Capture sharp, cinematic images from the heavens with the best drones. Drones are a marvel in the world of photography, allowing photographers to easily capture images from angles they've never had access to before. And, they have become vital tools, especially for landscape and architecture shooters and videographers.
Landing the right one requires careful research and consideration of your specific needs and budget. But, in a vast sky of models, some have proven to be better than others. Your ideal drone choice is determined by skill level and budget, of course, but the top options still need to tick a few vital things off the list as well.
When choosing the best drone for you, you also need to consider things like how easy and seamless it is to fly and whether it has automated modes for stable yet creative shooting.
What new drones will take to the skies in 2023? The biggest player in the industry DJI recently launched the Mavic 3 Classic which impressed our in-house expert during review. All that remains to complete the company’s current gen consumer-level drones would be an update to the DJI Air 2S – and we’ve wrote about what to expect in the would-be DJI Air 3, one of the most anticipated drones for 2023.
And although DJI is synonymous with drones in the same way Garmin is with fitness trackers, there are other options for aerial photography and video, especially for those that want to save a bit of money. We haven’t seen any solid rumors floating around about the likes of Autel, and with no action during CES it could indeed be a quiet few months.
Will 2023 be the year that 8K video recording makes its way into DJI’s foldable drones? So far DJI hasn’t felt the need to match the Autel Evo II 8K – which became the first foldable drone with 8K video at the end of 2020. Let’s wait and see.
Timothy Coleman, Cameras editor
We’ve spent hundreds of hours testing the best drones, and we set out our favorites in the list below. 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, detailing every pick's positives and drawbacks.
We think the best drone for most people is the DJI Mini 3 Pro. It packs a seriously impressive skill set for such a small drone, with a fantastic camera and three-directional obstacle avoidance. However, if you're looking for the best cheap drone, we recommend taking a look at the Ryze Tello, which we highly rate for buyers on a tight budget. And, if you're a professional pilot with deeper pockets, the DJI Mavic 3 is a tough tool to beat as that dual-camera setup establishes a new benchmark for image quality from a consumer drone.
From backpack-friendly folding drones to professional quadcopters, these are the best drones on the market right night. Be sure to check out some our expert tips and the best deals, which we've included below, while making your choice so you're getting the best bang for your buck.
The best drone 2023
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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.
- Read our in-depth DJI Mini 3 Pro review
If you don’t need the reassurance of collision avoidance, the Mini 3 is the best budget drone you can buy. Small, lightweight and more affordable than the Mini 3 Pro, it delivers identical image quality to its costlier sibling. Provided you’re confident to navigate in-flight obstacles without automated assistance, it’s a high-quality drone capable of capturing excellent JPEG and raw stills, as well as 4K video at up to 30fps. Helpfully, its 12MP sensor can also rotate to shoot in portrait.
A lack of Log profiles limits its appeal to professionals, while the absence of subject tracking marks another downgrade from the Pro version. That said, the Mini 3 still features Quickshots, which allow beginners to capture cinematic footage using automated flight paths. We found it an easy drone to pilot with the optional controller, with downward vision sensors and GPS to help with hovering. Stepping up to the Mavic 3 Classic would yield better image quality and increased stability in windy conditions, but with decent real-world flight times of 25 minutes, the Mini 3 ticks all the key boxes for budget buyers.
- Read our in-depth DJI Mini 3 review
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).
- Read our in-depth DJI Mavic 3 review
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.
- Read our in-depth DJI Air 2S review
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.
- Read our in-depth BetaFPV Cetus Pro Kit review
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.
- Read our in-depth Autel Evo Lite+ review
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.
- Read our in-depth DJI Avata review
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.
- Read our in-depth DJI Mavic Air 2 review
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.
- Read our in-depth Autel Evo Nano+ review
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.
- Read our in-depth Ryze Tello review
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.
- Read our in-depth DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 review
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.
- Read our in-depth PowerVision PowerEgg X review
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.
- Read our in-depth FIMI X8 Mini review
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.
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.
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.