If you have a spare $400 or so, it is easy even for beginners to capture impressive and jerk-free videos from a bird’s eye perspective by getting yourself one of the follow-me drones that have flooded the markets in the last couple of years.
This guide on the best follow me drones from Dronepedia’s Rene Peters will give you more insight into history of auto-follow feature and what to look for when buying a follow-me drone.
When using drones professionally, image quality and handling are the two most important purchase criteria. For ambitious hobby drone pilots, however, drone dimensions and price are also decisive. DJI, for example, has hit a sweet point with its technically slimmed down but very affordable Mavic Mini.
In the past, we have reviewed numerous drones with HD camera, but most models are completely unsuitable as video drones. Even with cheap toy drones it is basically possible to take aerial pictures. However, their quality does not even come close to the impressive images that we regularly encounter in social media and on television. This is due to the fact that multicopters are constantly progressing.
If the camera is not stabilized with a gimbal, the video image shakes. Even photos become blurred and unusable. Not even software stabilization can help – without a gimbal, multicopters are simply unsuitable for demanding aerial shots. A good – or rather bad – example is the model Mantis Q by Yuneec with 4K resolution. If you are spoilt for choice, you should rather opt for a lower resolution and a gimbal. The Mavic Mini, for example, has only 2.7K resolution, but the images are very high quality thanks to the fact it sports a 3-axis gimbal.
In addition to the image quality, the flight characteristics are the most important factor when choosing a video drone. If you want to concentrate on your aerial shots, you need GPS, barometer and optical sensors so the quad maintains its position and altitude even in windy conditions. Even preplanned flights and automated tracking is possible with most models. Thanks to GPS, such drones can return to the starting point independently in an emergency – a reassuring feature for the expensive flying camera.
Other important purchase criteria are flight time and maximum range. Cheap drones often stay in the air for less than ten minutes on one battery charge. This is far too short for ambitious aerial shots. In most countries around the world, it is not permitted to control drones out of sight, but the range must still be sufficiently high. This is not only interesting when filming abroad, but also to guarantee a reliable connection. Nothing is more annoying when flying than image or even control loss due to a bad connection.
The best camera is always the one you actually have with you. This applies on the ground as well as in the air. Professional models such as the DJI Inspire 1 may have outstanding image quality and very good flight characteristics, but they are bulky. If you want to transport your drone in your backpack or luggage, you should therefore choose a small or folding model.
The follow me drones from our top list fulfill all these points. Models like the above mentioned Mantis Q or the Hubsan H507A X4 with GPS can do quite a bit of it, but due to the poor image quality we did not include them in our top list.
1st place: DJI Mavic 2 Pro/ Mavic 2 Zoom
Introduced in summer 2018, DJI’s Mavic 2 series is currently the best follow me drone. In addition to excellent flight characteristics and a flight time of almost 30 minutes, its compact size and extremely high image quality are convincing. The all-round sensor technology for obstacle detection and the automated flight maneuvers work very well and are a real enrichment even for experienced pilots. Another advantage of the entire Mavic range is the wide range of accessories available.
Decisive differences over the previous models are the extremely high range of up to five kilometers, the very well functioning automatic tracking of objects and the large number of automated flight maneuvers. Moreover, the Mavic 2 was DJI’s first model to operate reliably in temperatures below freezing. As unimportant as this detail may sound, this point should not be neglected for recordings in winter.
Except for the cameras, the two Mavic 2 versions offered are absolutely identical. For those who want the best possible image quality, we recommend the Mavic 2 Pro with the Hasselblad camera. The Hasselblad camera provides slightly better photo quality thanks to its 1-inch image sensor and variable aperture. If you want to be more flexible and use the drone mainly for video recording, the Mavic 2 Zoom with adjustable focal length is a better choice. It is worth its price.
2nd place: DJI Mavic Air 2
Second place was taken by the Mavic Air 2, launched at the end of April 2020 as a completely rebuilt version of the Air 1. It has automatic obstacle detection forwards, backwards and downwards. The 1/2″ image sensor stores photos at 12 megapixels or alternatively interpolated at 48 megapixels. Videos are possible with 4K at up to 60 fps at a bit rate of 125 MBit/s. Very impressive is the new Active Track 3.0, which allows the Mavic Air 2 to independently track objects or people while avoiding obstacles. Technically, the Air 2 is almost equal to the Mavic 2 series. In some points, such as the maximum bitrate, it is even superior.
The main advantages over the previous model are the significantly increased flight time of over 30 minutes and the impressive maximum range of 6 km (CE). With a price of just under 850 euros, the Mavic Air 2 is our new value for money winner.
3rd place: Parrot Anafi
With the video drone Anafi, the French manufacturer Parrot has already sent a serious competitor to DJI into the battlefield some time ago. The quadcopter is not only very compact, it convinces with good flight characteristics and a decent image quality. The flight time of 25 minutes is also good. What we really liked in the review is the low noise level of the drone. In the test field no other model is nearly as quiet.
Parrot uses a combination of two-axis gimbal and electronic image stabilization. In combination with the optical zoom, this allows for great shots. Compared to our top 3 models, image quality is slightly weaker, especially during sporty maneuvers.
The number of automatic flight modes is also lower. Flight duration, reaction speed and range are comparable to the other models. However, optical obstacle detection is completely absent. For experienced pilots this is unproblematic, for beginners the lack of sensor technology is a real minus point. A plus point is the update policy of Parrot. Although the Anafi has been on the market for some time, the manufacturer of the drone regularly releases safety and function updates.
If you decide to buy the relatively simply equipped Anafi, you have to pay attention to the price. The UVP of scarcely 700 euro seems to us, compared with the Mavics, too high. However, a look at the best price development shows a meanwhile adjusted price of partly clearly under 600 Euro. This seems a far more realistic value of the drone relative to its abilities.
4th place: DJI Mavic Air
Overtaken by its successor and the slightly cheaper Anafi, the first generation Mavic Air is now in 4th place, just behind the Parrot drone. In addition to its extremely compact design, it convinces with good image quality. It is comparable to the top model Mavic 2 Zoom except for the optical zoom. The relatively inexpensive mini-drone also has a lot to offer in other respects. In addition to GPS and barometer, the drone is equipped with forward and backward optical sensors for obstacle detection. The Air is capable of automated flight maneuvers as well as automated return to the starting point.
The only differences between this quadcopter and the rest of the Mavic models are the short flight time of less than 20 minutes and the shorter range of 2 kilometers maximum. If you can live well with these limitations, the Air is a good video drone with high image quality and a reasonable price-performance ratio. The Air is a very good choice especially for beginners.
5th place: DJI Mavic Mini
The DJI Mavic Mini is in fifth place only because of its reduced technical equipment. With regard to the good picture quality, the excellent flight characteristics and the low price, it is nevertheless our low-budget tip for beginners.
But if you buy the cheap and compact Mavic Mini, you have to cut back on the equipment. Besides the lack of obstacle detection, the few semi-automatic recording modes and the maximum resolution of 2.7K are among the biggest limitations. Photographers also miss the ability to capture RAW images.
The DJI Mavic Mini is our price-performance winner.
On the other hand, it has good flight characteristics including GPS functions, the price of 400 Euro, a range of up to two kilometers and a flight time of up to 30 minutes. If you are willing to shoot your panoramic and HDR photos manually and avoid obstacles yourself, you will get a very reliable aircraft at a competitive price. Further advantages of the light drone are its low noise level and the fact that no name plate is required for operation. A model flight insurance is necessary despite the weight of only 249 grams.
For those who can live with the limitations mentioned above, the Mavic Mini is a good aircraft for on the road.