Testing drones with cameras

Testing drones with cameras

Which drone takes the best photos and videos? And is it also safe and easy to fly? Our big camera drone test answers these questions. We asked seven drones with a camera from around 350 dollar to just over 2,000 dollar to the test laboratory, including the new top model DJI Mavic 3 – which we also present in the video. But there are also cheaper representatives from Parrot or Potensic, for example. So much can be revealed in advance: It is currently difficult to beat DJI drones.

Drones with a camera in the CHIP test: Our recommendations

Today, anyone can become a pilot: With a camera drone you can’t take to the air yourself, but thanks to ever-improving technology, the controller on the ground offers a perspective similar to that of an airplane or helicopter. With a drone in your luggage, you can take impressive panorama shots, action-packed tracking videos during sports or just fun videos at an event in the vicinity. Camera drones are now also standard equipment for professional photographers and filmmakers

.But are the recordings from the camera drones really good enough for demanding film projects and high-quality prints? To answer this question, we asked six models into the CHIP test laboratory and subjected them to a test scenario similar to that of compact and system cameras. Since the flight behavior is just as important, we also checked features and other equipment and tested them in practice.

You can find the detailed results in our Testing drones with cameras. In the compact table here in the article, we present three models that particularly stood out in the test.

DJI Mavic 3: Test winner with outstanding image quality

Top drone for professionals and ambitious people

In our camera drone test, the DJI Mavic 3 set the bar very high: No matter whether video and photo quality, flight behavior or equipment, there is currently no better alternative. However, not a more expensive one, even in the basic package with a drone, a battery and some spare parts

DJI’s new flagship has set the best mark in all of our test criteria. The equipment alone is the finest: The DJI Mavic 3 has a dual camera with focal lengths of 24 mm and 162 mm, which can be combined to form a very good hybrid zoom based on the smartphone camera principle. The videos offer a maximum resolution of 5.1K, with Full HD frame rates of up to 200 fps are possible for spectacular slow motion. Like all high-quality DJI drones, the Mavic 3 is flexible in video format, the videos can be saved either as MP4 or MOV files, and H.265 and H.264 are available as codecs. Professional filmmakers who want to use Apple’s ProRes 422 HQ codec have to dig significantly deeper into their pockets for the DJI Mavic 3 Cine

For flight comfort, all important functions such as follow me, return and landing function, obstacle detection are available, our test pilots attest the drone to be as comfortable to use as with all other DJI products. The included battery lasts a full 33 minutes in 4K resolution, which is also the best value in our test field.

A particular focus of our drone testing process is video and image quality. In two light settings we determine the sharpness performance and image noise for photos and for videos. We carried out this test for better comparability with the focal length setting of 24mm, i.e. with the wide-angle optics from Hasselblad. In daylight, the DJI Mavic 3 achieved a very good resolution performance of 1556 LP/Bh in the center of the image, which drops to a still good 1268 LP/Bh towards the corners. Surprisingly, this sharpness is largely retained in weak light, only the image noise increases, but it remains at a very low level. In daylight, the Mavic 3 produces very crisp videos with 1324 LP/Bh in the center of the image, in chess light this performance drops to 1188 LP/Bh. The noise is pleasingly low in both settings. Overall, the DJI showed top performance in the test laboratory, only the sharpness in daylight is surpassed in photo mode by the DJI Air 2S, which is also very good, but with higher image noise.

Like all DJI drones so far, the DJI Mavic 3 is not classified according to the new EU regulation. Due to the transition period, which was extended due to the Covid pandemic, the DJI Mavic 3 is considered an inventory drone. With a weight of less than one kilogram, a small drone driver’s license, registration and liability insurance are required for flight operations.

Parrot Anafi: Our price tip with a special talent for filming

Good video drone for beginners

In the test, the light and compact Parrot Anafi not only convinced with a very good price, but also with an outstanding video quality, which does not have to hide from the much more expensive competition from DJI. Only in the equipment rating does it only receive a “satisfactory” because comfort functions such as automatic landing or obstacle detection are missing.

In contrast to the top model from DJI, the Parrot Anafi is one of the flyweights in our test of drones with a camera. The drone weighs only 320 grams and, when folded, fits comfortably in the small carrying bag supplied, so it is hardly a burden in your backpack on day trips.

The compact quadrocopter from the French drone specialist Parrot has been on the market since 2018, but the Parrot Anafi can still keep up very well in terms of video quality. The detailed 4K video with little image noise is particularly pleasing, which can certainly keep up with the video quality of higher-priced DJI drones such as the Mavic 2 Zoom, even if it does not come close to the quality of the test winner DJI Mavic 3, which is three times as expensive. A sensational performance for a relatively inexpensive hobby camera.

However, the Parrot Anafi is less suitable for fast action scenes and slow motion, as the frame rate is limited to 30 frames per second (fps) for 4K video and only offers 60 fps in Full HD. The Anafi is also disappointing when taking photos, the images only have average resolution values ​​and are not very detailed. Any cheap €150 digital camera will take better photos, but at least they are bright and colourful.

 In the practical test, the small drone lasted 25 minutes with one battery charge, which is really okay. Only charging takes just under two hours, which is far too long. The Parrot Anafi is equipped with some comfort functions, such as returning safely and on time, but there is no landing support or obstacle detection. This speaks in favor of not exhausting the top speed of around 55 km/h. A follow-me function can be activated for selfies, and there are also ready-made tracking shots for action-packed videos.

DJI Air 2S: last year’s model with still strong performance

Inexpensive drone for professional photos and videos

The DJI Air 2S is significantly cheaper than DJI’s current top model, but shines in the test thanks to the large 1-inch sensor with similarly professional photo and video quality. The quadrocopter is relatively compact and weighs only 595 grams.

DJI has another drone in its range, which in the CHIP test showed almost as good photo and video quality as our test winner DJI Mavic 3. With a price of around 950 dollar, it costs less than half, and it is also much more compact and lighter, ready to fly it weighs around 595 grams. This makes them a real price tip for prospective drone pilots who value video and photo quality.

The DJI Air 2S has a 1-inch, 20-megapixel sensor. It’s a bit smaller than the DJI Mavic 3, but significantly larger than the sensor in our regular price tip, the Parrot Anafi. In the photo quality test, the 22 mm wide-angle lens showed a surprisingly high level of sharpness and even trumped our test winner, albeit with higher image noise. Since there is no second optic, the DJI Air 2S only has a 4x to 6x digital zoom, depending on the resolution selected. In contrast to the expensive Mavic models with Hasselblad optics, the aperture cannot be varied, but remains fixed at f/2.8. However, professional functions such as RAW, bracketing, HDR and panorama are on board.

On the video side, the Air 2S lags behind the Mavic 3 despite the nominally higher resolution of 5.4K, but at a very high level. With this performance, the cheap camera drone from DJI achieved a well-deserved grade of 1.2 (very good) in the photo-video quality category. For slow motion and fast action, the frame rate can be increased to 60 fps with 4K resolution and 120 fps with Full HD resolution, and there are also plenty of functions and predefined camera movements available for action-packed videos.

Like any other DJI drone, the Air 2S is very easy and safe to fly. The 3,750 mAh battery is sufficient for around 25 minutes of filming in the highest resolution. Similar to the Parrot Anafi, it takes a relatively long time to charge, around 1 hour and 50 minutes. If you would like to realize longer film projects, you should dig a little deeper into your pocket and get the Fly-More-Combo for about 400 dollar more . This contains not only the drone, but a total of three batteries, a charger, a bag, ND filter set and additional spare parts.

For kids or professionals? How much you should spend on a drone

Drones do not have to be expensive, there are already models from 50 dollar. However, the equipment of the cheap and toy drones is significantly reduced and the flight characteristics also correspond to a different standard. What you can expect from the drones in the different price ranges:

  • Fun and toy drones (up to approx. 100 dollar): They are very small, inexpensive, child-safe and have significantly better flight characteristics than RC helicopters, which are also often bought. The equipment is designed for indoor use, for example there is no GPS or often a camera. When there is no wind, however, they can also be flown outside. The mini drones from Potensic, for example, are a very popular gift, the A20W is even available with a 720p camera for around 65 dollar.
  • Inexpensive drones for outdoors (up to around 400 dollar): In this price range there are many cheap providers with products that disappear from the market after a few months. Equipment and flight characteristics vary greatly depending on the manufacturer, but these cheap quadrocopters are generally equipped with fewer sensors and intelligent auxiliary functions. As a minimum requirement, however, the model should have a full HD camera and a GPS connection in order to be able to land and return the drone safely.
  • Entry-level drones (up to 800 dollar): If you want to make it easy for you to get started in flying, you should invest a little more. In the price range up to 800 dollar there are recommended drones with obstacle sensors, a return function and other intelligent auxiliary functions. The price tip of our comparison test, the Parrot Anafi, offers a lot of equipment and functions for just under 600 dollar. which we tested extensively in 2020  , is also recommended .
  • Drones for photographers and filmmakers (from 800 dollar : The Mavic series from the market leader DJI is very popular with landscape and travel photographers. The current top model DJI Mavic 3 also took the lead in our comparison test: the photo and video quality is excellent, and yet it is not too heavy and easy to handle. The even better equipped DJI Mavic 3 Cine is interesting for professional filmmakers .
  • Racing drones : There are also special drones, for example for the sport of FPV racing, which is becoming increasingly popular. This abbreviation stands for “First Person View”, because the image from the camera is transmitted directly to special glasses in order to be able to react even faster and more precisely. Such drones may only be flown on special routes or with a second person who keeps an eye on the drone. FPV drones are usually self-made, but DJI also has a ready-made model for racing fans with the DJI FPV (approx. 1,200 dollar), which we have also 

What to look out for when buying a drone

Drones are equipped with all sorts of fine technology that make flying safer and more comfortable. The quality of the photos and films taken is also impressive. Here we explain which functions are really important.

  • Satellite navigation : Any drone operated outdoors should be equipped with GPS, preferably with an additional system such as the European Galileo or Russian Glonass. As a result, the drone knows exactly where it is, where it started from and where it has to fly back to if the battery runs out. No automatic return function without GPS.
  • Obstacle sensors: These sensors minimize the risk of a collision that would damage the drone and especially the sensitive propellers. High-quality drones have vision sensors on all sides, above and below, and additional ultrasonic or infrared sensors for landing.
  • Weight: Lighter drones are more portable, making them a good choice for exploring the countryside on foot or by bike. However, heavier drones are generally more stable and cannot be easily thrown off balance by small gusts of wind. Be careful with drones that weigh more than 900 grams: These no longer correspond to EU drone class C1, for which the “small drone driver’s license” is sufficient.
  • Camera: In order to be able to take great pictures on the reconnaissance flights, a good CMOS sensor should be installed in the quadrocopter. In principle, 20 megapixels photo resolution and 4K for video are sufficient, our provides information about the actual sharpness and the occurrence of annoying image noise .
  • Battery: Even high-quality quadrocopters rarely fly longer than half an hour with the included Lipo battery and charging can take up to two hours. If you are really passionate about flying drones, you should definitely buy several batteries. These are often relatively expensive, but sometimes the manufacturer puts together relatively inexpensive packages consisting of a drone, charger and several batteries.

Legal requirements for drone pilots

Who is allowed to fly with drones and under what circumstances is now strictly specified under EU law. The minimum age is 16 years (exception: toy drones), drones with a take-off weight of 250 grams or more require registration, a small pilot’s license and liability insurance.

In general, flying is only allowed on sight, so the drone must always be clearly visible to the pilot on the ground. Residential areas are taboo, as are nature reserves, military installations, airfields and other areas serving security and public infrastructure. In order to keep an overview here, it is advisable to download an app such as , which visualizes all no-fly zones in Germany.

Always up to date: Our list of the best drones with cameras
Camera drones from around 350 to 2,100 dollar in a comparison test

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