Multi-rotor drones are the latest imaging buzz, enabling photographers to capture stunning aerial scenes. We put four of the top models through their paces…
£1,358/$1,399 inc gimbal
3D Robotics has taken multi- rotor design to another level with the Solo drone. The very sleek, no-fuss design has been refined for image capture rather than simply catering to the needs of the radio-controlled device enthusiast.
Auto-flight features include Cable Cam, Orbit and Follow Me, which are straightforward to set up through the free 3DR Solo app. All of these features enable you to capture the action without needing to control the craft manually.
The Solo is the only multi-rotor in this test group not to include a gimbal or camera in the box. Instead these need to be purchased in addition to the basic kit. The gimbal is also manufactured by 3D Robotics, and is designed to hold a GoPro Hero4 camera. The price we quote above includes the gimbal, but not the camera.
The Solo offers complete GoPro integration. Once the camera is mounted into the gimbal and the app, for iOS or Android, is loaded to your mobile device, you have fast access to flight features and camera and gimbal operation, as well as a Live View stream.
As the Solo uses a Hero4, you have a huge array of video options, from 4K at 30fps to 1080p at 120fps. The Hero4’s image quality is excellent, but the camera suffers from pronounced fish-eye distortion.
The Solo costs more than the competition, especially once the essential extras are taken into account, but there is no arguing about the overall quality of this product, or with the ease of set-up and use. There’s also the significant advantage that its auto-flight features offer for capturing aerial imagery.
DJI Phantom 3 Professional
DJI has a proven track record with multi-rotors and is the company that popularised the technology. The third generation of Phantom has refined the design, with the Professional model catering to those wanting to capture aerial footage and stills.
It features a 4K camera capable of 24fps PAL video capture, as well as plenty of other resolutions, including full 1080p at 60fps.
DJI has really worked on the ease of flight and usability of the camera. The DJI Go app, for both iOS and Android, has a clean design and enables quick control over the camera and gimbal, ensuring that you capture the shots you need.
The camera features a Sony Exmor 1/2.3-inch sensor. which captures scenes through the 94 degree or 20mm (35mm equivalent) lens; this offers less distortion than the lens in the Hero4.
Image quality is excellent, and video is bright and crisp, with little sign of significant flare. Noise is handled well, but becomes apparent when the light drops.
Easy to use
Control of the camera and gimbal is through either the mobile app or directly through the handset, which makes it exceptionally easy to use. Auto-flight features include Follow Me, Point of Interest and GPS Waypoint, which are all easy enough to programme and use through the app.
The Phantom is the most responsive multi-rotor of this group. It’s incredibly quick to manoeuvre, although this can be a good and a bad trait. For high-level imaging work, its speed enables the Professional to cover a great distance quickly. For low-level work, however, a little more flying skill is required.
Parrot Bebop 2 with Skycontroller
It would be easy to dismiss the Bebop 2 as just a toy, especially as it weighs so little at just 500g – comfortably the lightest in this test group.
However, the Skycontroller more than makes up for the Bebop 2’s small size: it’s almost twice the size of the controllers supplied with the other multi-rotors.
The Skycontroller is able to operate the Bebop 2 with or without a tablet, and extends the Wi-Fi range up to 2 kilometres (1.2 miles), subject to local regulations.
The Bebop 2 really shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to speed and durability, though. Even when used in windy conditions, it is able to utilise its GPS features to hold its position well.
The Bebop 2 is the only multi-rotor design here not to rely on an external camera or gimbal: instead it incorporates the camera into the nose cone of the body. The camera is limited to Full HD 1080p at 30fps and has a 180° field of view from its f/2.3 lens.
Video and still quality don’t quite match that of the other three drone cameras on test here, but they have the convenience of three-axis image stabilisation and the ability to tilt the camera from the mobile app or controller.
Good for beginners
The auto-flight features in the Bebop 2 are incredibly well thought out, although you have to make an in-app purchase within the otherwise free-of-charge FreeFlight 3 app in order to plot auto-flight routes through GPS waypoints.
The Bebop 2 is a strong choice if you’re just starting out and need a durable, easy-to-fly drone. It supplies more than you’d expect for its small size.
Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K
Yuneec has a good standing in the enthusiast multi-rotor world. The quality of the company’s multi-rotors has recently been realised with its partnership with Manfrotto.
The Typhoon’s design reflects the hobbyist market in which this drone originated, with a sleek style resembling some type of spacecraft. The Typhoon also comes with more kit than any of the other drones on test here.
It arrives in a decent-quality metal flight case, along with two batteries, a handset with Live View display, a gimbal, a camera and, to top it off, a separate handheld gimbal for ground work.
The contents of the kit are very impressive, and the auto-flight features such as Auto Takeoff and Landing, Watch Me and Follow Me are all well-conceived.
The real winner for videographers, though, is the slow mode, which can be quickly selected directly on the handset. This mode slows the speed of the Typhoon down, enabling easy capture of panning and other usually tricky shots.
The image quality from the gimbal-mounted camera is excellent at 4K at 30fps in bright conditions, but unfortunately noise becomes increasingly apparent as the light dips. There are also some issues with image flare.
The CG03 camera features a 1/ 2.3-inch sensor and a lens with a 115° field of view at 14mm (35mm equivalent). The Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K makes for a good all-in-one solution at an amazing price, considering everything you get; but compared with the others on test, it just isn’t quite as durable or refined.
What to look for in a multi-rotor drone
Without a licence from the Civil Aviation Authority, any drone you fly must be under 20kg, fully equipped. This limits you to a drone with a built-in camera or one that can hold a GoPro Hero camera. A video resolution of 1080p and stills capture of 12MP should be the minimum spec you look for. Essentials also include a motorised gimbal, a Live View feed and smart flight controls.