There are a TON of drone review sites out there. Like a LOT.
Thing is, most of these sites are simply compiled by outsourced blog writers that slap together the first 10 drones they see in a Google search into one post, without having any real knowledge about the drones, and much less the camera sensors.
This blog post is not like the others.
I’ve been heavily involved in aerial photography since 2011. At the time I taped a GoPro (literally taped) onto one of my radio controlled helicopters and started going around doing aerial farm photos. I was hooked–to say the least. From there I built several custom single rotor helicopters that carried big Canon DSLR cameras (see below) and eventually transitioned to “drones” when they became more readily available to consumers.
Since then I’ve owned a very wide variety of drones from different manufacturers and I’ve learned their strengths and weaknesses well. I currently own an extensive fleet of remotely piloted air systems, and have shot projects for companies across North America.
Now, the title of this post is of course somewhat “nebulous”–it is basically like asking “what is the best car”? Depending on your needs and wants the answer can vary greatly. I’ll do my best to break down why I like each of these photography drones and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
Here we go, starting with #6…
List of the 6 BEST Photography Drones (Updated for 2020)
#6. DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2 (great for photographers that want high image quality and are not concerned about size/space issues)
The DJI Phantom 4 Pro 2 is much bulkier than some of the other drones on this list however it may be worth it to some readers.
I own one myself and this drone has produced some of my top images (and definitely one of my top selling images on ShutterStock). Although larger than the Mavic and Autel drones on this list, it boasts a very large 1″ sensor that produces truly excellent 20MP images. It also features a mechanical shutter, which for those of you that care about these things, is kind of a big deal.
The other think I really like about the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2 is that with the larger sensor it performs much better indoors in low light situations. Last year we had a large project for a food processing facility which required us to fly indoors in low light conditions on a weekly basis. The Phantom 4 Pro V2 performed very well time after time and the large sensor allowed for excellent images, even at high ISO values of 800!
It’s larger size and bulk may be viewed by many as a bit of a downfall of this unit, however from personal experience I’ve found that the clamshell design is very robust and durable. You definitely won’t be accidentally snapping an arm off the Phantom 4 Pro V2 after dropping it, a scenario that is entirely possible with the smaller folding models such as the Mavic or Mini 2 drones. If you don’t do a lot of travel that requires a more compact, space saving drone, I would definitely recommend this drone over, say, a Mavic Pro (or even a Mavic 2 Pro).
Something else of note (maybe not directly related to photography but useful to know prior to deciding) is that the Phantom 4 Pro is widely regarded as one of the most accurate mapping drones on the market due to its high pixel count and excellent stabilized camera gimbal. It is also great for things like drone roof inspection maps that require high resolution. Read more about mapping with drones in our blog post here.
I’ll be keeping this drone in my arsenal for years to come, it has treated me very well!
#5. DJI Mini 2 Drone (Great for Photographers on a Budget)
The DJI Mini 2 is the successor to one of the most popular drones of all time, the DJI Mavic Mini. It is one of those drones that pretty much every photographer should have in their toolbox. Small, lightweight and just light enough to fall outside of most countries’ regulations it is a great way to see if you’ll like aerial photography via drone before splurging on a bigger, more capable machine.
It is the drone I recommend for new aerial photographers every time. It is small, non-intimidating and although the camera sensor is small it packs a punch.
Here is the thing: you can’t easily get very high quality enlargements or giant posters printed using the tiny sensor on the Mavic Mini.
But as the saying goes “the best camera is the one you have with you” and this Mini 2 can really go everywhere you do. Which is great as it allows new aerial photographers to use their drone often and in places that it would be difficult or illegal to take a larger machine such as the ones I’ll discuss later in this post.
If you are just into shooting for Instagram and the occasional 8×10 print the Mini 2 will be the perfect drone for you. It does have a 12MP camera (similar to most cell phones) but I’ve found that due to the small pixel and sensor size it really struggles to get clean images in low light.
If you are shooting in broad daylight you will have no issues with the camera on the Mini. It is also surprisingly easy to fly and intuitive for first time users to operate (like pretty much all the DJI machines on this list).
Although it is last on our list it really should be at the top of the list for new aerial photographers. Highly recommended! (Bonus: then new Mini 2 now shoots 4K video as well!)
#4. Autel Evo II Pro (Great for photographers who don’t want a DJI drone)
I hesitated adding the Evo to the list for a number of reasons: for example, it certainly does not have as intuitive of a controller or software as some of the DJI offerings. It is not as well rounded as most of the DJI drones and the cameras are good but not more so than the DJI products.
Thing is, some photographers will want it exactly because it is not a DJI drone (DJI, although the market leader in consumer drones, has had a record of sub-par customer service back when it was going through rapid growth and “turned off” quite a few folks).
The Autel Evo II will easily fill this demand for many photographers. It has some great features, great support and produces some great images. Learn more about it at https://auteldrones.com/products/evo-ii-pro-6k
#3. Skydio 2 (great for photographers that aren’t great pilots and that don’t like to crash)
The team at Skydio is one of the few manufacturers that I feel will give DJI a run for their money. USA based with excellent service and a great product, the Skydio crew is going places. For sure.
The Skydio 2 is one of their more recent releases and is the perfect drone for a photographer worried about crashing. In fact, if used according to their recommendations they will even replace the drone free of charge!
Although the camera sensor is fairly standard (good quality but nothing very special) the flight controller and piloting technology built into the Skydio 2 is nothing short of spectacular.
It uses a TON of small camera sensors all over the drone to avoid obstacles effortlessly, even small branches and twigs. And it does it all smoothly, unlike the obstacle avoidance systems from other manufacturers that halt and stutter when trying to avoid an object.
It also flies completely autonomously at up to 36 MPH, which is very impressive. Definitely recommended for photographers looking for a dead-simple-to-fly drone designed by a US company.
#2. DJI Inspire 2 (best for professional photographers requiring a variety of lens options and big camera sensors)
This drone is my personal favorite and my go-to machine for 90% of my projects. It has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars of income for me and has been a rock solid and reliable aerial platform.
I personally mainly use the X5S as well as the 12mm, 25mm and 45mm lenses, however the X7 is also a great camera for the money (however arguably more geared towards the video crowd than the photography crowd).
Some of the main defining features of the Inspire 2 (in terms of photography anyways) is the large micro 4/3″ sensor of the X5S as well as the ability to swap between a wide variety of lenses (not possible with any of the drones mentioned above).
Amateur photographers often say “just fly closer or further from the object instead of switching lenses” however a professional photographer will undoubtedly realize the benefits of being able to control the lens focal length. Features like background compression and tighter framing on the telephoto end (45mm lens) and the ability to shoot large subjects such as commercial buildings or landscape photography using the wide angle lens (12mm lens) as well as the ability to carry a great all-around lens for projects that require it (25mm lens) makes the Inspire 2 a very desirable platform.
The Inspire 2 also allows for complete control of aperture, ISO, shutter speed, color profiles, sharpness etc–everything you expect from a professional unit.
In my opinion the Inspire 2 has only 1 major flaw: it only has a single micro-SD card slot (all of my other pro-level cameras have dual card slots). Professional photographers will understand the importance of being able to shoot to 2 cards at once, especially on once-in-a-lifetime photography projects where in the event of a corrupt/non-recoverable SD card you would at least have a backup secondary card.
Really hoping DJI will fix this on the Inspire 3.
Other than that, I cannot recommend this drone enough. It handles TONS of wind, can be seen from a great distance, produces great images and above all–reliable.
Check it out at dji.com!
#1. DJI Mavic 2 Pro (the best all-around photography drone)
I flip flopped between putting the Inspire 2 or the Mavic 2 Pro at the top of this list. The Inspire 2 is hands-down more versatile when it comes to photography and will produce better images (especially in low light), however it is an ordeal to set up and operate due to its size and weight. If you are operating a drone in rough conditions and industrial job sites day in and day out I would still recommend the Inspire 2. For everything else–the Mavic 2 Pro will suit most photographers just fine.
The Mavic 2 Pro has a 1″ camera sensor like the Phantom 4 Pro however it is quite a bit more portable due to its folding arms. It packs up in a very small case, has great flight time, excellent obstacle avoidance and produces great images. It also has the beautifully designed optional smart controller to help you get into the air even quicker without having to attach your phone or mobile device to the standard controller.
No, it won’t be quite as durable as the Phantom 4 Pro and you can’t swap lenses or fly this nearly as far (legally) as the Inspire 2, but for the vast majority of photography projects the Mavic 2 Pro will be perfect. While the other drones listed above are all somewhat specialized in one area or another, the Mavic 2 Pro really does shine as the BEST all around photography drone.
And, if you buy this drone and decide you actually wanted one of the more specialized drones on this list, it will be easy to resell on sites like eBay or DroneTrader.com due to its popularity and high demand.
Please note that if you end up buying this drone from DJI directly (save the taxes and free shipping!) be sure to select the Pro model and not the Zoom model. The Mavic 2 Zoom is also a great drone but I would argue dedicated more to capturing great video instead of photos.
All of the above drones are excellent options for photographers.
I’ve flown or operated all of them and you’ll be hard pressed to find any major flaws with any of them. Remember almost all of the drones can also be used for far more than just photography and with many of them you can greatly expand their capabilities by using 3rd party drone apps that we discuss in this post.
Want the best photography drone money can buy? Go with the DJI Inspire 2.
Looking for a great, portable all-arounder that will work for 90% of your projects? The Mavic 2 Pro is you best bet.
Looking for a tiny drone that falls outside of the regulations of many countries? The Mini 2 is perfect for you!
And remember, if you end up buying a drone, remember to explore some of the manufacturer warranty options that can add some great peace of mind to your drone purchase!
Let us know which drone you prefer!