One of the most significant filmmaking innovations of the past decade has been the explosion of affordable drones with high-quality cameras. This has made it possible for nearly anyone to capture stunning aerial photos and video. The explosion in drones has been seen nearly everywhere, with YouTube videos sporting awesome shots from the sky and your everyday television and journalism now benefitting from a bird’s-eye view. Here are seven that we think are great picks for capturing video.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
The best consumer drone for filmmaking. Period. Relatively speaking, the Mavic 2 Pro is quite affordable, considering its feature set—and it is spectacular. Having taken it for a spin in Iceland, I can speak to its quality, namely brought about by the use of a 20MP 1"-type image sensor that is notably larger than many competitors’, and a quality Hasselblad lens. What puts this ahead of many other options is the superb implementation of Dlog-M and HLG HDR for high dynamic range recording and 10-bit support. This provides footage that is suitable for high-end grading and editing applications. This footage should fit in nicely with cinema cameras. It’s also a very good, compact drone. It can hit 44 mph, fly for 31 minutes, benefits from OcuSync 2.0 with a 5-mile range, and has ActiveTrack 2.0. It is a complete package.
You don’t have to break the bank to get a solid set of video features on an ultra-compact drone. Parrot proved that with the Anafi. It captures great 4K, has a log recording mode, and uses a high-res 21MP 1/2.4" sensor that allows for sharp stills and a lossless digital zoom in video. The party trick of the Anafi is an ability to tilt upward, allowing filmmakers to create incredibly unique shots that would be impossible with nearly any other drone. We also found it quite easy to use during our review.
DJI Inspire 2
Time for the big copters to come out. With bigger drones come bigger cameras, and bigger cameras means bigger sensors and better video. DJI’s Inspire 2 is among the most popular, which makes sense, considering its capabilities. It’ll hit 58 mph, can support H.265 (HEVC), Apple ProRes, and Cinema DNG formats—all considered pro-quality options—and the Spotlight Pro tracking mode for advanced flight techniques. It doesn’t come with a camera, but there are a few choices that’ll get the job done. My pick? The Zenmuse X7 with its Super 35mm sensor and 6K video. It’s a high-end choice that’ll satisfy more demanding filmmakers.
Fold-up drones took off this year, and Autel tossed its EVO into the air. This drone separates itself from direct competition with 4K video at up to 60 fps. Another nice design choice is the built-in 3.3" 720p OLED right on the included remote controller. It bothers me to have to rely on my phone for most drones, so this is a super nice bonus for the EVO. It also operates at up to 4.4 miles away and features a 12MP 1/2.3" sensor to get the job done.
DJI Matrice 600
When you want to have your everyday camera take to the skies, you need a serious drone to handle it. DJI makes such models, though this series starts with the Matrice 600. This moves up to the hexacopter designation and can take off with a 34-lb weight. Yes—you can bring some serious gear up with you. It will work with Zenmuse systems, but it will excel when you opt for the Ronin-MX and your own cinema camera. This is getting a true cinema camera airborne and can’t be matched in quality. Professionals will want one of these.
Power Vision PowerRay ROV
You thought this was just going to be sky-born drones, didn’t you? Well, I think it’s worth mentioning at least one device that’ll help you film under the sea. Power Vision has made a fleet of interesting drones, and the PowerRay ROV is an excellent choice for underwater filmmaking—you don’t even have to worry about getting wet! Drop it into water from your boat, the dock, or even the edge of your pool and then you can get started. Working underwater has a lot of issues, so this ROV comes equipped with LED lights and other features to make it easier. And if you want to do more than just filmmaking, there is an optional fish-finder module to help you catch the big one that won’t get away.
DJI Mavic Mini
I wrote above that it’s now possible for nearly anyone to capture stunning aerial footage, and the Mavic Mini is perhaps the best example of that. It’s tiny and weighs just 249g—meaning non-commercial flyers do not need to register the drone to fly it. By no means is it the best at video, sporting 2.7K max resolution at 12MP still shooting but, with good technique, you can certainly squeeze plenty of usable shots out of it for your short films or vlogs.
It’s a perfect beginner drone. There is no super-fancy obstacle avoidance or OcuSync 2.0, meaning you have to pay more attention to what you are doing. Learn how to fly, understand how wind and other variables impact the drone and its various capabilities, study FAA rules, and then when you are ready upgrade to a serious model and get your Part 107 license.
Do you have a favorite drone for filmmaking that we missed? Any hopes for future drones? Sound off in the Comments section, below!