the Pro and Zoom models. Iterative updates to the DJI Mavic Pro drone, each of the two new models offer a different camera experience. The DJI Mavic 2 Pro offers a 1-inch camera sensor, that’s the same size as the Phantom 4 Pro. Thing is, this new Hasselblad build camera may just be the best camera that DJI has to offer without looking at the $3000+ DJI Inspire 2. With all-direction obstacle avoidance sensors and almost all of the best flight features that DJI has to offer, this is going to be a very hard drone to beat for a while.
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
With the DJI Mavic 2 Pro taking our top spot for favorite drone these days, the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom is only a close second. The newly built 1/2.3-inch camera sensor is an improvement even over the DJI Mavic Air, and its secret trick, which is not so secret, is built into the name, it has a 2x optical zoom. In addition to some fun camera modes that take advantage of the zoom, this is a powerful tool for commercial operations or any other spot where you need to get the camera closer, but you can’t actually fly closer. Aside from the camera, the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom and the DJI Mavic 2 Pro are the same drone, so look for all the best safety and flight features baked in.
DJI Mavic Air
Announced on January 23rd, shipping starting January 28th, 2018, the new DJI Mavic Air is the culmination of everything learned from the Mavic Pro and Spark. The new machine combines the best of both existing drones and makes it better. It folds down even smaller than the Spark, but is still larger in the air. You’re looking at 4K video recording and 12 MP stills, those videos are at 100 Mbps, which will translate to the best camera experience of the three.
The new drone is light, compact, folds down and can fly by hand gestures. Check it out at the links below and stay tuned, we have plenty more coverage coming:
Have a specific need in mind?
Before we dive in to explore the best drones regardless your needs, we wanted to mention that we have many curated lists on our site. These drone lists are tailored to your needs – if you are looking for the best nano drone, mini drone, camera drone, racing drone and more, we have a list for you. These lists differ from our global Best Drones list you are reading now by further explaining what makes a specific drone great for a need. Have a read through the best list here today, then hit up the other lists when you are ready to narrow down for a purchase.
If you are a resident of the United States, for drones larger than 0.55 lbs, you are going to need to follow a few rules of the air, including a pre-flight check of your gear. Accidents happen, but incidents are preventable with proper care and judgment. You’ll most likely need to register your drone with the FAA before you operate, and be sure to check your state laws before you fly.
As of December 2017 you have to register your drone with the FAA before you fly! This supersedes the info from May 2017 that said you are no longer required to register your drone with the FAA. Registration is required once again, don’t worry, it’s quick, easy and only $5.
One of the best ways to prevent an accident is to purchase a drone that provides some autonomous flight controls. You do not need a fully self-flying drone, but some collision prevention and hover capabilities will make a world of difference for you. Just some of the items we feel necessary for a great drone, which will be available on most models in our list today.
Consider your flight space, weather factors and range capabilities before you head to the skies, but mostly, have fun.
Do you get paid to fly? You need to be commercially licensed to do so, that’s the FAA Part 107 Airman Certificate with sUAS rating. We’re ramping up our tutorials on how to get the license, and we’ve teamed with a training company to help you pass the test. Learn all you need to know for the test and much more through Drone Pilot Ground School.
Getting started guide
We spent a good deal of time with our first drone, an inexpensive machine that taught us the intricacies of flight, how weather affects our machines and to stay away from dogs. That’s another story though. We want you to get the most out of your drone, and the first step is understanding what your machine is capable of, where you can fly, how you can fly and what you should expect from the experience. Luckily for you, we have been through it all, we’ve got a few resources that you can check out before you take to the sky. I urge you to check them out, if you get just one safety tip, or one little thing helps you get better video from the sky, I’ll be pleased.
Drone legal and safety
With our top recommendations out of the way, these are the remainder of the best drones on the market today:
DJI Mavic Pro Platinum
Update: DJI has announced the new DJI Mavic Pro Platinum. With improved flight controllers and modified propellers, this slick new color on the Mavic Pro shell only teases at the overall improvements of the folding drone. Stay tuned for more coverage. For today, the vast majority of the info for the original Mavic Pro is relevant for the Platinum version as well, but the newer machine, with improvements, is the better drone.
We were so excited for this drone that we used it for our October giveaway. Then again for December. Then we went to LA for a hands-on experience. DJI is a long trusted name in the consumer camera drone space, with popular rigs you’ll see throughout this article, monster professional camera rigs and now one of the smallest and most capable drones we’ve ever seen, the Mavic Pro.
Packing a 4K camera, 27 minutes of flight time to go up to 8 miles at a max speed of 40 mph and a 16,404 foot service ceiling, you’ll have no issues violating any number of FAA drone flight regulations. The remote has a range of about 4.3 miles as well, so you should have no problems with connectivity while it is in the legal line-of-sight flight range.
Video capture runs at 30 fps for 4K shooting, up to 96 fps for 1080p capture. Still images are possible as well, 4000 x 3000 pixels of resolution are captured from the 12MP sensor. Stability is the name of the game as well, DJI has top notch gimbals, including this 3-axis stabilizer.
Smart features include obstacle avoidance, gesture mode, ActiveTrack, TapFly and of course, you can fire the live view from the camera back to your supported phone or tablet.
Despite offering a similar, if less capable flying experience to the older DJI Phantom 4, the Mavic Pro is much lighter and folds down into one of the most compact drones on the market. If you’ve got big pockets, you’re ready to hit the road.
The DJI Mavic Pro may not be the best camera drone around either, nor the best racer or an affordable toy class unit, but in terms of overall usability, convenience and bang for the buck, you’ll be hard pressed to find better at the going price of $999.
You can grab the drone itself for about $799, but we recommend at least getting the base pack, including controller, of the DJI Mavic Pro for $788. Add extra batteries and more in the DJI Mavic Pro Fly More combo for $999. (Regular price is $999 and $1,299.)
Ever since experiencing the new Uvify OOri at CES 2018, we’ve been eager to get our hands on it. Few mini drones capture our attention in a big way, but Uvify did it. With a pedigree in drone racing, OOri flies safe and slow for beginner pilots, then unleash the beast to soar at up to 60 mph. Considering this drone fits in the palm of your hand, we’re very impressed with what it can do.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the Uvify OOri, we have ours in-house. You can order your OOri for $349 now.
Update: Let us be perfectly clear, if you can afford the DJI Mavic Air, do not buy the DJI Spark, get the Air, it’s worth the upgrade.
Announced in New York in May, the new DJI Spark is, perhaps, not the drone for serious drone pilots. Instead, the Spark is a smart approach at automating flight, putting the best drone video capture modes in the hands of any new pilot. Control the drone by hand, literally, with multiple hand gestures from take off to landing, or use the app from your phone or opt for the optional remote control.
We’re still working with our Spark, expect a detailed review soon, for now, let’s say that this is a fun little flying machine. Very portable, easy to fly and at the ready for very stable footage, or at least great selfie photos, Spark is about as affordable as DJI drones get and packs most of the best features into a tiny package. The new DJI Quickshot automated flight modes take that to the next level.
You can grab the DJI Spark alone for $309. You’ll be flying by hand gestures or with a connected mobile device, otherwise, snap up the controller, another battery and more with the DJI Spark Fly More combo for $499 today. (Regular price is $499 and $699.)
DJI Phantom 4 Pro, Phantom 4 Pro+ and new V2.0 models
Update: DJI has released the Phantom 4 P4 V2.0 and Phantom 4 Pro+ V2.0. The updated versions of these great machines include more efficient propellers, more efficient ESCs and the inclusion of OcuSync, to enhance your connectivity options.
Built on the same iconic quadcopter frame as the remaining DJI Phantom line, a design emulated by many competitors, the Phantom 4 Pro is a recently announced drone that takes putting a camera in the sky very serious. Packing a full 1-inch camera sensor for 4K video capture and 20MP stills, the Phantom 4 Pro packs high speeds, 5-direction collision avoidance and stable flight into a familiar package.
In addition to the enhancements over the Phantom 4 previous, there is a new controller available as well, packing it’s own 5.5-inch display in the Phantom 4 Pro+ package. Save your phone battery, fly using this 1000 knit brightness touch panel for up to 30 minutes of air time and collision avoidance up to 31 mph.
Check out the DJI Phantom 4 Pro and Phantom 4 Pro+ for $1,097 and $1,599 today. (Regular price is $1399 and $1799.)
Yuneec Typhoon H
Also seen in our Best drones under $1000 list
Another drone with multiple configurations available, the Yuneec Typhoon H 4K is likely the option for you. The Typhoon H Pro is a lot more expensive and packs some intense camera rigging, the 4K is the competitor to the more popular drones on our list today.
Breaking our little quad-rotor rule, Yuneec has packed 6 motors on the Typhoon H, making for very stable flight and it even has retractable landing gear. 4K video recording with a 360 degree swivel gimbal and over 20 minutes of flight time make for a drone that compares nicely to the Phantom 4.
Typhoon H Plus
Yuneec has announced a serious update to the Typhoon line, the new Typhoon H Plus. We went hands-on at CES 2018, but this was a pre-production model, the real thing will roll out by mid-2018. Upgraded internals make for quieter and more efficient flight, an upgraded camera promises amazing photos and video from the sky and the iconic hexacopter design remains as resilient and reliable as ever.
Autel Robotics Evo
Autel Robotics surprised us at CES 2018, we weren’t expecting to see a new drone from them, but they came out strong with the new Evo. This is a compact, folding drone with 4K video recording and a very portable remote control. We respect where Autel Robotics is coming from, and are excited to see more options on the market for portable drones under $1000.
Check out the new Autel Robotics Evo for $999 on Amazon today. Regular price is $995. Initial retail price of $999.
Walkera F210 3D
As seen on our Best racing drones list
As far as an out-of-the-box solution goes in the racing world, the Walkera F210 3D is one of the best drones you’ll find today. It packs both normal and night vision cameras, a sturdy build, simple customizations and a lot of thoughtful longevity features. Not saying it won’t break if you crash it, but they’ve done what they can to protect core components and make the rest easy to replace.
Best of all, you can tweak the flight characteristics directly, adjusting the flight controller to your specifications. The F210 3D is lightweight, we hear it is extremely agile, particularly in those demanding corners of technical courses, and is fast enough to keep up on the long straights.
We can’t guarantee you’ll win races with the Walkera F210 3D, but if any ready to fly drone purchase was going to get you there, this may be it.
Check out the Walkera F210 3D for $349 on Amazon.
In the drone racing world there are two types of pilots, those that fly off-the-shelf equipment, and those that build their own custom quads. If you are looking for a stock machine, no customization required, the Uvify Draco is a solid choice. This is a tough carbon fiber drone with easily interchanged parts, it’s fast and has fun LED lighting to work with. Make no mistake, this is a larger drone that may not be as agile feeling as others, but it’s a power house of a machine, ready to roar its way to victory.
As seen in our Parrot drones guide
Announced in the summer of 2018, the Parrot Anafi was a bit of a pleasant surprise out of France. The new drone offers the popular compact, folding quadcopter design popular these day, but adds some camera flair worth paying attention to. The primary trick is the ability to tilt the 21MP camera all the way from straight down to straight up. You’re still looking at a typical build from Parrot, but the new camera should prove worth your consideration.
You can get the Parrot Anafi for $699.
Hubsan X4 H107L
As seen in our Cheap drones guide
Getting into the ‘toy’ range here, the Hubsan X4 H107L is a fairly entry level drone, great for those learning to fly or that are not in need of a robust machine to take to the skies. Also great for those with very little time on their hands, this little drone has no camera, cannot carry the GoPro and has battery enough for about 5-10 minutes of flight, depending on how you push it.
Hubsan has proven their drones to be of the utmost quality at their market level, building a brand that we have come to trust.
As a seemingly pointless drone as compared to the powerful camera and racing rigs on our list, we all have to start somewhere, and the Hubsan X4 for $26 on Amazon sounds like a smart price to do so.
Sticking to toy caliber drones, the Syma X5C is a solid offering for the beginning drone enthusiast. 8 minutes of flight can be had while flipping, spinning and capturing a bit of video on the 720p camera. There is even bright LED lights for night flight. Rather, check your local laws for night flight rules, but hey, there’s bright lights, so, it’s up to you.
Grab the basic model for about $40, or bump up to the explorer kit, with replacement parts and extra batteries for $50 on Amazon today.
DJI Inspire 2
I’m not going to lie, the spec list on this drone is longer than the spec list of my DSLR and car combined. Let’s shorten that down for you: on the DJI Inspire 2 (a professional drone) you get a selection of available cameras up to the highly capable 5.2K X5S camera mounted to an even more capable gimbal. Powerful motors provide speeds up to 58 mph across the ground with image and collision avoidance active, and about 13 mph in vertical lift. This is a big, heavy drone with now two hot swappable batteries, balancing out to about 27 minutes of flight.
The fact of the matter is, there is a very good chance that the best drone footage you’re going to see from here on out will be shot on the Inspire 2. DJI Demonstrated that live in front of us, and have a movie to share. I can ramble about how fun the event was, but the important part is that this is perhaps the most stable and capable drone you’ll find. With a going price of $2,999 for the drone, or $5,489 with remote, high end camera and accessories, it better be good.
Yuneec Typhoon H520
A drone we plan to put on a few lists, including our Yuneec Drones Guide
Update: It’s here! Yuneec is finally selling the H520.
As we were playing with the Yuneec Typhoon H520 at CES 2017, it became apparent to us that Yuneec is a serious player in the drone space, driven to provide top notch flying products. As well, they are on par with the top drone camera players on the market. The H520 swaps through Yuneec’s available camera modules with zoom lenses, infrared and more.
Orange for safety, the Typhoon H520 offers the best features found in the retail focused Typhoon H, they look and act similarly in the sky, but the H520 is tailored for commercial use with improved controls and connectivity for the next generation CGO-series cameras.
Stay tuned for more on the Yuneec Typhoon H520.
Now available, you can order the Yuneec H520 for $1999. This link is to a kit deal with all you need to fly for $4200.
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise
Announced in October 2018, the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise is a powerful take on the new Mavic 2 platform. At first glance, you’d think the Enterprise is a Mavic 2 Zoom with accessories on top, but that sells the product short. Most of us won’t need the advanced safety and flight awareness tools, such as an ADS-B receiver and complete drone systems and data encryption, but the accessories can be fun and the self-heating battery functional. A powerful spotlight, loudspeaker and a strobe light beacon are the first tools available, we can’t wait to see what more is to come.
The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise is $1999 and a Fly More kit is available.
DJI M200 series
As seen in our Best commercial drones list
Recently announced, and not yet up for sale, DJI has an intriguing new drone on their hands. The Matrice line of commercial and professional grade drones has long been the workhorse of DJI’s quad and multi-rotor drones, leaving many niceties to the retail drones like the Phantom and Inspire 2. Imagine combining the very best that the Inspire 2 has to offer into a heavy-duty configurable machine, that’s the M200 series.
All the best flight modes and safety features, heavy lifting with multiple camera options and configurations. We’re talking about mounting a camera on top to face upward, for things like bridge inspection. We’re also talking about hanging two cameras on the bottom, to shoot infrared and high-zoom at the same time. Sound hard to operate, no worries, one pilot can control the cameras while the second controls the drone through the dedicated FPV camera, just like the Inspire 2.
This may be priced out of range for most of us, but as far as commercial use goes, this drone is as sleek, powerful and feature rich as we’ve seen yet.
Learn all about the DJI M200 series drones here.
Best drones wrap-up
We are falling in love with drones, and we hope you are too. From the starter toy drones all the way up to multi-thousand dollar rigs, we will keep you in the loop, check back for updates to this list as new and exciting drones hit the market.
The science of our drone lists
We are asking a lot of you to just trust us when we offer our recommendations on drones. Allow us to briefly talk about what we’re doing here today. Not just today, actually, we employ the same techniques and philosophy for all of our content on the site. We want you to get the most out of your flying experience, which includes safety, value for your dollar and accurately identifying the capabilities of each drone.
Hey guys, this is Jonathan Feist. As a little history, I have been an enthusiast of flight for many years. My youthful enthusiasm matured into something real when I began studying government issued Aviation Training material in 2007, eager to get my private pilot’s license, or better yet, to become a helicopter pilot. I flew my first real life airplane in 2009, the little Cessna you see above. (Thank you again, Ethan!) Sadly, that was also my last time at the helm of a passenger aircraft, for now.
Truth is, I have poor eyesight. Not bad enough to prevent me from flying, but bad enough that there were hurdles to overcome. I then went to college for computer sciences and forgot about flight for a while. Sort of. My programming class final project was a flight simulator. Nothing to speak of, but that passion for aviation was not lost.
What comes next for an aviation enthusiast that is not currently destined for a real pilot’s license? UAV, of course. RC airplanes, RC helicopters and now, the amazing machines that we affectionately call drones.
I respect anything that can fly, but I believe that a flight is not successful if it ends in anything other than a smooth landing, or at least a safe landing. I will not apologize for being picky. I know that many of the drones we cover on the site are mere toys, regardless their price, but I still believe that if they are in any way dangerous or otherwise incapable of stable flight, they do not deserve to fly. If they do not deserve to fly, they do not belong on this site. At least this is my desired approach.
If I do not yet have your trust, given time, I believe I can earn it.
Enough about me, what you really want to know is how we choose all these drones for all these lists. We will get more scientific about this as we go, but at least let me explain what we look for in a drone.
It all begins with research. Just like you are doing now, we look through as many reports, lists and reviews as we can find on each drone we consider for a best list. Experience plays a large part at this point, while we may not have put hands on each and every drone listed, we have, at the very least, handled another drone from the manufacturer. In the case of DJI, for example, we’ve put fingerprints on each and every drone with the exception of their agricultural sprayer. (Update, we’ve put hands on the agricultural sprayer.)
It may not be apparent for each and every drone, but we will never tell you that we’ve handled something if we haven’t, and we generally have plenty to say, additional content, on the machines we have flown.
With research and an idea of a manufacturer’s quality in hand, we seek to put hands on each drone. This is not always possible, but we try. If we can fly a machine, we greatly allow our opinion of the flying experience to influence our ranking of the machine. For instance, despite being somewhat similar on the spec sheet in terms of controls, I will take the DJI Mavic Pro over the DJI Spark any day of the week. Not to belittle the Spark, it is a great machine, I just have had a much better and easier time flying the Mavic Pro. If for no other reason, Ocusync with the DJI Goggles. Of course, the DJI Mavic Air is now on the scene, it’s pretty compelling.
We put opinion away briefly when we look at the capabilities of a drone, and at the price tag. It is usually pretty easy to weed out the good from the bad, a thousand dollar drone best have high-quality 4K video recording, have autonomous flight modes and fly smooth enough to capture great video. A $500 drone can compromise on the camera and some autonomous flight modes, but it better still hover smoothly. For under $100, I do not expect a camera at all, maybe a little 2MP non-FPV streaming camera, but anything in this price range that claims ‘HD video’ or to ‘capture great photos’ has got to prove itself before I believe it.
Once we ascertain a general value for a drone, we basically just compare it to its neighbors. This can be unfair with the behemoth DJI dominating most segments of the market, but that’s just the way it is. We’re excited for other manufacturers to step in to compete heavily with DJI, we love innovation born of competition. For now, we are un-apologetically fans of DJI and have their drones at the top of many lists. Please respect that this is because we truly believe that each of these drones has earned its spot. Players we are keeping a close eye on include Yuneec, Uvify and Autel Robotics, while Hubsan, GDU, Syma, Parrot and many more have our attention as well.
At this time, we are actively keeping up on approximately 42 drones from 34 manufacturers. This makes up our short list of drones that we promote across the site in many different categories. There are many machines that did not make the short list, we may never talk about them more than once. Be sure to keep tabs on our slowly growing Drone Manufacturers list for a more thorough look through the options that are out there, then compare to our best lists to see which we think are worth your money.
Buying or borrowing? There is a thing that happens when folks like us receive review units from manufacturers, the general conclusion is that we will unfairly favor these drones as a thank you for the loaner. Yes, they are loaners, we don’t get to keep review units. The funny thing is, we’ve purchased more drones than we’ve had lent to us, and the ones that have been loaners we’ve found reason to exclude from many of our top lists. Again, we may have to earn your trust, but I tell you now, our loyalty is to you, if a machine is not great we will say so. If you are a manufacturer with a drone to share with us, make sure it’s good and safe. We are reasonable about our expectations, we are patient, but we will be blunt and can be cruel if you lie about capabilities or if your machine outright fails. Mostly, if there is a safety concern with your craft, don’t expect much air time from us.
Trade shows are the true value in our experiences with the drones you’ll see in our lists. These are opportunities for us to meet the people behind a brand, and an opportunity to see many drones together in the same place. We may produce little content from a trade show, but I assure you that the meetings will influence each list we produce from then on.
A final note, you will see links to purchase each of the drones we present in any of our lists. We do make a small commission off of these links if you purchase, at no cost to you. These are generally going to be links to Amazon and to the best priced buying option that we can find. We respect your dollar. Please respect that we keep the site alive with these commissions. We do not want to put advertisements on the site. Your conscious effort to trust us is what keeps us going, and for that we thank you!
Original article at Drone Rush, here.
IDRA Membership & Insurance
For more information about the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) and how to become a member, please visit our website or find us on all social media platforms. As the world's largest association for recreational and commercial pilots, IDRA is the premier provider of primary liability insurance with worldwide coverage. This is a great and affordable service that we provide IDRA Members around the world.
If you need applicable and affordable insurance for your drone event (training, education, demos, exhibits, races, etc.) please contact us as well.
As always, stay safe, have fun, and we'll see you at the next race!