Drones have become the must-have gadget for tech fans and videographers. Drones let you become a pilot and aerial photographer, getting incredible footage or even taking part in activities like drone racing.
There are a couple of major drone brands out there. DJI is known for making high-end drones close to those used by professionals. Parrot makes cheaper drones, which have slightly less powerful cameras but come cheaper.
Until recently, GoPro produced the GoPro Karma, but the company has recently cut its drone division and will no longer be producing it, so we have left it out for the purposes of this review.
Drones can be intimidating for a beginner. How do you get started? What are the rules on drones and are they easy to fly? How do you get your footage off of them and which take the best images? The Telegraph answers these questions and more with a look at some of the best drones available.
The best drones for 2018
DJI Mavic Air
The latest drone from quadcopter powerhouse DJI. The DJI Mavic Air comes as a successor to DJI’s hugely popular the DJI Mavic Pro. It is not a complete upgrade, but is cheaper and provides several new innovations on a drone that make this the most user-friendly drone while also maintaining high quality camera footage that merit its price tag.
The Mavic is DJI’s lightest consumer drone and folds down to a size that would easily slot into a backpack. It can also be controlled with your smartphone, meaning you don’t need to carry the portable controller. It has around a 20 minute battery life. For camera experts, the DJI Mavic Air shoots 30 frames per second at 4K or can shoot in slow motion at 1080p at 120 frames per second. It comes with a MicroSD card slot and can save up to 8GB of video straight to the drone itself.
I found this one of the easiest drones to fly once I got it going. It is incredibly stable, fast, agile and just downright fun to fly. Set up is a little more challenging. DJI still haven’t quite mastered how to make a comprehensive user guide on the app or set up process, so it can be frustrating dipping in and out of the app to try and trouble shoot issues like connectivity.
The only thing that might stop you buying the DJI Mavic Air is if you already own its older model, the DJI Mavic Pro. This drone is more expensive and delivers very high quality 4K footage. However, the Air matches it in almost every way. You do get slightly more battery out of the Pro, and it has slightly more video options, but overall the Air matches the Pro at the quality of its footage, and comes at a better price.
Telegraph rating: 9.5/10
Spark is a smaller, cheaper drone from DJI, designed as a beginners drone (but for those willing to shell out a bit more cash). It keeps many of the high quality features and intelligent flight modes you can expect on DJI drones. These include a flight home mode – where the drone will return to its launch point while avoiding obstables – and a geopositioning system which can give warnings about areas where it may be dangerous to fly. Weighing just 300g it is also highly portable.
There are some compromises compared to the more expensive Mavic Air. The Spark has a 12MP camera which is capable of filming in full HD, at 1920×1080 resolution, but not in 4K. Its flight time is also fairly low compared to the Mavic Air or the more expensive Parrot Bebop, at just 16 minutes.
That said, you do get more advanced features like gesture controls, meaning you can use hand movements to take a selfie with the Spark. It is also priced fairly at £449.
Telegraph rating: 9/10
Parrot Bebop 2 Power
If you want extra battery power from your drone the Parrot Bebop may be the way to look. It has 30 minutes of flight time on a single battery charge, more than the Mavic Air or Spark. It is slightly larger than the models from DJI, and doesn’t have the same foldable wings that make these drones so easy to carry around in a backpack.
The camera is also a little less powerful than that of the Mavic Air, although it is around £200 cheaper. It is 14MP, but is only able to film in full HD and not in 4K like the Mavic Air. Parrot is also a little cheeky in advertising the drone with a 60 minute fly time, what it means is 60 minutes across the two batteries they provide with the kit. It also just feels a little more flimsy than the DJI models, which could be a concern in any high speed crashes.
That said, this is a solid drone and the extra flight time can make the difference, plus the camera footage is generally nice despite not being the same level as more premium drones. The Parrot drone app is user friendly and it is easy to get the drone up and flying.
Telegraph rating: 8.5/10
Parrot Mambo FPV
Ever fancied yourself as a bit of a drone racer? Well the Parrot Mambo is the cheap drone that could get you and your friends speeding around with drones quickly and inexpensively. The Parrot Mambo has one of the fastest set up processes of the drones we tested. Just charge it up and connect the controller to the drone. But it is also designed for racing. The Mambo FPV kit comes with goggles that let you see a first person view from your drone, so you can speed around like a real pilot.
It is cheap, however, and this comes with some compromises. The general build of this tiny drone is a little flimsy, leaving you feeling a particularly brutal crash would render it inoperable. Its lightweight also means it is a little trick to pilot and it is subject to more drift than the other drones we tried.
But it is one of the cheapest available. The FPV kit ups the price to £149, including a camera, although you can pick up a more basic version for £99. It’s not designed as a camera drone, but if you want to jump straight into drone piloting and save your cash the Parrot provides a safe choice.
Telegraph rating: 7.5/10
Who should buy a drone
Maybe you are an action photograph who already owns a GoPro but have always wanted to get that aerial shot. Or you’re a flying geek who wants something small and fun to pilot. You could be a wannabe drone racer, or if you are looking for the latest high tech present for a family member.
Drones have come into their own in the last two years, moving from luxury present into a must-have gadget for tech fans. Cheap drones, such as the models you can get from Parrot, have made drones more affordable, while the incredible camera quality of models from DJI have made them a viable choice for amateur videographers.
If you fall into these categories a drone may be for you. If you want pictures of your action adventures, or a fun and high-tech toy to make fellow tech geeks jealous, it might be time to invest in a drone.
What to look for in a drone
Drones are a fairly new consumer category, but there are some things to look out for when deciding which drone you want to buy. There is a fairly huge price range for drones. Serious drones that border on professional quality, such as the DJI Mavic pro, can cost more than £1,000. Tiny, featherweight drones that can be used indoors might cost less than £100.
Some key things to consider include portability and weight, which will determine how easy it is to transport your drone; ease of use, including how long it takes to set up your drone and get it flying; and balance and build quality, how powerful is your drone and does it fly with fast and steady.
If you are buying a camera drone you might also want to consider the quality of footage you are going to get. Models like the DJI Mavic Air provide some of the best video quality on consumer drones, including 4K footage. Others may not provide video at all.
Getting this footage from your drone should be easy on many models. DJI in particular is designed for film editing, allowing you to quickly load your footage from your drone onto your smartphone via WiFi. Alternatively, most drones include sim cards store camera footage.
Finally, battery life is a central drone-buying metric. If your drone can comfortably fly for more than 20 minutes you are likely to be paying a premium.
Use our comparison table below to see which drone is right for you:
What are the rules around flying drones in the UK?
Drone rules and regulations are getting tighter in the UK, which will mean that some of the drones mentioned may well require flight tests or registration in the UK soon. Starting in early 2018, drone users who own drones of more than 250g in weight will be required to register to a national database. You will also be required to take a safety test if you plan to fly a drone in the UK weighing more than 250g
There are also some rules about where you can fly a drone in the UK. If your drone is over 7kg (none on this list are) there are some strict restrictions around aerospace. Most consumer drones weigh 1kg or less, but there are limits on these tool. NoFlyDrones has a full map of no-fly areas, often military airspace, and parts of major cities with height restrictions.
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority also has rules that UK users may not fly consumer drones higher than 120 metres, or within 50 metres of people and private property.
So just which is the best drone out there? Of the models we tested, the DJI Mavic Air had the best camera and the best flying ability as well as one of the longest flight times. It is expensive, but you are getting a premium drone with a tonne of features that will provide stunning aerial footage.
However, with new drone rules potentially coming into force you may want a more simple starter drone to get to grips with. The Parrot Mambo 2 can give the experience of flying a drone and give you a taster before you invest in a more expensive drone. This, and it can be found for around £100.
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