We've been tracking every new drone to hit the market for the last 4 years, and in this update we bought the 9 best available 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 2021
|Price||$1,599 List||$1,349 List|
$1,344.99 at Amazon
$585.00 at Amazon
$396.00 at Amazon
|Pros||Excellent video quality, great flight performance, relatively portable||Good video quality, optical zoom, portable||Great video quality, portable, easy to use, many intelligent flight modes||Good video quality, incredibly portable, long flight time, relatively inexpensive||Field-leading autonomous tracking, good video quality|
|Cons||Expensive||Expensive||Expensive, relatively short battery life||No obstacle avoidance, lacks some advanced camera and flight features||Optional controller for manual flying isn't great|
|Bottom Line||With an impressive combination of video quality and portability, this was our favorite overall model||Optical zoom adds interesting creative possibilities to an already great product||An excellent option for consumers who want a camera drone that is portable and produces high-quality footage||An affordable and exceptional model for beginners that is still capable enough to keep up as you get a bit more experienced||The clear choice for those that want a quadcopter that can autonomously follow them|
|Rating Categories||DJI Mavic 2 Pro||DJI Mavic 2 Zoom||DJI Mavic Air||DJI Mavic Mini||Skydio 2|
|Video Quality (40%)|
|Flight Performance (25%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Specs||DJI Mavic 2 Pro||DJI Mavic 2 Zoom||DJI Mavic Air||DJI Mavic Mini||Skydio 2|
|Video Resolutions||4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p||4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p||4K, 2.7K, 1080p, 720p||2.7K, 1080p||4K, 1080p|
|Weight||2 lb||2 lb||0.95 lb||0.55 lb||1.7 lb|
|Maximum Speed||45 mph||45 mph||43 mph||29 mph||36 mph|
|Maximum Claimed Flight Time||31 minutes||31 minutes||21 minutes||30 minutes||23 minutes|
|Diagonal Size (no props)||13.2 in||13.2 in||8.4 in||8.4 in||13 in|
|Video Format||MP4, MOV||MP4, MOV||MP4, MOV||MP4||MP4|
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. It makes no sacrifices in flight performance and has many intelligent flight modes to choose from, maxing out at an impressive 45 mph and providing a flight time of up to 31 minutes.
Price is the only downside we've found to this drone — it requires quite an investment. Otherwise, it is as good or better than every other consumer model we've seen on the market. Sure, the Mavic Air is a bit more portable, and the Mavic 2 Zoom offers optical zoom, but both models are clear steps down when it comes to video quality. The Mavic 2 Pro is a clear choice for those looking for the best possible drone footage in a package that you can take with you pretty much anywhere.
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 DJI Mavic Air is one model we've found that checks all of these boxes. 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, those benefits 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
Filling a near-perfect niche for beginner pilots, the DJI Mavic Mini produces a good enough video to satisfy creative urges while sporting a reasonable price tag 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. The Mini uses the 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.
To keep the Mini true to its name, it's clear that DJI made some sacrifices, like the significant omission of obstacle avoidance sensors. It also lacks the 4K resolution that is quickly becoming standard. Despite 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 at an affordable price. 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 sports some DJI flight sensing technology, making a stable 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.
Video quality is the Tello's biggest flaw, 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 your mobile device's touchscreen, which is just not as fun as using real joysticks. This problem can be easily rectified with a compatible third-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
When it comes to autonomous flight, Skydio has been the field-leader for the last few years. The Skydio 2 takes that dominance even further, adding top-notch video quality and a more portable form factor into the mix. During our testing, we easily and efficiently captured great footage of ourselves running, hiking, and skiing using this drone.
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 separately purchase the Beacon accessory. You must also purchase the controller if you want the option of getting landscape shots through manual piloting. Even then, manual piloting feels a bit clunky and less agile than most other models on the market. Despite these limitations, this is the best model out there for capturing autonomous footage while you run, ski, or ride.
Read review: Skydio 2
Why You Should Trust Us
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 five 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 piloting our test models and assessing their resulting footage. Authors Steven Tata and Max Mutter have led drone testing for half a decade, collectively logging over 200 flight hours in the process. Because they've been leading other video-related testing for several years, both authors also have ample experience appraising relative video quality in a side-by-side manner.
We considered more than 80 different models for inclusion. We narrowed our focus to the ones most likely to provide you with the best possible experience, whether you're a novice or an experienced pilot. To keep our testing process completely objective, we bought all the models in our test 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 various 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 Camera 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 while fostering enjoyment among scores of everyday consumers. If you've ever thought of joining this aerial renaissance, our testing results can lead you to the perfect model.
Nearing the top of the scoreboard in terms of performance and boasting a middle-of-the-road price, the Mavic Air is hard to beat when it comes to value. 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, yet it is 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 are 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 video quality attributes 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 any visible rotors or rotor shadows were present.
The DJI Mavic 2 Pro 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 everyday 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.
Earning 8 out of 10, just behind the top scorers, is the DJI Mavic Air. This portable model produces great color accuracy at a 4K resolution. It does have a locked focus, limiting 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.
The Mavic 2 Zoom also earned an 8 out of 10 in this metric. 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. However, due to a narrower dynamic range, it tends to brighten some of the darker colors, similar to the Mavic Air. This can make the image look just slightly washed out compared to the Mavic 2 Pro. Nonetheless, 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. Overall, we think most users will be more than pleased with its video quality, though when pointing the camera towards the sun, colors can get washed out and get a bit dull when things get cloudy. Additionally, the autonomous follow feature generally keeps subjects well-centered, resulting in well-framed footage even without a pilot.
Though it sports the least capable camera of the Mavic line, we were still quite impressed with the DJI Mavic Mini's footage. 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 washed out and overexposed. The larger camera sensors of the higher-end models still do a better job in challenging lighting conditions. However, it's worth noting that the recent firmware upgrade helps with this issue by providing manual exposure and white balance controls.
The Parrot Anafi also earns a 6 out of 10 in this metric. 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 the amber waves of grain may look a bit too amber if you're filming a field.
The Autel Robotics Evo earned a 5 out of 10 for video quality. 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. However, even while flying along at fairly pedestrian speeds, the Evo's propellers made it into many shots in our testing.
A slew of models landed at the bottom of our video quality scoreboard, all scoring a 3 out of 10. 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 type 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 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 allows you to 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, including 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 40mph, enough power to deal with wind gusts, and a slew of autonomous flight functions.
With a score of 8 out of 10, the Mavic Air came in just behind the top-tier models. It was just as maneuverable as the high-end models. Still, it felt a bit less stable in windy conditions, which was not a significant issue since we generally avoid flying during high wind periods.
The Skydio 2 is almost a completely different animal than the rest of the models, with its signature autonomous subject-tracking flight feature. 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 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 to do some more traditional flying and filming, though we found this manual piloting experience a bit less agile and enjoyable than 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 lacks 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.
Again, the non-gimbal models ring in at the bottom of the scoreboard, 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 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 Mavic Air sets the bar for high-performance travel drones, furthering what DJI began with the Mavic 2 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.
Weighing just 0.2 pounds, the Ryze Tello is similarly portable. However, you have to be very careful of its exposed props if you want to carry it around in a backpack, 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 about the size of a one-liter water bottle. Its controller also folds up into a sleek package, resulting in a system easily 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. In contrast, the Mavic models were generally able to sit on top of the other items in our packs, giving 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 with an overall score of 8 out of 10 were both the YUNEEC Breeze 4K and the Parrot Anafi. The Breeze weighs a feathery 0.9 pounds and comes with a rigid carrying case. However, it doesn't fold down, 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 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 almost 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, in terms of portability, these models can't compete with the Mavic Mini or Mavic Air, but they 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 user's will. Distilling all of this technology effectively into a versatile yet straightforward user interface is a herculean task, and some manufacturers 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 isn't a good feeling to realize the battery is about to die when the drone is still far away or that you lost connection 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 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 Zoom, and the Mavic 2 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 other gimbal model 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 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 instead of the 9 out of 10 received by most of its siblings. This is because it uses a less powerful downlink, meaning the drone's video feed 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 Parrot Anafi offers a fairly streamlined user experience and earned a score of 7 out of 10. However, its interface is just a bit less intuitive than DJI's, and the controller feels a bit clunky, so it lost a few points.
Earning a 6 out of 10, the Ryze Tello fell slightly behind the top scorers in this metric. We found that getting it out of the box, setting it up, and flying was very straightforward. However, it lost some points because adjusting advanced settings with the app is slightly more complicated. Also, Ryze does not offer an 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.
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 connectivity issues, 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 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