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Spring has sprung, and with the nicer weather comes the opportunity for more outdoor film shoots. If you’re excited, you’re not alone. In addition to the benefits of natural light and getting to breathe fresh air while you work, it’s nice not to be constrained by ceilings. Sometimes a breathtaking aerial shot is all it takes to turn a good film, into a great one. With that in mind, filmmakers looking to maximize the potential of their outdoor shoots would be well advised to pick up a camera drone. When you have one, the sky is truly the limit when mapping out your shot list. Even if you don’t have any drone shots planned, you never know when you’ll get some absolutely perfect weather at a perfect location and feel compelled to expand your coverage. So when you find yourself digging through your gear and taking inventory of what you might need for shoots this summer, you’d be smart to make sure you have a camera drone on hand.
In recent years, it seems that camera drones have gone from somewhat of a novelty gimmick to an essential part of the filmmaking process. From extremely wide aerial shots to camera movements that transcend your director of photography’s flexibility, the amount of shots and angles available to a director with a drone in their kit is almost unlimited. Showing up on set without one is like painting with only half the colors on your palette. And drones have a wide range of non-narrative uses as well. So whether you’re making the feature film of your dreams, or doing videography in between projects, you won’t regret owning one. And let’s be honest, these things are fun! It’s a remote-controlled helicopter that you get to play with as part of your job! Once you have one for yourself, don’t feel bad if your “location scouting” takes twice as long as it used to because you can’t stop flying your cool new toy.
Because buying a camera drone is a big purchase, IndieWire has done our best to streamline the process for you. Below are six of our favorite drones on Amazon, with options ranging from entry level to professional quality (although you can’t go wrong with any of them). While you can buy a drone and attach a preexisting camera to it, this article focuses on drones with cameras already installed. If you’re already doing the work of planning a shoot and upgrading your equipment, taking one thing off of your plate is the least we can do. Plus, drones with built-in cameras mounted on three-axis gimbals to reduce shaking, have basically become an industry standard. The video quality and smoothness you can achieve with these devices is unmatched, so the convenience is just an added bonus. Regardless of whether you think your next film will require a drone, these are investments in your long-term creativity, ensuring you have the flexibility to take your stories wherever they need to go.
Looking at new filmmaking gear can get the creative juices flowing, and if you’re not already an Amazon Prime member, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial. The monthly subscription fee is $12.99 a month thereafter giving you access to a bunch of perks, including two-day shipping.
Which means, that you could be flying your new drone around the backyard by as early as this weekend. Just don’t get it caught in a tree!
If you’re just dipping a toe into the world of drone filmmaking, look no further than the DJI Mini 2. It’s one of the least expensive drones on the market, and still contains everything you need to get started. The drone is small enough to fit in your pocket, and you won’t need a license to operate it for non-commercial shoots. Every DJI drone (more on this brand later) can be controlled from your smartphone via the company’s app. Although the mini lacks the technical precision of some other drones on this list, it’s a great way to learn the ropes and is more than sufficient for smaller shoots. And the 4K camera means that your footage will look like you shot it on something much more expensive.
Another great budget option, the Parrot Anafi FPV is a compact, foldable drone that can still shoot some truly impressive video. Parrot stripped down this drone, removing sensors to keep the price down and the weight light. The result is a 4K camera drone with a variety of features that belong in a much higher price bracket. The camera and three-axis gimbal are great, and it syncs up well with your phone. Every aspect of this drone was designed with travel in mind, so the easy-to-use USB charging comes as no surprise. The only catch is that it can be more difficult to control and prevent crashes than other options on this list, so we recommend it for those who have flown drones before.
This AI camera is more than a drone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t perfect for aerial shots. The PowerVision PowerEgg X Explorer can be used as a handheld camera, mounted on a tripod, or used as a drone. It shoots in 4K at 30FPS, and comes equipped with facial recognition technology. You can select a person and the camera will automatically follow them, making it great for tracking shots or sports coverage. And it’s on sale for $100 off right now, so it’s really a no-brainer.
The next step up in the DJI line is this superb camera drone, which improves on the DJI Mini in almost every way. Still very portable, the Mavic 2 Zoom includes 8GB of internal storage, impressive battery life, and most important for filmmakers, a two-time optical zoom. The zoom is easy to control from the app, so if you are looking to do more with your drone than just going wide, you might want to look into this one. The 12-megapixel camera shoots up to 4K, but at lower resolutions it is capable of reaching frame rates of up to 60FPS.
The Autel EVOO II is a high performance camera drone for experienced users. The user experience is designed to maximize control, offering fewer protections against mistakes but maximizing freedom for those who know what they’re doing. That said, the hefty piece of film equipment comes with omnidirectional collision sensors, ensuring that your investment is safe while it’s in the sky. Those who prioritize framerate should certainly go with this model. The 8K camera is capable of reaching 60FPS in 4K resolution, and is certainly capable of meeting any film-related need you might have.
We saved the best for last. If you’re a seasoned professional who demands the absolute best, or just like to dream about the finest gear, consider the Phantom 4 Pro. The flight performance is unmatched, with a variety of smart flying options that utilize GPS to take this drone wherever you need it to go, exactly when you need it to. The battery life is impressive, and it can stay in the air for over half an hour. The photographic quality is stellar as well, as the Phantom 4 Pro sits in the rarified club of drones capable of shooting 60FPS in 4K. If you want to feel assured that you’ll never have to worry about your drone, this is the smartest pick.