2017 has geared up to be an incredible year for drones. With manufacturers racing to produce the next Phantom 4 or the likes thereof, there are multiple units soon to be released. And, too, the arsenal that 2016 produced and the drones released at the end of the year are impressive, with some well exceeding our expectations for drone engineering (Mavic Pro or the Inspire 2, anyone?). If you’re looking to learn about the best drones on the market, then look no further. This is our complete list of the best drones 2017 currently has to offer. It contains everything from midgrade drones regarded as ‘well-engineered training drones’ to industrial octocopters designed to carry industrial cameras like Red Epics and DSLRs. As drone technology continues to evolve, we’re going to a see surge in machine intelligence, affordability, and camera capabilities. To know that future drones will top some of the models we’re going to showcase here is exciting for hobby enthusiasts and commercial pilots alike.
DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro is truly the standard for drone engineering. It’s a machine engineered for professional aerial photography, and it well exceeds its goal. Part of the reason this machine achieved its reputation, is because aside from the excellent camera, it blew everyone away with its intelligence (especially for the price – under $2k). The Pro is the first of its line to have 360 degree obstacle avoidance (sensors on the front, back, and sides) which autonomously detects obstacles with the utmost accuracy. In its integrated sports mode, it can fly up to 45mph and offers FPV at 1080p via Lightbridge technology. If you’re familiar with the autonomous features offered by DJI in the Phantom series, then you know what they usually come with (TapFly, Active Track, Return Home, etc.). However, the Phantom 4 Pro is the first of its kind to introduce Draw, a mode in which the user can draw a line on his tablet or smart phone and the drone will fly that line (basically you can steer your drone with nothing but your finger and the FPV feed). It shoots in 4k and has tap focus, so all you have to do is tap where you want the camera to focus and it does it for you. The Phantom 4 Pro is the alpha of its line for good reason, and is often considered the best bang for your buck across the entire spectrum of drones (some even prefer it to machines that are double the price and list better specifications). It’s truly a marvel of drone engineering.
This drone was released in October 2016, so it’s fresh on the market. But in such a short period of time it has created some serious buzz. This drone was engineered for convenience, performance, and style. While it sacrifices some of the stability and strength of the bigger Phantom 4 & Phantom 4 Pro (what it is most often compared to), it makes up for it in intelligence, features, and camera capabilities. While the Phantom 4 Pro has a more optimized camera, the Mavic Pro still shoots in 4k and sports tap-to-focus. It can hit speeds up to 40mph, has obstacle avoidance (although not 360), and features all the intelligent DJI goodies you see in the Phantom series, save for Draw. For only $1000, this drone’s features and capabilities well exceed the cost; that’s why it has made such an impact in so short a time. It can fold into the size of a water bottle and flies for around 27 minutes. Although it can’t compare to the Phantom 4 Pro, it is a smaller, more portable drone. And, it’s sexier and sleeker than most drones we’ve seen.
There’s a reason we’re starting this list with DJI drones: they are basically unchallenged in the drone market. Their drones hold their value and performance standards while remaining affordable. The Phantom 4 was the first drone of its kind to be called the drone anyone can fly and that’s because it is intelligent enough to adapt to even beginner pilots (although it’s not necessarily a good drone to begin with). It shoots in RAW 4k, livestreams FPV at 720p, has an integrated 3-axis-gimbal (the name of the game right now), hits speeds of up to 40mph in sports mode, and has all the tech guts you’d expect in a Phantom machine. Between the Phantom 4 Pro and the Phantom 4, the differences are slight but noteworthy: the Phantom 4 Pro is certainly the better machine. But between the Mavic Pro and the Phantom 4, it becomes a matter of personal preference; the Phantom 4 is basically a bigger Mavic Pro with a slightly better camera (especially when taking field of view into consideration). Now with the 4 Pro on the market, the Phantom 4 has experienced a price drop, which only created more value for the machine. This drone took the market by storm, and despite having been succeeded, is still the most common drone used by professional aerial photographers and cinematographers.
Autel Robotics X-Star Premium
Let’s move away from DJI a bit and migrate towards another well-known and established manufacturer: Autel Robotics. The company doesn’t have a huge arsenal of drones available right now; the roster is being kept simple until they gain enough popularity to expand. Their X-Star Premium is basically a Phantom-type machine, but in a smaller, cheaper body. For only $800 this beauty can shoots in 4k (integrated 3-axis gimbal), and fly for around 25 minutes. FPV isn’t a problem, as it livestreams in 720p (the same as the Phantom 4, actually). If you want to take stills, they’re going to come out in 12MB. It contains its own version of autonomy, and features modes like position-lock, return home, orbit, and waypoint following. A lot of people overlook the X-Star because it has a bit of a cheaper look and seems like a Phantom knock off, but actually, it’s a really well-engineered machine and can provide excellent aerial photography and flight experience. And, it’s ready to fly right out of the box.
Are you a GoPro fan? 3D Robotics worked specifically with GoPro to design a drone that could incorporate the GoPro Hero 3, 4 and 4+. It’s the first drone ever engineered to livestream FPV directly from the Hero itself, and do it in high-definition. It certainly benefits the user to have a Hero 3+ or higher beforehand, and makes the drone a versatile machine since the camera is removable, but at its core the Solo is an intelligent, optimized, professional grade drone. Like the Phantom series, it comes with an assortment of autonomous features (selfie mode, cable cam, orbit, follow me, return home) and it’s actually more powerful than the upper-grade DJI machines (excluding the Inspire series and industrial drones). It can fly up to 60mph when in sport mode and for around 25 minutes. The only drawbacks: if you’re not in love with the GoPro, then you’re stuck with that camera. And if you don’t own one, the separate gimbal and camera drive up the price.
Parrot is sort of the king of the mid-grade drone market. While they haven’t engineered anything to DJI’s Phantom or Inspire standard, they’ve definitely solidified their place with sub-grade and mini drones. The Bebop 2 comes in just below $600 and offers a surprising amount of capabilities for the price-point. It’s all run off Parrot’s application FreeFlight (although a transmitter can be sold separately). The Bebop 2 sports an HD camera that can take 14MP stills and record video in 1080p at 30fps (all while being stabilized by a 3-axis-gimbal). For a smaller machine and camera, it still has a great FOV and a surprisingly high flight performance. Autonomous features like return home are activated via buttons within the application itself, and the GPS unit onboard helps with position lock & accuracy. The only thing the Bebop 2 doesn’t offer is FPV livestreaming –still, with its intelligence and 1080p HD camera, it’s worth the price.
This is Parrot’s one professional-grade machine, and instead of a quadcopter it’s a fixed-wing. There aren’t many fixed-wings on the market right now and the ones that are can often be gimmicky and prone to hardware failure. The Disco FPV seems the opposite. With its own WiFi hotspot integrated and its high-capacity LiPo battery, the Disco can fly up to 50mph over a mile in distance. FPV is streamed directly to a smartphone or tablet via the FreeFlight application. The camera can capture video in 1080p and in terms of autonomous components, you won’t see quadcopter features in a fixed-wing (planes don’t hover). But with the Disco you’ll be able to plan out autonomous flights by calibrating the data (altitude, speed, camera angle, etc.). It also comes with a FPV headset, so you’ll be able to completely immerse yourself in the experience. Oh, and did we mention it can fly for 45 minutes? (That’s longer than any drone on this list.)
To put matters into perspective, this drone comes in at $380 in price and can shoot in 4k. Not just that, it comes with a transmitter that sports a built-in LCD screen for the FPV livestream feed. The 550mAh battery allows for around 20 minutes of flight time, depending on the conditions and which systems are active. It has an integrated GPS unit which helps with position accuracy, but no real autonomous features to support it. This drone is a recommended midgrade drone because it forces you to learn to pilot (although there is a return home feature). But it offers the entire drone dynamic (FPV livestreaming to LCD screen, return home, and 4k camera capabilities). All of this for under $400? If you want to experience the entirety of the drone dynamic but don’t want to shell out the kind of dough for a professional machine, the UPair One is an excellent choice. Or if you simply want a ‘trainer’ drone to prep you for the big this one will hit the mark.
DJI Phantom 3 Professional
Perhaps one of the best things about the Phantom 3 Professional is that it experienced a hefty price drop after the release of the Phantom 4/Phantom 4 Pro. Yet, it’s still a highly capable machine, and continues to be used by professionals. Fit with an integrated 3-axis gimbal, it shoots in 4k UHD and livestreams FPV at 720p (using the same technology as the Phantom 4). The VPS system checks out and it stills features the autonomous goodies that come with DJI’s application. No, it doesn’t have obstacle avoidance or the power and intelligence of its successors, but that just means you’ll have to double down as a pilot and you’ll still capture industry standard footage (although it’s 4k – don’t’ be mistaken here, the cameras of the successors are definitely more optimized ). It flies for around 25 minutes and implements multiple flight modes.
While the Phantom 4 Pro sits at the top of the market due to its value to cost ratio, the Inspire 1 Pro is the first drone DJI released that elevated aerial photography machines to a new level. Better yet, due to its successor, the Inspire 2, and like the Phantom 3 Professional, the Inspire 1 Pro has experienced a nice little price drop and remains extremely capable. Fit with a Zenmuse X5, or a mirrorless camera that can shoot 4k at 24fps, and a 3-axis gimbal with 360 degree rotation and retractabld landing gear, the Inspire 1 Pro is truly a drone meant for experienced professionals. It contains nearly twice the power of the Phantom 4/Pro and can fly up to 15,000 feet, while using Lightbridge 2 technology (clearer and longer range to the feed) to livestream FPV at 1080p. Would you believe us if we told you that this drone is also ready to fly right out of the box? Not only that, but have a look at this drone. It looks mean and sexy and well ahead of its time (like something from a SciFi movie). And it performs like it too.
If you’re not aware, Yuneec is a company that’s been around for over twenty years now. They’ve made products across the tech spectrum and are trying to compete with DJI in the drone industry. Truth be told, their units are performing well, so the next couple of years could be an exciting time for the company. The name of this drone doesn’t lie; it can shoot in 4k. Widely similar to the X-Star Premium (in both price and quality), many prefer the Q500 for its simplicity, intelligence, and lightweight chassis. While it doesn’t fare as well in machine-power and has a top speed of 18mph, it still takes 12MB photographs, livestreams FPV directly to the LCD screen built-in to the transmitter, and sports an integrated 3-axis gimbal that stabilizes as well as DJI models. It’s not without autonomous features, either, as Yuneec has their own intelligent-systems built into the model.
At just under $1000, this drone packs a substantial punch at that price point. Of course, for this price and with Yuneec engineering you’ll get a machine that shoots in 4k, but the beauty of this drone is similar to the Inspire line: the 3-axis gimbal has a 360 degree range of motion (and with retractable landing gear! There’s really no point in having 360 degree movement when you’ll have to stare at a couple of ugly carbon fiber legs). The Typhoon H is a hexacopter, so it’s going to be more powerful, stable, and failsafe for its size. Aside from that, it’s packed with Yuneec’s own brand of intelligent features (orbit, waypoint following, selfie mode, return home, etc.). While on paper, one might think, why does this drone compare to the Phantom 4 Pro at nearly half the price? Truth is, the Typhoon H is a lot of drone in one compact package, but it might need some upkeep and care to keep it running well. Look at some of the reviews to see how well it holds up.
Priced at around $500, this original trendsetter might even hold its value better than before. Despite the Phantom 4 hitting the market as the drone to be, the predecessor Phantoms are still well-engineered, powerful, and capable machines. The Phantom 3 Standard outperforms most drones in its price point; simply put, it’s just forgotten about among the surplus of new DJI products. With an integrated 3-axis-gimbal (haven’t heard that before, have you?) and a built-in 2.7k camera that can shoot in 30fps and livestream FPV at 720p via Lightbridge technology, you’re already well ahead of so many drones at this price point. That’s because most manufacturers engineer mid-grade drones to be fun, toy-like introductions into the drone dynamic, to prepare pilots for the impending upgrade, or just to remain a fun little aerial photography machine for social media uses. The Phantom 3 Standard, at the time, however, was engineered for professional photographers and cinematographers. Although it doesn’t have the most up-to-date VPS system, or obstacle avoidance or draw or tap-to-focus, it still has the core goodies expected from DJI intelligence (return home, point of interest, waypoint following, tracking, etc.). It flies for around 25 minutes, and has a top speed of around 15mph (significantly lower than its successors). Still, for the price and capabilities of this drone, it’s hard to beat its value when taking cost to value into consideration.
Another well-known, well-reviewed, and well-engineered midgrade drone is AEE’s AP11. Fit with a HD camera that can take 16MP stills and shoot FHD at 60fps (not bad for its size), it also offers FPV –which is exactly what you want from this grade of drone. The 6800 mAh LiPo battery provides the drone with up to 25 minutes of flight time, all systems go, and has a GPS system that allows for failsafe return-home functions. Take a look at some of the reviews on this drone; it’s not very popular, and yet it seems no one has any qualms with its design, durability, or its ability to deliver on what it promises. Believe it or not, even at the size, it has a maximum speed of 44mph (faster than a lot of larger, upper-grade professional drones). It can hover (position lock) and fares decently in mild weather conditions, but due to size, it won’t hold if the conditions demand a larger, more industrial drone. It has a maximum flight range of up to 500 meters, and it’s all powered through AEE’s application. If you’re looking for a sturdy, dynamic, and not-mainstream midgrade drone, definitely give this little masterpiece a look.
Coming in at just under $400, you’ll get a drone with an integrated 3-axis-gimbal capable of 1080p aerial footage (and burst mode) and a decent FPV livestream. Despite its price, Xiro still managed to fill it with some well-engineered intelligent flight systems. It can follow me, orbit, and return home, all dictated by the command controls (via the application). The battery allows for around 25 minutes of flying and it has a maximum speed of around 20mph (Xiro couldn’t do it all at this price-point). This is another one of those midgrade drones that most people don’t know about, yet it holds its value well. It comes with a transmitter that has a smartphone holder (for FPV via their application). It’s been noted that the 3-axis-gimbal takes a bit of getting used to, but for everything it offers at the price, this is certainly a noteworthy drone.
Remember when we said that the Inspire 1 Pro was built for the professional of professionals? Well the Inspire 2 surpasses that standard. The Inspire 2 came to us this year and is truly the mark of alpha-engineering for aerial photography (and priced over $6000, it should be). The integrated camera can shoot in 5.2k cinema DNG RAW – while remaining isolated from the integral build of the Inspire 2, so it shows more versatility, responsiveness, and mobility for the camera alone. In addition to reaching 20,000 feet in the air, flying over 70mph, and shooting in Apple Pro Pres, what truly makes the Inspire 2 amazing is the versatility between the camera and the flight system. Before, to capture complex aerial shots, you’d need two people operating the drone: one dedicated camera operator, and one dedicated pilot. What the engineers set out to build with the Inspire 2 is a machine capable of flying independently while the user concentrates solely on the camera system. The separate camera is specifically dedicated for FPV and VPS purposes. With integrated intelligent technology, the depth of the Inspire autonomy well exceeds that of most DJI products (the entire Phantom series in particular) and the dual frequency system, for the price, along its being RTF right out of the box make it one hell of a machine. If you’re looking for the maverick of aerial photography, then the Inspire 2 should be yours; but do note, this is a drone meant for the most committed of professionals, and often for those using drones specifically for commercial or filming purposes.
This is another one of those hidden gems in the mid-grade realm that can shoot in 4k. While many think the Ehang Ghost Drone is sort of a lesser Bebop –they’re not wrong, but it’s also half the price. The Ghost Drone 2.0 flies via an Android or iOS, as there is no dedicated transmitter that comes along with the package. It feeds for up to a kilometer in reception range and can fly up to 25 minutes with all systems go. To make things easier, Ehang loaded the Ghost Drone with autonomous features: waypoint tracking, companion mode, avatar mode, and flight planning mode are all available (they’re hosted on the application). Ehang also provides excellent customer service and offers free repairs/replacement parts for drones that have an oopsy. The camera shoots in 4k with 4 different resolution settings (4k at 24fps, 2.5k at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps, and 1080p at 120fps). Not to mention that it can cycle record, has a wide dynamic range, time lapse, and burst mode. Oh and did we mention that you can buy this drone on Amazon Prime for less than $400?
This is the first industrial drone that we’ve listed here. This DJI-engineered hexacopter is built to sustain heavy payloads and carry out commercial tasks. If fit with a Ronin MX gimbal, this massive drone becomes a cinematographers dream machine, since the gimbal can support cameras like Red Pics, Arris Alexis, DSLRS, and most industry cameras. Aside from that, it comes with a dedicated flight controller, video transmission system, a series of cargo bays, VPS system, GPS unit, batteries and charger, and connects to the DJI application. Perhaps what makes this machine so impressive is that usually industrial drones of this caliber take extensive amounts of work on the professional’s part before they’re operational. Obviously, the M600 will need a gimbal and a camera that can pair with the video transmission system, but it’s actually ready-to-fly right out of the box. It can sustain up to 35lbs of payload, has onboard tracking technology, and is balanced with the same autonomous tech guts seen in all of the DJI machines. It’s fit with Lightbridge 2 technology – so the work of FPV calibration is already done, and it’s compatible with the new A3 controller. Starting out at just about the same price point as the Inspire 2, it will run you almost that much again to equip it with a gimbal and camera – but that’s to be expected from these industrial machines. You’re not picking up one of these because you want a toy for the house.
Maybe you already know a bit about drones, and what’s really got you jazzed is the recreational aspect of the hobby. In which case you’re probably pretty excited about drone racing. Well the RTF (it’s preassembled, but will need a battery and a remote –but a preassembled racing drone of this quality is a big deal and worth calling RTF) Arris FPV250 BNF is just about the best racing drone for the price. It’s under $300 (moderately priced for a racing drone), and has a 700TVL camera that has been reviewed to provide very little latency. Due to the composite fiberglass frame, it is durable sacrificing agility. Once you’ve installed your own camera system, set up the propellers, and linked the transmitter to your drone (something you probably know how to do, if you’re looking for a racing drone – but something that’s easily learned on YouTube tutorials) you’re looking at one of the most affordable, and powerful racing drones on the market.
Considered a beginner mid-grade drone, this is another machine that shoots in 4k at 30fps for under $600. You’re not going to be seeing any FPV systems on these smaller end Yuneec drones, but you’ll see a lot of durability, agility, and camera performance. Better yet, it’s all integrated into their application which we’ve talked so much about, and this little ‘beginner’ drone has all their autonomous features. What you’re looking at here is the difference between a machine like the Phantom 3 Standard (which provides the FPV), and the fact that the Breeze shoots in 4k. With the growing popularity of Yuneec products, you might find you prefer their system of autonomy over the DJI system. The Breeze is a fantastic machine to exercise your skills as a pilot, it’s capable of taking 4k aerial footage, and is completely controlled via any Android or iOS device. Go to the Yuneec website and look at the footage the Breeze can capture. I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised for the price.
This is another professional quadcopter that’s not often talked about and probably because for $1300, it doesn’t come with a camera. It’s a 3D Robotics-engineered machine, meaning it’s a quality drone, and appeals to the enthusiast or professional who doesn’t want to marry a camera when purchasing a professional drone. Plus, the 3DR X8 comes ready to fly right out of the box and hosts a FPV camera mounting port, with a built in video transmission system. It’s nimbler, more agile, and faster than the Phantom series –and it doesn’t sacrifice any of the autonomy either. Coming in at around 5lbs, it can follow waypoints, position lock, orbit, return home, and more. Depending on the payload attached and the systems running, you’ll get around 15 minutes of flight time with the 3DR 12000mAh battery. The X8 can fly over 60mph, which is 15mph faster than the Phantom 4 Pro. Of course, there’s a special spot for the GoPro on this drone – since 3DR Robotics and GoPro work together on their tech. This is one of those dynamic machines that is often overlooked because of the lack of a camera, but it holds all of its dexterity when in flight.
While this may not be the most impressive drone on paper, we’ve added it to this list because of ‘the rule of cool’. This machine is every Star Wars fan and hobby enthusiast’s dream toy. It’s a little X-wing, TIE Fighter, Speeder Bike, or Millennium Falcon modeled drone that can fly as fast as 35mph, perform an assortment of aerial maneuvers and dogfight. Yes, literally. There are built-in infrared lasers on each drone which can shoot at other drones while in the air. Once an opposing drone is ‘hit’, the corresponding controller will vibrate to indicate it’s been tagged. Up to eight pilots and drones can dogfight, and once a drone has been hit three times, it spins tragically down to the floor. Pretty cool, right? Couldn’t imagine having one of these when we were kids. It even incorporates the authentic sound effects from the movie. There aren’t any cameras on these drones and for what they are the price is very high (not to mention they only fly for 8 minutes), but what you’re paying for is the coolness of the toy, the laser guns attached, and that they’re modeled after vehicles from one of the most popular franchises in history.
This drone was engineered specifically for those who want to film themselves or others while in the midst of high-intensity sports (maybe Bumper Soccer?) . It’s actually controlled by a wearable, waterproof transmitter/tracking device that attaches to the user’s wrist. While the AirDog doesn’t come equipped with a camera, it is compatible with the GoPro Hero series (naturally – this drone was engineered to capture high-intensity sports). Although there are limitations: it’s only compatible with the Hero 3 and up. While it’s not the first drone to introduce the follow me feature (DJI’s Phantom 4 can select a subject to track without the subject wearing any sort of device), it’s certainly the first to carry out the feature in such an adaptable, advanced, and durable manner. Not to mention that if you’re a Lakers fan, you’re going to love the aesthetics of this drone; it comes in a bright purple and yellow. With its intelligent design, lightweight chassis, and LiDAR collisions avoidance system, this is the perfect drone for adrenaline junkies and athletes alike who want a machine which will capture the in-the-action moments and keep up with the players. While it’ll only capture footage to the GoPro Hero standard, it’ll keep up better than most machines for the price. It’s like the Mavic Pro in the sense that it can fold into itself and easily fit in a backpack. It is truly the adventurer’s machine of choice.
As you can see this list has covered a wide range of drones that are available in our current market. If the drone is on this list, it’s for good reason: either the cost to value ratio, the specific niche it occupies, or simply its power to impress us with its ingenuity. Remember, when looking for a drone there’s a lot more involved than just the capabilities of the drone itself, but how your desires and aspirations as a pilot pair with the specific machine. If you’re looking for a toy to fly around and take some pretty pictures, then you’re probably not going to want to buy the Phantom 4 or 4 Pro, and certainly neither of the Inspires, but you might be keen to try the Yuneec Breeze, Xiro Xplorer, even the Phantom 3 Standard. Maybe you’ll want something entirely different and end up choose a racing drone instead.
It’s always important for you do your proper research when purchasing a drone. Our reviews give a quick overview of specifications and often touch on similar components, but the characteristics of these drones only truly come to light once they are compared side-by-side. There are numerous reviews, YouTube videos, and user-experience statements that should, at the very least, accustom you to the consensus about the drone you’re considering. We hope that with this list of well-engineered, intelligent drones, we’ve sparked your interest or pointed you in the right direction.