This month we've seen the welcome arrival of some fresh competition for DJI's drones. We still think the DJI Air 2S and new Mavic 3 Pro are the best choices for most people, but Autel's new offerings, in particular the Autel Evo Lite+, now offer a compelling alternative.
For example, the Evo Lite+ brings a strong battery life and a useful adjustable aperture to mid-range drones, along with an impressive 20MP 1-inch camera. The downside of it being so new, though, is that some features are still to be added via a firmware update and it doesn't have an SDK for third-party developers to make apps for it.
By contrast, DJI has recently released an SDK for the Air 2S and some other models in this list like the Mini 2, which means they work with apps like Litchi. If you're looking to unlock extra talents in your DJI drone, like subject-tracking on the Mini 2, then those kinds of apps are well worth investigating.
Mark Wilson, Cameras editor
Welcome to our in-depth guide to the best drones you can buy in 2022. Whether you're searching for your first flying camera or are a more experienced aerial filmmaker who needs an upgrade, we've spent countless hours in the air with the world's best drones to bring you our ranked guide below. (Just getting started? You can also check out our separate guide on the best beginner drones).
What's the best drone you can buy right now? That depends a little on your needs and experience, but we think the best one for most people is still the DJI Air 2S. Despite some fresh competition from the Autel Evo Lite+, this folding flier offers a fine blend of portability and performance, thanks to its impressive 1-inch sensor, intelligent flight modes and useful 31-minute battery life. Whether you're a novice or an experienced landscape photographer, it's a great companion for trips to the great outdoors.
That said, the Air 2S isn't necessarily the best drone for everyone. If you want an even better camera in a similarly-sized bundle, then the newer Autel Evo Lite+ is well worth investigating. And when it comes to mini, travel-friendly drones, the new DJI Mini 3 Pro is our new top choice – although for those on a tighter budget, the DJI Mini 2 remains an excellent compact drone that's also compatible with third-party apps.
Looking to spend a bit more on the ultimate aerial imaging tool? The DJI Mavic 3 is tough to beat. It’s inescapably expensive, but its dual-cam configuration – which includes a superb Four Thirds sensor with adjustable aperture – sets a new standard for in-flight filming. Now that a firmware update has unlocked its full suite of features and skills, it’s the easily best drone DJI has ever made.
Whatever you’re looking for from a camera drone, our list will help you find it. From affordable options to powerful, pro-friendly quadcopters, we’ve covered the very best drones for every type of pilot. Overwhelmed by the choice? Head to the bottom of our guide for top tips on what to consider when choosing the best drone for you in 2022.
The best drone in 2022:
The superb Air 2S combines the best features of our two previous favorite DJI drones, the Mavic Air 2 and Mavic 2 Pro. You get the compact, folding design of the former, plus the 20MP 1-Inch sensor found in the latter. The combination is a brilliant one that we loved in our review, making the Air 2S our top choice for hobbyists and also professionals who need a small drone that they can take anywhere.
The new Mini 3 Pro (see below) 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
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
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.
- Read our in-depth DJI Mini 2 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
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
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
The DJI FPV is a unique drone that's a great introduction to first-person view flying. Like a combination of a speedy racing drone and DJI's Mavic series, it's a huge amount of fun to fly thanks to its impressive video headset, which gives you the sensation of soaring like an eagle. But it also comes with a few more limitations than DJI's other drones.
One of the main drawbacks is the laws around flying FPV drones – while this varies depending on which country you're in, most regions require you to have a 'spotter' companion standing next to you as you fly, because the DJI Goggles V2 mean the pilot won't have direct line of sight with the drone.
If you're not planning to fly solo, though, and don't mind this restriction, then the DJI FPV is a fantastic option for first-timers. It's faster and more nimble than any other DJI drone, with a top speed of 87 mph, but also has three different flight modes (Normal, Sport and Manual) to help it appeal to different kinds of flier.
Unlike most FPV drones, it's also capable of shooting very impressive 4K video. The gimbal is only a single-axis affair (rather than the three-axis kind you get on the likes of the DJI Mavic Air 2), but electronic image stabilization steps in to ensure the footage is smooth, and you can also shoot 1080p in a slo-mo frame-rate of 120fps.
If you're looking for automated flying modes, though, then you'll be better off with the DJI Air 2S – this drone is all about the FPV flying experience, with the added bonus of shooting 4K video and 12MP stills. During testing, we found that it does that very well but comes with a learning curve and legal restrictions that ensure it's a little more niche than DJI's other drones – hence it's position a little further down this list.
- Read our in-depth DJI FPV 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.
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