Drone flying is seemingly one of the fastest growing hobbies in the UK. Our beaches, countryside and city parks are awash with mechanical creatures littering the skies. But drone piloting doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby.
There are plenty of cheaper options with 1080p cameras so you can take to the air, so on most modern drones will let you capture stunning aerial footage, as well as have fun flying it.
It’s important to choose the right drone, though. The hardware isn’t cheap, and if you’re a beginner, you want a model that’s easy to fly, with plenty of safety features to ensure you don’t crash your new toy – or accidentally fly it off into the blue yonder and lose it for good. Enthusiasts, meanwhile, will value features like camera quality, speed and range.
Other considerations include battery life – these things don’t fly forever – and video streaming capabilities, which can beam live footage straight to your smartphone or even a headset, offering a first-person view from your drone.
Here’s our guide to five of the best drones, at prices ranging from £200 to around a grand, with a range of features to suit everyone.
DJI is the biggest name in consumer and professional drones and the new DJI Spark is its smallest, most accessible product yet. It weighs a mere 300g, fits in a box the size of a CD flip case and you can even fly it without pairing it with your phone or a physical remote control.
A quick double-tap of the power button and the Spark leaps into the air, ready to do your bidding and when you hold out your hand underneath it, it lands neatly in your palm.
This is no gimmicky quadcopter, though; it’s also equipped with a fully motorised gimbal for its nose-mounted 1080p camera and it’s stacked with an array of sensors similar to the company’s more expensive Mavic Pro and Phantom models. This means that, although it doesn’t fly as well in windy conditions as its larger siblings, it can do most of the same things, so it can track motion and automatically avoid obstacles in front of and below it.
All in all, the DJI Spark is a fabulous drone: it’s easy to fly, flexible and also a great tool for producing top quality aerial footage.
For more details, read our full DJI Spark review
2. DJI Phantom 4: A fantastic high-end drone with an excellent camera
Price: £1,099 from Maplin
Flying a drone is fun, but there’s a learning curve, and crashing can be expensive – and dangerous. The DJI Phantom 4 features automatic object-avoidance, thanks to a pair of small, front-facing cameras. If you’re inexpertly flying it towards an obstacle, it will either stop in its flight path or neatly whizz around it.
Other smart features include Tap Fly, which lets you send the drone to a particular location by simply tapping your desired destination on the DJI smartphone app, and an optional Beginner mode, which prevents the drone from flying more than 30 metres away from you. The controls also feature a pause button to bring the Phantom 4 to an immediate stop if you’ve lost your bearings.
All of this makes the Phantom 4 ideal for novices, but there’s plenty here to excite enthusiasts too. It’s possible to fly at up to 45mph, and the 5,350mAh battery promises 28 minutes of flight time. Add in a fantastic 4K camera for aerial photography and you have the best drone around. It isn’t cheap but you’re paying for quality, and if its object-avoidance technology prevents a crash then it’s probably paid for itself.
The Parrot Disco is an unusual sort of drone: it’s not a quadcopter, but rather a fixed-wing remote-controlled aeroplane. The good news is it’s just as easy to get started as a regular drone. You can launch it by simply turning on the motor and throwing it into the air, at which point it automatically flies into the sky and circle above you, awaiting your input.
Once you’re ready to take control, you’ll find the Disco very responsive: you simply use the twin joysticks on the remote control to bank, dive and control speed. Like most drones, the Disco comes with a camera in the nose for recording your flights in 1080p resolution. More unusual is the smartphone-driven VR headset that streams live video to your eyes, for the ultimate first-person flying experience. There’s even a heads-up display, so you know how fast you’re going, how high you’re flying and how much capacity the battery has remaining. Flight time is an impressive 45 minutes, with a range of 1.24 miles at speeds up to 50mph.
All told, the Parrot Disco is extremely easy to get to grips with, and great fun to fly. The only caveat is that in order to land safely you’ll need a wide open space: the Disco glides to the ground like a plane, rather than descending vertically like a helicopter. But if you’re lucky enough to live near a suitable spot, it’s a blast.