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The Best Drones

Friday December 13, 2019
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After hundreds of hours of research, we brought the 12 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.

Related: The Best Budget Drones


Top 12 Product Ratings

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Awards Editors' Choice Award  Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $1,729 List
$1,499.00 at Amazon
$1,439 List
$1,299.99 at Amazon
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$770.00 at Amazon
$399 List
$399 at Amazon
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$522 at Amazon
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Pros Excellent video quality, Great flight performance, relatively portbaleGood video quality, optical zoom, portableGreat video quality, portable, easy to use, many intelligent flight modesGood video quality, incredibly portable, long flight time, relatively inexpensivePortable, easy to fly, fun
Cons ExpensiveExpensiveExpensive, relatively short battery lifeNo obstacle avoidance, lacks some advanced camera and flight featuresMediocre video quality, shorter flight time
Bottom Line An impressive combination of video quality and portabilityOptical zoom adds interesting creative possibilities to an already great productBest balance of video quality and portability on the marketAn exceptional model for beginners that is still capable enough to keep up as you get a bit more experiencedThe perfect balance of portability, capability, and fun for those looking to take some photos and enjoy flying
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Rating Categories DJI Mavic 2 Pro DJI Mavic 2 Zoom DJI Mavic Air DJI Mavic Mini DJI Spark
Video Quality (40%)
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Specs DJI Mavic 2 Pro DJI Mavic 2 Zoom DJI Mavic Air DJI Mavic Mini DJI Spark
Video Resolutions 4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p 4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p 4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p 2.7K, 1080p 1080p
Weight 2 lb 2 lb 0.95 lb 0.55 lb 0.66 lb
Maximum Speed 45 mph 45 mph 43 mph 29 mph 31 mph
Maximum Claimed Flight Time 31 minutes 31 minutes 21 minutes 30 minutes 16 minutes
Diagonal Size (no props) 13.2 in 13.2 in 8.4 in 8.39 in 6.7 in
Video Format MP4, MOV MP4, MOV MP4, MOV MP4 MP4

Best Overall Camera Drone


DJI Mavic 2 Pro


Editors' Choice Award
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$1,499.00
(13% off)
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
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$770.00
(4% 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 the 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) 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 Mavic Mini


Best Buy Award
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$399.00
at Amazon
See It

76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Video Quality 7
  • Flight Performance 7
  • Portability 9
  • Ease of Use 8
Maximum Video Resolution: 2.7K | Maximum Speed: 29 mph
Good video quality
Incredibly portable
Long flight time (30 mins max)
Relatively inexpensive
No obstacle avoidance
Lacks some advanced camera and flight features

The Mavic Mini fills a near perfect niche for beginner pilots, producing video that is good enough to satisfy creative urges while sporting a price tag that is reasonable for those looking to dip their toes into a new hobby. It is also incredibly small and portable, making it much more likely 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 DJI's 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.

DJI did make some sacrifices to keep the Mini true to its name, with obstacle avoidance sensors being possibly the most significant omission. The beginner-friendly nature of this quadcopter also means the camera allows for very little adjustability, which can make it difficult to adapt to challenging lighting conditions. But, despite all of its shortcomings, we still think the Mavic Mini is a near perfect introduction to the aerial videography game.

Read review: DJI Mavic Mini

Best for Kids


Ryze Tello


Top Pick Award
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$99.00
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

The Ryze Tello is the only model we've found that both slides in under the triple-digit price tag mark and actually flies with any semblance of stability. Most models in this price range don't have any sort of flight sensors, meaning it can take the skill and patience of a Jedi master to keep them steady, and that even the slightest bit of overzealousness can send them careening into a crash. The Tello, on the other hand, 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 both allows for a much more fun and less frustrating flying experience for kids, and can be a good intro for adult novices that 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, that 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 easily be rectified with a compatible, 3rd-party Bluetooth gaming controller, however. Bottom line, we think this is the relatively inexpensive model that kids will enjoy the most, and that is least likely to be flown into a wall right after opening the box.

Read review: Ryze Tello

Best 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.


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.

In completing this review we considered more than 80 different models for inclusion. After dozens of hours researching every spec sheet, user review, and frame of sample footage for those models we narrowed our focus to the ones most likely to provide our readers, whether they be novices or experienced pilots, the best possible experience. After buying all these models at full price from standard retailers in order to keep our testing process completely objective, we 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 of each one of 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

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

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 wide spread commercial use, to tools that can be leveraged by non-profit organizations, to devices that are readily available to the everyday consumer. If you've ever thought of joining this aerial renaissance, out testing results can lead you to the perfect model.

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


When it comes to value it's hard to beat the Mavic Air, as it's near the top of the scoreboard in terms of performance, but sells for 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 Mavic Mini isn't quite as capable as the larger models, but is infinitely portable and relatively inexpensive, making it a great value for first time pilots, or people that want a drone they can toss in their backpack everyday.

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.


The DJI Mavic Pro 2 very much delivers on its name, providing a professional quality Hasselblad camera, immersive and vivid colors, incredible clarity, and near perfect camera stability. Bottom line, 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. If you're looking for the best video quality possible, the Mavic 2 Pro is the clear choice.



Just behind the top scorers, earning an 8 out of 10, was the DJI Mavic Air. This 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 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.



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.



Though the least capable of the Mavic line, the DJI Mavic Mini is still able to capture fairly sharp footage, earning it a 7 out of 10 in this metric. The 2.7K resolution comes through in its video, and on overcast days the colors render as deep and vivid. More challenging conditions, like bright sunlight snow next to dark waters, generally sees the brighter areas of the image getting a bit washed out and overexposed. The camera also offers less adjustability to compensate for these weaknesses, which is the main differentiating factor between this and DJI's more prosumer level models. However, the quality is more than good enough for most amatures and casual videographers.



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 Autel Robotics Evo also earned a 5 out of 10 for video quality. Its 4K resolution comes through well in its footage, but we had a good bit of 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. Most newer models manage to keep the propellers out of view of the camera unless you're screaming along at 40+ mph, but the Evo's propellers made it into many shots in our testing, even while flying along at a fairly pedestrian pace.



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.



Possibly the best of this bottom of the barrel category, 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 impressively inexpensive Ryze Tello offers quite good video considering its price. In good lighting you could be convinced you were watching footage from an old, 720p iPhone. In dimmer lighting the colors degrade quite a bit and it takes on more of an antique home movie feel, but still looks reasonably good given the tiny camera. The big downside is the lack of onboard video storage, which means the video stream is being sent to your phone before being saved, rather than being saved in-camera. This leads to every slight lag or dropped frame in that feed (and we found there to be quite a few of them) ending up in the final recording.

The YUNEEC Breeze 4K and the Parrot Bepop 2 save all of their footage onboard, and thus don't have any of the choppiness issues of the Ryze Tello. However, despite costing much more, these models can't nearly match the camera stability of the Ryze. The footage we captured lilted and meandered so much that it felt like shakey handheld fare, not something from a sophisticated flying machine.



Flight Performance


A quadcopter that is nimble, responsive, and predictable not only lets you get great footage more easily, it also reduces the inherent stress of flying your expensive investment around out in the world where things like trees and power lines have a propensity to crop up out of nowhere (editors' note: we don't recommend flying near trees and powerlines). Takeoff and landing 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 a number of autonomous flight functions, like aerial cable cam, orbit, and even follow functions, that can make capturing footage easier and more consistent. We tested all aspects of flight performance, running through hundreds of takeoffs and landings, completing dozens of figure 8's and loop de loops with each model, and pushing all 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, enough power to deal with wind gusts, sport modes that allow you to break 40 miles an hour, a slew of autonomous flight functions, and responsive maneuvering.


Coming in just behind the top tier models, the Mavic Air received 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.



The DJI Mavic Mini, which earned a 7 out of 10 in this metric, is smaller, less powerful, and slower than its larger siblings. However, unless you're trying to fight a strong wind or keep up with a very fast moving subject, it is plenty responsive and stable and offers a long maximum flight time of 30 minute. It does lack some of the more advanced autonomous flight functions of the more expensive models, but we didn't really miss these in day to day use.

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.



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.

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.


Of the models we tested that can produce good video, the DJI Mavic Mini is by far the most portable. It weighs just over half a pound and folds down into a package whose biggest dimension is 5.5 inches, meaning it will disappear in even a small backpack. The controller similarly folds down into a slim package that is barely more noticeable than a smartphone.

The impressively portable Mavic Mini.
The impressively portable Mavic Mini.

The Ryze Tello is similarly portable, weighing just 0.2 pounds. However, it doesn't fold down at all, so you'll have to be very careful of its exposed props if you want to carry it around in a backpack.

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.

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. However, it doesn't fold, 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 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.

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 the 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 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.

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.

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).

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 somewhat makes up for this shortcoming 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 DJI Spark earned a 7 out of 10 in this metric. After the 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.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the worst performers in our ease of use testing were the Parrot Bebop 2 and the YUNEEC Breeze. While operation is generally simple for both models, they both require you to use a smartphone or tablet as a controller. Touchscreen joysticks lack the tactile feel of real joysticks, which makes flying these machines inherently much less intuitive. We also had consistent issues with the connectivity of both models, having to quit and reopen their apps more than a few times to actually get them talking with the drones. Luckily this only happened at the start of flights, not while the drones were up in the air.


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 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 Mavic 2 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