The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of tech gear

The Best Drones of 2019

Saturday February 2, 2019
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After hundreds of hours of research, we brought the 14 most compelling camera drones on the market into our lab for rigorous, side-by-side testing. Drone technology has been rapidly evolving in the last few years, making it very difficult to know the best way to spend your hard earned money. But don't worry, we've kept pace so you don't have to. Whether you're looking for something that has a good camera while still being small and portable, want a workhorse that can produce Hollywood-quality video, or just something for fun flying and selfies, we can guide you to the latest and greatest aerial machine for every application.

Our Picks



Best Overall Camera Drone


DJI Mavic 2 Pro


Editors' Choice Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

$1,499.00
at Amazon
See It

93
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Video Quality 10
  • Flight Performance 10
  • Portability 7
  • Ease of Use 9
Maximum Video Resolution: 4K | Maximum Speed: 45 mph
Excellent video quality
Great flight performance
Relatively portable
Expensive

There was once a time when you had to choose between high-end video quality or having a drone that could fit into a backpack, but no longer. The DJI Mavic 2 Pro somehow manages to fit a Hasselblad camera with a 1-inch sensor into a body that folds up to the size of a large water bottle and weighs just 2 pounds. This results in a drone that can hide away when you don't need it, but can quickly provide incredibly crisp and vibrant 4K video when you reach your shooting location. It also makes no sacrifices in flight performance, maxing out at an impressive 45 mph and providing a flight time of up to 31 minutes, with many intelligent flight modes to choose from.

Literally, the only downside to this drone is its price, requiring quite an investment. Otherwise, it is as good or better than every other consumer model on the market. Sure, the Mavic Air is a bit more portable and the Mavic 2 Zoom offers an optical zoom, but both models are clear steps down when it comes to video quality. If you're looking for the best possible drone footage in a package that you can take with you pretty much anywhere, the Mavic 2 Pro is the clear choice.

Read Review: DJI Mavic 2 Pro

Best For Most People


DJI Mavic Air


Editors' Choice Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

$750.00
(6% off)
at Amazon
See It

84
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Video Quality 8
  • Flight Performance 8
  • Portability 9
  • Ease of Use 9
Maximum Video Resolution: 4K | Maximum Speed: 42.5 mph
Small and packable
Good video
Great flight performance
Expensive
Can't match the video quality of Phantom 4 Pro models

The average drone user is looking for something that provides good video quality, is small and portable enough that they can tote it along on trips even if they're not sure they'll be flying, and ideally stays below the four-digit mark in term of price. The DJI Mavic Air is the one model we've found that checks all of those boxes. The 4K camera is able to capture footage that looks clear and bright with good color accuracy, the battery offers a maximum flight time of 21 minutes, and it folds into a burrito-sized package that weighs slightly less than a pound. Plus, you get all this for a relatively reasonable price. This combination makes it the only drone we have no reservations about tossing into a pack wherever we're going that can still capture incredible, 4K footage.

The only time you can notice any shortcomings in the Mavic Air is when you compare it to the expensive high-end models. These devices (like the Mavic 2 Pro and the Phantom 4 Pro) do have better cameras that produce better color profiles and can generally fly for 30 minutes or more. However, those gains are relatively small when you consider you'll be paying close to twice as much. For most people, we think the Mavic Air can get all the shots you want without weighing you down or hurting your wallet too much.

Read review: DJI Mavic Air

Best Bang for the Buck


DJI Spark


Best Buy Award
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  • 4
  • 5

$399.00
(20% off)
at Amazon
See It

68
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Video Quality 5
  • Flight Performance 7
  • Portability 9
  • Ease of Use 8
Maximum Video Resolution: 1080p | Maximum Speed: 31 mph
Portable
Easy to fly
Fun
Mediocre video quality
Shorter flight time

Drones are currently at an odd juncture, where they've become inexpensive enough that many people can afford them, but they're still enough of an investment to warrant some serious purchase consideration. If you want to get in on the aerial video game for as little as possible, the DJI Spark is the best choice. For a comparative bargain, you get a quadcopter that can take quite good 1080p video at a short distance. If you spend just a bit more on a controller you get a fully-fledged camera drone that can fly over a mile away and get sweeping cinematic landscape shots. It is also one of the lightest models around, tipping the scales at just 2/3 of a pound.

While we feel the Spark is quite a capable little hummingbird, it just can't quite compare to the higher powered hawks and eagles that you can get by spending a bit more. The Spark's maximum flight time of 16 minutes and maximum speed of 31mph (in sport mode) can feel a bit limiting after you've flown some of the higher-priced models. For example, the Mavic Air ups those figures to 21 minutes and 42.5mph, and the Mavic Pro 2 hits 31 minutes and 45mph. Both these models also have better color saturation and up video resolution to 4K. However, the Spark can still do some serious flying and get some decent footage, and does so for much less than the rest of the field.

Read review: DJI Spark

Best for Beginners and Kids


Ryze Tello


Top Pick Award
  • 1
  • 2
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  • 4
  • 5

$98.00
at Amazon
See It

54
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Video Quality 3
  • Flight Performance 5
  • Portability 10
  • Ease of Use 6
Maximum Video Resolution: 720p | Maximum Speed: 18 mph
Inexpensive
Simple operation
Small and light
Slightly choppy video
short range

For beginners, kids, or those that want to get the feel of flying a fully-fledged camera drone without investing many hundreds of dollars, you can't beat the Ryze Tello. Created in partnership with DJI, this budget model features flight sensors similar to those in many of the much more expensive DJI offerings. This results in incredibly stable flight, and the ability to maintain a steady hover without any user input. In contrast, most budget models offer a more fly by the seat of your pants experience, requiring a lot of subtle and precise movement of the joysticks to keep them anywhere near stable. The Tello's flight is both more intuitive and less frustrating for kids and beginners, and provides a good introduction to what flying one of the more advanced models feels like, all for a small fraction of a fully-fledged camera drone.

The biggest flaw of the Tello is its lack of video quality. The small, 720p camera's footage looks a bit grainy, and often comes out choppy with missing frames. However, this is still better than most models in the price range. You also fly it using your smartphone using virtual joysticks on the touchscreen. This takes away a bit from the flight experience, but that problem can be rectified by getting a compatible, 3rd-party Bluetooth gaming controller. Overall, this is the most drone you can get for such a low price, and is a great entry point for pretty much anyone.

Read review: Ryze Tello

Top Pick for Autonomous Flying


Skydio R1


Top Pick Award
$2,500
List Price
See It

Maximum Video Resolution: 4K | Maximum Speed: 25 mph
Unmatched autonomous flight and obstacle avoidance
64 GB of onboard storage
Short range of 300 ft
No controller option outside of phone screen
Expensive

The Skydio drone is unlike anything else available to consumers. It can autonomously follow you through dense woods, choppy waters, and down steep slopes regardless of whether you're on foot, skis, a bike, or boat. It's difficult for us to overstate how impressive its autonomous flight is. The Skydio can turn on a dime through obstacles that would stump even the most experienced pilots. None of the DJI drones have remotely comparable autonomous flight modes, which puts this in a class of its own.

The biggest sacrifice you make with the Skydio (besides shelling out quite a bit of cash) is the lack of an actual controller. To get this quadcopter in the air you use virtual joysticks on your smartphone. The use of a phone also limits the range a few hundred feet, so you can't fly the Skydio far out and get cinematic landscape shots. If you're looking to do that, even the comparatively cheap DJI Spark with a controller would do a much better job. So while the Skydio has far and away the best autonomous follow feature of any model we've tested, it is a bit of a one trick pony. It is also quite large and must be lashed to the outside of a backpack if you want to take it skiing or mountain biking.

Compare Top Products

Displaying 14 Products
 
AwardsEditors' Choice Award   Editors' Choice Award   Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award    
Price$1,500 List
$1,499.00 at Amazon
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$1,249.00 at Amazon
$1,800 List$800 List
$750.00 at Amazon
$1,500 List$1,000 List
$897.00 at Amazon
$500 List
$399.00 at Amazon
$700 List
$559.99 at Amazon
$2,000 List
$1,999.00 at Amazon
$1,000 List
$994.25 at Amazon
$100 List
$98.00 at Amazon
$500 List$500 List$550 List
$399.99 at Amazon
Bottom LineAn impressive combination of video quality and portabilityOptical zoom adds interesting creative possibilities to an already great productPerfect for those looking for professional quality video and that appreciate the convenience of not needing to connect a smartphoneBest balance of video quality and portability on the marketPerfect for those that want professional quality video and don't mind sacrificing a built in controller screen to save a little moneyStill a fantastic product, but has been outstripped by its successorsThe perfect balance of portability, capability, and fun for those looking to take some photos and enjoy flyingA well-rounded device, but fails to carve out a niche for itselfBy far the best autonomous flyer around, but outside of autonomous follow shots it can't do much elseDecent performance at a price point that seems much too high given the competitionThe best entry-level model we have ever testedAn inexpensive model that doesn't live up to its specs and fails to be a good budget optionEssentially a toy model with a nice enough camera to take selfies, but doesn't capture quality video footageCan serve as a selfie machine or a toy, but can’t produce usable video clips
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Rating CategoriesDJI Mavic 2 ProDJI Mavic 2 ZoomDJI Phantom 4 Pro+DJI Mavic AirDJI Phantom 4 ProDJI Mavic ProDJI SparkParrot AnafiSkydio R1Autel Robotics EvoRyze TelloYUNEEC Mantis QYUNEEC Breeze 4KParrot Bebop 2
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Why You Should Trust Us


In this review we rely heavily on the expertise of FAA certified drone pilot and professional filmmaker Sean Haverstock. Sean has been piloting aerial cameras for more than 5 years and has worked with such A-list clients as RedBull, Nikon, and Adobe. Sean's work dates back to the days when professional-level camera drones weren't readily available, necessitating that he build his own. Sean brings this depth of knowledge and experience to our review, both by piloting our testing models and assessing their resulting footage. Authors Steven Tata and Max Mutter have led TechGearLab's drone testing since 2016, and have collectively logged over 200 flight hours as a result. Both authors also have years of experience appraising relative video quality in a side-by-side manner, as they have been leading TGL's projector and security camera testing since 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Over 70 drones were researched and considered for inclusion in this review. After a careful examination of user reviews, manufacturer specifications, and input from professional drone pilots, we chose over 20 of the best to bring into our lab for some exacting, real-world testing. This involved 14 separate tests split into 4 weighed metrics, the results of which you can see below.

Related: How We Tested Drones

We spent a lot of time flying drones in beautiful locations.

Analysis and Test Results


In recent years small unmanned aerial vehicles, more colloquially referred to as drones, have been getting less and less expensive. This has made them economical enough for some commercial applications and has even allowed the technology to be leveraged to do some real good in the world. This has also made camera angles and perspectives available to the amateur videographer that were once the sole domain of big-name directors working on grandiose, huge budget blockbusters. As a result, there is a whole new community of people producing footage that uses unique angles to highlight the innate beauty of the things us crazy humans do every day. Whether you're already engaged in this community or are excited to become a part of such a creative enterprise, our testing results and scores can guide you to the model that is going to give you the best possible experience.

Drones make it possible to get shots that would otherwise be inconceivable.
Drones make it possible to get shots that would otherwise be inconceivable.


Value


The above chart compares each model's price and their performance in our testing (you can see names by hovering your cursor over each dot) so that you can easily find the best model in your price range. This chart shows why we love the Mavic Air so much, as it's near the top in terms of performance, but at a relatively middle-of-the-road price. you can get better video and performance out of the Mavic 2 Pro but at nearly double the cost. The Best Buy Award winning Spark falls behind the top scorers, but also sells for significantly less, providing a good choice for those on a budget. Finally, the Ryze Tello is clearly inferior to the top models, but its incredibly low price still makes it a worthwhile purchase for kids and beginner pilots.

Video Quality


As fun as it can be to pilot remote-controlled aircraft, the resulting video footage is the ultimate end goal of most users, thus we made its quality our most heavily weighted metric. The resolution, sharpness, and color quality created by a camera is vital to creating a good image. To test this we took similar footage with each one of our models and carefully examined the resulting video files side-by-side on the same high definition monitor. The best resolution and most vivid colors can be ruined if the video itself is shaky and unstable, or if there are rotors impeding on the camera's view. We tested these attributes of video quality by recording both broad panning shots and fast-paced tight shots while following a fast subject. We then evaluated this footage based on how smooth and stable it was, how well the horizon was kept horizontal, and whether or not there were any visible rotors or rotor shadows present.


Two models earned rare perfect scores of 10 out of 10 in this metric, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro and the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ (and it's non-plus sibling). Both of these models feature 4K cameras with 1-inch sensors that capture vivid, true colors with impressive clarity. In general, we think video captured on either of these drones could be slipped into a Hollywood blockbuster without the audience blinking an eye. There are some differences between the cameras, however. If anything we think the Hasselblad camera of the Mavic 2 Pro produced a slightly better color profile. Unlike any other consumer drone, the Mavic 2 Pro has the option to shoot video in a 10-bit Dlog-M color profile, which is an advanced feature that professionals will appreciate. The Phantom 4 Pro's camera offers both a mechanical shutter (to cut down on rolling shutter when filming at high speed) and a higher 4K frame rate of 60fps, which allows for better slow-motion video. While these features did make the Phantom 4 Pro perform slightly better at filming high speed and slow-mo scenes, the difference was again minimal.


The above video compares footage from the three models that are likely on most people's short list: the Mavic Air, the Mavic 2 Pro, and the Mavic 2 Zoom.

Just behind the top scorers, earning an 8 out of 10, was the DJI Mavic Air. This incredibly portable model produces great color accuracy at a 4K resolution. It also has a locked focus, which limits your options a bit but prevents the problem of bumping your screen and then realizing a=later on that all of your footage was out of focus. It lost out on a top score because its blacks aren't quite as true as the top scoring models, resulting in an image that looks artificially bright but still well balanced.


The optical zoom lens of the Mavic 2 Zoom allows for a disorienting dolly zoom effect.

Also earning an 8 out of 10 in this metric was the Mavic 2 Zoom. This is one of the first consumer models to offer an optical zoom, which lets you create a dolly zoom effect, amongst other things. The images this camera produces are also quite good, but like the Mavic Air, it tends to brighten some of the darker colors due to a narrower dynamic range, making the image look just slightly washed out when compared to the likes of the Mavic 2 Pro. However, we still think the video quality is exceptional and worthy of pretty much any cinematic venture.


This video compares unedited side-by-side footage from the DJI Mavic Air, Mavic Pro, and Spark. These models offer different levels of portability and camera performance. In our opinion, the Mavic Air has the best camera and is the most portable of the three.

The DJI Mavic Pro earned a score of 7 in this metric and produced less impressive footage than the Mavic Air. It had nearly no issues with propellor intrusion in our testing. Despite its small size the gimbal was surprisingly stable but did shake a bit more in quick maneuvers than the Phantom 4 Pro models. The 4K footage is generally crisp, and the colors look bright. The Mavic Pro's camera does have a relatively small sensor, and to make up for this the camera plays some tricks with exaggerated sharpness and saturation. This results in very vivid colors and a seemingly crisp image, but often with a sacrifice in quality. This results in footage that looks spectacular upon first glance, but doesn't quite stand up to scrutiny and cannot be extensively edited. For example, when first viewing some footage from the Mavic Pro we thought, "Wow those trees look so green and crisp," and then when we watched again with more discerning eyes we thought, "those trees kind of look like they're made of playdough." Bottom line, it's footage that is fantastic for a Youtube highlight reel of your adventures, but not worthy of a visually stunning documentary or professional work. DJI addressed many of the Mavic Pro's camera issues in the newer Mavic Air.


The above clip compares the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+, Spark, and Mavic Pro. The 4 Pro+ represents some of the best video quality you can get in a consumer drone, the Spark is most economical model DJI makes, and the Mavic Pro is a midpoint between the two that balances portability and video quality. However, the original Mavic Pro has been somewhat usurped by the Mavic Air and Mavic 2 Pro.

The Parrot Anafi also earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric. Its footage is generally stable and crisp looking, but it tends to add a warm hue to everything. This is fine if you're filming landscapes with lots of trees and greenery, but if you're filming a field the amber waves of grain look a bit too amber.

The DJI Spark produces footage at the low end of what we would call good, which earned it an average score of 5 out of 10 in our video quality testing. It sports a 2-axis gimbal, which makes its footage much steadier than that of other models in this size and price class, but we did start to see some shake when flying fast. The 1080p resolution looks perfectly clear on almost any screen, but it does lack that over-the-top sharpness many of us are becoming used to as 4K becomes more and more common. The colors are quite good and don't suffer from the over saturation of the Mavic Pro footage.

The Autel Robotics Evo also earned a 5 out of 10 for video quality. Its 4K resolution is better than that of the Spark, but in our testing it had real issues with color accuracy. Everything we filmed had an overly blue tint that made things look a bit odd. This is also one of the few models we've found that still suffers from severe propellor intrusion. Most models only have propellor intrusion when screaming along at 40+ mph, but the Evo managed to get its propellors in the frame even when flying at a casual clip.


As you can see in the footage above, the Ryze Tello's video is slightly pixelated and somewhat choppy, but is more than adequate for some goofy selfies and young kids dreaming about a future sitting in a Hollywood director's chair.

At the bottom of our video quality scoreboard we have a slew of models that all score 3 out of 10. All of these models have one thing in common: they do not have a physical gimbal. That means the footage is either completely unstabilized, at the mercy of every little shake of stutter of the drone itself, or that some sort of digital stabilization is employed to make the picture look steady. Even with digital stabilization, not one of these models can come sloe to the cinematic footage of a gimbal-stabilized camera.


The above video displays the kind of propeller intrusion that is possible when flying fast and aggressively. This is one of the few weak points of DJI's Phantom line, though this really only occurs at speeds that exceed what you would hit during normal aerial filming.

Possibly the best of this bottom of the barrel ground, the YUNEEC Mantis Q offers 1080p footage with digital stabilization. This results in video that looks fairly steady when flying slowly in a straight line, but any sort of turning or panning and you get very noticeable wobbles. The camera sensor is also quite small, making for quick blurriness and loss of depth when the lighting conditions are anything less than ideal.

The low-priced Ryze Tello provides a surprisingly smooth image considering its small size, low price, and fixed camera. The video quality isn't spectacular, but it is reasonably clear with fairly good color composition. The huge drawback comes from the fact that the camera itself has no way to save video, it just beams video to your phone, which then records it. We've found that connection to be tenuous at best if you're anywhere near civilization and its various RF interferences. This results in video that jumps and lags everytime the signal hits interference.

Also in this bottom group, the YUNEEC Breeze 4K and the Parrot Bepop 2 both combine an absence of any sort of video stabilization with fairly shaky flight to produce somewhat disorienting footage. We would compare the footage from these drones to an uncoordinated person walking on uneven ground while trying to hold a camera. In terms of color and clarity, the video from both of these models is akin to what you might record on a modern smartphone.


While fun to fly, non-gimbal models, like the YUNEEC Breeze, tend to produce quite shaky footage.

Flight Performance


Drones that are more responsive and fly in a more predictable manner don't only result in better footage, they reduce the stress of buzzing your investment around trees and over rivers. Additionally, being able to maintain solid flight control at higher speeds increases your possible repertoire of shots. Takeoff and landing are some of the riskiest points in an aircraft's flight, so in our testing we closely evaluated the stability of each model during these possibly tenuous maneuvers. We also determined how steadily each model was able to hover in variable conditions, and how well and smoothly each responded to the commands from the remote controls. We also tested each model's various autonomous flight modes and automatic return to home functions (note: it is our opinion that return to home functions should only be used as a last resort). Most models also have a follow function that will automatically follow a particular subject. This function works well but can become finicky for high-speed activities like mountain biking and skiing.

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ and Phantom 4 Pro both shared the top score of 9 out of 10. Across the board, these models are incredibly stable and flight always felt solid and locked in. Both have sport modes that allow them to break 40 mph and fly like they were designed to race rather than capture footage. No other model was able to match this combination of strong stability and sporty maneuverability. Combine that with rock-solid takeoffs and landings, reliable autonomous flight functions, and incredible responsiveness, and you've got a fleet of top-notch fliers.

Despite its small size the DJI Mavic Pro also earned a score of 9. We found it to be impressively stable in all aspects of flight, and it also has a sport mode that allows it to hit 40mph. The only slight downsides were due to its size. The smaller quadcopter did feel a bit less maneuverable in high winds, and its short stature meant we had to be very careful of high grass during takeoff and landing.

Coming in just behind the Mavic Pro, the Mavic Air received a score of 8. It was just as maneuverable as the Mavic Pro but felt a bit less stable in windy conditions, which was not a significant issue since we generally avoid flying during periods of high wind.


Orbit point of interest functions fly a circle around a determined point.

The DJI Spark scored a 7 for its flight performance. Its small size limited its acceleration, top speed and maximum flight time (16 minutes) slightly, but we were enamored with the fact that it could take off and land in your hand. The Spark could only reach 31 mph in sport mode and was otherwise very slow, maxing out at roughly 7 mph. It feels fairly responsive, and being able to fly it with simple hand gestures is great for taking selfies.


The DJI Spark can perform some basic maneuvers using only hand gestures. This is great for framing and taking a quick photo.

Also earning a 7 out of 10 in this metric, the Yuneec Mantis Q's flight performance is mediocre when it comes to filming attributes, but quite fun and impressive when you flip it into sport mode. It is very stable in takeoff and landing, and can pull off most of the basic autonomous flight features one might want. However, it loses a bit of stability once in the air, drifting a lot when in a hover, and making the video from those autonomous modes look quite shaky. In sport mode it can hit an impressive 44mph and is quite agile and fun. It also has an impressive maximum battery life of 33 minutes.

The Phantom 4 Pro+ speeding away from the camera. Members of DJI's Phantom 4 line were the most capable fliers in our testing.
The Phantom 4 Pro+ speeding away from the camera. Members of DJI's Phantom 4 line were the most capable fliers in our testing.

In this metric, the non-gimbal models were again at the bottom of the scoreboard, with the YUNEEC Breeze, the Parrot Bebop 2, and the Ryze Tello all picking up a score of 5 out of 10. The YUNEEC and Parrot were shakier on takeoffs and landings than most of the other models, and drifted more during flight. The Tello was actually more stable than both of these much more expensive models, providing much more predictable flight behavior. However, the YUNEEC does have some autonomous flight functions that the Tello does not, and the Parrot's maximum flight time of 25 minutes is much longer than the Tello's 13 minutes. The YUNEEC maxes out at a surprisingly short flight time of 12 minutes.


Portability


Over the past few years, consumer models have become increasingly compact and lightweight, with pilots no longer having to choose between camera quality or portability. Traveling with a drone ensures that you'll never miss a shot and enables you to get footage in locations that several years ago would not have been feasible. The Air sets a precedent for high-performance travel drones, furthering what DJI began with the Mavic Pro.


The Ryze Tello easily took home the top score of 10 out of 10 in our portability testing due to its fit in the palm of your hand size and its feather-light weight of 0.2 pounds. However, it also isn't powerful enough to fly outdoors on any but the calmest of days, so it's not exactly a usable tool for the filmmaker on the go.

The Ryze Tello is quite tiny.
The Ryze Tello is quite tiny.

The DJI Spark and Mavic Air tied as the most portable full-fledged camera drones in our review with scores of 9 out of 10 for portability. The Spark is lighter and can be flown out of your hand. In its case without a controller, it weighs only 1.8 pounds and takes up as much space as the Mavic Air does in its case with the controller separate. Both can be flown without controllers but the Spark's controller is an accessory that must be purchased separately, while the Air includes one.

It's almost hard to believe the combination of performance and portability found in the Mavic Air. We liked its camera more than that of the Mavic Pro and found it to be just as portable as the Spark.

The Mavic 2 Pro and 2 Zoom have identical bodies and both weigh about 2 pounds.
The Mavic 2 Pro and 2 Zoom have identical bodies and both weigh about 2 pounds.

Just outside the super portable models, both the YUNEEC Breeze 4K and the Parrot Anafi earned scores of 8 out of 10. The Breeze is just 0.9 pounds and comes with a rigid plastic carrying case, but is far less capable than models like the Mavic Air. The Anafi folds up into a long slender profile and has a nice padded carrying case. It tips the scales at just 0.7 pounds.

The Mavic 2 Pro and the Mavic 2 Zoom, and the original Mavic Pro sit slightly behind the top scorers, earning marks of 7 out of 10. All of these models fold up to the size of a large water bottle and weigh about 2 pounds. None feel very cumbersome in a pack, but can't match the barely-notice-it's-there quality of the Mavic Air or Spark.

The Autel Robotics EVO and the Yuneec Mantis Q both earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric. These models are fairly light (1.9 and 1.1 pounds, respectively) and fold up into included carrying cases. However, both are just a bit bulkier and less pack-friendly than the higher scoring folding models.

The Mavic Air (right) compared to a standard Mavic Model (left).
The Mavic Air (right) compared to a standard Mavic Model (left).

Scoring 5 out of 10, the Parrot BeBop Drone 2 is quite light at 1.2 pounds, but it doesn't fold up at all nor come with a carrying case. This makes toting it along with you more difficult.

The Skydio R1 earned just a 4 out of 10 in our portability testing. While its 2.5-pound heft doesn't feel too cumbersome, its huge footprint and lack of any foldable appendages make it a chore to carry around. In fact, our model has dings and dents all along the outside because our only option for transport was to strap it to the outside of a pack, where tree branches could easily wreak havoc.

The least portable model we tested is the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ V2.0. It is one of the few consumer drones left on the market that mounts its camera directly below the body, necessitating larger landing gear and a much bulkier profile. Carrying it much more than a few hundred feet from your car would require some planning.

Ease of Use


It's easy to forget how much much technology is stuffed into these little quadcopters, and just how complex the required algorithms are that bend that technology to the will of the user. Effectively distilling all of this technology into a simple yet versatile user interface is a challenging task, and some manufacturers certainly do it better than others. Our ease of use testing covered every facet from opening the box, getting in the air, landing safely, and downloading footage. We evaluated initial setup, including charging batteries, installing rotors, downloading apps, and linking each model to the requisite controllers and smart devices. We also considered the controllers themselves, determining how they felt in our hands, how intuitive they were, and the usability of on-screen menus. Finally, it is not a good feeling to realize the battery is about to die when the drone is still far away, or that a connection was lost and you no longer have control. We thus scored each model on how adequately they warned the user of such less than ideal situations in order to avoid a catastrophic ending to the flight.


In general, we found that the gimbal models we tested were all relatively easy to set up and get in the air, and had nice controls. The non-gimbal models were also easy to set up but tended to have less streamlined user interfaces. The DJI Phantom 4 Pro models, DJI Mavic Air, Mavic 2 Pro, the Mavic 2 Zoom, and the Mavic Pro all earned the top score of 9 out of 10 in this metric. All had seamless initial setup processes and were in the air within 20 minutes of them arriving in our eagerly waiting hands. The Phantom 4 Pro+'s built-in control screen streamlines use as you don't need to fumble around with connecting a smartphone. The Mavic Air is so much easier to transport than any of the other gimbal models that we always felt pleasantly unencumbered when carrying it around.

The DJI Mavic Air's folding design and light weight enable you to take it anywhere.
The DJI Mavic Air's folding design and light weight enable you to take it anywhere.

Apart from the Phantom 4 Pro+ nearly all of the DJI models we tested were identical in their out of the box setup and controller design, thus most of them shared the same score of 9 out of 10. Setting each copter up out of the box and installing the rotors was easy using the quickstart guide. Downloading the DJI GO 4 app onto your mobile device of choice and making it talk to the controller and drone was similarly painless. The DJI models did require downloading an update on a computer and transferring it to the drone, which was less than ideal but not particularly troubling. Most of these models share very similar controllers, which our testers generally enjoyed. They felt good in your hands, the joysticks felt solid and responsive, and are long enough to accommodate flying with just thumbs or using the more advanced technique of pinching with thumb and pointer finger. The only downside to the controller interface was the menu present on whatever mobile device was in use. While it allowed navigation through DJI's expansive catalog of options and adjustments, it felt a bit crowded on the screen and was not super intuitive upon first use. DJI controllers are quick to provide clear warnings about low battery, loss of signal, or flying in a poor RF environment, all of which made us feel confident we wouldn't unknowingly wander into a sticky situation.

Physical controllers  like those used in DJI's Phantom line (left)  provide a much more intuitive and natural flying experience than touchscreen controllers  like the one used for the Parrot Bebop 2 (right).
Physical controllers, like those used in DJI's Phantom line (left), provide a much more intuitive and natural flying experience than touchscreen controllers, like the one used for the Parrot Bebop 2 (right).

The Autel Robotics Evo, which earned an 8 out of 10 in this metric, is generally user-friendly. We particularly like that the controller has a built-in screen (though that screen is somewhat small). However, both the initial setup and general user interface just didn't feel quite as intuitive as DJI's.

The DJI Spark earned a 7 out of 10 in this metric. After initial setup, it was incredibly intuitive to fly and we think beginners would have fun with this quadcopter within 10 minutes of opening the box. The only reason we didn't give it a higher score was some difficulties getting the hand gestures to work, and initially connecting the optional remote controller (which we highly recommend) can be a little confusing.

The Parrot Anafi, which also earned a 7 out of 10, offers a fairly streamlined user experience. However, it's interface is just a bit less intuitive than DJI's, and the controller feels a bit clunky, so it lost a few points.

The Ryze Tello fell slightly behind the top scorers in this metric, earning a 6 out of 10. We found getting it out of the box, setup, and flying to be very straightforward. However, it lost some points because adjusting advanced settings with the app was slightly more difficult. Also, Ryze does not offer any alternative to the phone based controls on the app. However, if you'd rather fly with some physical joysticks, some third-party Bluetooth gaming controllers are compatible with the app.

The DJI Spark is very intuitive and easy to fly.
The DJI Spark is very intuitive and easy to fly.

The Yuneec Mantis Q is the only model we tested to receive the mediocre score of 5 out of 10. It gets most things right, with easy setup and intuitive flying. However, the controller itself isn't very comfortable or ergonomic, and changing advanced settings can get a bit confusing.

The worst scorers in our ease of use testing were the Parrot Bebop 2 and the YUNEEC Breeze, both of which earned a score of 3. We found both of these models to be a bit finicky when connecting them to a smartphone. Both also use only a smartphone or tablet as a controller. This means virtual touchscreen joysticks that provide no tactile feedback, making flight feel much more tenuous and much less controlled.


Conclusion


Drones are incredible pieces of technology that have brought some of the tools of professional filmmakers into the hands of creative hobbyists. We think the Mavic Air is the best option for most aspiring aerial filmmakers, as it offers great video in a very portable package, at a price point that isn't too ridiculous. If you want truly professional looking footage you can shell out for the Phantom 4 Pro+, but you do sacrifice some portability. We know buying a drone can be stressful and confusing, but we believe we've completed the most exhaustive and scientific side-by-side comparison of the current models available on the market, and we hope this has helped you decide which one you will use on your path to spreading awe on Vimeo, Facebook, and Instagram.



Max Mutter and Steven Tata