The Top 7 Drones With Camera and GPS For 2017
The holy trinity of the drone world has to be, in no particular order - a fantastic autopilot, a brilliant camera, and spot on GPS. Moreover, the holy grail of most flying enthusiasts is to find the perfect blend of all three of these features in one drone.
A drone with a GPS, autopilot and camera combination offers the greatest range of aerial photography options.
By flying a preprogrammed route or pattern while on autopilot, such a drone cam capture images and video much better than a solo pilot. This is especially true when flying in tricky or challenging weather conditions.
In autopilot mode, a drone is monitoring and adjusting its location and flight thousands of times per second. Manual piloting is just not capable of matching this level of flying.
A GPS autopilot flight system and camera are essential for things such as 3D mapping, aerial photogrammetry, and multispectral imaging. These features are also vital for crop monitoring or site surveying. The drone can fly on autopilot on a given route, while you concentrate on working the camera to capture the best video or stills.
Unless you have big enough wallet, you are probably going to have to trade off the quality of one feature against another. However, this review looks at seven drones which offer the best GPS, autopilot, and camera combinations. They all feature excellent supporting software and come at affordable prices.
DJI Phantom 4
When it came out in 2016, the Phantom 4 was hailed as the benchmark for professional camera drones. Despite its many advanced features, however, its competitive price still makes it one of the best value drones available.
The Phantom 4 is at home either carrying out professional camera work or creating photogrammetry imagery in 3D. It's brilliant abilities as camera platform are thanks to a seamless interplay between the Phantom 4’s agility, GPS system, autopilot, and camera.
GLONASS and GPS
The Phantom 4 utilizes some 24 satellites via GLOSNASS and GPS for very accurate and fast positioning and connections. The drone can pinpoint its location and relative position to you whilst flight. It also sends signals to display its map location.
Combined the satellite positioning with the advanced flight system gives the drone a whole range of capabilities such as a return to home function.
Autopilot Flight Modes
Filming and flying at the same time is very easy with the Phantom 4 thanks to some pretty advanced technology.
The drone uses a system of ten components consisting of seven cameras (two each facing forward, downward and rearward plus the main camera), compass, redundant IMUs, infrared sensing, dual-band GLONASS/GPS satellite positioning, two downward ultrasonic rangefinders and computing cores.
All this allows the Phantom 4 to create a 3D model of its surroundings in real time, including the position and height of obstacles.
The compass and IMU and collect all the crucial flight information such as direction and speed data. At the same time these features also automatically correct any errors to provide a highly reliable and accurate flying experience.
The Phantom 4 has three primary flying modes - P-Mode (Position), S-Mode (Sport) and A-Mode (Attitude).
• P-Mode. This is the regular, default flight mode with GLONASS and GPS satellite positioning as well as obstacle sensing and visual positioning. You need to be in this setting to make use of the intelligent flight modes like beginner mode, ActiveTrack, Waypoints, and TapFly.
• A-Mode. In this mode the GPS is off but altitude control remains on. It gives experienced pilots the freedom to be acrobatic.
• S-Mode. Sport Mode allows the drone to reach speeds of 45mph. As well as putting it in S-mode on the controller you also have to turn on the “Multiple Flight Mode” in DJI’s Go app. In this mode, you have both satellite and visual positioning. In this mode, the obstacle sensing devices are switched off.
The Phantom 4 autopilot features include:
• Beginner Mode
• Obstacle Avoidance
• Draw Waypoints
• Course Lock
• Terrain Follow Mode
• Active Track (Profile, Spotlight, Circle)
• Home Lock
• Tripod Mode
• Gesture Mode
When in Flight Autonomy mode, the Phantom 4 uses a total of five high-resolution vision sensors in stereo. Two of these at the back, another two in front plus infrared sensors on both sides. This gives four direction obstacle avoidance allowing you to have fun with some adventurous filming and flying.
The Draw Waypoints features new technology that lets you draw a route on the screen. The drone will follow this path at a set altitude and automatically hover and brake if it detects obstacles (as long as there is enough light). This is perfect for letting you focus on getting the best camera shots.
The Phantom 4 camera system is a significant improvement from the one on the Phantom 4. Sensor size, image processing, and system resolution amongst other features have all been upgraded. The camera is Phantom’s most powerful to date.
With a 20-megapixel CMOS, one-inch sensor, the camera in the Pro is almost four times as powerful as the one on its predecessor.
The increased sensor size captures more information for each pixel to display and thus produces a higher quality image. The bigger sensor also delivers better, noise-to-signal ratio, dynamic range, and improved performance in low light conditions.
The Pro 4 camera also has a top ISO of 12800 with larger pixels plus increased contrast. The images it produces are high enough quality, but there is also adequate data for further post-production.
The Pro 4 features an enhanced ‘’cinema’’ processing system in video. This allows production to be optimized at 4096 x 2160/60 frames per second (DCI 4K/60) with a 100 Mbps bitrate, giving you slow-motion images in high-resolution. The drone is also capable of supporting the codec video H.265 (with a maximum resolution of 4096 X 2160/30 fps).
The H.265 bit rate offers twice the image processing of the H.264, which means much better image quality. For optimum color grading, it is best to record using the D-log setting.
Can't Afford a DJI Phantom 4 or want something better? Checkout our article on the best DJI Phantom Alternative
DJI Mavic Pro
The fold up Mavic Pro is DJI’s smallest drone currently available. Compact it might be, but it is packed with the latest technology.
One of the best things about the Mavic Pro is that it handles equally well both indoors and outside. It has excellent collision avoidance sensors with multiple autopilot flight modes. The drone has a massive 4.3-mile transmission range.
The Mavic Pro also comes with a first rate 4K camera.
GPS and GLOSNASS
Like all drones, the Mavic Pro uses both the GPS and GLOSNASS navigation systems. With a possible connection to as many as 20 satellites, you should rarely lose an outdoor signal.
Combined with the satellite signals, the Mavic Pro’s two vision sensors give you unrivaled flying precision. The drone has DJI’s new improved precise landing system complete with a first class return-to-home point ability.
Excellent Flight Stability
DJI’s “FlightAutonomy” system consists of seven separate components that work in conjunction to give the Mavic Pro unrivaled flying accuracy and stability.
This system has five cameras (dual forward and downward plus the primary camera), two ultrasonic range finders, redundant sensors and the dual-band GLONASS and GPSpositioning plus 24 powerful computing cores.
The right and left handside cameras are at the front of the Mavic. They are secured in place with a bracket made of aluminum to give them the best alignment.
In flight, the onboard computer creates a 3D map. All four cameras take pictures to measure distance between the drone and any obstacles.
All the intelligent flight modes including ActiveTrack, Terrain Follow, and TapFly use this very effective obstacle avoidance system. It is especially useful in Return to Home mode allowing the drone to come back without colliding into any objects.
The dual forward and downward vision sensors can only operate during daylight, but if it is bright enough, either indoors or outside are capable of seeing up to a range to almost 50 feet.
Filming and flying at the same time is very easy with the Mavic Pro thanks to its ActiveTrack with five autopilot modes.
• Spotlight. This will set the drone to circle a stationary or traveling object. It will also follow either in front of or behind a moving target.
• Profile. In this mode, the drone will keep pace with and fly alongside an object.
• Trace. This keeps the camera focused on any target allowing you free to concentrate on flying.
• Terrain Follow Mode. Here the drone will automatically fly at the same height above the ground no matter what the terrain.
• TapFly. Once you have programmed a straight line the DJI Go App, you can get the Mavic Pro to fly in this direction simply by tapping the screen.
All of these autopilot modes are fantastic if you want the drone to film you while cycling or running etc. You can keep up with the action no matter what’s going on.
4k Stabilized Camera
The Mavic Pro’s camera gimbal is the smallest designed by DJI’s engineers. With brushless motors on all three axes, the gimbal allows the cameras to be very precisely controlled. It is also is very good at canceling out the vibrations and movement from the drone.
This 4K camera itself uses technologies found in all DJI cameras. Perhaps its stand out feature is the 1/2.3 inch CMOS image sensor, a type usually found in professional sports cameras.
Aerial photography is optimized by an integrated lens with an equivalent focal length of 28mm. The camera provides smooth 4K video at 30fps and 1080P video at 96fps or 12-megapixel photos.
Overall, the Mavic Pro camera gives you crystal-clear photos and film.
• Max Image Size: 4000×3000
• Shutter Speed: 8s -1/8000s
• Lens FOV: 78.8° 28 mm (35 mm format equivalent) f/2.2 with distortion of < 1.5% Focus from 0.5 m to ∞
• ISO Range: 100-3200 video and 100-1600 photo
• HD: 1280 × 720 24 /25 / 30 / 48 / 50 / 60 / 120 frames per second
• FHD: 1920 × 1080 24 /25 / 30 /48 / 50 /60 /96 frames per second
• 4K – 3840 × 2160 at 24 / 25 / 30 frames per second
• C4K – 4096 × 2160 at 24 frames per second
• 2.7K – 2704 × 1520 at 24 / 25 /30 frames per second
DJI Inspire 2
The Inspire 2 builds on the great reputation of the mark 1 model. It takes all the Inspire 1’s good features and makes them even better.
The drone features a new camera which can process images at up to 5.2K in RAW, Apple ProRes, Cinema DNG and more. The improved video transmission system has the options of dual channel and signal frequency. This allows video to be simultaneously streamed from the main camera and an onboard FPV camera – great for pilot and camera operator teamwork.
The Inspire 2 accelerates from 0 to 50 mph in just 5 seconds. It can hit a top speed of 58 mph. A dual battery system prolongs flight time up to an impressive maximum of 27 minutes.
The drone’s automatic flying system is top notch. There are multiple intelligent flight modes including two obstacle avoidance and sensor redundancy. Particularly impressive is the Spotlight Pro feature. With this, even solo pilots can create dramatic and complex camera shots and video.
GLONASS and GPS
The Inspire 2 makes use of both the GLONASS and GPSsatellite systems. It can locate as many as 24 different satellites giving you much more accurate and faster signals.
4G Network Connection
There is the option of using the Inspire 2 with 4G, although this does need you to provide your own USB dongle and SDK development. The high bandwidth of 4G allows you to send top quality videos directly to a network server, cutting transmission latency by 500ms. In addition, 4G also lets you control the Inspire 2 over very long distances.
The Inspire 2’s sense and avoid feature makes use of forward and downward vision sensors to detect obstacles up to 30 meters ahead. In this mode, you can fly up to 34 mph at an attitude angle of 25°. When flying in enclosed spaces, there are upward facing sensors that can also detect obstacles 16ft above.
All these sensors are active during normal flight and intelligent flight settings.
The Spotlight Pro mode is excellent for action shots and video. This feature uses advanced algorithms to lock on and track a target. It captures shots that once would have needed a dedicated camera operator. Even when the target is moving wildly, and the gimbal is reaching its rotation limit, the drone will orientate itself in the same direction, so the cameras to remain focused on the subject.
The Inspire 2’s autonomous flight modes are:
• Obstacle Sense And Avoid
• Spotlight Pro
• Points of Interest
• Smart Return To Home
CineCore 2.0 Camera
The Inspire 2 is equipped with a CineCore 2.0 image processing system, capable of recording 5.2K videos in Cinema DNG, Apple ProRes and lots more.
CineCore 2.0 is built into the nose of the drone and will work with any camera connected through the dedicated gimbal port. Some of the cameras compatible with the system include the Zenmuse X4S and X5S.
Zenmuse X5S Camera and Gimbal
The Zenmuse X5S has an uprated Micro 4/3 sensor with a dynamic range of 12.8 stops. It can support up to eight standard M4 / 3 lenses (including zoom lenses) with focal lengths ranging from 9mm-45mm (about the same as 18 mm – 90 mm on a 35 mm camera). This gives you much more creative options than many other standard cameras.
Combined with the CineCore 2.0, the Zenmuse X5S is capable of capturing 5.2K at 30 frames per second in CinemaDNG video and Apple ProRes video. It can also handle 4K at 60 frames per second using H.264 and 4K at 30 frames per second using H.265. Both of these are at 100 Mbps.
The DNG can also be used for continuous burst shooting at 20 frames per second with 20.8 MP images.
It is a testament to the quality of the Inspire 2 that it is designed to use such a high-end professional aerial imaging camera like the Zenmuse X5S
Zenmuse X4S Camera and Gimbal
The Zenmuse X4S camera has a 20-megapixel 1-inch sensor and a maximum ISO of 12,800. Compared to the x3, the dynamic range has been increased by one stop, with a signal to noise ratio and color sensitivity increased by 1.5 stops.
DJI has designed a sepecial compact lens with low dispersion and distortion 24 mm equivalent prime lens, for the Zenmuse X4S. With this 84° FOV, high-resolution lens, the X4S can record 4K at 60 frames per second and 4K/30 frames per second, H.265 videos at a 100 Mbps bitrate and over sample 5.2K video into 4K video in real-time. All with fine image details.
The Zenmuse X4S supports 14 frames per second shooting at 20 megapixels in both JPEG and DNG formats while in burst mode.
The X4S is as good at aerial photography as it is at capturing images on the ground. Combines with the excellent gimbal it has an ideal balance of agility and image quality.
Walkera Voyager 4
The Voyager 4 is an excellent ‘’professional drone’’ from Walkera. This company really crams in as much technology as possible into their drones, often making different spec versions of the same model. The Voyager 4 is no exception and offers a first-class flying experience combined with a great camera set-up.
Some of the Voyager 4’s features include a retractable landing gear, 20 minutes flight time an 18 channel remote controller. This drone also has a comprehensive range of apps and is capable of live HD transmissions up to a range of 1km.
The Voyager 4 intelligent flight modes include:
• Destination Planning Waypoint
• Fly Around Object
• Altitude Hold Mode
• Circle Flight Mode
• One-Key Back To Base
• One Key Take Off And Landing
GPS and GLONASS
Like most of the drones in this review, the Voyager 4 uses both GLONASS and GPSnavigation systems to pick up more satellites for better signal reception and location.
Walkera Voyager 4 Main Features
• 18 Channel Remote Controller
• Live HD Transmission To 1 KM
• Detachable gimbal
• Comprehensive App
• Retractable Landing Gear
• Flight time of 20 minutes
Gimbal And 18x UHD Camera
With a newly designed three axis brushless gimbal, the Voyager 4 offers a very stable camera platform. It also has advanced shock absorption technology to reduce vibrations and movement built into the gimbal. This detachable gimbal allows the camera to produce clear images even when the focal length is magnified.
With an 18x zoom, the Voyager 4’s camera is one of the few on the market to offer such a large magnification range. The Inspire 1’s Zenmuse Z3 also has a zoom, but it is only 7x optical magnification.
• Focal Length – 6.7 to 134.5 mm
• Total Pixels – 3840 x 2160
• Zoom Ratio – 18x
• Close Shot Distance – 10 mm to 1500 mm
• Output Bitrate – 32 Kbps – 16 Mbps
• Compression Standard H.264 / H.265
• Horizontal View – 59.8 – 3.00 wide angle
• ISO Range – 100 to 3200 (video) 100 to 1600 (image)
• 120 fps (1280 x 720)
• 60 fps (1920 x 1080)
• 30 fps (3840 x2160)
Yuneec Typhoon H
The Typhoon H Pro multirotor is Yuneec’s top of the range drone. It is touted as one of the most advanced aerial photography platforms available in such a compact size. It delivers high-end professional flying and photography at a consumer price.
The Typhoon H has a flight duration of up to 25 minutes while filming with the CGO3+ 4K UHD camera. The Android-powered ST16 Ground Station features a 7-inch touchscreen that displays live footage in HD 720p resolution.
This drone features the latest GPS features with a wide variety of autopilot modes, including the very impressive Realsense Collision Avoidance system.
With high-performance propellers, the Typhoon H is agile, fast and very responsive to commands.
Typhoon H Pro autopilot features include:
• Point of Interest. This mode allows you to select a subject and Typhoon H will orbit that target autonomously.
• Follow Me / Watch Me. In Follow Me mode the drone will keep pace with you. Watch Me makes the Typhoon H follow you while always pointing the camera at you.
• Collision Avoidance
• Journey. Here the drone will go up and out, as far as 150ft, and capture the perfect aerial selfie.
• Orbit. In this mode, the Typhoon H flies a circular path around you, keeping the camera trained on you the whole time.
• Curve Cable Cam. This allows you to program a route for Typhoon H to fly along. Typhoon H will fly between pre-set coordinates while independently controlling camera position.
• Auto Take Off
• Dynamic Return to Home. By flicking a switch, the drone will return and land within 26 feet of you.
The Typhoon H’s high-performance propellers are very simple to set up and dismantle thanks to quick release buttons. It’s six arms are also foldable.
The landing gear is retractable which allows the camera a clear 360° view.
The Typhoon H Pro’s 4K camera is mounted on a CGO3+ gimbal. This 3-axis gimbal with anti-vibration technology offers an unlimited 360-degree range of motion. It provides a very stable platform for video and still images.
The CGO3+ gimbal camera is equipped with an 115-degree wide-angle fixed focus lens. It has a built-in video downlink that produces 720p real time image transmissions. There is also a manual setting.
The camera resolutions are; 4K UHD 30fps, HD 1080p 120fps video / 12 Megapixel still camera
ST16 All-In-One Controller
The Typhoon H has the ST16 Ground Station, which is an integrated transmitter, receiver, and Android platform. This gives you complete control over the drone including the ability to program autonomous flight and capture stunning photos and videos. The large 7-inch integrated screen displays real-time flight footage.
The Typhoon H Pro is a beautiful drone to look at. With excellent autopilot features, a top-notch camera, good GPS system, and competitive price, the H Pro is definitely one of the top drones out there right now.
Walkera Scout X4
The Scout X4 from Walkera Technology, Scout X4 is packed with great features and high-end technology. It has an advanced GPS flight control system for precise flying plus an excellent GPS position holding capability. The GPS, flight control system includes a Failsafe Return To Home feature and a one button start and hold option.
Autopilot With Ground Station
One of the standout features of the Scout X4 is its waypoint mission planning. You can program up to an impressive 128 waypoints including flight designation via either the included Bluetooth ground station device or your tablet or phone. The drone can be set to follow a particular course or circle a GPS waypoint. The Scout X4 also has a built-in “Follow Me” mode.
One of the X4’s most innovative features is its ability to change from a quadcopter with four motors to one with eight engines for extra power. The landing gear is also retractable so doesn’t get in the way of filming.
Compared to other drones the X4 has an impressive flight time of up to 25 minutes.
Walkera Scout X4 Main Features:
• Transforms from 4 motors into eight motors to improve its load ability.
• Designated Flight – Set up to 128 waypoints
• Circle Object With A GPS Waypoint Mode
• Follow Me mode
• GPS Position Hold
• Intelligent Controls – Auto take off, one button return to home
• High Capacity Smart Battery – up to 25 minute flight time
• Real Time Telemetry Monitoring
• Camera and Gimbal
The X4 comes with a 3 axis, G-3D brushless gimbal. It is equipped with the wide-angle lens iLook+ camera that shoots film at HD 1080p video and 30 fps. There is a built-in 5.8ghz transmission system, which allows for a seamless uplink to the Devo F12E Transmitter.
The iLook+ is capable of taking very high-quality pictures and can be completely controlled via the transmitter.
If you want to change the camera for your more preferred model, the X4 is a gopro drone allowing it to accommodate most types including GoPro’s Hero3 or Hero4 action cameras.
Other cameras equipment can be used with the X4 including the GoPro Hero3 or Hero4 action cameras.
Yuneec Breeze 4k
Yuneec’s Breeze is simple and compact that has been described as a drone for people concerned with taking selfies rather than actual flying.
As such the Breeze is relatively affordable, easy to fly and weighing less than 1lb can be carried around in a small backpack. Indeed it doesn’t even need a control box. You just connect the Breeze to a smartphone or tablet via WiFi and control via your iOS or Andriod device.
Easy to Fly
The Breeze has five autopilot modes - Pilot, Follow Me, Journey, Orbit, and Selfie. This makes it incredibly simple to operate. Take-off and landing are fully automated with a tap of a button. GPS and downward-facing camera sensors keep the Breeze flying relatively steadily.
• Pilot mode.
This lets you fly the drone via on-screen controls. It is not as precise, nor does it offer the range of movements that a more conventional control box drone is capable of. However, you can use it to fine tune the position, direction, and height of the BREEZE.
• Selfie mode.
This is the equivalent of a very long maneuverable selfie stick. The drone will fly out to a pre-set distance and altitude with the camera always facing you.
• Orbit mode
On this setting, the drone circles a central point with the camera always facing the target.
• Follow Me mode
This makes the drone track a moving target using GPS signals.
• Journey mode.
Set in this mode, the drone will fly a set distance away from you and them return.
Since the Breeze only uses WiFi, its range is limited to about 100m and 80m in altitude. The battery also only lasts for about 12 minutes, and charging takes 30-40 minutes.
The design of the Breeze is very straightforward. It has four folding rotors, four fold out landing gear feet and a camera built into the nose. The battery can be removed for recharging.
Although the rotors do not fold into the body, the Breeze is already small enough to fit into a reasonably sized bag. It also comes with a compact, hard plastic carry case to keep it safe while you find your flying spot.
Made of lightweight plastic, the Breeze is none-the-less strong enough to stand up to a few bangs and scrapes. However, it is unlikely to survive a full on crash into, say concrete. Replacement parts are readily available from Yuneec if you do need to repair the Breeze.
The package also comes with a set of prop guards which a very useful if you are going to fly the drone indoors.
Despite the fact that the Breeze comes equipped with a 4K Ultra High Definition camera, image quality is not great. Due to its tiny sensor, stills or video are best suited for online sharing or viewing on the phone.
The video quality itself is a bit flat no matter whether you are recording in 4K, 1080p or 720p. However, the latter two resolutions do incorporate some electronic image stabilization.
Arguably the biggest drawback to the Breeze is the lack of a three-axis gimbal to keep the camera steady and level during flight. If the drone tilts, then the camera tilts along with it. At high altitudes, the buffeting and juddering from winds is very noticeable. There is also no vibration dampening.
The camera takes stills at 13MP, but as the videos, these images are a little lacking when it comes fine detail and contrast.
There is no option to shoot in RAW, but some of the settings are adjustable. Things like white balance and shutter speed can be tweaked in the default automatic exposure mode.
Overall the Breeze is not a drone for someone who is interested in piloting a drone. Instead, it is ideal for people who want a camera for simple ariel photos and video. Even then. You are unlikely to win any major photography awards.
In the real world, you are unlikely to find the absolute best GPS, Autopilot, and camera in one package. Every drone tends to be stronger in one or two of these areas. The above seven drones arguably provide the best blend of all three features at affordable prices. I hope this article goes some way
If you liked this article, you may also like our article on the most expensive drones