Your guide to the best 4K video recording drones on sale today
Stephan Jukic – November 3, 2016
The world of compact consumer UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or drones for short is growing tremendously from the nascent market that it was just a couple of years ago and right from the beginning, compact camera technology has been an integral part of their design. Thus drones have always either been built with camera mounting built into them for external accessory recording devices or, more commonly in more recent models, have come with their own integrated recording systems right out of the box.
And also naturally enough in a world of digital video recording which is moving steadily towards standardized 4K UHD resolution the more premiu consume drones sold today more often than not feature either 4K video recording with their integrated cameras or are capable of taking on external 4K action cameras such as GoPro’s Hero 4 Black and similar models.
The situation as it stands today is one of numerous different drone models being sold at a wide range of prices and with some remarkable design variations. Affordability is only increasing in these consumer UAVs while their performance specs and features become ever more impressive.
With that said, we move onto our own listing of what we consider to be the 7 best mass market UAV drones on sale today, listed from the best on downward. All of the following devices either come with integrated 4K video recording technology or at least are capable of mounting a 4K action camera of some kind. All cost less than $3000 and most of them cost well below $1500.
A quick note on drone terminology
Before we get down to our listings of all the assorted drones that we consider to be the best on today’s market, we need to clarify our use of drone terminology a bit. As you’ll notice, we refer to these devices as drones, quadracopters and UAVs randomly. This is because all of the models we cover can be called by any of these names though there are also some differences to be kept in mind for the terms themselves. A drone can be any unmanned aerial vehicle, from a simple mass market flier like the GoPro Karma right up to a military surveillance and combat drone like the Reapers you might have heard of in the news.
The same applies for the term UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). However, while all of the models listed below can be considered drones and UAVs, what they most specifically are is quadracopter versions of both. This is because virtually all current consumer market drones fly through the use of four rotors mounted to each corner of their frame with mostly cosmetic variations on how the different rotor designs look. On the other hand, as you’ll see below, one of the best drones on today’s market and in our listing is in fact a hexacopter, with six rotor arms.
DJI is perhaps the current leader in the consumer drone market and with good reason. The Chinese company’s UAVs are fast, powerful, light and relatively affordable while also offering a great load of autonomous flight and recording features. Furthermore, they more recently have been coming out with their very decent own built-in 4K cameras for even easier setup and flight right from the box.
Among all the DJI consumer drones we’ve reviewed so far, the Mavic Pro has got to be our favorite. It offers a design which departs heavily from previous DJI drone builds and offers an extremely compact (able to fit inside the extended palm of your hand when folded down) body but with all of the same functionality of slightly pricier models from the same brand. This cool, insectile looking little drone can stay aloft for more than 25 minutes, offer a flight range of several miles and comes with some excellent 4K video and 12 megapixel still shooting chops. It’s also capable of rather unique things like gesture controlled flight and control purely through the DJI smartphone app. Furthermore, the Mavic is one wonderfully stable drone in the air considering its especially small size and quite fast with a top speed of just over 40 miles per hour. Priced at $999.99 for the basic model, the Mavic Pro from DJI is our pick for 2016’s best overall 4K consumer UAV.
Go Pro Karma 4K UAV: $999
After a couple years spent selling the 4K and HD action cameras that have become extremely popular for mounting to other companies drones, it should be little surprise that GoPro decided to enter the UAV market for itself. The result is the Karma, GoPro’s first ever and very robust UAV. This drone has been a long time in development and we’d say that the wait was worth it considering the Karma’s specs.
The Karma offers a range of cool and partly unique features. For one thing, it comes with a detachable gimbal which can be attached to the included Karma Grip stick and used for hand-held recording. Furthermore, GoPro has included a smartphone app feature for the Karma which lets your friends also view live feeds from the drone’s camera on their own mobile devices and even control the camera while you fly the UAV itself. Like the DJI Mavic Pro, the Karma can be folded down into its own hard storage case for easy transport and while not as small as the Mavic Pro listed above, it is quite compact and lightweight. The Karma’s controller also comes with a touchscreen for easy flight and camera control while the drone itself is loaded with autonomous flight features and offers a decent 20 minute+ flight time.
On the other hand, GoPro has not included one of its awesome 4K action cameras like the Hero 5 with the basic Karma package and the no-fly-zone flight limitation feature built into the Karma’s controller can be annoying.
DJI’s classic Phantom line of drones includes some of the most well-known consumer UAVs on sale today and the design of the Phantom 2, Phantom 3 and Phantom 4 drones has become a benchmark for UAV design as it stands today. Among these models, the Phantom 4 is the best and newest and while it was first released in 2015, this bulky looking little drone still offers excellent flight specs.
For starters, the Phantom 4 comes with its own built-in 4K UHD camera with a very decent capacity for taking 12 megapixel still photos and the ability to shoot 4K video in “True” 4K resolution at 4096 x 2160 pixels, as opposed to the more common 4K UHD video resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. The Phantom 4 also offers a wider array of automated flight options than its predecessors the Phantom 2 and 3 drones and these flight options include crash avoidance technology via body-mounted sensors and GPS. In basic terms, the Phantom 4 still holds a fairly firm claim to being DJI’s flagship 4K drone and it remains one of the best consumer UAVs on sale today for under $1500. It’s 20 minute flight time has now been beaten by DJI’s Mavic Pro but the Phantom 4’s maximum flight speed of roughly 45 miles per hour makes it the faster drone.
Yuneec’s Typhoon H drone is a definite step up from their previous Q500 model UAV, with a fr superior obstacle avoidance system, a dramatically revamped physical design and a much faster flight speed thanks to its powerful motor and array of 6 rotors to keep it aloft and zooming through the sky even if one of the rotors stops working for whatever reason. This alone is one very unique design feature of the Typhoon H. Another design aspect of the Typhoon H which you’ll find in few other drones on the market today is the build of its 4K UHD camera gimbal, which can swivel a full 360 degrees, letting you take complete panoramic shots even while the drone floats completely still in the sky.
We also can’t help but love the large and easy to use controller of the Typhoon H and its built-in 7 inch LCD display is another rare find in a drone market that tends more towards controllers with external smartphone-based displays or 5 inch screens. Finally, the Typhoon H can stay aloft for a solid 25 minutes, which is quite impressive when you consider the extra battery power its six rotors probably consume.
Yuneec’s Q500 drone has now been superseded by the company’s even more advanced Typhoon H drone we listed above but it’s still one awesome looking UAV with plenty of features and a great built-in 4K UHD camera on offer. This sexy looking drone comes with a gimbal mounted camera which can shoot the standard 12 megapixel still photos and record 4K UHD video at 30 frames per second while offering a 115 field-of-view.
As for the drone itself, its 25 minute flight time is a definite benefit in the Q500’s favor along with the drone’s relatively decent aerial maneuverability. Furthermore, the Q500 drone comes with a fairly high maximum altitude of just under 2,000 feet. On the other hand, the Q500 isn’t exactly fast, with a maximum speed of just under 20 miles per hour, which is quite a crawl by the standards of many newer drones. Despite this, the Q500 has definitely become more affordable recently, with a retail price of just $699.00.
The 3DR Solo is one heck of a powerful drone as far as its design and flight specs go. However, while cheap by itself at just $475, it’s price rapidly climbs up towards the $1000 margin if you add in a 4K action camera like the GoPro Hero 5 and a gimbal, which is also not included in this model. This is the main reason why we gave the Solo drone a lower ranking. That said, this particular UAV delivers some great flight performance, with a maximum flight time of a respectable 22 minutes, a superb controller and app combo for excellent aerial control and some great autonomous flight modes. The Solo is also superbly responsive despite its somewhat boxy looking design.
One other cool feature of the 3DR Solo UAV is that it’s company embraces open-source design in their software and hardware, making this a great drone for users who love to tinker with and modify their gadgets.
Story by 4k.com