In August 2021, Autel threw DJI something of a curveball when it announced four new drones in two new series: the Evo Nano Series containing the Nano and Nano+, plus the Evo Lite Series and its Lite and Lite+ models.
What wasn’t apparent at the time was that DJI was moving to bring the DJI Mavic 3 to market, a drone that none of these designs competes directly with. But, what these new drones did target was three of DJI’s most successful products: the DJI Mini 2, DJI Air 2S and DJI Mavic 2 Pro.
The flagship model of this new Autel generation is the Evo Lite+, a drone with a remarkably similar specification to the Air 2S. It's able to capture 5.4K video at 30fps and 4K at up to 60fps using a low-light capable 1-inch sensor. Offering a variable aperture camera and 40 minutes of flying time, the new Autel Evo Lite+ leapfrogs both the DJI Air 2S and Mavic Pro 2 capabilities.
For existing Autel fans, it offers almost everything they love about the Evo II series, but in a more transportable package and with significantly better flight times. The only obvious caveat is that the Evo Lite+ costs more than the DJI Air 2S, with the standard version commanding a similar price to the Air 2S Fly More Combo. DJI now doesn’t officially sell the Mavic 2 Pro since it launched the Mavic 3, but the Evo Lite+ is cheaper than that drone was when it was available.
The Evo Lite comes in two flavors that offer the same flight dynamics, but different camera options. The cheaper Lite model has the same 1/1.28-inch sensor and autofocus f/1.9 optics that Autel also used on the Evo Nano+. These can record 4K HDR at 30fps video recording and the equivalent of 50MP stills. It also has a four-axis gimbal allowing for recording video and still images in portrait mode, for those looking to publish on social media.
Conversely, the Evo Lite+ reviewed here has a 1-inch sensor and a variable aperture: f/2.8 to f/11, and can record in 5.4K at 30fps, 4K at 60 fps, and 1080p at 120fps. It lacks the fourth-axis stabilization of the Evo Lite, but the larger pixels in the sensor give it better light-gathering potential in low-light conditions. Both Lite series designs come in signature Autel Orange, Arctic White and Deep Space Gray.
- These are the best drones you can buy right now
Autel Evo Lite+ price and release date
- Announced on August 28, 2021
- Standard kit costs £1,129 / $1,349 / AU $2,499
- Fly More Bundle costs £1,399 / $1,649 / AU $2,999
After making some customers who pre-ordered these drones anxious, the Evo Lite+ started to ship from the manufacturing facilities in China, and availability should improve over the first quarter of 2022.
Like most drones, the Evo Lite+ is available as a standard kit or in a premium bundle that includes many extras, including more batteries. The standard kit consists of the drone, controller, one battery, propellers, a charger with all cables, and costs $1,349 / £1,129 / AU $2,499.
The premium bundle adds two more batteries, a soft carry bag, three prop replacements, a multi-battery charger and four ND filters. Even with a quoted flying time of 40 minutes or more, a single battery isn’t enough for most customers, so getting up to two hours of operational flying with the premium pack is the way to go.
Design and controller
- Mounts a 1-inch camera sensor
- Another compact, foldable design
- Extra battery capacity delivers longer flight times
Since the original DJI Mavic was so successful, many (but not all) drone makers have followed its structural form.
The Lite+ follows the same pattern as most small drones that can fold for transportation. Four pivoting arms aid with rapid deployment as the blades can remain attached.
Physically, the Lite+ is close to the size of the competitor drone, but at 820g, it’s a good 20% heavier than the 595g DJI Air 2S. Much of that additional mass comes from the battery, which makes up a significant portion of the rear drone superstructure. Instead of the battery fitting inside the drone, it slides from the rear to engage the body and includes the power-on button.
The capacity of this battery is a whopping 6,174mAh (68.7 Wh), a significant increase over the 3,500mAh (40.42 Wh) that the DJI Air 2S has, and this capacity is reflected in a maximum flight time of 40 minutes over the 30 minutes of the DJI drone.
While the 30 minutes quoted by DJI for the Air 2S is considered something of a stretch by most owners, the Lite+ can hover for longer than that if you let the battery levels get low.
We wouldn’t recommend doing that, but our experience revealed that Lite+ could fly for at least 30 minutes or more before getting to 20% capacity. A time that allows for great opportunities to get the shots needed without feeling pressured for time.
The nose of the Lite+ is dominated by the large gimbal needed to control the 1-inch sensor and its associated optics, about which we’ll talk in greater detail later.
Anyone who flies drones will be acutely aware that any mistake can be a costly error when flying close to structures and trees. To reduce the possibility of accidents, Autel included a suite of visual collision detection sensors on the front, rear and underside.
There are none on the side, making orbital maneuvers as risky as they are on a drone without avoidance features. These sensors require light to function and are disabled if the drone exceeds standard speeds.
Other notable design choices on this drone are that the microSD card slot is on the left side under a small cover, and a USB-C port is in the mirror position to the right. The drone contains 6GB of internal memory to save the embarrassment of those who forget their SD card, and it can take a 256GB card for those aiming to record plenty of 5.4K video.
Short pegs are molded under each motor position and lift the drone clear of the ground. Still, we’d be cautious about operating this design from grass since the camera gimbal is remarkably close to the surface of even the flattest ground.
Bright LED lights are included both underneath the body and on the end of each arm, making the drone relatively easy to see in low-light or dark conditions. The props are the dual blade variety where centrifugal (or centripetal) forces orientate them when spinning, and they are easily removable without a tool.
We were impressed by the quality of construction and the apparent robustness of the parts. The Lite+ is well built, and the tolerances of the connecting parts are high. We’re sure that it would be possible to damage the Lite+ seriously, especially flying in sport mode. However, the body and arms look tough enough to handle minor accidents without unexpected rapid disassembly.
Equally well-made is the controller, a design that initially looked a little too much like an Xbox controller for our tastes. That said, it’s of high quality, has sufficient battery for at least three or four flights, and the sticks are accurate enough for subtle control without resorting to ‘smooth’ mode, the Autel version of DJI’s ‘tripod’ or ‘cine’ flight mode.
A slight disappointment with the controller is that there isn’t anywhere to store the thumbsticks. Autel doesn’t include spares even in the premium pack, so losing them could be highly problematic. While the DJI controller used on the Mini 2, Air 2S and Mavic 3 might not be as ergonomic to hold as the Autel design, it did stow both the thumbsticks and the phone cable.
A spring-loaded arm extends to securely hold a phone above the controller, though some additional hardware will be required to mount a tablet. Included is a power adapter that will charge both the batteries and the remote. The remote can also be charged using a USB-C cable in a pinch.
In the premium pack, a three-battery charging station is included. It doesn’t speed up the 90 minutes of charging, but the ability to connect them all and walk away is a convenience.
Other enhancements for premium pack customers are two extra batteries over the one included with the drone, more replacement blades than the one set that comes as standard, and a stylish soft carry case for the drone, charger, cables and all the other spares and accessories.
A set of four ND filters was also in the bag, but the missing item for us was any strap to hold the blades in position while folded.
Features and flight
- New Fly application
- Live 2.7K video within a kilometer
- Real-world flight times of more than 30 minutes
The flight experience of this drone is enjoyable, and transitioning from a DJI drone or other brands should be a breeze for even novice pilots.
What became more apparent as we flew the Evo Lite+ more is that the significant amount of power available in the Lite+ allows for both subtle control and dramatic performance when required.
For example, the Lite+ can climb at 29 km/h, enabling it to reach its typical legal operating altitude of 120m in just 15 seconds. Without restrictions, a flight ceiling of 5 km (16,404 ft) is technically possible, though inadvisable. A top speed of 67.6 km/h can be reached in sport mode, roughly the same maximum as the DJI Air 2S.
However, where this design exceeds the Air 2S is in quoted maximum wind resistance, with the Lite+ being rated to handle 61.2 km/h (38 mph) breeze, nearly double that of the Air 2S.
While we firmly believe that the wind resistance of the Air 2S is probably understated, the extra mass of the Lite+ may give it a significant advantage on blustery days.
Up to a kilometer away, the transmission system relays 2.7K video back to the phone or tablet, enabling a clear view of what the drone is observing. Beyond that range, the quality drops to 720p. And for those flying in a region where it is legal to operate outside visual range, the Lite+ transmission can function out to 7km.
At shorter ranges, being behind buildings or other obstructions had minimal impact on the video quality or the control responses.
For the new Evo Lite and Nano drone series, Autel has a new software package that replaces the Autel Explorer with the Autel Sky application. In use, it is similar to the DJI Fly application and provides similar functionality that anyone flying the DJI Mini 2 or Air 2S would recognize.
It includes a selection of four 'quick shots' that are named differently but automate various classic drone moves without the need for manual intervention. Autel promises a firmware update shortly that will add dynamic tracking and a few other tweaks that aren’t in the Lite+ we tested.
We’ll talk more about video and still capture later on, but there are plenty of options for all manner of photographic exercises. In the settings are the usual suspects for controlling what happens when the drone disconnects, its return-to-home altitude, and the different controller flight modes.
By default, when the drone is first activated, it enters Novice mode, where the height and range from the controller are limited. Once Novice mode is deactivated, you can set these to the legal limits in your region, but this flight envelope isn’t enforced, and the drone isn’t geofenced.
In smooth and standard flight modes, the collision detection system is active and provides visual and audio feedback if you are moving toward obstructions. Should you ignore the warnings and push on, the drone will eventually refuse to move in the direction it considers to be potentially hazardous.
Depending on what you are trying to do, this can be irritating or a feature that could avoid a huge repair cost. It is possible to disable it, and it will turn off automatically when the drone is flying fast in Sport mode, but it has its uses. The system might also miss thin wires and twigs, and it can’t see to the sides, so never assume that it will always keep you from trouble.
Video and image quality
- 1-inch 20MP sensor
- Shoots up to 5.4K video
- Clean images even at high ISO settings
Emblazoned with a ‘6K’ label, the camera has a maximum recording resolution of 5472 x 3076 at 30fps recording video and 5472 x 3648 for still images. That’s almost identical to what the DJI Air 2S offers, but that drone has a fixed f/2.8 lens, whereas the Lite+ can adjust aperture from f/2.8 to f/11.
That allows this drone to lock its frame rate but control the amount of light in the exposure, reducing the need for ND filters. And, if you do use ND filters with it, there is a much larger scope for adjustment and better depth of field control.
The advantage of a 5.4K resolution sensor is that it allows a good margin for cropping to 4K in post, or a lossless zoom in 4K, 2.7K and 1080p capture. Obviously, you only get a 1.3x lossless zoom in 4K, but more in the lower resolutions.
Going beyond 4x zooming is largely pointless, but the Fly app will allow up to 16x zoom to be selected for those that like pixelation.
Automatic settings shot
Automatic settings shot
HDR from 5 images
HDR from 5 images
HDR from 5 images
Standard settings shot
Wide panoramic stitched by Sky app
Night mode shot
Standard photo settings
Wide panoramic stitched by Sky app
As you might reasonably expect using a sensor of this scale, the quality of the images and video it can capture is high.
Professional drone cinematographers might not be pleased to discover that this camera is only 8-bit and not 10-bit. And, there is also no D-Log profile. For those who pride themselves on extracting every bit of contrast and saturation from their footage, the Lite series is something of an affront.
For others with less demanding requirements, it produces usable footage that is reasonably balanced by default without the need for convoluted post-processing. It’s a different mindset, and those who don’t like this approach can always invest more heavily in the DJI Mavic 3 or the disturbingly expensive DJI Mavic 3 Cine.
Autel tells us that it's working on LUT for the standard profile, as it did for the Evo II series drones.
The Evo Lite+ shines in its low-light capability, as it offers unique night photography and videography modes. With these, it is possible to boost the ISO up to 64000, yet keep excessive grain from rendering the footage unusable.
The best still images we captured in normal light used the exposure bracketing mode with five combined images. This feature doesn’t allow the EV offset between each image to be defined, sadly.
There are also various panoramic, spherical and wide-field shooting modes, and the Autel Fly application post-processes these for you while retaining the source images.
As will most action cameras, the images tend to have strong pin-barrel distortion that might need to be adjusted in editing software, but the results are generally free of chromatic fringing.
Overall, the image and video quality on the Lite+ is excellent, even if there is no Log mode or bit-rate adjustment available. The autofocusing technology is first-rate, and the stability of the drone provides an excellent platform for stationary and moving cinematography.
Should I buy the Autel Evo Lite+?
Buy it if...
You need aperture control
The inclusion of aperture adjustment on the Lite+ addresses one of the biggest complaints that DJI Air 2S owners had about that design. It was on the Mavic 2 Pro, and it is on the Mavic 3, coincidentally. It won’t compete with the Hasselblad optics and Four Thirds sensor of the DJI Mavic 3, but at this lower price, the Lite+ is probably the best camera available on a drone today.
You need more time to get those shots
As a rule, getting below 5% of the battery capacity on a flight is considered poor planning and going much lower could be detrimental to battery lifespan. That reduces the working time available in a 30-minute battery to less than 25 minutes and puts extra pressure on the operator to make every second in the air count. Having up to 40 minutes of flying time allows for more time to check for optimal camera settings, getting the perfect positioning and multiple attempts.
You’ve given DJI enough money already
When a single company dominates any sector, it's never a good thing for customers, and DJI needs the competition that Autel is bringing to keep the pace of change going.
The Lite+ demonstrates that Autel can make hardware that’s at least as good as DJI, if not marginally better in some respects. It isn’t cheap, but those expecting the DJI Air 3 to be the same price as the Air 2S are likely to be disappointed when it launches.
Don't buy it if...
You recently bought the DJI Air 2S
With a very similar sensor and capability, the Lite+ doesn’t offer a compelling reason to ditch the perfectly good drone for another marginally better one. While the Lite+ does offer some improvements in flight time and camera control, the image quality and performance are close enough that justifying the extra outlay isn’t easy. Some flyers might want to wait for the DJI Air 3 and see what that offers, not unreasonably.
You like flying in residential areas
As great a drone as the Lite+ is, its weight means that it can’t get away with the lesser restrictions placed on 250g or lighter designs. Depending on your region, this might significantly curtail your ability to fly even with qualifications, with hefty fines for those that break these rules. For those who wish to overfly congested areas, it may be worth considering the Autel Evo Nano and Nano+ designs, as these are less than 250g.
You are concerned about ‘C’ Labels
As it stands, the Autel EVO Lite+ doesn’t come with an EU ‘C’ label, making it technically a ‘legacy’ drone when the legislation covering the labeling scheme comes into force in December 2022. These rules might limit where you can legally fly the Lite+ should it not get a label after the legislation becomes active. Hopefully, this drone will get a label at some point, but considering how much of this law and its implementation seems yet to be defined, it is impossible to guarantee that.