FROM THE DEPT. OF THINGS TO BUY

Get Some New Perspective With the Best Drones

Get the bird’s eye view.

12. 17. 21 by Tony Carrick

Drones are an essential piece of technology for aerial videography and photography, but you don’t have to be a professional photographer to geek out on the latest and greatest drones. These airborne technology toys allow you to experience the exhilaration of flight and capture images from hundreds of feet in the air while keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground. 

There is a wide range of drones on the market today, ranging from affordable $100 models for kids and beginners to pro models that can take high-definition videos and travel at speeds close to 90 m.p.h. Today’s drones are more accessible than ever, thanks to features that make them easy to operate safely, including sensors that prevent the drone from running into obstacles and tracking features that allow the drone to follow and film a subject automatically. 

And, with advancements in battery technology, drones can stay aloft longer than ever with fly times that exceed 30 minutes. With so many different types of drones to choose from, selecting the right one can be a challenge. This guide will examine what features you should consider when shopping for the best drone while reviewing some of the top models on the market.  

— Best Overall: DJI Mavic Air 2
— Best for the Money: DJI Mini 2
— Best for Kids: Ryze Tech Tello
— Best Camera: DJI Air 2S
— Best for Racing: DJI FPV Combo

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How We Picked the Best Drones

Methodology 

I considered a broad range of criteria when researching and reviewing dozens of drones for this guide. A drone should require little if any assembly or setup, so I stuck with models that were ready to fly out of the box. 

While you certainly do get what you pay for when it comes to drones, even a drone that costs $100 should be easy to control. With that in mind, I only chose models that a novice could get in the air and learn how to maneuver in a short amount of time. Keeping controls in mind, I leaned toward drones that offer anti-collision and autonomous flying features that help the operator maintain control. 

Since being able to take live video is important when operating a drone, I looked for drones that offered higher definition cameras of 1080p, 4K, and higher. For more expensive drones, I only chose models with gimbals that allow the operator to take usable footage. 

Related: The Best Tech Gifts

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The Best Drones: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Drone Overall: DJI Mavic Air 2

High Return. DJI

Why It Made The Cut: This drone offers a 4K camera, long battery life, obstacle detection, and automated tracking shots — and costs less than $1,000 making it our pick the best drone overall.

Specs:
— Dimensions: 3.3 inches L x 3.8 inches W x 7.1 inches H
— Weight: 1.3 pounds
— Battery Life: 34 minutes
— Camera resolution: 4K

Pros:
— Excellent battery life
— Automatic obstacle detection and avoidance technology
— Excellent image quality from the camera
— Automated tracking shots

Cons
— Difficult to transfer images and video footage to smart device

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The DJI Mavic Air 2 checks all the boxes with its long battery life, easy-to-control design, and ability to take high-resolution video while remaining surprisingly affordable. Its 34 minutes of fly time beats other similarly priced drones along with a few at higher price points. It also boasts a 4K camera mounted on a gimbal, allowing it to take smooth video footage with good resolution. While its quality camera and long battery life are enough to make the Mavic a deal, it’s the added control features that really set it apart from the competition. 

Crashing into trees, structures, and other obstacles is perhaps the greatest hazard a drone faces, and the Mavic Air 2 helps prevent this with its ability to sense obstacles in front, behind, or below it and automatically maneuver around them. Couple that with automatic stabilizers that keep the Air 2 from drifting even in winds up to 23.6 m.p.h., and the Air 2 is one of the easier drones to control. 

You can also let go of the reins on the Air 2 if you want, thanks to Active Track, which allows the drone to automatically track a subject with its camera while avoiding any obstacles it might encounter along the way. 

Although the Mavic 2 is big enough that you’ll need to register it with the FAA to legally fly it, it folds down to just 7 inches by 3.3 inches by 3.8 inches for easy transport in a backpack.

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Best Drone for the Money: DJI Mini 2

Great Value. DJI

Why It Made The Cut: This compact drone boasts a long fly time, collision avoidance features, and a high-resolution camera at an affordable price. 

Specs:
— Dimensions: 5.7 inches L x by 5.5 inches W by 7.3 inches H
— Weight: 8.8 ounces
— Battery Life: 31 minutes
— Camera resolution: 4K

Pros:
— Excellent battery life
— Does not require FAA registration
— Excellent image quality from the camera
— Collision avoidance technology

Cons:
— No auto-tracking feature

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Whether you’re just starting out in the world of drone photography or simply looking for a good budget-priced drone, this mini from DJI is the best drone for the money. It’s priced significantly less expensive than larger drones, yet it includes many features you’d find on those pricier models. 

Among those features are a high-resolution 4K video camera and a fly time that exceeds 30 minutes. Its camera is also supported by DJI’s QuickShots, a technology that automatically lines up the drone for optimal lighting, visual alignment, and filters before you snap the shot. 

And though its automated controls aren’t as robust as those found on more expensive drones — there is no auto-tracking feature on the mini — it does come equipped with a collision-avoidance system that assists the operator in keeping the drone out of harm’s way. 

The Mini 2 also includes a cool Find My Drone feature that will give you the last known coordinates of the drone’s location, which you can track on your smartphone. If the Mini 2 still has power, it will even flash its lights and sound an alarm, so you can find it more easily.

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Though the Mini 2 is smaller than the average drone, its compact size and light weight mean you aren’t required to register this drone with the FAA. Its small size — it measures just 5 inches by 3 inches by 2.25 inches when folded — also makes it very easy to transport in a backpack. 

Best Drone for Kids: Ryze Tech Tello

Great Value. DJI

Why It Made The Cut: The Ryze Tech Tello is easy to operate and sells at a low enough price that you won’t mind letting your child take its controls. 

Specs:
— Dimensions: 3.9 inches L x by 3.6 inches W by 1.6 inches H
— Weight: 3 ounces
— Battery Life: 13 minutes
— Camera resolution: 780 p

Pros:
— Easy to use controls
— Lightweight and compact size
— Affordably priced

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Cons:
— Easily pushed around by the wind
— Does not include a controller
— Poor video quality

The fact that this budget-priced drone from Ryze was made in partnership with renowned drone manufacturer DJI should be enough to tell you that it’s a quality machine. 

The Ryze, which you control via a smartphone using the Tello app, has controls that are responsive and easy to learn for kids. As the best drone for kids the stability sensors that help prevent the drone from drifting add to its ease of use. Its 13-minute battery life, though shorter than other more expensive drones, beats most other drones at this price point. The 720p camera won’t produce the high-quality footage of more expensive drones, but takes clear enough pictures to allow kids to experiment with aerial photography and videography. 

The Ryze does have its limitations. You must have a smartphone as it doesn’t come with a controller of its own, and it doesn’t have any collision avoidance technology. Light winds will push the drone fairly easily, and it has a range that only spans about 50 meters. 

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That said, one would be hard pressed to find a better first drone for a child. And, with its comparably low price, it’s not a major loss should the drone end up in pieces or at the bottom of a lake. 

Best Drone for Photography: DJI Air 2S

First Flyer. DJI

Why It Made The Cut: This budget-friendly drone that shoots 5.4K video with automated tracking capabilities and collision avoidance technology. 

Specs:
— Dimensions: 7.2 inches L x 10 inches W by 3 inches H
— Weight: 1.3 pounds
— Battery Life: 31 minutes
— Camera resolution: 5.4K

Pros:
— Large camera shoots high definition video
— Long 31-minute run time
— High max speed of more than 40 m.p.h.
— Four-direction collision avoidance technology

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 Cons
— Small amount of internal storage for video footage

This drone is the best drone for photography and there are many specs that set the DJI Air 2S apart from a standard camera drone but the biggest difference is its 1-inch sensor, which is considerably larger than the sensors one finds on most drones. While that may not mean much to a lay person, it’s a big deal for photographers. The larger sensor can collect more light, which translates into dramatically better image quality from its camera. 

And what a camera it is. The Air 2S sports a 5.4K HDR camera that produces 20-megapixel picture quality and a wide 88-degree field of view. Not only is this a significant upgrade over the previous Air, but it also puts the Air 2S in the same league as pricier aerial photography and videography drones. 

In addition to a high-quality camera, the Air 2S also comes with useful autonomous functions. One of the coolest features of this drone is its ability to automatically identify, lock onto, and track human targets thanks to its ActiveTrack 4 technology. 

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DJI has also outfitted the Air 2S with its APAS 4 obstacle avoidance sensors, which point in four directions to protect the drone both horizontally and vertically. The APAS 4 and ActiveTrack 4 technologies combined give the Air 2S the ability to automatically track a subject while avoiding trees and other obstacles along the way. 

The Air 2S also includes a GPS tracking system that automatically returns the drone to home with the push of a button, a must-have feature for a drone with a 7-plus mile range. 

Best FPV Drone: DJI FPV Combo

Picture Perfect. DJI

Why It Made The Cut: This drone comes equipped with a headset that transports users into a high-speed, virtual flying experience. 

Specs:
— Dimensions: 10 inches L x by 12.3 inches H by 5 inches W
— Weight: 1.25 pounds
— Battery Life: 20 minutes
— Camera resolution: 4K

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Pros:
— Includes goggles that create a first-person flying experience
— Top speed of 87 m.p.h.
— Easy to access emergency brake for safety
— Multiple modes make it suitable for beginners or experts

Cons:
— More expensive than drones with higher-quality cameras

The DJI FPV is the best FPV drone because, like most drones designed for racing, the DJI FPV Combo is built more for high-speed performance and first-person POV flight than it is for taking beautiful pictures. 

The DJI FPV fittingly comes with a controller that’s similar to one you’d find on a gaming console controller, making the drone more responsive than those with standard dual joysticks. 

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Instead of sending video footage from the camera to a smartphone screen, the operator wears a battery-powered headset that displays a video feed, giving the drone controls a first-person flight simulator feel. The 4K camera doesn’t have the resolution of cheaper photography-oriented cameras. Instead, it has a wide 150-degree field of vision and fast processor that can render images with a high frame rate to maximize the operator’s ability to pilot the drone via the camera while wearing the goggles. 

The DJI FPV doesn’t include automatic navigation, but it does include obstacle detection sensors that automatically slow the drone so you can maneuver around objects, a must when flying at higher speeds. 

Another unique feature of this drone is its three operating modes that suit different ability levels. Its N mode, designed for new users, limits the top speed to around 30 m.p.h. and includes safety features, such as obstacle sensing. Sport mode ups the top speed to 60 m.p.h. and sets the controls to a similar configuration as other drones. Manual mode removes all limiting controls and sensors, allowing the user the freedom to maneuver the drone freely and reach its top speed of 87 m.p.h. 

DJI also includes several safety features on the FPV, including a built-in geo fence that prevents the drone from flying in no-fly zones, the ability to set altitude and distance limits on an app, and an emergency brake button that’s just below your right index finger that will stop the drone and have it hover in place at the push of a button or have it return home if held in. 

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While FPV drone racing with the DJI FPV combo is an exhilarating experience, it’s also important to remember that it can be potentially dangerous. The DJI FPV drone can reach top speeds of close to 90 m.p.h., turning this roughly 2-pound machine into a potentially dangerous projectile. With that in mind, the law requires you to use a spotter when operating a drone while using goggles.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Drone

Controls

Most drones use a controller that has two joysticks for maneuvering the drone and an array of buttons for commanding the drone to perform specific actions. Most drones can connect to a smartphone via Wi-Fi technology, sending live camera footage to the phone’s display. FMV racing drones have goggles that give you a first-person perspective of what the drone sees as you fly it. 

Cameras

Camera quality can vary significantly depending on price. Drones around the $100 price point typically come with 780p cameras that deliver choppy pixelated footage. More expensive drones that cost $500 and up, offer higher definition 1080p and 4K video, while the most expensive drones on the market can take 5K video. Higher-end drones also have cameras that mount to the drone via gimbals, which stabilize the camera so you don’t end up with jerky camera footage. 

Fly Time

Drones vary in the amount of fly time they offer on a single battery charge. Cheaper drones will get between 15 and 20 minutes on a single charge, while higher-end drones can remain airborne for 30 minutes or more. Since drone batteries are removable, you can buy multiple batteries to avoid delays for recharging. 

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Autonomous Functions

Higher-end drones have features that help you avoid obstacles or even set the drone to autopilot. These autonomous functions include anti-collision sensors that can detect objects around the drone. When the drone senses an obstacle, it automatically adjusts its flight path or comes to a stop and hovers. Some drones also have the ability to identify and track a subject automatically, which is ideal if you want the drone to film you as you ski down a slope or bike along a trail. Drones also have loss prevention technology in the form of a built-in GPS and GLONASS (global navigation satellite system). A drone using these navigation systems can fly home automatically at the push of a button or send a beacon to a smart device that the operator can track. 

FAQs

Q: What’s the best drone for a beginner?
The DJI Mini 2, is one of the more affordable drones on the market and includes features beginners will love. The Mini 2 can take off, land, and return home all with the push of a single button. It also has obstacle-avoidance technology, minimizing the odds of crashing. For aspiring drone photographers, it includes a 4K video camera that takes good (though not spectacular) footage. Finally, the Mini2 is also priced affordably, making it a good entry-level drone.  

Q: How much does a good drone cost?
Drones can vary from as little as $20 to $3,000 or more. While you can buy a drone that is easy to fly for as little as $100, drones that feature longer flight times, more advanced obstacle-detection technologies, and cameras capable of taking better footage, will cost you at least $500. For a high-end drone that has automated flying capabilities and the ability to take exceptional 4K and 5K video footage, expect to pay $1,000 or more. 

Q: Which drone is the easiest to fly?
The DJI Mini 2 is one of the easiest drones to fly thanks to automated features and anti-collision technology. The drone has sensors that allow it to detect objects around it and automatically stop or change its flight path to avoid collisions. It can also take off and land with a push of a button. An onboard GPS gives it the ability to return home automatically if it strays too far from the pilot. 

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Q: What drone has the longest flight time?
With its 34 minutes of flight time on a single charge, the DJI Mavic Air 2 boasts the longest fly time of any drone I reviewed. 

Q: Is it hard to learn to fly a drone?
While some drones can be very difficult to learn to fly, the best-designed models are user friendly. Drone designers use a quad-four design that consists of a square-shaped configuration of four propellers, making it much easier to fly than drones that use an airplane design. These drones also use controllers that are very similar in style to most game console controllers, which most people are already comfortable with. Other features make drones easier to fly, including functions that allow them to take off and land automatically, stabilizers that hold them steady in the wind, and sensors that prevent them from colliding with objects. 

Final Thoughts on the Best Drones

With drones, as with most technology, you get what you pay for. For those just starting out, it makes sense to purchase a more affordable drone, such as the DJI Mini 2, which has plenty of user-friendly features that make it easy to learn to fly for someone new to drones. It also comes with safety features that minimize the chance that you’ll lose or destroy the drone as you work your way through the learning curve of flying it.  

If you have more experience, you can’t go wrong with the DJI Mavic Air 2, which can take excellent video footage, spend more than 30 minutes in the air, and includes cool advanced features, such as autonomous tracking and obstacle avoidance. 

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Related: The Best Gifts for Gamers

This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.


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