DJI Mavic Mini
DJI’s new Mavic Mini is arguably the first high quality camera-carrying drone for the masses. At just £369, it’s the perfect price point for an impulsive pre-holiday purchase or a premium Christmas pressie from a loved one.
The Mavic Mini weighs a floaty 249g fully loaded, which is one measly gram shy of the CAA’s new 250g regulation. And that means you don’t need to register it or pay £9 every year. You are a clever little sausage, DJI. Size wise, the drone is so small it can be hidden under an iPhone 11 and easily tucked into a pair of chinos.
The Mavic Mini’s camera shoots 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second and crisp 2.7K at up to 30fps (believe us, 2.K is plenty sharp enough for the average computer monitor). Its 12mp stills, meanwhile, are nicely detailed. Despite the size, the craft is surprisingly stable in flight and fast and nimble when flown in Sport mode. It will easily fly for up to 30 minutes on a single charge and up to 4km away (far beyond the CAA’s line-of-sight regulation). However, one thing this drone doesn’t have is obstacle avoidance. But we don’t think this is a deal breaker if common sense prevails.
The Mavic Mini is available in two packages: the basic bundle – hand controller, flight battery, charger, spare props, 32GB Micro SD card and a bunch of different phone cables – and the Fly More Combo, which also comes with a fabulous herringbone carry case, four batteries, a charger for charging four batteries at once and propellor guards for indoor flight.
If you’ve always hankered after a top-quality camera drone but didn’t fancy the idea of splashing out a fortune, then this is the model for you. It’s remarkably stable and reliable in flight, a doddle to control and it shoots ravishingly good cinematic footage to boot.
Aside from being the very best drone for indoor flying, the Tello is also a brilliant learning tool, since it can be programmed by the user to perform various movements using the Tello Edu mobile programming app (iOS and Android). This is a groundbreaking feature for youngsters who wish to learn the art of programming and robotics in an entertaining and educational way. The programming interface is very easy to get a handle on and basically involves dragging colour-coded blocks (‘take off’, ‘up’, forward’, ‘right’ etc) into a specific arrangement.
Not surprisingly, the Tello’s amazing flight characteristics and raft of features are mostly as a result of the DJI components it’s fitted with. The Tello weighs just 80g and fits in the palm of the hand. To fly it, simply download the Tello app, connect the drone and use the virtual joystick controls. It’s vision positioning system is so well designed that you could take it off, go and make a cup of tea and when you get back it’ll still be in the same position.
The Tello can also be launched by throwing it into the air and even perform a circus of aerial tricks. But what really makes this little drone such an unequivocal hit is that it comes with an excellent 720p/5mp camera that streams digitally stabilised footage straight to a smartphone. The quality of the footage and photos it produces is exceptional for a drone of this size and perfectly acceptable for casual holiday use. Moreover, it even comes with a trio of handy pre-programmed EZ Shots (Circle, 360, Up & Away) for quick, fuss-free footage.
It’s hard to believe that so much tech could be crammed into a drone with such diminutive dimensions – and all for a shade under £100. Exceptional value.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro & Zoom
Not content with hogging five spots in our best drone guide, DJI’s just upped the ante and produced not just one new drone but two: the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom. Before we delve into their unique selling points, first let’s put a few things into perspective.
To give you some idea of just how far DJI has progressed in the sphere of camera-carrying drones, just three years ago this writer and a mate spent a ridiculous £5,000 on a DJI S-900, a monster drone designed for carrying DSLR-style cameras. This drone had no mobile app integration and was fitted with a huge and very delicate gimbal, more wires than a BT street box and a massive strap-on battery. It also came with a crap monitor that produced a very glitchy low-res video stream from the not-very-good Sony NEX-7 camera. The whole package had to be transported in a box big enough for a lawnmower and it took about an hour to set it all up. Flying it was a terrifying experience. Granted, the visuals it produced were better than the DJI Phantom model of that period, but they still lacked decent sharpness and detail. Fast forward just three years and even the company’s pocket-sized Mavic Air produces video and stills a hundred times better than that hulking pile of Meccano, and for a fraction of the price. That’s progress for you.
Which brings us to the current state of play. Both Mavic 2s look identical to their predecessor, though they are 16mm longer, 8mm wider and 173 grams heavier. You can certainly feel the extra weight when you hold them in the hand. In fact, they feel almost too heavy to fly. Put another way, you wouldn’t want one to fall out of the sky because you suspect it would punch a gapping hole in the ground and disintegrate into a zillion pieces.
Just as well, then, that these two drones are almost impossible to crash given that they have 10 obstacle sensors facing in every direction. To put these omnidirectional sensors to the test, I chose the Pro version, selected the autonomous ‘Active Track’ follow-me mode on the forever impressive DJI Go 4 app, drew a rectangle around my body on the Samsung S8’s screen (it also works with iOS), hit Go and went for a slow walk between a grove of small trees. The results were frankly unbelievable, scary even – like something out of the ‘Terminator’. The drone automatically ducked and dived as it negotiated a pathway between the branches, never coming to grief despite a few leaf-trimming moments. Even more astonishing was the fact that the footage it shot showed no signs of jerkiness – it was as if I’d been tracked by someone holding a stabilised camera. So, that’s your first reason to buy one. But which one?
Both the Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom are equipped with identical chassis and exactly the same flight tech. In fact the only difference between the two are the cameras and gimbals they’re fitted with.
The Mavic 2 Pro boasts a new three-axis gimbal-mounted Hasselblad camera, which comes fitted with a one-inch CMOS sensor – like that in the Sony RX100 and RX10 series – and an adjustable aperture that goes from f/2.8 to f/11. This is an exquisite piece of kit capable of shooting in several video resolutions, including 4K at up to 30 frames per second, 2.7K at up to 60fps and 1080p at up to 120fps. It also takes strikingly sharp 20 megapixel RAW/Jpeg stills. The Mavic 2 Pro’s camera system supports the 10-bit Dlog-M colour profile for pro-style post-production colour grading and 10-bit HDR video for striking hyper-real footage.
The Mavic 2 Zoom’s camera, by contrast, comes with a much smaller 1/2.3" CMOS sensor capable of producing reduced 12 megapixel stills in both RAW and Jpeg. This is the same size sensor as fitted to most compact point-and-shoot cameras. Despite a lower maximum ISO (3200 as opposed to the Pro’s 6400), its video capabilities are otherwise identical to the Mavic 2 Pro. However, you can’t change the aperture on the Zoom and that’s a minus point when it comes to shooting stills.
The biggest difference with the Mavic 2 Zoom’s camera is that it also features a 2x (24-48mm) optical zoom that really comes into its own when shooting distant objects you’d rather not fly too near to. Wildlife is the most obvious example, though there may be times you’d like to shoot a monument or geographical feature from up close without straying into private airspace. Of course, some pilots may abuse the system and indulge in a bit of snooping, but that would not only be illegal but downright selfish to other law-abiding flyers. There’s very little difference between the two cameras when shooting video but you may notice a difference with stills, especially if shooting in low-light conditions.
One especially unique feature of the Zoom’s camera is its ability to re-create Hitchcock’s famous dolly-zoom effect automatically within the DJI Go 4 app. Simply select the shot in the app and fly backwards from the main subject. The camera will zoom in as the drone flies backwards, creating a bizarre effect where the main subject remains the same size as the background zooms in behind it. Parrot’s ANAFI drone has the same function but the Mavic 2 Zoom’s camera does it even more strikingly.
Flight wise, both birds are as rock solid and confidence inspiring as we’ve come to expect; at no point will you fear they'll just fly off into the sunset on their own, never to be seen again. With new, larger motors fitted to their four arms, both models are now capable of hitting 44mph in Sports mode and – with the aid of a larger battery – able to remain aloft for up to 31 minutes at a time. They’re also much quieter than any previous DJI drone – so hushed you can hardly hear the whir of the blades from just 30 metres away. Occusync 2.0 transmission, meanwhile, offers crisp 1080p live streaming from up to five miles away. Like the early Mavic, both models come with 8GB of onboard storage along with the obligatory Micro SD card slot. The hand controller is pretty much the same as the outgoing Mavic’s, though it does have an additional three-way speed switch (normal, sports or tripod) for extra convenience.
Heading over to the DJI Go 4 app, both variants come with a similar range of intelligent flight modes, plus the addition of a new Hyperlapse function that captures stop-frame visuals over a wide area before stitching it all together within the app. In fact, the only intelligent flight mode missing here is the gimmicky ‘gesture’ hand control.
This writer is still inclined to hold the smaller and cheaper DJI Mavic Air at number one, simply because it’s such a conveniently sized and capable little movie maker. But if you’re considering taking your aerial cinematography and/or photography to a whole new professional level, then these two beauties are unquestionably the best models to consider.
As to the burning question of which one is best, that depends on individual needs. This writer would probably opt for the more expensive Pro model which comes with a better facility for taking sensational stills and the wherewithal to change the aperture for better composition. But if you just want a drone to shoot video then save yourself £250 and go for the Zoom instead.
As the slightly annoying but hugely popular YouTube vlogger Casey Neistat puts it, ‘it’s no longer a case of which drone to buy, but which DJI to buy’. And these two beauties are undeniably the company’s most complete portable cinematic packages to date.
Well folks, it looks like we have our very first top-tier interloper, and it doesn’t surprise us that it should hail from the Parisienne house of Parrot. After all, Parrot pretty much single-handedly started the whole consumer drone thing when it launched its hugely popular AR Drone way back in 2010. Its follow-up, the Bebop, was equally impressive, but even this lightweight and eminently useable bird simply couldn’t compete against the rise of DJI and its squadron of Phantoms and Mavics. Parrot’s new foldable Anafi is the first drone to cause a stir in the DJI teacup and, while it still doesn’t quite match up to the amazing DJI Mavic Air or Mavic Pro, it’s nevertheless fully deserving of our third place slot above the DJI Spark.
Despite looking more like a giant mosquito, the ANAFI (is it pronounced Anáfi, Ánafi or Anaafi?) was apparently inspired by the humble bee. Accordingly, it has its three-axis gimbal and 4K/21 megapixel camera mounted directly in front of the drone, like a bee's head. Well, sort of like a bee's head. This means the props will never appear in shot when the drone is moving forward at high speed. It also means the camera can be pointed 90 degrees upwards for a unique perspective that no other drone offers.
Like the Mavic Air, this drone also collapses for easy transport but it’s not quite as pocketable due to its 244mm length when folded. Still, it comes in a great transport case that’ll easily fit in a small shoulder bag. At just 320 grams, the Anafi is 110g lighter than its nearest competitor, the DJI Mavic Air and that’s a good thing should it ever fall out of the sky, since it is less likely to sustain major damage. Theoretically, at least.
In fact, the hand controller, which is built like a brick shithouse, feels noticeably heavier than the drone it controls, and is certainly bulkier than the titchy Mavic Air controller. However, it's not quite as well equipped. Aside from the ‘take off’ and obligatory ‘return-to-home’ buttons, there are two index finger buttons on the rear – one for taking images and video and the other for resetting the gimbal and optics – plus two rocker arms for gimbal tilt and zoom. Yes, that’s right, the 4K camera is equipped with a lossless digital zoom function; a first in the pantheon of consumer drones.
These days, any drone worth its salt must integrate seamlessly with an Android or iOS phone and this one does it superbly well. The new Parrot FreeFlight 6 app is very well designed and easy to get a handle on. Granted, it doesn’t allow for as many camera, flight and gimbal tweaks as the DJI Go 4 app, but it’s perfectly acceptable for first-time users. The HD image quality streaming from drone to phone is impressive, though we did experience a few visual glitches and some pretty poor lag from time to time.
So, what’s this baby like to fly? Very good it must be said, though it’s still not quite as confidence inspiring as the Mavic Air. It doesn’t have any obstacle avoidance for a start, losing quite a few points to the Mavic Air in that respect. Nevertheless, it’s easy to control and very stable in flight, even in a stiff breeze. The first firmware version we tested did present a few anomalies – including wi-fi signal and GPS loss – but these have been rectified with the latest update. The drone boasts an excellent 2.4 mile range limit but bear in mind that no drone should ever be flown further than line of sight. It’s the law, dude. On the plus side, the battery provides up to 25 minutes of flying time (five more minutes than the Mavic Air) and that’s a massive bonus.
Prop noise is one of the main factors that puts people off flying drones in public spaces – the loud bee-like sound they make always attracts attention, sometimes of the wrong kind. But not this little fella. In fact, the Anafi is so staggeringly quiet you can hardly hear a thing while it’s hovering only a few metres above your head. This is one of the Anafi’s major advantages over other drones. At 33mph, it’s also quite sprightly, but only when in Sport mode.
As you’d expect from a modern GPS-equipped drone, the Anafi also features Geo fencing, smart return-to-home and a Find My Drone function that geolocates the drone while it emits a beep. Like the Mavic Air, this drone also provides a host of excellent autonomous piloting modes – Follow Me, Boomerang, SmartDronie, etc – including one amazingly smart feature that uses the camera’s zoom facility to superb effect. It’s called Dolly Zoom and what it does is create Hitchcock’s famous ‘Vertigo’ effect where the subject being shot remains the same size in the frame as the background zooms in behind it. You can create this effect to some degree in post-production editing but it’s still a fantastic feature to have on board.
Cameraman is another cool feature that hands flight controls over to the pilot while the camera remains pointed at the main subject. However, the remaining functions like Follow Me and Touch&Fly are locked and require an in-app purchase which is frankly having a laugh. Once you’ve forked out this much, every app-based function should be included in the price and charging a heap extra (about £14.99) will only lose Parrot a lot of friends.
Having tested it in the field (literally), both video and photo quality seem on par with the Mavic Air and in low light shooting it’s actually better. It doesn’t offer as high a frame rate as the Mavic Air (30fps in 4K vs the Mavic Air’s 60fps in 2.7K) but the 4K video and 21 megapixel images its 1/2.4-inch Sony CMOS sensor produces are tack sharp, with excellent detail and contrast. The camera also supports HDR (High Density Range) shooting and Adobe DNG/RAW formats for more efficient post-production editing.
However, the Anafi controller’s gimbal rocker switch is nothing like as tactile as the Mavic Air’s finger wheel. This makes slow, gentle tilting of the gimbal extremely tricky and I hope that Parrot includes a means to adjust gimbal characteristics in a future update. The gimbal itself (the mechanism that holds the camera stable no matter what the drone is doing) features two mechanical roll and tilt axes and a digital panning axis. I’m not convinced a digital axis is as smooth as an all-mechanical gimbal like that fitted to the Mavic Air, but so far I haven’t noticed anything untoward with the footage I’ve shot.
In the grand scheme of things, the Anafi isn’t up to the mark of the DJI Mavic Air, which is still far and away the best drone in the sub-£1,000 price band. However, it’s definitely a better equipped product than the cheaper DJI Spark. Welcome to the fold, Parrot. Let battle commence.
DJI Mavic Air
Drone technology is advancing so fast that it’s an expensive business just trying to keep up. No sooner have you bought your lovely new DJI Mavic Pro when along comes the much smaller, 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 bit this writer loves 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 (but that’s another story).
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, which can be a bit irritating, but that’s a small price to pay for such a cheap, reliable, easy-to-fly and unbelievably well equipped travel package. Top marks all round.
This new little travel drone is another spectacular addition to DJI’s ever-growing roster of rosy products. The Spark is about half the weight of DJI’s Mavic (reviewed below) 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. But, hey, this titchy air gizmo is still incredibly portable and probably the smartest and best equipped selfie drone in existence right now. It’s also extremely confidence-inspiring to fly and is available in five rich primary 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 12megapixel 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.
You can fly the Spark in three ways: using hand gestures, a mobile device or Spark’s dedicated hand controller. Gesture mode doesn’t require anything but your face and hands and is perfect for quick selfies. Simply place the Spark on the palm of your hand, press the rear button and it recognises your face before automatically launching into the air a few feet above the ground. Now, rather like those weird people you see practicing Taikwondo in the park, start performing the prerequisite series of hand gestures and the titchy Spark will take a selfie from up to several metres away.
Things get even more interesting when the Spark is used with DJI’s new Go 4 app (iOS and Android). Here you’re given the option to automatically video complex QuickShot sequences like Circle (the drone orbits the user), Helix (similar to Circle, but the drone spirals up and away) and Rocket (the Spark flies straight up with the camera facing down). The app also lets you track your movements or TapFly to a specific area on the map. Naturally, you can also use your thumbs on the device’s screen to steer it where you want. Expect no more than 100m distance when using just a mobile device. Finally, if you want to fly further (up to 1.2 miles away) and make better use of the drone’s little camera, use the dedicated hand controller.
While not designed for high-quality videography (it can’t shoot in 4K and the gimbal doesn’t have a handy yaw axis which smoothes out sideways shots), the Spark still shoots excellent video and stills (certainly the best in its class). It’s also reassuringly tough as nails, as so aptly demonstrated at a recent DJI event when a rep accidentally flew one at full speed (50kph) into a tree branch and the only thing damaged was a prop. Everything else, camera included, worked perfectly. That’s reason enough to snap one up right away.
Despite the addition of the new Mavic Air, DJI’s Mavic Pro is still an amazingly portable drone that folds into a package the size of a milk carton, 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 also fly this little beauty via WiFi using just a smartphone (iOS and Android) or, for even better control and massive distance of up to four miles, its 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, meanwhile, 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 has rear-facing obstacle avoidance which the Pro doesn’t have.
Nevertheless, if you’re prepared to wait until around June, DJI is expected to announce the Mavic II which rumour mongers say will be equipped with obstacle sensing on all sides, a newly designed gimbal and a camera fitted with a one-inch CMOS sensor. Mein Gott!
DJI Mavic Pro
You probably won’t find a better-equipped pocket selfie drone at this size and price. Like the Dobby and to some degree the 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.
The C-Me may be made out of cheap plastic but it flies extremely well and is relatively easy to control using virtual controls on the smartphone. The onboard GPS, meanwhile, prevents it from drifting and allows it to follow your movements and return to home with a single tap of the screen.
The 8-megapixel camera needs to be angled before take off but it takes very decent snaps and the 1080p video quality isn’t too bad either. However, because the camera doesn’t have an image stabiliser, any movement by the drone is transferred to the video. So, if you wish to take video shots of, say, the beach you’re sitting on or some amazing natural feature, then make sure the drone is hovering in one spot before hitting the record button on your phone.
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.
Zerotech Dobby Pocket Drone
Say hello to cute lil’ Dobby. This impressively built folding pocket drone is smaller than an iPhone 6 and is nearly £200 cheaper than the DJI Spark, but then it doesn’t sport as many features and its digitally stabilised camera can’t be tilted remotely. Nevertheless, you probably won’t find a better-equipped personal selfie drone at this size and price anywhere.
Dobby can fly up to 100 metres away using a wi-fi enabled iOS or Android device and it’s a damn easy thing to get off the ground. Just unfold the prop arms, sync your phone to its closed-circuit wi-fi signal and launch Zerotech’s dedicated DoFun app. Now launch it off the ground or toss it off 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 buyers using this feature in a park full of people.
The Dobby is capable of shooting 4K video but only when digital stabilization (EIS) is off. As soon as you switch EIS on, the image is cropped to 1080p. Also, because the camera’s angle can’t be controlled from the ground, 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 (wobbly 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. Its short nine-minute flight time isn’t that great either.
In a nutshell, the supremely portable Dobby is brilliant for taking selfie snaps and short video bites but it won’t be good at taking proper aerial videos unless there’s absolutely no wind and your flying is slow and very steady. Even then, it’s still no match for a Mavic or even a Spark.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
DJI’s very latest Phantom is a class act on all fronts. It’s more aerodynamically styled than the Phantom 3 and comes with a veritable shedload of sci-fi features, including the Holy Grail of flight systems: four-sided obstacle avoidance. Yes, that’s right, this sleek bird now has extra sensors on the rear and the side so now any idiot can fly it towards a cliff face in any orientation and it’ll stop dead in its tracks. 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 – ample time 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 improvements 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 twice as bright as a smartphone. But it’s the all-new camera that really blows the mind. 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 take your prosumer cinematography really seriously. Matchless.
The Breeze’s body is about the same size as DJI’s Mavic but, because it’s propeller arms don’t fold, it takes up more space in your case. Like the Dobby and to some degree the Spark, this model is classified as a selfie drone: it’s operated using an iOS or Android device and has a horizontal wi-fi range of about 100 metres and an altitude range of 80 metres. Despite being quite a bit larger than the Dobby, the Breeze trumps it by dint of a digitally stabilized camera that can be tilted remotely by the pilot below. However, its camera system is still no match for DJI’s new Spark. Nor is its 12-minute battery capacity.
The Breeze is marketed as a 4K camera drone but this is a bit of a red herring since you can only shoot in 4K without digital image stabilisation. This means you’ll have to be very gentle on the controls to avoid all manner of twitchy video artifacts. The 1080p option does provide stabilization but at the expense of image quality which is acceptable but nowhere near as good as a Phantom or even the little DJI Spark.
If simple selfie stills are all you require from a drone then make the smaller, cheaper and better-built Dobby your first port of call. And if you wish to shoot superior quality video and price isn’t too much of an issue, then opt for the DJI Spark. That’s not a slight on the Breeze, which is still a great little flyer, but things move quickly in droneland and right now it’s been trounced by the more technically advanced Spark and the smaller pocket-sized Dobby.
The AirSelfie is a really small (7.4 x 94.5 x10.6mm) pocket-sized, aluminium UAV designed almost exclusively for taking selfies. It comes with its own specially-adapted iPhone/Android case and features a mini smorgasbord of flight-stability tech, four enclosed turbo-fan propellers and a dinky little front-facing 5mp camera pitched down at an angle of 7˚.
To fly, launch the accompanying free app, hold the AirSelfie in the hand, wait for the props to start and throw it in the air. The drone will stay in a pretty stable hover until you either add more vertical lift by holding a virtual button on the app or move it laterally by tilting the phone. It can fly a safe distance of up to 20 metres using its self-generated wi-fi. But it only flies for three minutes on a single, albeit, quick charge.
The AirSelfie takes fairly decent images and even 1080p video (though we haven’t seen any video evidence yet). Image files are saved to a built-in 4GB MicroSD card and wi-fi synced, when necessary, to your phone’s photo library. However, it's since been trounced by the much better Dobby (see review above).
When it comes to UAV 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 spreadsheets. This bird is the most state of the art drone currently on the market and a perfect choice for professional cinematographers. It’s 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, too, allowing pilots – and even a second camera operator – to shoot a full 360˚ 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.
DJI Inspire 2
DJI Phantom 4
If you’re looking for a reasonably-priced, impeccably integrated, supremely reliable drone with an excellent 4K camera, you still can't do better than the Phantom 4. The Phantom 4 enjoys many of the in-flight features of its flashier stablemate, the Pro, including ActiveTrack software that follows and films the user without the need for a GPS bracelet, tracker or beacon. However, its 4K camera is lower specced and it only has front-mounted obstacle avoidance.
What really sets this bird apart – and most other DJI products, come to think of it – 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. Despite the newly launched Pro version stealing the limelight, the Phantom 4 remains a truly sensational piece of cinematography kit that is both confidence inspiring and damn good fun to fly.
Storm SRD 280 racing drone
For the ultimate bum-clenching drone-flying experience, get behind the sticks of Helipal’s Storm SRD 280, slap on a pair of optional Fat Shark goggles and let rip like Luke Skywalker. 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 that looks like something out of the film ‘Tron’.
Most racing drones are hand-built Heath Robinson 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. The frame itself is made from carbon fibre so rest assured it’ll withstand many a knock. The Storm 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. It’s all ready to fly straight out of the box. Simply install the props, charge up the battery and watch it rip across the sky at speeds in excess of 50mph. Top beginner’s racing choice.
In the pantheon of indoor toy drones, the acrobatic Parrot Mambo is a master of stability. 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. But hey, this thing’s so easy to fly you’ll have it mastered in minutes.
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 (£39.99) for even more accurate flying.
Arguably the smallest camera drone on the market right now, the Nano Quad Cam comes with its own palm-sized hand transmitter, a built-in 720p camera and a set of multi-coloured LED lights for night flying. It’s pretty easy to fly, too, especially in ‘Headless’ mode (no matter what orientation the drone is in, it will fly in the direction of the pilot’s stick movements).
For its size, this titchy quad shoots surprisingly decent 720p video footage. However, bear in mind that, because the camera isn’t attached to a stabilising gimbal, the image will tilt whenever the drone is moving. For best results, bring the drone to a standstill before shooting and keep movement to a minimum. Get it right and you’ll be chuffed at how well this petite drone’s camera performs.
Nano Quad Cam
In the pantheon of indoor toy drones, the acrobatic Parrot Airborne Night is a master of stability. Like Parrot’s earlier Mini Drone, 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. But hey, this thing’s so easy to fly you’ll have it mastered in minutes. As the name suggests, it also comes with a pair of headlights to scare the bejeesus out of all and sundry.
Parrot Airborne Night
When Parrot launched its camera-equipped AR Drone back in 2010 it inadvertently kick-started a whole new category of consumer electronics. Before then, the term ‘drone’ only applied to military machines armed with rockets and shit. Then, in early 2013, DJI launched the first GPS-enabled Phantom quadcopter and, as a result, engendered what could now be considered the 'drone age'. Step forward another year and the skies are awash with the things. Well here’s another one to add to the shopping list and it’s from Parrot again. The lightweight, four-motor Parrot Bebop Drone is ready to soar straight out of the box and comes rammed to the hilt with an ample shedload of electronic wizardry that makes it both chimp-easy to control and extraordinarily stable in flight, especially when flown indoors.
Most current drones use a range of sensors and a GPS receiver to help keep them steady in flight, but this one appears to have the Full Monty, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer and ultrasound. The HD camera-equipped Bebop is available in two packages. The basic kit is comprised of just the drone and a pair of small LiPo batteries and you fly it using an Android or iOS tablet. The Bebop’s free app provides full control of the drone by simply tilting the tablet screen in the direction you want it to fly. It also includes camera controls, in-flight stats and a button for automatic take-offs and landings.
From our point of view, the posh package is a much better bet. Yes, it adds another £340 to your spend but for that you get a damn decent hand remote which Parrot calls the Skycontroller. Not only that, but the Skycontroller increases the Bebop’s flight distance from a bogstandard 300 metres to around two kilometres. If you struggle with tablet touch-screens or gyroscopic controls then the Skycontroller package makes a lot of sense. Alternatively, try this package also comes with a basic FPV goggle system that accepts any iOS or Android phone. Just slot the phone in, slap the goggles to your face and experience the delights/fears of first person flight.
Now, the camera… Not great it must be said. Image quality, especially is woefully short of what the GoPro or DJI’s Phantom 2 Vision+ provide. In a nutshell, it’s simply not sharp enough. The Bebop eschews a camera-steadying gimbal in favour of a fixed fisheye lens and a cluster of complex algorithms that cleverly keep the image stable and allow the user to tilt the view up or down without the camera actually moving. The result is pretty steady video imagery with no barrel-like horizon distortion like that on the GoPro. But it’s far from perfect as you can only tilt down a certain degree. In short, it just can’t compete with a proper motorised gimbal. However, the lack of a gimbal can be a good thing since that is usually the first thing to be trashed in a crash. And this drone is so light and tough we suspect it could fall 100 metres to hard concrete and survive. The battery, incidentally, provides around 12 minutes of flight time which isn’t too shabby given the small size of the craft’s LiPo. However, in the pantheon of current UAVs that’s pretty dismal.
So, is there anything we do like about the Bebop Yes. It’s unbelievably stable when flown indoors. You could literally leave it in the air, make a cup of coffee and return to find it in the exact same position. And you can’t do that with a Phantom. Outdoor flying in a stiff breeze might be a problem though, since it’s much lighter than most other similar-sized drones on the market.
Do we recommend it over the DJI Mavic or Phantom? In a word, no, the camera just isn’t good enough and that’s essentially the reason we buy these things. Not to simply dart around the sky but to shoot hi-res images that blow people’s minds. That said, if you’re new to drones, not too discerning about video or picture quality and don’t have enough cash for a Phantom, then by all means give it a whirl. It’s not all bad and the basic package, especially, is very reasonably priced.
Parrot Bebop 2 FPV Pack
This cute little ladybird-shaped drone flies better than most indoor toy models but 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 for image monitoring, a 720p camera, a pair of Google Cardboard goggles for FPV flying and a USB-charged battery capable of keeping it in the air for up to eight minutes (five minutes if shooting video).
The little camera remotely records very basic 720p visuals – and stills – and ports it all to an on-board MicroSD card. However, bear in mind that, because the camera isn’t attached to a gimbal, the image will tilt and roll whenever the drone is moving. This feisty little number shifts like shit off the proverbial shovel when switched to ‘insane’ mode so make sure you have enough space around you before letting it loose.
Micro Drone 3.0
Hubsan X4 with HD Camera
The palm-sized, ready-to-fly X4 is good for indoor flight, though it is very sensitive to control input which makes it damn tricky to fly, even with a 6-axis flight control system on board. True, it generally keeps stable on a horizontal plane but it's difficult to keep the vertical thrust steady. One minute it's heading to the floor, the next it's clouting the ceiling. Due to its diminutive size (just 70mm x 70mm) and consequent low weight, the X4 should only be flown outdoors in a light breeze. Anything stronger and the little fella may struggle to hold its position and may possibly even be taken with the wind. While this drone’s fixed 0.3 megapixel camera can’t compete with the Phantoms of this world, it’s more than capable enough for casual consumer use. The camera shoots in 720p or 480p and recordings are saved to a microSD card on board the craft. However, unlike the FPV version reviewed below, there is no screen to monitor what you’re shooting, so video and image results can be a bit hit and miss.
Parrot AR Drone 2.0
Parrot's AR Drone 2.0 'quadricopter' was the first remote-controlled aircraft designed to be flown using any Apple or Android-equipped smart phone or tablet. This beetle-like, four-bladed chopper is not only a doddle to fly – it's fitted with some very clever stabilisation technology – but its two built-in HD 720p cameras make it an affordable way to get into aerial videography and FPV (First Person View) piloting. The AR Drone 2.0 can be navigated by line of sight or by looking at your device's screen; it'll even record the footage it shoots and save it to your phone, tablet or an onboard USB stick.
Flying it couldn't be easier: just log on to the drone's wi-fi hotspot, launch the AR Freeflight app and hit the 'take off' button. The drone rises to a steady hover and just stays there until you take control of it using a pair of onscreen buttons and the tilt action of your phone or tablet. It comes with two robust hulls (indoor and outdoor) and has a range of about 50 metres and enough battery power for around 10 minutes of flying (a more powerful 1500mAh battery is also available, giving a flying time of around 18 minutes). Given that many quadricopters retail in excess of £500, Device Squad thinks the AR Drone is an outright bargain. Trust us, you’ll fly this thing again and again.