Why use a drone? Besides capturing awesome video, drones are a blast to fly around for fun. If either of those sound appealing, we’ve tested and researched our way to these top picks. (New pilots should learn the before taking flight.)
A great camera, long battery life (as drones go), and so compact that you’ll actually bring it to the places you want to shoot. The Mavic 2 Pro takes photos at 20 megapixels and shoots 4K video, which is plenty of resolution for even serious YouTubers. That camera is so powerful that you don’t really need to consider buying one of DJI’s bulkier Phantom drones.
Among the reasons DJI has absolutely dominated the drone market are its smart flight features. You can set the Mavic 2 to hold its position even in strong wind, autonomously follow a target, or respond to gestures from the person being filmed. It also has sensors that help it avoid obstacles, preventing crashes that were an inevitable part of drone ownership even a few years ago. The Mavic 2 Pro also beats other drones for battery life, with over 30 minutes of flight time per charge. The gimbal and greater stabilization system are industry-top, which results in footage that looks like a high-budget movie.
DJI also makes a Mavic 2 Zoom model, which has a zoom camera with a smaller sensor, and the Mavic Air, a more portable version of the Pro, but at the expense of battery life and image quality.
DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro is also foldable, of course, and the more capable of the two, but the Mavic Air might be the better fit if you want something more portable (not to mention more affordable) for travel or everyday use. You’ll still get great, stabilized 4K video, along with all the obstacle avoidance and automated flying features you’d expect from a high-end drone. Battery life does expectedly drop with the drone’s smaller size (up to 21 minutes according to DJI), but it’s lower price makes carrying a few spare batteries a more palatable option than with a drone that’s already $1,500 on its own.
Parrot’s Anafi drone lacks some key features like obstacle avoidance that you’ll find on its nearest competitor, the DJI Mavic Air, but it’s worth a look if you’re primarily concerned with getting the best photos and video possible from a small, affordable drone. It packs a higher-resolution camera (21MP vs. 12MP on the Mavic Air), a 2.8X “lossless” digital zoom, and, most notable of all, a 180-degree gimbal that will let you capture stills and video you wouldn’t be able to get with the Air’s more limited range of motion.
There may be a handful of clear favorites when it comes to higher-end drones, but things get quite a bit more confusing if you’re just looking for a cheap drone to try your hand with before investing in something more serious.
While there’s still no mistaking it for a pro-level piece of equipment, the Ryze Tello benefits from a partnership with DJI that gives it some decent capabilities for the price, and those willing to invest the time can get even more out of it thanks to its support of the Scratch programming language.
Flying a drone takes practice. The control orientation takes lots of flight hours to get used to, and will likely involve a few crashes. Start with a small, cheap drone before spending four figures, and you’ll be much better prepared. We like the Parrot Mambo because it’s quick, small enough to fly indoors, and comes with bumpers that help it survive collisions.
It’s worth buying the Mambo with the Flypad controller. Its thumb sticks are much more satisfying to use than a smartphone screen controller, and it will give you a feel for the control systems on bigger, more expensive drones. The Mambo can also be fitted with a camera and paired to a headset, so you can fly from FPV—meaning you see what the drone sees.
Tuned similarly to the high-test race drones used in the Drone Racing League, the 101 kit comes with everything a novice racer needs to start learning how to fly fast. The goggles are low-latency, and the Shark drone can go fast enough to last as you level up your skills.
What do the pro movie makers get that most consumers don’t? A magnesium-alloy body, the ability to swap out lenses, faster speed (it’ll go 70 mph), and an insane 5.2K video quality. It also has retractable landing gear, so the camera can be turned around 360 degrees—pro-level drones can be operated by two people: one to pilot the drone itself, one to wear a live-feed headset and point the camera where it needs to point. (A separate nose-mounted camera is there to show the pilots where it’s pointing.)
The Spark sacrifices the Mavic 2’s photo and video quality to gain convenience. The Spark only takes 1080p resolution videos at 30 frames per second, but it can be flown without a controller and set to automatic flight modes like circling or quickly zooming out from a subject. It can also be controlled with gestures (for example, hold up your hand and walk forward to tell it to back up), and obstacle avoidance. If you want a drone primarily to take awesome photos of yourself while hiking, this is the one to get.