This post was last updated on: September 1, 2020
One of the main perks of having a drone in the 21st century (well, at least if you don’t want to develop some really nasty, cutting-edge delivery service) is the ability to make aerial videos.
That brings us to the question – what’s the point of the whole thing if the camera you get in the package is sub-par.
Seriously, modern camera drones are flying fast, and they are flying high - every single pixel counts. In other words, if you want to make stunning videos and photos it’s really 4K (UHD) or highway.
So, fasten your seat-belts, we’re taking off to take a look at some of the best 4K drones currently sitting on the market.
Our Top 4K Camera Drones for 2020
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Ready for liftoff? Lets get to it then, here's the full review of our Top 5 4K Drones, ranked in order:
1. DJI Mavic 2 Pro – The Best 4K Camera Drone
"Ideal For: Beginners, Intermediate and Experts"
Mavic 2 Pro is a beast, there’s no other way around it. We already mentioned that the Mavic lineup represents the best from DJI, which, even on itself, speaks a lot about the quality of the product. The latest iteration of the series goes way and beyond to position DJI as the undisputed king of the high-end drone market.
For a start, the craft is equipped with a bunch of sensors that allow seamless flying no matter how many obstacles you find along the way. The design may be too utilitarian, but the excellent build quality and the tall landing gear ensure the craft will be able to survive even the tougher landings.
The remote controls are incredibly responsive and if you pay additional few hundred dollars you won’t have to use your smartphone for navigation (see smart controller). This price may be too much for regular consumers, though, especially given the fact that for the same money, you can buy a pretty decent entry-level drone.
Suffice to say, with its diagonal size of 350mm and weight of 907g Mavic 2 Pro is a relatively light craft. That, in combination with the powerful 5870mAh battery, produces pretty sweet 31 minutes of continuous flight. According to DJI, in ideal conditions, the unit can be flown as far as 18km from your current position at the speed of 72 km/h.
Throw into the equation the support for GPS/GLONASS positioning systems and you will get a perfectly capable drone that easily competes with any challenger.
Finally, we have a model that supports shooting at 30fps in 4K resolution, or 60fps in 2.7K resolution. And not only that, the camera powered by 28mm lens and 20MP Exmor R CMOS sensor is one of the best you can find on the market, at least in the consumer range. The stabilization is provided by the reliable 3-axis gimbal, and you get all the output formats you could ever wish for (JPEG, DNG/RAW, JPEG + DNG).
What’s also nice to see is that the drone features a mechanical sensor, which means that you will not be stuck with an f/2.8 aperture. Instead, you can go all the way to f/11. If you scale down to 720p resolution, you will also be able to shoot high-quality 120fps slow-mo footage.
Still images are also excellent so we can say everything works well in the camera department.
As for the features, the Mavic 2 Pro doesn't disappoint either. You have a bunch of flight modes, Active Track that allows you to automatically shoot fast-moving objects, Draw that makes beautiful panoramic shots while keeping the stable altitude, and TapFly that orders the drone to fly to a specific location while avoiding obstacles along the way. Of course, these are only the highlights.
It is good to know that the unit we reviewed came packed with substantial 64GB SD card which more than comes in handy when playing with RAW format.
Editors Award -This drone clinches the award as our best 4K drone. It's reputation precedes itself, and the user ratings on Amazon agree. If you have the cash to spend, just get the Mavic 2 Pro, you won't be sorry.
2. Yuneec Typhoon H - Most Stable
"Ideal For: Everyone! 6 rotors makes it super stable"
Although not as prominent as DJI, Yuneec is a manufacturer that has its loyal base of followers, and Typhoon H proves this fame is not unwarranted. One of the obvious innovations the manufacturer has brought to the table with this model is the six-motor setup, which makes flying incredibly smooth.
Even if one of them fails, you will be able to fly with ease which makes your investment much more worthwhile. The build quality is not bad either. Craftsmanship is very professional and the drone feels rock-solid. Well, except for motor support hinges that feel somewhat flimsy.
On the other hand, the package contains very well-made, professional controller with bright 7-inch Android display so we can say that the few drawbacks the craft has have been sufficiently counterbalanced.
With its substantial measures of 520x457x310mm, it's hard to say that Typhoon is a particularly compact unit. But, the inclusion of durable materials like carbon fiber makes it not that heavy. The takeoff weight amounts to 1950g which is pretty decent considering the size.
The battery packs generous 5400mAh, but since we are now flying with six motors, the maximum air time is about 25 minutes. Once again, that’s ok and feels in tune with the competition. The flight speed is also fairly nice. Typhoon can easily breeze at 70km/h. Yuneec claims that the unit can be operated over the distance of 1.6km which is ok.
So Typhoon definitely lives up to its name when flying. What about shooting? Things aren't shabby either. Unfortunately, its 4K 12-megapixel camera can't shoot videos at 60fps, something we would be very glad to see at this price point. But, go one tier below to 1080p and you will be able to make some stunning, super slow-mo videos at 120fps.
The quality of the videos provided by the 14mm/F2.8 lens is very good as well. The 360° anti-vibration gimbal comes off as a cherry on the top.
Of course, you also get a few interesting shooting modes to play with. Journey Mode will fly the drone into the skies and make perfect aerial selfies, Orbit Me will set the drone to follow you in the circular motion and Curve Cable Cam lets the drone fly between the predetermined coordinates while giving you complete control over the camera.
However, interesting shooting modes don’t cover Typhoon’s whole set of features. You also get a standard GPS coverage and eight intuitive flying modes that make navigation effortless even if you are an absolute beginner. The package also contains a pretty handy carrying bag that drastically improves the portability of this otherwise bulky unit.
The very fact that you don’t have to use your phone to navigate the drone presents a welcome upgrade over the previous models we discussed. Overall, we are talking about the unit that has no problems standing toe to toe with DJI’s flagship Phantom series.
With the current offer, you get a lot of extras, including a travel bag, memory card, extra set of propellers and an extra battery!
3. DJI Mavic Air - Best Budget 4K Drone
"Ideal For: Beginners and Intermediate Pilots."
Unlike the DJI’s Phantom series, Mavics have always been aimed at users in need of smaller and more consumer-friendly units that are still capable of producing excellent videos. Mavic Air blends perfectly into this bunch.
What this particular bundle manages to do great is to warrant its price through the inclusion of various add-ons, features, gimmicks and rock-solid performance to keep the package together. We are still operating in the 30fps realm so this may put off the professionals.
But, if you are contempt with this frame rate, Mavic Air will offer you pristine video quality, shooting speed up to 100Mb/s, beautiful HDR stills, sporty flight speed, one of the toughest hulls on the market and nice inclusion of 3D technology.
As we mentioned, Mavic Air is incredibly compact. The unit weighs no more than 430g and, when folded, takes up only 168×83×49 mm (L×W×H) which makes it ideal for hikers, bikers, and people on the move. The flight speed is very decent and goes up to 68.4 km/h while the maximum transition distance measures 4km.
Once again, the maximum flight time is very limited (only 21 minutes), but limited battery capacity is something we have to deal with when talking about smaller units. The package also features 8GB of onboard storage and the memory expansion in the form of 16GB UHS Class 10 memory card.
As for the camera, Mavic Air follows the footsteps of its heavier cousins. You get the 1/2.3” CMOS sensor, which can shoot 3,840 × 2,160 (4K UHD) videos at 30fps. However, the gimbal that holds the camera is very fragile which makes shooting (unless you are in Cinematic mode) jerky and the overall durability of the craft somewhat dubious.
But, if you can get past this, you will find out that camera can track up to 16 objects at once, allow you several Quick Shot modes and, if you want to, follow hand gesture commands.
One of the Mavic Air's standout features is definitely a built-in IR sensor that allows the drone to keep the track of the objects and the surrounding terrain. As a result, you get a precise 3D mapping of the environment which helps the craft to efficiently avoid obstacles.
The Cinematic Mode we’ve mentioned slows the drone down and reduces breaking which results in smoother and less jerky videos. It is also worth mentioning that Air comes in a very rich package that contains carrying bag, USB Type-C connecting cables and so on.
"Ideal For: Intermediate and Expert Pilots"
DJI is a manufacturer that doesn’t need too much introduction in the world of drones, so it shouldn’t come off as a surprise that this time we are talking about a much more serious unit.
You also get a couple of hundreds of dollars price bump compared to the previous model reminding you that quality never comes for free.
So, what do you get for this price? A well-built quadcopter with top-notch camera and an abundance of options for you to play with. If that’s not enough, add on top of the pile several control options, intuitive (if somewhat slow app) that offers a lot of interesting tutorials and Lightbridge video streaming (in YouTube-worthy 720p).
Unfortunately, this otherwise great package is not devoid of some common flaws.
With the weight of 1280g, we can say that Phantom 3 is a fairly robust craft, but it is by no means an overwhelming one. The weight feels earned and the overall impression is that the drone is built to last. Unfortunately, none of this weight is spent to increase the battery life – you'll be able to keep the Phantom in the air for no more than 23 minutes.
The unit’s speed clocks at solid 30km/h and you also get a standard GPS+GLONASS dual positioning module. A very welcomed upgrade from the previous entry comes in the form of the flight and control distance that are both upgraded to 5km and 3.5km respectively.
The Phantom's camera is definitely one of its standout features. Although the 4K frame rate is still locked in the 30fps area, the very lens is excellent and capable of shooting stunning videos. Of course, if you drop to 1080p and lower, you will be able to squeeze those additional 30 frames.
The 12-megapixel camera is also capable of shooting RAW pictures while it’s recording video which is a great option. The heart of the camera consists of a Sony 1/2.3-inch Exmor sensor and f/2.8 lens with a 94-degree field of view. An interesting choice that produces a very cinematic output.
As you would expect from DJI, the list of features this drone comes with is pretty extensive. As we mentioned, the control app goes out of the way to keep the craft safe and allows you to advance to more complex options as your skill grows.
There is also a 3-axis video stabilization, Home Lock mode, Follow Me, and a very useful Point of Interest option that allows you to point a spot on the map for the drone to focus on and start circling around it. It is also good to know that the batteries are replaceable, so, technically, you can extend the battery life, but this option is too expensive.
"Ideal For: Intermediate Pilots and casual Drone Racers"
It doesn't take more than a passing look at the price of this craft to see that we are talking, about a beginner's, entry-level device. However, it wouldn't be fair to say that HUBSAN put all of the eggs in one basket.
First, Zino is a very compact and lightweight unit that can be easily carried in a backpack which is a huge plus. Second, the craft is tough. Built from lightweight alloy metal, HUBSAN's product can endure serious abuse before breaking.
Finally, four brushless motors are capable of achieving high speed (60km/h) and keeping the drone up to 2500 meters in the air without overheating.
Bottom line, we are talking about a solid entry-level unit capable of achieving great performance, somewhat bogged down by a subpar controller.
In spite of its affordable price, Zino features some pretty interesting specs. The flight range of the unit is about 2.5km, control distance goes up to 1km, and 3000mAh battery is capable of keeping the unit in the air for solid 23 minutes (you will need to wait three long hours to recharge the unit, though).
Throw into equation GPS+GLONAS GNSS and weight of only 700 grams and you will get one very rounded package.
As for the camera, it is what you would expect from a 4K budget option. You do get a 12-megapixel lens capable of shooting 3840 × 2160 videos, but only at the 30fps frame rate. However, this small problem is more than compensated for with the inclusion of 3-axis gimbal stabilizer which keeps video smooth and stable.
The overall video quality is very good and if you are not a professional you really won’t be able to tell the difference from the more expensive models.
HUBSAN’S foray into the entry-level drone market is a surprisingly feature-rich package. Some of the highlights are definitely Panorama, Waypoint Mode, Image Tracking (you mark the object on the screen, Zino takes care of the rest) and the Gesture Mode that allows for some pretty nice selfies.
The application you use to control the craft is fairly intuitive so you won’t have any problem finding and exploring all of the advanced features.
How to choose between UHD camera drones
But, before we delve deeper into the topic, it is worth mentioning that not all 4K drones are made the same. As a matter of fact, the 4K mark itself speaks very little about the overall quality of the device.
Let’s take a look at some of the key features when buying a drone with a UHD camera.
Over the course of its lifespan a 4K drone take a lot of abuse and what’s even worse the crashed crafts are not always retrievable. Keeping that in mind spending too much money on one unit doesn’t make too much sense. Even less so if you consider that perfectly capable units can be obtained for no more than 1000 bucks.
Even if you need to go out of this price range, do your best to prioritize the features you need the most instead of going all-guns-blazing.
As we already mentioned, having a 4K resolution is a pretty solid foundation but it hardly makes a great camera on itself. For instance, if you want to make slow-motion videos, the standard 24fps - 30fps cameras simply won’t cut it and you will need to ramp up the frame rate to 60fps.
Photo post production with Lightroom or Photoshop will require a RAW/DNG output, and large CMOS sensors will allow low light shooting. If you get some practice, these options can help you achieve stunning results.
Another incredibly important feature you should pay attention to is called an integrated gimbal. Essentially, this would be a built-in support that keeps the camera steady while it’s flying during high winds and at high speeds. Cheaper units (the ones below $400) often don’t have this option.
Brushed vs. Brushless motors
The drone motors you can currently find on the market can be roughly divided in two groups: brushed and brushless motors. In the case of brushed variety, the current is delivered to the motor brushes and mechanical contacts. Brushless motors don’t feature this mechanical element (the current is delivered in other ways) which automatically produces some advantages:
- You get increased torque per watt of power input (increased power efficiency).
- Reduced mechanical noise.
- Lower maintenance requirements.
- Since there are no brushes and commutator erosion, brushless motors have a much longer lifespan.
- Low EMI (electromagnetic interference) ratio.
So, if you ever get into position to choose between the two, always go with the brushless option.
Spare parts and camera options
So, we’ve established that even the top UHD drones are pretty attrition-prone crafts, regardless of their type. That is why you should make sure the parts of your unit are easily replaceable and that the replacement parts are reasonably affordable.
Also, it is always a good thing to have an option to replace the bundled camera. Since Hi-Tech cameras make up a huge part of the 4K drones’ price, the mere option to use your own GoPro for shooting can turn a semi-decent craft into a very useful one.
If you don’t like the quality of the pictures, simply replace the camera, no need to buy a completely new unit.
Battery life and control range
Both these features are integral for seamless shooting sessions. Set your expectations to reasonable, though.
First, to get into the air, a 4K drone uses 4-6 motors which makes quite a heavy toll on the battery life. Therefore, don’t get carried away with the impressive sounding capacites that go beyond 5000mAh. They are completely relative.
The feature upon which you are going to judge the battery life will be the flight time. These days, decent 4K drones should allow you at least 20 minutes in the air. The average flight time clocks somewhere around 25 minutes, and only the rare crafts allow you to fly more than 30 minutes.
As for the control/operating range, we are talking about the maximum distance on which drone can maintain communication and video link with the controller. The cheaper controllers often use the default 2.4gHz frequency range which allows seamless radio communication on distances up to 1 km - 1.5 km which is pretty decent.
However, if you want to shoot some more distant and harder to reach places, you will need to climb up the price ladder and invest in a high-end 4K drone that will allow you to fly as far as very impressive 7 km.
These would be all the small options that don't truly make or break a drone, but certainly, make life simpler. Some of the most common mentions are:
Professional shooting with a 4K drone requires a high level of control over the craft. Headless Mode makes this considerably easier. If you push the joystick in a certain direction, the drone will move in that direction relative to you instead of flying directly where the joystick points.
Integrated GPS module
Today, every camera drone that dares to call itself high-end has an integrated GPS, a module that helps the craft locate its position in the world. This hardware upgrade allows drone a bunch of interesting options like hovering in one place, or Return-to-Home which allows the craft to trace its way back to take-off location.
A lot of current drones come equipped with advanced sensors that allow the craft to identify the obstacles ahead of them and successfully avoid them. This option may be especially important to inexperienced flyers who are one wrong turn from crashing the craft.
The GPS integration we covered above enables one more interesting option you should definitely put on your “”must” list when buying the crat and that is the so called “Follow me” mode. Essentially, this option orders the drone to follow your aerial trace, giving you freedom to concentrate on surfing, biking, or any other activity you might be engaged in.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens when the drone loses connection?
Answer: There are several scenarios in which this could happen.
The first one would be when the operating app crashes or in case of some other software problem. In this scenario you effectively lose any control over the craft until the connection is returned but, in most cases, the drone will continue to fulfill its mission (e.g. Waypoint mode) and return to take-off location when the battery drops to 25%.
The second scenario would be when the controller loses the control over the drone (this may occur due to signal interference, exceeded operating range, etc.). In this case, the drone will once again switch to RTL (Return to Land) mode and try to trace its way back to your location. Keep in mind that, if you lose control over the craft for any other reason, you can switch to Return to Land mode manually.
A third example of lost connection would be when the craft loses the GPS signal, and this case is the most severe. The drone won’t be able to trace its location and will simply land in place to avoid crashing. Once you manage to lock GPS signal once again, you will be able to retrieve the craft.
How to extend the drone’s battery life?
Answer: Essentially, the faster you fly the more battery power you consume. Still, flying at higher speeds will let you cover more distance in less time, so if your prime objective is to travel from point A to point B, the battery drain will be pretty much the same,but you will save some time.
However, you should also know that the flying height also affects battery life. If you really want to preserve the battery you should not fly slower, but lower.
Also, you should do your best to have some juice in the batteries when you fly down. You see, Lithium-polymer batteries feature a very fragile internal chemistry that can be seriously damaged when you run your batteries dry. If your drone has an option of emergent shutdown when the batteries are running dry, use it.
Another thing that can have great effect on the chemistry of lithium-polymer batteries is the weather. For instance, the cold battery is not nearly as capable of releasing its charge as the warm one. So, keep your drone on the ground during the colder months or at least warm up the battery before taking off.
How can I reduce the risk of crashing the drone?
Answer: Actually, the lost of the things you can do to protect your 4K drone from crashing is pretty extensive, so we’ll cover only the most important.
For a start, take the drone's flight time with a grain of salt. Even if the manufacturer grants you, let say, 25 minutes in the air, you shouldn't really go past 20. These few minutes can be very precious if you are trying to fly the craft back to the take-off point.
Second, do your best to avoid harsh weather conditions. Heavy wind and low temperature can disrupt the drone in more than one way (e.g. lost GPS signal, navigation problems, battery malfunction, etc.) and cause the craft to crash.
Third, don’t push the drone to its limits. Flying at full speed for too long can cause motor malfunction, pushing the flight distance to the fringes of the operating range can break the signal between the craft and the controller, and so on. In short, the fact that you can do something doesn’t mean you should do that.
If the drone offers any kind of flight assistance, use it – at least until you sharpen your flying skills. These settings will allow you free control over the craft and take the wheel only when you encounter obstacles that can potentially damage the drone.
Finally, be sure to read the drone’s instruction manual very carefully, before using more advanced options. Although hitting Return to Home button may seem like an intuitive way to get out of troublesome situations, the crafts that don’t feature obstacle avoidance system will simply try to make a straight move toward you picking everything they find along the way.
What is the best way to transport an UHD drone?
Answer: As we mentioned, drones are extremely expensive gadgets. It would be such a shame to fly it back from shooting only to break some of its parts because of a bump on the road. So, since drones feature a lot of small parts that can be easily broken, it would be best to transport them in a hard case.
If you don’t have one, a soft carrying bag should do the job of cushioning the craft.
Do I need to obtain a pilot license to fly a drone with a 4K camera?
Answer: No. But, since they can harm people and cause material damage, the drones need to get approval from the local government.
The body that oversees the use of drones in the United States is called the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Its UK counterpart goes under the name of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
We hope you enjoyed this short roundup of the best 4K drones. Tell us what you think, share the post with your friends and have fun shooting in high resolution.
Last update on 2020-09-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API