Does your job require you to fly a drone really high, like on top of buildings? Or have you ever wondered how people took those cool aerial images or videos?
Welcome to the world of high altitude drones. These are specifically built to withstand strong winds, cold temperatures, and denser air when they go higher into the atmosphere.
If you’re on the market for the best choices in this category, hop on to the individual reviews of our top picks.
Best High Altitude Drones of 2020
DJI sets the standard in the professional drone space. With the Mavic 2 Pro, one of its flagship models, the manufacturer cements its reputation as the go-to brand for prosumer products for aerial photography and more. This upgraded unit uses a Hasselblad 4K camera to dish out footage that can impress your clients or your close friends and family.
The same Hasselblad integration yields 20-megapixel photos, enhanced by a 1-inch CMOS sensor with its improved ISO and performance in low-light environments. Stability in flight is made possible by its obstacle-sensing feature. In turn, this helps produce a stable and smooth video.
Activate flight modes such as Point of Interest, Waypoint, and Active Track for more comfortable flying. Boasting of 31-minute battery life, the Mavic 2 Pro lets you accomplish more when you set out. As expected, it costs around $1,500 as a standalone unit. You will have to shell out above $2,000 if you’re buying it bundled with accessories, such as the DJI Goggles.
Hitting the 400-foot mark, this model can perform effectively at this height. But hacking it may make this drone fly for up to 20,000 feet.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro is Suitable For:
Here’s a quad that can cater to professional, casual, and starting pilots. It’s for the serious user who wants to invest in a durable, high-quality option.
- It sports a 20-megapixel, 4K camera from Hasselblad.
- It comes with multiple modes for easier flying.
- It has an obstacle-sensing feature to help you focus on your mission.
- It is perfect for all kinds of pilots, especially the pros.
- It may not be used in urban environments.
- Its price can be steep for those who have a tight budget.
- It does not have an altitude mode that is found in DJI Phantom.
Best Overall Runner-Up
If you’ve heard about EVO drones, you probably have come across Autel Robotics. If not, then know that apart from the mentioned models, it is also the manufacturer of smart drones. The X-Star Premium is one of its older offerings. The good news is that you can snag this at a discounted price if you don’t mind the age.
The X-Star Premium itself is an upgraded version of the X-Star. It sports a 4K ultra HD video camera with a transmission range of 1.2 miles. For stable shooting, you can rely on its quick-release 3-axis gimbal stabilizer.
This high altitude drone is supported by GPS and GLONASS, which stands for the global navigation satellite system. It also comes with the SecureFly magnetic interference protection and the Starpoint Positioning System. All of these ensure flight and drone safety outdoors. Its remote controller is intuitive, with LCD and one-touch action buttons.
But what about its altitude limit? Indeed, it can reach 400 ft according to regulation. But some reports reveal that it can soar to 3,300 feet above ground if you remove the software limiter. We’re pretty sure that’s a hack that is outside the coverage of the manual. So if you want to be by the book, you can skip that part.
This model retails at $599 to $799, depending on discounts. It’s usually on sale because stocks are always running out. So hurry if you want to get a hold of this one.
Autel Robotics X-Star Premium is Suitable For:
The X-Star Premium is designed for professional or starting videographers who want to take their work to the next level. This unit is easy and safe to fly, generating smooth and stable footage from more than a mile away. It’s also on sale, so it’s ideal for those who are looking for a bargain in prosumer products.
- It can yield 4K ultra HD video for professional and/or commercial shooting.
- It maintains a stable flight thanks to the 6-axis gimbal.
- It is safe to operate because it’s supported by GPS and GLONASS.
- It is easy to control and navigate using the intuitive, LCD touchscreen controller.
- It is currently on sale.
- It is an older offering from Autel.
- It has limited stocks due to its closeout item status.
- It can lose communication with the GPS from time to time.
- It may not be compatible with some mobile devices.
Best Value Runner-Up
The list of best products cannot be complete without another DJI product on it. The DJI Spark is a lightweight mini-drone that can put some of its competitors to shame. It transmits 720p videos in real-time, within an operating range of 2 kilometers.
Spark is also the choice of adventurers as it is quick and agile outdoors. Switching to the Sport mode showcases these capabilities. On top of that, it has no problem taking flight at 400 ft. According to some users, it is even possible to extend its reach to 13,000 feet. But that will take some expert knowledge in tweaking the system.
For a more personalized experience, you can download DJI Go on your mobile device to control the drone. You can also wear the DJI Goggles to jazz things up. Launch the quad with hand gestures to see how responsive it is.
With a $600 price tag, it is one of the less expensive DJI options available. It can be purchased with DJI Refresh, the replacement program of the manufacturer.
DJI Spark is Suitable For:
As a small quad, this is quite the choice for beginners and professionals alike. It can produce good-quality footage and images for those who are into aerial photography. It can last long, so it’s good for those who want to invest in a drone even if it is their first time to buy.
- It can transmit 720p videos with an operating range of 2 km.
- It has intuitive controls and functions, such as take-off via hand gestures.
- It is fast and agile, which is ideal for adventure-seekers.
- It is lightweight, portable, and easy to use.
- It is compatible with multiple mobile devices.
- It has a maximum flight time of 16 minutes.
- It is designed for indoor and outdoor use.
- Its price can be too high for buyers with a tight budget.
Best Value Runner-Up
Traxxas is a maker of radio-controlled machines, including the Aton. This model is one of those drones that can reach the maximum height allowed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): 400 feet. Starting with its race-car build and bold colors, its identity is a racing drone through and through.
It is a sport quad with a Sports mode that can launch it into full speed. We’re talking about 50 mph, which is 30% more than the DJI Spark. If you’re into drone racing, it can throttle through obstacle courses with one touch of a button. It can flip or roll while also relying on air brakes for safety. You can race like a pro or, if not, at least move faster in the air while filming.
Speaking of filming, this is the drone’s basic mode of sorts. It does not come with a camera, but it lets you mount your action camera or GoPro. It’s pretty easy to set up and remains stable because of the 6-Axis Stabilization system, which can help produce smooth footage or clear shots for your project.
If you’re an experienced pilot, you can switch to the Expert mode and perform acrobatic stunts to impress.
With an app and GPS, it is more advanced than some of the models that cost under $500. In particular, it retails at a little above $300, which places it in the category of toy drones. Its capabilities are at the pro level despite its beginner-friendly interface. Further, it features modes like Return-to-Home and position hold.
Traxxas Aton is Suitable For:
This model is marked suitable for Level 1 pilots on the company’s website. There is no need for prior flying experience to use it. However, it can also be the perfect racing drone for expert users since it boasts of a 50 mph speed. It can also perform effectively even at 400 meters high.
- It can be speedy and stable, or both, depending on which mode you choose.
- It has a fixed mount for a camera to capture aerial footage or images.
- It can reach an altitude of 400 meters.
- It can perform acrobatic flips and rolls in Sport and Expert modes.
- Its price can be too steep for some people.
- It does not come with a camera, so you have to buy.
- It may be for Level 1 users, but it’s maximized by those who can navigate its more advanced settings.
An aircraft that flies fast while shooting aerial footage may be necessary if you are a pro videographer. With a low operating cost, though, you are searching for a budget drone that can do this.
Look no farther. The Hubsan H122D X4 Storm has the qualities you are looking for in a quad. Better yet, it can also appeal to those who like to fly for fun. It doubles as a racing drone with its head mount and a handset that provides a robotic racing overview.
The controller monitor is pre-configured, so you can simply launch and go. View the feed of your footage in real-time, within a 100-meter controlling distance. Yet, this speedy drone can take you to 400 ft. without failing. However, you need to plan the flight as it can only spend six short minutes in the air.
Grab this great deal, which starts around $100. With this price, you get decent results for your photography or videography. You can also use it to join drone racing. The product is backed by a one-year limited warranty.
Hubsan H122D X4 Storm is Suitable For:
This model is compatible with a number of mobile devices. It can be used by photographers, videographers, and drone race pilots to perform various purposes. And it comes at a budget-friendly price for people who want a low-cost alternative to the likes of DJI. For its price, it can be used as a practice or beginner drone as well.
- It is speedy enough to be used in drone racing.
- It can transmit 780p high-definition (HD) videos in real-time, at a 100-meter controlling distance.
- It comes with a pre-configured monitor that lets you launch and operate it with ease.
- It can take you up to an altitude limit of 400 ft.
- It is an inexpensive alternative to some of the higher-end models.
- It is smaller and lighter than a standard racing drone.
- It has a short maximum flight time.
- Its battery may require a long charging time.
Best Budget Runner-Up
To end the list of the highest-flying drones, here is the MJX Bugs 2 SE. It deploys a 1080p 5G Wi-Fi camera drone to deliver sharp and clear footage. You can work with more image detail and data in post-processing with its advanced sensors and processors. Its controlling distance is 500 meters.
Making it more interesting are its different flight modes, such as Track Flight, Point of Interest, Headless Mode, and One-Key Return. Its maximum flying time can almost last 20 minutes. It’s 18 minutes, to be exact. When it launches, it can effectively transmit visuals thanks to its powerful Li-polymer battery, brushless motors, and braking system.
Retailing at under $200, this drone falls under the toy drone category. Yet, it’s also considered as one of the highest-flying drones with its capability to go up to almost 1,000 feet.
MJX Bugs 2 SE is Suitable For:
Serious videographers and photographers, as well as casual flyers, can take advantage of the 1080p HD camera performance of this model. Its price is also lower than that of the prosumer types, so it can be considered by those who are following a strict budget.
- It can transmit clear and sharp images and footage with its 1080p HD camera.
- It features several modes that are found in higher-end options.
- It can go as high as over 900 feet.
- It can last up to almost 20 minutes in the air.
- It is relatively low-cost.
- Its remote controller may not be fully responsive at a certain distance.
- Its manual may not provide clear instructions.
Can Drones Fly at High Altitude?
In the United States, the maximum altitude the FAA allows for flying a drone is 400 feet. For comparison, the height of One America Plaza in San Diego, California, is approximately 500 feet. This tower is tall, and the altitude limit of piloting a small unmanned aircraft (UAS) almost reaches that height.
But can drones really fly that high? Yes, high-end consumer drones can approach 400 ft. Their GPS feature will automatically limit their flight to ensure compliance. Meanwhile, models that are not equipped with GPS can only go as far as around 100 feet.
What is the Maximum Altitude of a Drone?
The FAA sets the maximum altitude at 400 feet above the ground. That means if your drone’s GPS calibrated the ground level where you launched, you need to adjust if you are moving higher or lower. If you’re going 50 feet down a canyon, you should be flying at 350 feet to avoid breaking the law. It’s a bit tricky. So it’s always good to stay mindful.
Now, if you read the FAA fact sheet, you will find a portion that says you can go higher if you stay within 400 ft. of a structure. So, for example, you are flying atop One American Plaza, you are already above 500 meters. Based on the statement, you can fly within 900 meters from where your drone took off.
But there’s a catch. Only drone operators who are permitted to inspect buildings, towers, and the like can perform this feat. In short, the flying part should be in your job description. Otherwise, you may be breaking not only drone-related laws but also privacy laws.
Also, if you’re outdoors, you need to keep the drone within your line of sight anyway. Your naked eye should still be able to see your drone. If you have a spotter, then that’s when breaking the line of sight is applicable. But it doesn’t translate to being allowed to break the maximum altitude.
What Happens if You Fly a Drone Above 400 Feet?
Again, some units are built to power through up to 400 feet. However, not all of them may perform as effectively as they would if they’re flying at a lower level. There are several factors at work in this scenario. One is how strong the winds are when you reach that height. Another is how the air gets thinner as you go up. The temperature can also fall.
All of these could have an impact on your drone’s performance. The lithium-ion batteries found in many designs can work less optimally. And there will be effects from wind movement and air density. Take note of these, as well as the special requirement for exceeding the altitude limit, if you are planning to go up to or beyond 400 ft.
That concludes our latest list of the best drones on the market. Keep in mind that high altitude drones are required to follow the altitude limit of 400 feet set by the FAA. As these are the top performers in their category, they can take flight effectively even when they encounter the changes in the atmosphere at this flying height.
Ranking first among our picks is the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, which has stability features in place. Some say you can hack it and send it up to 20,000 feet. With its built-in camera, you can take shots that are sharper and clearer than ever. Maybe it’s the technology available to DJI that places it above other brands.
Next up is the Autel Robotics X-Star Premium, a dark horse in itself. It similarly provides a 4K camera for better production of footage and images.
As you know, there are four others to consider, compare and contrast, and assess before you make it final. If you can delay your purchase while finishing this review, please do so.
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