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Driving a drone is enjoyable enough; taking breathtaking images or video adds another layer of fun.
Drone cameras vary widely, from simple video cameras designed to be posted on social media to those primarily intended for taking selfies to more advanced cinematographic assemblies that would rival some of the best movie footage available. Some have VR capabilities, enabling you (if you have a virtual reality headset) to look around at how the world appears at 300 feet.
If you’re a professional photographer or videographer, you have some extra work to do. Federal Aviation Administration rules require that you be licensed under the Small UAS Rule Part 107. If all you plan to do is take hobbyist photographs for your own use, you’ll only need to register for a $5 fee (which covers all your drones for three years) and put your ID number on your drones.
Here are the best drones with cameras for 2019:
DJI Inspire 2 with a Zenmuse X5S camera
This big, heavy drone is among the best for beautiful, high-resolution, professional video, with stabilization, collision avoidance, high-contrast capabilities and controls that users report are remarkably easy to operate for such a high-end machine. With a Zenmuse X5S camera, it takes 4K-plus video (recording at up to 5.2K in traditional professional formats) and includes a 360-degree gimbal.
The camera isn’t the only nice thing about the Inspire 2; it’s fast, topping out at around 50 mph in five seconds, and smart, avoiding collisions and finding its way home if you get lost. A dual-battery system gives you about 27 minutes of flight, and it heats itself so it can fly when it’s cold. It has a separate FPV (first person view) camera and streaming capabilities, so if you want to film with a buddy, one of you can drive it and the other can direct the shot.
The Inspire 2 comes in a number of configurations. But if you’re spending this much on a drone system, be sure to spring for the X5S camera, which is not included, and budget even more to buy a lens.
Above: If you want to spend an extra $30, you can get an Iron Man version of the Tello.
The Tello is a DJI-branded drone, but it’s built by Ryze Robotics, bringing together the best of both worlds: It combines some of DJI’s fancy flight systems with a truly affordable price. The 5-megapixel camera won’t shoot Peter Jackson-worthy video, but it’s serviceable, recording 720p video in an MP4 file format.
The drone itself is about the size of a hand: 3.9” x 3.7” x1.6”, and has a range of 10 meters up and 100 meters away, which is respectable for a drone in this price range, and gets a solid 13 minutes on a charge. Users report that the flights are stable (and as a result, the video is as well), thanks to those DJI systems.
The Tello is also compatible with VR headsets, so you can look around in 360 degrees using the camera’s view as you fly. You control movement with an app, which includes a one-button takeoff and, with any luck, a landing.
A nice compromise between the Tello and its more expensive DJI big brothers, the Parrot Anafi has a 4K video camera with 2.8X lossless digital zoom, 180-degree gimbal, HDR capability for higher-contrast scenes, and 21-megapixel still photos. It has a top speed of 34 mph, a 2.5-mile range, and 27 minutes of flight time on a charge.
You can fold up both the drone and its remote, making this one pleasant to take on the go, especially in its small clam shell case. Fully extended, it measures 9.4” x 6.9” x 2.6” and comes with a controller that snaps onto your phone. While the Anafi doesn’t have collision avoidance, users praise its zoom, 180-degree camera rotation and quiet flight.
The Holy Stone HS100 drone is one of the larger drones—19.7” x 19.7” x 6.9” (though still under 2 lbs.) and includes 1080p video on a camera with a 90-degree gimbal, with a first-person view and Wi-Fi transmission. The HS100 has a 400-meter range, and auto-return home using GPS.
The HS100 also has a nice follow-me feature for tracking its owner or filming over the shoulder, and like many higher-end drones, headless control means that the drone orients itself based on the direction the pilot is facing, not whichever way the drone’s “head” happens to be. And as its name implies, this drone features a full VR first-person view.
Autel’s professional camera drone records 60 frames per second at 4K resolution, making its video ultra-lifelike. (If you recall how sharp Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit looked at 48 frames per second, you’ll get the idea.) It also takes still photos at 12 megapixels.
It’s a folding drone, so it’s easy to pack and carry. Fully extended, it measures 7.8” x 3.8” x 4” and includes the ability to return home automatically and avoid obstacles.
The Autel EVO remote includes a 3.3-inch OLED display, unusual in the class, since most that include controllers use your phone’s display, and it has a range of 4.3 miles. The feed during flight shows 720p video, so it gives you a good idea of what your final product will look like and allows you to stream in HD to the Web.
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