Aerial photography has spiked in popularity over the past two years. Not long ago the only way to get photos from the sky was taking a chartered flight or helicopter. Today, however, anyone can simply go out, buy a drone and start taking creative shots from unique angles. From the moment I bought my drone I fell in love with it. My goal of capturing epic landscape photos and videos was much more in reach than before.
Up until the release of the DJI Mavic Pro, it was quite prohibitive to travel with quality drones because of their bulky size. Even the DJI Phantom series made is easier to travel but even then it was still a commitment to travel with one.
Instagram is now filled with photos of amazing views that were taken with camera drones. From the basic selfie camera drones to the high end quadcopters that give you total control, this article will help you pick the best portable drones to fit your travel photography and videography needs.
Camera Drone Portability
There are some basic factors to consider before buying a camera drone especially when it comes to picking a drone for travel. Here are the factors I consider when making my purchases or recommendations for the drone with cameras below.
Size and Portability:
Unless you are shooting footage for a box office movie you don’t really want to be carrying around a huge professional camera drone now, do you? You are going to want a camera drone that’s light and portable as you’ll be carrying it around a lot.
Airlines Luggage rules also play a role here as you wouldn’t want to go above the luggage weight limit and the entire kit of the drone, spare batteries, cleaning kit, charges, accessories etc add up.
Battery Life and Spare Batteries:
Being a traveler means that you won’t always have a charging port next to you at all times. A portable power bank can extend your battery life, but nothing is worse than waiting for the perfect shot only to find that your battery is dead when it’s time to take the picture.
What is the best drone?
Right now, if I had to pick a brand that stands above the rest, it’s DJI. Of the drones that DJI offers, I would recommend the DJI Mavic Pro as the best option for travel photographer and videography.
DJI Mavic Pro
The Mavic serves up the best blend of 4K/12-megapixel videos images, ease and fun when flying, and portability when not flying (it folds up).
The DJI Mavic Pro is a small yet powerful drone that turns the sky into your creative canvas easily and without worry, helping you make every moment an aerial moment. Its compact size hides a high degree of complexity that makes it one of DJI’s most sophisticated flying cameras ever. 24 high-performance computing cores, an all-new transmission system with a 4.3mi (7km) *range,5 vision sensors, and a 4K camera stabilized by a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, are at your command with just a push of your thumb or a tap of your finger.
Inside the Mavic’s pocket-sized remote controller is DJI’s brand new OcuSync transmission technology, with a range of 4.3mi (7km)*, HD 720p long range and Full HD 1080p short range video streaming.
An unprotected drone could hit obstacles during long distance flight or when descending from an inadequate height in Return to Home mode. The Mavic uses FlightAutonomy technology to sense obstacles up to 49ft (15m) away and allows the Mavic to bypass them or brake to hover, reducing accidents.
Satellite positioning can only help a drone hover in an unobstructed outdoor area free of interference. Without satellites, the drone will not be able to position and become susceptible to drifting. However, with forward and downward vision sensors, the Mavic can hover precisely indoors or in places without GPS.
The Mavic is only 1/6th the size of the Phantom 4 but this reduction in size doesn’t mean a reduction in flight time. The Mavic actually flies much longer than you would expect from its compact size. It is capable of reaching an absolute maximum flight time of 27 minutes and a maximum distance of 8mi (13km) due to its powerful, high-efficiency motors.
Mavic supports 4K video at 30fps. No Electronic Image Stabilization is used, ensuring all footage is 4K. We have created a miniaturized, ultra-precise 3-axis gimbal for the Mavic, capable of stabilizing the camera even during high-speed motion for smooth video and sharp photos.
Everyone loves a good photo. Whether you just want to take a snap or are building up your portfolio, the Mavic’s 12-megapixel camera with Adobe DNG RAW support is ready to shoot.
DJI Phantom 4
Right now, there are a ton of camera drones for sale, but the DJI Phantom 4 PRO is by far the most innovative. It can fly super fast. It’s very reliable. The HD live video streaming works better than any other drone out there. It’s super easy to set up and use. The list of things that you can do just goes on and on.
An uprated camera is equipped with a 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor capable of shooting 4K/60fps video and Burst Mode stills at 14 fps.The adoption of titanium alloy and magnesium alloy construction increases the rigidity of the airframe and reduces weight, making thePhantom 4 Pro similar in weight to the Phantom 4. The FlightAutonomy system adds dual rear vision sensors and infrared sensing systems for a total of 5-direction of obstacle sensing and 4-direction of obstacle avoidance.
The onboard camera has been redesigned to use a 1-inch 20-megapixel CMOS sensor. A custom engineered lens made up of eight elements is arranged in seven groups, it is the first DJI camera to use a mechanical shutter, eliminating rolling shutter distortion which can occur when taking images of fast moving subjects or when flying at high speed. In effect, it is as powerful as many traditional ground cameras. More powerful video processing supports H.264 4K videos at 60fps or H.265 4K at 30fps, both with a 100Mbps bitrate. Advanced sensors and processors ensure everything is captured with more image detail and the image data needed for advanced post-production.
FlightAutonomy is expanded with an additional set of high-resolution stereo vision sensors placed at the rear in addition to the pair placed at the front as well as infrared sensing systems placed on the left and right sides. This network creates a total of 5-direction of obstacle sensing and 4-direction of obstacle avoidance, protecting the Phantom 4 Pro from more obstacles and giving filmmakers the confidence to capture more complex images.
A 5.5in 1080p screen integrated with the Phantom 4 Pro + offers 1000 cd/m2 of brightness, more than twice as bright as conventional smart devices.As the DJI GO app is built into the screen, hardware and software can be fully optimized, allowing you to edit and share instantly. A five-hour battery life makes the Phantom 4 Pro + a complete aerial imaging solution. The integrated upgraded Lightbridge HD video transmission system supports dual frequencies for greater interference resistance and a maximum video transmission range of 4.3mi (7km)*.
Seize the Moment
Meet Spark, a mini drone that features all of DJI’s signature technologies, allowing you to seize the moment whenever you feel inspired. With intelligent flight control options, a mechanical gimbal, and a camera with incredible image quality, Spark empowers you to push your creative boundaries.
The Spark has a tiny frame and this makes it super travel-friendly. It is probably the easiest drone to fly on the market and the most affordable making it perfect for beginners! Just know that the Spark is not suitable for professional photographers.
Video footage on the DJI Spark is at a maximum of 1080p Full HD @ 30fps.
With FaceAware, Spark lifts off from your hand by recognizing your face.1 It takes off and hovers in place within seconds of powering on.
Take amazing aerial photos using just hand gestures, without a remote controller or mobile device.
Create With Ease
Intelligent Flight Modes and intuitive controls help you create cinematic aerial videos with just a few taps.
Edit and Share
The DJI GO 4 app features automatic editing templates and an array of filters. Quickly edit videos and share them straight to social media.
I hesitated to include this drone to my list but after a lot of consideration I decided to include it as it’s amazing value for money. The X-Star Premium is an easy-to-fly quadcopter designed for superb aerial imagery.
The X-Star’s camera is ready to fly out of the box, so that any pilot can capture stunning aerial imagery. Our camera is custom built with the highest quality optical glass to deliver crisp, rich color every time. Beautiful color profiles and custom camera settings create a unique experience for every environment.
Capture wide angle perspective with 108° field-of-view and crystal-clear still imagery from a 12MP best-in-class camera
Built with safety and security in mind, the X-Star Premium was designed to be used by any pilot.
Beginner Mode limits your speed, distance, and altitude, making the X-Star Premium perfect for a new pilot. Hands-free hover provides a stable experience the moment you remove your hands from the controls.
Out of the box, the X-Star Premium has two customizable battery failsafes. Preset to 25% battery, the low battery failsafe will return the X-Star Premium to its home point. The critical low battery failsafe, preset to 10% power remaining, will automatically land the X-Star Premium at its current location.
The X-Star Premium intelligent battery allows up to 25 minutes of flight time per battery and has built-in technology to ensure longevity.
Every X-Star Premium arrives in a splash-proof, zippered carrying case with a shock-absorbent foam interior and additional space to keep up to six batteries, your manuals, charger, extra props, remote, and even your devices.
DJI Inspire 2
The Inspire 1 was a revelation. The first filmmaking drone in the world to integrate an HD video transmission system, 360° rotating gimbal and a 4K camera,as well as the simplicity of app control. The launches of the Zenmuse X5 and X5R cameras further cemented the Inspire as a critical tool for filmmakers around the globe.
Unlike the DJI Phantom and Mavic, which have fixed lenses, the Inspire 2 lets you switch lenses like you can with a DSLR. There are limitations – it won’t take a hulking 300mm telephoto for obvious reasons – but there are eight compatible Micro Four Thirds lenses in the wide and mid focal lengths – there’s even a compatible zoom lens.
As the world’s first Micro Four Thirds camera made specifically for professional aerial photography and videography, the Zenmuse X5R gives you the freedom to choose your lens. By utilizing the standard MFT mount, the Zenmuse X5R is well positioned to benefit from new products and innovations from major lens manufacturers.
Currently, a range of lenses are compatible with the Zenmuse X5R. With different specifications but the same top-notch quality, these three lenses provide you with a great level of flexibility.
The Inspire 2 takes everything that was good about the Inspire 1 and improves it. An all-new image processing system records at up to 5.2K in CinemaDNG RAW,Apple ProRes and more. It goes from 0 to 50mph (80kph) in just 5 seconds and hits a maximum speed of 58mph (94kph) and has a max descent speed of 9m/sfor unheard of speed and agility in an aircraft this size. A dual battery system prolongs the flight time to a maximum of 27 minutes (with an X4S),while self-heatingtechnology allows it to fly even in low temperatures.
FlightAutonomy has been revised and developed specifically for the Inspire 2,providing two directions of obstacleavoidance and sensor redundancy. Increased intelligence adds multiple intelligent flight modes, including Spotlight Pro, giving even single pilots the ability to create complex,dramatic shots. An upgraded video transmission system is now capable of dual signal frequency and dual channel, streaming video from an onboard FPV camera and the maincamera simultaneously, for better pilot and camera operator collaboration.
Professional Image Quality
Integrated into the Inspire 2 is the brand new CineCore 2.0 image processing system, capable of recording 5.2K videos in CinemaDNG*1, Apple ProRes*2 and more. CineCore 2.0 is built into the aircraft nose and works with any camera connected through the dedicated gimbal port.
The Inspire 2 creative workflow has been completely optimized and is now capable of recording videoin CinemaDNG and Apple ProRes, and other common formats for post-production in filmmaking. Also supported are FAT32/exFAT* file systems,which allow fast copying of files direct from the CINESSD without additional software.
Sense and Avoid
Forward and downward vision systems enable the Inspire 2 to detect obstacles up to 30 meters ahead, allowing for protected flight at up to 34mph (54kph)at a controllable attitude angle of 25°. Upward facing infrared sensors scan obstacles 16ft (5m) above, adding protection when flying in enclosed spaces.Obstacle sensing systems are active during normal flight, RTH and all Intelligent Flight Modes.These sensors are core components of the DJI FlightAutonomysystem, which brings the below intelligent features to the Inspire 2:
- Upward obstacle avoidance
- Obstacle avoidanceAccurate indoor hovering and positioning
- Automatic obstacle avoidance during RTH
- Terrain detection
- Accurate indoor hovering and positioning
Spotlight Pro is a powerful tracking mode that allows even single pilots to capture complex, dramatic images. It uses advanced visual tracking algorithms to lock onto a subject during flight,regardless of the direction that the Inspire 2 flies, creating shots that would once have required a dedicated camera operator. If the gimbal comes close to reaching its rotation limits,the Inspire 2 itself will rotate in the same direction without affecting flight control or the shot being captured to free up gimbal movement.
It has two shooting modes, Quick Mode and Composition Mode. In Quick Mode, select an object to begin tracking. In Composition Mode, select the subject and the tracking position.When the subject enters the preset tracking position, press the shortcut to begin tracking. The gimbal can be moved during shooting for composition adjustments.Spotlight Pro is available in Intelligent Flight Modes TapFly, Waypoint, and Point of Interest.
Intelligent Flight Modes
In addition to Spotlight Pro, a range of other intelligent flight and shooting modes are available. Obstacle avoidance is optimized when using Point of Interest*and Waypoint* modes, making complex shots simple and repeatable. Also available are QuickSpin, TapFly and ActiveTrack, to simplify challenging shots.
Powerful Flight Performance
A new propulsion system optimized for power creates a new level of flight performance. The Inspire 2 flies at up to 58mph (94kph) descends at 9m/s andclimbs at 6m/s. It can accelerate from 0 to 50mph (80kph) in just 5 seconds and flies at a max attitude angle of 40°. The two controller sticks are tuned for moresensitivity, making delicate maneuvers easier.
More power also allows the Inspire 2 to fly in more extreme conditions, including over 2500-5000m above sea level (using optional dedicated propellers),and in temperatures as low as -4°F (-20°C) using self-heating Intelligent Flight Batteries.
I hope this list of camera drones helps you pick a drone that helps you in making a decision about the drone that you might bring on your next trip. It really comes down to your purpose in bringing a drone. Perhaps you simply want a selfie drone and you’re drawn to the Spark or Mavic Pro; or, maybe youre more hardcore and you want to max out the technology, then you’re probably more interested in the specs of the Phantom 4 or maybe even the Inspire 2 if you’re really serious. Let me know what you think about the suggestions in the comments area below.