Which Drone Should I Buy Summer 2020?
So you’re interested in buying a drone, but you’re not sure which one is best for you? Well you have come to the right place! Today I am going to discuss what I learned while shopping for a drone in the Spring of 2020.
You see, in November of 2019 I had the amazing opportunity to go to Norway for a few weeks! One of the main reasons I had chosen Norway was because of the beautiful scenery and ample photography subjects. One of the most exciting things about the journey would be the chance to fly my drone over a fjord and capture some great videos and images. I had succeeded in similar plans in various other locations including the Bahamas and near Big Sur California. The videos captured are some of my favorite travel memories.
I was flying the Mavic Pro at the time, and while I had experience flying, I had never flown in mountains or even in the cold (it was near freezing all day). So, to make a long story short, I got to one of the locations I was most excited about near a bridge in Lofoten. I hastily set up my drone and off it went. The images I was seeing were fantastic! The sun was setting over the mountains and I thought I had truly nailed it. That was until the controller started beeping and I saw a warning that the ‘signal was low’. Immediately after seeing the warning the screen went fully blank and my heart sunk. I had just warned my girlfriend and perhaps myself that everyone who flies these things eventually seems to lose them.
So I waited for a few minutes, and then a few more. I had high hopes that it would return to the home spot as it was supposed to, but I never heard of or saw my Mavic Pro again. I still see pictures of the very spot I lost it fairly often on Instagram, and I like to tell myself that the drone lives there now.
So in the Spring of 2020 I finally got over my heart break and decided to buy a new drone. I had plans to go to Key West, and thought I could make a pretty cool video down there. And so, the research began.
I had a few prerequisites and requirements that the new drone had to meet. Firstly I wanted this drone to have a better camera. The camera sensor on the Mavic Pro was pretty tiny, and I found it hard to get good pictures and videos in low light. I also had an issue with the water in a few of my videos. It seemed almost like the sensor just couldn’t keep up with the details, and the water always looked over sharpened and pixelated.
Second, I wanted the new drone to be cheaper. The Mavic was nearly $1500 with the fly more package and that was a fairly large investment for such a risky purchase (risky, because I am not that great of a pilot and do stupid things).
Lastly, while it wasn’t a hard requirement, I was leaning toward another DJI. Even though I had lost one of their drones, I still felt as though their products were easy to use and offered the high quality that I desired.
So without further ado, here’s what I discovered, and the drone I ultimately selected:
Best Beginner Drone
Pros: Small, Lightweight (<250g), Relatively Inexpensive
Cons: Struggles in wind and low light situations, small camera sensor
This was the first drone that I looked into when I started my search. The idea of a small, sub 250g drone that I would not be required to register, and that could be flown in more places, like Canada, seemed appealing to me. I struggled a bit in Norway to pack everything I wanted to bring in my camera bag, and the idea of having a drone that would not take up much space seemed logical. I wasn’t seriously considering it until I saw a video from Casey Neistat on YouTube and saw that the Mini was quite a capable drone, with a surprisingly good camera.
The Mini, however, seemed to be a bit small, and the images and videos were not as large or as clear as I really wanted for landscape photography. For the price tag right around $400, it seemed like a great little drone, just not what I was looking for. If this drone had existed a few years ago when I first got into droning, I think this would have been my top choice as I discovered if I even liked the hobby.
If you’re just getting into photography and/ or flying drones, this may be a good place for you to start. This drone is easy to fly and has a lot of the features of the big boys without the hefty price tag.
YouTube Reviews of the DJI Mavic Mini
Peter McKinnon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luNn6ovoKVw
Flytpath - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oy5ZSo0dGoU
Buy the DJI Mavic Mini on Amazon - https://amzn.to/3dQANSu
Best Overall Drone
Pros: Amazing Camera, long flight time, all the features
Cons: Expensive, relatively large compared to the other drones on this list
For me the Mavic Pro 2 is at the top of the prosumer market. There are two versions to choose from that allow for a full 1” sensor on the camera, or a zoom feature. Based on other reviews and my own personal photography style the version with the 1” sensor was the clear choice. I like taking wide vistas and landscape shots, and I knew the larger sensor would come in handy. The zoom seems to be more focused at cinematographers and folks that want to have more movement options with their cameras. I don’t shoot a lot of videos, but this is my impression from watching those who do.
If money was no object, and I was sure I wouldn’t crash or lose this drone, I would have gone with this option. It has all the bells and whistles and is an outstanding piece of technology. But, with the price tag at around $1600, it was more than I wanted to spend at this time. My thought was that this is a backup camera, and already had a few other future purchases in mind. I also thought that the Pro 2 was just a bit too much for my needs. Like I said, I don’t do a whole lot of video to start with, and I just felt like I didn’t have a serious enough need for this level of drone. If I was a real estate or wedding photographer and had regular drone video needs, this would have been the better option in my eyes.
YouTube reviews of the DJI Mavic Pro 2
Potato Jet explaining why he bought the Pro 2 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Uogjyo-Z80
Matti Haapoja - He does a good job comparing the Pro 2 and the Air 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH10mF48hYU
Buy the DJI Mavic Pro 2 on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2Ag5Yca
Best Drone for Me
Pros: Great Camera, improvement in almost every category from the Mavic Pro
Cons: Still quite expensive, controller is a bit bulky
It just so happened that during my drone search the Mavic Air 2 was released. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a hunch that this drone would be coming out soon. I watch quite a few different tech review vlogs and many hinted that DJI was aiming for what I can best describe as my “Goldilocks” zone. Somewhere better than the Mini and Air, but less expensive than the Mavic Pro 2 without suffering too much of a hit to camera quality. This drone slid perfectly into that position.
My first reaction was that this was a major improvement over my Mavic Pro in every way. Everything is smaller, from the drone itself to the batteries and charging system (I got the Fly More package). The controller is slightly bigger, but I think it’s a better design. The removable joysticks that were standard starting with the original Air were featured on this new controller as well, and that was a huge improvement for me. The joysticks on the Mavic Pro were not removable and made it a pain to store in my camera/ travel bag (I ended up purchasing a joystick guard but it still was not ideal). The Air 2 is a bit bigger than the Air 1, and that is a slight bummer, but I think it’s still workable for me (especially since I got a bigger camera bag).
Additionally I feel like this drone has all the options I required from the higher end drones. The ½” sensor with 48MP was more than enough for my needs. It has cool options for 8K hyper lapse and some onboard camera optimization with it’s SmartPhoto options.
There are numerous flight modes that allow for easy cinematographic looks like follow, and orbit. These are useful when you are trying to film yourself or want to get nice smooth motion without having to control the drone yourself. There are also lots of options for video quality and FPS from 4K 60 FPS to 1080 240 FPS! So you can now get all that buttery slo-mo while flying.
YouTube reviews of the DJI Mavic Air 2
Kai W - always good for a laugh and great information. Compares the Air vs. the Air 2 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tra1T93HMKI
Sam Kolder - This is the video that basically sold the Air 2 for me. Sam is one hell of a drone pilot and seems to really like this drone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTkgx0eRKz8
BONUS: Sam Kolder drone compilation video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTWoeqPXpuo
Buy the DJI Mavic Air 2 on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2VAiw5F
UPDATE: I’ve had the Air 2 for a few months now and I could not be happier with my purchase. With the COVID situation I have not had a chance to travel to fun places and take drone shots, but I have been flying around my house and I continue to be impressed with this drone. Additionally I would recommend the Fly More package. The extra batteries and charging station are a nice addition and have come in handy when I wanted to fly but forgot to charge the battery that was on the drone.