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What's a Reasonable Entry Level Drone That Will Provide Competitive Results?

Published: 07/10/2016
By: larry

mavicproFelix in MA says:

After passing the FAA test,  I've developed even more questions about drones and using them. What's a reasonable entry level for a drone that will provide competitive results?  Is a DJI Phantom 4 sufficient or is something like a DJI Inspire raw needed ? Big difference in price.

Drone technology is changing and improving fast. Last month I would have said that DJI Phantom 4 was a good low-end starting drone but within the last few weeks both GoPro and DJI announced new low-end small drones. Both of them are very compact and full of great features.

  • The DJI Mavic Pro - Click the "Watch the video" for a good intro. Available on Amazon now.
  • The GoPro Karma - Click the "See it in action button" for a good intro. Expected to be available Oct 23.

I'm not saying these two new drones are the best, I'm just saying if you are thinking about getting a drone you should probably check out these two new alternatives. DJI Phantom 3 and 4 have been very popular for real estate photography but these new drones are near the same price and much smaller and lighter.

Update 10/7: I just noticed a comparison review by Malek Murison over at of the Mavic and Karma. Malek claims:

...there really is only one winner: DJI’s Mavic Pro. All in all, it seems to be better value for money, more powerful, faster, smaller, lighter, smarter, safer…. Just well thought through and a clear step forward – it pretty much wins in every category. It’s as comprehensive a walkover as DJI could have wished for.

Also: The YouTuber iPhoneDO claims that the camera on the Mavic is better than the Phantom 4.

18 comments on “What's a Reasonable Entry Level Drone That Will Provide Competitive Results?”

  1. We use the DJI Phantom 4 - because of ease of use and excellent camera for land scape filming. We looked at the new Mavic this week, but the camera is not as good as the DJI Phantom 4's camera, and the GoPro also had some of the same complaints on the Youtube Drone folks that we follow. The DJI Phantom 4 has all the best features for collision management, we use our iPhone to control it, battery runs 20 minutes (we have a back up one) and the photos and video coverage is great. We even use our drone for other DC area photographers that do real estate photography but just don't want to mess with the hole drone thing. We love it and specialize in waterfront properties in the Norther Virginia area and enjoy doing it! GO FLY DRONE!

  2. I personally like the 3dr solo. I have 2 of them, one as a back up, as they are in inexpensive at best buy right now. I hear it's a similar experience to the Phantom. It's been reliable. I had a gimbal issue and they replaced it. The only benefit I see is the ability to use the go pro in other applications. I also like how the controller has feed back such as altitude and camera position. I will agree with Cindy on battery time. About 20 min. I have 6 batteries because of thisome sadly.

  3. I use the DJI 3 Pro and have used it for almost a 1 1/2 years. Love it. No issues. Very dependable and fires right up every time. I use a smaller android tablet for it for POV. I do both video and photos with my DJI Pro. I'm glad I pulled the trigger and got the drone 1 1/2 years ago and at the time, it was about $1,500. Since the DJI 4 is out, the prices on the Pro model have dropped to something like $800. Unless you intend to use the latest model (Pro 4) with some of its really cool features like the "follow me" feature and other neat stuff, I think the PRO 3 should be sufficient and you could save a ton of money if you compe to the newest drone out there by DJI.

    I'm not much of a techie when it comes to these drones, so the only hiccup I had was downloading the software and getting it installed both on the controller and the bird. But DJI has got a huge fan base, tons of blog sites and you tube vids that can help you sort through this process. And as for the photos? Nice. Small tweaks for me in LR with the clarity slider, but straight out of the X3 (that's the camera lens they use), very nice results. Also, the bird with 4 props is strong enough to fly against some strong winds. So, good to know that you have a strong bird.

    Finally, like Cindy, 20 minute battery life is short-lived, so best to have multiple back-ups. I have a total of 5 batteries. I think only once I had to use something like 3 to 4 batteries back-to-back for one gig, but glad I had the extra batteries. I usually only need one battery per gig, but sometimes two if the order calls for photos and vids.

    Hope this helps!

  4. @Robert Moreno - Send me your drone and I will test your high wind theory for you. As I type this, hurricane just hitting the coastline 70 miles away and expect hurricane force winds locally in about an hour. Won't be doing any RE shoots today, so have to have something to do. Getting serious now...while I don't currently own a drone but planning to after the first of the year, has anyone paid attention to the still and video quality. The Solo is a gimbaled machine, GoPro specific - not other action cameras but upgradable with newer GoPro models as introduced. DJI and Yuneec of course are integrated cameras, upgradable with a new drone. A couple of my clients have given me video or stills taken by enthusiast. One 55+ community even has a drone club. I have noticed that the DJI is quite saturated with strong blue. Yuneec appear far less saturated with greens washed out, even turning yellow. Of course, that could be operator error as these are hobbyist, and orientation to the lighting source but difficult to intermix stills from both sources. (Better stop now - power cut out twice while typing this.)

  5. Everyone should take a look at the Autel Robotics Xstar Premium. This is probably the best one out there right now (as per many reviews on YouTube). It has all the features of the DJI Phantom Pro 3 AND comes with an awesome case (not like the styrofoam beer cooler that comes with the Phantoms). Another good feature is the price, $899, and right now until November 30th you can get a $150 rebate when you show them you've passed your FAA UAS remote pilot test. I know this sounds like a commercial for them but I have nothing to do with them. I just think this is the best deal going. The video and still quality is supposed to be better than the DJI's and is one of the few drones that will shoot RAW files. Plus they have a totally super tilt-wing drone that is coming out called a "Kestral" that will fly and unbelievable 2 hours on a battery. The Kestral will be larger and pricey, though, more for rural locations.

  6. I think it's a bit crazy to call a DJI P4 a good low-end drone. The P4 is MORE than capable of producing fantastic results for someone who is looking for stills and light video. With that being said, I currently use a Phantom 2 Vision + that I picked up about 1.5 years ago for $1,500 (with a case). Unfortunately, you can pick up my drone used now for a couple hundred bucks. I would now consider the P2V+ a low end drone that could get you by in the stills department but the raw files definitely need some work in PP. I was considering the P4 but now with the Mavic release I think I'm going to wait for a version 2 of the Mav. It checks the box in every category but I would love to see a tad better IQ. I will also have to wait a month or so til it's released and I can see some first hand still images (processed) to get a better/more realistic understanding of it's capabilities.

    The idea of leaving it in my camera bag sounds amazing. I'm getting a bit tired of lugging around a huge pelican case.

  7. Not an easy question to answer. A lot depends on your mission, budget and flight experience.

    According to a analysis of Section 333 exemption grant letters, there are 902 Models of UAS from 256 Manufacturers as of 8/26/2016. DJI owns the largest chunk of the market.

    If you have never flown a drone, you will be replacing props while you fly into trees, buildings, etc. Buy a Hubsan X4 on Amazon and learn to fly before moving up to a more expensive model. The Hubsan handles very similar to the Phantom series, so it's good for training.

    I use the Phantom 2 with the GoPro Hero 4 camera. It's considered old technology but it isn't encumbered with forced geofencing like the newer Phantoms. The Hero 5 reportedly has fisheye correction built into the firmware, but I haven't gotten my hands on one yet to test it.

    At the other end of DJI drones is the Matrice 600 (Successor to the DJI Spreading Wings S1000 UAS), but it can carry almost any DSLR camera up to 6Kg. The downside is the cost. By the time you add a camera and gimbal, you are north of $10,000.

    The Inspire is a good mid-point drone for Real Estate photos. I have also flown a DJI Matrice 100 and was very impressed.

    Hope this helps.

  8. So I got to test the new Mavic and it is totally worth it. For everyone who watches all the reviews and complains about the "soft picture" compared to the Phantom 4 is because the reviewers didn't know what they were doing. The new feature with the Mavic's camera is you have to tap on what you want the camera to focus to on your display screen and then it will focus on that point. Nobody's review really caught that. When you know to do that the video becomes so much better.

  9. I used the DJI Phantom 1 for a couple years, was Ok with Hero 3+ Black. Very pricey to see what was happening as downlink was extra at the time. Since have gotten Phantom 3 Pro, which is much easier to fly, has downlink included, etc. Have flown it about a year, ordered the Mavic already. The camera in the DJI is fine for real estate still and video. Stable gimbal and good flight controls. really like the Pro 3, so am excited to see the Mavic. BTW Mavic with extra battery and case is under $1300, so not exactly expensive. I fly almost every day on waterfronts.

  10. The Mavic and Karma aren't going to be out for a few weeks and they will be unproven and probably have some bugs as most new electronics do. Plus, when you look at the price now, then the need for extra batteries, it's going to be a lot of $$$.

    I use a 3DR Solo with a GP 4B. While Solo is on the way out (bad business, but certainly not bad quad) it can't be matched for the Smart Shots it has (Multi Point Cable Cam, Zipline, etc). One Phantom comes close but it's not there. Without going into a lot of detail here, nothing out there now can beat the MPCC for video and the stills with a GP4B are great (as long as you do post which, doing RE photography, you must be). If you're starting out, or just want a spare (and especially if you already have a GoPro) you can't beat the deals now on the Solo. I have a spare props and 4 batts (and 2 GPs) and, if the price drops a little more, I'll pick up a 3rd Solo and be set for some time to come.

    Seriously consider the Solo. Things are starting to happen quickly with quads and cameras and the Solo is no doubt the best for now for this work. It at least will get you through to the next big improvement which will probably only be a year. Or, get it and learn on it and then, when the price drops and the bugs are gone, consider the Mavic or Karma.

  11. When the Phantom 4 came out I got a great deal on the Phantom 3 Pro and love it. It does shoot raw stills in DNG format and when shooting video and color grading in DaVinci Resolve the results are very good. I picked up the 3 Pro for $820 on Amazon and since then the prices have gone up a little bit. It has the same camera as the Inspire 1. This is my first camera drone and flying in GPS mode has been very easy although I've read that shooting non-GPS will give smoother pans. Plus the support for the DJI products is really strong. User support that is.

  12. Just a little more info that might help. One of the key things needed is being smooth. In trying for that with other quads, I found it very challenging. Though this video I found on YouTube isn't the best scenery, it's a very good comparison of what the Solo and the DJI (and the app Litchi) do, features and functions, etc. You can decide but this kind of shooting is why I like the Solo.

    And another that describes a little more is at:

  13. You ask ....and so forth I'll try to answer.

    Really if you coming from a "just done the test and....." background you need to ask yourself a couple pertinent questions first....and that..from a USA perspective front seems to be in yr favour on an entry level point, something that you should be really (incredibly actually when compared to compliance in other countries) grateful for.

    Dont know how long its gonna last but I reckon FAA is gonna wake up to what an administrative nightmare they have opened?

    "Nightmare" in an administration way I mean.

    SO HERE AND need to work this much out.....

    1] whats my budget?
    2] in light of 1]... whats my target audience
    3] do I have an existing database
    4] and this "in your shoes" .......really important how much market share can I get (share/take/etc) from the incumbent?
    .or....ultimately...variants of these questions....
    ...send me some sort of PM and I'll try to give you some pointers from down under.

    Shes a big world out there.....and this is such a helpful forum to "get better at what you do"...but make sure you are prepared to spend those nights a week editing the photos that you originally "thought were perfect" when you shot them out of the camera during the day!

    Spend the time ....and in most cases your work will shine when compared to the competition...BUT as a 10 year "equivalent" realtor on the street....I say you have to still tread the streets.

    I'll go one further, I am in awe of you on this forum that seem to be earning $USD100k a year.

    And to that... I am just as much in awe that some of you share your thoughts / opinions....and some of you confound me...those like Wayne and Rich that share "industry known" secrets ....well I love you guys.

    Publicly wise...... here I thank you.

  14. Unfortunately, I've had them all (!) Phantom 1, 2, Vision, Vision PLUS, 3 Pro and now the 4 (does that quality as a fleet?). I also have a SOLO. I must say from a VIDEO perspective, I really love the Solo. Smartshots on this bird are awesome and not available on DJI products (I keep waiting), where it controls the flight AND smooth preprogrammed camera movements, something which is very difficult to do manually. I had my Go Pro Black lens replaced with a rectilinear lens from Peau Productions to get rid of the fisheye look. My biggest issue, and the reason I don't use Solo for daily work is it takes just TOO long to get GPS lock, which happens nearly instantly on my P4. I've waited for sometimes 3-5 minutes, turning off the controller, the bird, the camera, turning it back on it again, and all these little dances to get the thing moving along faster... and it doesn't work.

    It's really all about time for me, and waiting around for Solo just doesn't work. I wish it did. Additionally, the company is NOT in great shape right now, so the future is bleak (

    Personally, waiting for Inspire 2 which should be out any minute... and outfitting that with my X5 MFT camera which I already have..... for better image quality.

  15. Real estate aerial photography and videography will be best for exterior shots. Use a steady cam rig to create beautiful smooth interior videos. You might even consider the Go Pro Karma, a solution for aerial photography and stable ground video. There are a ton of solutions out there so make sure you research what you want to do and how versatile your equipment will be. Your equipment is only a tool but make sure your creativity shines!

    Real estate aerial videography and ground videography are going to the standard in real estate production and marketing. You and your equipment will need to keep up with the ever growing technology.

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