Until recently, aerial photography (and videography) was an expensive proposition requiring helicopters or airplanes. Thanks to inexpensive drones this is no longer true, and it's not surprising that so many photographers have discovered drone photography and the unique perspectives it can provide.

All of the products in this guide fall into the 'buy and fly' category, meaning they require no extra components or customizations. Options range from personal 'selfie' drones to advanced models capable of producing professional-grade photos and video. Very high end models, such as those designed to carry DSLRs or cinema cameras, are not included as they typically involve some level of custom or modular design to meet the needs of a particular user.

Best Value: Autel X-Star Premium

The X-Star Premium offers an impressive feature set. The camera uses a 12MP Sony Exmor R sensor and can be used to capture Raw photos as well as 4K/30p, 1080/120p, and 720/240p video. The dedicated controller connects to your mobile device, and uses Autel's highly rated Starlink app for operation. Autel has released an SDK (software developer kit) so that mapping software like Drone Deploy can be used for autonomous cartography/photogrammetry. The drone even ships with a 64GB MicroSD card.

The X-Star Premium packs a lot of features into a drone at a very competitive price point. It's also hard to overlook the high level of brand loyalty among Autel users: many who have taken the plunge swear by Autel, and there's something to be said for that.

Best for Travel: DJI Mavic Pro/Platinum

If you want a drone for travel or to record your adventures, look no further than the DJI Mavic Pro/Platinum twins. Thanks to a foldable design, the Mavic packs down small enough to fit in a small bag or even a large cargo pocket. It's great for tracking a moving subject thanks to DJI's Active Track technology, and with a top speed of 65km/h it can probably keep up with your subject. It has a 27-minute flight time, so you can do a lot of flying with a few small batteries.

The Mavic can capture UHD 4K/30p, DCI 4K/30p, and 1080/96p video, as well as Raw 12MP photos, giving you plenty of options for high resolution, slow motion, or stills. It's no wonder so many adventurers throw this drone in their bag.

Best for Photographers: DJI Phantom 4 Pro/Advanced

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro/Advanced twins provide the best performance photographers will find short of spending thousands of dollars on a more expensive solution. Based on DJI's proven Phantom platform, the Pro and Advanced set themselves apart with a large 20MP, 1"-type sensor typically found on high-end point-and-shoot cameras like the Sony RX100. As a result, they're able to capture photos and video at a level of detail not found on other consumer drones.

In addition to the larger sensor, both models can capture Raw photos, video up to 4K/60p, and a choice of H.264 or H.265 codecs with a 100Mbps bitrate. Of course, there's also a plethora of intelligent flight modes, making it easy to get very cinematic shots as well.

We considered all of the drones below when choosing our winners, and even though they're not all top picks, all the models on the list are worthy contenders. Choosing the right drone is a very personal choice that depends on a specific combination of factors that matter most to you, so take a look at the following drones for a detailed breakdown of their strengths and weaknesses.

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