Trying to figure out the best drone to buy right now? We've got good news and bad news. The good news is that in recent years, drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles / UAVs, as absolutely no-one outside of the military calls them) have evolved beyond all recognition. The bad news is that there are now so many to choose from that finding the right one can be a bit of a minefield.
This is precisely why we’ve put together this guide. We've pulled together what we think are the very best drones available right now – or more specifically, the best camera drones.
These kind of cutting edge, feature rich and capable models can very easily cripple your bank account. If you're on a tight budget, head to our best cheap drones guide instead, where you'll find some less pricey options that still deliver great value for money (or for toys, our best kids drone guide).
What is the best drone 2021?
When it comes to the best drones, specifically camera drones, the brand that stands far above the rest is still DJI. This is reflected by the fact that DJI fills numerous positions in our list below, and markedly most of the top spots.
The best drone right now is the new DJI Air 2S. It's everything a camera drone should be – compact, light, quiet and packing some outstanding onboard tech. However, it's a very close-run battle with the tiny DJI Mini 2, which offers incredible features for an eminently affordable price. For the ultimate in both video and image quality, no consumer drone holds a candle to the class-leading DJI Mavic 2 Pro and, to a high degree, its stablemate, the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom.
However, our list also includes drones that let you experience the thrill of first-person flight (the new DJI FPV, which is easy to use and flies like the clappers), drones that let you take off and land on water (the PowerVision PowerEgg X Wizard) and compact 'toy' drones (the Ryze Tello is easy to fly, shoots decent video and you can even program it yourself). In short, there's something for every type of flier and every budget here. Let's take a look at the best drones around.
The best camera drones to buy now
Released April 2021, the DJI Air 2S is a sensational camera drone in every respect. It's so good, we gave it the T3 Award 2021 for Best Drone. Despite being lightweight and very portable, this foldable drone packs some incredible onboard tech, including a 1-inch CMOS sensor that enables you to capture unbelievably sharp images and video. The air 2S will shoot 5.4K video at 30fps or 4K at 60fps and 150Mbps, as well as 20MP stills (by comparison, the Mavic Air 2's half-inch CMOS sensor can manage 4K/60fps at 120Mbps and 12MP stills). It also flies absolutely beautifully (and quietly), comes with four-way sensors to help you avoid collisions, and boasts some impressive advanced in-flight features. Head to our DJI Air 2S review for more of what we thought of it, or see how it matches up against its predecessor in our DJI Air 2S vs DJI Mavic Air 2 comparison.
While the DJI Air 2S is very hard to find fault with, if you're looking for something smaller, cheaper and easier to license, the Mini 2 at number two on our list, is also absolutely superb.
Despite sitting at number 2 in our ranking, the pocket-sized DJI Mini 2 will still be the best drone for many people's needs (and indeed, it tops our best beginner drone ranking). This titchy bird is so small when folded you can hide it behind an iPhone, and weighs a floaty 249g fully loaded. What’s especially impressive here is how DJI has managed to instal a 4K-spec camera and 3-axis gimbal in such a tiny craft and equip it with a rocksteady video transmission distance of up to 10km (6.21 miles). For the record, the camera shoots 4K at up to 30 frames per second, 2.7K up to 30fps and 1080p up to 60fps and beautifully detailed 12mp stills in both RAW and JPEG.
Despite the size and low weight, the Mini 2 is equipped with Level 5 wind resistance and that means it’ll hold its own in a stiff breeze. It will also fly for up to an amazing 31 minutes on a single charge. There are further surprises buried in the DJI Fly app, including a raft of autonomous quick-shot functions – Dronie, Circle, Helix, Rocket, Boomerang, 4K Hyperlapse, and three types of panorama. Granted, the Mini 2 doesn't have obstacle avoidance but we don’t think this is a particular deal-breaker if common sense prevails.
If you’ve always hankered after a top-quality camera drone but can't afford to splash out a small fortune, then this marvel of technology is the model for you. Head to our DJI Mini 2 drone review to find out more (or our DJI Mavic Mini review for a look at the – very similar – previous iteration). Alternatively, so how it compares to a larger option in our DJI Mini 2 vs DJI Mavic Air 2 drone faceoff.
The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is our pick for the best professional drone. It's almost impossible to crash given that it has 10 obstacle sensors facing in every direction. That’s reason one to buy one. The second reason is the stunning three-axis gimbal-mounted Hasselblad camera, which comes fitted with a one-inch CMOS sensor – like that in the Sony RX100 and RX10 series – and an adjustable aperture that goes from f/2.8 to f/11. This is an exquisite piece of kit capable of shooting in several video resolutions, including 4K at up to 30 frames per second, 2.7K at up to 60fps and 1080p at up to 120fps. It also takes strikingly sharp 20 megapixel RAW stills.
Flight wise, the Mavic 2 Pro is as rock solid and confidence inspiring as we’ve come to expect. With larger motors fitted to its four arms, the drone is capable of hitting 44mph in Sports mode and – with the aid of a larger battery – able to remain aloft for up to 31 minutes at a time. Its Occusync 2.0 transmission, meanwhile, offers crisp 1080p live streaming from up to five miles away.
Like most Mavic models, this one also comes with 8GB of onboard storage along with the obligatory Micro SD card slot. Heading over to the DJI Go 4 app, the Mavic 2 Pro comes with a cluster of intelligent flight modes, plus the addition of a Hyperlapse function that captures stop-frame visuals over a wide area before stitching it all together within the app.
If high-end cinematography or aerial landscape photography are your main prerequisites when considering a drone, then this one ticks every box under the sun. Find out more in our Mavic 2 Pro review, or to see how it compares on cinematography to DJI's first-person drone in our DJI FPV vs DJI Mavic 2 Pro face-off.
Despite being firmly outshone by its successor (the Air 2S at #1), the DJI Mavic Air 2 is is still a great drone. The camera is a cracker and sports a half-inch sensor capable of shooting 4K footage at 60fps. The Mavic Air 2’s stills taking capacity is even more impressive – up to 48mp resolution for unprecedented sharpness, clarity and detail. It also comes with a smorgasbord of extra photo and video enhancement tech, including Scene Recognition, Spotlight 2.0 which locks the camera on a subject while the pilot does the flying and the obligatory ActiveTrack for following moving subjects.
The completely redesigned hand controller is another major improvement. Yes, it’s larger than before but it’s really comfortable in the hand and it has a phone mounting system that is way better than the earlier model’s. The Mavic Air 2 has a long battery life too (34 minutes) and in Sport mode it rips across the sky at up to 42.5mph – that’s fast! It also features three-way obstacle avoidance and APAS (Advanced Pilot Assistance System) for smoother manoeuvrability around obstacles. Head to our Mavic Air 2 review for more info, and see how it compares to our #1 pick in our DJI Mini 2 vs DJI Mavic Air 2 faceoff.
The PowerVision PowerEgg X is a do-it-all drone you can fly safely in inclement weather and over water without fear of going missing. If there was an award for best looking drone, the PowerVision PowerEgg X would walk it – it looks simply fantastic when airborne. Nevertheless, with a feature set that goes beyond any other model on the market, the PowerEgg X isn’t just smart looking, it’s pretty clever too. It performs most of the aerial tasks of the DJI roster – including front obstacle avoidance and autonomous flight modes like return-to-home, follow-me, orbit and timelapse – but goes two stages further by transforming into a hand -held stabilised camera and a tripod-mounted video recorder with motion tracking ability.
The PowerEgg X is as stable in flight as the majority of DJI drones we’ve tested and it will stay in the air for up to 30 minutes which is excellent. Its top speed, meanwhile, is a commendable 40mph and its video transmission range around 3.7 miles. It comes with a fixed focus 4K camera with a 1/2.8 inch CMOS sensor and on paper that sounds grand. However, while the footage it produces is undeniably very good, it’s still not up to the benchmark set by DJI; there’s a strange softening at the edges of the frame that becomes most noticeable when videoing foliage from higher altitudes.
It’s true to say that the Holy Grail of drone flying is probably some kind of waterproofing and floatation device because flying over water normally requires balls the size of Mars. Although most modern drones are exceedingly reliable in flight, there’s no telling what may happen when over water – bird strike, motor failure, exhausted battery, heavy rain, etc. Well the Wizard version we’re reviewing here comes with two robust strap-on floats and a fully waterproof housing that protects the entire body and camera. It can even land and take off from calm water and fly in both rain and snow, wind speed permitting. So, if flying over water scares the life out of you then a drone of this nature could well be your lifeline. For more info, head to our full PowerVision PowerEgg X Wizard Version review.
Next up in our best drone ranking is the Ryze Tello. If you’re looking for a titchy but very well equipped ‘selfie’ type drone that stays in the air for 13 minutes at a time, comes with digital image stabilisation, shoots video in pretty decent 720p, snaps 5mp stills and hovers on the spot without the aid of GPS, then consider this remarkable little contender from Ryze.
The Tello weighs just 80 grams and measures 98mm at its widest point. In other words, it’s small enough to tuck in a jacket pocket despite not being foldable like the DJI Mavic range. Although designed for indoor flying, this little craft is also adept at flying outdoors, as long as it’s not too windy (without GPS on board, it could drift with the breeze and may not make it back to you).
Using the separate Tello EDU app (iOS and Android), it’s also possible to program the Tello to perform a series of manoeuvres with no real-time input from the pilot. Just drag a series of named colour-coded ‘blocks’ (‘take off’, fly forward’, ‘land) into a specific order and the Tello will follow the commands. This is an incredible development because it’s actually teaching kids (and adults) the basics of robotics in an easy and fun way. Find out more in our Ryze Tello review.
DJI’s Mavic 2 Zoom has the same DNA as its stablemate the Mavic 2 Pro. Both birds are the same size and pretty much the same weight, and they’re both equipped with the same multi-directional obstacle avoidance systems and the very same internals. In fact, the only difference between the two is the camera they’re equipped with.
Where the Pro comes with a Hasselblad camera replete with one-inch sensor for professional, high quality aerial photography, the Zoom forfeits image resolution in favour of a 2x optical zoom with a 35mm format equivalent focal length of 24-48mm. However, when it comes to 4K video, both models boast the same rosy specs (4K at up to 30fps, 2.7K at up to 60fps, 1080p at up to 120fps), so this is the model to buy if you plan to shoot far more video than you do stills.
You might not use the zoom facility much, mind, but it certainly comes into its own when you want to shoot animals without scaring them or getting closer to an interesting subject without straying into private airspace. The zoom function also allows pilots to recreate the DollyZoom effect as used by Hitchcock, Spielberg, et al.
If you’re more likely to shoot aerial video than still images, then this keenly-priced option is a winner. Head to our DJI Mavic 2 Zoom review for more info.
Now for something a bit different: the DJI FPV is the world’s first fully-fledged, ready-to-fly 4K-quipped FPV racing drone for newbies. Unlike other FPV drones on the market, the DJI FPV is equipped with a wide range of safety measures, including smart Return-to-Home (RTH), low battery warning, an auxiliary LED light and forward and downward obstacle sensors that will bring the drone to a halt in an emergency. Being of FPV origin, this drone comes with a pair of goggles that produce an exquisitely sharp image of what the drone’s front camera sees. The ultra wide 150-degree field of view is another major plus that gives the flyer full confidence when darting in and around tight, tricky spaces. It also ships with a beefy hand controller, or you can stump up for an optional Motion Controller that lets you control the drone using hand motions alone.
The DJI FPV's 1/2.3” CMOS camera is mounted to a two-axis gimbal that keeps images rock steady no matter how shaky the drone may be in flight. Like any camera drone, you can also record video up to 4K resolution and take aerial photographs. However, being of FPV origin, the gimbal’s lack of a horizontal axis means that when the drone banks to the left or right, the image follows suit – a characteristic that’s part and parcel of all FPV flying.
The DJI FPV is equipped with three main flying modes. Normal is the ideal mode for beginners and boasts a top speed of around 33mph. Sport mode (60mph) is the option to go for once you’ve got a few hours of flying under the belt, and Manual mode (86mph) is like a fully-fledged FPV racer, replete with ultra tight turns and aerobatic flips and spins. A full charge will provide up to 20 minutes of frenetic flying.
Be aware that you will likely crash this drone from time to time and any repairs undertaken by DJI won’t be cheap. But if you’ve ever tried other FPV systems, you’ll really come to appreciate just how easy this package is to get in the air and fly almost immediately. Head to our DJI FPV review for more info.
The feature-packed, hi-tech Autel Evo drone does it all, although it's certainly been designed with intermediate-advanced photographers in mind – the drone's camera, mounted on a 3-axis stabilising gimbal, records video at 4k resolution up to 60 frames per second (up there with the new DJI Mavic Air 2) and has a recording speed up to 100mbps in an H.264 or H.265 codec. The camera's one of the best we've seen on a drone at this price point, making it easy to catch more detail and colour, even when filming at high speed, and a generous number of sensors help you avoid other objects while also making it wonderfully easy to land.
We're also particularly impressed with the 3.3-inch OLED screen which has been integrated into the controller. This, coupled with the drone's compact, foldable design makes it ideal for those who love to dash out the door with their drone at a moment's notice. While it's not cheap, the large number of accessories it comes bundled with means this prosumer drone is excellent value for money.
Although you'll find its successor reviewed higher up this list, the DJI Mavic Air drone is still a true pocket rocket that excels in every department. It’s a lot lighter and smaller than the DJI Mavic Pro 2s and not much bigger than its smaller sibling, the Mini 2. The 4K video quality from the Air’s robust 3-axis camera system is very impressive and its 12mp photos are highly detailed for such a small camera. It can also take four styles of panorama images.
The Air can be controlled with palm gestures or a mobile phone; handy additions for those times when you can’t be bothered to dig out the supplied hand controller. That said, flying with the hand controller is far and away the most satisfying way to operate it. It also lets you fly much further – up to 4km (2.48 miles) away and back again on a battery that lasts around 21 minutes. Believe us, that's more than enough time to film an opus.
The element we love most, though, is the addition of obstacle avoidance sensors on the rear as well as to the fore and below the craft; having so many safety features makes flying confidence inspiring, especially in confined areas. Overall, a reliable travel package that’s fun to fly and very well equipped. Head to our full DJI Mavic Air review for more.
Like the Mavic series, the Parrot ANAFI drone collapses for easy transport but it’s not quite as pocketable due to its 244mm length when folded. Still, it comes in a great transport case that’ll easily fit in a small shoulder bag. At just 320 grams, the Anafi is 110g lighter than the Mavic Air. Should it ever fall out of the sky, it is less likely to sustain major damage.
Despite it looking like a dragonfly, the Anafi was apparently inspired by the humble bee. Accordingly, it has its three-axis gimbal and 4K/21 megapixel camera mounted directly in front of the drone. This means the props will never appear in shot when the drone is moving forward at high speed. It also means the camera can be pointed 90-degrees upwards for a unique perspective that few other drones offer. In flight, the Parrot ANAFI is not as confidence inspiring as the Mavic Air 2 – it loses quite a few points straight off by not having any obstacle avoidance. Nevertheless, it’s easy to control and stable in flight, even in a stiffish breeze. It's also so quiet you can hardly hear a thing while it’s hovering just 20 metres above your head. At 33mph, it’s pretty sprightly, too, while its battery lasts an impressive 25 minutes.
Both video and photo quality seem on par with the Mavic Air 1 and in low light shooting it’s arguably a bit better. It doesn’t offer as high a frame rate as the Mavic Air but the 4K video and 21 megapixel images its 1/2.4-inch Sony CMOS sensor produces are tack sharp, with excellent detail and contrast.
Overall, the Anafi isn’t up to the benchmark set by DJI, but Parrot's competitive pricing makes this an affordable entry into the wondrous world of aerial cinematography. You'll find more info in our full Parrot ANAFI review.
If you’re looking to get into FPV (First Person View) flying but can’t stretch your budget to the DJI FPV reviewed above, then you might want to give this package a whirl. The ANAFI FPV package includes the drone itself (reviewed above in case you missed it), a Skycontroller 3 hand controller and a pair of Parrot's Cockpitglasses 3. All three items come neatly packed in a small and stupendously well designed grey herringbone backpack.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, FPV is a bit similar to normal flying where the images from the drone’s front-mounted camera are streamed live to a mobile phone. However, in this instance, the phone is clipped into the supplied goggles which you obviously wear on your head. This means you cannot see anything other than what the drone’s camera is pointing at. It’s a very strange, disorientating sensation at first but once you get used to it, it’s probably the closest you’ll get to feeling the experience of actually flying – without killing yourself in the process.
The ANAFI FPV offers pretty good value for money, but the jury’s out on the quality of the visuals the camera ports to the screen – they were bit too fuzzy and pixilated in our opinion, and that was using an iPhone 11. FPV flight is an acquired taste and this package makes a very fair fist of it. However, you do need to be aware of the pitfalls lest you spend the extra outlay only to abandon the goggles after your first few flights.
When it comes to producing the very best cinema-quality aerial footage, there is simply nothing out there to touch the Inspire 2. In fact, the only reason this drone isn’t higher up our chart is because it is pricey with a capital P and large with a capital L. It also weighs a hefty 4.25kg, so you can forget about sticking it in your hand luggage.
The Inspire 2 is made from carbon fibre and magnesium and its dual battery system, four huge motors and 13-inch propellers will take it to a top speed of 58mph and a flight time of up to 27 minutes. The landing gear is retractable, allowing pilots, or a second camera operator, to shoot a full 360º panorama. It also comes with forward, downward and upward-facing obstacle avoidance sensors for extra confidence when flying in tricky locations. The Inspire 2’s pro-spec CineCore 2.0 image processing system is housed in the nose of the craft which means only the camera’s lens and sensor are attached to the gimbal.
This reduces weight and allows for easy camera swapping. And speaking of cameras, the Inspire 2 comes with a choice of five different models, from the compact Micro 4/3 Zenmuse X5 to the ultra high-end Zenmuse X7, which features a Super 35 Sensor capable of shooting in 5.2K Apple ProRes. Needless to say, the imagery this stunning cinematic system produces is of the very highest order. But, phew, it sure is costly.
Buying a drone: what you need to know
In order to figure out which is the best drone for you, it really helps to understand a bit about how different types of drones work. In a nutshell, drones rely on rotors for propulsion and control. The faster these rotors spin, the greater the upward lift. The movement of a drone can be changed by altering the speed of one or more of its rotors.
These rotors are powered by motors which can be 'brushed' or 'brushless'. The difference? Brushed motors use a mechanical process (a 'commutator') to move the magnetic field that turns the rotors. Brushless motors, which are usually found on more expensive drones, are generally preferable, and rely more on electronics, rather than additional physical parts such as the brushes in the commutators, to generate power. This means they generate less friction (and bear in mind that friction slows the motor down), produce less heat and provide better all-round performance.
Another important factor to take into consideration is skill level. Beginners should look for more rugged models, as well as features such as rotor protectors and one-touch recall controls. But don’t make the mistake of assuming smaller, lighter drones are better for beginners – these drones are often designed for those keen to perform complex aerial maneuvers, and might well be trickier to control.
Finally, remember to look for drones with the features you’re specifically keen on, and no more. Opting for a drone which boasts features you don’t need and won’t use, will mean you’ll spend more on a drone which will weigh more and won’t perform in the way you want it to.
Want to know more, a lot more? Check out our separate guide to how to buy a drone.
Drone regulations: what you need to know
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has some new regulations regarding drone ownership and flying. In a nutshell, as of 31 December 2020, all owners of drones fitted with a camera (even those under 250g like the DJI Mini) are, by law, required to register online as a drone operator. Registration costs £9 and must be renewed annually. Pilots of camera drones weighing 250g or more will also need to sit a new 40-question online education test (pass mark is 30).
For even better flying opportunities, we would suggest going for an A2 Certificate of Competence, which allows all pilots to fly in areas used for recreational, industrial, residential or commercial purposes.
Read the full guidelines, and register as a drone operator, at register-drones.caa.co.uk.
So you don't get yourself into a pickle in a public place, there's also some basic rules you need to follow:
- Don't fly near airports or airfields
- Remember to stay below 400ft (120m)
- Observe your drone at all times – stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property
- Never fly near aircraft
- Enjoy responsibly
We'd like to think that nobody needs to be told any of the above. And in truth, anyone who does fly a drone near aircraft probably deserves to go to prison. Sure, we don't know that a drone can bring down a 747, but we are very sure that we also don't want to test the theory. Ever.
If you're in doubt about drone regulations and are confused about where you can and can't fly your drone, head to the Civil Aviation Authority website and gen up on the current drone regulations. You can also check out Drone Code UK, which has a handy downloadable PDF with essential information regarding drone flying rules.
Now, with those stern words out of the way, you can head back to our expert guide to the best camera drones available right now, listed in order of excellence. Or simply peruse this handy list of the cheapest prices on those drones.