The Ultimate Guide to Drone Travel Gear

The open road, the horizon in the distance, incredible views as far as the eye can see, sunsets and panoramas, skylines and mountain tops...

Wherever your travel plans are taking you this year, capturing memories has become a whole lot easier (and more impressive) with the rise of drone technology. 

But even for seasoned photographers, choosing the right drone gear can be a headache. There are so many options to choose from. So many different drones and accessories. It’s difficult to know where to start. 

Don’t know a DJI from a GPS? Fear not, here’s our ultimate guide to drone travel gear. Read on to take your adventures to the next level and ensure you spend your hard-earned money on the right hardware and accessories! 


Contents


Aerial Photography On The Move: The Best Travel Drones

The Ultimate Guide to Drone Travel GearTake a portable drone to Iceland. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

One of the most important features of a good travel drone is portability. You don’t want to be burdened with something big and heavy that will weigh you down on the road. For that reason, our suggestions are all lightweight drones that can be easily packed away. 

Travel photography is all about moments and capturing the unexpected. When there’s no time to waste or a fleeting moment you want to capture forever, every second counts. That’s why the second priority we’re going to take into account is the time it takes to get your drone from your bag and up in the air. 

The final two elements that we’re going to focus on are ease of use and capability. Your perfect travel drone will depend on your budget and plans. Are you travelling for the sole purpose of aerial photography? Or is it just going to be a nice addition to your holiday snaps? 

There’s a sliding scale in the drone industry and you tend to get what you pay for. So you can expect a tradeoff between price and capability. Let’s run through the options. 



DJI Spark: The Beginner’s Best Friend

The Ultimate Guide to Drone Travel GearDJI Spark. Photo by: 'J Abele, Wikimedia Commons'.

DJI’s smallest drone makes this list because it’s highly portable, great for beginners and a cheap family-friendly option. 

The Spark comes with a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor that captures 12-megapixel photos and shoots stabilised HD videos in 1080p. The camera sits on a 2-axis mechanical gimbal, which reduces shake and helps give your footage a more professional feel. 

DJI's smallest drone also comes ready with a bunch of flight modes that allow you to capture your travels in creative ways. These include Helix, Circle, Rocket and Dronie. All can be activated at the touch of a button and result in creative manoeuvres and fantastic footage.  

Despite its tiny stature, the Spark is packed with safety features to help you avoid accidents. It can recognise obstacles in front of it and has a vision positioning system that helps it fly steady in place, even when your GPS is shaky. 

The Spark’s FlightAutonomy system has a main camera, a downward-facing vision system, a forward-facing 3D Sensing System, dual-band GPS and GLONASS, a precision inertial measurement unit, and 24 powerful computing cores. These features allow the drone to hover accurately and sense obstacles from up to 16ft (5m) away.

So you get the idea: The Spark can look after itself to an extent. It also has a return to home function that kicks in if it has low battery or loses signal. It’ll fly back to your preset home point while sensing obstacles in its path.



Parrot ANAFI: A Contender From Europe

The Ultimate Guide to Drone Travel GearParrot Anafi. Photo by: 'Dottensm, Wikimedia Commons'.

The Anafi is the only drone on this list from Europe. It’s made by French drone manufacturer Parrot. 

The Anafi is foldable, compact and inspired by insects. That means it is lightweight - just 350 grams - and adaptable. It folds up into a shape not that much bigger than a water bottle. 

The Anafi can shoot video in 4K. Its camera can shoot 21MP photos, has a Sony IMX230 sensor and an Ambarella video processor. Unlike the smaller Spark, the Anafi has 3-axis stabilisation to remove shake completely from videos and images. The camera also offers a full 180 degrees of vertical tilt, so you can fly underneath things and shoot them from below. 

When it comes to flight time, the Anafi is well ahead of similar-sized models. Thanks to Parrot’s bio-inspired design and smart battery technology, the Anafi can fly for 25 minutes on a single charge.

If you’re flying in 'sport mode', the Anafi’s top speed is 55km/h (34mph). Planning on doing some mountain or beach shoots? It can handle 50km/h winds and has a range of 4km.

A final feature that’s great for travellers is the ability to charge the Anafi’s battery with a USB-C cable. So no more carrying around heavy and unnecessary chargers! 

The downside to the Anafi’s small form factor and long flight time is that Parrot has had to sacrifice the sophisticated obstacle detection sensors you find in DJI drones. So it’s up to you to fly carefully.



Skydio R1: Your Personal Camera Crew

 

Most of the drones on this list can detect obstacles and stop short of crashing into them. But the R1 drone from Skydio goes one step further. 

This is a drone that’s been designed to be like having your own personal camera crew. In Skydio’s own words, it’s supposed to “enable an entirely new kind of visual storytelling.”

The R1 is a flying camera more than a conventional drone. It positions itself where it needs to be and has enough awareness of the world around it to avoid obstacles with ease and plan paths around them while following a subject. Its vision system is made up of 13 cameras, along with an NVIDIA Jetson chip - the same type that’s usually found in self-driving cars.

Really this is a drone for travellers who don’t want to hold the camera or be responsible for the controls at all. It’s ideal for extreme sports, hiking, skiing, climbing - Any activity that you want to be at the centre of. 

The Skydio R1 has a flight time of 16 minutes, but 2 batteries are included in the standard package. Its camera can capture 4k video at 30fps, 1080p at 30 or 60fps and stabilisation is built-in. 

The R1 has a top speed is 25 mph, 64GB of onboard storage and a range of about 300ft. That means it’s really well suited to landscape photography and scenic shots. Instead, it’s all about getting close to the action and capturing you on the go.



DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro and the Mavic 2 Zoom

The Ultimate Guide to Drone Travel GearDJI Mavic Pro 2. Photo by: 'Simon Waldherr, Wikimedia Commons'.

At the end of August 2018, DJI launched two drones that are ideal for an aerial photography adventure: the Mavic 2 Pro and the Mavic 2 Zoom

Both are significant upgrades on the original Mavic Pro, which we will get into in more detail a little later. The only difference between the two new models is the camera.

As the name hints, the Mavic 2 Zoom is the first foldable consumer drone with optical zoom.

It has the equivalent of a 24-48mm optical zoom and 2x digital zoom, offering in effect a 96mm telephoto lens for 4K lossless zoom at full HD video resolution. The camera has a 12mp 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor.

The Mavic 2 Zoom also features DJI’s new Dolly Zoom flight mode. You can use it to warp the perspective of your shots by automatically zooming in as you fly away from a subject.
 
The Mavic 2 Pro comes with a Hasselblad camera. It’s got a 1-inch CMOS sensor and a 10-bit Dlog-M colour profile. It’s a big step up from the original Mavic Pro: images and videos you capture have four times as many levels of colour per channel. 

The new 20MP camera has an adjustable aperture from f/2.8-f/11 for improved image quality and superior light and colour performance.

Aside from the cameras, both drones are pretty much the same. As you’d expect, both come with all of DJI’s autonomous flight modes – ActiveTrack, which allows you to highlight a subject for the drone to follow, and TapFly, which is exactly what it sounds like, as well as a range of one touch camera shots including HyperLapse. 

In terms of safety and performance, both of DJI’s latest drones have the same setup: an array of sensors that make accidents far less likely. Both Mavic 2 models have omnidirectional collision avoidance, combined with DJI’s APAS (Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems). These ensure your drone will be safe in complex environments with a combination of sensors and algorithms.

Both models can reach speeds of 45 mph and stay airborne on a single battery for 31 minutes. DJI’s OcuSync transmission system means you get a clear view of every shot as you fly, with 1080p live video streaming and a huge range of up to five miles. 

Both of these models set the benchmark for what’s possible with drones at the moment. They give you enormous creative potential and are portable enough to make for solid travel companions.   



DJI Mavic Pro: Steady and Reliable

The Ultimate Guide to Drone Travel GearDJI Mavic Pro. Photo by: 'Sinky, Wikimedia Commons'.

The Mavic Pro is one of DJI’s most popular drones ever. Yes, it was launched at the end of 2016, which means it’s pretty much a flying fossil in the fast moving drone industry. But it remains popular.  

So why is that? Well, the Mavic Pro finds an ideal balance between price, portability and performance. It’s also a great drone for new pilots who don’t want to sacrifice on image quality. 

The Mavic Pro folds up into a compact, easy to pack shape that easily fits inside a small backpack. That makes it easy to carry around on your travels and fly on the move when you’re feeling spontaneous.

The Mavic Pro’s battery life is around 27 minutes and the operating range is around 7km. And, because it’s been around for a while, there’s a whole ecosystem of potential accessories you can buy, from low-noise propellers to ND filters.  

Like every drone on this list, the Mavic Pro has plenty of functions to keep you and your drone safe. The most important are forward and downward facing obstacle avoidance sensors. There’s also a smart return to home feature and geofencing software. 

Despite being a few years old now, the Mavic Pro’s camera is still competitive. It sits on a 3-axis stabilised gimbal, offers a 1/2.3”(CMOS) 12 megapixel lens and can shoot 4K video at 30 fps and full 1080p HD at 96 fps.

Should you take the Mavic Pro travelling? Definitely. It’s portable, sturdy enough in windy conditions and quick to get up and into the air. You never know what’s coming around the corner when you’re on a photography vacation; the Mavic Pro can be ready as soon as you are. 

It’s also great value for money as it’s fallen down the pecking order after DJI’s latest releases. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a great place to start. 



DJI Mavic Air: Compact and Portable

The Ultimate Guide to Drone Travel GearDJI Mavic Air. Photo by: 'Yanjipy, Wikimedia Commons'.

The DJI Mavic Air was launched at the start of 2018. It’s like a little brother to the Mavic Pro, with a few important differences. 

The first is size. The Mavic Pro was DJI’s first shot at a portable, personal drone. The Air takes that to the next level. It weighs just 430 grams and folds up to just 168x83x49mm. That makes it half the size of a Mavic Pro and just 40% of the weight. 

There are some sacrifices that have to be made when going miniature. The main ones are a smaller battery and a shorter flight time. As a result, the Mavic Air can fly for about 20 minutes at a time. Those minutes can fly by when you are snapping vacation pictures and videos from above, but as long as you’ve got spares to hand you can swap them in and be back in the air in a matter of seconds.  

The Mavic Air comes with 8GB of built-in storage, as well as a slot for an SD card in case you want to add extra capacity.  

It also has a bunch of autonomy and safety features. It can sense obstacles in three directions: in front, to the rear and below. 

The Mavic Air’s Flight Autonomy system processes data from seven (yes, seven) onboard cameras and infrared sensors to build a 3D map of its environment. The result is precise hovering and greater peace of mind from a drone that can sense obstacles up to 66 feet (20 meters) away. 

The same systems allow the Mavic Air to navigate autonomously in complex environments. It can actually sense and bypass obstacles automatically when it’s on a flight path – which is great for tracking and capturing extreme sports while you focus on being the centre of attention.

So what about the camera? Well it’s a 1/2.3”(CMOS) 12 megapixel camera, capable of shooting 4K video at 30fps and full HD at 120fps. You’ll also have 100MBit bandwidth and HDR algorithms to better preserve those highlight and lowlight details.

So the big question is: should you take the DJI Mavic Air on your travels? The answer is definitely. It’s easy to fly, super-compact and strikes a great balance between capability, portability and accessibility. 

Just be sure to take a few spare batteries with you to make the most of every moment. 



The Best Drone Accessories for Your Next Adventure

You can have the best travel plans in the world and a great drone to document your trip, but there are a few add-ons that you should never leave home without. 

Here’s our rundown of the best drone accessories to accompany you on your next adventure. 

Lacie DJI Copilot

 

When you’re shooting 4K videos and capturing loads of high-res images, SD cards and internal memory can reach full capacity, fast. And when you’re travelling with a drone that problem can be even more challenging. 

On the one hand, it’s not like you can go home that evening and move all of your media onto a desktop. On the other, any laptop you are travelling with will need loads of free space if you’re planning on moving videos and images across to that. 

The solution is obviously some kind of external hard drive, at least until you get to post-production and have a chance to delete what you don’t need. 

But again, most conventional hard drives require you to use a laptop as the point of exchange: you have to use a computer to transfer the files between your drone and the hard drive. This is fine, but it means that while travelling you need to carry around an extra $1,000 worth of equipment - that’s heavy and a burden you don’t really need. 

Fortunately there’s a middle ground. The Lacie DJI Copilot is a BOSS drive (Backup On-Set Solution) with an SD card slot and USB port to copy files directly from devices. No laptop is required. It has 2TB of memory and you can sort and manage files on the go with the Copilot BOSS app.



DJI CrystalSky

 

Another challenge all drone photographers face is developing the composition of a shot while using a phone or tablet as a monitor. Often these screens don’t have the brightness you need to properly see what’s going on and judge your exposure, white balance and more. 

The problem gets even worse if you’re flying on a sunny day. 

The DJI CrystalSky monitor range has been designed to solve that issue. DJI’s ultra-bright monitors attaches directly to the controller of your DJI drone and have the DJI Go app built in. 

Not only does this mean you can fly without using up your phone’s battery. You also benefit from clarity and brightness way beyond what you normally get with a phone or tablet. 
 
The CrystalSky monitor comes in three models, 5.5” High Brightness, 7.85” High Brightness and 7.85” Ultra Brightness. High being 1000 cd/m² and Ultra being 2000 cd/m². 

With this accessory, you’ll be able to compose shots perfectly - no matter what the conditions. 

More recently DJI has launched a Smart Controller, which effectively combines the CrystalSky with your regular drone controller. It has a 5.5-inch 1080p display and can be used with the Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom.  



Spare Batteries

 

Taking a drone on vacation and documenting all of your travels effectively from above is going to be difficult considering the average drone’s flight time is under 30 minutes. 

For that reason it’s well worth investing in some extra batteries. Often these can be quite expensive - maybe $100 per spare. But it’s the only realistic way to prevent your creative shoots from being interrupted and use your drone as spontaneously as possible. 

And, if you’re heading to a destination with limited places to stop and recharge, or if you plan on being on the road a lot, spare batteries offer your only way to guarantee that your drone will be ready when the right moment comes.  



A Portable Charger

 

Related to spare batteries is another obvious accessory suggestion: a portable charger of some kind. If your drone is a DJI model, you can buy a car charger that will allow you to charge on the go, providing you’ve got a set of wheels of course. 

There are also a few standalone portable chargers on the market that have been designed especially for drone adventures.  

Our favourite is the DroneMax range from Energen. These portable charging stations are powerful and ideal for drone adventures on the go. They also have multiple ports so you can charge other devices at the same time. Ideally you’d have a car to carry what is a very portable but quite heavy charger. Otherwise a strong back will suffice. 

Looking for something that’s going to be less of a burden to carry around? DroneMax also make portable chargers for specific drone models, which are smaller and carry around three batteries’ worth of charge. 



Filters & Lenses

 

Just as with a DSLR on the ground, there are a range of filter and lens options you can use to add more creative options to your drone footage. 

These include neutral density filters, polarising filters and, much more recently, anamorphic lenses. 

So whether you’re looking to darken hazy blue skies, manage reflections, reduce glare or take your videos to new cinematic heights, there are affordable accessories out there to help.

There are two companies that we’d recommend for filters: PolarPro and Moment. 

PolarPro have a huge range of ND and polarising filters for most DJI drones. So too does Moment. Moment have also just launched an anamorphic lens for the DJI Mavic Pro 2, which is definitely worth checking out. 



Setting a Budget for Drone Gear 

The Ultimate Guide to Drone Travel GearInvest in a good quality drone. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

Just like any photography gear, when buying a drone you tend to get what you pay for. There’s a direct link between how much money you spend and the quality of your end result. 

So really your budget should depend on two simple questions. The first is easy: How much do you care? And the second: How much money do you have? 

So how seriously do you want to take this? It all depends on whether you want a few nice photos and videos for Instagram or cinematic footage and pictures any professional photographer would be proud of. 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that with a drone, you’re not only paying for whichever camera it carries. You’re also investing in its safety systems, its reliability and its capability aside from the footage it can capture: flight time, speed, computer vision, one touch flight modes and those kind of things. 

The Ultimate Guide to Drone Travel GearHave a budget before you purchase a drone. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

And with an industry that’s moving this quickly, you might also want to consider your drone’s resale value. Generally, the safer and more sophisticated a drone is, the less likely you are to have an accident and the more use you are going to get out of it. These are all things to take into account when coming up with a budget. 

In terms of accessories, you can quickly end up spending a small fortune if you go for all of the top of the range extras available on the market. 

Choosing the right additions at the right price also depends on whether you’re getting drone gear for a one-off adventure or for travel photography in general. What kind of destination you are visiting is also important. 

If you’re planning on shooting scenes with snow or bright light, ND filters and a specialised monitor will come in handy. If you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking to remote spots, portable battery chargers and a great case/backpack might be a priority. 

The Ultimate Guide to Drone Travel GearSet a budget according to quality, reliability and safety. Photo by: 'Iurie Belegurschi'.

From our perspective, quality, reliability and safety are all big priorities when setting a budget for your travel drone and accessories.

We’d estimate that $2,000 would be enough to secure a high quality drone you can rely on and a range of accessories to take your footage and experience to the next level.

Sure, you can spend less and still get great results, but you’ll be sacrificing somewhere. Below is our ultimate drone vacation gear package along with the price it’s available for right now.   



Our Recommended Drone Travel Gear

The Drone: DJI Mavic Pro 2

 

Our favourite travel drone right now is DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro. 

There’s plenty of detail in the section above but here’s a quick recap of the specs: 

  • Camera: Hasselblad,1-inch CMOS sensor, 10-bit Dlog-M colour profile, 20MP, adjustable aperture from f/2.8-f/11
  • Safety: Obstacle sensing in every direction, one-touch return to home, smart battery life indicators, DJI APAS
  • Performance: 45mph top speed, 31 minute flight time, 5 mile range with 1080p video transmission
  • Autonomous flight modes: ActiveTrack, TapFly, HyperLapse, Orbit & many more.  

Price: $1,499 / £1,349



The Accessories

DJI Smart Controller

 

First up is DJI’s new Smart Controller, which is compatible with the Mavic 2 Pro. 

Basically the Smart Controller combines the ultra-bright CrystalSky monitor with the standard DJI controller. 

That means less squinting for you, a much clearer picture of what you’re filming compared to using your phone, and no more difficulty seeing what you’re doing on sunny days. 

The Smart Controller has a 5.5-inch 1080p Display, works with any DJI drone that uses OcuSync 2.0, and has all the applications you need built in so you can get flying right away. 

Price: $749 / £579

ND Filters

 

If price isn’t an issue and you’re willing to go the extra mile to capture awesome drone footage, a set of decent ND filters is a must.

PolarPro’s cinema series set includes ND4, ND4/PL, ND8, ND8/PL, ND16, ND16/PL, ND32, ND32/PL, ND64, ND64/PL filters to cover every lighting condition. 

They are ideal if you’re shooting in bright conditions and also combat jittery-looking footage if you’re shooting with a high shutter speed. 

The high quality glass used also offers an improved colour balance compared to flying without filters. 

Price: $249.99

Anamorphic Lens

 

Anamorphic lenses have been around for a long time, but only recently have they been made available for drones. 
Shooting video with an anamorphic lens gives you a distinctive aspect ratio that effectively distorts the image before it hits your camera’s sensor, making it wider horizontally than it is vertically.

This gives you more width without reducing image resolution, so you can have that cinematic black bar crop without compromising on the original quality of your shots.

Shooting with this kind of lens also comes with a bunch of stylistic effects that you’d otherwise have to work out during post-production.

Anamorphic lenses produce cool flares, which are great for landscape photography, as well as a  shallower depth of field that emphasises ‘bokeh’, for extra buttery footage. 

Price: $199, if you reserve now. Shipping is expected in November 2019. 

Lacie DJI Copilot

 

High-res drone photos and videos take up a lot of memory. And when you’re flying for a few hours in a single day, those SD cards are going to fill up fast. 

Being able to back up your media on the go without the need for a laptop to act as an intermediary is ideal for when you’re travelling with your drone. No more carrying around tonnes of expensive equipment and wasting time freeing space between flights. 

With the 2TB Lacie DJI Copilot, just plug in your SD card, hit a button and transfer all of your data onto the hard drive. You can also use the app to organise your media on the go - a neat little function that’ll save you plenty of time in post.  

Price: £300



Choosing The Right Bag

There are a few options when it comes to choosing a great drone bag. The best choice for you depends on a few things. 

For starters, are you looking for a bag that’s exclusively for travel, or one that doubles as a case for safe storage? Do you need space for other items and accessories? Or are you happy for your drone case to be small and fit inside your regular rucksack? 

Here are the options we like for the Mavic Pro 2. 

Rugged Edition Case

 

First up is the Rugged Edition case from PolarPro. 

It’ll fit the Mavic 2 drone, 3 spare batteries and your remote, with extra space for 2 accessories, cables and a tablet. The pouch for the tablet is padded and built into the lid of the case. There’s enough room to hold up a 10.5 inch iPad. 

PolarPro’s Rugged Edition case also has a flexible organisation tray, which you can adapt to suit your gear. The tough outer shell provides plenty of protection without making it too heavy and bulky. 

It comes with a handle and shoulder strap, so you can use it as a standalone case too. 
Price: $49.99

Lowepro Slingshot 250

 

If you want to keep a low profile and use a more generic rucksack, we recommend the Lowepro Slingshot 250. 

There’s enough room to fit your drone, controller, four batteries, an iPad, ND filters. extra cables and much more. It’s small, comfortable, secure and discrete. 

Price: £50

DJI Mavic 2 Shoulder Bag

 

Our final bag suggestion is DJI’s own Mavic 2 Shoulder bag. It’s designed to carry the Mavic 2 Fly More kit, which means it has the capacity for the drone, your remote controller, four spare batteries, a smartphone, extra propellers, ND filters, SD cards, and plenty more.

You can also use it as a normal travel backpack. DJI’s own bag is a solid option, but much more expensive than the rest. 

Price: $139


About the author:  Malek Murison is a tech journalist based in London. You can find more of his work on his website or by following him on Twitter.


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