Drones have gone beyond being just mere toys, to become a hot new technology for the future. Today, these amazing devices are being used anywhere, from surveillance to production and even delivery.
There are now dozens of drone brands, with a dizzying array of models to choose from. So much so that it’s hard to pick the best manufacturer of the bunch. So to help narrow down your search, we’ve rounded out the best ones out there.
From professional photography rigs to consumer drones, check out some of the more reputable manufacturers in 2021 and beyond.
No discussion of drone brands will be complete without mentioning DJI.
DJI stands for Da Jiang Innovations, or “great frontier innovations” when fully translated from Chinese. Based in Shenzhen, China, it is currently one of the leading drone manufacturers in the world.
As of 2019, they had already captured an estimated 70% share of the entire consumer drone market.
DJI focuses on the high-end consumer and professional market, and their drones are mainly used for aerial photography and videography. Not only is it a mainstay of professional photographers, but it’s also been used in some of the latest Hollywood movies, TV productions, and music videos.
In fact, DJI won a Technology and Engineering Emmy Award in 2017. This was in recognition of their drone technology being used to create some of the most distinct and creative shots in TV.
DJI was founded by Frank Wang in 2006 when he was still an undergraduate student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). He was given a $2,300 research grant by the university to develop a drone prototype. The rest, they say, is history.
DJI’s claim to fame is the iconic Phantom drone. It’s one of the most well-loved and renowned drone models of all time, even among non-enthusiasts.
The Phantom is best described as a trailblazer. Back when it was released in 2013, its mounted camera and 10 minute flight time were hailed as revolutionary. It was a smashing success, spawning an entire industry and inspiring tons of copycats in the process.
Since its success with the Phantom, DJI has expanded into other consumer segments with an ever-growing list of drone models.
One of these is the Mavic series, arguably their most popular commercial models to date. These are foldable drones that are designed to fit in a bag or pocket, making them highly portable.
Despite their size, the Mavic drones are feature-packed. The more advanced versions have high-resolution 4K cameras, a panorama mode, and 21 minutes of flight time.
The success of small, amateur level drones also inspired the development of the Spark.
This is DJI’s most affordable drone line and is their attempt at capturing the beginner drone market.
DJI has also begun to enter the professional market with their Inspire drones. This is a more robust, pro-level drone used in movie shoots and productions. It features a stronger frame and support for 6K cameras.
If you’re more serious with your drones or use them regularly in a professional capacity, DJI is a stand out and reliable brand.
In fact, DJI are so good that they’ve forced multiple competitors to leave the market altogether. More on that a little later.
Parrot is a French technology firm based in Paris. The company was founded in 1994 by Christine De Tourvel, Jean-Pierre Talvard, and Henri Seydoux.
They started out not as drone manufacturers, but as a firm specializing in wireless technology. They also dabbled in voice recognition and pioneered the use of Bluetooth connected devices.
That all changed, however, when they introduced their flagship UAV, the Parrot AR Drone.
- Easily updates to meet FAA requirements
- Remote control quadricopter controlled using an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet
- 720p high-definition live video streaming & recording to smartphone or tablet while flying
- Record & share videos & pictures straight from AR. Free Flight piloting app
It was a commercial success and put Parrot firmly in the drone map. They then expanded into the consumer market with their Bebop line and better iterations of the AR Drone.
The company has also acquired 57% of Swiss drone company SenseFly, and 25% of photogrammetry company Pix4D. It was a move signaling that Parrot was serious about pursuing its drone division.
Parrot marketed themselves as “toy drone” manufacturers and this is evident with their Minidrone line. These affordable, compact models formed the most significant chunk of drones in Parrot’s entire range.
These mini-drones were undoubtedly Parrot’s bread and butter.
People might know them for their AR Drones or Bebop, but they catered primarily to the younger, entry-level audience. In turn, Parrot offered drones that tend to be affordable, light, and a breeze to fly.
The lightest of the bunch is the Parrot Airborne, which is rated for indoor use. The Parrot Mambo is a substantial upgrade, featuring more heft and flight.
They also developed some hybrid drones. The Parrot Hydrofoil features a water landing component, while the Parrot Swing allows you to fly it like you would an airplane.
As you can see, Parrot made drones that are really fun to fly! But they have their more serious side as well, headed by the popular Bebop series.
- Enhanced 14 megapixel fish-eye lens offers 1080p video recording and stunning image...
- 25 minutes of flight time thanks to a powerful 2700 mAh battery
- Equipped with powerful motors for flight in greater altitudes
- Powerful rear flash LED for better visibility—even in the dark
- Requires registration with FAA. Visit their website for more info on how to register.
The Bebop is a fast, easy-to-fly drone that’s suited for fast-paced, aerial photography. Its notable for its use of a plastic and foam body, making it surprisingly lightweight to fly.
Their latest and most advanced model is the Parrot ANAFI Drone. It features a brilliant 4K camera that is fixed on a gimbal, allowing the camera to “see” entirely in 180 degrees.
- This drone with a camera equipped with f/2.4 wide angle ASPH lens, HDR, and up to 2.8...
- The ANAFI Parrot Drone can have up to 25 minutes of filmed flight time thanks to an...
- With its ultra-compact and lightweight carbon frame (320 g), this quadcopter drone unfolds...
- Equipped with a Parrot Skycontroller 3 folding remote control, the ANAFI Parrot Drone can...
- Software updates can make changes to existing features, further enhance ANAFI’s...
Parrot also tends to experiment with other flight systems, as shown by their Parrot Disco Pro line.
This is a fixed-wing drone that zooms in and flies out like an airplane. It caters mostly to industrial and agricultural uses (with an almost $5,000 price tag to boot!).
But their fun side, catering to the beginners and low-budget audience, sadly, has come to an end.
In mid-2019, Parrot announced plans to exit the consumer toy drone market entirely, citing it is a segment dominated by DJI.
Instead, they’re shifting their drone strategy to cater to the B2B and industrial sector, spearheaded by the ANAFI model drone.
Uvify is a San Francisco based drone company that specializes in taking drone technology to the next level. They are best known as the developers of the Draco, their flagship racing drone that brought them top marks at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show.
The company was founded in 2014 by Chulwoo Park and Hyon Lim. Apart from their San Francisco office, they also maintain operations in Canada, China, and South Korea.
Despite being known as racing drone manufacturers, that’s only part of Uvify’s focus.
Their ultimate goal is to change the entire drone flying experience. With this, they really push the boundaries on what can be achieved with UAV.
Hence, we find that Uvify tends to be one of the more experimental drone manufacturers out there.
Take their recent foray into artificial intelligence, for instance. Uvify’s Draco-R model has a built-in AI system for self-navigation and autonomous flight.
With it, the drone was able to find its way through an obstacle course – entirely on its own!
Uvify hopes that this new technology would have various uses in the future. Self-navigation, for instance, would be great for warehousing drones.
Of course, all of this research makes for some very well-made and feature-packed drones.
The perfect example of this is their iconic Draco drone, dubbed as the fastest racing drone in the world. Its carbon fiber frame is both light and extremely durable, making it achieve aerodynamic efficiency.
Also, Draco’s modular system makes parts replacement a breeze. This system allows you to do quick repairs on even the most severe of crashes to get the Draco back to racing form within minutes. It’s similar to how an F1 racecar can easily be repaired at a pit stop during races.
For aspiring racers, Uvify has recently unveiled the OOri.
- Ready to fly, right out of the box
- Three flight modes: beginner, intermediate and racer
- Reaches speeds of up to 50 mph
- Rapid battery change
- On-screen display remote control
This is the entry-level, little brother of the Draco. Nevertheless, it inherits some of its sibling’s qualities – speed being one of them!
It’s great for practicing indoors before you consider getting the more expensive Draco. If you’re into drone racing or want to get in on the action, Uvify is a good starter brand to check out.
Yuneec is another drone brand based out of China, in the province of Jiangsu. They are one of the leading electric aviation manufacturers in the world, with a history that extends beyond making drones.
They also happen to be one of the more prominent drone manufacturers in the world, second only to DJI. Yuneec is also their biggest rival in the drone space — arguably the strongest DJI alternative.
The company was founded in Hong Kong in 1999. They actually started out manufacturing radio-controlled model aircraft, an expertise they clearly brought with them when they started making drones during the mid-2010s.
Their electric model airplanes were, in fact, reasonably successful. They used to operate such single-seat planes in the U.S. market under the brand name GreenWing International.
One of their aircraft, the E430, even won the Lindbergh Electric Airplane Prize in 2010. Then in 2014, they decided to enter the drone market with the Typhoon Q500, a quadcopter that’s ready to fly right out of the box.
Yuneec produces drones that are mostly aimed at the high-end consumer market. Aside from producing drones for their own brand, they also manufacture drones for other brands via OEM agreements.
Yuneec’s drones tend to be quite robust and come in bigger sizes compared to other manufacturers. They have a smaller selection, but all of them are pretty solid and well-made. Photography enthusiasts, hobbyists, and even amateur drone racers will likely find a Yuneec drone for them.
Their Mantis Q line, for instance, features longer flight times and a foldable body that makes it a joy to fly around.
- Small yet powerful, Mantis Q features cutting edge, advanced drone features such as voice...
- Using an integrated camera, the Mantis Q records high resolution photos and videos. Still...
- Vision based tracking and face detection. Simply smile at the drone to activate face...
- "Mantis, take a selfie!" - With the all new Voice Control feature, users can command...
- Intelligent flight modes -Take your creativity to the next level by letting Mantis Q focus...
If you’re a budding racer, their newly released HD Racer offers a crash recovery feature and superior maneuverability. The Breeze is another hobby drone that has the optional FPV headset for realistic first-person perspectives.
But their flagship still remains to be the Typhoon.
- Designed for Aerial Photo and Video
- 16 Megapixel Full HD 1080p 60FPS camera with a redesigned lens to produce lower image...
- Capture Up to 4K / 1080p120 Video
- Take Up to 16 MP Still Photos
- 3-Axis Gimbal Stabilizes Camera
The perfect photographer drone features 4K camera resolution with a multi-axis rotation. It’s clearly designed to go head-on with DJI models like the Phantom and Mavic.
Yuneec is currently hard at work developing drones for other industries and sectors. If you’re looking for a DJI alternative, this is an excellent brand to try.
Hubsan is one of the premier drone manufacturers based in Nanshan, China.
Unlike leading brands like DJI and Yuneec, Hubsan focuses solely on the easy-to-fly ‘toy’ drones segment of the market. These are lower-priced models that are aimed towards younger audiences.
But don’t let that fool you – Hubsan do a really impressive job in dominating this sector. Sometimes, they’re even blurring the lines between toy drones and the higher-end consumer models.
Hubsan has a pretty extensive product range, but their most well-known are the X4 models.
- Durable one piece main frame.
- Precision 6 axis gyro.
- Ready to Fly.
- 4 channel 2.4Ghz control.
- High capacity LiPO battery.
Their entry-level drones (priced at $100 or below) are some of the best in class. You’d be hard-pressed to believe that these are inexpensive “toys” since they handle so well.
Above the $100 line is where the line starts to get blurred.
You’ll get drones that still feel like toys, yet have features you’ll typically find in consumer or even pro-level models.
One such example is the Hubsan H50 series.
- 5.8G real-time transmission: Share the videos and photos to the LCD display at anytime...
- GPS Altitude Hold: Built-in GPS can lock the drone's position, hovering at a certain...
- One Key to Return: The fight control system will automatically control the quadcopter to...
- Headless Mode: When enters into headless mode, the controls will be set to one direction...
- 6 Axis Gyro: Strong stability, stronger wind resistance, easier to control.
These differ from the earlier models by having brushless motors, GPS support, and high-resolution 1080p or better cameras.
Some, like the H502S Desire pictured above, even have a follow-me mode.
But indications are ripe that Hubsan is starting to break into the more “serious” drone segment. Case in point – the Hubsan Zino Pro. This drone features a 4K camera, 3-axis gimbals, and extended flight time. This is a drone that can seriously compete with the likes of DJI and Yuneec.
Autel Robotics is one of the few drone manufacturers that’s actually based in the US. Based in Brothell, Washington, the firm focuses on aerial photography drones and technology.
The company offers some of the most sophisticated camera systems ever to be used in a consumer drone. They emphasize image quality and fluid flight dynamics in most of their products.
To date, they only have three drone models in their lineup, two of which are available in retail. These are the EVO and X-STAR Premium.
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The third, the fixed-wing hybrid Kestrel, is still an experimental prototype as of this writing.
Autel first came into the scene back in 2014 with their first drone, the X-Star. Built to be familiar with Phantom users, it featured a 12-MP camera and 25 minutes of flight time.
The X-Star Premium is an upgrade that has roughly the same specs but features better cameras.
The EVO is Autel Robotic’s latest flagship offering. It’s a photography drone built from the ground up to be a robust eye in the sky. 4K resolution cameras and option to live stream recordings are just one of its few nifty features.
For serious amateur photographers or even pros, Autel Robotics offers a great alternative to DJI. We think the image quality alone is worth looking into this up and coming drone manufacturer.
Unlike others on this list, FreeFly isn’t a drone manufacturer at all.
They are makers of camera systems and stabilizers for high-end photographers. It just so happens that a UAV is one such camera system.
The company was established in 2011 in Woodinville, USA. Their flagship product is the Movi M10 camera stabilization system. Using this system, professional cinematographers can achieve steady shots without the need for bulky equipment.
Their equipment is aimed mostly at professional cinematographers and production houses. As such, don’t expect to see entry-level rigs in their lineup!
Freefly’s flagship drone is the ALTA 8.
It’s a foldable drone equipped with 8 powerful propellers that unfolds to a massive 52 inches. All of that lifting power means it’s capable of carrying up to a 20lb camera onboard.
The ALTA is a powerful drone, but it doesn’t come cheap at all. The ALTA 8 RRPs at a whopping $17,500, and that’s just the drone! You’d need to shell out separately for the camera and accessories.
The ALTA 8 does have a smaller brother, the ALTA 6, but even that costs around $12,000.
But for a drone that pulls out all the shots, FreeFly makes the very best of them. If you can afford their stuff, that is.
There are plenty of other companies worthy of appearing on our best drone brands of 2021, but that’s all we have time for today.
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