As someone who has edited a TON of drone footage, I can tell you people who say there is no image quality difference between 4k and 1080p video are crazy.
Along with just straight up looking better, when editing 4k video you can zoom, punch in, take stills, and pan without losing too much image quality because you have so many pixels to work with.
If you want to learn more about camera terminology, I will do my best to explain everything you need to know as far as buying a drone goes below the quick navigation menu.
I will explain terms like camera resolution, frames per second, video bit rate, and other technical things about cameras. If you want to just straight to the list of drones I recommend, just use the quick navigation below.
Quick Navigation: What's in This Guide?
Want to learn more about 4k video cameras before deciding on a drone? Keep Reading!
What the Heck Does 4k Even Mean?
The call images 4k because they are around 4,000 pixels wide. It can be a bit confusing because 1080p resolution actually came from image width, but the name 4k does come from the image width.
What are the Main Things I Need to Understand About 4k Cameras?
I will cover these in detail below, but here is a bulleted list of what I consider the main things.
- Frames per second (FPS)
Resolution: Not all 4k cameras are created equal. First of all you have different levels of 4k, there is true 4k (4096 pixels x 2160 pixels) and 4k Ultra HD (3840×2160). Cinema 4k is a higher resolution, which without getting too technical just meals there are more pixels. If you want a truly top of the line 4k capable drone, look for one that shoots in cinema 4k.
List of File Sizes – Cinema 4k vs 4k UHD vs 1080p (Full HD)
The first number represents pixels across the screen. The second number represents pixels down the screen.
- 4096×2160 – Cinema 4k
- 3840×2160 (4k UHD) not as wide as cinema 4k ( 3840 pixels compared to 4096)
- 2048×1080 – 2k video
- 1920×1080 – (1080p Full HD)
- 1280x720p – (HD)
Is 4k Video Really Better?
4k video is actually 4k times the size of standard 1080p (full hd) video. And while a lot of people will try to make the argument that 4k televisions screens aren’t 4 times the size of 1080p screens so it doesn’t make a difference, 4k screens still have 4 times the number of pixels per square inch. This increased pixel density leads to cleaner, crisper, and more detailed video. You will especially notice the difference if you are up close!
So Why Would Anyone Not Shoot in 4k?
While I almost exclusively shoot in 4k anymore, it does come with some downsides. Some computers, phones, and tablets still can’t play 4k footage properly. If you have a low end computer you might be frustrated when viewing your 4k drone footage. It you have a sub 4k display screen or a slow hard drive the video might might look laggy, distorted, and possibly even crash your computer. That said, you can always shoot in 4k then downsize it to 1080p pretty easily.
The other major downside is the one I stated above, file SIZE! Yes I put size in all caps because shooting in 4k fills up storage devices super fast. If you’re going to buy a 4k camera drone make sure you invest in a large SD card!
The Good News: If you buy a 4k drone, you can always turn down the settings to 1080p, but with a 1080p Drone you cant turn them up!
Okay, Enough 4k talk, Lets getting into the list!
Do Pixels Really Matter That Much? Is 4k Really Better?
More pixels mean more information, which usually leads to a sharper image. The major downside of recording in a super high resolution like 4k is you end up with file sizes. Now having a 4k camera might not matter as much on a smaller screen,
Frame rate: When shopping for drones you’ll see the term frame rate thrown around a lot. Frame rate is measured in frames per second (FPS). You might think a that higher frame rate is always better for every type of shot, but that’s not the case. Different frame rates give the video an entirely different feel. The video below does a good job of explaining that if you want to learn more. When shopping for drones, usually high-end 4k cameras will have high max frame rates. Just because a drone has a max frame rate of 60 FPS doesn’t mean you have to shoot at 60FPS. Like resolution, you can always turn a high-end camera’s settings down, but you can’t turn a low-end camera’s settings up.
Bitrate: Is basically the amount of data that is being stored in a second. In the drone world, you will usually see it measured in megabits per second (Mbps). If you’re planning on buying a 4k drone, bit rate will be VERY important. The video below does a great job explaining why. I recommend you watch it all the way through.
Ok, now that we know the basics of cameras and what specs to look for, let’s dive into the list of 4k camera drones!
Here Are the Best 4k Drones of 2019
1. DJI Mavic Air (Best Value)
Of all the drones I own, the Mavic Air is my absolute favorite. It has a professional grade camera and an amazing design. I actually made a YouTube video reviewing this drone and comparing it to the DJI Mavic Pro and DJI Spark.
At first glance, you might not think that this thing can fit in your pocket, but it can! It is designed so well that when folded this 4k capable drone can fit right in your pocket. The drone has 3-axis gimbal, foldable design, and a camera that shoots 4k at 30 frames per second.
If you watch the video, you’ll see the only thing that I don’t love about this drone is the video transmission system. It utilizes an enhanced Wifi video transmission system, which isn’t bad, but it’s not on par with another popular DJI transmission system called OcuSync. Basically, OcuSync does a better job filtering out interference and gives you a better signal strength between your drone and your controller.
DJI incorporated enhanced Wifi into the Mavic Air in order to keep the price point down. The technology is cheaper than OcuSync, and they decided by using a cheaper transmission system they could beef up the camera and sell this drone at a price point that the general consumer can afford.
DJI recently released the Mavic 2, but it’s almost double the price of this drone. In my opinion, the DJI Mavic Air is the absolute best 4k camera drone for the money. I will cover the most notable features and specs of this drone below.
Here is a good video review of the Mavic Air.
2. DJI Mavic Pro
The Mavic Pro doesn’t have as much buzz as some of the “latest and great drones,” but it’s still one of the best 4k camera drones out there in terms of vale and performance. The only drone the Mavic Pro might be second to as far as value is the Mavic Air. I own a Mavic Pro, and I still love flying it. It’s durable, easy to fly, and has better signal strength than any drone I’ve ever flown. With the Mavic Pro, you won’t have to worry about losing connection or having a choppy live feed unless you’re flying outside of the drones rated max range.
Here is a good video of the Mavic Pro if you want to watch a video review, or you can just keep reading my text review.
When the Mavic Pro was released in 2016, it was an absolute game changer. Before the Mavic line came to be, if you wanted a 4k drone you had to buy a much larger and more expensive drone, like one of the drones from the Phantom line. The controller design was also very innovative. It’s super small and compact and feels almost like a gaming controller. Before the Mavic Pro, drone controllers were large and bulky.
The Mavic Pro almost seemed like a compressed version of the phantom 4. People were blown away by its foldable design, which nowadays seems to be the gold standard.
Weighing in at only 1.6 pounds, with a flight time of up to 27 minutes and a top speed of over 40 miles per hour in sport mode, this is a seriously impressive drone for the money. It comes equipped with 4 vision sensors, allowing the drone to know where it is, what’s around it, as well as the pilot’s location at all times. If you’re someone who flies a lot, consider the DJI Mavic Pro fly more combo, which we will talk about in a future review.
3. DJI Mavic 2 (Personal Favorite)
DJI’s latest drone, the DJI Mavic 2, is perfect for professionals and hobbyists alike. The most impressive thing about the DJI Mavic Pro 2 is that it has a 4k UHD camera with a 1″ CMOS sensor. Just like the Mavic Air, the camera records at 100mbps, resulting in very detailed footage even when zoomed into while editing. The Mavic 2 is by far the best portable 4k drone on this list. You’ll do weigh whether the boosted camera on the DJI Mavic 2 outweighs the lower cost of the Mavic Air and Pro.
4. DJI Phantom 4 Pro
DJI Phantom 4 professional is a tried and true drone that has earned a great reputation in the drone community.
Here is a good video review on the Phantom 4 Pro. I think you’ll be very impressed by this drone!
If you’re looking for a professional drone this is one you certainly won’t regret buying. This drone is capable of recording cinematic 4k at higher bit rates (60 frames per second) than the standard phantom 4, giving the user more detailed photos and images. DJI has added a lot of great features on the Phantom 4 Professional. 2 new rear-facing obstacle avoidance cameras, and infrared obstacle sensors on its side give the phantom 4 Pro, combined with the downward facing obstacle sensors, gives this quadcopter 5 directions of sensing.
5. DJI Phantom 3 Professional
What do you know… Another DJI Drone! The Phantom Professional 3 has been out for a while but it’s still one of the most reliable 4k camera drones on the market so I had to add it to this list.
The Phantom 4 is loved by professionals and hobbyists alike. It comes ready with all the normal DJI features, including GPS Navigation with auto takeoffs and landings, an intelligent high power flight battery, DJI Intelligent Design, a preinstalled safety database of no-fly zones, and a strong mobile app for iOS or Android devices as well as many new and improved features. DJI has merged new and advanced features from previous models together to create easily one of the best drones on the market today.
6. GoPro Karma
Looking for a drone to capture some amazing outdoor shots, and/or easily share your experiences with others live? If so, the GoPro Karma Drone might be for for you, especially if you already have a GoPro. The GoPro Karma with a GoPro Hero 5 is a similar price to the DJI Phantom 4 Pro.
The GoPro Karma is a slim and compact drone with retractable arms, making it ideal for transportation. The Gimbal, which GoPro calls the stabilizer, is detachable, and can also be used as a handgrip. This feature is similar to what DJI Has included on their Inspire series, but that is at a much higher price point. Another great thing about the Karma is that it comes with a backpack carrying case. DJI and other companies do sell great carrying cases for their drones, but you have to buy them separately.
The Karma system is more than just a drone that allows you to get aerial photography. GoPro advertises the system as a “life capturing solution.” The GoPro Karma grip allows you to take your other GoPro mounts and mount the karma gimbal to them for some great handheld shots. For diehard GoPro fans, the Kara drone is a great buy. This quadcopter comes with auto shot paths, which gives 4 awesome flight modes, including orbit, dronie mode, reveal, and cable cam (read more about each below).
7. DJI Phantom 4 Standard
This is a comprehensive DJI Phantom 4 Standard Quadcopter review. Out of the box, it is small and lightweight thanks to the magnesium chassis. The motors have been upgraded for a 20 percent increase in speed, making the max speed of the phantom 4 over 70 miles per hour in sport mode. What’s even more impressive than the Phantom 4’s speed is its stability in the air. Position mode uses the GPS, downward facing camera, inertial measuring unit, and upgraded motors for extremely stable video/photos and impressive self-correction. The Phantom 4 provides the 3 things every drone flyer is looking for, stability, predictability, and high quality images/photos. Flying this drone is enjoyable and relaxing.