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The best drones combine the sheer exhilaration of flight (especially when experienced in conjunction with one of the best VR headsets) with the childlike joy you get steering an RC car around the open asphalt. The drone market has really boomed in the last few years, too, which means a growing range of options, whether you're a total beginner or a seasoned pro looking to enter your drone in a high-stakes drone racing league.
That said, price is a key consideration for most people, and luckily there are a lot of excellent budget options out there now for those that don't want to spend as much on their new toy as on a used car. Beyond that, there's camera integration and quality, as well as how compatible each drone is with the best drone accessories. We selected the best options across a wide range of budgets and use cases, to spare you some shopping headaches and get you flying ASAP.
Long battery life
Excellent 4K 60 FPS footage
Easy to set up and use, even for newbies
Camera isn’t the best in low light
The app can’t edit 4K video
If you’re looking for the best all-rounder, whether you’re a new or experienced pilot, it’s got to be the DJI Mavic Air 2, which replaced the popular Mavic Air. DJI has upped its offerings and still kept the price reasonable, making it also one of the best value drones.
With an average flight time of 34 minutes, you’ve got plenty of time to set up shots and capture epic video. The specs are impressive too, with the Mavic Air 2 delivering 4K/60fps video on a three-axis gimbal for stability. Photos are crisp and clear, at 48MP resolution. It’s also the first drone with 8K HyperLapse capabilities. Although the footage isn’t as great in low-light, most of us are flying in daylight hours anyway.
At 1.25 lb, it’s portable and easy to take on the road, and it can fold up to easily fit in the palm of your hand. As with all DJI drones, they make flying, take-off, and landing as simple as possible, so even new pilots should be able to pick it up quickly.
While the Mavic Air 2 isn’t the biggest or the best, it’s the overall best choice for anyone wanting cutting-edge features, stunning photo and video, and a long flying time.
Quieter than most of its competitors
Compatible with DJI Goggles
20 MP photos and 4K video at 60 fps
Streaming video can be glitchy
If you’re looking for the perfect drone to take your creativity to the next level, or if you work in videography, look no further than the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0. The advanced camera features, including 20 megapixels, 4K video, and an accurate mechanical shutter put it on par with many traditional cameras. It delivers stunning video and images that any photographer would be proud of.
With a reasonable flight time of 30 minutes and a range of 11 miles, you’ve got a lot to work with in terms of setting up your shot and creating sweeping artistic videography. While larger than some of the other drones reviewed here, it’s able to fold and should fit in a large backpack. It’s easy to control and fly, with accurate obstacle detection and top speeds of 45 mph.
The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 has a few new features compared to previous models, including quieter propellers and a controller that uses OcuSync transmission, allowing you to turn your drone into a VR experience with the DJI Goggles.
Try out this drone if you’re looking for something above the average consumer product, but you don’t need a high-end professional drone. Although video streaming can be a little glitchy, we can look past that on this overall fantastic drone.
Class-leading photo and video performance
Easy to fly
Highly portable design
Very smart obstacle avoidance
Susceptible to wind
If you want to take drone activity to new heights (literally), the DJI Mavic 2 Pro makes a pretty great splurge. This drone is an evolution of its predecessor, capable of staying airborne for 31 minutes and hitting speeds of 44 miles per hour during flight — faster the previous generation. But we think drone aficionados will find their true joy in the new DJI software. Features like ActiveTrack 2.0 assist the drone with following moving subjects autonomously. Seeing real-time video is better than ever in 1080p with the addition of OcuSync 2.0, and eight gigabytes of storage (with SD card capacity up to 128GB) allow for plenty of HD footage or images from the 20MP camera.
Software upgrades have improved the steering and navigation, adding omnidirectional sense and avoidance via 10 sensors across the drone’s body. It also has 3D mapping features to help it avoid crashes. That, plus the promise of five years of software support, ensures a long-lasting product that’s worth the investment. Our reviewer Jonno loved the Mavic 2 Pro's amazing photo and video quality, and the easy to pick up and learn controls.
"The drone we’ve all been waiting for, delivering professional camera results and ample obstacle avoidance in a foldable design small enough to take absolutely anywhere." — Jonno Hill, Product Tester
Can be unsteady
The Contixo F18 Advanced GPS Quadcopter is loaded with interesting features that make this drone a great value compared to similar drones on the market. Thanks to built-in GPS, the F18 knows its location and where it is in relation to you. The return-to-home system commands the drone to move back to the home point when the battery gets too low or when the control signal goes out of range, so you are less likely to lose your drone after a long day of flying. Four powerful brushless motors give it the ability to quickly gain or drop in altitude and stop on a dime, yet they consume less battery life than non-brushless motors so you can fly longer. The onboard FPV FHD camera gives you a drone’s eye view – simply link the camera to the Contixo F18 app and the 5.0GHz band Wi-Fi beams you real-time images with zero latency up to 500 meters away.
32MP sensor, 4K video
8GB of storage
Optional VR accessory is poor quality
The Mavic Air takes most of the features DJI has implemented in their Pro drone line and just packs them into a much smaller package. It isn’t exactly mini-drone sized when it’s fully unfolded, but once folded up, DJI touts a size no taller or thicker than the average smartphone. Even the intuitive controller folds up to a smaller size, too, so clearly, DJI was building this drone with portability in mind.
The DJI Mavic Air offers a 32MP sensor, 4K video capability up to 30 fps, and fully panoramic image functions. There’s a 3-axis gimbal for stability when filming in flight, and there’s some pretty detailed environment sensing to help the drone get its bearings while flying. The model delivers up to 21 minutes of flight time, which is on par with much of the mid-to-pro-level drone market. There’s 8GB of onboard storage, HDR capabilities, and more.
The mini drone has a bunch of built-in quick shot functions that let the unit fly itself in preprogrammed aerial patterns, and DJI has even created a SmartCapture mode which lets you control the craft with hand gestures. Hook it up to the DJI Fly app and you can even control the drone with some cool features there, including a tap-to-fly option where you literally touch the place on the camera you want the copter to fly. The whole thing weighs only 430g — a true marvel of engineering for its size. Pick up this package on Amazon and you’ll get everything you need to start filming amazing flight-perspective vistas.
Surprisingly stable flight
Poor video quality
If you've never flown a drone before, it’s best to start small, start inexpensive and start with something great, like the Syma X5SW, an updated version of the popular Syma X5C. Praised by general technology and drone-specific sites alike, the Syma is a great way to introduce yourself to the drone world.
At just .26 pounds, the X5SW is capable of a six to seven-minute flight time, typical of a low price range. However, unlike some of its similarly-priced competition, the X5SW is capable of being flown both indoors and outdoors, thanks to a wind-resistant build. It’s also under the FAA weight limit, so no need to register before flying.
A six-axis gyro stabilization helps ensure that the X5SW has maximum stability during its flight time. You can easily take HD photos and video while in flight, but we’d temper any expectations about the quality since it’s still an entry-level model.
Try sticking close to home until you move beyond the “new out of the box” phase. Thankfully, Syma packs four spare propellers and four spare blade guards to help repair any damage from those almost guaranteed first-timer crashes. While the battery life might be short and its built-in camera less than stellar, its overall value makes this drone a top recommendation for beginners.
Doesn’t require FAA registration
Decent battery life and flight time
No 4K video
You can’t shoot in RAW
This DJI Mavic Mini is a top choice for those looking for a small, compact drone or for those looking for a quality product on a smaller budget. It may be a ‘mini’, but it’s still one of the best drones under $500 for those who simply want to fly, take photos, and have fun, without the bells and whistles of more premium models.
It’s incredibly lightweight– similar to the weight of your smartphone. This means it doesn’t require government registration, so you can start flying straight out of the box. The Mini offers three-axis stabilization for a smooth flight, and 2.7K video resolution may be less than the desirable 4K, but it’s good enough for many. At a flight time of around 30 minutes, it rivals some of the higher-end models when it comes to airtime.
However, it does lack obstacle avoidance, found on other DJI models, so fly with care— especially when you’re first learning how to man the controls. When you’re done for the day, it folds up into a small, compact design, ideal for travel.
Consider the DJI Mavic Mini for a lot of fun. Both casual flyers and more experienced pilots will enjoy this nifty little drone.
The DJI Mavic Pro is by a lot of metrics the perfect drone, a great balance of power, portability, and features. For the true enthusiast, however, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is an unbelievable product, truly the cutting edge of consumer drone tech in every regard.
Our expert reviewer and tester evaluate drones on a number of factors. For starters, we examine the size and design, taking into account my many rotors the drone has, how portable it is, and if it comes with an included remote control or camera. Next, take it out to a park or wilderness area and test how easy it is to learn and fly. We pay attention to the learning curve of learning the control, and how much latency there is in video transmission (if the controller has such a feature). We also look at flight capabilities like omnidirectaonal sensing, obstacle avoidance, tracking, and automatic landing.
A key part of our evaluation is testing out various flight modes, and putting the battery life to the test to see if it lives up to expected flight time and range. More advanced drones may have pilot assistance systems and the ability to perform advanced flight maneuvers, which is something we also test. If the drone includes a camera built-in we use it and evaluate the camera resolution, focus, tracking, frame rate, and other key features. Finally, we take a look at the price of the drone and compare its features to a competitor in the same range to make our final judgement. All of the drones we test are purchased by Lifewire; none are provided by the manufacturer.
David Beren is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience, with a background in mobile devices and consumer tech. He's previously written for tech companies like T-Mobile, Sprint, and TracFone Wireless.
Jonno Hill is a tech journalist with broadly varied experience, ranging from gaming to mobile devices and across the entire industry. He's written for several top tech and culture sites.
Range - The range of a drone indicates how far it can fly without losing communication. Some professional-grade gadgets can fly up to four miles away, while some budget options are limited to 150 feet.
Battery life - Battery life is a factor that many drone manufacturers are still trying to nail down. Some drones can only fly for six to eight minutes, while more powerful ones can last up to 30 minutes. If you’re worried about the battery life, look for one with a “return to home” feature, which automatically directs the drone back home when the battery gets too low.
Speed - Considering range and battery life are generally the limiting factors of a drone, speed might not be all that important to you. Still, some professional drones can travel up to 45 miles per hour, which is quite impressive.