Increasingly the line between the two is blurring, with prosumer and sub-$4,000 drones delivering commercial-level quality and advanced flying features that just a few years ago were exclusive to the highest-end equipment. The best aerial hardware and technology stacks for keeping an eye on operations, individuals, and valued assets from above. It can be daunting wading into the deep roster of drones designed for enterprise photography and video. Sure, DJI, long the market leader, makes some truly fantastic devices, but before you go out to buy the first Mavic you come across for your business photography needs, take a moment to appreciate the nuanced diversity of UAV hardware out there and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the current offerings across a variety of applications and budgets. To help, we reached out to video and photography professionals to hear what they had to say.
The purpose of a consumer drone remains nebulous these days. Depending on who you ask, you'll get a different answer. Drones are great for sophisticated aerial photography and video, but they're also adept at surveying empty lots of land and crowded real estate, or measuring agricultural yield and helping climate model the Arctic. Even as drones get more sophisticated, cheaper, and smaller, there isn't an easy answer beyond the fact that unmanned aerial vehicles are cool gadgets and fun to fly -- granted, where and when the Federal Aviation Administration deems it legal to do so. But what if a drone was smart enough to handle itself, in any and all situations?
At the top of the bustling consumer drone marketplace, two big names have been battling (sometimes litigiously) for dominance. DJI popularized drone flying as a hobby with its Phantom line, but lately, Yuneec has been whittling into DJI's marketshare with its competing Typhoon line. Both company's flagship quadcopters are equipped with excellent video cameras, both are accessibly priced, and both have autonomous and safety-minded features that make flying easy for inexperienced pilots. Hexacopter design offers added stability in flight. Automated flight modes and integrated camera/flight controls mean a single pilot can still do everything themselves.
This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter's independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. After 45 hours of research and test flying 14 models, we think the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is the best drone for aspiring aerial photographers and videographers thanks to its high-end camera, autonomous obstacle avoidance, long battery life, and portability. Pilots of all skill levels will find it to be exceptionally reliable and easy to fly. The Mavic 2 Pro features a Hasselblad-branded camera (DJI bought a majority stake in the camera brand in 2017), which captures 20-megapixel photographs and 4K videos that look more colorful than those captured by the competition. Its ability to sense and avoid obstacles in all directions and steadily hold its position even in moderate winds lets you focus on your cinematography instead of worrying about keeping the drone steady. It also features DJI's smart-flight modes like ActiveTrack, which directs the drone to autonomously follow and film a subject while still avoiding obstacles. Its 31-minute battery life means you don't have to land for a battery swap as often as other drones, and at 8.4 by 3.6 by 3.3 inches folded and 2 pounds, you can take the Mavic 2 Pro almost anywhere--it fits exceptionally well in our top pick for drone backpacks. It's also compatible with the DJI Goggles FPV headset we recommend.
The camera market has long been segmented into three basic categories: Cameras for professionals, models for the so-called "serious hobbyists," and models for the newcomer. From DSLRs to action cams and point-and-shoots, most cameras are squarely aimed at one of these three markets. The market for aerial photography (aka drones with real cameras on them) is about 150 years younger, and therefore somewhat less segmented. Up until now, there have been only two categories: Professional drones and hobbyist drones. Automated flight modes make it possible to get good quality video and photos without the learning curve of more expensive drones.