The Best Drones for Cinematographers

February 15, 2017

By Greg Scoblete

Autel Robotics X-Star Premium
The X-Star sports a 4K/30p camera affixed to a 3-axis, stabilized gimbal to keep your aerial footage smooth. When you need to capture faster motion, the X-Star records 2K video up to 60 fps, full HD video at 120 fps and 720p video at 240 fps. It snaps 12-megapixel stills with support JPEG and RAW formats and 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: $899

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, you’ll 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

GDU Byrd Premium
While this drone features foldable props to easily pack down into a backpack, we didn’t place it into the compact category because, unlike most compact drones, the Byrd can hoist some heavy payloads. While the Premium ships with a small 4K camera onboard, it’s actually built to carry payloads of up to 5 pounds. The Byrd has an interchangeable gimbal system and GDU plans forthcoming gimbals for cameras like Sony’s a7 series for much higher quality aerial imagery. Of course, with heavier cameras onboard, you’ll lose flight time. With the 4K camera on board, the GDU Premiere gets about 32 minutes in the air–with a Sony a7 camera and lens in tow, flight times drop to about 5-7 minutes.  

Price: $999

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 

DJI Phantom 4 Pro
This update to last year’s Phantom 4 delivers an improved camera with a 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor, and almost 12 stops of dynamic range. It offers a mechanical shutter and can capture 4K video at up to 60 fps. You can record in H.264 or the new, more efficient H.265 format, which improves video quality without a corresponding increase in file size. The P4 Pro builds on the original P4’s safety and autonomous flight features with the ability to create 3D maps of obstacles in front, behind or below the drone. It can detect objects up to 98 feet away in both the front and rear. Infrared sensors are available to avoid obstacles on either side of the craft. In fact, the drone is so nimble it can navigate through doorways, DJI claims. There are several new flying modes available including a Draw Mode that lets you draw lines on the controller display to have the drone fly that route. The ActiveTrack feature which debuted on the P4 and tracks objects in motion has been updated with three new capabilities: circle, profile and spotlight. You’ll get up to 30 minutes of flight time on the P4 Pro’s battery 

Prices: $1,499 (standard controller); $1,799 (high luminance display remote controller)

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 display a video feed from the H 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

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