If you’ve decided to go with drones this year, you need to start here: our 2022 Leisure Guide for Drone Buyers.
by DRONELIFE contributor John Saginario
Whether you’re a photographer, starting out with racing, or just starting out in your backyard, these are the best options for every budget.
Got some shiny new holiday gift cards and want to devote yourself to your next big hobby? This is the guide for you.
Like all consumer technology, the drone space is changing a lot. The big players launch a ton of new models every year, and smaller companies are trying to catch up – sometimes in a less honest way.
What follows is a guide to the best choices with quadcopters, drones, ready-to-fly, and some assembly supplies to get you in the air – from reputable sellers.
The 2022 Drone Buyer’s Guide for Photographers
DJI is the most famous consumer drone manufacturer, which doesn’t surprise owners – DJI knows how to make great gear.
For professionals: DJI Mavic 3 Cine Premium Combo
If you absolutely must fly the best prosumer drone without taking out a second mortgage, DJI’s Mavic line will be greatly upgraded in 2022.
A 4/3 Hasselblad camera. 46 minutes flight time. 15 km range, able to transmit Full HD at 1080p / 60fps to the updated controller. And it supports Apple ProRes 422 HQ with a 1TB SSD inside. The Mavic 3 is the best DJI has made with the Mavic line and is an amazing quadcopter for the content creator.
Best option under $ 1,000: DJI Mavic Air 2S
At just a hair under $ 999, the Mavic Air 2S makes up for everything the previous Air 1 and 2, as well as the Mavic Mini, left on the table. It has a better sensor than its predecessor and can record 5.4K at 30fps or 4K at 60fps. It offers 31 minutes of flight time and an impressive range of 12 km with the controller.
Most importantly, it has greatly improved obstacle avoidance systems and can basically fly through a dense forest itself, as it can detect obstacles in four directions – even at high speeds.
For those who don’t want to save $ 1,000 on the latest device, the Mavic Air 2 is still an incredibly powerful device for about $ 200 less. If weight is an issue and you don’t want to register with the FAA (in the US) or any other country that determines approval by weight, the Mavic Mini 2 comes in at just under 250 grams, but you sacrifice obstacle avoidance and some the advanced features of the Air series.
Best option to fly fast: DJI FPV drone
No question: DJi’s first jump into the world of FPV has had an enormous impact on the hobby. Your FPV drone has set a new standard, offering very impressive speed and performance with many of the same safety and intelligence features as its older brothers. All in one immersive FPV experience that you couldn’t build yourself.
Combined with the DJI v2 goggles and controller, this quadcopter is a fantastic way to get into the world of FPV without constantly crashing while studying and damaging your equipment. The drone has some, but not all, of DJI’s brilliant avoidance features that will (hopefully) keep you in the air and out of trees.
But be warned: if you crash this quadcopter hard enough, it will break. And repairing it requires a trip back to DJI – for everything but a broken prop. It’s great complex and powerful, but that comes with a compromise in terms of durability. Below are more FPV options with durability in mind.
For hobbyists or enthusiasts
Racing and “Freestyle” (basically the opposite of racing in the drone world) are the two fastest growing segments of the FPV market. YouTube videos are full of skilled drone drivers performing hair-raising stunts and incredible twists and turns through all kinds of landscapes: forests, abandoned warehouses, sports stadiums, aircraft graveyards, whatever!
Practice is definitely required before you can start hitting small gaps or diving boards, but with enough time and patience everything is within reach. Start with a simulator (like Liftoff, Velocidrone, or FPV.skydive), charge up your backpacks, and make your way to the local field!
The best for the serious FPV enthusiast: iFlight Evoque HD 6S
iFlight has grown into a big name in the FPV space in a relatively short period of time. Their latest addition to FPV is the Evoque, a pinnacle of FPV design that is an amazing experience.
Most of the best BNF (bind and fly) quadcopters sold today come with a DJI FPV offering pre-installed – therefore a DJI headset is required. You can purchase the drone as “plug and play” – meaning you supply your own controller (FrSky, Spektrum or whatever you wish) or it can come pre-installed with TBS Crossfire. It also runs 6s batteries, which offer slightly more flight time – and power – over traditional 4s packs.
If you want to improve your game in freestyle, this is the Porsche and Rolls Royce from FPV in a drone. Professional reviewers have named it the best FPV drone iFlight has ever made and no other company has beat it. It is available in both analog and digital versions.
Best for Backyard Rippers: Happymodel Crux35 (HD or Analog)
If you’re not quite ready to risk a $ 500 quadcopter power looping in your neighbor’s portico, the happy model Crux35 is a must-have. Building on a proven design that spans several years, the Crux35 (so named because it uses 3.5-inch props) is lighter and more agile than the iFlight Evoque, but would easily make the most seasoned pilot believe that they fly something with a lot more weight and power.
The advantage of the smaller size lies in the physics: It weighs significantly less and therefore crashes better. By that we mean, when you go under, you will break fewer pieces. What you’re likely to do, let’s face it.
Whether you use analog or digital FPV, the Crux35 is extremely light. Even in the most severe cases, it’s still below the FAA’s 250g limit, which means you can fly it without worrying about registration – but you still need to comply with applicable regulations.
Best for Micro for indoor races or pets: Happymodel Mobula 6
Go to an indoor “Tiny Whoop” race (where hobbyists run around with tiny, channeled drones on pre-arranged tracks) and each heat has at least two of them.
The Mobula 6 (a goofy name as we know) was one of the first to offer a great, brushless experience out of the box. It’s still one of the top sellers on FPV, especially in the colder months.
These tiny quads require a FrSky compatible controller and are only analog, which is what a lot of tiny whoop racers prefer anyway. FrSky, RadioMaster or Jumper controllers would work well. Happymodel will likely release an ELRS version of what would be the recommendation to FrSky relatively soon.
For the beginner
If you’re just starting out with FPV, or if you’re looking to fly drones in general (with or without a video feed), there are still plenty of options. Flying without video is called the line of sight and is still an excellent skill. You never know when you will lose a video due to a malfunction – and once you can import it safely, there is less need to pull out your credit card.
Best for getting started with FPV: Emax RTF Tinyhawk III
Emax started making the best motors you could buy and eventually they started making everything else too. In terms of value, robustness and driving pleasure, Emax is hard to beat.
Your Tinyhawk III RTF kit comes with glasses and a radio, as well as a battery and some spare parts. However, a crash shouldn’t be a problem. Although technically a “channeled” quadrocopter, it behaves like a much larger drone. You can also remove the monitor from the glasses and fly with the monitor attached to your controller if you prefer. Safe enough for indoors, but able to fly outdoors without too much wind, this is a great start for a beginner.
Best for FPV averses
If you absolutely don’t want to get into FPV or fly with a video feed, the Ryze Tello (made in partnership with DJI) is the best affordable drone worth it.
It offers an impressive 13 minute flight time and incorporates some DJI technologies that make flying easier than most RTFs on the market. It’s a great platform to learn, and it can pique your curiosity to either invest in a more expensive DJI drone or jump into FPV.
What NOT to buy
It should be noted that Amazon is littered with cheap drones that either look like more expensive, have unpronounceable names, or come from brands that even people who fly quadcopters every day have never heard of. We cannot recommend any of these cheap “video drones” for various reasons:
- They are poorly processed and often have problems
- They come with little or no assistance, and simple things like extra propellers can be very difficult to find.
- Batteries can be weak, unreliable, and are often proprietary – making them almost impossible to replace.
- They are easy to break and almost impossible to repair. All have cheap plastic frames that often cannot be repaired or simply replaced.
- Everything that transmits video is based on very seedy phone apps that are even more unreliable than the drones themselves.
The list goes on. Suffice it to say that if you are remotely serious about flying a drone, you should avoid the cheap deals on Amazon and elsewhere at all costs.
This list is just some of the amazing technologies out there, but these are the best bets out there in early 2022. Due to global supply chain issues, some of these prices may fluctuate over time. Better to strike while the iron is hot!
Read more about the Mavic 3 Cine, recreational drone rules, and where to start drone regulations.
John is an FPV hobbyist and part time woop racer. He also enjoys testing new hardware, building drones, keeping up to date with the latest technological developments, and writing about UAVs in general. He has 2 children, 2 dogs and, ashamed, more quadrocopters than he can reasonably count at once.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional marketplace for drone services, and a passionate observer of the emerging drone industry and regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for emerging technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.
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