We've tested close to 30 drones in the last 6 years, highlighting 8 top contenders in this review. After hundreds of hours of flying, we can help you find the best model for your needs and budget. 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 help guide you to the right model.
If you're interested in drones but want a less sophisticated model or one that's suitable for children, check out our review of the best drones for kids. These models will get you flying without dropping too much cash. Looking for a camera for capturing wildlife images in the great outdoors? See our review of the top trail cameras.
Editor's Note: Our drone review was updated on February 7, 2023 to ensure our lineup is current. We included info on the new DJI Mini 3.
Maximum Video Resolution: 5.1K | Maximum Speed: 42.5 mph
REASONS TO BUY
Great video quality
REASONS TO AVOID
From video quality to flight performance to ease of use, the DJI Mavic 3 is an all-around top performer in a competitive class. The camera yields razor-sharp 5K video and is proficient in both high and low-light scenarios. The gimbal keeps the video smooth and vibration-free in various flight orientations. The flight performance is top-notch, too, as the controls are sensitive and responsive. The intelligent flight programming offers users popular features such as follow mode, orbit, and return to home, as well as more sophisticated programs like QuickShots and MasterShots that allow users to create filming sequences ahead of time and activate them with the push of a button. Despite the professional level of flight control and programming, the Mavic 3 is relatively easy to learn to operate. And, with the prolonged 46-minute flight time, you'll have plenty of time to play around.
While our appraisal of the Mavic 3 is quite good, there are aspects of the device that potential buyers should be aware of before settling on it. Our most significant concern focuses on new drone pilots. While we found the flight controls responsive, the uninitiated may find them overly touchy and thus difficult to manage at first. Other concerns include a remote control that is a bit cramped for larger hands and the lack of a case to protect the drone in transport. Aside from these minor concerns, we think this drone offers users exceptional professional-level performance but at a more manageable price.
Maximum Video Resolution: 5.4k | Maximum Speed: 42.5 mph
REASONS TO BUY
Control over ISO and shutter speed
Easy to fly/land/takeoff
REASONS TO AVOID
Lacks following capabilities
No aperture control
The DJI Air 2S sets itself apart from other medium-sized drones with a hefty and capable sensor. This larger sensor allows for complete control over ISO and shutter speed, helping the pilot customize their footage. The adjustable gimbal responsiveness and micromovements like yawing and turning are smooth, ensuring the video is free of tremors. Not only are the controls intuitive and easy to learn, but taking off and landing are easy too. You can just as easily catch the Air 2S as you can land it on flat ground, which is extremely helpful. The Air 2S also offers obstacle avoidance and a plethora of intelligent flight patterns, including MasterShots, allowing the pilot to stack intelligent flight patterns consecutively for a cool finished product. While this drone is on the smaller side, it holds its own against light wind and connects to your smartphone or tablet, offering a clear and lag-free image.
The Air 2S sensor allows for control over ISO and shutter speed, but it does not allow you to adjust the aperture. This can be troublesome on particularly bright days, but with the help of a filter and automatic exposure, it doesn't affect the final product too negatively. MasterShots is a super cool feature, but it is imperative to ensure your surroundings are obstacle-free when using it. On occasion, we noticed a small amount of propeller intrusion during autonomous flight, but this can be avoided by turning off obstacle avoidance and ordering the drone to prioritize composition. Again, you'll need to ensure your area is obstacle-free. Lastly, the Air 2S costs quite a bit less than the most expensive options in our test suite. It is still an investment, but the level of performance renders it a truly high-value choice.
Maximum Video Resolution: 720p | Maximum Speed: 18 mph
REASONS TO BUY
Small and light
REASONS TO AVOID
Slightly choppy video
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. But the Tello sports some DJI flight sensing technology, making a stable hover its center point and maneuvering out of that hover very easy and intuitively. 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 in the air.
Video quality is the biggest shortcoming for the Tello. The footage comes across as grainy and often drops frames, resulting in odd cuts and jumps. However, the quality still far outstrips what most comparably priced models can produce. The Tello is controlled via virtual joysticks on your mobile device's touchscreen, which is just not as fun as using real joysticks. But 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 and novices will enjoy the most.
Maximum Video Resolution: 4K | Maximum Speed: 36 mph
REASONS TO BUY
High video quality
Great autonomous flying
REASONS TO AVOID
Control input lag
Struggle with pan shots
The Skydio 2+ is a high-quality, thoroughly well-designed drone with a focus on autonomous flight. The unit has smooth and stable automated takeoff and landing, which is great for newer drone pilots. Additionally, Skydio's intelligent flight programs, such as cable cam (which allows the user to preset waypoints for the drone to fly along) and follow mode (in which the drone chases a user-defined subject), are among the best in the class. Finally, the solid build is epitomized in the magnetic battery pack and gimbal. The battery securely attaches to the device but is nonetheless easy to remove without the need for moving parts prone to failure. The gimbal, which does have moving parts, delivers smooth and stable video in all but the most challenging flight scenarios.
While many will see the focus on autonomous flight as a benefit, it comes at the cost of pilot-focused flight. For example, the flight controls are a bit sluggish, making tight maneuvering challenging, especially in less than ideal atmospheric conditions. Generally speaking, the Skydio 2+ is less than stable in the wind, particularly when attempting to maintain a hovering position. Additionally, the drone has a below-average battery life of just 27 minutes. As far as video quality is concerned, the Skydio's 4K resolution is slightly above-average but shows a loss of detail in complex scenes, and it could be better in low-light scenarios. When taken as a whole, this is a fantastic drone that will best suit those who prefer programmable flight over pilot-focused flight.
Maximum Video Resolution: 4K | Maximum Speed: 35.8 mph
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Subpar gimbal stabilization
Low dynamic range
Since we tested the Mini 2, DJI released the Mini 3, which has a much larger sensor, more low-light capabilities, and a longer flight time. It can also shoot video vertically.
The DJI Mini 2 is a compact and lightweight drone perfect for travel. Despite its size, it still offers a solid fly-time of 31 minutes, intelligent flight features for fun and creative videos, and minimal propellor intrusion. Taking off is a breeze, and the flying controls are intuitive. Like all DJI models, the remote control connects directly to your smartphone or tablet, offering a clear and lag-free image. The video quality is pretty good for such a small aircraft, though it can't compete with the larger DJI models.
The portability of the Mini 2 is its claim to fame. However, this poses some issues. It lacks the sensor that some of the larger DJI models come equipped with, which makes it generally less capable. The Mini is also so affected by the slightest wind that it can be difficult to land — even the small amount of wind created by the propellors is enough to keep it off the ground, and catch landing is not an option. Because this drone is so easily blown around, it is subsequently difficult to get a jitter-free video. Still, while the Mini 2 is not the highest performing option, it is inexpensive by comparison and acts as the perfect travel buddy. If your priorities lie in price and portability, this is a great option.
We continually research all the top drones on the market, focusing on the models most likely to provide consumers the best experience with the least hassle. To keep our testing process objective, we buy all the models in our review at full price from standard retailers and put them through a specially designed testing regimen. This includes hundreds of hours of flight time, a side-by-side comparison of video footage in various lighting conditions, and an exhaustive analysis of every feature and setting.
We divided our testing criteria into four key rating metrics:
Video Quality (45% of overall score weighting)
Flight Performance (35% weighting)
Portability (10% weighting)
Ease of Use (10% weighting)
We relied heavily on the expertise of FAA-certified drone pilot and director of photography Dane Henry for this review. Dane has been piloting aerial cameras since their introduction to the professional market, working with such A-list clients as Apple, Nikon, National Geographic Adventure, ESPN Films, Red Bull, and Patagonia, to name just a few. Dane brings his in-depth knowledge and experience to our review by piloting our test models and assessing the resulting footage. Professional photographer Laura Casner is also a crucial member of the test team, bringing a critical eye and years of institutional knowledge to analyzing the footage produced by these drone cameras.
Nick Miley and Austin Palmer joined the review team in the most recent update. Nick is a boundary-spanner who brings together the skills, insights, and knowledge needed to sync up and flesh out a project in a thorough manner. He has worked in journalism, tech, and research throughout his twenty-year career. Austin Palmer is the lead product tester at GearLab and brings the experience of thousands of product tests to the table. In this review, he was critical to maintaining consistency in testing and data analysis.
Analysis and Test Results
In less than a decade, small aerial vehicles — colloquially referred to as drones — have gone from the stuff of spy and sci-fi novels to gaining widespread commercial use while fostering enjoyment among scores of everyday consumers. If you've ever thought of joining this aerial renaissance, our testing results will help lead you to the perfect model for your needs and budget.
We do not factor price into the scoring of the drones we test and rate. However, price is a huge consideration with such expensive devices and can't be overlooked. We consider high-value products to be those that expertly balance performance and price. Sometimes it's worth it to pay top dollar, but depending on your needs, you may not always need to take that route.
Nearing the top of the scoreboard in terms of performance with a price lower than the premium models, the DJI Air 2S is hard to beat regarding value. The DJI Mini 2 is far less capable than the larger models, but it is relatively inexpensive and infinitely portable, making it an excellent value for people that want a drone they can toss in their backpack and travel with easily. And if you want a budget option for the kids or a brand new pilot, the Ryze Tello can't be missed. It doesn't have even close to the same video quality as the premium options, but it's still a ton of fun and a great way to dip your toes into the world of drones without maxing out a credit card.
As fun as it can be to pilot remote-controlled aircraft, the resulting video footage is the primary goal for most users; thus, we weighted video quality the most heavily in the overall scores. A camera's resolution, sharpness, and color quality are vital to creating a good image. To test this, we take similar footage with each one of our models and carefully examine 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 is shaky and unstable. We test these video quality attributes by recording both broad panning shots and fast-paced, tight shots from following a fast-moving subject. We then evaluate this footage based on how smooth and stable it is, whether the horizon remains horizontal in the frame, and if the rotors or rotor shadows are present.
The DJI Mavic 3 leads the pack in this evaluation, although the DJI Air 2S isn't too far behind. These drones' stable gimbal, 5K+ video resolution, and advanced sensors coalesce to produce amazing video quality. Both of these drones represent the "prosumer" category as they are accessible to everyday consumers but are capable of producing professional quality results.
The Autel Robotics EVO II Pro captures impressive 6K footage (the highest tested to date) and has above-average gimbal stabilization for shake-free video in normal flight conditions. While most users will be more than pleased with its video quality, this quality falls off when pointing the camera towards the sun. That said, the camera exhibits a decent highlight roll-off which will be pleasing to most users when shooting an overexposed sun.
The Skydio 2+ offers users decent resolution at 4K. There is some loss of sharpness and detail in high-detail scenes, yet the footage remains quite usable. The Skydio struggles in high and low light scenarios resulting in a loss of highlight retention in bright light and noise in shadows. That said, the gimbal stabilization is quite good in stable atmospheric conditions.
Although it sports a less capable camera, we were still quite impressed with footage from the DJI Mini 2. The 2.7K resolution manages to render surprisingly clear and crisp footage. The camera can produce vivid colors with a good dynamic range, particularly on darker, overcast days. 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 simply do a better job in challenging lighting conditions. However, it's worth noting that recent firmware upgrades help with this issue by providing manual exposure and white balance controls.
A nimble, responsive, and predictable quadcopter allows you to get great footage with ease. It 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 test 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.
The DJI drones, including the Mavic 3 and Air 2S, soared above the competition in our flight performance tests. Generally speaking, these models provide everything you could want from a consumer quadcopter: rock-solid stability, responsive maneuvering, sport modes that allow you to exceed 40 mph, enough power to deal with wind gusts, and a bevy of autonomous flight functions.
While all the DJI drones are fantastic flyers, the Mavic 3 set the bar in this metric. This model has easy takeoffs and landings, excellent autonomous and intelligent flight modes, and an extremely long 46-minute flight time. The Mavic 3 also offers a convenient return-to-home feature that works well so long as the user remembers to set the home point at takeoff.
The DJI Air 2S comes in just behind the Mavic 3 and essentially has the same flight characteristics — it's fast, maneuverable, and has excellent autonomous flight programs. However, what sets these two models apart is the flight time. At 31 minutes of battery life, the Air 2S provides pilots with 15 minutes less flight time — that can make a big difference in golden hour filming sessions.
The Skydio 2+ is arguably a completely different animal than the rest of the models reviewed here, given its signature autonomous subject-tracking flight feature. While not perfect, we find the Skydio 2+'s ability to automatically follow a moving subject and keep it in the frame while dodging obstacles to be orders of magnitude ahead of anything offered by the other models on the market. The 2+ had no trouble following us while running through dense trees and biking or skiing down open slopes. Additionally, its cable cam feature is without rival. This feature allows the user to preprogram a route for the drone to follow while the drone deals with the details of dodging obstacles. This is an amazing feature that produces great film with relative ease.
Over the past few years, consumer models have become increasingly compact and lightweight, meaning pilots don't have 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 just several years ago would not have been feasible.
Weighing just 0.2 pounds, the Ryze Tello is easily the most portable model. 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 DJI Mini 2 is a super portable model capable of producing decent video. It weighs just over half a pound and folds down into a compact package with the longest dimension being 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 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 Anafi folds into a long and slender package. This means we generally had to place it on the side of our backpacks with the other contents pushing against it. In contrast, the Mavic models can sit on top of other items in a pack, providing greater peace of mind.
As the trend in consumer drones has taken a sharp turn towards portability, even the lower performers in this metric are quite portable.
Ease of Use
It's easy to forget how 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 an arduous task, and some manufacturers do it better than others. Our ease of use testing covered every facet of the 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 are, and the usability or clarity of on-screen menus.
In general, we found that the gimbal models we tested were relatively easy to set up and get in the air. On top of that, they all have nice, intuitive controllers. The non-gimbal models are also easy to set up but tend to have less streamlined user interfaces. The DJI Mavic 3, Air 2S, and Mini 2 dominate this metric. All of these models have seamless initial setup processes and can be in the air within 20 minutes.
DJI has put drones in the hands of many experienced and beginner pilots, and that legacy is evident in the superb user experience the company has engendered. Regardless of your model, 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 drones, and we find all these designs quite ergonomic. All the joysticks are supple and predictable. However, we found the Mavic 3 controller to be on the small side for those with average to larger hands.
One exception to this rule is the DJI Mini 2, which is slightly less user-friendly than the other DJI models. This is because it uses a less powerful downlink, meaning the drone's video feed sometimes 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 Skydio 2+ and the PowerVision PowerEgg both offer users quality ease of use features, though they are not as beneficial as the DJI models discussed above. The main issues that these models face compared to their better-rated counterparts are their ease of flight and video transmission. Both of these models' yaw controls proved to be a bit challenging to master — their video links leave something to be desired as well. In the PowerEgg's case, the video is a bit laggy at all distances, while the 2+ has some micro blocking that increases the further the drone gets from the controller.
Drones are incredible pieces of technology that have brought some of the tools of professional filmmakers into the hands of creative hobbyists. 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. Happy (and safe) flying!
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.