The best follow me mode drones [Ultimate Guide]

Drones that can follow you autonomously have been around on the market for a while. However, the early implementation of this technology was far from perfect. Drones would regularly crash into their surroundings or they would simply lose track of the thing that they were meant to be following. Drone manufacturers have been working tirelessly to remain competitive in the follow me race. This is because drones are used by videographers and content creators who often want to track a subject through a scene.

The best follow me mode well drones include the Skydio 2, a number of the DJI drones such as the DJI Mavic air 2 and the phantom series drones, as well as newcomers such as Staaker and the Autel Evo 2. The best budget option is the Potensic T25.

In this article, we are going to go over the best follow me mode drones on the market at the moment. And we will provide you with a buyers guide for drones that have a follow me mode so that you will not be left with buyer’s remorse.

I know that when I was flying my DJI Mavic air that using the follow me mode and active track enabled me to capture some pretty natural and awesome shots. I just have to learn a few tricks to get the shots that I wanted.

Follow me mode on drones requires a load of technology to work seamlessly together including high definition cameras, GPS sensors and other sensing hardware.

This has to work alongside artificial intelligence algorithms for capturing the appropriate subject throughout the flight as well as rapid computational processing and exact motor communication.

All of this we will get into in more detail, below the first let’s work out exactly what follow me mode means and how it is implemented by a range of content creators.

What does “follow me mode” mean?

Quite simply, a follow me mode allows a drone to follow a subject without intervention from a drone pilot. And a lot of the time the drone pilot wants the drone to follow them. This is particularly useful for solo content creators and social media influences who do not have the ability to employ an extra camera person to operate the drone.

The drone can follow a person or object (such as a car) through the environment by simply using its camera and artificial intelligence algorithms for identifying and tracking the thing it is meant to be following.

Also, for high speed subjects the drone can also follow a beacon which is attached to the object that it is following. This means that it doesn’t rely solely on the camera for following as a camera can quickly lose sight of the subject. A beacon allows the drone to always know the GPS location of the thing it is meant to be following allowing for a much smoother and dynamic tracking of fast moving people and objects. It is particularly useful for adrenaline sports and activities like skiing and motor sports.

There are a number of people who would benefit greatly from a follow me mode which we shall discuss next.

Who are follow me drones best for?

In a lot of jurisdictions the rules are around using a follow me mode drone are relatively hazy. This is because typically the law states that you must be in control of the drone all times. However, if your drone is flying autonomously, but you’ve chosen that the drone does that, does that mean that you are still in control of the drone?

Typically follow me drones are used by content creators who are capturing content on their own. The great thing about follow me mode drones is that the lack of an extra drone pilot doesn’t mean you can’t capture some incredible footage.

There are some limitations on the follow me mode technology such as:

  • Robotic movement – because you are relying on artificial intelligence to follow you through a scene sometimes the shots are not as smooth as a human operator can achieve.
  • Obstructions – because the follow me mode on a load of drones relies on sensors for keeping it safe during automated flying obstructions can stop the drone in its track. Once it loses sight of the subject it can quickly become stationary and lost.
  • Ease-of-use – when I was using my Mavic air capture my movements I often found it difficult to operate the follow me mode options whilst also trying to be natural in shot.

Despite these limitations there are many types of users for the best follow me mode drones.

Vloggers

YouTube vloggers were some of the first people to use drones to capture B-roll footage of their adventures and add some incredible shots to hook their audience into their videos.

There is still a place for using follow me mode drones for capturing vlog footage. Vlogging is the act of capturing a video blog about a subject or your lifestyle.

As the technology for drone shots got cheaper and cheaper YouTubers were able to include shots that were reserved, previously, for high budget films and content.

Because a lot of the shots that vloggers want to capture are of themselves the follow me mode is perfect for following them through their daily life and capturing some unique angles which would have typically been captured with cameras on booms and a whole studio crew.

Solo film makers

Solo filmmakers are putting out some incredible independent films. This is because they are able to capture shots which previously required helicopters by using drones. Low-budget, solo film makers, quite often need to capture a number of shots in a scene in one go. By using a follow me mode drone they can set the drone to follow a subject automatically whilst also, simultaneously, capturing some other angles of the same scene.

This is a great use of the autonomous flying features of today’s modern drones.

Action sports

People who capture high adrenaline action sports can use follow me mode to autonomously follow a person moving at high speed through a scene. You can also buy waterproof drones if you are doing action sports – such as surfing – overwater. Click here to be taken to my article where I go through the buyer’s guide and tips for the best drones for surfing.

Best drones for surfing

I have seen people use follow me mode on drones for capturing skiing, surfing, motocross, mountain biking, and many more types of adrenaline and action sports. These work best when the drone is also receiving updated and real-time GPS locations of the subject that it is following. This tells the drone how quickly it needs to move to keep up with the subject of the shot and means that it is not just relying on the camera and artificial tracking for maintaining its connection with the subject during the shot.

Social media influencers

Lastly, social media influencers can use follow me mode drones for capturing short videos which provide a unique vantage and view of what they are doing or the products and experiences that they are promoting.

As the internet becomes more and more video based, capturing the interest of your audience by using unique and for inspiring shots of your surroundings is one of the best strategies boosting your online presence and audience retention.

How does follow me mode work?

Follow me mode and active tracking drone modes rely on the intersection of three different types of technology to perform at its best.

Because each of these technologies is relatively complicated and has improved significantly over the recent years we are starting to see follow me mode and active tracking in a number of low and drones because of the decrease in price of the technologies required.

Here are the three things that need to work together for follow me mode to work flawlessly.

AI tracking

Artificial intelligence tracking of objects has been used since the early 2000’s. In recent years it has become more and more embedded into drone technology as the hardware and computing power can be squeezed into a smaller and smaller form factor.

Quite simply, the artificial intelligence software uses visual data captured by the first person view camera of a drone and uses image recognition to identify the objects in the frame.

As long as the camera has a significant and sufficient amount of data the processor is able to identify the subject of the scene whilst also ignoring the background components and locates the moving object.

Once the camera has been able to identify the object that it should be following it will adjust the motor speed is to ensure that it is always keeping the object at the same distance away from the camera.

In earlier versions of this technology the drone was able to process all of this within a matter of seconds and it is now getting faster and faster to the point that the drone is able to react almost spontaneously and instantaneously to the movement of the subject.

This is a consequence of the improvement of artificial intelligence as well as the processing power able to be squeezed into a small space.

Beacon tracking

We are all used to GPS tracking in our smart devices. Typically, these are very high energy devices which require a lot of battery power. Over the recent years the technology has shrunk down to a size that enables drones to carry them and use them efficiently.

Alongside the artificial intelligence image detection the drone will often use a beacon which has its own GPS location data which is able to send to the drone. The beacon is placed on the person or object that you want to track through the environment which enables the drone to follow it more precisely.

Scanning and sensing

Lastly, your drone needs to detect the environment accurately and instantaneously to avoid collisions with things like overhanging trees and obstructions.

The high end consumer drones often have 360° sensing which means that they are able to see everything in the environment through a series of cameras and positioning sensors.

However, mid-range and older drones and have a selection of sensors which means that they can only detect in certain directions while flying.

For example, my DJI Mavic air has only downwards and front and back sensing. This means that if I’m doing follow me mode and I wanted to track alongside me I have to be very careful that there is nothing in the way that will hit the drone from the side as it will not see it coming.

As this processing power and hardware is able to be squeezed into smaller and smaller form factors we are seeing more and more drones with this level of technology and integration.

Types of tracking

There are a number of types of tracking which a follow me mode drone can achieve. This includes following the subject from behind, spotlighting the subject – by always having the subject in frame – and also profile and parallel tracking where the drone will track alongside the object of flying sideways.

  • Tracking – This is simple tracking where the aircraft will attempt to keep the subject at a constant distance from the drone. Typically this will be from behind subject as it moves away from the drone but it can also include the drone moving backwards so that it captures the subject moving forward towards the drone.
  • Spotlight – in Spotlight mode the aircraft will keep the camera pointing at the subject but it will not move unless directed to do so by the pilot operating the joystick. This is fantastic for providing dynamic and sweeping shots of a subject with manual control the shots can be smoother and more unique than other types of tracking.
  • Profile/parallel – for drones that do not have side sensors this is the riskiest version of tracking. This is where the drone will track at a constant angle and distance from the side of the subject as it is moving. You can typically use the remote control to change the angle of the drone while the person or object is moving.

Now that we have covered the basics of the follow me mode requirements and use cases here are the nine best follow me mode drones that currently on the market that you can purchase right now.

Best follow me drones

as manufacturers are looking for a unique point of difference in their drones follow me mode has become one of the ways in which manufacturers can create a niche for themselves in the marketplace.

The first drone on our list is the Skydio 2 which is a US manufactured drone with incredible follow me mode credentials.

Skydio 2

This drone has been designed to fly as autonomously as possible. At a reasonable starting price of US$1349 this seems like a fantastic option for people looking to get into the autonomous drone game seriously.

The drone can be flown in three ways:

  • the Skydio Beacon – this unlocks the full tracking potential of the drone. The GPS signal and tracking beacon allows you to stay in contact with your drone up to 100 m away. This means even if the drone cannot see you through its camera it is able to keep up with you. Easy drag and drop controls allow you to reposition the drone anywhere in the sky and to lock in an angle.
  • from an app – this app delivers an intuitive flying experience. You can select from a range of different shots including dronie, and cable cam. This makes the drone like an artificial intelligence driven film crew.
  • or with a controller – you can use the control the drone like every other type of drone with two joysticks. Use this if you want to control the exact positioning and location of your camera throughout the entire flight. I find that using a controller means I can get a much better shot as I’m able to control every aspect of the recording.

It has incredible advanced flying artificial intelligence and has a 360° obstacle avoidance. The navigation uses a six 4K cameras and can see everything in every direction with an incredible amount of clarity. This is what lays the foundation for the incredible automated flying features.

This drone is perfect for action sports through trees and other obstacles as it has improved artificial intelligence and obstacle avoidance which makes it able to track and follow you even in the trickiest of surroundings. This makes it perfect for concentrating on what you are doing instead of flying the drone. The company is tagline seems to be:

it does the flying, you do the doing.

The drone boasts 4K footage at 60 frames per second and 12 megapixel images. It has a fantastic camera based around Sony’s IMX577 sensor. This is a drone that has got me excited as it seems to be able to do a lot of things and the company have focused on the most important aspects of why people buy a drone – which is to capture awesome activities easily. This company will be one to watch and the drones looked to be fantastically easy to fly for beginners.

DJI drones

All of the DJI drones have the ability to follow you in some form. As their technology and the software has improved they have expanded beyond simple tracking mode and can now do all sorts of follow me movements with the drone such as parallel and spotlight.

Which DJI drones have Follow Me mode?

With so many different drones in the DJI ecosystem it can get very confusing about which DJI drones have follow me mode. Here is a handy table for you to work out exactly what sort of tracking each drone has and the only series which lacks an active track is the DJI Mavic mini and mini two series.

Mavic 2Trace, parallel, spotlight
Mavic airTrace, parallel, spotlight
Mavic proTrace, spotlight, profile, terrain follow
Phantom 4 pro V2 .0Trace, spotlight, profile, terrain follow
Inspire 2Trace, profile
Mavic air 2Trace, spotlight, parallel
SparkTrace, profile
Mavic mini + Mini 2No active track

If you want to produce an active track like movement on the DJI Mavic mini 2 you can use this video to run you through how to create active track shots. However, if you’re drone usage requires this functionality regularly I would recommend buying another DJI drone as it takes a little bit of trial and error to get it right.

the best DJI drones for active tracking and follow me mode at the moment are the DJI Mavic air 2, the Mavic air – which is my current workforce, and the phantom series drones.

Mavic Air 2

I love my Mavic Air and was happy when DJI desided to upgrade the drone. It seems like they have done it in all of the right ways!. The Mavic Air 2 takes power and portability to the next level, offering advanced features in a compact package. It has a range of intelligent shooting functions and excellent image quality put aerial masterpieces within reach.

The camera includes:

  • 1/2-inch CMOS sensor: it has smooth 4K/60fps video. The D-Cinelike flat color profile retains more information for post-processing. The HEVC (H.265) video codec records more image information, uses less storage, and preserves the dynamic range and detail of your footage, ensuring next-level content.
  • 8K Hyperlapse: this will allow you to simply warp time and space for especially stunning footage.

this is an inexpensive and ultra portable drone that I think you’d be silly not to consider if you want to be a little more budget consious.

  • Weight – 570 g
  • Dimensions
    • Folded: 180×97×74 mm (Length×Width×Height)
    • Unfolded: 183×253×77 mm (Length×Width×Height)
  • 34 minutes max flight time
  • Max wind-speed resistance – 8.5-10.5 m/s
  • 8 GB internal storage
  • Max speed – 19 m/s

This is a great little drone and it will satisfy most hobby photographers easily!

  • Up Your Game: The Mavic Air 2 camera drone takes power and portability to the next level. It combines a powerful camera with intelligent shooting modes for stunning results.
  • Next-Level Content: Capture impressive 48MP photos with a 1/2-inch CMOS sensor while the 3-axis gimbal provides 4K/60fps video.
  • Improved Flight: An impressive flight time of up to 34 minutes allows you to pull off epic, fast-paced shots.
  • Intelligent Tracking: Mavic Air 2 features intuitive shooting functions that make aerial photography easier than ever.
  • Video capture resolution: 4K HD

Mavic Air

When I first started to look for a drone – I was really tempted to get the Mavic Pro. But I’m pleased I did not! I was using my drone to capture B-roll footage for my daily LinkedIn vlog. So It needed to fit in my bag and not be too heavy. That’s exactly what I got and MORE!

The person I bought it off said I may not need another drone – and he is absolutely right…here’s why:

  • It is small enough to carry EVERYWHERE with me – capturing b-roll footage is the best addition to a blog. This drone folded down to a tiny and lightweight package. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice any more space on my bag for its function.
  • It is inexpensive – I just couldn’t justify spending a heap of money on the best drone. This was the least expensive non-toy drone around!
  • Batteries are easy to come by – extra flight time was important to me. I was tempted to get the “fly more” package but on reflection, I only wanted the extra battery for extra flight time – so I just bought that.
  • Good flight time – This drone has a good but not great flight time. At first, I was always a little annoyed that I had to return to home after about 16 minutes. However, after the excitement wore off I found I was always landing with plenty of battery to spare!
  • NOT a toy product – the mini or spark were toys that DJI has produced for fun and easy photography. Tha Air is the first with the advanced features like those seen in the higher end drones like the Pro and Zoom.

I really haven’t regretted my decision in the slightest. But like most things, there’s a time and place to upgrade and this is why I would…

Phantom

If you want to capture amazing slow motion footage this has some of the best features including a 4K recording at 60 frames per second. Perfect for slowing down to get cinematic slow Mo shots.

Its mechanical shutter means that you are able to capture fast-moving surfing action without distorting the image.

This drone has:

  • 4K at 60 frames per second
  • 1 inch sensor
  • mechanical shutter
  • five direction obstacle sensing
  • 30 minute maximum flight time

Even though the camera on this thing is excellent is also the powerful flight performance which gives this drone the edge while capturing surfing.

There are several flight modes which will make the flying very easy and smooth and you can switch 20 flight modes as you need to. The maximum speed is 45 mph which is fast enough to capture all of your adventures.

The drone will also return to home automatically upon a low battery or disconnection from the remote control..

Staaker

This is another newcomer to the drone market and it seems to be that people are talking about this as one of the most innovative self flying drones on the market.

The website is relatively bare without too much information about the drone, at the moment, but here is a video which shows the best features of the drone:

The drone has a waterproof Tracker that you can strap onto your arm if you are going for a surf or you are entering the water to do some activity. This enables the drone to stay with you even if you dive under the waves.

It has a top speed of 80 km/h or 50 mph so will go to keep up with even the fastest of motorbikes on a dirt track.

We will certainly be keeping an eye on this drone as information about the drone becomes more available in the future.

Autel Evo 2

If you really want to get serious with your follow me mode you should look at the Autel Evo 2. It records in a massive 8K resolution with 16 times more pixels compared to HD and four times as many pixels as 4K. The high resolution enables the ability to zoom deep into a scene without any loss of quality.

In order to keep your drone safe qualities following you it has 19 groups of sensors including 12 visual senses which enable it to 3 dimensionally map and plan its path in real-time. Because roofs are relatively complicated in industrial settings this ensures that the drone will stay safe at all times even from obstacles which are overhanging above it.

If you want a complete rundown on the dynamic tracking abilities check out this YouTube video:

It has a maximum flight time of 40 minutes which is one of the longest in this list and is able to put up with winds of 39 mph which is perfect for flying in urban conditions with confidence.

Potensic T25 – best budget option

The last drone on our list is a budget option that retails for approximately US$190.

Despite being relatively inexpensive the drone has a nine axis gyroscope which means that it can stay stable in windy conditions and it has a high wind resistance and longer flight time with a dual battery system being provided with the drone.

The follow me mode will use GPS positioning and will point the camera to lock to your phone making the drone follow your steps and catch your every move while it is following you through the environment.

You can also create a custom flight path using the inbuilt GPS sensors by using the app and creating waypoints.

This drone, although cheap, can be the perfect beginner drone for you if you want to dip your toes into the drone world lost also having some of the more advanced features such as follow me and GPS stability – which for a beginner is a very important feature.

Here are some of the important tips that you should follow if you are using your drone for a follow me shot.

Tips for using follow me mode

There are more and more drones which are able to follow you through a scene but their ability to dodge obstacles and follow you using only their artificial intelligence and camera is highly variable. Some drones are able to follow you relatively easily even through the most complicated of environments, whilst others seem to get lost at the first sight of an overhanging branch.

Low altitude

Flying at a low altitude will help the drone keep you in its sights as it is flying around. The artificial intelligence of a drone can sometimes struggle to pick the subject out from a scene particularly if they are flying high.

You can help the drone to pick you out of a scene by allowing it to fly low and close to you which will increase the parallax effect for picking you out as the main subject of the environment.

Open spaces are better

Even though drones are getting very curt at avoiding trees and other obstacles during the flight I would recommend that you fly in open spaces the majority of the time.

This is simply because the drone has to make a number of decisions when it comes across obstacles. Even though the computing power is getting faster the drone still has to work out how it is going to avoid an obstacle and it sometimes doesn’t make the best choice in terms of the shot that it creates.

Giving the drone more options as it is flying will allow it to capture much better footage and take away the burden of having to decide on the path through obstacles.

High contrast objects

You can also help the drone pick you out in a scene by using high contrast clothing or other way to differentiate yourself from the environment.

Big flat surfaces with minimal contrast are a recipe for struggling to find you and pick you out autonomously in a scene.

Drone with follow me mode – buyers guide

Here are all of the things that you need to consider if you want by a drone with follow me mode.

Active track vs follow me

There are several technologies on the market for follow me mode drones. For example DJI has its active track mode whilst others have a follow me mode. Exactly what this means is very dependent on the manufacturer of the drone.

DJI developed active track and implemented it in March 2016 in their Phantom 4 drone. This was designed to give photographers an easier and safer way to achieve a cinematic looking and feeling shot whilst flying their drone.

The drone will lock on to a person or object and uses vision and sensing systems to maintain a safe flight whilst the user focuses on getting the best shot possible.

The DJI Mavic 2 drones come with an updated version of active track which allows more precise recognition, it predicts the trajectory of the thing it is tracking which means that it is less likely to lose the subject, it is also able to move in a faster speed to keep up with fast moving objects and it is also able to avoid more objects and obstacles while flying thanks to its increased number of cameras for sensing the environment.

Follow me mode typically is a much simpler version of active track where the drone will simply follow at a fixed angle the subject selected in the first person view.

Altitude hold vs terrain follow

Another important aspect of follow me mode drones is the way that they follow the subject. Some drones use altitude hold where they hold a fixed altitude to rate the flight – this means that it is likely that your drone will crash if you are going up and down significant vertical terrain.

A better option for those of you who want a dynamic vertical range during tracking is what is called terrain follow. Terrain follow enables the drone to stay at a fixed height above the ground whilst tracking the subject through the environment.

Only if you drones have this type of tracking so if it is going to be important for you then you need to select a drone which has this capability. This is particularly useful if you want to do low angle follow shots on fast-moving objects such as bikes or runners going through woodland either up or down hill.

Beacon vs AI track

Some of the drones in this list have a beacon. The beacon allows the drone to follow you up to 100 m away without actually being able to see you in the first person view camera.

This is perfect for people who are using their drone to capture snowboarding, skiing, or other activities whether drone could potentially get stuck behind foliage.

For most users that aren’t doing fast-paced sports the artificial intelligence tracking which is done via the camera should be sufficient. For the influences and content creators for YouTube the artificial intelligence tracking using the primary camera of the drone will result in some of the best footage for your online presence. Just make sure that you follow the advice in the section above – to get the best shot possible.

Number of sensors

When the drone is simply doing its own thing it is important that it can see everything in the environment at one time. This allows the processing power – the brains of the drone – to make the best decisions for keeping the drone safe whilst also tracking you through an environment.

If you are regularly going into close spaces such as wooded areas you should choose a drone that has a 360° capability of monitoring its position. Some of the drones in this list do not have 360° sensing ability and social be important that you choose a drone that matches the environment that you will be flying in.

Summary

In this article we have gone through the best follow me drones on the market at the moment. All of them are currently available and we are seeing the technology in the follow me software space get better and better with each release of new drones.

A company like Skydio are taking a bet that the consumer and commercial markets will want a drone which can fly autonomously and be willing to pay a premium for this capability.

No matter what drone you choose having a drone that can follow you will certainly make your life as a content producer easier and it will also enable you to become part of the action rather than just sitting behind a controller all of the time.

 

 

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. Andy started droneflyingpro.com to share his love and the research of all things drone! He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drone. His favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!