How to Find the Best 4k Drones
Whether you’re an indie filmmaker, a Hollywood pro, or a creative soccer parent, buying a 4K video drone will up your game in a major way. We have recommendations on the best 4K drones for quality, the best drones for a tight budget, and the most portable drones, all of which let you expand your horizons as you continue your journey with drone cinematography. No matter your experience level, you can start with a short rental and determine whether you’ll commit for the long-term.
CHOOSING THE VIDEO DRONE THAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU
There are tons of factors that impact your choice when renting or buying a video drone. Price is a very simple factor that can be reduced down to purchasing the most expensive drone you can afford, without any further consideration. If your budget is more flexible, though, lets examine four other factors to consider besides price: camera choice, size, video quality, and flying noise.
Camera Options and Video Quality
Back in the earliest days of drones, the kind you built yourself, no camera was included and you had to hack a point-and-shoot model to allow interval shooting of still images. We’ve sure come a long way: modern drones almost always include a camera, with the best models equaling the image and video quality of professional DSLR units.
The most flexible drones have camera ports on the bottom that allow you to swap out stabilized cameras, or even let you install a camera with an interchangeable lens mount. The Inspire 2 series, for example, has a bottom-mounted camera port that takes a wide range of options. The flagship model of camera, the Zenmuse X7, has a 24MP (Super 35 size) sensor capable of taking 6K video and supporting 4 different high-quality prime lenses. For maximal flexibility in post processing, the sensor has a phenomenal 14 stops of dynamic range and records in either CinemaDNG or Apple’s ProRes Raw codec. No matter which codec you choose, you’ll never lack for image detail when recording at up to 4.4 Gbps on the removable solid-state drive (SSD).
If your ground crew production unit is using Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) cameras like the Panasonic GH4 or GH5, the MFT Zenmuse X5S will make you feel right at home. Compatible with a wide range of MFT prime lenses, the X5S allows you to keep the same look and field of view as the rest of your production, minimizing the post-processing work needed to match your desired look. The 20MP sensor inside the X5S can record 5.2K at 4.2 Gbps, giving you plenty of room to open up detail in the shadows as you shoot in DJI’s D-Log format.
Hopefully all of the gobbledygook terms above made sense, but if not, you might consider a simpler option for your Inspire 2 cinematography drone. The Zenmuse X4S is well under a thousand bucks, but still sports a large 1” sensor and records in 4K at 60 frames per second. With a high-quality f/2.8 fixed lens on front, you’ll be able to capture 20MP still images and video at up to 100 Mbps in the consumer friendly h.264 codec (which is likely what your cell phone and video camera have). Users with advanced editing software and powerful computers will appreciate DJI’s inclusion of the newer h.265 (HEVC) codec that allows twice the information at the same bitrate, effectively giving you the equivalent of 200-Mbps footage in the same storage space.
Finally, if you don’t need to change cameras and aren’t worried about extensive color grading during post-processing, the Inspire 2 has several little brothers that can serve nicely. The Phantom 4 Pro Plus has the same sensor and high-quality lens of the Zenmuse X4S, but in a full package that includes the drone and a controller with LCD screen.
If you’ve decided that a fixed camera is the way to go, but need a smaller unit than the Phantom 4 Pro, the DJI Mavic series has several options that will give you maximum portability while still letting you shoot in glorious 4K.
The Mavic Pro Platinum has a similar unfolded size and flight time (30 minutes) to the Phantom 4 Pro, but when folded it takes up a small fraction of the space, fitting easily into your backpack. The micro-sized controller holds a phone for live viewing while filming on your drone, and the 12MP sensor records 60Mbps 4K to give you stabilized footage comparable to the best cell phones. The Mavic Air keeps the same sensor and controller, but the body is even smaller, fitting in a large pocket on your jacket. This tiny drone sacrifices about 7-9 minutes of flight time (yielding around 21 minutes per charge), but is so portable and convenient that it’s perfect for hiking or a dense urban environment. Just remember to bring a few spare batteries . . .
Of all the options and criteria in choosing the best drone for movies, you don’t often think of how loud a drone will be until you start flying. Fortunately, there’s an option that produces significantly less noise than most other video drones: the Mavic Pro Platinum that we mentioned above.
With specially engineered motors and propellers, the Mavic Pro Platinum generates about 60% less overall noise power and has a tuned noise signature that makes it much more pleasing to the human ear.
Go Forth and Create!
No matter which drone you choose, the creative possibilities are endless. You’ll be able to find a great video drone for the simplest or most complex project, and the learning curve is easier than you’d think. Whether you need modular cameras and lenses, or a small quiet drone to record your daughter’s game-winning goal, each option we’ve discussed can be a great choice.
Aside from cameras and cinematography, even the aerial part is now simple. Thanks to obstacle avoidance sensors and sophisticated autonomous navigation modes, you can concentrate on capturing great drone video without worrying about flying. Get ready to unleash your inner filmmaker and rent a drone today!