9 Awesome Drones

August 9, 2017

By Greg Scoblete

DJI Phantom 4 Advanced

This replacement for the original Phantom 4 offers an improved camera with a 1-inch, 20-megapixel CMOS sensor with 4K recording up to 60p. It offers many of the same features as the P4 Pro, including options to record in H.264 and the newer, more efficient H.265 video codec. The camera has an f/2.8-11 lens with a 24mm (equivalent) focal length and a mechanical shutter. It also offers many of the same autonomous flight modes as the P4 Pro, such as Draw, ActiveTrack, TapFly, Gesture and Tripod modes. There are five vision sensors, a forward-facing obstacle avoidance system and GPS/GLONASS satellite positioning chips. However, it lacks the P4 Pro’s infrared vision system and the backward-facing obstacle avoidance sensors. You can hit a top speed of 45 MPH in sport mode. DJI sells two versions of the P4 Advanced. The Advanced + model includes a remote control with a 5.5-inch HD display built in. The standard P4 Advanced comes with a controller that requires a smartphone.

PRICE: $1,349; $1,649 (Advanced +)
INFO: www.dji.com

GoPro Karma

The original Karma had a bumpy lift-off into the market, but GoPro says version 2.0 is airworthy. Like the DJI Mavic and the GDU Premium, the Karma can fold down to make it more compact for traveling. If you’re willing to entrust your GoPro to the updated Karma, you’ll enjoy up
to 20 minutes of flight time and a top speed of 35 MPH. The Karma can mount the Hero 5 or Hero 4 Black and Silver cameras (not included). If you opt to mount the Hero 4, you’ll have to spring for a separate $30 mounting harness. The Hero 5 can be mounted to the included harness, which rests on a 3-axis stabilizer and can rotate from 0 to -90 degrees. The Karma Controller is included with the drone and features a 5-inch, 720p display with a battery life of four hours. You’ll also get the Karma Grip, a handheld stabilizer that mounts a Hero 5 for ground-based videos. The Grip has a battery life just shy of two hours.

PRICE: $800
INFO: www.gopro.com

Yuneec Typhoon H with RealSense

The Typhoon H uses Intel’s RealSense 3D camera to detect and route around objects in flight. It not only avoids obstacles in its path, it remembers their location to avoid them in the future. Armed with a 4K camera and a 3-axis gimbal, the H can snap 12-megapixel still images and has a wide-angle lens with a 98-degree field of view. The camera can be rotated a full 360 degrees when in flight and the landing gear will retract so your view is unobstructed. It includes a controller with a built-in 7-inch touchscreen display that can receive a video feed from up to 1 mile away. The drone can stay aloft for up to 25 minutes on a fully charged battery. It has several intelligent flight modes including Orbit Me, which traces a circular path around a subject, keeping the camera fixed on them during flight. You can take aerial selfies in Journey mode and have the Typhoon H fly up to 150 feet away from you for your flying photo op.

PRICE: $1,899
INFO: www.yuneec.com

GDU Byrd Premium 2.0

GDU holds the distinction of beating both GoPro and DJI to market with a folding drone. The Premium 2.0 offers a modular design, which allows you to swap out cameras and gimbals if you want to upgrade or change imaging devices without replacing the entire drone. Out of the box, you can purchase the Premium 2.0 with a 4K camera but there are modules for mounting a DSLR plus a unit with an integrated camera with a 10x zoom. The 4K camera records at up to 30 fps and can capture full HD at 60 fps or 12-megapixel still images. The drone has a vision positioning system to fly when GPS is lost and can beam an HD signal to a remote from up to 2,000 meters away. You’ll enjoy about 29 minutes of flight time on a fully charged battery.

PRICE: $1,049
INFO: www.gdu-tech.com

Autel X-Star Premium

The X-Star Premium quadcopter was outfitted this year with a pair of new camera modules. Of most interest to aerial filmmakers is an updated camera module sporting a 1-inch, 20-megapixel sensor for higher-quality 4K video and improved performance in low light. A second module incorporates a FLIR Duo thermal/visual camera. Both modules are mounted to a 3-axis, stabilized gimbal to keep your aerial footage smooth. The craft uses the company’s Starpoint Positioning technology to fly accurately even when GPS is lost. It taps both GPS and Russia’s GLONASS satellites for accurate outdoor navigation. You can program the drone to follow a subject, orbit a location or fly to user-selected waypoints for hands-off flight. If you’re just getting started, the X-Star’s beginner mode creates a geo-fence beyond which your drone can’t fly. It also limits the craft’s airspeed, making it easier to control.

PRICE: $799 (with standard 4K camera)
INFO: www.autelrobotics.com

Walkera Voyager 4

This drone was one of the first to incorporate a zoom lens and it has the distinction of having the longest zoom of any pro-sumer drone you can buy (as of this writing). Packed with an 18x optical zoom, it will achieve a zoom range of 6.7-134.5mm—giving you the flexibility to film sweeping establishing shots and then tighter close-ups all without moving the drone from its position. The camera rests on a 3-axis brushless gimbal and records 4K video at 30p or HD video at 60p via a 1/2.3-inch Sony sensor. You’ll get roughly 20 minutes of flight time on a fully charged battery. The remote works with your mobile device and displays a live video feed and flight settings.

PRICE: $2,449
INFO: www.walkera.com

PowerVision PowerRay

If you’ve always relished underwater photography but were reluctant to throw on scuba gear and risk decompression sickness, here’s good news. Now you can make a robot do it. The PowerRay is a submersible drone that can be used not only to film the life aquatic, but to find it as well. Its fish-finding abilities come courtesy of its detachable PowerSeeker unit, a sonar-powered orb that can be submerged in the water to provide information on fish distribution, the temperature underwater, current depth and the terrain. Armed with this data, you can pilot the PowerRay to the ideal location for photography (or fishing). The Power Seeker also has a blue light to lure fish into view. The drone itself is equipped with a 4K camera with a 12-megapixel CMOS sensor and an f/2.8 lens with a 95-degree field of view. Built-in LEDs help illuminate your underwater scene. The drone stays hardwired to the controller while you’re operating it and it can send an HD video signal to the controller from 262 feet away.

PRICE: $1,488
INFO: www.powervision.me

Yuneec H520

The H520 is a six-rotor aircraft that can be outfitted with a number of different camera options, including the new CGO-CI camera, which is targeted at cinema and broadcast creators. The CGO-C1 4K camera sports a 50mm lens and supports panoramic shooting, burst and time-lapse modes. The camera sits on a 360-degree, 3-axis gimbal. The craft’s landing gear retracts, giving you a clear view of your surroundings. You can also tilt the camera and gimbal up 20 degrees—a feature principally designed for drone inspections but also useful for filmmakers in search of unique angles. While the H520 has six rotors, it can fly with five in the event one is damaged. It incorporates Intel RealSense technology to map out obstacles along a flight path and navigate around them. The H520 has a number of safety features including geo-fencing, variable speed control, return-to-home and low-battery return to home. The drone includes the ST16 controller which sports a 7-inch Android tablet and a 720p video downlink from the drone camera and an HDMI output for external monitors.

PRICE: $2,499
INFO: www.yuneec.com

Fotokite Phi

If piloting a drone via a remote control looks a bit too daunting, the new Fotokite Phi may be more approachable. The Phi is a quadcopter that stays fixed to a tether, like a kite. The Phi has a mount for GoPro cameras and is compatible with the Hero 3, 3+, 4 and Hero 5 Session. The Fotokite Phi is launched with a simple twist and flies itself to the end of the 100-foot tether where it is then controlled by gestures. If the tether is cut, the Phi will automatically begin a controlled descent and power off upon landing. The drone will also give low-battery alarms if you run low on power. If the battery does deplete fully during flight, the drone will automatically land softly and turn off. You’ll enjoy about 13 minutes of flight time on the battery. According to Fotokite, the Phi drone is quieter than your typical quadcopter because its propellers are slower. The Fotokite leash not only steers the drone but can control basic GoPro settings such as video start/stop and photo capture. A GoPro will draw power from the Phi and will automatically power on when the drone starts to fly.

PRICE: $249
INFO: www.fotokite.com