How To Shop for a Quadcopter with a Camera

What Is the Best Quadcopter with a Camera?

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When you first became interested in quadcopters, you knew that eventually you’d want to own one with a camera either built into it or attached to it. That eventuality has now come to pass and you’re wondering which is the best quadcopter with a camera for your money.

I’ve written elsewhere, and it bears repeating here, that the term best is relative. The quadcopter that’s best for you isn’t necessarily the best one for the next flyer. Also, after you find the best one today, tomorrow a better one will be available.

With that in mind, let’s look at what is available already today to help you narrow your options. There are a surprising number of fairly inexpensively flying cameras in the market already. In many cases, it just depends how much you want to spend.

How Many Quadcopters Have Cameras?

We could rather quickly list at least two dozen quadcopters available today that include a camera out of the box, and we’d easily miss out on many more in the market. Here are a few just to whet your appetite.

In the picture – Hubsan X4 H107C

Hubsan X4 H107C
Hubsan X4 H107C
  • Hubsan X4 H107C
  • UDI U818A
  • Syma X5C Explorers
  • Ares RC Ethos HD
  • Ideafly Apollo
  • Parrot Bebop
  • DJI Phantom 2 Vision
  • Walkera Voyager 3

There are RC quadcopters with HD cameras, with built-in cameras, and with only the capability to carry a camera. In other words, there are enough choices out there to cover just about any need you may have. If you are interested in first person view (FPV) quadcopters, you may want to read the article dedicated to FPV concerns.

What Sizes of Quadcopters Have Cameras?

When you think of a point-and-shoot camera, you probably picture a rectangular object several inches long and a few inches high with a fair amount of weight to it. If that kind of camera is what becomes part of a quadcopter, the aircraft would need to be rather sizeable. Fortunately some machines have built-in cameras that contain only the most necessary parts without all the gizmos that humans require.

So you can, for example, get a small quadcopter with a camera such as the Syma X11C Air-Cam. It’s only about 6 inches across, basically fitting in the palm of  your hand.

If you’re willing and wanting to have an external camera, you have many options there as well. There are quadcopters with a gimbal, or mount, to which you can attach the camera of your choice. These days, many choose one of the GoPro Hero models that are known for their durability especially outdoors. Note that in some cases the gimbals itself is an optional feature that you have to add on to the basic craft.

The 3D Robotics (aka 3DR) Iris+ measures over 21 inches from motor to motor. It has the ability to hold the gimbal and camera you want, which might make it the best quadcopter for video for you, if you can afford it.

How Good Is the Video Taken by a Quadcopter?

Answering the question of video quality is almost like deciding which quadcopter is the best. You can get video of varying resolutions and overall quality. It all depends on whether or not that quality is good enough for your purposes.

There are quadcopter cameras that produce stills only, like the Parrot Rolling Spider. There are those that have video as low as 640×480 – UDI’s U818A. 720p and 1080p are quite common. You can even get 4K on some of the more recent, pricier models, but that will probably become more common (and therefore less expensive) as time passes.

Part of the quality of video output depends on the other quadcopter parts. If the machine tends to vibrate too much or the gimbal doesn’t make adjustments very well, the output will be of lower quality than you may want or expect. Finding a well-made quadcopter is essential then, if you want to have it produce higher quality video for you.

Guide to Quadcopters with Video Cameras

Here is what is probably a short list of quadcopters that can shoot video at various resolutions. There are basically four groups: low resolution (640×480), HD at 720p, HD at 1080p, and 4K (the highest).

I mentioned earlier the Rolling Spider that only takes still photographs. There is also the Ares RC Spectre X which claims 680×480, though I think that may be a typo.

The lists below are given roughly in order based on price from low to high.

Low Resolution Cameras

  • UDI U818A
  • Hubsan X4 H107D

720p Resolution

In the picture – Syma X11C Air-Cam

Syma X11C Air-Cam
Syma X11C Air-Cam
  • Hubsan X4 H107C
  • Syma X11C Air-Cam
  • Syma X5C Explorers
  • Blade 180 QX HD
  • Blade Glimpse
  • Estes Proto-X FPV
  • Ares RC Ethos FPV
  • Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

The Blade Nano QX FPV is probably at 720p though I could not find mention of the exact specification.

There are a couple of machines that offer both 720p and 1080p. These are the Ares RC Ethos HD (not to be confused with the FPV above) and the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+.

1080p Resolution

In the picture – Parrot Bebop

Parrot Bebop
Parrot Bebop
  • Ideafly Apollo
  • Blade 350 QX3
  • Parrot Bebop
  • DJI Phantom 2 Vision
  • Walkera QR X350 Premium

4K Resolution

These two aircraft actually offer multiple resolutions.

  • Walkera Voyager 3 – 720p, 1080p, 4K
  • DJI Inspire 1 – 1080p, 4K

Which Quadcopters Can I Add My Own Camera To?

For some of those quadcopters listed above you may be able to swap out the existing camera with one of your own choosing. The list below shows those for which no camera is provided out of the box. You must add your own.

Again, these are given in approximate order of cost from low to high.

In the picture – 3D Robotics Iris+

3DR Iris
3DR Iris
  • Ares RC Ethos QX 130
  • Blade 200 QX
  • Walkera QR X350PRO
  • DJI Phantom 1
  • IDeafly IFLY-4S
  • Walkera Scout X4
  • 3D Robotics Iris+
  • Ideafly Hero-550
  • Walkera QR X800
  • Draganfly X4-P

Note that the Draganfly X4-P currently costs over $10,000 and probably shouldn’t be considered in a list of hobby aircraft. I included it just so you can see where this can lead and in case you have money to burn. That said, this isn’t the most expensive vehicle you can buy.

How Many Minutes of Video Can I Get with a Quadcopter?

As you might expect, the better and more costly your quadcopter, the more minutes of flight time you’ll get. In general, you’ll get less than 10 minutes of video with a 720p or lower resolution camera. Quadcopters with 1080p or better cameras will give you in the area of 25 minutes.

It’s not really that cut and dried. There are exceptions in both directions, but this should give you some idea of what to expect.