To put simply, quadcopters are four-rotored helicopters. These marvelous flying machines have become very popular lately – they are funto fly, great for aerial photography, and easy to assemble too. Of course there are a lot more details you may want to know about quadcopters – in this case you may want to check our “What is a quadcopter?”article to get some background information.
To decide what’s the best quadcopter for you
, first you have to answer these questions honestly:
What is your skill level?
Depending on your skill level and what you are good at, different kind of quadcopters can be good for you. If you are just starting out, and not even sure if you will like this hobby,you will want to buy a quadcopter that is simple to fly and does not cost much, like a Hubsan X4. If you have already owned quite a few quadcopters, you will probably want to level up, for example get a DJI Phantom 2 for better aerial photography, or buy an FPV racer quad for mind-numbingly fast action.
What is your budget?
As with a lot of other things in life,drones which are too cheap are probably junk, and drones which cost a lot are probably overpriced, so you will want to go for the mid range. Still,the mid range is very broad, too, you can get good toy quadcopters from around $30, while professional machines can cost up to $1000.
What are your objectives?
Why do you want to buy a quadcopter? Depending on your objectives, different kind of quadcopters can be a good fit for you. If you are into aerial photography, you will probably want to “graduate” to the DJI Phantom line. If you love racing, you will want to start with a simple FPV quadcopter (just skip the ones with WiFi),and work your way up from there. If you just want to have a bit of fun,without too many strings attached, a toy quadcopters will be a good choice.If you are a builder, building your own quadcopters could be very satisfying.
How much time do you have?
This question is overlooked by many – learning to fly a quadcopter takes time and effort. If you are very busy, ready-to-fly (RTF) toy quadcopters would be the best for you. Then again if you have lot of spare time, building your own quadcopters is absolutely doable and lots of fun.
Next, you should work out what kind of flight time, range,agility and camera quality you expect from your quadcopter.
Quadcopters are not made equal, they come in all shapes and sizes.
While small toy quadcopters will only fly for 4 to 6 minutes, flight time and the enjoyment grows as you go for larger and larger quadcopters -the top of the line DJI Phantom 4 can fly for up to 28 minutes. You do not have to pay up though to fly for long times – most quadcopters support replacing the batteries in the field, so you can start out with multiple fully charged batteries, and use them up one-by-one. This the best way to get long flight time in an affordable manner.
Just as the drone’s flight time, range usually depends on the sizetoo.
Nano quadcopters will have a range of around 30 meters – just enough to fly through your garden. These tiny machines do not have the space and battery power necessary for high performance receivers. Larger quadcopters are less constrained, the Syma X8Chas a range up to 250 meters, and still does not cost much. Top of the line quadrotors can have a range of a few kilometers. Large range is good to have as a safety net too: most drones which use the 2.4 Ghz transmission technology will simply shut down and crash once they fly out of range. So in general, the larger the range, the better.
is fortunately not that size dependent, the Eachine E10C is fairly agile for a toy quadcopter, while the larger Syma quadcopters can be a bit sluggish. It’s entirely up to you to decide – some people prefer gentle flying, while others love the high-speed action. If agility is very important to you, you will want to graduate to high performance FPV or acrobatic quadcopters. Quadcopters are specialized, so what works well for aerial photography(which requires stability and gentle flying) is unlikely to work as an acrobatic quadcopter.
The quadcopter’s camera quality
varies a lot between the manufacturers – in general the cheaper the model, the worse the camera. The megapixel rating in itself does not say much – some manufacturers even seem to interpolate pixels to “bake” the resolution. So you should always check the reviews of the quadcopter and keep a sharp eye on both the sample images and the claimed resolution. High end models usually have a great camera, or you can attach a GoPro – there’s no way to go wrong with those ones! For a reasonably priced quadcopter with GoPro support you may want to check out the Ionic Stratus. For first person view flying always look for quadcopters with a proper FPV camera – WiFi based cameras lag way too much to be usable. Still, they can be great for aerial photography.
Selecting the quadcopter that suits you the best
With this background in mind you can start to look for the quadcopter that best suits you. We have compiled a short list of 15 quadcopters – some of them are toys, some of them are the real serious stuff. Most of them are good, but there are some you should avoid – we have included these too so you’ll know what to look out for.
#1 Blade Nano Qx
The Blade Nano Qx is a tiny, 16 gram quadcopter which is a blast to fly.It’s best for indoor flying, but will fly outdoors too if there’s no strong wind. The flight time is a very respectable 7 minutes, the battery is easy to replace, the range is ~20 meters – this little quad has everything you need for a few quick flights. A wide range of upgrades are available too.Read our full review.
#2 Eachine E10C
The Eachine E10C is another tiny contender. It weighs 15 grams, has an onboard camera, and flies fast too. What more could you want ? 🙂 The E10C’s flight time is 6 minutes, however the battery is hard to replace.Choose this one if you’d like a nano drone with a basic camera, but long flights are not so important for you. A wide range of replacement parts are available for this tiny drone, and it’s priced competitively too. The range is 20 to 30 meters, which is almost too much for such a tiny drone. Check the full review.
#3 The Hubsan H107L
The Hubsan H107L is a member of the famous Hubsan X4 series.It weighs 30 grams, so it’s better suited for outdoor flying than the previous two tiny drones. It has a removable battery which, coupled with the9 minute flight time, makes it really compelling for those of you who’d like longer outdoor flights. The H107L is the basic version, the H107C has a camera too. Both have a wide range of upgrade and replacement parts available would you be into tinkering. The transmitter’s range is around 30 meters, which is standard in this class. Read the long review.
#4 The Dromida Ominus FPV
The Dromida Ominus FPV is a first-person-view camera drone from Dromida.With a 12 minute flight time, 50 meter range and a strong body it’s a real outdoor champion. The FPV functionality is WiFi based, so expect the video to lag – it’s really just a toy FPV solution. Still, with it’s unique look and durability it’s choice if you want to fly outdoors, and see the world through the quadcopter’s eye. Replacement parts are available, so you are covered would you crash it 🙂 Our review of the non-FPV version is here. For more information on the FPV version you may want to visit the manufacturer’s site, check Youtube, or read the reviews on Amazon.
#5 The UDI U818A
The UDI U818A is a 110 gram, very well built quadcopter equipped with a basic camera. Flight time is around 8 minutes, it’s battery is replaceable out in the field. It supports the so-called headless mode, and has a simple fly back home functionality too. These features combined with it’s gentle manners and the 30 meter range makes it one of those very beginner friendly quadcopters. For more information you may want to check out the full review.
#6 The Syma X5C
The Syma X5C is a professional-looking quadcopter with a basic camera. It weighs around 100 grams, and is best suited for outdoor flight on calm days. With a 7 minute average flight time and nice manners it’s ideal if you are looking for a smooth flying, great looking drone. Syma has a lot of experience with quadcopters, so it’s safe to choose one of their drones. The range is 50 meters, which is really good in this category.For the full review please click here.
#7 The Syma X8C
The Syma X8C is the X5C’s bigger brother. As big brothers go, it does everything a bit better: while it keeps the same professional looks, it’s range is 250 meters, and can fly for up to 12minutes on a single charge. With it’s 600 gram weight in can only fly in large open spaces. The X8C is ideal if you’d like to start with a large quad- due to the size and power these quads are more stable than the smaller ones. The X8C must be registered with the FAA.You can check the full review here.
#8 The DJI Phantom 3 Standard
The DJI Phantom 3 Standard is an entirely new category – a professional quadcopterfor aerial photography. Complete with GPS and a 12 megapixel camera, 500meter range and a 25 minute flight time it’s not a toy. It’s perfectly balanced, the on board electronics makes flying a breeze. Besides recording video and taking photos onto the on board storage, it supports streaming the live data to a smartphone too. The 12 megapixel camera is stabilized so none of your photos will come out blurry from this machine. Choose this one if you are a professional photographer, or if you’d like to start an aerial photography business.
The Verge has a detailed review of the DJI Phantom 3 Standard.
#9 The Hubsan FPV
The Hubsan X4 H107D is a small FPV quadcopter from Hubsan. It has a 100meter range, proper 5.8 Ghz FPV so it will not lag like the WiFi based FPVs.The battery life is low, clocking in a 6 minutes, however the battery is replaceable on the field, and the part availability is great. Together with the really low price this quadcopter is a must-buy!
To learn more about the Hubsan FPV, check the review on New Atlas and tom’s guide.
#10 The GoPro Karma
The GoPro Karma is GoPro’s entry into the drone market. The Karma is a professional quadcopter designed for aerial photography and video recording. With a foldable design, GoPro camera support, up to 20 minutes of battery life and up to 3 kilometers of range the Karma is professional solution to those looking for a flying action-cam. The DJI Mavic is a direct competitor of the Karma – on the long term this should reduce the price of both products.
Tech radar features a detailed review of the GoPro Karma.
#11 The DJI Mavic
The DJI Mavic is a foldable quadcopter from DJI. It features an up to 7kilometer range, and 27 minute flight time. Compared to the GoPro Karma it’s less modular as the camera is fixed. With the Karma you can choose between different GoPro models as a camera. The DJI Mavic is designed from the ground up as an intelligent quadcopter, it features ultrasonic sensors and multiple cameras for better orientation, and can identify and follow people and other subjects too. Choose this one if you want the best of the best for aerial photography,while keeping the price reasonable.
Cinema5D has all the details on the tech inside the DJI Mavic.
#12 3D Robotics Solo – questionable
The 3D Robotics Solo is a semi-autonomous quadcopter from 3D Robotics,designed for GoPro cameras. Compared to other quadcopters, the Solo’s main focus is autonomous behavior – for example you can program it to take shots of a specific location, and it will do it’s job as expected. The Solo has a ~20minute flight time, and a ~ 800 meter range. Powered by a pixhawk flight controller it’s probably one of the most advanced drones on the market today. It’s not without limitations though, so if you are new to quadcopters the Solo’s autonomous features will not fix your flying issues. The 3DR Solo uses WiFi for control, which is a definite disadvantage.
Videomaker has a detailed look at the 3DR Solo. The Solo spec sheet is very impressive, a must read.
#13 The DJI Phantom 4 – questionable
The DJI Phantom 4 is the big brother of the Phantom 3, with even more features. The 12 megapixel camera has the same resolution as on the Phantom3, however the video resolution was improved and the Phantom 4 can record 4Kvideo at 30 FPS. The GPS system got expanded with Glonass navigation. The Phantom 4 has object avoidance too, so crashing it is even harder. The range was improved to 3 kilometers from 500 meters on the Phantom 3.Choose this one if you are a professional photographer, or if you’d like to start an aerial photography business and you need the high resolution video – otherwise just go with the Phantom 3, you’ll get more bang for your buck with that one.
Wired has a an in-depth review of the Phantom 4.It’s also interesting to see what the buyers say on this high end drone.
#14 The Parrot Bebop 2 – avoid it
The Parrot Bebop 2 is a controversial video drone from Parrot: it looks so good on paper – it has WiFi based remote control, 500 meter range, 20+minutes flight time and a stabilized 14 megapixel camera. In reality WiFis not reliable enough for this kind of usage, so expect connectivity problems. The Bebop 2 lacks removable storage for the videos and the camera can’t tilt which makes it unsuitable for serious photography. All in all the Bebop 2 is an expensive toy – choose this one only if you like to buy great looking but overpriced objects. CNET has a long run-down on the Bebop 2 here – it’s worth a read.
#15 The Parrot Ar.Drone 2.0 – avoid it
The Parrot Ar.Drone 2.0 is a smaller sibling of the Parrot Bebop. It has a GPS and magnetometer, and together with a ~15 minute long flight time it does not look bad on paper. Compared to the Bebop the crash guards are a big plus -they will save you much trouble would you crash your drone. Then again it’s a Wifi based toy, so do not expect large range or trouble-free flying from it, so it’s not recommended.
Click for a short review on CNET, or read how to hack the range of the AR.DRONE 2.0. (They use proper RC gear, forget the WiFi.)
Are you interested in quadcopter reviews? Check out our review section.