Hello, Jon Petro here with Innovative Media Group’s blog number 1. Before you start shopping for a drone, you must first determine what you plan on doing with it. Will you be using your drone recreationally (for fun) or commercially (for profit)? If you are a recreational drone user, consider whether you are more interested in flying an RC machine or using it to capture photos and video. This is crucial. The price point can vary significantly for a drone that is designed with quality optics and stabilization for photos/video versus a drone built for speed and power for racing.
Recreational users who are not interested in taking stills or video will want to look at drones without cameras and gimbals, which can save you some serious money. Expect the price to start around $200 – $250 for a basic drone that can withstand a little bit of wind and have some decent motor power. If the power and speed of a drone is something that interests you, consider looking at racing drones. Racing drones can range from around $100 for a small, beginner machine up to several thousand for a professional racing drone with reliable FPV (first-person-view) and speeds ranging from 70 to 100 mph. The drone pictured below has a camera that sends a video signal to a monitor, allowing the drone pilot to race much like you would in a video game. The difference is that this is a real, expensive machine and the camera does not record what it sees.
For recreational or commercial drone pilots who are looking to capture quality photo and video, I would recommend looking at a DJI drone first. As the owner of a commercial drone company, we have bought all of our drones from DJI since we started almost four years ago. DJI is the world’s leader in consumer and prosumer drone technology, and I honestly wouldn’t purchase a drone for photography or videography from any other company.
If you are just getting started as a hobbyist, I would recommend looking into the DJI Phantom machines (DJI Phantom 3 and 4 models). These machines will range from $300 for a used DJI Phantom 3 Standard up to around $1,200 for a used DJI Phantom 4. Any of the DJI Phantom 3 versions (Standard, Professional, Pro, Advanced, etc.) are going to be excellent starter machines. The only significant differences you will see between any of these versions is a small increase in frame rate and resolution (full HD to 4K, etc.) in the video as well as a very small increase in megapixels from the Standard to the Pro. I believe the DJI Phantom 3 Pro maxes out at around 12 megapixels. The DJI Phantom 4 Pro can film up to 60fps at 4k video resolution and capture 20MP photos.
As a filmmaker, I think it’s important to emphasize that a lot of consumers seem to get caught up in the idea that you must film in 4k to capture “quality video”. This is simply not true at all. Understand that most people who are viewing your videos will likely be using their phones and full HD will hold up very well on a TV or a computer screen. The truth is that your average viewer will not notice the difference between full HD and 4k anyway. So don’t let this be a huge factor when deciding which drone to purchase. Video resolution matters more if you are looking to work as a professional in the commercial drone industry and capturing content that will be edited for television commercials or feature films. If this is the case, I have more recommendations for you below.
In addition to the DJI Phantom 3 and DJI Phantom 4 models, there are a few other drones that are worth mentioning for beginners. The DJI Spark, which starts around $375, is a portable mini-drone that is compact and great for travel. Another viable option is the DJI Mavic, which starts a little over $1,000 (less if used or refurbished). Like the DJI Spark, the DJI Mavic can also be folded down to as small as a water bottle. Both machines have some cool features, such as “follow-me” and other “intelligent” flight modes.
Honestly, I’m a little biased when it comes to features as I usually tend to lean toward the quality of the camera over the portability of the machine. My opinion is that if you are looking to capture quality photos and video with your drone, stick with the Phantom series. Again, I am a filmmaker by trade, and I will always go for the better camera over convenience. The DJI Spark and Mavic will take quality photos and good video (even up to 4k resolutions). My only issue is that anytime the focus is on convenience and compactability over the optics, you are always at risk of sacrificing some quality on the camera side.
More specifically, the camera (and lens) on the DJI Spark and Mavic is significantly smaller than the camera on any of the DJI Phantom machines. The bottom line to the quality of any image you capture with a camera directly correlates with the size and quality of the lens and sensor (for digital cameras). The reason for this is simple. The larger the lens and sensor you have, the more light the lens is able to take in. The more light you bring in, the higher the quality of your image. No matter what.
Additionally, I know that some more advanced digital image stabilization technology had to be integrated into the camera chip on the DJI Spark and Mavic to further aid in perfecting a stable image. This is because the gimbal systems on the Spark and Mavic are much smaller than on the Phantom, thus less effective. Although many consumers don’t realize this, digital stabilization is not a good thing. Any time an image has to be processed or digitally manipulated, some quality will be lost. This is another downfall to the DJI Spark and Mavic.
To summarize, if you travel often and have no interest in using any of your pictures or videos for professional purposes, I believe the DJI Spark will likely meet your needs with a price point very close to a used DJI Phantom 3 Standard (around $350 to $400). If you travel and convenience is of higher value to you than overall quality, I believe the DJI Mavic will likely meet your needs with a price point very close to a used DJI Phantom 4 Pro (around $1,100).
If you are looking to use your drone commercially, I would recommend taking a look at the DJI Inspire series first. The DJI Inspire 1 (which uses the DJI Zenmuse X3 camera and gimbal system), is a great starter drone for professional use at a starting price point of around $1,500 for a used machine. This machine is far superior to a DJI Phantom 3 and 4 for several reasons. Firstly, the optics are noticeably better. Second, and most importantly, is the way the machine is designed. Upon take-off, the landing struts raise above the machine giving the camera a full 360 degree, unobstructed view. Plus, the camera can be controlled by touching the screen of your video monitor, which can be a cell phone or almost any tablet and is easily connected to the remote control via USB.
You can literally move your finger around the live video feed on your video monitor and the camera will follow. This is an absolute game changer. Because of this feature, the Inspire series allows you to capture breathtaking, cinema quality shots that no previous drone models can even come close to.
You can easily follow individual players on the field when filming a sporting event or capture smooth, television commercial and movie-level footage of a car driving down the road. The Inspire 1 Pro and Inspire 1 Pro RAW further improve image quality with an updated camera, the Zenmuse X5 and X5 RAW. The X5 uses a micro four thirds sensor with an MFT mount (with an interchangeable lens system). It can shoot 16MP still photos and DCI 4K video (4096 x 2160) at an impressive 12 plus stops of dynamic range. For all of you filmmaking nerds out there, that’s almost starting to climb up there with the RED and Alexa cameras. I have to say, as someone who has used the Inspire 1 Pro on hundreds of shoots for a few years, this machine and camera exceeds expectations on a regular basis. The image quality is amazing and what has been most impressive to me is the flexibility in post editing with color grading and color correcting. The dynamic range is impressive on the X5 camera and it does a really nice job in low light situations. I have used the Inspire 1 Pro on shoots for television and film, and the X5 has integrated seamlessly when grading and coloring footage from the RED camera.
The Inspire 1 Pro starts around $2,500 and up for a used or refurbished machine. Newer versions of this machine are available with some camera upgrades on the Inspire 1 Pro v2.0 and Inspire 2. The Inspire 2 is right around $6,000. There are a few upgraded models out now, such as the Inspire 2 Premium Combo which starts around $12,000 and the Inspire 2 Cinema Premium Combo at roughly $20,000. The newest addition to the Inspire camera series is the addition of the upgraded DJI Zenmuse X7 camera. This micro four thirds camera can shoot resolutions as high as 6K video at 17:9 and 16:9 aspect ratios, DCI 4K at 30 fps, and UHD 4K at 60fps in Cinema-DNG format. It also supports DCI and UHD 4K ProRes and H.265/H.264 and captures stills as high as 24MP (with single, burst, auto, and interval photo options).
For experienced filmmakers looking to mount DSLR, RED, or Alexa cameras to a drone, I would recommend looking at the DJI Matrice drone series. On the lower end, The Matrice 100 starts around $3,000 and has a total take-off weight of approximately 7 pounds. On the higher end, the DJI Matrice 600 Pro hexacopter starts around $5,000 and has a 34 pound total take-off weight and it works with both DJI Zenmuse gimbals and Ronin-MX gimbals.
I hope everyone has found this blog beneficial! Please let me know how you feel by leaving a comment below. If any of my facts are off (as they sometimes are), please feel free to correct me and I will be sure to update the content on my end! Lastly, if there are any topics in the world of drones you would like me to write about, let me know and I will get on it! Thanks again, and I look forward to posting my next blog!