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Best of 2016: Notable Quadcopters and Drones

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We can safely say the “drone for the non-hobbyist” space really matured in 2016. By this, I mean drones that appeal to users other than just model builders, spanning the gamut from aerial imaging at the pro and prosumer level, as well as fun drones that some people use for practice, and others just to carry around to use for snapping aerial selfies.

This year, we’ve seen new additions from established companies, such as DJI, with the obstacle-avoiding Phantom 4, as well as companies that are completely are new to the aerial industry, such as GoPro with its HERO companion Karma. The bad news is, with hundreds of models to pick from, the question of “which drone do I buy?” becomes all the more daunting. In what is by no means a comprehensive overview, we will consider some of the highlights from the last year.

GoPro

Pairing GoPro HERO cameras with drones has long been the solution to finding a camera that is light enough to fly but also packs a good image-quality punch. This has begged the question, “Why doesn’t GoPro have a drone of its own?” Well now it does: Karma. Karma distinguishes itself with its relatively compact size compared to other action camera-flying quadcopters, and folds for easy transport. Additionally, it features a smart controller that gives you full control over a HERO4- or HERO5-series camera, plus a screen for live image viewing. Karma’s 3-axis gimbal can be detached and comes with a power grip for handholding or mounting with GoPro mounts

Yuneec

The Typhoon H with Intel® RealSense technology isn’t the first drone to offer obstacle avoidance, but it does bring the technology a step forward. This hexacopter features the 4K CGO3 gimbal camera, found on several other Yuneec models, along with the high-end ST16 ground station controller. With this controller, you can plot a waypoint-based autopilot course, view a live camera feed, and perform basic pilot operation. In addition, the Wizard Wand, a TV remote style controller, comes included, enabling two-person operation—one focused on the camera, the other piloting. 

DJI

DJI rolled out an update to the Phantom series, the Phantom 4. Aesthetic enhancements for the new model include sleek unibody construction that retains the unmistakable shape of a Phantom, but with a cleaner, more aerodynamic look. An obstacle-avoidance system helps the Phantom 4 steer clear of objects when used in specific flight modes. Its TapFly function means you can simply tap the screen of your smartphone or tablet and it will fly in that direction. For image capture, the Phantom 4 features a dedicated 4K / 12 MP gimbal camera.

In spite of the agnostic ring, let’s face it—the “aerial imaging” market mostly been about aerial video. To address this deficiency and satiate the professional aerial photographer, DJI released the Matrice 600 with Hasselblad A5D-50c bundle. This bundle features an aerial optimized “medium format" digital camera with 50mm f/3.5 lens and the Ronin-MX hybrid gimbal, a gimbal, incidentally, which is as at home on land as it is in the air.

DJI Mavic Pro

In terms of self-flying capability, the DJI Mavic Pro is probably one of the most advanced prosumer drones out there. It features a 4K gimbal camera that is comparable in quality (I’m told) to the Phantom 4 or Inspire 1/Osmo Zenmuse X3 camera, but is substantially slimmed-down. Overall, this is a very compact drone relative to its capabilities. The drone features GPS and Vision Positioning to help it find its way. The Vision Positioning system also provides spatial awareness for obstacle avoidance in all flight modes. A number of ActiveTrack subject-tracking modes make this one of the most video-shooter-friendly drones. In addition to legacy stick-based flying, the Mavic will respond to tap and gesture commands—the latter great for aerial selfies aka “dronies.” 

Team Blacksheep 

Racing drones have hit B&H in a big way this year. One of the most exciting additions is the 240-sized Vendetta, from renowned Team Blacksheep. Featuring a full carbon fiber monocoque, the Vendetta follows a modular design philosophy. Solder-free part installation and quick-swap props arms make repairs fast and easy, even following a malfunction or damage in the midst of competition. Fitted with Cobra CM2204/2300Kv motors and HQ 5x4x3 props out of the box, the Vendetta is designed to be easy to upgrade and modify as your needs change.

Xcraft

The Xcraft X PlusOne melds the concept of fixed-wing and multi-rotor into one aircraft. Four rotors enable the X PlusOne to take off and land vertically and hover like a heli or multi-rotor, but once in the air, tilt the X PlusOne 90-degrees to completely transform the flight surface. In its “wing” flight mode, the drone can attain mind-blowing speeds of up to 60 mph, lapping regular quadcopters effortlessly. Unlike a plane, with rudders and ailerons and so forth, Pitch, Roll, and Yaw are controlled by the motors. This helps make the flying experience more consistent, in whichever mode you choose to fly.

For those want to use their smartphone as an “eye in the sky” camera, Xcraft offers the PhoneDrone Ethos. There is a mirror so you can achieve forward and side shots, as well as shots pointed straight at the ground. If you are concerned about the safety of using your phone this way, the PhoneDrone provides a “protective neoprene sheath” not only to protect your device, but also to isolate it from vibration. You can also place your phone in a separately available waterproof case for added peace of mind.

Autel Robotics

You won’t lose sight of the bright orange X-Star Wi-Fi Quadcopter, from Autel Robotics. This quadcopter features a 4K gimbal camera with 720p Wi-Fi downlink for monitoring on your smartphone. For longer range, there is the X-Star Premium variant, with boosted signal, for control from up to 1.25 miles away. Oh, and they come in white, too.

Parrot

The Parrot Disco takes things back to basics. Bucking the multi-rotor trend, Disco is what might be dubbed a “powered glider.” While a glider may lack the tight maneuverability and vertical takeoff and landing capability of a multi-rotor, the design has its advantage. Since the motor is only required to draw the drone forward, not directly generate lift, flight times are about double what you get with a typical quadcopter—that is, about 45 minutes. With an updraft-catching 45" wingspan, you may hardly need the motor at all, hence the seemingly oxymoronic designation “powered glider.” The Disco features a 1080p electronically stabilized camera and is available bundled with Parrot’s FPV pack. The pack includes the new SkyController 2 remote and CockpitGlasses for monitoring.

Power Vision

The PowerEgg Drone, from Power Vision, is certainly one of the most distinctive drones of 2016. With a nearly seamless egg-shaped form, you would never guess there is a multi-rotor hidden inside while it’s at rest. Surprisingly, this egg even manages to tuck away a 4K / 14MP gimbal camera on the underside. Like its peers, it features a GPS-based intelligent flight controller with a control range of up to 3.1 miles. A standard RC transmitter style controller is included, as is Maestro. Maestro is a kind of wand that lets you steer intuitively with your thumb.

ZeroTech

The ZeroTech DOBBY Pocket Drone is the Swiss Army Knife of quadcopters. It features a pocketable design with prop arms that fold in, making it a drone you can carry with you at all times. The DOBBY is no dumb RC toy, though. It features GPS and indoor optical flow navigation, as well as advanced flight modes you would typically only expect on larger platforms. These include voice and gesture commands, “Toss-and-Fly” takeoffs, and subject tracking. Its camera can shoot 4K or 1080p video, 13MP photos, and there is definitely a selfie mode.  

Varavon

With a top speed of 124 mph, the Varavon Pathfinder-S Racing Drone is one of the fastest racing drones on the market. It features a Y-configuration with six motors, along with a streamlined monocoque, which help to achieve this impressive—even incredible—top speed.

A Drone for Every Occasion

Whether you want something that slips in your pocket or need to carry 25 pounds of camera and gimbal payload, there is a drone for every occasion. So whatever you are considering—or if you have no idea at all—make to the trip to our website or visit our SuperStore location to find out more!

To read more about the full line of drones available at B&H, click here.

15 Comments

Which among the drones has zoom in capability?

Hi Santekky -

I'm not aware of any drones that have cameras offering an optical zoom capability.

there are three, and they have had it for about a year, dont rcall the names, but you can google..

Good review, but it seems to be a try to make notice these well known drones, which are indeed really good. To sell them at the end. Because all, even Phantom 4 or Karma are outsmarted by the real queen of drones in 2016: DJI Mavic Pro. This is the year of Mavic. Even if it came the last, is the first overall. It scared many drone manufacturers. Ignoring Mavic is at least biased.

Hi EugenB,

You bring up a good point. The DJI Mavic Pro was not released when this list was initially compiled. It will be added shortly.

-Tim

What about the Mavic Pro?

You missed the discussion on best support for the Drone section. Yuneec has the best support hands down available 24/7..

Yuneec needs the best support hands down, begause it is a piece of junk that spends more time in the shop than in the air!

Thank you for such a great article on all the drones out there. I really love the yuneec Q500 Typhoon and am looking to buy one for myself very soon.

Lots of good info here, but I'd really like to know how they stack up and rate against each other (separated by class of course)

While I appreciate the thoughtful and extensive review of every different drone and quadcopter model known to man, a "Best Of/Comparison Chart" for each category would have been EXTREMELY helpful.

Great job guys putting everything in perspective.  It was nice to see the upper end models listed.

Excellent review resource! Good Job BH!

GW

The article is incorrect when it states the Phantom 3 Advanced is limited to 1080p60.

Very good review of the current models, well done.

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