Drones are becoming a big hit with travel photographers and for good reason. Part of being a travel photographer is capturing shots around the world that no-one’s ever seen before, and drones certainly help you rise to the occasion.
Here’s the thing about drones though: a lot of them are BIG and HEAVY. And that goes against a traveler’s universal code of packing LIGHT for extended travel. When it comes to choosing a drone to travel with, there’s an extra set of criteria to look for. And that’s what I’ve broken down for you today. First we’re going to take a look at features to consider when choosing a travel drone. Then I’ll show you my recommendations of Top Travel Camera Drones for 2017 (which you can skip to if you’d like).
How to choose the best portable travel drone
Here’s what to look for when buying a travel drone. These are the factors I considered when making my recommendations at the bottom of this post.
- Portable & Lightweight – Obvious right? But how could I not mention this to start. You’re going to want a drone that’s lightweight because you’ll be carrying it a lot. Weight is also a factor in the cost of transport. Most airlines limit your luggage weight to 50lbs (23kg) so your entire drone setup including case, remote, batteries, cables, chargers, cleaning kits, and accessories needs to weigh under 50lbs in total. Otherwise you’ll be paying high fees to transport your drone every time you travel by air. 50lbs is pretty heavy though – so hopefully you’ll find something a lot lighter like the drones I recommend later.
- Drone & Case Sizes – Despite what she told you, size matters. Regarding your drone, you’ll not want to go too big. First and foremost: portability. It goes without saying that the smaller the drone, the easier it is to carry. But a second big reason to go small is to have the ability to fly with your drone as a carry-on. There’s no guarantee that airlines will handle your luggage with love and care. For that reason, I’d like to keep my drone in my possession whenever possible.
- Battery Life – It’s no secret that travel photographers spend a lot of time away from electricity. Sure there are solar powered chargers and portable power banks you can buy, but do you really want to carry more equipment or have to stop and charge your drone just as the sunlight is perfect for the shot you’ve been waiting for all day? I didn’t think so! That’s why battery life and/or extra batteries is an important factor when choosing a travel drone.
- Battery Size – While a long battery life is important, on the flip side of the coin, there’s also a limit to the size of the batteries your travel drone should carry because unfortunately, there are FAA restrictions regarding the size of your batteries. In most cases, spare (uninstalled) lithium ion batteries must be carried in carry-on baggage only and are limited to a rating of 100 watt hours (Wh) per battery. Although with airline approval, passengers may also carry up to two spare larger lithium ion batteries (101-160 watt hours). Battery size is something to take into consideration if you’ll be flying with your drone.
- Camera Specifications – You’re not just taking this drone for a day in the park right? The biggest reason you’re getting this drone is to capture amazing travel photography so you can’t skimp on the camera. You’re going to want to buy a drone with a camera that suits your criteria as a photographer as well as a pilot.
- Spare Parts – Hey, it’s a travel drone, right? It’s going to occasionally get knocked around in transport despite your best efforts. You’re going to crash it. (Just saying – you’re no expert yet.) And things outside of your control are going to happen. Be sure to choose a drone that you can easily replace the parts. And you’ll probably want to bring a few extra propellers with you on your first trip at the very least.
- Reviews – I love reading reviews before I buy something, especially when it comes to new technology like drones. What did buyers do before the Internet? It goes without saying, but I say it anyway, that you should check out the reviews before committing to a specific drone. You can learn a lot about each drone from its users – often times things that aren’t mentioned in the product description. I’ve done my best to bring you recommendations of drones that are highly reviewed in the drone community, but each traveler is going to have different unique requirements that I can’t account for. Be sure to read both the good and bad reviews before purchasing to ensure that your specific needs are met.
Top Travel Drones for Travel Photographers 2017
Alright, alright, alright – I know you can’t wait to get in the air! So without further ado, here is my list of travel drone recommendations for 2017.
DJI Mavic Pro (See Price)
Let’s start with the DJI Mavic Pro one of the top picks by travelers for lightweight compact travel drones. The Mavic Pro folds down to the size of a water bottle, making it small enough to bring with you everywhere, while still offering 4k video with image stabilization, up to 27 minutes of flight, speeds up to 40mph (64kmh), and over 4 miles (7km) of transmission range.
What’s under the hood of the DJI Mavic Pro
- An extremely compact size of 10.5 x 9.5 x 9.5 inches.
- Weighs in at only 1.6 pounds.
- Speeds up to 40mph (64kmh).
- 27 minute flight times. Check battery level and status in real-time during a flight through the DJI GO app.
- 4K video at 30fps.
- 12-megapixel camera with Adobe DNG RAW support.
- FlightAutonomy technology to sense obstacles up to 49ft (15m) away and allows the Mavic to bypass them or brake to hover.
- Forward and downward vision sensors for hover precision indoors or in places without GPS.
- Fly by phone or set up tracking to shoot a friend.
- TapFly lets you tap where you want to go and the Mavic will fly smoothly in that direction, so you can focus on controlling the gimbal and capturing photos and video.
- Compatability with high-quality wireless DJI Goggles.
- Two of each key sensor. If one goes wrong, the other kicks in to take its place.
- Stay at the same level height above the ground automatically.
What do users think of the DJI Mavic Pro?
Users have said that the DJI Mavic is easier to fly than other drones they’ve tried, especially in terms of take off and landing. They’ve also mentioned that the video is amazing. Some even called it the best drone they’ve ever owned.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ (See Price)
Another DJI camera makes the list with the Phantom 4 Pro+. Constructed with titanium and alloys to increase rigidity of the frame while reducing weight, dual rear vision sensors and infrared sensing systems for 5-directions of obstacle sensing, 4k video at 60fps, and a remote control with built-in screen. This is a top of the line travel drone. Larger and heavier than some of the other drones profiled, but needed mentioning because of its advanced technology that is perfect for traveler photographers.
What’s under the hood of the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+?
- Reasonably compact 17 x 15 x 10 inches in size.
- Weighs in at 10.9 pounds.
- Speeds up to 45 mph (72 kph).
- 30 minute flight times. Check battery level and status in real-time during a flight through the DJI GO app.
- 4K video at 60fps.
- 1-inch 20-megapixel camera with CMOS sensor.
- Expanded FlightAutonomy with additional set of high-resolution stereo vision sensors placed at the rear for a total of 5-direction of obstacle sensing and 4-direction of obstacle avoidance.
- Draw technology for waypoint control (draw a route on screen and the Phantom 4 Pro will move in that direction while keeping its altitude locked).
- Remote control with built-in 5.5in 1080p screen integrated with 1000 cd/m2 of brightness, more than twice as bright as conventional smart devices with built-in DJI GO app and 5-hour battery life.
What do users think of the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+?
Users of the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ seem overall happy with their purchase for both personal and commercial use. One review mentioned that it was so easy to fly that his wife could use it even though she’s never touched a drone before.
Parrot Bebop 2 (See Price)
With it’s incredibly compact size and 500 gram (1.1 lbs) weight, the Parrot Bebop 2 is a great option for travelers who need to pack light while still capturing high resolution video and photos. The Bebop 2 records in 1080p HD video and captures photos via a wide-angle 14 megapixel lens that offers horizontal and vertical 180° pictures in RAW or DNG format.
What’s under the hood of the Parrot Bebop 2?
- Ultra compact 15 x 12.9 x 3.5 inches in size.
- Weighs in at an outstandingly light 1.1 pounds.
- Speeds up to 38mph (61kmh).
- 25 minute flight time.
- 1080p HD video at 30fps.
- 14-megapixel camera with fish eye lense.
- 4 second halting in mid-flight.
- Control with your smartphone or tablet via its accelerometer and the interface’s touchscreen controls.
- Take off and land with one button.
- Follow me feature lets your drone follow and film you while your phone’s in your pocket for hands-free operation.
- Compatible with FPV goggles.
What do users think of the Parrot Bebop 2?
The biggest pro mentioned about the Parrot Bebop 2 is the price. The concensus among users is that you get a lot of bang for your buck. It was also mentioned that there’s a (positive) difference between the original Bebop and the Bebop 2, including improved video quality.
TOP PICK: Price vs Features
Autel Robotics X-Star Premium (See Price)
Last but certainly not least is my top pick of travel drones, the Autel Robotics X-Star Premium. If you’re looking to spend less but not sacrifice features or technology, you’ll definitely want to check out this drone. The X-Star Premium debuted at CES 2016 and was noted as one of the top drones to watch in the coming year. Customizable with a modular, quick-release gimbal design, built-in autonomous flight features like Orbit, Follow and Waypoints, an intuitive remote controller with one-touch flight functions and an LCD screen. Not to mention the company prides itself on world-class customer support seven days a week – with the reviews to back their claim. The 4K camera can record Ultra HD videos or take 12 MP photos and you won’t miss a beat with the LCD screen built-in to the remote or built-in clamp for your iPad or tablet.
What’s under the hood of the Autel Robotics X-Star Premium?
- Compact 19.5 x 19.5 x 8.5 inches in size.
- Weighs in at light 3.2 pounds.
- Speeds up to 35mph (56kph).
- 25 minutes of flight time.
- 4K video camera with quick-release 3-axis gimbal stabilizer and 108 degree FOV.
- 12-megapixel camera.
- Stays safe with precision positioning via dual satellite navigation and Starpoint Positioning System.
- Clamp your smartphone or tablet to the remote for HD live view.
- Dual GPS and GLONASS navigation for positioning in low signal environments.
- Smart-Flight features like Follow, Orbit, or Waypoints come standard.
- Beginner Mode to create a geo-fence that limits your aircraft’s range and aircraft speed.
- Smart Pre-flight Check to ensure your aircraft is safe and ready for flight.
- 7-day-a-week US-based customer support.
What do users think of the Autel Robotics X-Star Premium?
Users of the X-Star Premium note the similar features between it and the Phantom 3 and Phantom 4, plus a few extra features not available with the DJI Phantom series like large and bright LED lights to assist with lower light flying. One user called it the best bang for your buck. Another said that it did everything he was hoping for and more. The general feeling among users who have tried other drones is to consider the X-Star Premium before anything else.
I hope this info helps you make the best decision when you buy your first or next travel drone. If you have any questions, corrections to my information, or suggestions about other drones for travel photography, please leave your comments below.
If you got value from this post, share it with your traveler friends who may be in the market for a drone.