Best Overall Drone
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Maximum Video Resolution
: 4K | Maximum Speed
: 45 mph
Excellent video quality
Great flight performance
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 Balance Quality and Price
DJI Mavic Air
Maximum Video Resolution
: 4K | Maximum Speed
: 42.5 mph
Small and packable
Great flight performance
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
Maximum Video Resolution:
2.7K | Maximum Speed:
Good video quality
Long flight time (30 mins max)
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. 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.
DJI did make some sacrifices to keep the Mini true to its name, with obstacle avoidance sensors being possibly the most significant omission. It also lacks the 4K resolution that is quickly becoming standard. 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
Maximum Video Resolution
: 720p | Maximum Speed
: 18 mph
Small and light
Slightly choppy video
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
Drones make it possible to get shots that would otherwise be inconceivable.
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
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.
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 every day.
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.
While it sports the least capable camera of the Mavic line, we were still quite impressed with the footage produced by the DJI Mavic Mini. 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 recent firmware upgrade that provides manual exposure and white balance controls help with this issue, but the larger camera sensors of the upgraded models still do a much better job in more challenging lighting conditions.
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.
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 every slight jump, lag, or pixelation in your 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 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 several 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 minutes. It does lack some of the more advanced autonomous flight functions of the more expensive models, but we didn't 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.
In this metric, the non-gimbal models were again at the bottom of the scoreboard, with the YUNEEC Breeze, 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 the much more expensive YUNEEC, 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.
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 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 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 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 DJI Spark is even lighter than the DJI Mavic Air, weighing just 2/3 of a pound. However, it downs;t fold up at all, presenting a slightly less packable shape.
The Mavic 2 Pro and 2 Zoom have identical bodies and both weigh about 2 pounds.
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 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 destination.
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 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 tipping the scales at about 2 pounds and folding up to about the size of a liter water bottle, these quadcopters are about as portable as one could hope for truly high-end models to be. Plus, the controllers have removable joysticks, allowing 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 still quite portable packages.
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.
The Mavic Air (right) compared to a standard Mavic Model (left).
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 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.
DJI has put drones in the hands of many beginner pilots and experienced ones alike, and that legacy is evident in the user experience the company has designed. Regardless of which model you choose, out of the box setup is quite simple and streamlined, and pairing the drone with its associated controller and app is likewise easy. DJI makes a few differently sized controllers for its differently sized drones, and we found all of these designs to be quite ergonomic and the joysticks to be 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 enjoy a good experience if you decide on a DJI drone, which is lucky, because they absolutely dominate the market right now.
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, its 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.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the worst performer in our ease of use testing was the YUNEEC Breeze. While 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 much less intuitive. We also had consistent issues with the connectivity, having to quit and reopen the app more than a few times to actually get it talking to the drone. Luckily this only happened at 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, 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.