The 8 Best Drones of 2021

See the world from above with these top drones

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown
"This drone is the complete package, offering the most advanced sensors and software on the market."
"The DJI FPV drone includes everything you need to get started—goggles, controller, and drone"
Best Ultra Portable:
DJI Mini 2 at Amazon
"DJI has managed to achieve a minuscule size without sacrificing anything in terms of this drone’s features. "
"The key feature here is the Evo II’s 48MP sensor with 8k 24fps video capability — a shocking amount of resolution in a sensor."
Best Zoom Lens:
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom at Amazon
"This drone features a small 1/2.3” sensor and a zoom lens with a 2x (24mm - 48mm) optical zoom range."
"Using 4k navigation cameras and beefy AI hardware, the Skydio 2 offers unparalleled object tracking and obstacle avoidance."
"If you want to capture the best photo and video quality possible, DJI's Inspire 2 Zenmuse X7 Kit will deliver incredible footage."
Best Budget:
Ryze Tello at Amazon
"This tiny UAV is ideal for beginners, with simple controls and included prop guards for safety."

Whether you’re a photographer looking to capture a fresh perspective or you just want to soar through the sky like a bird, then a drone will grant you the wings you seek. The best drones, such as the Mavic 2 Pro, feature cutting edge cameras and obstacle avoidance technology to give you a clear view of all that you survey and keep you safe while doing so. While more expensive drones offer better image sensors and more advanced features, even affordable models can provide a well-rounded experience. 

In all but the most paired-down, budget-oriented drones, look for at least a 12MP sensor and 20 minutes or more of flight time on a single charge. Higher-end drones feature cameras with more than 20MP sensors comparable to those in professional mirrorless cameras.

In recent years, the range and capabilities of available drones have expanded to fill every conceivable niche. Whether you’re just looking to get into the hobby of flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or you have more experience and are looking to expand your capabilities as a drone pilot, there’s probably a drone out there that’s exactly what you’re looking for. We tested drones from DJI, Autel, and other manufacturers to help you decide which UAV is right for you.

Best Overall: DJI Mavic 2 Pro

DJI Mavic 2 Pro
What We Like
  • Large sensor Hasselblad camera

  • Long-lasting battery

  • Advanced sensor suite

  • Long range and reliable transmission

  • Easy to fly

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

DJI’s Mavic series of drones has reigned supreme for years now, and the Mavic 2 Pro is the cream of the crop. This drone is the complete package, offering the most advanced sensors and software on the market, combined with pro-grade photo and video quality from its Hasselblad camera’s large, 1-inch sensor. It provides a whopping 20MP of resolution, as well as Hasselblad’s top-of-the line color science.

Its large sensor size means that this is one of the best drones out there for capturing low light images in early morning or at dusk. You also get greater control over your images with a variable aperture lens—a rarity in drones that will appeal especially to filmmakers who need to control their shutter speed to capture smooth, cinematic footage.

Though the camera is the star of the show, the rest of the drone is equally impressive. By means of a wide range of sensors, the Mavic 2 Pro is able to provide a top-notch level of safety and peace of mind by preventing accidents. It features a robust yet compact folding design that packs away easily for travel. The drone is a bit on the expensive side, but for the price you’re getting the gold standard for consumer drones. This is the drone I personally prefer to fly, and it has served me well over years and countless hours in the air.

"The DJI Mavic 2 Pro doesn’t just take great photos and videos, it also has enough flexibility and feature support to be taken seriously by pros." — Jonno Hill, Product Tester

Best FPV: DJI FPV Combo

What We Like
  • Easiest way to get into FPV flying

  • Clear, low latency video signal

  • 4k 60fps video recording

  • 89mph top speed

What We Don't Like
  • Limited availability of spare parts

  • Plastic construction not as durable as other FPV drones

  • Requires you to have a spotter to fly

Traditionally, First Person View (FPV) drones have been a niche hobby with a steep learning curve involving extensive technical knowledge and DIY skills. DJI’s new FPV drone challenges all the stereotypes associated with the genre and brings the unparalleled thrills of lightning-fast flight to the masses. Where standard photography drones sail sedately through the skies, FPV drones can scream through narrow gaps at blistering, racetrack speeds and do flips and barrel rolls in the air. 

The DJI FPV drone includes everything you need to get started—goggles, controller, and drone—and is designed to ease you into the challenging and exhilarating world of FPV with a flight simulator, assisted modes, and sensors to help you avoid collisions. The drone is equipped with a camera capable of capturing 4k at 60fps. It can fly at up to 89mph, and it delivers a low-latency video feed so that you are always confidently in control of the drone. 

Of course, with FPV you’re bound to crash occasionally, so the drone is designed to be user repairable. But availability of parts may be an issue, and the drone isn’t as durable as other FPV quadcopters due to its plastic construction. Also, unlike traditional drones, the law requires you to fly with a spotter present to keep an eye on the skies when you’re wearing goggles.

Best Ultra Portable: DJI Mini 2

What We Like
  • Super small and ultra light

  • Good photo and video quality

  • Ocusync transmission

  • Affordable price

What We Don't Like
  • "Lossless" digital zoom isn't great

At just 249 grams, the DJI Mini 2 is so light that it’s not just easy to carry, it’s also small enough that, unlike most other drones, you don’t have to register it with the Federal Aviation Administration. What is particularly impressive is that DJI has managed to achieve a minuscule size without sacrificing anything in terms of this drone’s features. Though the image sensor in its camera is on the smaller side and the supposedly lossless digital zoom isn’t worth bothering with, the drone still delivers good visual quality.

Most impressively of all, this mean little machine includes DJI’s excellent Ocusync transmission technology, which means you can expect a reliable, high resolution signal with greater range than you are likely to ever use. To top it all off, the Mini 2 comes in at under $500, making it a remarkably good value.

Best 8K Camera: Autel Robotics Evo 2

What We Like
  • Incredible 8k video capability

  • 4x lossless digital zoom

  • 40-minute flight time

  • High visibility orange color

  • Included controller doesn't require a phone to operate

What We Don't Like
  • Sensor is a bit small

  • Not as refined as DJI drones

The Autel Evo II is a genuine rival to DJI’s popular Mavic 2 drones, and in some ways it exceeds the competition. The key feature here is the Evo II’s 48MP sensor with 8k 24fps video capability, which is a shocking amount of resolution to pack into a sensor that measures less than 1 inch across. Most users will find the Evo II’s excellent 4k 60fps video more practical to use, and the high resolution of the sensor allows for impressive lossless 4x video zoom.

So long as it's sunny out, you can get a lot of detail out of 48MP photos, with plenty of latitude for cropping in post processing. The collision avoidance system in this UAV is one of the most advanced and reliable to date, making it extra safe to fly. Perhaps even more attractive, though, is the controller’s built-in display, which allows the drone to be flown without having to plug in a smartphone.

Best Zoom Lens: DJI Mavic 2 Zoom

What We Like
  • Optical zoom capability

  • Top-notch software and sensors

  • Great value for money

What We Don't Like
  • Small sensor size

  • Lens aperture isn't adjustable

The DJI Mavic 2 Zoom bears more than a little similarity to the Mavic 2 Pro. In fact, the difference is only in its camera and price, which is significantly lower. Instead of a large sensor with a fixed lens, this drone features a small 1/2.3” sensor and a zoom lens with a 2x (24mm - 48mm) optical zoom range. This allows you to capture both wide and telephoto photos or video without having to crop in at the expense of image quality. However, because of the small sensor, overall image quality is markedly reduced, particularly in low light. Additionally, DJI's Zoom doesn’t have a variable lens aperture.

In all other ways the Zoom is identical to the Pro—the same great build quality, intelligent obstacle avoidance, and excellent range—all at a much more attractive price point.

Best AI: Skydio 2

Skydio 2
What We Like
  • Incredible AI subject tracking and obstacle avoidance

  • Flies itself

  • Captures excellent 4k 60fps video

  • Reasonably priced

What We Don't Like
  • Range is fairly limited

If you want to get epic aerial shots but don’t want to learn to fly yourself, then the Skydio 2 is the smart drone for you. Using 4k navigation cameras and beefy artificial intelligence (AI) hardware, the Skydio 2 offers unparalleled object tracking and obstacle avoidance. Just stick the beacon control in your pocket and the drone will stick to you like glue, navigating with ease through dense forest and homing in on you even if it loses sight of you. Of course, you can also fly it with a more traditional controller, or connect to it with your smartphone. 

It’s no slouch in the video capture department either, with a camera capable of high quality 4k 60fps HDR video. To make this drone even more attractive, its base price is surprisingly low, and the only real downside to the Skydio 2 is that its range is limited compared to other drones in its price range. But since its maximum operable distance is 3.5 kilometers, you’re not likely to notice.

Best Splurge: DJI Inspire 2 Zenmuse X7 Kit

DJI Inspire 2 Zenmuse X7 Kit
What We Like
  • M4/3 size camera sensor

  • Interchangeable lenses

  • Suitable for feature film production

What We Don't Like
  • Extremely expensive

  • Huge and bulky

If money is no object and you want to capture the best photo and video quality possible, then the DJI Inspire 2 Zenmuse X7 Kit will deliver incredible footage with its massive Micro 4/3 sensor. It’s capable of capturing 6k video and 24MP still images with the depth of field and low light capability that only a large sensor can provide. A 16mm f2.8 lens is included, but you can swap it out for other lenses (sold separately), offering the kind of functionality that professional drone photographers demand.

Be aware, however, that the monetary expense of this drone isn’t the only cost you pay for such a phenomenal camera. This drone is both heavy and huge, making it a poor option if you plan on carrying it into the backcountry. However, just because it’s big doesn’t mean it isn’t fast. This airborne behemoth can accelerate from 0 to 50mph in just 4 seconds, and has a top speed of 58mph.

Additionally, it comes equipped with a two-axis stabilized FPV camera that offers an alternative view with which to fly the drone. It also has obstacle avoidance technology and all the other features you expect from a modern drone.

What We Like
  • Rock-bottom price

  • Decent build quality

  • Compact and lightweight

  • Easy to use

  • Programmable and great for learning

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't come with a controller

  • Short range

  • 720p video

For a fun and versatile drone on a rock-bottom budget, the Ryze Tello offers a ton of bang for your buck. This tiny UAV is ideal for beginners, with simple controls and included prop guards for safety. Also, the Tello app makes it easy to perform complex maneuvers and do cool tricks. It weighs only 80 grams, and is durably built to survive accidents. 

The caveats, however, are that this does not come with a controller, can shoot at up to only 720p video, and its range is very limited. But at this price point, those are very acceptable compromises. This is also the perfect drone for students, as the Tello SDK is easy to develop software for, making it a great aid if you’re learning to code.

Final Verdict

The best drone on the market right now is certainly the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. Despite being older than its competition, the Mavic 2 Pro can’t be beat for its combination of stellar image quality, obstacle avoidance, and overall excellence. However, if you want something more portable and significantly less expensive, the DJI Mini 2 is remarkably competitive.

How We Tested

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 omnidirectional 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 judgment. All of the drones we test are purchased by Lifewire; none are provided by the manufacturer.

About Our Trusted Experts

Andy Zahn is a licensed commercial UAV pilot and keen aerial photographer who has been writing for Lifewire since 2019. When he’s not taking to the skies with his Mavic 2 Pro he can be found researching and testing the latest tech for Lifewire.

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.

What to Look for in a Drone

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 the 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.

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