Best drone 2018: the top 10 drones for 4K video, next-level selfies, racing and more

The best camera drone for aerial video and photos, from pro UAVs down to fun toys

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You have landed on T3's guide to the best drone (or unmanned aerial vehicle/UAV, as absolutely nobody outside of the military calls them) of 2018. 

Drones are filling the skies, filling up column inches and now the cream of the flying-and-filming crop are filling up this buyers' guide, led by DJI Mavic Air, which is an incredibly great mix of advanced tech, affordability and pure fun.

In the very near future, drones are likely to be heavily regulated. We're not saying that's a bad thing; it's long overdue. But that does make now a good time to buy one. Read on for our pick of the best drones to buy right now...

What is the best drone?

Right now, the brand that stands above the rest when it comes to the best drones is DJI. That's reflected in the fact that it fills the numerous positions in the chart below, including all the top spots – that's unprecedented in a T3 buying guide. 

If the more affordable DJI Mavic Air isn't awesome enough for you, the same brand's Mavic Pro serves up incredible 4K/12-megapixel videos and images, and is the very essence of ease and fun to fly, as well as being highly portable when not flying, as it folds up like a paper plane. 

The brand's 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.

Of the less serious, more 'toy'-like brands, Parrot is the leader.

We've rounded up the various Mavics and the rest of the best drones, from pro UFOs to fun flying toys, and will shortly rank them in order, for your purchasing convenience.

The best drones: a buying guide

Do you want a toy to dart around the skies or a more serious drone for aerial photography and filming? 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.

You should be realistic about what you want to achieve and how good a pilot you are. Some of the more 'pro' drones like the DJI Inspire can be quite daunting to fly and have broadcast quality cameras. If all you want is a ‘selfie’ drone to take the odd photo of you sitting on the beach, we recommend you go for something newer, cheaper and smaller.

Drone safety tips

To celebrate World Drone Day, which is totally not a made-up thing, and happens on May 6 every year, Currys has come up with this rather epic guide to safe drone flying. 

  • Don’t fly near airports or airfields
  • Remember to stay below 400ft (120m)
  • Observe your drone at all times – stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property
  • Never fly near aircraft
  • Enjoy responsibly

We'd really like to think that nobody needs to be told any of the above. And in truth, anyone who does fly a drone near aircraft probably deserves to go to prison. Sure, we don't know that a drone can bring down a 747, but we are very sure that we also don't want to ever test the theory.

Now, with those stern words out of the way, here are our top 10 drones, in order of excellence.

The 10 best drones you can buy today

1. DJI Mavic Air

The best drone you can buy

Specifications
Battery life: 21 mins
WiFi Range: 80 metres
Transmitter Range: 2.48 miles
Max camera resolution: 4K/12 megapixels
Reasons to buy
+Excellent 4K video and 12-meg stills+Eminently portable+Brilliant little flyer+Affordable

Drone technology is advancing so fast that it’s an expensive business just trying to keep up. No sooner have you bought your lovely DJI Mavic Pro when along comes the much smaller, slightly cheaper and just as capable Mavic Air. Honestly, DJI is so far ahead of the curve, it’s a wonder other manufacturers even bother to compete.

The new Mavic Air is a true pocket rocket that excels in every department. It’s quite a bit lighter and smaller than the DJI Mavic Pro (168mm in length against 198mm) and not much bigger than its smaller sibling, the Spark. Figure in the four folding rotor arms and what you have here is the most portable 4K camera-equipped drone currently on the market.

The 4K video quality from the Air’s robust 3-axis camera system is generally on a par with the larger Mavic Pro while its 12mp photos are arguably more detailed and blessed with better contrast. It can also take four styles of panorama images and it does this all by itself. Simply select the panorama function and the drone hovers in one spot while it takes a series of images from different angles (with no pilot input) which it them stitches together to produce a seamless widescreen vista.

Like the Spark – and to some degree the Mavic Pro – the Air can also be controlled with palm gestures or a mobile phone; handy additions for those times when you can’t be bothered to dig out the supplied hand controller. That said, flying with the hand controller is far and away the most satisfying way to operate it. It also lets you fly much further – up to 4km (2.48 miles) away and back again on a battery that lasts around 21 minutes.

The Mavic Air’s hand controller is smaller than the Mavic’s and it doesn’t come with an LCD screen so you’ll need to rely solely on the data and picture feed to your smartphone or mini tablet. But that’s no big issue as long as your mobile has enough battery.

The element I love most, though, is the addition of obstacle avoidance sensors on the rear as well as to the fore and below the craft. This makes flying more confidence inspiring than ever and is arguably the best reason for choosing a Mavic Air over a Mavic Pro; at least until the new Mavic II is announced (join us again soon for that).

For something so small, you’d be amazed at how well this titchy drone copes in winds as strong as 22mph and even higher. It’s also very fast, especially in Sport mode – how does 42mph grab you?

Granted, the noise this little tyke makes is higher pitched than the larger Mavic, to the point that it can be a bit irritating. Seriously, though that’s a tiny price to pay for such a cheap, reliable, easy-to-fly and unbelievably well equipped travel package. Top marks all round. Nothing compares to this.

2. DJI Mavic Pro

Best higher-end drone

Specifications
Battery life: 27 mins
Range: 4.2 miles
Max camera resolution: 4K/12.35 megapixels
Reasons to buy
+Incredible portability+Obstacle avoidance+Superb 4K and HD footage
Reasons to avoid
-Not pocket-money priced

Despite the arrival of the new and improved Mavic Air, DJI’s Mavic Pro is still an amazingly good, portable drone (it folds into a package the size of a milk carton). It flies for 27 minutes for up to 4 miles away, avoids forward-facing obstacles, shoots lush 4K footage from a mechanically stabilised camera no larger than a thimble, and then lands automatically in the exact same spot it took off from.

The Mavic Pro makes far less noise in the air than its larger Phantom stablemate, especially when used with DJI’s Low Noise props. 

Like the Mavic Air, you can fly this little beauty via WiFi using just an iOS or Android phone. However, for even better control and massive distance – up to four miles – there's a dedicated, pocket-sized controller with integrated smartphone holder. Simply plug your phone into the holder, launch the superbly designed DJI Go 4 app and watch gobsmacked as everything – from live HD streaming to a plethora of flight parameters – is transmitted back to the monitor. 

Gesture control, furthermore, 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.

The Mavic Pro’s OcuSync transmission is a mite more rocksteady than the new Mavic Air’s and it also flies for about 5 minutes longer. But right now we’d still suggest going for the Mavic Air, simply because it is generally slightly cheaper, and has the rear-facing obstacle avoidance that the Pro lacks.

That said, if you’re prepared to wait until around June, DJI is expected to announce the Mavic II, which I hear will be equipped with obstacle sensing on all sides, a newly designed gimbal and a camera fitted with a one-inch CMOS sensor. Holy cow.

3. DJI Spark

Best selfie drone

Specifications
Battery life: 16 mins
WiFi Range: 100 metres
Transmitter Range: 1.2 miles
Max camera resolution: 1080p/12 megapixels
Reasons to buy
+Takes great selfies+Comparatively affordable+Flies superbly
Reasons to avoid
-Propeller arms don’t fold-Only shoots 1080p-Gesture mode can be hit and miss

DJI’s more recent model, the Spark is about half the weight of the Mavic and its body is much smaller. However, because its propeller arms don’t fold, it won’t fit in a jacket pocket like the folded Mavic will. Even so, this air-snap gizmo is still incredibly portable and probably the smartest selfie drone in existence right now, available in five lush colours.

The Spark comes with front obstacle avoidance and is rock steady when flown indoors or out. Its camera shoots very acceptable 1080p video and 12-megapixel photos and is equipped with a two-axis mechanical stabilizer for relatively smooth video footage. The battery provides around 16 minutes of flight time, which can be considered good for a drone of this size.

The Spark can be operated in three ways: using hand gestures, a mobile device or, for much greater range (up to 1.2 miles), a dedicated hand controller. While not designed for high-quality videography, it still shoots excellent footage. 

It’s also reassuringly tough as nails, as was aptly demonstrated at a recent DJI event when one was accidentally flown at full speed – that's 50kph – into a tree. The only thing damaged was a prop; everything else, camera included, worked perfectly. Another great reason to consider snapping one up right away.

4. DJI Phantom 4 Pro

Best prosumer drone for high quality aerial footage

Specifications
Battery life: 30 mins
Range: 4.2 miles
Max camera resolution: 4K/20 megapixels
Reasons to buy
+Superb camera with one-inch sensor+Four-sided obstacle avoidance+Comprehensive flight programmes+Excellent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey-Not as portable as the Mavic or Karma

This drone is a class act on all fronts. It’s more aerodynamically styled than the earlier Phantoms and comes with a shedload of sci-fi features, including four-sided obstacle avoidance. Yes, that’s right, this sleek bird now has extra sensors on the rear and the side so now you can fly it towards a cliff face in any orientation and it’ll stop dead in its tracks before any unpleasantness unfolds. 

It will also avoid obstacles during its emergency return-to-home procedure and even follow the same route it took on the flight out. The battery’s been upgraded and enlarged, too, so now it’ll stay aloft for up to 30 minutes – enough to take it to its phenomenal four-mile limit and back again.

And there’s more. Hop on your skis and it’ll track you using its new ActiveTrack feature or, if you’re a lazy flyer who can’t be arsed with using a remote controller, a touch of the app’s TapFly button will send it off in the direction of your choice, avoiding any solid obstacles en route. Other advanced features include quick-release props and a new Sport mode that produces a top speed of 45mph. 

DJI’s also developed a special remote controller with a built-in 5.5-inch screen that is brighter than most smartphones. 

It’s the all-new camera that really blows the mind, though. How does a one-inch CMOS sensor (like that in the Sony RX100) capable of capturing 4K footage at a phenomenal 60 frames per second grab you? Or perhaps you’d like to try some cool slow motion stuff. Simple, this beauty shoots in 1080p at 120fps. 

The Mavic Pro is still the most convenient and complete camera drone on the market but this is the one to go for if you really take your cinematography seriously.

5. Revell Control C-Me

Best budget selfie drone

Specifications
Battery life: 10 mins
Range: 20 metres
Max camera resolution: 1080p/8 megapixels
Reasons to buy
+Good VFM+Easy to use+Decent stills
Reasons to avoid
-Not amazing video-Short flying time

Like the Dobby below and to some degree the DJI Spark, this one is classified as a selfie drone: it’s operated using an iOS or Android device, with a Wi-Fi range of 20 metres from the operator, and it's for taking selfies with.  

The C-Me may be made out of cheap plastic but you probably won’t find a better-equipped pocket selfie drone at this size and price. It flies extremely well and is relatively easy to control using virtual controls on the smartphone. The onboard GPS prevents it from drifting and allows it to follow your movements and return to you with a single tap of your phone screen. 

The 8-megapixel camera needs to be angled before lift-off but takes very decent stills, and the 1080p video isn’t too shoddy either although, because the camera doesn’t have an image stabiliser, any movement by the drone is transferred to the video. So for best results, make sure the drone is hovering in one spot before hitting record.

The C-Me is available in four colours and is definitely worth considering if you’re in the market for a selfie drone that’s easy to fly and cheap to buy.

6. Parrot Bebop 2 FPV Pack

Best 'toy' drone is a solid performer with VR-like control via headset

Specifications
Battery life: 25 mins
WiFi Range: 100 metres
Transmitter Range: 1.2 miles
Max camera resolution: 1080p/14 megapixels
Reasons to buy
+Very stable+Comes with First-Person View goggles
Reasons to avoid
-Only digital camera stabilisation-Limited range-Lots of bits to pack

The GPS-equipped Parrot Bebop 2 comes packed with tech that makes it incredibly easy to fly. You can use just an Apple or Android device or, for an even more satisfying flight experience, 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. It’s also light enough to survive the occasional crash. 

This particular package also comes with a basic VR-style goggle system – First Person View, as drone enthusiasts know it. This is the familiar hollow plastic headset that accepts any iOS or Android phone. Just slot your blower in, slap the goggles to your face and experience the delights/fears of first person flight.

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 Mavic, Phantom 4 or even the little Spark.

In the sphere of camera-carrying leisure drones, the Bebop 2 is an unequivocal hit. It's a doddle to operate, very keenly priced, and great fun.

7. Zerotech Dobby

The other top selfie-drone contender

Specifications
Battery life: 9 mins
Range: 100 metres
Max camera resolution: 4K cropped/13 megapixels
Reasons to buy
+Smaller than a phone+Decent still images+Good value
Reasons to avoid
-Camera can't be tilted remotely-Poor video quality-Struggles in stiff breeze

This impressively built, folding pocket drone is smaller than an iPhone and nearly £200 cheaper than the DJI Spark (although, to be fair, it doesn’t sport nearly as many features). 

Dobby is a damn easy thing to get off the ground, and can fly up to 100 metres away via Wi-Fi from any iOS or Android device. 

Just unfold the prop arms, sync your phone and open the DoFun app. Now launch Dobby from the ground or toss it out of your hand and tap one of its intelligent flight modes – face/target tracking, video selfie, orbit and somersault. You can even control it with your voice, though I can’t see many British people over the age of 12 using this feature in public.

Dobby can shoot in 4K but only when digital stabilization (EIS) is off. As soon as you switch EIS on – and you need to, realistically – the image is cropped to 1080p. Also, because the camera’s angle can’t be controlled from the app, you’ll need to tilt it manually to your preferred angle before take off. 

Dobby takes pretty good 13 megapixel stills but, because its camera doesn’t have a gimbal, you do get an awful lot of rolling shutter (jelly-like movement) when shooting videos. This is fixed to some degree by the tiny ND filter they now ship with the drone but it’s still far from perfect. 

In a nutshell, the supremely portable Dobby may not be much use as a cinematic video drone unless there's almost zero wind, but it is brilliant for taking selfie snaps and short video bites. I do narrowly prefer the C-Me, personally.

8. GoPro Karma

Best drone for fans of GoPros and extreme sports

Specifications
Battery life: 20 mins
Range: 1.8 miles
Max camera resolution: 4K/12 megapixels
Reasons to buy
+Easily portable+Excellent navigation and editing apps+Comes with handheld image stabiliser
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly limited range and battery life

With an early battery latch problem seemingly solved, the GoPro Karma is now back on the shelves and/or flying off them.

Like the DJI Mavic Pro, the Karma is compact and collapsible with props in place. It's not as small as the 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 the really excellent Quick editing software, and a navigation app that lets a 'co-pilot' steer the camera while you fly the drone, or vice versa.

This is a neat little gadget overall, but it has proven unable to compete with DJI's drones and is being discontinued. You may be able to snap it up at a bargain price as a result, but it makes it somewhat harder to recommend.

9. Nikko Air DRL Race Vision 220 FPV Pro

Entry-level FPV toy racer

Specifications
Battery life: 5 mins
Range: 60 metres
Max camera resolution: not quoted
Reasons to buy
+Small and light+Surprisingly swift
Reasons to avoid
-Short flight time-Cumbersome goggles

First Person View flying is a hugely popular pastime entertained by speed freaks hellbent on negotiating tricky obstacles, usually within the safe confines of a professionally monitored environment like a disused factory or a specially designed drone racing circuit. 

While you likely won’t win any competitions with this entry-level toy racer, it’s a great place to start if you want to learn how to fly using goggles, and can be had for a lot less than most competing products. The low price will hopefully mean it won’t seem like the end of the world when you crash – which you will.

The Race Vision has a bog standard camera in the nose. The view it sees is transmitted to a pair of goggles, allowing you to control the craft as if sitting in its cockpit.

At this price you’re not going to get DJI build quality but, against all odds, this nimble drone flies surprisingly well when controlled using gentle input on the joysticks. It reaches speeds of up to 25mph and can also perform aerobatic stunts.

What isn’t so good is the live feed from the craft to the goggles. Granted, you can still see where you’re going but the visuals aren’t remotely sharp and often interrupted by static anomalies. 

The full colour LCD goggles themselves are also heavy and possibly too large for a child’s head. Oh, and you’ll only get around five minutes of flying time out of the battery.

Nevertheless, this toy racer provides some very decent high-speed thrills, for substantially less than the cost of the more advanced Parrot Bebop FPV.

10. DJI Inspire 2

Best drone for pro-grade cinematography

Specifications
Battery life: 27 mins
Range: 4.3 miles
Max camera resolution: 4K/16 to 20 megapixels
Reasons to buy
+Sensational camera system+Dual controller option+58mph top speed
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy for trekking with-Inevitably expensive

When it comes to drone design, mobile device integration, reliability and ease of use, DJI is so far ahead of the curve that other manufacturers must be sobbing over their blueprints.

This bird is the best currently on the market but doesn't top our charts because it is pricey with a capital P. It is, however, a perfect choice for professional cinematographers and the casually minted. 

The Inspire 2 is made from carbon fibre and magnesium and its dual battery system and huge motors will take it to a top speed of 58mph and a flight time of up to 27 minutes. The landing gear is retractable, allowing pilots, or a second camera operator, to shoot a full 360º panorama. It also comes with forward, downward and upward-facing obstacle avoidance sensors for extra confidence when flying in tricky locations. 

The Inspire 2’s pro-spec CineCore 2.0 image processing system is housed in the nose of the craft which means only the camera’s lens and sensor are attached to the gimbal. This reduces weight and allows for easy lens swapping. Needless to say, the imagery this ingenious system produces is of the highest order. 

11. Parrot Mambo

Best toy drone

Specifications
Battery life: 6 mins
Range: 60 metres
Max camera resolution: not quoted
Reasons to buy
+Cheap and cheerful+Rock-steady indoor flight+It shoots stuff and picks things up!
Reasons to avoid
-Short flight times-Gaming novelty can wear thin

The pick of the indoor toy drones, the acrobatic Parrot Mambo is a master of stability and a great drone to practice on. It also comes with novelty clip-on fittings that allow it shoot tiny balls at a target or pick up items as heavy as a sugar lump. So, okay, not all that heavy. But still great fun.

There's also now this FPV pack option, which gives you a Mambo's eye view of your lounge, via your phone's screen, similar to the Bebop 2 above. The goggles are not the last word in comfort or high-tech, but the first-person view does definitely add something.

You fly it using the Freeflight 3 app (Apple and Andoid) or, for more accurate control, the optional Parrot Flypad transmitter that comes with the FPV pack.

Like the rest of Parrot's Mini Drone roster, this little scamp hovers in one spot perfectly. You could probably pop off to put the kettle on, then return to find it still in the same place, so long as the battery hasn't run out.

Top indoor choice.