Trying to determine the best drone to buy right now? We’ve received good news and bad news. The good news is that in current years, drones (or unmanned aerial vehicle/UAV, as clearly no-one outside of the military calls them) have advanced past all recognition. The bad news is that there are now so many to pick from that discovering the proper one can be a bit of a minefield.
This is exactly why we’ve put together this guide. Read on for our pick of the best drones accessible right now – or more specifically, the best digital camera drone – along with models for each and every type of flyer of all budgets. But before you browse our top recommendations, check out our brief guide to the most essential points to consider when buying a drone.
WHAT IS THE BEST DRONE?
When it comes to the best drones, especially camera drones, the company that stands far above the rest is nonetheless DJI. This is reflected by the reality that DJI fills numerous positions in our list below, and markedly most of the pinnacle spots.
If DJI’s eminently inexpensive Mavic Mini is not outstanding enough for you, the brand’s slightly larger DJI Mavic Air is nevertheless a top affordable preference for even better videography and stills.
DJI’s iOS and Android apps are additionally excellent, and then the devoted controller is there if you desire to take the drone a lot further than cellular Wi-Fi will allow. Of the more ‘toy-like’ brands, Ryze Robotics Tello is the new leader. It’s effortless to fly, it shoots respectable video and you can even program it yourself.
Parrot, meanwhile, has taken a massive step onto DJI’s more premium turf with the great ANAFI. This insect-like drone rivals the Mavic Air for video quality and features. In various respects, it can not quite match DJI’s little flyer – particularly there is no obstacle avoidance – however it wins out on pricing in contrast to its DJI rival.
BUYING A DRONE: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
In order to discern out which is the best drone for you, it definitely helps to understand a bit about how specific types of drone work. In a nutshell, drones remember on rotors for propulsion and control. The faster these rotors spin, the higher the upward lift. The movement of a drone can be modified through altering the pace of one or more of its rotors.
These rotors are powered by motors which can be ‘brushed’ or ‘brushless’. The difference? Brushed motors use a mechanical process (a ‘commutator’) to move the magnetic field that turns the rotors. Brushless motors, which are commonly located on more high-priced drones, are normally preferable, and depend greater on electronics, rather than additional physical components such as the brushes in the commutators, to generate power. This means they generate much less friction (and bear in mind that friction slows the motor down), produce less heat and grant higher all-round performance.
Another essential thing to take into consideration is skill level. Beginners ought to look for more rugged models, as well as features such as rotor protectors and one-touch recall controls. But don’t make the mistake of assuming smaller, lighter drones are better for novices – these drones are frequently designed for those eager to perform complicated aerial maneuvers, and would possibly well be trickier to control.
Finally, take note to look for drones with the features you’re particularly keen on, and no more. Opting for a drone which boasts features you don’t want and won’t use, will imply you’ll spend more on a drone which will weigh more and won’t operate in the way you desire it to.
1. DJI MAVIC MINI
The best camera drone for portability and price
DJI’s new Mavic Mini is arguably the first high quality camera-carrying drone for the masses. It weighs a floaty 249g absolutely loaded, which is one gram shy of needing to register it with the CAA (read more on that). You are a clever little sausage, DJI. Size wise, the drone is so small it can be hidden beneath an iPhone eleven and effortlessly tucked into a pair of chinos. Its low weight, small size and flexible front propellor arms also provide it a higher chance of surviving a crash.
The Mavic Mini’s camera shoots 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second and crisp 2.7K at up to 30fps (believe us, 2.K is plenty sharp enough for the common pc monitor). Its 12mp stills, meanwhile, are well detailed. Despite the size, the craft is noticeably secure in flight and speedy and nimble when flown in Sport mode. It will easily fly for up to 30 minutes on a single charge and up to 4km away (far beyond the CAA’s line-of-sight regulation). However, one aspect this drone doesn’t have is obstacle avoidance. But we don’t think this is a deal breaker if common sense prevails.
The Mavic Mini is available in two packages: the basic bundle – hand controller, flight battery, charger, spare props, 32GB Micro SD card and a bunch of different cellphone cables – and the Fly More Combo, which additionally comes with a fantastic herringbone carry case, four batteries, a charger for charging four batteries at once and propellor guards for indoor flight.
If you’ve constantly hankered after a top of the line camera drone however didn’t fancy the thought of splashing out a fortune, then this is the mannequin for you. It’s remarkably steady and dependable in flight, a doddle to control and it shoots ravishingly suitable cinematic footage to boot.
2. DJI MAVIC AIR
The best value camera drone for 4K video
The DJI Mavic Air is a real pocket rocket that excels in each and every department, and it additionally gained Best Drone at the T3 Awards 2019. It’s quite a bit lighter and smaller than the DJI Mavic Pros 1 and 2 (168mm in length against 198mm and 214mm respectively) and not a lot larger than its smaller sibling, the Spark. Figure in the four folding rotor arms and what you have here is the most portable high-quality 4K camera-equipped drone on the market.
The 4K video quality from the Air’s sturdy 3-axis digital camera system is simply gorgeous while its 12mp photographs are highly detailed and fantastic for taking aerial landscapes and even selfies. It can also take four styles of panorama images and it does this all by itself. Simply choose the panorama feature and the drone hovers in one spot while it takes a series of pics from different angles (with no pilot input) which it them stitches together to produce a seamless widescreen vista.
Like the Spark, the Air can also be controlled with palm gestures or a cellular phone; available additions for those times when you can’t be bothered to dig out the provided hand controller. That said, flying with the hand controller is far and away the most gratifying way to operate it. It also lets you fly a lot further – up to 4km (2.48 miles) away and lower back once more on a battery that lasts around 21 minutes. Believe us, it’s more than adequate time to film an opus.
The Mavic Air’s hand controller is smaller than the Mavic Pro’s and it doesn’t come with an LCD screen so you’ll need to depend entirely on the data and picture feed to your smartphone or mini tablet (iOS or Android). But that’s no big problem as long as your mobile has sufficient battery.
The aspect we love most, though, is the addition of obstacle avoidance sensors on the rear as well as to the fore and below the craft; having so many safety features makes flying more confidence inspiring than ever, specifically in confined areas. However, beware of relying on obstacle avoidance if flying close to timber with sparse foliage as the sensors may not detect a wayward branch.
For a drone so small, you’d be amazed at how nicely this twitchy drone copes in winds as strong as 22mph and even higher. However, be aware that the drone may struggle in a robust head wind – and every so often come to a standstill or glide backwards. If this happens, do not panic, and instead flick the switch on the side of the controller to Sport mode. In this mode everything revs up and the drone pitches down at a more aggressive angle so it can cut through headwinds more easily. Sport mode is additionally superb if you simply favor to fly round at breakneck pace – how does an air velocity of 42mph grasp you? – however once more be mindful that it will take a lot longer to stop. Hence, avoid leaving braking until the closing second or it could be curtains if there is a giant obstacle in the way.
The only problem with this drone is the irritatingly high-pitched noise it makes – instead like a swarm of irritated mosquitos. But luckily, there’s a solution in the form of some third-party propellors from the beautifully named Master Airscrew. Available in three vibrant hues – black, puce pink and sky blue – Master Airscrew’s Stealth Propellors are not only quieter than DJI’s inventory props, but the sound frequency they emit is decreased and a lot easier on the ears. We followed the guidelines that came with the package and modified the Mavic Air’s ‘gain’ settings, and the end result was a much quieter flight with zero affect on the craft’s maneuvering and stability.
Overall, a cheap, reliable, easy-to-fly and unbelievably properly equipped journey package. Top marks all round.
3. RYZE TELLO
Best cheap drone – this budget camera drone is a sky-going bargain
If you’re searching for a speedy but very nicely equipped ‘selfie’ kind of drone that stays in the air for 13 minutes at a time, comes with digital image stabilization, shoots video in surprisingly respectable 720p, snaps 5mp stills and hovers on the spot without the use of GPS, then consider this brilliant little contender from Ryze. It didn’t win the T3 Award for Best Budget Drone for nothing.
If you assume the Tello is the first drone to reach the higher echelons of this page that doesn’t have any connection to DJI, then think again because most of the electronics inside this magnificent entry-level model are produced by none other than, you guessed, DJI. This is a very great thing because, aside perhaps from Parrot, DJI’s flight controllers and other digital goods are the industry benchmark for efficiency and reliability.
The Tello weighs just 80 grams and measures 98mm at its widest point. In other words, it’s small enough to tuck in a jacket pocket regardless of not being foldable like the DJI Mavic range. Although designed for indoor flying, this little craft is also adept at flying outdoors, as long as it’s not too windy (without GPS on board, it could flow with the breeze and may not make it back to you).
To fly it, just launch the Tello app on your phone, select hand launch, throw it into the air and steer it using the virtual joysticks. Everything the camera sees is streamed to the smartphone and, because it has digital stabilization, the footage it shoots is remarkably clean (not Mavic smooth but secure enough nonetheless). Like the similarly styled DJI Spark, the app also comes with a few pre-programmed ‘EZ Shots’ including circle and dronie (flying away from the pilot while automatically filming at the same time). The Tello has a 100 meter range – more than enough distance for most videography and photography purposes – and for those who favor a drone that does aerobatics, it will do that too.
But here’s the truly sensible bit. Using the separate Tello EDU app (iOS and Andoird), it’s possible to program the Tello to operate a series of maneuvers with no real-time input from the pilot. Just drag a collection of named color-coded ‘blocks’ (‘take off’, fly forward’, ‘land) into a particular order and the Tello will comply with the commands. This is a brilliant improvement due to the fact it’s truly educating kids (and adults) the fundamentals of robotics in an effortless and enjoyable way.
The other absolutely cool aspect about this drone is that it only costs £99. That’s less than a hundred nicker for a programmable drone that’s a doddle to fly, shoots stabilized 720p footage and takes first rate photos. Now that’s growth for you.
4. DJI MAVIC 2 PRO
The best pro-quality drone – undeniably DJI's most complete portable cinematic package to date
The Mavic 2 Pro looks identical to its predecessor, though it is 16mm longer, 8mm wider and 173 grams heavier. You can truly feel the extra weight when you hold it in the hand. In fact, it feels nearly too heavy to fly. Put any other way, you wouldn’t want it to fall out of the sky because you suspect it would punch a gapping hole in the ground as it disintegrates into a zillion pieces.
Just as well, then, that it’s almost impossible to crash given that it has 10 obstacle sensors facing in each and every direction. To put these omnidirectional sensors to the test, I selected the self sufficient ‘Active Track’ follow-me mode on the always extraordinary DJI Go 4 app, drew a rectangle around my body on the Samsung S10’s display screen (it additionally works with iOS), hit Go and went for a gradual stroll between a grove of small trees. The results had been frankly unbelievable, scary even – like something out of the ‘Terminator’. The drone automatically ducked and dived as it negotiated a pathway between the leafy branches, never coming to grief despite a few leaf-trimming moments. Even more astounding was the fact that the footage it shot showed no signs and symptoms of jerkiness – it was as if I’d been tracked by someone holding a stabilized camera. So, that’s your first purpose to purchase one.
The second reason is the gorgeous three-axis gimbal-mounted Hasselblad camera, which comes equipped with a one-inch CMOS sensor – like that in the Sony RX100 and RX10 series – and an adjustable aperture that goes from f/2.8 to f/11. This is an excellent piece of kit capable of taking pictures in numerous video resolutions, such as 4K at up to 30 frames per second, 2.7K at up to 60fps and 1080p at up to 120fps. It also takes strikingly sharp 20 megapixel RAW stills. The Mavic 2 Pro’s camera system helps the 10-bit Dlog-M color profile for pro-style post-production color grading and 10-bit HDR video for striking hyper-real footage.
Flight wise, the Mavic 2 Pro is as rock solid and confidence inspiring as we’ve come to expect; at no point will you fear it’ll simply fly off into the sunset on its own, never to be seen again. With new, larger motors fitted to its four arms, the drone is now successful of hitting 44mph in Sports mode and – with the resource of a larger battery – in a position to remain aloft for up to 31 minutes at a time. It’s also a lot quieter than any previous DJI drone – so hushed you can hardly even hear it from just 30 meters away. Its Occusync 2.0 transmission, meanwhile, gives crisp 1080p live streaming from up to five miles away. Yes, 5 miles! Like the early Mavic, this one also comes with 8GB of onboard storage along with the obligatory Micro SD card slot. The hand controller is pretty much the identical as the original, even though it does have an additional three-way speed switch (normal, sports or tripod for slow cinematic shots) for greater convenience.
Heading over to the DJI Go 4 app, the Mavic 2 Pro comes with a cluster of intelligent flight modes, plus the addition of a new Hyper lapse function that captures stop-frame visuals over a vast area before stitching it all together inside the app. In fact, the only intelligent flight mode missing here is the gimmicky ‘gesture’ hand control.
5. DJI MAVIC 2 ZOOM
Best drone for shooting long-range video
Rather like a automobile manufacturer launching different variants of the same model, DJI’s Mavic 2 Zoom has the same DNA as its stablemate the Mavic 2 Pro. Both birds are the same size and pretty much the same weight (the Pro is a measly 2g heavier), and they’re both equipped with the same multi-directional obstacle avoidance systems and the very same internals. In fact, the only distinction between the two is the camera they’re equipped with.
Where the Pro comes with a Hasselblad camera replete with one-inch sensor for professional, high quality aerial photography, the Zoom forfeits image resolution in favor of a 2x optical zoom with a 35mm format equivalent focal length of 24-48mm. However, when it comes to 4K video, both models boast the same rosy specs (4K at up to 30fps, 2.7K at up to 60fps, 1080p at up to 120fps), so this is the model to buy if you plan to shoot far more video than you do stills.
You might no longer use the zoom facility much, mind, but it surely comes into its own when you desire to shoot animals without scaring the shit out of them or getting nearer to an interesting situation without straying into non-public airspace – or simply grabbing a cash shot without having to fly past line of sight (illegal, as it happens).
Of course, one of the first things most new owners will do is select the DollyZoom function from the Mavic 2 Zoom’s submenu and bore the world of YouTube with a surfeit of Vertigo-style snippets of themselves standing in front of a large subject like a monument or a mountain, while the entire background lunges forward behind them as if it were pumped up on steroids. It’s a brilliant effect used by Hitchcock, Spielberg and other directors however it will wear thin.
Perhaps the most alluring thing about the Mavic 2 Zoom is its price. It’s £250 less than the Pro and yet it shoots the same exceptional video while sharing the identical superb flying characteristics. However, there may also come a time when you wish to shoot some ravishing RAW hi-res aerial stills to galvanize the masses on Flickr, Pixels and 500px. If that’s the case, we’d advise opting for the Mavic 2 Pro instead.
6. AUTEL EVO
The best drone for shooting long-range video
This feature-packed, hi-tech drone does it all, although it’s virtually been designed with intermediate-advanced photographers in mind – the drone’s camera, mounted on a 3-axis stabilizing gimbal, records video at 4k resolution up to 60 frames per second and has a recording speed up to 100mbps in an H.264 or H.265 codec. The camera’s one of the best we’ve seen on a drone at this price point, making it easy to capture more detail and color, even when filming at high speed, and a generous number of sensors help you avoid other objects while also making it wonderfully effortless to land.
We’re also especially impressed with the 3.3-inch OLED screen which has been integrated into the controller. This, coupled with the drone’s compact, foldable design (unusual for one packed with such an astonishing range of tech) makes it perfect for those who love to dash out the door with their drone at a moment’s notice.
7. PARROT ANAFI
Almost as good as the Mavic Air, and a tad cheaper
The foldable Parrot ANAFI is the first drone to take on DJI’s squadron of premium consumer camera drones, and not get shot down. It’s a hefty amount cheaper than the Mavic Air, and proves only a little less enjoyable to use and fly.
Like the Mavic Air, this drone collapses for convenient transport but it’s no longer quite as pocketable due to its 244mm length when folded. Still, it comes in a great transport case that’ll effortlessly fit in a small shoulder bag. At simply 320 grams, the Anafi is 110g lighter than the Mavic Air. Should it ever fall out of the sky, it is less prone to sustain essential damage. Theoretically, at least.
Despite it looking like a dragonfly, the Anafi was apparently inspired by the humble bee. Accordingly, it has its three-axis gimbal and 4K/21 megapixel digital camera mounted directly in front of the drone. This means the props will never appear in shot when the drone is moving ahead at high speed. It also means the digital camera can be pointed 90˚ upwards for a unique point of view that few other drones offer.
The new Parrot FreeFlight 6 app for iOS and Android is very well designed and easy to get a handle on. Granted, it doesn’t allow for as many camera, flight and gimbal tweaks as the DJI Go 4 app, but it’s perfectly acceptable for first-time users. The HD image quality streaming from drone to cellphone is pretty impressive.
In flight, the Parrot ANAFI is not as confidence inspiring as the Mavic Air – it loses quite a few points straight off by not having any obstacle avoidance. Nevertheless, it’s easy to maneuver and very stable in flight, even in a stiffish breeze. Firmware updates have made improvements to the GPS and Wi-Fi so they’re now seemingly unshakeable. The 2.4-mile range is excellent, though keep in mind that no drone should ever be flown further than line of sight. It’s the law, dude. One very significant improvement over the Mavic Air, is how quiet it is. In fact, it’s so quiet you can hardly hear a thing while it’s hovering just 20 meters above your head. At 33mph, it’s also quite sprightly, but only in Sport mode.
On the plus side, the battery provides up to 25 minutes of flying time (five more minutes than the Mavic Air) and can be charged via USB-C from any compatible portable charger. On the minus side, it takes hours to charge, so you may want to think about investing £90 in a spare battery.
Having tested it in the field (literally), both video and photograph quality look on par with the Mavic Air and in low light capturing it’s arguably a bit better. It doesn’t offer as high a frame rate as the Mavic Air (30fps in 4K vs the Mavic Air’s 60fps in 2.7K) but the 4K video and 21 megapixel images its 1/2.4-inch Sony CMOS sensor produces are tack sharp, with excellent detail and contrast. The camera also supports HDR (High Density Range) shooting and Adobe DNG/RAW formats for even more efficient post-production editing.
The controller’s gimbal rocker switch is nothing like as tactile as the Mavic Air’s finger wheel, which makes slow, gentle tilting of the gimbal extraordinarily tricky. Nevertheless, practice makes perfect.
Overall, Anafi isn’t up to the benchmark set by the DJI Mavic Air, which is still the best drone in the sub-£1,000 price band. However, Parrot’s competitive pricing should suggest it does very well – and deservedly so.
8. MENKIND RED5 HAWK FOLDING DRONE WITH GPS
The best compact drone around right now
RED5 is Menkind’s in-house brand, but don’t let the fact that it’s not a devoted drone manufacturer put you off – this drone rivals many of those with a similar price tag, and packs a decent punch with both battery life (17 minutes) and transmission range (150 meters). It’s another drone which is exceptional for those testing out their drone photography skills – the onboard digicam produces crisp HD 1280 x 720p video, and features such as altitude hold, critical return, route planner and follow-me modes enable you to hone in on your photography skills, rather than annoying about your drone disappearing over that distant hill.
The one downside is that it’s not the most rugged of drones, though if you are the kind of flyer who loves to dash out of the house with their drone at short notice, this likely isn’t a problem. It’s incredibly light and compact, and folds into itself for easy transportation.
8. DJI SPARK
The best selfie drone around right now
DJI’s adorable little Spark is smaller and lighter than its closest cousin, the Mavic Air. However, due to the fact its propeller arms don’t fold, it won’t fit in a jacket pocket like the folded Mavic Air will. Even so, this air-snap gizmo is still exceptionally portable and likely the smartest selfie drone in existence right now, available in five lush colors.
The Spark comes with front obstacle avoidance and is rock steady when flown indoors or out. Its digital camera shoots very ideal 1080p video and 12-megapixel photos and is equipped with a two-axis mechanical stabilizer for incredibly smooth video footage. The battery offers around 16 minutes of flight time, which can be viewed as quite respectable for a drone of this size.
The Spark can be operated in three ways: using hand gestures, a mobile device or, for much greater range (up to 1.2 miles), a dedicated hand controller. While not designed for first-rate videography, it still shoots awesome footage.
It’s also reassuringly tough as nails, as was aptly confirmed at a DJI event when one was accidentally flown at full speed – that’s 50kph – into a tree. The only thing broken was a prop; everything else, digital camera included, worked perfectly. Another fantastic reason to consider snapping one up.
9. PARROT ANAFI FPV
Enjoy a bird's eye view and unbeatable responsiveness
If you are thinking about splashing out on a top-of-the-range drone to take your photography and video skills to the next level, this might just be the best drone for you. Its most thrilling feature is the so-called Cockpit glasses it comes with – a headset that allows you to see precisely what the drone camera’s seeing. The headset additionally lets you to fine-tune your images as you fly.
Settings on the headset enable you to manage everything from shutter speed, ISO, white balance and exposure compensation. The there are more advanced features too, including ones which show image histograms and ‘zebra’ exposure assistance overlays, designed to highlight areas of under and overexposure.
You can switch between two flight pre-set modes – ‘cinematic’ allows you to lock the camera’s horizontal to the tilt of the drone, resulting in more fluid, detailed footage, while the ‘racing’ mode is built for speed, not smoothness, giving your footage a more adrenaline-charged feel.
However, the FPV does have its caveats: 1) you may feel nauseous; 2) your sense of depth may also be affected (make sure your first flights are in a broad open area with no barriers around); 3) you can only see ahead (avoid flying backwards for more than a few meters at a time); 4) you’ll have no notion if someone has crept up on you with a view to nicking your belongings.
The ANAFI FPV is incredibly good value but the jury’s out on the quality of the visuals the camera ports to the screen – they were bit too fuzzy and pixilated in my opinion, and that was using an iPhone 11. Yes, they were perfectly suitable to fly by and view the terrain ahead and below, but it was a bit like wearing 3-D glasses (the two side-by-side images never really slotted perfectly together, even after fiddling with the lens distance controls). The upshot is that you may experience a sensation of double vision which will almost surely cause you to remove the goggles and relax the eyes for a few minutes.
FPV flight is an acquired taste and this package makes a very fair fist of it. However, you do need to be conscious of the pitfalls lest you spend the extra outlay only to abandon the goggles after your first few flights. On the other hand, if you’re positive it’s the avenue you favor to go down, then go for it. What could possibly go wrong?
10. DJI INSPIRE 2
The best drone for pro-grade cinematography
When it comes to producing the very best cinema-quality aerial footage, there is truly nothing out there to contest the Inspire 2. In fact, the only reason this drone isn’t higher up our chart is due to the fact it is pricey with a capital P and large with a capital L. It also weighs a hefty 4.25kg, so you can forget about sticking it in your hand luggage.
The Inspire 2 is made from carbon fiber and magnesium and its dual battery system, four huge motors and 13-inch propellers will take it to a top speed of 58mph and a flight time of up to 27 minutes. The landing equipment is retractable, allowing pilots, or a second camera operator, to shoot a full 360º panorama. It also comes with forward, downward and upward-facing obstacle avoidance sensors for greater confidence when flying in problematic locations.
The Inspire 2’s pro-spec CineCore 2.0 image processing system is housed in the nose of the craft which means only the camera’s lens and sensor are connected to the gimbal.
This reduces weight and allows for effortless camera swapping. And speaking of cameras, the Inspire 2 comes with a choice of five different models, from the compact Micro 4/3 Zenmuse X5 to the ultra high-end Zenmuse X7, which features a Super 35 Sensor capable of taking pictures in 5.2K Apple ProRes. Needless to say, the imagery this beautiful cinematic system produces is of the very highest order.
11. POTENSIC D80 DUAL GPS BRUSHLESS DRONE
An affordable option for budding videographers
Potensic’s D80 Dual GPS Brushless Drone is a first-rate choice for those eager to get to grips with drone photography. It’s packed with features that make it perfect for beginners, whether that’s the Point of Interest function, which programs the drone to fly clockwise round a single point and provide a comprehensive picture of the object it’s circling around, or the choice to set custom-designed flight paths. The latter allows you to use Potensic’s app to programyour drone to follow pre-set routes, and it’s a fantastic way to test out your drone’s capabilities.
However, don’t make the mistake of assuming this drone is for novices and intermediates only – there are lots of features to keep more experienced flyers entertained, and with a wonderful 300 meter transmission range and 20-minute battery life, you’ll enjoy plenty of flying time. We also love the fact it’s got a brushless motor, which is tougher and more long-lasting – perfect for those of you planning to put your drone through its paces.