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Just how good are drone cameras? Not very, according to DxOMark

Why it matters to you

DxOMark has long been rating the sensors inside digital cameras, but now the firm is offering insight into drone cameras, too.

DxOMark, a software company that measures how well camera sensors perform, is now rating drone cameras — and the first set of ratings isn’t all that great. The latest sensor scores from the company for drone-mounted cameras range all the way from a respectable 74 to a smartphone-quality 34.

The company is the first to note that a sensor score for still images isn’t the only indicator of just how good a camera is, but the rating does give potential buyers a glimpse at just how good the still images coming from that eye-in-the-sky will be. Unsurprisingly, the scores tend to correlate with the camera’s price point. Factors like speed and video quality aren’t included. DxO also notes that drone camera designers have to balance image quality with weight, since every ounce will shorten the drone’s flight time.

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Considering only aspects like the color, dynamic range, and noise reduction inside a still image, the DJI X5 S takes the top rating from DxO with a 74, putting it just behind the high-end Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, a popular Micro Four Thirds camera. The score isn’t too surprising considering the camera uses the same size sensor and is one of DJI’s top options with a $1,800 price tag for just the camera.

The scores drop fairly quickly, however, with the older Zenmuse X4S and Phantom 4Pro ranking a bit under Canon’s compact G7 X at 65. GoPro’s Hero5 Black action camera, compatible with the company’s first Karma drone, scores a 38, ten points behind the Phantom 4 with an identical-sized sensor due to recording only ten bits per pixel and a lower noise reduction performance.

Yuneec’s Breeze 4K camera takes the lowest score of the bunch at 34 — which isn’t too surprising since it’s the least expensive of the bunch at $400 including the entire drone. DxOMark compares the image quality to a smartphone like the Nokia Lumina 1520.

DxO does end its results on an upbeat note, however, noting that since drone cameras are newer, the tech should catch up in the next few years, even using the same size sensor to keep the weight of the camera down.

Sensor performance isn’t everything in a drone camera, but the new rating category does offer a glimpse into just how well the drone camera performs.