The 8 Best Drones of 2022

See the world from above with these top drones

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Whether you’re a photographer looking to capture a fresh perspective or you just want to soar through the sky like a bird, a drone will grant you the wings you seek. Most drones, also known as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), are quadcopters, meaning that they fly using four rotors. The primary purpose of most drones today is to capture photos and videos from an aerial perspective. The best drones, such as the DJI Mavic 3, feature cameras that far surpass the capabilities of even the best smartphone camera, and even rival high end mirrorless cameras.


Most drones carry these impressive cameras attached to motorized gimbal systems that eliminate unwanted camera shake in video and allow for crisp, high resolution still photos. You don’t need to worry too much about crashing your expensive new drone either, as obstacle avoidance systems have advanced to an impressive degree. There’s never been a better time to start flying, or to upgrade your older drones. 


Whether you’re just looking to get into the hobby of flying UAVs, or you have more experience and are looking to expand your capabilities as a drone pilot, there’s probably a drone here that’s exactly what you’re looking for.

Best Overall: DJI Mavic 3

4.5
DJI Mavic 3.

DJI

What we like
  • M4/3 size sensor produces fantastic image quality

  • Secondary super telephoto camera

  • Long range and battery life

  • Unparalleled obstacle detection



What we don't like
  • Even the base model is pricey

  • Missing features at launch

As its predecessors were before it, the Mavic 3 from DJI stands head and shoulders over every other drone on the market. The technology they’ve managed to cram into this spidery flying camera is truly impressive - most of all in its capability to capture images in such detail as has never been seen before in a consumer drone. 


The Micro 4/3 sensor in the Mavic 3’s wide angle camera is comparable to those found in professional mirrorless cameras such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1X or Panasonic Lumix GH5 Mk 2. It absolutely dwarfs the camera sensors found in phones, point and shoot cameras, and the majority of drones on the market. 


This large sensor provides a host of benefits to image quality. It means much better low light performance, better dynamic range so that bright and dark areas aren’t lost, as well as better colors. Speaking of colors, the Mavic 3 is aided particularly in this regard by Hasselblad’s hand in the creation of this camera. The end results are truly stunning images that look great straight out of the camera and provide a ton of flexibility for those who wish to edit their photos after the fact.


As if that main camera wasn’t enough, the Mavic 3 comes equipped with a secondary telephoto camera. This gives you a 7x zoom for capturing distant subjects, which can be useful in a drone since, in many situations, you need to maintain a significant distance for legal and safety reasons. Keep in mind, though, that due to the much smaller sensor in this camera the quality of photos and videos captured with it won’t be as high as with the main camera. The Mavic 3 also features a 28x combined digital and optical zoom, but using that degrades image quality significantly.


Aside from a number of minor nitpicks, there are two main issues that hold the Mavic 3 back from being an absolutely perfect drone. The first is the price, which starts at over $2000. I will say, though, that this is actually justified by the capabilities of the drone. The second major issue is that many advertised features, such as 120 frames per second slow motion video at high resolution (4K), as well as subject tracking and other intelligent modes, are missing at launch. They are due to be added in late January 2022.

Other aspects of the Mavic 3 that earn it the number one spot here are its top speed of more than forty miles per hour, and its forty plus minutes of flight time per battery. Additionally, the Mavic 3 features DJI’s most advanced obstacle detection and avoidance system yet to help prevent you from crashing.


With all that said, I do want to say that I’ve yet to fly the Mavic 3 myself, but due to my long experience flying DJI drones, I’m confident in recommending it. After I’ve had a chance to put it through its paces and clock a considerable amount of flight time you can expect a full review here at Lifewire.


As this drone just hit the market, availability may be an issue, so if you’re desperate for a new drone or are looking for something a bit more portable and affordable, I direct you to my pick for runner-up.

Best Overall, Runner up: DJI Air 2S

4.7
DJI Air 2S.

Lifewire / Andy Zahn

What we like
  • Excellent image quality

  • Affordable price point

  • Highly portable

What we don't like
  • Camera has some limitations

I stand by my conclusion of my review of the DJI Air 2S that this was indeed the best drone at the time. Of course, now that spot clearly belongs to the Mavic 3, the Air 2S still deserves a very close second place. There’s no getting around the fact that the Air 2S is about half the price of the Mavic 3, and almost half the size and weight. For people who aren’t willing or able to invest such a considerable chunk of change in something like the Mavic 3, or who want something easier to carry around with them, the Air 2S is less of a compromise in terms of performance.


To give you an idea of the size of the Air 2S, it’s small enough that I can fit it in just about any of my camera bags instead of a lens. It’s about the same size as the included controller, and it’s surprising that such a small drone is packing such an impressive camera. This camera is essentially the same as the one found in the older, more expensive Mavic 2 Pro, albeit with a few caveats. These are that its aperture isn’t adjustable, and it can’t be pointed upwards. However, that’s a small price to pay for such excellent image quality.


In terms of speed, it’s not the fastest drone around, but it’s no slouch, and it features a respectable, if not cutting edge obstacle avoidance system. It also gets a reasonably decent flight time of over thirty minutes per battery.


I’ve been flying the Air 2S now since Spring of 2021 as my primary drone, and I’m immensely pleased with the photos and videos I’ve captured using it. Because of its size and weight I’m more likely to take it with me on adventures, so my old Mavic 2 Pro has sat gathering dust despite it technically being a more capable device. 


Also, if you’re coming from the Mavic 2 Pro or Zoom, and you own a DJI Smart Controller like I do, then it’s compatible with the Air 2S, and is a much better flying experience than with the packed in controller. That’s another advantage it has over the Mavic 3, which if you want the improved smart controller experience you’ve got to buy a new, highly expensive controller, now called the RC Pro.


Overall, though the Mavic 3 is a quantum leap over the Air 2S in many ways, the Air 2S exists within its own niche and certainly deserves its runner up position here.

Best FPV: DJI FPV Combo

DJI FPV Combo

Amazon

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

  • Requires you to have a spotter to fly

  • Video quality isn't great

  • Plastic construction isn't tough by typical FPV drone standards.

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.

I've been flying the DJI FPV drone since it launched last spring, and it's become an integral part of my videomaking toolkit. I'm able to get dynamic, exciting shots with it, particularly in forests or other locations where a regular drone would almost certainly crash. The DJI FPV drone is equipped with obstacle avoidance detection, unlike a regular DIY FPV drone. It basically just slows you down when it senses an imminent crash so that you have time to react. Coupled with the first person perspective through the goggles, I'm able to navigate through complex environments and narrow gaps with ease.

If you stick to the lower speed, collision detection assisted Normal mode, or even the faster Sport mode where obstacle avoidance is disabled, but some user assistance functions are retained, you can get much of the feel of FPV without as much risk. I've never crashed it in the many months I've been flying it, though perhaps that's only out of an abundance of caution. I've never used manual mode, which is where all the safety wheels come off and you've got to really know what you're doing.

If you're serious about using the DJI FPV drone for making videos, I would recommend looking into purchasing an action camera and third party mounting bracket. The DJI FPV drone's camera is sadly rather mediocre in terms of image quality, and the propellers show up in the camera's view. However, if you put an action camera on top of it, you can counteract these issues, and that's what most people who use this to create videos end up doing. However, the DJI FPV drone is also just a ton of fun, and if all you're looking for is a fun toy to fly around with, then this drone is awesome as-is.

Best Ultra Portable: DJI Mini 2

DJI Mini 2

Amazon

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 AI: Skydio 2

Skydio 2

Skydio

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 at this price point. 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

DJI

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 50 mph in just 4 seconds, and has a top speed of 58 mph.

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.

While the DJI Mavic 3 has certainly made the Inspire 2 less of a step up from more accessible consumer drones, its interchangeable lens system is preferable to more serious filmmakers. There's also no denying the cool factor of this drone, and the fact that it definitely stands out from the crowd.

Best Budget: Ryze Tello

Ryze Tello

Courtesy of Amazon

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

If you're looking for the most cutting edge drone that gives you the best of everything, that drone is without a doubt the DJI Mavic 3. Between its enormous primary camera sensor, secondary super telephoto lens, and superior battery life and range, it's a major step up over every other drone you can buy right now. However, if you want something more portable and significantly less expensive, the DJI Air 2S delivers great images in a smaller, lighter package for half the price of the Mavic 3.

How We Tested

Our expert reviewer and tester evaluates drones on a number of factors. We examine the size and design, taking into account how portable it is, as well as the quality of the camera and controller. Next, we take it out into the field to test how easy it is to learn and fly. We pay attention to the learning curve of picking up the controls, and how strong the RC control and video transmission signals are. 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. 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.

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 high end drones can fly up to nine miles away, while some budget options are limited to 150 feet. Keep in mind, though, that the actual range you'll be flying is limited both by the terrain you're flying in (go around a mountain ridge and you'll probably loose signal), and legal restrictions that require you to be able to see the drone as you fly. However, longer range means a stronger signal, so it's desirable even if you only fly within a few hundred feet of yourself.

Battery life - Battery life used to be a real limiting factor for drones. Now however, most current drone models get around 30 minute of flight time, with some being able to stay in the air for more than 40 minutes on a single charge. You still probably want to get a spare battery, but that's far less of a concern when purchasing a drone than it was even a year ago.

Speed - Speed isn't the most important factor if you're just flying around and taking pictures, but there are advantages to owning a fast drone. The most important of these advantages is that a fast drone can better handle high winds, which are often hard to detect from the ground. Many drones can travel up to 45 miles per hour, and first person view drones can hit speeds as high a 90 miles per hour.

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