Parrot’s second-generation quadcopter is easily controlled via smartphone or iPad, can do flips, and packs a 720p HD video camera, allowing you to play insanely fun augmented reality games — or just snoop on the neighbours. Don’t really do that.
Designed to carry a GoPro camera, this fixed-wing drone flies completely independently once launched. Constructed from foam and carbon fibre, it’ll fly at altitudes of up to 100m, acquiring video and images for five minutes before it lands.
If you already own a GoPro, then you can buy the original Phantom, but if you want a quadcopter with a camera built-in, then you’ll need the much-improved Phantom 2 Vision. This comes pre-equipped with its own 14MP camera that shoots in 1080p right out of the box. Need WiFi streaming? It’s got your WiFi streaming. It will work easily with any iOS or Android device for simple operation that is head and shoulders above its first iteration. The camera automatically tilts to capture every shot and make sharp turns seem as smooth and gentle as a spring breeze. The weight is improved from the first Phantom so it now has a 25 minute flight time thanks to the 5,200-mAh LiPo battery. It will cost just under $1000, but is also one of the easiest drones to operate for beginners and pros alike. [Purchase]
HUBSAN X4 H107C
Whether you just got into the drone market, or are looking to get your kids to earn their spying and surveillance merit badges, the X4 is the gateway to basic drone operation. It is the only camera drone under $100 you should buy. It feels like a student driver car, but will let you learn to fly before you can soar. It comes with two modes: Basic and Advanced. Each mode limits the abilities of the operator so that they can ease their way into the great world of drone operation and amateur spying. It isn’t overloaded with features and the camera only points straight ahead, but even an inexperienced pilot can keep it aloft, perform some aerial stunts, and decide whether or not drones are for them. [Purchase]
PARROT AR.DRONE 2.0 POWER EDITION
Let’s just get this out of the way. If you are a fan of drones, quadcopters, or any consumer-grade UAV, then you probably already own a Parrot. If you don’t, then you must have just gotten out of prison. Well, then it’s time to taste freedom, convict. The 2.0 Power Edition is a true upgrade from both the original and the standard 2.0. There is a reason it is the most popular drone in circulation. It offers about 20 minutes of flight time powered by swappable 1500mAh batteries and shoots in stunning 720p. If you want to mount a GoPro or one of the other amazing action cameras on the market onto the 2.0, then you’ll need a separate rig, but once attached you’ll get steady video every time. It supports WiFi streaming and has a 300 ft. range, all for under $350. Most impressively, you can set up a whole fleet of 2.0’s to work in unison like a mechanical murder of crows. [Purchase]
3D ROBOTICS IRIS
Iris is the drone you buy when you want to make lazy surveillance look stylish. It comes equipped with the Pixhawk autopilot system which allows you to program automated takeoff and landing, automatic return to home base, customizable mission parameters, and the ability to circle and patrol. It has no camera itself, but does come with a GoPro mount that can be customized to fit other action cameras. You can only expect 10 to 15 minute flights from it out of the box, but hardware upgrades are possible. It’s a little pricey at more than $700 (not to mention you’ll need to add a GoPro for camera functions) but if you want fire-and-forget reconnaissance, then Iris will provide. [Purchase]
DJI SPREADING WINGS S1000
Do you have an inheritance that you don’t know how to spend? The S1000 can help with that. While most suggestions are meant to land in the average consumer’s price range, this $4,000 miracle from DJI had to be mentioned because it accomplishes many of the same feats as drones that cost twice as much. It is geared toward the serious researcher or hardcore surveillance fiend that needs quiet operation, steadiness, and maximum lift. The reason for the price is the extremely lightweight body that can lug some of the heaviest cameras around. The eight propellers give stability and clarity that is simply unmatched. The undercarriage camera mount is user-friendly and easy to master. The S1000 was built with power and stability in mind. It comes with no frills. [Purchase]
SKYBOTIX COAX AUTONOMOUS UAV MICRO HELICOPTER
The CoaX is a drone in name only. In reality it is a tiny, superintelligent computer that also knows how to fly like a leaf on the wind. If that doesn’t frighten you, then the $5,000 price tag almost certainly will. The intent for this machine is heavy research or silent high-definition recon – though they won’t tell you that on the box *wink*. What sets the CoaX apart is it is totally autonomous. It has two cameras, WiFi, and the Linux-based Gumstix Overo microcomputing system that can be loaded with programs and software. It comes with pressure sensors and four (that’s right 4!) sonar sensors. It is made for upgrades and can be given IR range finders or whatever other diabolical attachments you can cook up. It makes the ideal gift for the NSA agent in your life. And don’t kid yourself, you have one whether you know it or not. [Purchase]
Taking to the skies is an impressive feat, but don’t forget that most of the world is covered in water. For the amateur oceanographer, marine biologist, or the aquatic spy that wants to know what nefarious plots are unfolding under the sea, there is the Ziphius. It zips through the waves at 6 mph (about 5.2 knots) and shoots video and still photographs in full 720p. It has the same standard range of its aerial counterparts at approximately 300 feet and is controlled entirely from an app on your phone or tablet. Most importantly, it has a plate on its back that can be swapped out to perform different functions such as holding a second camera for extra video or holding onto your beer as you float around in the pool. Ziphius is not on the market yet, but you can pre-order for the introductory price of $199. [Purchase]
RUMORED: AEE TORUK
A Chinese company called AEE has put out a Phantom clone called the Toruk that is making promises that would seriously change the outlook of the drone market. Information is sketchy at this point, thanks to the notoriously tight-lipped Chinese, but they are claiming that the Toruk will have 1080i and 1080p camera functionality that will work at 60fps and 30fps respectively while using a 120 degree field of vision. They also claim that it will be able to fly in the rain and carry 4 3300mAh batteries. Too good to be true? Probably, but still an interesting idea. [Purchase]