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We've tested close to 30 drones over the last 5 years, highlighting 6 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.
Editor's Note: This review was updated January 6th, 2022 to remove a couple of DJI models that are no longer in production — the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom. Our in-house team is currently hard at work testing the new Mavic 3 which offers everything those two models did, all in one drone. We're also testing the updated Skydio 2+ as well as a few other cutting edge options, so keep on the lookout for another update soon.
Maximum Video Resolution: 5.4k | Maximum Speed: 42.5 mph
REASONS TO BUY
Control over ISO and shutter speed
Easy to fly/land/take-off
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, and the long battery life allows for a 31-minute flight time, which is impressive. 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 propellor 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. 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
Excellent autonomous flight functions
Good overall video quality
REASONS TO AVOID
Manual flight is a bit clunky
Must purchase accessories for full functionality
Skydio has been the field leader for the last few years when it comes to autonomous flight. 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 while 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 this drone 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 a 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.
Maximum Video Resolution: 4K | Maximum Speed: 35.8 mph
REASONS TO BUY
Impressive battery life
REASONS TO AVOID
Subpar gimbal stabilization
Flight hindered by wind
Low dynamic range
The DJI Mini 2is a compact and lightweight drone that's perfect for travel. Despite its size, it still offers a solid fly-time of 31 minutes, intelligent flight features make fun, creative videos, and propellor intrusion is minimal. 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 relied heavily on the expertise of FAA-certified drone pilot and professional filmmaker Sean Haverstock for this review. Sean has been piloting aerial cameras for more than five years and has worked with such A-list clients as RedBull, Nikon, and Adobe. His 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. Professional photographer Laura Casner also joins the test team in recent years, bringing a critical eye and years of institutional knowledge to piloting drones all over the Lake Tahoe area.
This dynamic duo is joined by Steven Tata and Max Mutter who 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 also have ample experience appraising relative video quality in a side-by-side manner. Hayley Thomas rounds out the team most recently and fits the prosumer niche perfectly. She lives full time in her van with her two dogs seeking the best climbing destinations, using drones to savor every moment of her adventures.
After extensively researching all the top models on the market, 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 review at full price from standard retailers and put them through the paces. This includes 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. In the end, we believe we've come up with the best recommendations for every application and budget.
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.
We specifically don't consider price in the testing and scoring of each drone. 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 you may not always need to take that route depending on your needs.
Nearing the top of the scoreboard in terms of performance yet still boasting a middle-of-the-road price, the DJI Mavic Air 2 is hard to beat when it comes to value. You can get better video and performance out of the DJI Air 2S, but it'll cost you a bit more. The Mavic Mini 2 is far less capable than the larger models, yet 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 really 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 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 propellors impede the camera's view. We test these video quality attributes by recording both broad panning shots and fast-paced, tight shots while following a fast subject. We then evaluate this footage based on how smooth and stable it is, whether the horizon is kept horizontal, and if any visible rotors or rotor shadows are present.
The DJI Air 2S leads the pack by a noticeable margin. The stable gimbal, 5.4K maximum video resolution, and advanced sensor (the same one that the Pro has) all come together to deliver amazing video quality. This camera truly encompasses the "prosumer" moniker, as it is accessible to everyday consumers but can produce professional quality results.
The Skydio 2 captures impressive 4K footage, particularly in good lighting conditions. Most users will be more than pleased with its video quality, though when pointing the camera towards the sun, colors become washed out, and when things get cloudy, the colors appear a little dull. One thing that sets the Skydio 2 apart from the rest is that the autonomous follow feature actually keeps subjects well-centered, resulting in well-framed footage, even without a pilot.
The DJI Mavic Air 2 is a model that 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. The blacks are not quite as true as the top-scoring models though, leaving you with an image that looks artificially bright but is still well balanced.
Though 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 impressively 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 just 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.
The Parrot Anafi offers generally stable and crisp footage, 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.
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.
Dominating our flight performance tests are the top-tier DJI drones, especially 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.
The Air 2S absolutely crushes this metric. These three models take the cake with easy takeoffs and landing, excellent autonomous or intelligent flight modes, and long luxurious flight times. They all also offer a convenient return-to-home feature that works wonders, as long as your GPS connection is strong.
The Mavic Air 2 comes in just behind the top-tier models. It is just as maneuverable as the high-end models but feels a bit less stable in windy conditions, something we generally avoid anyway. One issue that the entire Mavic 2 line shares, however, is their subpar following capabilities. This makes getting actions shots of moving subjects like cars or skiers difficult unless you are a skilled pilot.
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 find 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 other models 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 find this manual piloting experience to be a bit less agile and enjoyable than most other models.
Smaller, less powerful, and slower than its larger siblings is the DJI Mini 2. It is responsive and stable enough unless you're trying to fight wind or keep up with a very fast-moving subject and offers an impressive maximum flight time of 31 minutes. It lacks some of the more advanced autonomous flight functions of the more expensive models, but not everyone prioritizes those.
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 by far the most portable of the models in our test suit that can produce decent video. It weighs just over half a pound and folds down into a package whose longest dimension is 5.5 inches, meaning it can disappear inside even a small backpack. The controller similarly folds down into a slim package that is barely larger than a smartphone.
The Mavic Air 2S manages to be quite portable while offering near-professional level footage. It tips the scales at just 1.3 pounds 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 that's 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 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 that something.
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 (a nice perk) 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 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 Air 2, Air 2S, and Mini 2 dominate this metric. All five of these models have seamless initial setup processes and can be in the air within 20 minutes. Notably, the Air 2 and Air 2S are much easier to transport than any other gimbal model.
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 find all of these designs to be quite ergonomic. All the joysticks are supple and predictable.
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 Parrot Anafi offers a fairly streamlined user experience. However, its interface is just a bit less intuitive than DJI, and the controller feels a bit clunky.
The Ryze Tello falls slightly behind the aforementioned models. We found that getting it out of the box, setting it up, and flying is very straightforward. However, 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. If you'd rather fly with some physical joysticks, some third-party Bluetooth gaming controllers are compatible.
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!
Laura Casner, Max Mutter, Steven Tata, and Hayley Thomas
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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.