For the past couple months – we’ve been racking our brains trying to add some aerial photography (and maybe video) to this publication.

We wanted decent quality without breaking the bank. This isn’t some Hollywood production with a big budget. Quite the opposite in fact.

But we became frustrated, and have since shelved this project until the prognosis improves.

I’d like share the details regarding our research, drone criteria, and the four drones we bought – promptly got rid of (and why).

First – Flying Camera Drones from DJI {BUYER BEWARE!}

Nice. But you might never get to fly it!

Honestly – I really wanted one of the DJI Flying Camera Drones. The “best!” From flying ability to the best picture quality you can get.

But I will never buy one.

Because of the other things you “get” that you DON’T WANT.

For one – they take the “No Fly Zones” (NFZ) very seriously. If you’re within 5-miles of an airport – you cannot take off. Even if you just want to get a 20 or 30-foot aerial shot.

You’re out of luck.

There are ways around that – but very time consuming and annoying. Takes the impromptu photo idea off the table.

Also – they require that all flight data is uploaded to DJI for whatever reason. A lot of people want to keep that none of anyone’s business.

Those are what keep us from ever getting a DJI drone. Regardless of whether you love or hate those restrictions DJI imposes – that’s probably the price they have to pay to be the biggest drone manufacturer.

What is our Flying Camera Drone criteria then?

What we want in our next drone.

  1. Fly anywhere without restrictions. Don’t like being nannied one bit. I can fly responsibly, thank you.
  2. High-quality photos (some manual controls would be nice, but not necessary if the “auto” is good enough.)
  3. Decent 1080p video. We don’t need 4K, but it usually means the lens apparatus is nicer.
  4. Battery life. At least 20 minutes, more is always better.
  5. Image Stabilization. Either via a mechanical gimbal – or via software EIS. Or both.
  6. Flight-planning, or waypoint uploads. Would like to pre-plan my missions ahead of time. Fly them almost autonomously.
  7. Otherwise “quick and easy” to use, snap, land, and put away.
  8. Not budget-busting. Under $500 preferred.

The 4 Flying Camera Drones we bought and hated

Okay – here are the four (non-DJI drones) we unsuccessfully tried in the past couple months.

1. Yuneec Breeze 4k

Yuneec Breeze 4K

This was a small compact 4K camera drone that looked like it was going to fit the bill. The Yuneec Breeze 4K clocked in at around $179 with an extra battery.

It’s supposed to be one of the best entry-level 4k flying camera drones with GPS.

But it ultimately did not pass the test.

▼ Why didn’t you keep the Yuneec Breeze 4k?
In no particular order. Battery life (under 10 min). Image and video quality poor (but almost the best of these four!) And mainly because this particular product has tons of issues connecting with ANDROID devices. We couldn’t be bothered to tinker around 20 times until we got an unstable connection. Goodbye!

2. Yuneec Typhoon H with CGO3+ camera

Yuneec Typhoon H

The Yuneec Typhoon H with CGO3+ camera excited me for a bit. A massive almost-commercial drone with 4K camera, in conjuction with folding landing gear and 3-axis gimbal, made it capable of taking all sorts of 360 photos and videos. Smooth flight, as it has SIX propellers, not four.

We scored this for under $400. Amazing, considering the newer models are closer to $1500. And they have “professional” models with stuff like thermal-imaging for twice that.

But this failed our test for several reasons.

▼ Why did you get rid of the Yuneec Typhoon H?
The biggest peeve was the awful photo quality. Grainy, no matter what we did. Resolution is a crock if the quality stinks. Plus this was WAY TOO BIG for us to conveniently carry with us. It’s a major operation to get it set up. The new CGO4+ camera looks amazing. But out of our price range entirely.

3. Parrot Bebop 2 Power

Parrot Bebop 2

Our first drone like 10-12 years ago was the Parrot AR Drone. What a hunk of garbage. That was part of the reason we stayed out of the drone arena for so long.

But after reading about the Parrot Bebop 2 – and seeing videos – I gave it a shot.

I got the Parrot Bebop 2 Power edition for under $400. Came with extra battery and VR goggles which I still haven’t even gotten far enough to bother with yet.

Too much trouble!

For one thing – the Parrot Bebop 2’s Waypoint planner was phenomenal. I was looking forward to many interesting missions in the future. Smooth, incredible EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization). One par with mechanical gimbals. Plus flight time was as advertised – close to 30 minutes!

▼ So why did you return the Parrot Bebop 2?
One single thing made me kill the deal. PHOTO QUALITY. The Parrot Bebop 2 uses a “fisheye” lens to accomplish the incredibly smooth video. However, you were stuck with fisheye RAW photos which were a giant pain in the neck to process post-production. And I was unhappy with the quality after post. I wasn’t about to jump through hoops for marginal photos. Goodbye!

But if I just wanted to shoot video – SEE WHAT THIS THING CAN DO! And this is “degraded” video as well. Unbelievable.


4. Protocol Dronium 3X

TOTAL JUNK!

Lastly, the Protocol Dronum 3X was on clearance at BestBuy for about $79.

I figured I’d use it just for photos. How bad could it be?

VERY BAD.

For the 10-12 minutes of battery life – you’ll spend the whole time battling it to stay in position, even with just your own breath as wind. No GPS locking. And once you finally did manage to capture a shot – it brought back memories of the very first cell phone camera. Annnnd, it couldn’t connect to my ANDROID.

▼ So why did you return the Protocol Dronium 3X?
It sucked. Plain and simple. Not worth a dollar.

So no DJI – what are your options?

Below are three options we’re watching. One, to see how far the price drops before Christmas. And two, for ongoing quality concerns.

Alternative #1 – Parrot Anafi

Parrot Anafi 4K Drone

Like I said above – the Parrot products are very good – with that one problem. If the Parrot Anafi – which is $699 now – drops to under $500 by Christmas, we’ll consider getting it. Heck, if the Bebop 2 drops down to $199 – I may get that again, and just take screencaps of the video for my “photos.”

But I haven’t seen how the still photographs work for the Anafi yet. If it requires the same headache-inducing post-post production, then that’s a deal-breaker. However, I’m suspecting they might have been able to do away with the fisheye due to some mechanical gimbal action? Here’s a good video sample of the quality.


Alternative #2 – Autel Evo

Autel EVO 4K Drone

I’ve been checking reviews on the Autel Evo – and the objective ones (non-DJI groupies) have nothing but good things to say ALL AROUND.

My only concern right now – is the price. $999 with just one battery. For me to consider this, the price would have to fall drastically. Maybe $499 or $599.

With tech – this will certainly drop in price, but I may have to wait a year or longer for it to do so.

Check out the quality though! (They’re having early firmware issues which should be cleared up soon).


Alternative #3 – HighGreat Mark Drone

Been watching this Kickstarter project for the HighGreat Mark 4k Drone.

Great promises are made to be broken these days.

What fascinates me about this?

1. It’s under 250 grams – and saves you a ton of potential FAA headaches.

2. It uses a revolutionary VIO (Visual Inertial Odometry Positioning), which apparently is the “future” of all new drones… less reliant on GPS glitches.

3. It’s cheap for a 4K with a controller (Under $400)

But we’re concerned about the shady aspect of a Chinese startup – and have yet to see ANY real-world footage or critique yet. It could be a giant piece of garbage for all I know. The first backers of this project should be getting theirs in a week or so. Will have to check back.

Other Flying Camera Drones we considered – but said no to

As you can see – there are deal breakers for us. Bad image quality. Too costly. And too restrictive.

A couple others we were considering:

  • Xiaomi Mi Drone – this was SO promising. Excellent quality. Very affordable depending on where you looked. The dealbreaker? EVEN WORSE NO-FLY ZONE controls than DJI! See ya!
  • C-FLY Drones – These too looked very promising, but also with the NFZ controls.
  • GDU O2 Drone – Nice specs on paper. A bit expensive. But seeing video online – horrible “Jello” video. Nice try.

Once we finally get some kind of Flying Camera Drone – we’ll be excited to share.

In the meantime – we’re grounded.

About the author

NJroute22

NJroute22 (site admin) is an avid traveler along NJ Route 22 (and almost all of central New Jersey!) Family man, pet lover, and property owner who has a natural curiosity for everything around.

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