Best Drones Of 2018: Our Verdict

With industry-leader DJI launching several exciting additions to its fleet, as well as some impressive releases from other companies hitting the shelves, 2018 was another great year for the consumer drone market. Whether you’re interested in the latest and most advanced models, or looking for a high-quality older drone that’s dropped in price, there’s never been a better time to start shopping.

2018: A Year of Drone Evolution:

This year saw drone camera technology continue to improve, with professional-grade equipment now well and truly available in a beginner’s price range. It also saw manufacturers experimenting with new forms of flight control, including facial recognition, gesture control, and voice activation.

Here’s our picks for the top models of 2018:

1. DJI Mavic 2 Pro 

The best flying camera

The Mavic 2 Pro is the best consumer-grade aerial photography drone on the market — and it shows in the price tag. With a 20 megapixel camera that’s capable of shooting in 4K, a 31 minute flight time, and an 8km range, this is the drone to go for if you’re serious about your photography. 

DJI Mavic 2 Pro
  • 10/10
    Camera performance - 10/10
  • 9.5/10
    Flight control - 9.5/10
  • 9/10
    Battery life - 9/10
  • 9/10
    Flight features - 9/10
9.4/10

Summary

DJI remained the undisputed king of the skies in 2018, and their Mavic 2 Pro is the gold standard for consumer-grade aerial photography. This year the Chinese company followed up their celebrated Mavic drone with the Mavic 2 Pro and the Mavic 2 Zoom, both of which are at the high end of the premium price bracket. But while the optical zoom capabilities of the latter are fun to play with, the Mavic 2 Pro holds the edge over its slightly cheaper counterpart — as well as anything else on the market in its price range.

The Mavic 2 Pro boasts a solid 31 minutes of flight time and can reach a speed of 72 km/h, giving operators quite a large playground to explore within the drone’s 8km range. The drone also has ActiveTrack 2.0 for hands-off filming, allowing it to shadow moving subjects autonomously.

However, the main selling points of the drone lie in two areas: photography and obstacle avoidance. DJI have taken full advantage of their stake in the Swedish camera company Hasselblad, furnishing the Pro with a 20 megapixel camera that boasts both a one-inch CMOS sensor and an adjustable aperture. The camera can transmit video in 1080p and record in 4K.

The Mavic 2 Pro greatly expands on its predecessor’s obstacle avoidance capabilities. The drone is rigged with 10 sensors positioned on its front, back, top, bottom, left, and right sides, which allow it to automatically avoid collisions from almost any angle. This is a drone with a highly tuned sense of personal space. Not only will this help less-confident operators take to the skies, it will also ensure you get the most out of ActiveTrack: no more pausing your latest BMX/parkour/Segway routine to fish the drone out of a tree.

 

2. DJI Phantom 4

The best holdover

Those who prefer to wait several months for the top shelf models to come down in price should consider the DJI Phantom 4. With a similar camera, flight time, and suite of features to the Mavic 2 Pro, the Phantom 4 still holds its own against other drones in the market despite its age.

DJI Phantom 4
  • 9.5/10
    Camera performance - 9.5/10
  • 9/10
    Flight control - 9/10
  • 9/10
    Battery life - 9/10
  • 9/10
    Flight features - 9/10
9.1/10

Summary

While the Phantom 4 is now discontinued, it still offers a host of benefits for drone enthusiasts who want the DJI pedigree but shrink from the price tags of the latest models. If the newly launched Mavic 2 models are the Harry and William of DJI’s royal family, then the Phantom 4 is their James Hewitt — it’s older and not as polished, but undoubtedly shares their DNA.

The Phantom 4 was the first of DJI’s drones to explore obstacle-avoidance technology, and though it only has a front sensor (compared to the Mavic 2 Pro’s full-body coverage), this capability still puts it ahead of many other similarly priced drones in the market. You can disable the sensor by entering “sport mode”, which unlocks the drone’s full 72km/h flight speed. Combined with the 28 minutes of flight time, this makes the Phantom 4 a solid choice for amateur drone pilots.

In terms of photography, the Phantom 4 shoots 4K video and 12 megapixel stills. The camera also rests in a gimbal mount that gives it smooth and responsive manoeuvrability.  The Phantom can autonomously follow either the GPS sensor in the remote control or a subject selected using the ActiveTrack feature.

 

3. Parrot Anafi

The best bang for your buck

The Parrot Anafi is a study in just how much you can cram into a drone while sticking to a relatively cheap price bracket. The Anafi can’t quite compete with the Mavic 2 Pro in terms of quality, but the far cheaper price tag will make up for its shortcomings in the eyes of budget-wary consumers.

Parrot Anafi
  • 9.5/10
    Camera performance - 9.5/10
  • 8/10
    Flight control - 8/10
  • 9.5/10
    Battery life - 9.5/10
  • 9/10
    Flight features - 9/10
9/10

Summary

The French drone manufacturer Parrot made an ambitious lunge for DJI’s crown this year with the release of the Anafi, which attempted to match the DJI models in terms of camera power while significantly undercutting them in price. The gambit was not entirely successful, as the Anafi lacks the assured flying style of the Mavic 2 line as well as many of its features, but the cheaper price point makes it a capable alternative for people who can’t justify the cost of the DJI flagships.

The Anafi is equipped with a 21 megapixel camera that shoots 4K HDR video. This camera is accompanied by two features that make it stand out from the pack: the 180-degree, 3-axis gimbal that enables some truly unique shots; and a zoom capability that allows users to magnify the image up to 2.8x without losing detail when filming in 1080p.

However, while the camera system is impressive, the Anafi did have to sacrifice in other areas. The drone lacks obstacle-avoidance technology, and two flight modes (including “Follow Me”) have to be purchased as add-ons. The drone also has a cumbersome remote control and can have a slow response time.

The Phantom 4 has a 25 minute flight time, can hit 53km/h, and has a transmission range of 4km.

 

4. DJI Mavic Air

The best traveller drone

The Mavic Air is the handbag dog of the drone world: tiny, compact, and lightweight. With some clever pre-programmed flight patterns and a decent quality camera, the Air is perfect for those who want a flying camera close at hand.

DJI Mavic Air
  • 9/10
    Camera performance - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Flight control - 8/10
  • 9/10
    Battery life - 9/10
  • 9.5/10
    Flight features - 9.5/10
8.9/10

Summary

The palm-sized Mavic Air is designed for maximum portability, allowing it to slip into the pocket or handbag of casual drone users who want aerial photography at their fingertips without the hassle of lugging around a bulkier model. The Mavic Air folds down into a case not much bigger than a smartphone, but it incorporates an impressive camera and some neat features into its diminutive frame.

The camera is mounted on a 3-axis gimbal and can shoot 12 megapixel stills, 4K video at 30fps, 2.7K at 60fps, and full HD at 120fps. Obstacle-avoidance sensors on its front and rear make it easier for beginners, as well as delivering a smooth performance when the drone is engaged in active tracking a moving object.

Leaning into its utility as a flying selfie stick, the Mavic Air allows users to control the drone with simple hand gestures. When the drone camera is facing a subject, an outstretched palm will make it lock onto the person, who can then move it around by waving their hands. Making a peace sign will trigger it to take a picture and making a frame with your fingers will cause it to start filming. The drone also has pre-set filming modes including Dronie (in which it flies up and out), Boomerang (in which it circles in different parabolas), Orbit, and Rocket. These features make it easy to take cool pictures and videos without spending months mastering the controls.

The Mavic Air has a flight time of 21 minutes and a range of 4km.

 

5. DJI Spark

The best beginner drone

For those who want to get started in the world of drones without breaking the bank, the Spark is a good fit. The camera shoots 1080p video and 12 megapixel stills, and the drone features ActiveTrack, an obstacle-avoidance sensor, and gesture control.

DJI Spark
  • 8/10
    Camera performance - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Flight control - 8.5/10
  • 9/10
    Battery life - 9/10
  • 9.5/10
    Flight features - 9.5/10
8.8/10

Summary

Sitting chronologically between the Phantom and Mavic Air lines, the Spark remains a solid choice for novices — though given the considerable advancements DJI has made since, it is somewhat less tempting now than when it was released in 2017.

The Spark shares a lot of features with the Mavic Air: it has a 12 megapixel camera, gesture control, ActiveTrack, and obstacle avoidance capability from a front sensor. The camera shoots 1080p video at 30fps and is mounted on a 2-axis gimbal, which gives the user decent manoeuvrability for frame stabilisation (though not as much as the 3-axis gimbals in the drones above).

While the Spark shares the user-friendly cruisiness of the other DJI lines, aspiring drone-heads may feel constrained by its lack of 4K video, 16 minute flight time, and 2km range.

 

6. Yuneec Mantis Q

The best flight time

The Mantis Q boasts a 33-minute flight time — the longest on this list by an impressive two minutes. If you want to stay in the air for as long as possible, this is the drone for you. The 4K camera and obstacle-avoidance technology could make the Mantis Q a formidable rival to the Mavic 2 Pro, though the gimbal mount is not as versatile.

Yuneec Mantis Q
  • 8.5/10
    Camera performance - 8.5/10
  • 9.5/10
    Flight control - 9.5/10
  • 9/10
    Battery life - 9/10
  • 9/10
    Flight features - 9/10
9/10

Summary

Currently available for pre-order, the Mantis Q is generating a lot of interest with its claim of an impressive 33-minute flight time. Combined with 4K video capability and infrared/sonar obstacle-avoidance and stabilisation technology, the Mantis Q could become a favourite for those who want the most out of their camera drone.

The Mantis Q further distinguishes itself from the competition with its voice control feature. Users can order the drone to “wake up,” “take a picture,” or “record a video.” The drone also sports facial recognition software that promises to be able to detect when a subject is smiling and automatically take a photo from up to 4 metres away.

The largest drawback to the Mantis Q is its single-axis gimbal. Though it allows for 20 degree vertical tilt, it lacks the manoeuvrability of many of its competitors, and restricts stabilised video to 1080p.

 

7. U49C Red Heron Quadcopter

The best low-cost drone

The U49C Red Heron is a low-stress, low-cost drone that’s perfect for beginners, kids, or anyone who doesn’t want to commit to a higher price-range. The 15 minute flight time is good for its bracket, and the camera will satisfy casual photographers.

U49C Red Heron Quadcopter
  • 7/10
    Camera performance - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Flight control - 7/10
  • 9/10
    Battery life - 9/10
  • 8.5/10
    Flight features - 8.5/10
7.9/10

Summary

With its low price point and stable frame, the U49C Red Heron is an appealing starter drone for those who want to dip their toes into the quadcopter scene. Its 15 minute flight time edges out over other contenders in its price range, and user-friendly features like hover and one-button takeoff make it suitable for beginners.

The U49C Red Heron has a 720HD camera that will satisfy casuals (if not professional photographers), though its lack of FPV means that you can’t stream its feed to your smartphone.

This drone is easy to set up and simple to fly, making it perfect for younger drone operators or people who just want to play with it straight out of the box. But its build does make it vulnerable to wind, so it lacks the roving potential of its more expensive counterparts.

 

Leave a Reply