We've been tracking every new drone to hit the market for the last 4 years, and in this 2020 update we bought the 9 best available to buy today. Nearly 100 hours of flying later, we've found the best model for every situation. Our consultations with professional drone pilots allowed us to find the most adept fliers, our in-house professional photographers and videographers helped us find the most cinematic, and our panel of newbie pilots revealed the most user-friendly. Whether you're an experienced aerial videographer or a new pilot, our testing results will guide you to the right model.Related: Best Drones for Kids of 2020
Best Drone of 2020
Best Overall Drone
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Gone are the days when you had to choose between high-end video quality or having a drone that could fit into a backpack. 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. With many intelligent flight modes to choose from, 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.
The only downside to this drone that we've found is its price, which requires 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 when it comes to video quality, both models are clear steps down. 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 a clear choice.
Read Review: DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Best Balance of Quality and Price
DJI Mavic Air
The average drone user is looking for something that provides good video quality and is small and portable enough to tote along on trips, even if they're not sure they'll be flying. Ideally, it can meet these requirements while keeping the price below four-digits. The one model we've found that checks all of these boxes is the DJI Mavic Air. The 4K camera can 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 4K drone that we have no reservations about tossing into a pack no matter where we're going.
Only when compared to the expensive high-end models do you notice shortcomings in the Mavic Air. These devices (like the Mavic 2 Pro) have better cameras that produce better color profiles and can generally fly for 30 minutes or more. However, when you consider you'll be paying close to twice as much, those benefits are relatively small. 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 Mavic Mini
Filling a near-perfect niche for beginner pilots, the Mavic Mini produces video that is good enough to satisfy creative urges while sporting a price tag that is reasonable for those looking to take a shot at a new hobby. And because it's incredibly small and portable, there's a better chance that you'll have it in your backpack or purse when the urge to take some aerial video strikes. To top it all off, the Mini is currently the only model in the DJI lineup that uses the new DJI Fly app, a streamlined and intuitive interface that makes it very easy for novice pilots to get up in the air and start taking great video. The latest version of this app includes a firmware update that allows for more fine-tuned control of video settings, namely manual white balance, and exposure controls.
With the significant omission of obstacle avoidance sensors, it's clear that DJI made some sacrifices to keep the Mini true to its name. It also lacks the 4K resolution that is quickly becoming standard. Despite all of its shortcomings, we still think the Mavic Mini can serve as a near-perfect introduction to the aerial videography game.
Read review: DJI Mavic Mini
Best for Kids
The Ryze Tello is the only model we've found that still flies with some semblance of stability and slides in under the triple-digit price tag mark. Most models in this price range don't have any sort of flight sensors, with even the slightest bit of overzealousness sending them careening into a crash. Thus, it can take the skill and patience of a Jedi master to keep them steady. On the other hand, the Tello actually sports some DJI flight sensing technology, making a steady hover its center point and maneuvering out of that hover very easy and intuitive. This allows for a much more fun and less frustrating flying experience for kids and can be a good introduction for adult novices who want to get a feel for flying before putting a much more expensive camera drone in the air.
The biggest flaw of the Tello is its video quality, which comes across as grainy and often drops frames, resulting in odd cuts and jumps in the footage. However, the quality still far outstrips what most comparably priced models can produce. Additionally, the Tello is controlled via virtual joysticks on the touchscreen of your mobile device, which is just not as fun as using real joysticks. This problem can be easily rectified with a compatible, 3rd-party Bluetooth gaming controller. Bottom line, we think this is the inexpensive model that is least likely to be flown into a wall right after opening the box, and it's the one that kids will enjoy the most.
Read review: Ryze Tello
Best Autonomous Flight
For the last few years, Skydio has been the field-leader in autonomous flight --particularly when it comes to autonomously following a subject. Adding top-notch video quality and a more portable form factor into the mix, the Skydio 2 takes that dominance even further. We were able to easily and efficiently capture great footage of ourselves running, hiking, and skiing using this drone during testing.
When it comes to autonomous subject tracking, the Skydio 2 is so far ahead of the rest of the field that the biggest source of disappointment we've heard from users originates from setting expectations too high. While the Skydio 2 can keep up at impressive speeds through relatively dense obstacles, higher speeds and/or an abundance of trees will cause it to lose its subject. Additionally, to access the full capabilities of its autonomous tracking, you must purchase the Beacon accessory separately. For those that want the option of getting landscape shots through manual piloting, you must also purchase the controller separately. Even then, manual piloting feels a bit clunky and less nimble than that of most other models on the market. Despite these limitations, for capturing autonomous footage while you run, ski, or ride, this is the best model on the market.
Read review: Skydio 2
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, by both piloting our test 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 in the process. Because they've been leading projector and security camera testing since 2016 and 2017, respectively, both authors also have years of experience appraising relative video quality in a side-by-side manner.
In completing this review, we considered more than 80 different models for inclusion. After dozens of hours researching every spec sheet, and piece of sample footage, we narrowed our focus to the ones most likely to provide our readers the best possible experience, whether they be novices or experienced pilots. To keep our testing process completely objective, we bought all these models at full price from standard retailers and put them through the paces. This included hundreds of hours of flight time, getting side-by-side video footage in a variety of lighting conditions, and taking a deep dive into every feature and setting on these quadcopters. In the end, we believe we've come up with the best recommendations for every application and budget.
Related: How We Tested Drones
Analysis and Test Results
In less than a decade small unmanned aerial vehicles, colloquially referred to as drones, have gone from the stuff of spy novels and sci-fi, to gain widespread commercial use, with similar applicability to non-profit organizations, while fostering enjoyment among scores of everyday consumers. If you've ever thought of joining this aerial renaissance, out testing results can lead you to the perfect model.
Nearing the top of the scoreboard in terms of performance, the Mavic Air is hard to beat when it comes to value, selling for a relatively middle-of-the-road price. You can get better video and performance out of the Mavic 2 Pro, but it costs almost twice as much. The Mavic Mini isn't quite as capable as the larger models, but it's relatively inexpensive and infinitely portable, making it an excellent value for first-time pilots, or people that want a drone that they can toss in their backpack every day.
As fun as it can be to pilot remote-controlled aircraft, the resulting video footage is the ultimate end goal for most users; thus, we weighted video quality the most heavily in the overall scores. 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 the rotors impede 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, whether the horizon was kept horizontal and if there were any visible rotors or rotor shadows present.
The DJI Mavic Pro 2 very much delivers on its name. Equipped with a professional quality Hasselblad camera, it provides vivid and immersive colors, incredible clarity, and near-perfect camera stability. This camera truly encompasses the "prosumer" moniker, as it is accessible to normal consumers but can produce professional quality results. In fact, it can even shoot in a 10-bit Dlog-M color profile, a more editable video format that is generally used by professional videographers. The Mavic 2 Pro is the clear choice if you're looking for the best video quality possible.
Just behind the top scorers is the DJI Mavic Air, earning an 8 out of 10. This portable model produces great color accuracy at a 4K resolution. It does have a locked focus, which limits your options a bit, but it prevents you from accidentally bumping your screen and then realizing later that all of your footage is out of focus. It lost out on a top score because its blacks weren't quite as true as the top-scoring models, leaving you with an image that looks artificially bright but still well balanced.
Also earning an 8 out of 10 in this metric is the Mavic 2 Zoom. This is one of the first consumer models to offer an optical zoom, which, amongst other things, allows you to create a dolly zoom effect. The images this camera produces are also quite good, though it tends to brighten some of the darker colors, similar to the Mavic Air, due to a narrower dynamic range. This can make the image look just slightly washed out compared to the Mavic 2 Pro. However, we still think the video quality is exceptional and worthy of pretty much any cinematic venture.
The Skydio 2's 4K camera captures impressive footage, particularly in good lighting conditions. When pointing the camera towards the sun, colors can get washed out and get a bit dull when things get cloudy, but overall we think the majority of users will be more than pleased with its video quality. Additionally, the autonomous follow feature generally keeps subjects well-centered, resulting in well-framed footage even without a pilot.
We were still quite impressed with the footage from the DJI Mavic Mini, though it sports the least capable camera of the Mavic line. The 2.7K resolution manages to render impressively clear and crisp footage. Particularly on darker, overcast days, the camera can produce vivid colors with a good dynamic range. On brighter days or when shooting bright subjects, the picture can sometimes get a bit washed out and overexposed. The larger camera sensors of the higher-end models still do a better job in challenging lighting conditions, though it's worth noting that the recent firmware upgrade that provides manual exposure and white balance controls help with this issue.
Also earning a 6 out of 10 in this metric is the Parrot Anafi. Its footage is generally stable and crisp, 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 may look a bit too amber.
For video quality, the Autel Robotics Evo earned a 5 out of 10. Its 4K resolution comes through well in its footage, but we had trouble getting an accurate looking color profile. Most of the clips we took with this model ended up with an odd blue tint. Additionally, the Evo presented far more issues with propellor intrusion than any other comparable model. Unless you're screaming along at 40+ mph, most newer models can keep the propellers out of view of the camera, but the Evo's propellers made it into many shots in our testing, even while flying along at fairly pedestrian speeds.
All scoring a 3 out of 10, a slew of models landed at the bottom of our video quality scoreboard. These models have one thing in common: they do not have a physical gimbal. That means the footage is either completely unstabilized and at the mercy of every little shake or stutter of the drone itself, or that they employ some sort of digital stabilization to make the picture look steady. Even with digital stabilization, not one of these models can come close to the cinematic footage of a gimbal-stabilized camera.
The Ryze Tello is meant to be an affordable drone introduction for kids, and the quality of its footage reflects that. The footage allows kids to see new perspectives of familiar places, and to enjoy a real-time video feed but falls short of being something you'd want to share on social media. This is mostly because the drone itself does not record the video, the app on your phone does. This means that every slight jump, lag, or pixelation in the real-time video feed — and there will likely be quite a few — shows up in the final product.
A quadcopter that is nimble, responsive, and predictable not only lets you get great footage with ease but also reduces the inherent stress of flying your expensive investment out in the real world where things like trees and power lines seem to pop up out of nowhere (editors' note: we don't recommend flying near trees and powerlines). Takeoffs and landings are usually the most stressful and accident-prone parts of each flight, so stability in those moments is paramount. Finally, most modern camera drones have several autonomous flight functions, like aerial cable cam, orbit, and even follow functions that can make capturing footage easier and more consistent. Running through hundreds of takeoffs and landings, we tested all aspects of flight performance, completing dozens of figure 8's and loop de loops with each model, while pushing all their autonomous functions to their limits.
Dominating our flight performance tests were the top tier DJI drones, which includes the Mavic 2 line. Overall, these models provide pretty much everything you could want from a consumer quadcopter: rock-solid stability, responsive maneuvering, sport modes that allow you to break 40 miles an hour, enough power to deal with wind gusts, and a slew of autonomous flight functions.
The Mavic Air came in just behind the top tier models with a score of 8 out of 10. It was just as maneuverable as the high-end models 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.
With its signature autonomous subject tracking flight feature, the Skydio 2 is almost a completely different animal than the rest of the models here. While not perfect, we found the Skydio 2's ability to automatically follow a moving subject and keep it in frame while dodging obstacles to be orders of magnitude ahead of anything offered by any other model on the market. It had no trouble following us while running through dense trees, and while biking or skiing down more open hills. However, the combination of higher speeds and denser trees still caused some issues, with the Skydio 2 losing us and hovering in place until we returned to retrieve it. You can purchase an additional controller in order to do some more traditional flying and filming, but we found this manual piloting experience a bit less agile and enjoyable than that of most other models.
Smaller, less powerful, and slower than its larger siblings, the DJI Mavic Mini earned a 7 out of 10 in this metric. However, unless you're trying to fight strong wind or keep up with a very fast-moving subject, it's plenty responsive and stable and offers an impressive maximum flight time of 30 minutes. It does lack some of the more advanced autonomous flight functions of the more expensive models, but we didn't miss these much in day to day use.
At the bottom of the scoreboard yet again were the non-gimbal models with the YUNEEC Breeze, Parrot Anafi, 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 supplied greater stability and more predictable flight behavior than the much more expensive YUNEEC. However, the YUNEEC does have some autonomous flight functions that the Tello lacks, 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.
Over the past few years, consumer models have become increasingly compact and lightweight, with pilots no longer having to choose between portability and camera quality. Traveling with your 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 the bar for high-performance travel drones, furthering what DJI began with the Mavic Pro.
The DJI Mavic Mini is by far the most portable of the models we tested that can produce good video. It weighs just over half a pound and folds down into a package whose longest dimension is 5.5 inches, meaning it can disappear inside even a small backpack. The controller similarly folds down into a slim package that is barely larger than a smartphone.
The Ryze Tello is similarly portable, weighing just 0.2 pounds. However, if you want to carry it around in a backpack, you have to be very careful of its exposed props, as it doesn't fold down at all.
The Mavic Air manages to be quite portable while offering near-professional level footage. It tips the scales at just under a pound and folds into a package that is about the size of a one-liter water bottle. Its controller also folds up into a sleek package, resulting in a system that can easily be carried in a small backpack.
The Parrot Anafi weighs only 0.7 pounds — light enough that we barely noticed it in our daypacks. It also folds up relatively small and comes with a soft carrying case. Unlike the Mavic models, which fold into shorter and more stout shapes, the Parrot Anafi folds into a long and slender package. This meant we generally had to place it on the side of our backpacks with the other contents pushing against it. The Mavic models, in contrast, were generally able to sit on top of the other items in our packs. This gave us greater peace of mind that something wasn't going to push against and potentially damage the drone as we hiked to our filming destinations.
Falling just behind the super portable models, both the YUNEEC Breeze 4K and the Parrot Anafi earned scores of 8 out of 10 in this metric. The Breeze weighs a feathery 0.9 pounds and comes with a rigid carrying case. It doesn't fold down, however, so its packed profile is a bit wider. The Anafi folds down into a long and very slender soft carrying case and weighs only 0.7 pounds.
The DJI Mavic 2 Pro and the Mavic 2 Zoom both earned the above-average score of 7 out of 10 in our portability testing. Both tipped the scales at about 2 pounds and folded up to about the size of a one-liter water bottle. These quadcopters are about as portable as one could reasonably hope for a top-quality model to be. Plus, the controllers have removable joysticks, which allows for a streamlined and packable shape. Still, these models can't compete with the Mavic Air or Mavic Mini in terms of portability, but they do offer much more capable cameras in packages that are still quite portable.
The Skydio 2 does not fold down because doing so might affect the alignment of its advanced obstacle avoidance cameras. However, it still manages to be relatively small and comes with a protective carrying case that can be carried on its own or possibly squeezed into a medium to large-sized backpack. At 1.7 pounds its weight is about average.
As the trend in consumer drones has taken a sharp turn towards portability, even the lower scorers in this metric are quite portable. For example, the Autel Robotics EVO is foldable and weighs only 1.9 pounds, but it's just a bit bulkier than some of the higher scoring models.
Ease of Use
It's easy to forget how much much technology is stuffed into these little quadcopters and just how complex the algorithms are that bend that technology to the will of the user. Distilling all of this technology effectively into a simple yet versatile user interface is a herculean task, and some manufacturers definitely do it better than others. Our ease of use testing covered every facet of operation from opening the box, getting in the air, landing safely, and downloading footage. We evaluated the initial setup, including installing rotors, downloading apps, charging batteries, and linking each model to the requisite controllers or smart devices. We also considered the controllers themselves, assessing 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 less than ideal situations to prevent 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 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. Notably, 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.
DJI has put drones in the hands of many experienced and beginner pilots, and that legacy is evident in the user experience the company has designed. Regardless of which model you choose, the out of the box setup is quite simple and streamlined, and pairing the drone with its associated controller and app is similarly easy. DJI makes a few different-sized controllers for its different-sized drones, and we found all of these designs to be quite ergonomic. All the joysticks are supple and predictable. The one small annoyance is that any software updates need to be downloaded onto a computer and then transferred to the drone — we wish these things could be done via the app on a mobile device. Overall, we think you're going to have a good experience if you decide on a DJI drone, which is fortunate because they absolutely dominate the market right now.
One exception to this rule is the DJI Mavic Mini, which picked up an 8 out of 10 in this metric as opposed to the 9 out of 10 received by most of its siblings. This is simply because it uses a less powerful downlink, meaning the video feed from the drone often gets jumpy and pixelated. It makes up for this shortcoming somewhat with a streamlined app that is slightly more beginner-friendly than the other apps we've seen from DJI.
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 Parrot Anafi offers a fairly streamlined user experience and earned a score of 7 out of 10. Its interface, however, 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 that getting it out of the box, setting it up, and flying were very straightforward. However, it lost some points because adjusting advanced settings with the app is slightly more complicated. Also, Ryze does not offer any alternative to the phone based controls on the app. If you'd rather fly with some physical joysticks, however, there are some third-party Bluetooth gaming controllers that are compatible.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the worst performer in our ease of use testing was the YUNEEC Breeze. Although operation is generally simple for this model, it requires you to use a smartphone or tablet as a controller. Touchscreen joysticks lack the tactile feel of real joysticks, which makes flying this machine inherently less intuitive. We also had consistent issues with the connectivity, forcing us to quit and reopen the app more than a few times to get it talking to the drone. Luckily this only happened before the start of flights, not while the drone was up in the air.
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 aspiring aerial filmmakers because it offers excellent video in a very portable package, and at a price point that isn't too ridiculous. If you want truly professional-looking footage, you can shell out for the Mavic 2 Pro, but you will sacrifice some portability. We know buying a drone can be stressful and confusing. However, we believe we've completed the most exhaustive and scientific side-by-side comparison of the current models available on the market. We hope this will help you decide which one is best for you on your path to spreading awe on Facebook, Vimeo, and Instagram.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata