New drones come onto the market all the time, and it can be difficult to know exactly which specs deserve your attention. We’ll go over the most important features to look for as you shop at the end of this article, but first, let’s look at our picks for the best drones for video production available now.
You’ll notice a bit of a monopoly on this list, but DJI truly dominates the marketplace with videographer-friendly drones at all levels. We look forward to testing out more drones from other brands as they are released. To the other drone-makers — consider this a challenge.
The Editors’ Choice award recognizes exceptional video production equipment, software and services. These products must help videographers be more effective storytellers while being affordable, easy to use and dependable. The products must also deliver a superior user experience.
Best beginner drone
DJI Mini 3
The DJI Mini 3 is the best first drone to buy, period. It’s small, easy to fly and can stay in the air for up to 51 minutes. While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the Pro model, it’s no slouch. This drone shoots video up to 4K at 30 frames per second. Plus, its 1/1.3-inch sensor offers dual-native ISO for exceptional low-light performance. The DJI Mini 3 offers an ISO range of 100 to 3,200 with dual-native ISO.
This drone is highly portable. Weighing under 249 grams with the regular battery, the Mini 3 is easy to take with you. Also, its 14.2-inch wingspan shrinks down to just 3.5 inches when folded. Additionally, it’s so lightweight that you don’t need to register it with the government. However, keep in mind that upgrading to the DJI Intelligent Flight Battery Plus adds around 40 g to the total weight of the drone. That puts the Mini 3 above the 250 g registration weight limit.
The DJI Mini 3 is a fantastic drone for beginners, and it comes at a great price. If you’re looking for your first drone, look no further than the DJI Mini 3.
Best enthusiast drone
DJI Mini 3 Pro
DJI offers quite a few notable upgrades with the DJI Mini 3 Pro. Compared to the Mini 2, the Mini 3 Pro now features a tri-directional obstacle avoidance system. This system keeps the drone quite safe, allowing it to automatically detect and avoid obstacles within its flight path.
Now, let’s talk about its video capabilities. The drone can shoot 4K video at 60 fps. You can shoot slow-motion video at 120 fps when shooting at 1080p. Additionally, the drone can shoot 48 MP RAW still images.
On top of all this, the drone can now slow up to 34 minutes, allowing for even more flight time than the previous model. The DJI Mini 3 Pro is our go-to pick for enthusiast aerial videographers.
Best professional drone
DJI Mavic 3 Cine
- Long battery life
- 1 TB internal storage
- 5.1K ProRes 422 HQ capture
- 4/3-inch camera is a fixed focal length
- No ProRes option in 5.1K
The DJI Mavic 3 Cine is a professional drone for content creation. With the ability to use the Apple ProRes 422 HQ codec and have up to 1TB SSD of storage, the DJI Mavic 3 Cine is a step above the standard. DJI fitted this drone with dual cameras mounted to a 3-axis gimbal. One of the cameras is a 20MP wide-angle camera with 4/3-inch CMOS from Hasselblad. The other is a 12MP telephoto with 1/2-inch CMOS, 4K video and 28x hybrid zoom.
Overall, the DJI Mavic 3 Cine delivers impressive video quality. In total, the DJI Mavic 3 Cine offers up to 5.1K resolution and DCI 4K at 120 fps. It also provides 2.8 stops of dynamic range and has an adjustable aperture of f/2.8 to f/11. Plus, the drone utilizes Hasselblad’s NCS (Natural Color Solution) and the 10-bit D-Log Color Profile for natural and accurate color reproduction.
The DJI Mavic 3 Cine also has a ton of technologies that help professionals capture the best image possible. This includes features that help them create flight paths, auto-track subjects, and perform complex aerial movements. You can also breathe easily because the drone features an omnidirectional obstacle sensing system and APAS 5.0 tech to keep the drone safe from obstacles. With its 46 minutes of flight time and transmission range of up to 9.3 miles, the DJI Mavic 3 Cine is a powerful drone perfect for professionals looking to capture ariel video.
How to choose
Like with any new piece of gear, there’s plenty to consider when choosing a new drone for video production. That said, there are two key factors that will help you narrow down your options.
The first factor to consider is your shooting style and production needs. Are you looking for a super-stable drone, capable of supporting the best available camera, or do you need something light and portable that you can take with you on your next adventure? The answer will help steer you towards or away from certain brands and product lines.
The second factor, which is sometimes at odds with the first, is, of course, your budget. Once you determine the shooting styles you’ll need your drone to accommodate, you can start balancing the features you want with the price tag you can afford. The perfect drone for you sits at the point where these two considerations intersect. We’ll help you find it.
Many more drones now offer built-in cameras designed specifically to work with their particular drone. Thus, because of weight and balance restrictions, this is usually the easiest and most economical option. New camera designs mean these built-in cameras will also often give you a far better image than what you’d get by attaching your own camera. Like other kinds of cameras, most aerial cameras today offer UHD 4K video recording and high-res still image capture. More advanced camera drones offer DCI 4K, RAW and log recording. Plus many include higher bit rates, bit depths and frame rates. These high-end drones are ideal for times when you need a truly cinematic image.
BYOC (bring your own camera)
Though aerial cameras today are significantly more advanced than they were even a few years ago, there may still be times when you need a certain feature on a particular camera to get the shot you want. For these instances, you can find drones built to support action cameras, mirrorless cameras, DSLRs or even cinema cameras. Most of these pro-level drones will necessarily be larger and more expensive. Plus, there are often strict limits as to which cameras and lenses the drone actually supports. Pay attention to supported camera models and weight limits when considering a drone without a built-in camera.
Thus, the more options you need in terms of resolution, frame rates and exposure controls, the more you are likely to pay.
Again, let your shooting style and production needs be your guide here. Thus, the more options you need in terms of resolution, frame rates and exposure controls, the more you are likely to pay. In the end, we recommend that you avoid mounting your own camera and that you instead shop for a built-in camera option that suits your needs. The cameras available on drones today are more than adequate in most shooting situations.
Getting a stable image
Likewise, you’ll also need to look at the gimbal, if one is included, and note how far it can rotate. A good gimbal will allow more flexibility in the air and provide a smooth, vibration-free image.
While shopping, you’re likely to encounter fixed-position cameras embedded into the body of the drone itself, in addition to 2- and 3-axis gimbal options. That said, 3-axis gimbals will give you the best performance in shake and vibration reduction, so we recommend sticking with this option for the smoothest, most cinematic results. Fixed-position cameras are still workable, but they undeniably give you significantly less freedom in your camera movements, since the camera’s perspective will be tied to the trajectory of the drone. 2-axis gimbals sit in the middle ground between these two options and are a viable compromise in most situations.
Consequently, for the most flexibility in your camera movements and compositions, look for a drone with a 3-axis gimbal that allows for an unobstructed 360-degree pan. This will give you separate control over the drone’s direction of travel and the camera’s perspective, allowing you to perform more complex camera moves.
Drones designed for video production are most often equipped with four rotors and are therefore labeled quadcopters. Hexacopters, or drones with six rotors, are also available, though less common.
That said, hexacopters are typically able to travel higher and faster, carry a larger payload and provide additional safety and stability over their quadcopter counterparts. As a result, this makes hexacopters a better choice if you plan to fly heavier or more expensive cameras. However, they also typically cost more, are larger and are more difficult to transport. Plus, they can cost more to repair.
Aside from rotor failure, the other factor that may force you to take your drone out of the air early is battery life. For each drone on your shortlist, consider the anticipated flight time per battery. How much does an extra battery cost? How long will you need to be in the air? These are the questions to answer before making your final purchasing decision.
Design and construction
When it comes to the physical build of the drone, there are a few different factors to consider. For example, size and weight are important for portability, but these will also impact flight characteristics and flight time. As a result, lighter drones with smaller payloads can often stay in the air longer relative to battery size and capacity, but they may also be more susceptible to wind. That said, there are also more folding drones on the market than ever before. These drones fold down to a more compact size for transport between flights, easily fitting into a backpack or small carry bag.
Speaking of folding, you’ll also want to consider whether or not you need retractable landing gear. This will affect how wide your field of view can be and how far you can rotate the camera before the drone interferes with your shot. More and more affordable drones now feature retractable landing gear, but depending on the shots you plan to capture with your drone, this may be higher or lower on your wish list. For the most part, you can get away with rotating the drone itself to get that epic panning shot.
Moreover, most drones are constructed from hard plastic or carbon fiber, both of which are light yet durable. Especially for larger drones, check to see if a travel case is included with your purchase. Keeping your drone safe during travel is one of the hidden costs of drone ownership.
Recording media is another hidden cost that may influence your purchasing decision, based on your budget and current workflow. The majority of drones use affordable microSDs, but some higher-end drones will require more expensive SSDs.
So, as you shop, check the video recording format and bit-rate to give you an idea of much video footage can be stored on the accepted media and plan accordingly. Also, factor in an extra battery or two. There’s a chance you’ll want to have some extra media on hand for drone shoots.
Monitoring and control options
We’ve spent a lot of time going over the must-have features for the aircraft itself, but what about that vital piece that will never leave the ground? Drone controllers come in a few different form factors, but they typically look like modified RC controllers.
Most often, you’ll need to mount your phone to the control as a preview monitor and to expand the controller’s functionality. Thus, some models have the preview monitor built-in, but this is somewhat rare. When considering monitoring and control options, also look at latency, maximum control and video transmission distance — 1 mile is typical.
Aside from manual control, most drones today also offer automated flight modes like track, follow, orbit, waypoint flight and more. Obstacle avoidance is another important flight control feature, especially if you’re controlling both the flight path and the camera angle.
More futuristic still are drones that can be controlled through gestures. This feature is still more or less a novelty, but there are some situations where gesture control may come in handy. Just know that you like won’t be able to rely on it for any professional work.
Fit for flight
With so many options, it helps to narrow down your search criteria. As you search out your new drone, keep in mind both your production needs and your budget. There are plenty of drones to choose from at a variety at price points, so be sure to select one that fits your production style — whether you need a drone to follow you down a hiking trail or one that will bring back high-quality cinematic images.