The best drone 2022: the finest flying cameras you can buy

One of the world's best drones, the DJI Air 2S, on a pink background
(Image credit: Future)
Editor's note: December 2022

Despite the welcome arrival of some fresh competition this year from Autel and Skydio, DJI remains the king of drones – and we're entering the time of year when it's traditionally been a good time to buy one of its flying cameras.

This month's DJI Store Day (October 10-11) is a little disappointing, but there are likely to be better discounts available as the Black Friday deals approach from late October. Last year, DJI launched its own 'Holiday Page' on November 19 for its equivalent of the Black Friday drone deals. And we'll likely see something similar again this year.

Big savings on DJI's latest drones like the Mini 3 Pro are unlikely, but we've historically seen older models (like the Mini and Mavic Air series) get price cuts that make them excellent value if you don't need the absolute latest tech. Thanks to DJI's advanced software, established drones like the DJI Air 2S and DJI Mini 2 can be more than good enough for most people. Though it'll still definitely be worth looking out for deals on DJI's new rivals, too.

Mark Wilson, Cameras editor

The best drones can help you capture sharp, cinematic images from the sky. From backpack-friendly folding drones to professional quadcopters, the top options make it easy to get airborne, with automated modes for stable yet creative shooting. But with so many models on the market, landing the right one requires careful research. To make your decision easier, we’ve spent hundreds of hours testing the best drones, and set out our favorites in the list below.

Your ideal drone choice is determined by skill level and budget, but we think the best drone for most people is the DJI Mini 3 Pro. Taking the crown from the DJI Air 2S, it packs a seriously impressive skill set for such a small drone, with a fantastic camera and three-directional obstacle avoidance. Spend extra on the DJI RC controller for a truly capable bundle.

Then again, for professional pilots with deeper pockets, we think the DJI Mavic 3 is a tough tool to beat. It’s overkill for amateurs, but the dual-camera setup establishes a new benchmark for image quality from a consumer drone. That’s especially true since firmware updates unlocked its full feature set, including raw shooting with its telephoto lens.

Our guide also features a spread of drones across different price brackets, including the best cheap drone Ryze Tello, which we highly rate for buyers on a tight budget. Covering a range of sizes, skills and features – including the best beginner drones, our list is designed to help every buyer get off the ground. Each entry has been comprehensively tested, with the positives and drawbacks detailed in our ranking.

Whether you’re shopping for a cheap drone or top-spec flying machine, we’ve set out some expert tips to keep in mind when making your choice. You’ll also find direct links to the best deals currently available online. And if you’re in the market for seasonal savings, Black Friday is just around the corner so be sure to bookmark our list of the best Black Friday drone deals.

The best drone 2022

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The DJI Mini 3 Pro drone in flight in front of a brick wall

(Image credit: Future)
The best drone for most people

Specifications

Weight: 249g
Controller: Yes (available without)
Camera resolution: 12.1MP
Flight time: 34 minutes
Range: 8km-12km

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive low-light performance
+
Useful automated flight modes
+
Obstacle avoidance sensors

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricy for a compact drone

The DJI Mini 3 Pro is the most powerful and, in our book, best compact drone you can buy. It has a premium price tag, but the Mini 3 Pro is a huge upgrade on the Mini 2 (see below), if you can justify the extra cost. For the money, you get a far superior camera, obstacle avoidance sensors and a range of features that you'd normally only find on larger drones.

In our tests, the Mini 3 Pro's 12.1MP 1/1.3-inch sensor produced excellent image quality with impressive high ISO handling. You'll find very little noise all the way up to the maximum ISO 6400, while the combination of a bright f/1.7 lens and dual native ISO tech means low-light performance is impressive for such a small drone. The drone's tri-directional obstacle avoidance worked well during testing and we particularly liked its ability to shoot in portrait without cropping. If you can stretch to the new DJI RC controller, that's the best backpack-friendly bundle for aerial photography and video, bar none.  

The DJI Mini 2 drone in full flight in a garden during testing

(Image credit: Future)
The best budget drone for beginners

Specifications

Weight: 249g
Controller: Yes
Camera resolution: 12MP
Battery size: 2,250 mAh
Range: 5.8 GHz: 10km (FCC); 6km (SRRC)

Reasons to buy

+
Incredibly compact size
+
Impressive battery life
+
Simple controls and app

Reasons to avoid

-
No 'follow me' mode
-
Pricier than Mavic Mini

One of our few complaints in our review of the DJI Mavic Mini was that it couldn't shoot 4K video – this excellent successor fixes that, while giving us a few extra treats in the process. The Mini 2 has the same ultra-compact design as before, making it the joint-smallest drone in DJI's line-up, but comes with a new controller that boosts it range (thanks to Ocusync 2.0 connectivity) and delivers a more polished flying experience. 

Like the Mavic Mini, it's packed with a generous selection of beginner-friendly QuickShot modes, which see the drone perform pre-programmed moves. But the Mini 2 offers more for pro snappers, too, thanks to the inclusion of raw photo shooting, while 4K video means the arrival of a boosted 100mbps bit-rate. While it remains a fine drone, it's worth bearing in mind that rumors about a possible DJI Mini 3 continue to swirl.

The DJI Mavic 3 drone sitting on a green surface

(Image credit: Future)
The best premium drone

Specifications

Weight: 895g (Mavic 3 Cine, 899g)
Controller: Yes
Camera resolution: 20MP
Flight time: 46 minutes
Range: 15km (FCC), 12km (CE)

Reasons to buy

+
Superb Four Thirds camera
+
Adjustable aperture
+
Telephoto lens

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricier than rivals
-
Some missing features at launch

Looking for the most powerful compact drone around? The DJI Mavic 3 is it. This aerial powerhouse is fronted by a dual-camera that mixes a large, 20MP Four Thirds sensor with a handy 162mm telephoto lens. The Mavic 3 fits all this into in a backpack-friendly bundle we were surprised to find is somehow lighter than the Mavic 2 Pro model it's based on.

Other improvements over its predecessor include a 46-minute battery life (in reality, about half an hour of actual flight time) and the ability to shoot 5K/50p video or 4K/120p slow-mo footage. Upgrade to the DJI Mavic 3 Cine bundle, and you'll get 1TB of internal storage, a very fancy DJI RC Pro controller and the ability to shoot video in Apple ProRes 422 HQ format. 

A couple of big firmware updates have finally added the polish and feature set we expected to see from the Mavic 3 at launch, making it the best camera drone around for outright image quality (if not value or portability).

The DJI Air 2S drone on a wooden table with its arms unfolded

(Image credit: Future)
The best all-round drone for aerial photographers

Specifications

Weight: 595g
Controller: Yes
Camera resolution: 20MP
Flight time: 31 minutes
Range: 8km-12km

Reasons to buy

+
Large 1-Inch sensor
+
Small and lightweight

Reasons to avoid

-
No adjustable aperture
-
Controller isn’t foldable

It's no longer the newest drone in DJI's lineup and recently lost its number one spot to the DJI Mini 3 Pro above, but the Air 2S remains an excellent choice if image quality is more important to you than size. This drone has the same 20MP 1-Inch sensor as the one found in the older Mavic 2 Pro, which gives it greater light-gathering powers than the Mini 3 Pro, and a compact, folding design. It's a combo that we loved in our review, making the Air 2S our top choice for hobbyists and pros who really need that larger sensor.

The new Mini 3 Pro (see above) is even smaller still, but this drone's camera is even better. The ability to shoot 5.4K video at 30fps gives you some extra creative flexibility, and supports a useful digital zoom option (even if we’d only recommend using that at 2x zoom). Throw in the ability to shoot 1080p at 120fps and some impressive high ISO performance, and you have a superb all-round flying machine that soars above its mid-range rivals. Those on a tighter budget should still consider the Mavic Air 2, though.

best drone Cetus Pro Drone on a wooden boardwalk

(Image credit: James Abbott)
The best FPV drone kit for beginners

Specifications

Weight: 45.8g
Controller: Yes
Camera resolution: N/A
Flight time: 5 minutes
Range: 80m

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable FPV kit
+
Robust build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited battery life
-
Can’t shoot photo of video

A complete yet affordable FPV kit, we think the BetaFPV is the best way for beginners to try first-person drone flight. The bundle comes with a full FPV setup, including goggles, batteries and a console-style controller, which you can also use to practice in simulators. 

Delivered ready to fly, the drone itself is incredibly light. FPV flight makes crashes more likely, but the Cetus is built tough enough to withstand most impacts. Turtle Mode means it can right itself remotely, while three speed settings and three flight modes offer flexibility for learners to improve. We found Normal to be the easiest to fly, while Manual/Acro is the most difficult, requiring careful control and throttle regulation.

Besides the potential nausea associated with FPV flight, there are two main drawbacks with the Cetus kit. Battery life is limited to just 4-5 minutes per charge, making backup cells a necessity, and there’s no option to record stills or video. But if you want an affordable way to sample the FPV experience, we still think it’s the top option.

The Autel Evo Lite+ drone flying outside in front of trees

(Image credit: Future)
A versatile rival to the DJI Air 2S

Specifications

Weight: 835g
Controller: Yes
Camera resolution: 20MP
Flight time: 40 minutes
Range: 12KM

Reasons to buy

+
1-inch sensor with adjustable aperture
+
40-minute flight time

Reasons to avoid

-
Costs more than Air 2S
-
No D-Log profile

As the flagship flying machine from Autel’s latest line-up of DJI rivals, the Evo Lite+ goes directly up against the Air 2S. Capable of shooting 5.4K footage at 30fps using a 1-inch sensor, it shares a remarkably similar spec sheet. But it also both leapfrogs the Air 2S and the Mavic Pro 2 with its 40-minute flight time and adjustable aperture (ranging from f/2.8 to f/11). The Lite+ model does lack the fourth-axis stabilization of its Evo Lite sibling, but the larger pixels on its sensor give it better light-gathering potential in dim conditions. 

Pro drone videographers might think twice about the lack of 10-bit video and D-Log profile, while the omission of side sensors for obstacle avoidance is a shame. But in all other respects, we found the Lite+ to be an impressively versatile piece of flying camera equipment in our review. For the money, its 20MP sensor is probably the best camera available on a drone today, which gives the Air 2S some serious competition.

The DJI Avata drone in flight

(Image credit: Future)
Not cheap, but this FPV drone's fun factor is off the charts

Specifications

Weight: 410g
Controller: Yes
Camera resolution: 48MP
Battery size: 2,420 mAh
Range: 10km (FCC), 2km (CE), 6km (SRRC)

Reasons to buy

+
Crash-resistant design
+
New Goggles ideal for small drone
+
Large sensor produces good footage

Reasons to avoid

-
No manual mode with standard controller
-
Annoying microSD card slot placement

FPV (or first-person view) drones are more niche affairs than the more sedate drones in this list, but they are a blast to fly – and the DJI Avata is the best around for beginners looking to dabble in this increasingly popular style of aerial filmmaking. Using a combination of DJI's Motion Controller and one of its two flavors of DJI Goggles, you can fly it indoors or outside while shooting impressive 4K/60p video.

Our review found one particularly frustrating design decision – the placing of a microSD card slot inside one of the Avata's blade rings. But otherwise, we found it to be impressively crash-resistant – mainly thanks to those propellor guards – and easy to fly, after a few practice runs. Your main decision will be whether to go for DJI's Motion Controller, which sees the drone respond to your hand movements, or pay the extra for DJI's more standard FPV Remote Controller ($139 / £139 / AU$229). Traditionalists will prefer the latter, but some may find the motion pad more intuitive.

Either way, you'll be able to fly the Avata around at top speeds of 60mph, while capturing some unique footage. Pro shooters will enjoy the support for DJI's 'flat' D-Cinelike profile, for color grading afterwards. And as long as you're aware of its limitations (like needing a 'spotter' alongside you if you shooting outdoors), the DJI Avata is an ideal choice for fledgling FPV pilots.

The DJI Mavic Air 2 drone on a wooden table with its arms unfolded.

(Image credit: Future)
Still offers great value for hobbyist fliers

Specifications

Weight: 570g
Controller: Yes
Camera resolution: 12MP
Battery size: 3,950 mAh
Range: 10km

Reasons to buy

+
Very easy to fly
+
Shoots great 4K/60p video
+
Strong 34-minute battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Camera feed sometimes stutters
-
No screen on the controller

Previously our number one drone, the Mavic Air 2 has been nudged out of the limelight by the arrival of the DJI Air 2S (see number one) and Autel Evo Lite+ (above). But you shouldn’t rule it out as an option – after all, in our review, we called it the 'sweet spot' all-rounder of drones. It’s more affordable than the Air 2S and may just suit you better, if you don’t need the new model’s larger 1-Inch sensor. 

It still shoots 4K/60p video, boasts an impressive 34-minute flight time and has a comparable maximum 10km range. You also get the same subject-tracking goodness as the Air 2S, a slightly longer 34-minute flight time, and that handy, compact folding design. While we’d stretch to the Air 2S if you can, due to its larger sensor and useful digital zoom, the Mavic Air 2 remains a great value option that is well worth considering.

Autel EVO Nano+

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)
A great compact drone that excels in low light

Specifications

Best for: Low-light shooters
Camera resolution: 12.5MP
Range: 16.8km
Weight: 249g
Battery size: 2250 mAh
Controller: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Big sensor and bright lens
+
Collision detection
+
Stunning video and stills

Reasons to avoid

-
Fragile
-
Still missing subject-tracking

The DJI Mini 3 Pro remains our top pick in the sub-250g drone category, but the colorful Evo Nano+ isn't far behind. Our tests found that its sensor trumps the DJI Mini 2, particularly in low-light situations, and it can handle windy conditions well for such small drone.

Like the DJI Mini 2, there's unfortunately no subject-tracking and also no API support to make it compatible with third-party apps. But otherwise, the Evo Nano+ is a superb compact drone, particularly if you need one that ducks under the 250g weight limit that in many regions can affect where you fly it. 

We found that it produced stunning 4K/30p video and stills, and the Autel Fly has also improved considerably since we first reviewed the drone. If you're looking for a small drone and a DJI alternative, then the Evo Nano+ should be near the top of your wishlist.

The tiny Ryze Tello drone in full flight during testing

(Image credit: Future)
The best cheap drone for first-time fliers

Specifications

Weight: 80g
Controller: Optional
Camera resolution: 5MP
Flight time: 13 minutes
Range: 100m

Reasons to buy

+
Responsive flight controls
+
Lightweight and compact

Reasons to avoid

-
Choppy video transmission
-
Unstable in wind

Simple, lightweight and affordable, the Ryze Tello is designed to be a fun drone for first-time flyers. And despite its budget price tag, the Tello offers plenty: the battery serves up a reasonable 13 minutes of flight time, while downward-facing light sensors allow the Tello to hover in place and perform a handful of automated tricks.

Our review found the image quality from the nose-mounted 5MP camera to be less impressive, with limited dynamic range and noticeable compression artifacts when streaming 720p HD video. Because video is beamed directly to your smartphone, the frame rate is affected by any drop in connection strength.

That said, the app is refreshingly simple and makes for a straightforward way to pilot the Tello, with an on-screen twin-stick setup that’s rewardingly responsive. The theoretical range is 100m, but 30-40m is more realistic – which, given how even the slightest breeze can blow the 80g Tello off course, is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Ryze Tello is fundamentally a fun drone to fly on a calm day, zipping along at a rapid chop and reacting nimbly to intuitive inputs. The limited range is somewhat restrictive but, provided you don’t mind choppy video, it’s nevertheless the best starter drone around.

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 drone on grass before take-off

(Image credit: Future)
A pro-friendly choice for those who need a sturdy, powerful quadcopter

Specifications

Weight: 1375g
Controller: Yes
Camera resolution: 20MP
Battery size: 6000mAh
Range: 8km

Reasons to buy

+
Large 1-inch 20MP sensor
+
Sturdy and fast drone
+
Shoots 4K/60p video at 100Mbps

Reasons to avoid

-
Large and bulky
-
More complex than foldables

DJI's Phantom range was the series that really took its drones to new heights – and while the Phantom 4 Pro V.20 isn't the newest model in this list, it remains a fine option for professionals who need something sturdy and reliable for windy conditions. Launched in 2018, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 was a big upgrade on the Phantom 4, bringing vastly improved obstacle avoidance and intelligent flight modes like ActiveTrack. Its 20MP 1-inch sensor can also shoot impressive raw stills and 4K/60p video at 100Mbps in the D-log color profile. 

Of course, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0's size (it weighs 1,375g) means it isn't as convenient as the foldable Mavic 2 Pro, which also has a 20Mp 1-inch sensor. But it does also bring a mechanical shutter (for avoiding rolling shutter) and boasts a higher 4K frame-rate than its smaller sibling. With some excellent handling and 30 minutes of flight time that we enjoyed in our review, it's certainly worth considering if you need to shoot high-quality aerial stills and video in challenging weather that might be too much for the Mavic 2 Pro.

The PowerVision PowerEgg X drone in full flight over a field during testing

(Image credit: Future)
An all-weather drone that converts into a handheld camera

Specifications

Weight: 522g
Controller: Yes
Camera resolution: 12MP
Flight time: 3,800 mAh
Range: 6km

Reasons to buy

+
Can fly in rain and land on water
+
Converts into a handheld camera

Reasons to avoid

-
Image quality falls short of rivals
-
Lacks Raw video modes

Ignore the culinary name: the PowerEgg X is a flyer, not a fryer. And in a market dominated by drones that don’t like water, PowerVision’s aerial orb is distinctive in its ability to fly in the rain and land on lakes (with the Wizard bundle). Image quality is affected by the plastic waterproof housing, but being able to operate in – and float upon – the wet stuff opens up a range of creative possibilities.

So, too, does the versatile modular design. The PowerEgg X can also be deployed as a handheld gimbal camera and an autonomous AI camera, which can be mounted to a tripod and controlled with hand-gestures. The flip-side of the adaptable setup is that we found it slower to deploy in our testing. It might be lightweight, but removing the protective casing from the body, adding the propeller arms and setting up the controller takes a few minutes.

Image quality isn’t class-leading, either. The PowerEgg X does produce decent, detailed 4K footage in bright conditions, but the fixed aperture, fixed-focus 12MP 1/2.8-inch CMOS sensor can’t compete with DJI’s Mavic drones. It’s also not currently possible to record in raw video formats. Still, for short, sharp video sequences in bad weather, the PowerEgg X is one of the best options around.

The FIMI X8 Mini drone in flight outside

(Image credit: Future)
A more affordable 4K alternative to the DJI Mini 2

Specifications

Weight: 258g
Controller: Yes
Camera resolution: 12MP
Battery Size: 3500mAh
Range: 8km

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to fly
+
Excellent battery life
+
Decent image quality

Reasons to avoid

-
No front collision sensors
-
Less polished than DJI Mini 2

While we think the DJI Mini 2 is the better mini drone overall, the impressive FIMI X8 Mini is a more affordable alternative – and worth considering if you can't stretch to the Mini 2's price tag. During testing, we found that it shoots high-quality 4K video with lots of detail, even if the dynamic range is understandably limited given its relatively small 1/2.6-inch sensor. And its companion app, while a little rough around the edges, is stable and offers a range of automated flight modes.

The X8 Mini can also be handily charged via USB-C and has a bundled controller that is actually more solidly built than the drone itself. If you just want a direct connection with your phone instead, there's also a 5.8Ghz Wi-Fi flight mode (although the range is limited to 100m when doing this). Overall, the FIMI X8 Mini offers good value for money and is a good DJI alternative – even if it isn't exactly a tech minnow, being part of the Xiaomi family.

How to choose the best drone for you

So how exactly do you choose the right drone to buy? The obvious place to start is budget. This guide is focused on drones that have cameras for shooting aerial photography and video, which tend to be pricier than hobbyist stunt drones. 

If you need 4K video quality, then we'd budget to spend at least $400 / £400. But if you're looking for a budget drone to improve your flying skills, rather than take high-quality footage and photos, then you can spend much less – the Ryze Tello, for example, costs just $99 / £99.

What specific features should you look out for? If you're looking for a drone that can automatically track you without needing to be directly controlled, look for one for a 'follow me' function. Models that have this function include the DJI Air 2S, DJI Mavic Air 2 and Skydio 2 (US-only).

Beginner fliers should also look out for drones with automated flight modes – like DJI's Intelligent Flight modes – which can pull off 'set piece' moves without the need for any real flying skills. Most drones use your smartphone as the controller, which plugs into an included pad – iOS and Android phones are usually both supported, but it's worth double-checking that your chosen drone works with your phone.

Something else that's worth checking are the local drone laws in your area. In many regions, drones that weigh below 250g don't need to be registered with local civil aviation authorities, which can give you a small saving. Most laws require you to keep your drone in line of sight, though, so you might not able to exploit its maximum range.

Photographers, meanwhile, should look out for raw photo support. This is less common in drones than cameras, but is becoming standard on newer models – the DJI Mini 2, for example, has raw support, but its DJI Mavic Mini predecessor doesn't. 

Should you buy DJI drones?

Despite the US government's decision in December 2020 to place Chinese drone maker DJI on its 'Entity List' – a trade blacklist that Huawei found itself on in 2019 – we're still more than happy to recommend its flying cameras.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the US government hasn't yet explained exactly why DJI was added to its 'Entity List' and DJI itself has strong refuted the decision, saying it "has done nothing to justify being placed on the list".

Also, more recently in June 2021, the Pentagon released a report stating that two "Government Edition" DJI Drones are "recommended for use by government entities". This doesn't mean that DJI has been given the all-clear, and Congress is mulling over a law that could ban the government for five years from 2023. 

But for consumers, there's no sign that DJI will be banned from selling its drones in the US – instead, the trade blacklist simply restricts DJI's access to US technologies for future products. So while it may well affect DJI's supply chains, all the big retailers like Amazon are still selling the company's drones as usual.

The decision of whether or not to buy DJI drones is a personal one, but we are very happy to continue recommending its class-leading models as usual. Right now, models like the DJI Air 2S remain the best in their class, and we see no reason not to recommend them to anyone looking to step into aerial photography.

Which brand of drones is best?

For many years, DJI has been the standout brand for drones with cameras. And while that continues to be the case, the Chinese company has come under fire in recent times – both from increased competition and run-ins with the US government. This hasn't changed our opinion of whether or not you should buy a DJI drone (as you can read above), but it is good to finally see some healthy competition in the drone space.

In the US, Skydio has become a standout brand for obstacle-avoidance powers, which make it a strong contender for those who need 'follow me' functionality. And more recently, we've been impressed by the offerings from another Chinese company, Autel, which is making very good DJI rivals at different price points. For now, we still think DJI is the best overall brand for drones, but there are now lots of alternatives, particularly if you have a specific use case for a flying camera. 

The DJI Mini 3 Pro drone in flight in a forest

(Image credit: DJI)

How we test drones

While the cameras are the main focus of the drones we review, we also test their flying performance to see how easy they are to operate. We check their stabilization in the air, their responsiveness and their top speed. Perhaps most importantly, we also assess their obstacle avoidance – which is particularly crucial if you want a drone that automatically tracks and follows a subject.

After testing the drone's battery life claims based on some real-world flights, we then move onto their cameras. We shoot a range if clips at different resolutions and frame-rates, including high-contrast scenes to push their dynamic range to the limit, plus some low-light scenes. Automated flight modes are also tested to see whether they're genuinely useful or fun gimmicks.

A folded DJI Mavic 3 drone resting on a patio

(Image credit: Future)

These videos are then assessed on a calibrated monitor, along with the drone's still photos (which we shoot in maximum resolution in both JPEG and raw, at various ISOs). When it comes to image quality, we look at detail, sharpness across the frame, and high ISO noise handling, to see which conditions you can reasonably expect to shoot usable video and stills in. We then combine these results with our overall impression of the drone's design, features and value to produce our final verdict.