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The Best Action Camera Drones for Capturing the Coolest Footage

Rolling Stone logo Rolling Stone 3/25/2021 Joshua Kanter
© Amazon

Sure, your action camera can capture amazing footage, but if you want to take your videos to the next level, it might be time to upgrade to one of the best action camera drones.

A well-built drone for professional film and photos is an investment, of both time and money. There are plenty of cheap drones out there, but they’re technically classified as toys, and though it’s tempting to save cash by going for a less-expensive model, you’ll often pay later in other ways. Cheaper drones are made with cheaper parts, often low-grade plastic, making it more easily damaged and more likely to lose control in heavy winds or get tangled (or stuck) in a tree.

A more professional prosumer drone, however, will have higher intelligent features, like automatically flying back to the start location if they’re disconnected from the controller (or running low on battery), sensors that prevent collision and, of course, better camera capabilities too.

“Video standards are constantly evolving as new cameras come out that are capable of shooting videos at higher and higher resolutions,” says Ayo Oppenheimer, founder of Ayo.Yoga, who uses drones to film classes from her scenic rooftop studio. “The current standard on YouTube is 1080p, but creators who want to stand out have already started producing video content at 4K, and the newest generation of high-end cameras are currently capable of shooting at 8K.”

But you don’t have to be a professional videographer or extreme athlete to get the most out of drone photography, as these are also used to get photos for real-estate listings, travel videos or just for fun.

What Are the Best Action Camera Drones?

Before purchasing your next gadget, there are a few things to take note of before going all-in on a new drone, depending on what you plan to use it for.

4K: A larger sensor and 4K capability add a noticeable burst of deep color, especially when filming landscapes. Even more so with going above 4K, if you’ll be producing super high-quality content. Frames per second (or FPS, for short), also can come in handy if you’re filming slow-motion shots.

Dynamic Range: Dynamic range is the amount of brightness and darkness that can be seen all at once, such as when filming at angles towards the sun, and can help create a softer, smoother transition between highlights and shadows. This is usually an automatically adjusting feature on most drones, but can also be manually set on some models if you know exactly what you want.

Flight Time, Photo Quality & Connectivity: Most decent quality drones can fly for multiple miles, so connection and signal strength is vital if you plan to send it far off, ensuring that there’s no lag time, and that it can still return home. As for photos, some drones only take photos in JPEG form, which works for casual hobbyists and amateurs who aren’t planning to put these into photo-editing software, but too low-grade for professional quality. Instead, if you’ll be editing these afterwards, be sure it has the ability to snap pics in RAW format for the most minimally processed picture possible.

Action Camera Attachment: Another option for those who already own an inexpensive drone and aren’t looking to spend hundreds (or thousands) more on a new one is attaching an external action camera.

You won’t need to upgrade the entire drone, just the camera, which on the plus side will save you a ton of cash. However, these can cause other issues, like interfering with the drone’s GPS, and making it harder to control. “The camera is typically mounted on top of the FPV (First Person View) drone and can’t be tilted mid-flight,” advises Oppenheimer, “thus severely limiting the more cinematic types of footage many people prefer from their drones.”

Most of the best action camera drones can often be flown with the included remote, and some even come with apps for editing so you can bring out the endless potential of what your drone can do.

1. DJI Mavic 2 Pro

The high-tech Mavic 2 Pro can film in 4K, and, thanks to its one-inch sensor, you’ll get a “more detailed image than the Mavic Air 2,” Oppenheimer says. The three-axis Gimbal keeps it steady and stable during flight, and you can capture 20MP photos with an optical zoom lens to retain real-life details, whether you’re filming a mountain biking adventure or a beautiful hike.

The auto-focus frees you up, so you can keep your eye on your subject, and at only 2 pounds, this gadget takes stunning photos and film, and folds up easily when you’re done filming. It’s also stealthily silent, thanks to low-noise propellers, and flies fast (up to 44 mph) and far (around five miles) while remaining airborne for up to 31 minutes when fully charged. This also comes as a bundle too, for beginners starting from the ground up.

DJI-Mavic-2-Pro-Drone © Provided by Rolling Stone DJI-Mavic-2-Pro-Drone

Amazon

Buy: DJI Mavic 2 Pro

2. DJI Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo

At 1.25 pounds and capable of 4K video and 48MP images, the Air 2 is a great entry point to learn drone piloting, while still being professional enough to get gorgeous photos and film. The digital zoom function looks awesome, and for pics, this films in RAW format, allowing you to make the most of your edits later. The drone’s convenient Spotlight tech feature also makes it easy to focus on a subject while flying for in-focus video, even if you’re new to it.

The sensor is a small but significant step up in size from the usual in its class, and it’s travel-friendly, too. It can go for a little over a half hour and can reach up to about 43 mph to film everything including fast-moving vehicles and more. “The flying specs are more than enough for most users,” Oppenheimer says.

Amazon

Buy: DJI Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo

3. Autel Robotics EVO 2 Quadcopter UAV

Autel Robotics EVO II 8K can take 48MP photos and record a hyperlapse, and it can also stay in the air for an impressive 40 minutes with a 5.5 mile transmission range and a flying speed of up to 45 mph. The remote control means that no smartphone is necessary, and you can navigate pretty much everything from the built-in OLED screen. However, you can check out a live stream when you’re flying via the Autel app. “The camera it comes with is on par with those found on many flagship cell phones,” Oppenheimer says. At nearly 2.5 pounds, it’s lightweight and ready to fly in about 30 seconds. It also looks out for itself, with multiple omnidirectional obstacle avoidance sensors.

Autel Robotics EVO 2 Quadcopter © Provided by Rolling Stone Autel Robotics EVO 2 Quadcopter

Amazon

Buy: Autel Robotics EVO 2 Quadcopter UAV

4. Parrot ANAFI Foldable Quadcopter Drone

This small Parrot drone weighs in at only 1.56 pounds, and can still record full HD, 4K video and 21MP photos. The Parrot Skycontroller 3 remote comes included, and you can fold up the drone for efficiency when you’re on the go. It also includes features that let you easily GeoFence or find the drone if it drops out of sight. The lossless zoom is surprisingly crisp too, retaining color details, and it’s equipped with a Burst Mode than can snap 10 photos per second. We also like that you can record video in slow-motion.

a laptop computer sitting on top of a wooden table: Parrot Foldable Drone © Provided by Rolling Stone Parrot Foldable Drone

Amazon

Buy: Parrot ANAFI Foldable Quadcopter Drone
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