Welcome to T3.com's guide to the best drone for you. So just what is the best flying drone or UAV ('unmanned aerial vehicle') for photography, film-making and general messing about?
In our view, right now it's the DJI Mavic. And if we had to pick a brand that stands above the rest it is, again DJI.
The only slight issue the market leader has it that it has a lot of drones on the market, and they aren't necessarily as clearly differentiated as they could be. However, we will help you through that particular minefield, so don't fret.
Why do we say the DJI Mavic? Because for us, it 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 iOS and Android apps are excellent, and then the dedicated controller is there if you want to take the drone much further than mobile Wi-Fi will allow.
How to choose the best drone for you
Simple answer: choose a budget, then find a drone to match.
The quality of the materials, the range and power of the drone, and the specifications of the accessories - primarily the camera - are the main factors that affect a drone's price.
Slightly less simple answer: you should also be realistic about what you want to achieve and how good a pilot you are. Some of the more 'pro' drones are quite demanding to fly and have broadcast quality cameras. If what you want is to have something more like a remote control helicopter that can also take the odd photo, we recommend you go for something cheaper.
There are numerous drones that you can fit a GoPro to, including GoPro's own Karma. So if you already own one of the ubiquitous action cams, that could be one way of keeping your costs down.
Finally, if you have no desire to shoot video and stills from the air but still want to get droning, try joining a race club and dart through an obstacle course of disused buildings and woodland. Racing drones are also equipped with a camera but it's so the pilot can see where he's going. You'll still crash anyway, though.
We've rounded up the best drones, from the GoPro Karma, with its excellent editing software, to the self-explanatory Micro Drone (guess what? It's small).
We have a feeling drones are going to be big this Christmas
The 10 best drones you can buy today
These are the 10 best drones to buy, in order of preference
1. DJI Mavic Pro
The fold-up, fly-anywhere state of the art in consumer drones
When it comes to consumer drones, DJI is way ahead of the curve and this is the best drone you can currently buy.
Just one week after GoPro announced its foldable Karma, DJI came out with a model that trounces it in almost every respect. The Mavic is simply amazing and just what every UAV fan has been yearning for: a lightweight, portable drone that folds into a package the size of a milk carton, flies for 27 minutes for up to 8 miles away, avoids obstacles, shoots lush 4K footage from a stabilised, auto-focus camera no larger than a thimble, and then lands automatically in the exact same spot it took off from.
The Mavic is much smaller and quieter than its Phantom 4 stablemate and yet its video quality is about the same; in fact, it's marginally better at shooting in low light conditions. What's more, you can fly it via Wi-Fi using just a smartphone (iOS and Android) or, for massive distance and even better control, DJI's new pocket-sized controller with integrated smartphone holder.
But that's not all… Gesture control allows you to take selfies and make the Mavic follow you simply by waving arms in the air and making strange shapes with your hands. Right now this is both the Holy Grail and the Swiss army knife of consumer droning. And all for a frankly very reasonable price, too…
2. GoPro Karma
Reasonably priced eye in the sky for extreme sports fans
GoPro has seen its share price drop a tad this year, but it's hoping its long-awaited Karma drone will give it wings in more senses than one.
Like the DJI Mavic Pro, the Karma is compact and collapsible with props in place. It's not as small as the little Mavic but still eminently portable. The front-mounted three-axis gimbal accepts the Gopro HERO 4 or 5 and the 4K and 1080p video those cameras produce is, as you'd expect, very good indeed.
The Karma's maximum range is just 3km but that's more than enough for most pilots. In a stroke of minor genius, users can also remove the camera and gimbal from the drone and clip it into a supplied Karma Grip for smooth cinematic ground footage.
Sterling app support comes in the form of really excellent quick edit software, and a navigation app that lets a 'co-pilot' steer the camera while you fly the drone, or vice versa.
3. DJI Phantom 4
A semi-pro drone for prosumer lovers of quality aerial footage
If you're looking for an impeccably integrated, supremely reliable drone with an excellent 4K camera, you still can't do better than the Phantom 4, even though the greater convenience of the Mavic and GoPro Karma mean we recommend them above it.
This high point (ho ho) in quality consumer droning comes with a stunning 4K, 12.4-megapixel camera mounted to an extremely efficient three-axis image stabilising gimbal, and a simple but effective hand controller.
The Phantom 4 also features obstacle avoidance – a major plus when flying in confined areas – and ActiveTrack software which means it'll follow and film the user without the need for a GPS bracelet, tracker or beacon.
What really sets this bird apart, however, is the superb integration of its iOS and Android app. Launch the drone using auto takeoff and marvel at the 1080 visuals streaming to your tablet or phone.
The DJI Phantom 4 is a truly sensational piece of flying cinematography kit, but it's also damnably jolly to fly.
4. Hover Camera Passport
The safe-as-houses option
If you're looking for an extremely compact, foldable drone to video your away-day escapades, then step right this way. When folded, the Hover Camera is about the size of a VHS cassette tape and its four mini propellers are enclosed within a tough carbon fibre cage, so you can just grab it out of the sky when it's time to land.
The Hover Camera connects to your phone via Wi-Fi and is designed for close proximity body tracking.
Okay, its range is a not-amazing 10m, flying time is a paltry 10 minutes and the 4K footage is way too soft for the discerning videographer. However, because of its size, price and ease of use, this flying Lego brick is still well worth a look.
5. Helipal Storm SRD 280 racing drone
The speedy-as-hell option
For the ultimate buttock-clenching drone-flying experience, get behind the sticks of Helipal's Storm, slap on a pair of optional Fat Shark goggles and let rip like you're in the Wachowskis' long-forgotten Speed Racer.
First Person View flyers are becoming all the rage, with speed freaks hellbent on negotiating tricky obstacles within the safe confines of a professionally monitored environment, usually a disused factory or, in the case of the Dubai World Drone Prix, a specially designed circuit.
Most racing drones are hand-built Robot Wars-esque affairs, but this one bucks the trend by dint of a very cool looking shell that lifts like a bonnet to expose the inner core. It comes fully loaded with a Foxeer CMOS camera and a nine-channel RadioLink AT9 controller that offers a myriad fine tuning options, six flight modes (from beginner to expert) and even a remote controlled buzzer that helps you locate the drone after a crash.
6. DJI Inspire 1 Pro Black Edition
Pro-grade drone at a pro-grade price
Want to shoot video like a pro, with a partner joining you as camera operator? We'd recommend you try the GoPro Karma, then. Unless, that is, you have a much, much bigger budget.
Like its Phantom brethren, the Inspire Pro is fully integrated using a tablet and the trusty DJI Go app. The difference is that the Inspire Pro's 16-megapixel Zenmuse X5 interchangeable lens camera uses a Micro FourThirds CMOS sensor to grab 4K footage good enough for any professional production, with the the 360-degree gimbal operable by someone using a second controller.
If you're in the business of shooting for television or cinema then this relatively small and portable black special edition should be top of the shopping list. You're not? Maybe go for something a touch cheaper, then.
7. Parrot Bebop 2
Keenly priced, full-featured consumer drone
The GPS-equipped Parrot Bebop 2 is chock full of tech that makes it incredibly easy to fly and rock steady once airborne.
Like the v1 Bebop, you can fly it using just an Apple or Android device or, for an even more satisfying flight experience, including FPV flying with a VR headset, get the dedicated Skycontroller tablet dock.
The Bebop 2 flies for up to an impressive 25 minutes per charge and is equipped with an emergency cut-out feature that stops the rotors as soon as they come into contact with an obstacle, which should help prolong its life.
Wi-Fi connection stability and live video streaming to the pilot's tablet have also been improved, as has the camera which has been given a sharper lens.
Again like its forerunner, the Bebop 2 eschews a mechanical gimbal in favour of a digital camera stabilising system that not only keeps the image steady via a throng of clever algorithms, but also allows the user to pan down without the camera actually moving. Image quality is decent enough, though it lacks the sharpness and stability of the Karma and Phantoms.
In the sphere of camera-carrying leisure drones, the Bebop 2 is an unequivocal hit. It's a doddle to operate, very keenly priced, great fun, and will fly off the shelves at Christmas. Quite literally! Ho ho!
8. Splash Drone AUTO Version
High quality, waterproof flyer
Buy Splash Drone AUTO Version:
If you're worried about flying over water - and if you're not, you should be - consider one of these GoPro carrying beasts.
The Splash Drone is the only consumer-priced waterproof, buoyant UAV currently on the market and it's a little corker. This AUTO version is equipped with a waterproof gimbal suitable for a GoPro and its waterproof housing (both available separately), the usual gamut of built-in failsafe systems, a payload release mechanism, the obligatory hand controller and a seven inch monitor to see what's up ahead. You can also control it using Splash Drone's smartphone app.
The Splash Drone isn't as integrated or as slick a product as DJI or GoPro drones, but it does instils a much greater level of confidence when hovering above a body of water.
9. Parrot Mambo
Entry level drone with built-in fragging frolics
Buy Parrot Mambo:
The pick of the indoor toy drones, the new acrobatic Parrot Mambo is a master of stability, and aimed largely at kids.
Like the rest of Parrot's Mini Drone roster, this little fella hovers in one spot so perfectly that you could pop off to put the kettle on and when you return it'll still be in the same place.
You fly it using the Freeflight 3 app (Apple and Andoid) which can take a bit of getting used to since there is no feedback when your thumbs are resting on smooth glass. This thing's so easy to fly you'll have it mastered in minutes anyway, mind you.
Aside from stable indoor flight, the Mambo also comes with clip-on fittings that allow it shoot tiny balls at a target or pick up items the weight of a sugar lump. Mate it to the optional Parrot Flypad hand controller for even more accurate flying.
10. Micro Drone 3.0
A great introduction to first-person flying
This cute little ladybird-shaped drone flies better than most indoor toy model, though you will still crash it from time to time. Just as well it's extremely well built and tough enough to survive most incidents unscathed.
The Micro Drone 3.0 comes with a hand controller, a smartphone holder, a pair of Google Cardboard goggles for first-person view (FPV), VR flying and a USB-charged battery capable of keeping it in the air for up to eight minutes (five minutes if shooting video to the on-board microSD card).
The little camera's 720p visuals are rather basic, and the camera isn't attached to a gimbal, so the image tilts and rolls whenever the drone is moving - that's why it works as a VR camera.
On the plus side, the Micro Drone 3.0 uis pretty cheap, and goes like shit off the proverbial shovel when switched to 'insane' mode. Make sure you have enough space before letting it loose.