Aerial photography and cinematography have never been easier, thanks to the development of user-friendly, but sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). More commonly referred to as drones, these devices range from tiny consumer models to those used by professionals. While some come equipped with integrated cameras, other UAVs—like those featured here—can be mounted with third-party models, from GoPro action cameras to high-end still and video cameras. The market for drones is still growing and finding its way among photographers, but these options should get you started.
3D ROBOTICS SOLO
Designed to fly the GoPro HERO3, 3+ or 4, the 3DR Solo—which is equipped with a dual 1 GHz computer—is optimized for the latter two camera models. With an iOS or Android device, app and a Solo gimbal (not provided), pilots have total in-flight control over the GoPro’s features, including recording start/stop and camera settings. The camera can also be controlled via dedicated buttons on the gaming-style controller. Live streaming of HD 720p video is also possible. Assorted shooting modes include Cable Cam, which locks the drone on a straight path between two points so you can concentrate on panning and tilting without concern for the direction of the Solo. An “Orbit” option keeps the subject of your choice perfectly positioned in a circle, or the Solo can automatically track and follow a subject with the “Follow Me” option. Expect flying times of 20 and 25 minutes in a 0.5-mile range, with and without the camera, respectively. A flight simulator to help newcomers hone their flying skills is included. The Solo requires an iOS or Android mobile device for operation and comes bundled with a battery, controller and charger. No gimbal is provided. List Price: From $1,000.
DJI SPREADING WINGS S1000+
Thanks in part to its sturdy carbon-fiber arms and landing gear, this eight-rotor drone is capable of flying heavy DSLRs such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a maximum flight time of 15 minutes when using a 6S 15000 mAh battery. Compatible with DJI’s Z15 Zenmuse camera gimbals, the S1000+’s retractable landing gear and low gimbal mounting bracket provide access to a wide range of shooting angles, and dampers separate the gimbal bracket from the main frame to reduce high-frequency vibrations. A removable upper centerboard provides access to the IMU (inertial measurement unit) and makes it easy to install other components such as the main controller, along with other accessories, such as the iOSD (on screen display) and the DJI Lightbridge HD video downlink. The centerboard is compatible with the DJI WKM and A2 flight controllers. Equipped with a new power distribution system, power cords and cables are secured so they don’t come loose during flight. Folding arms are designed for convenient portability, but the S1000+ can be set up and ready to fly in about five minutes. In addition to the basic model, 10 kit variations are also available. List Price: From $1,900.
FREEFLY SYSTEMS ALTA
The ALTA is designed to carry a 15-pound payload with professional cameras such as the RED DRAGON, ARRI ALEXA and Sony F55, among others, for up to a 14-minute flight time. Unlike other drones, the gimbal, like Freefly’s MVI, can be mounted on top or on the bottom to film from either an upward-facing or a downward angle. Thanks to its Toad in the Hole quick-release mechanism, the gimbal can be quickly disconnected and moved from one position to the other. In addition to the gimbal’s in-flight stabilization, the rigid carbon booms minimize vibration and air-frame resonance, and an integrated column diminishes initial take-off vibration. ALTA’s Synapse flight controller provides an integrated on-screen display with advanced data readouts, including a variety of flight information. Flight modes include manual, height hold, climb rate control, position hold, ground speed control, return-to-home and auto-land. Thanks to the Synapse’s capabilities and remotely adjustable speeds, pilots have extreme control over the ALTA’s velocity, whether executing very slow movements or dynamic moves. Although this is a sophisticated model, the ALTA comes fully assembled and can go from case to ready to fly very quickly. Bundled components include a Pelican case, battery cage, landing gear for top mounting, Toad in the Hole quick release and more. Be sure to budget for batteries, a gimbal and other necessities. List Price: From $8,495.
WALKERA TALI H500
This bundle includes a brushless, 3-axis gimbal that mounts and provides stabilization for the GoPro HERO3, 3+ and 4. The TALI H500 six-rotor drone comes with a 12-channel transmitter with a 5-inch color display to view data and a real-time view from the camera. It offers a range of flight options, including a beginner-friendly mode, as well as fully manual controls. Equipped with an advanced GPS system, a single button press will bring the drone home and, in the event of a lost signal, the TALI H500 will attempt to return to its starting position before landing. Additionally, it can circle a GPS waypoint. The built-in, rechargeable battery powers flight times of up to 25 minutes, with battery charge status monitoring to avoid running out of juice midflight. The TALI H500 is also available in a bundle with the company’s iLook camera. List Price: $1,400 (with 3-axis gimbal and case).