When you're looking for the best drone, you have a lot of choices. Drones have become increasingly easy to fly, and have become even better at taking aerial photos and video. But that makes finding the best drone all that much more difficult.
After flying dozens of drones around the sky for countless hours, we think the best drone for most people is the DJI Mavic Mini. It's the company's least expensive and most compact drone, making it easy to carry around and fly virtually anywhere.
While it can't shoot 4K video—you'll need to step up to the DJI Mavic Air for that—the Mavic Mini's camera is gimbal-mounted, so your videos will be super-smooth. And, with a 30-minute battery, it can stay up for longer than most other drones.
If you're looking for better video quality, we also like the DJI Mavic 2 if you want a drone capable of taking the best photos and videos from the air, but it's nearly twice as expensive; the Mavic 2 Pro, which has a 1/2.3 Hasselblad sensor, costs $1,479, while the Mavic 2 Zoom, which has a 2x zoom lens, is $1,279.
Looking for a drone under $100? Here are our favorite budget drones, many of which are great for kids and those learning how to fly.
There's a few new drones we're interested in: The PowerEgg X (starting at $999) has a modular design, so you can use it as a handheld camcorder. You can also get it with a waterproof housing and pontoons, so you can fly it in the rain and land it on water. The V-Coptr Falcon ($999) only has two rotors, which enables it to last up to 50 minutes in the air, by farthest the most we've seen from a consumer drone. Last, the new AirPix drone ($99) is small enough to fit in your pocket, and can take 12MP photos and 1080p videos. You can control it using an app, or by hand gestures.
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The best drones you can buy now
1. DJI Mavic Mini
Best drone overall
Flight Time: 30 minutes | Camera: 2.7K/30 fps | Smartphone Controlled: Yes | FAA Registration: Not required | Indoor Use: No | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per rotor, replaceable) | Size (unfolded): 9.6 x 11.4 x 2.1 inches | Weight: 8.8 ounces
For most people, the DJI Mavic Mini will be the best drone for their needs. It's tiny—able to fit in the palm of your hand—easy to fly, and can last up to 30 minutes in the air. And, at less than $400, it's also the least expensive of DJI's drones, making it more accessible to the masses.
The Mavic Mini's camera resolution tops out at 2.7K/30 fps, so it's lower than that of the 4K-capable Mavic Air and Mavic Pro, but we like that it's gimbal-stabilized, which produces just as smooth video. Because of its light weight—249 grams—you don't need to register the Mavic Mini with the FAA, but it also means that the drone is more susceptible to high winds. Still, it's amazing what DJI packed into the miniscule Mavic Mini.
Read our full DJI Mavic Mini review.
2. DJI Mavic Air
Best drone for those who want 4K video under $1,000
Flight Time: 20 minutes | Camera: 4K/30 fps | Smartphone Controlled: Yes | FAA Registration: Required | Indoor Use: No | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per rotor, replaceable) | Size: 7.2 x 6.6 x 2.5 inches | Weight: 15.2 ounces
The DJI Mavic Air is one of the most compact drones around, yet takes excellent 4K video and fantastic photos. It's the best drone under $1,000 that can take 4K videos. It's a cinch to fly, can avoid objects, and can be controlled using nothing more than hand gestures. We especially liked some of its novel features, such as the ability to take 360-degree photos. Battery life is a little short at 20 minutes, but the Air's battery can be swapped out in a cinch, and the whole package—including the controller—packs away into a neat little bag.
Read our full DJI Mavic Air review.
3. DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Best drone for videography
Flight Time: 31 minutes | Camera: 4K/30 fps | Smartphone Controlled: Yes | FAA Registration: Required | Indoor Use: No | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per rotor, replaceable) | Size: 12.7 x 9.5 x 3.3 inches | Weight: Pro: 32 ounces; Zoom: 31.9 ounces
If your aerial photography needs are a little more complex, another DJI drone can get the job done for you. The DJI Mavic 2 is the best drone for videographers and photographers looking for an all-in-one aerial platform. (There are other, more expensive drones that let you mount DSLRs and other third-party cameras, but are much more expensive).
The Mavic 2 is available in two versions: the $1,449 Mavic 2 Pro offers a 1-inch Hasselblad sensor for capturing high-quality photos and video, while the $1,249 Mavic 2 Zoom features a 2X optical zoom lens. Either version is a good choice, though the Zoom proved a little more versatile in our tests. Whichever Mavic 2 you opt for, you can count on an easy-to-fly drone that now features 360-degree obstacle avoidance.
Read our full DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom review.
4. Ryze Tech Tello
Best drone for kids
Flight Time: 3-5 minutes | Camera: 720p | Smartphone Controlled: Optional | FAA Registration: Not Required | Indoor Use: Yes | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per rotor, replaceable) | Size: 6 x 6 x 1.3 inches | Weight: 3 ounces
For just under $100, the Ryze Tech Tello—designed by DJI—makes for a good, inexpensive drone for first-time fliers. However, what elevates it above other inexpensive drones for kids is the fact that it can be programmed using Scratch, turning this toy into an educational device.
In addition, the Tello has a 720 camera that records pretty good video, and is easy to fly around. The biggest issue we had with the drone was its short 5-minute flight time, so you'll want to stock up on a few batteries if you decide to pick it up.
Read our full Ryze Tech Tello review.
5. Blade Nano QX RTF
Best drone under $100
Flight Time: 8 minutes | Camera: No | Smartphone Controlled: No | FAA Registration: Not Required | Indoor Use: Yes | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per rotor, replaceable) | Size: 5.5 x 5.5 x 2 inches | Weight: 0.6 ounces
Looking for an inexpensive drone to learn the basics? The Blade Nano QX is the best drone for the job, offering a great selection of features for the flier who wants more without spending more than $50. The no-frills Blade Nano QX RTF lacks a camera, but it's fast and maneuverable.
We also liked its sturdy blade guards, which help keep it in one piece if it crashes into something. However, it has a short battery life of around 7-8 minutes, but through Amazon, you can purchase a pack of four batteries for around $20.
Read our full Blade Nano QX RTF review.
6. Aerix Black Talon 2.0
Best racing drone for beginners
Flight Time: 4 minutes | Camera: 720p/1280 x 720 pixels | Smartphone Controlled: Optional | FAA Registration: Not required | Indoor Use: No | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per, replaceable) 2.75-inch diameter | Size: 7 x 7 x 2 inches | Weight: 2.5 ounces
The second version of the Aerix Black Talon features a much-improved camera. This makes for an even more immersive experience with the included FPV goggles, which drive home that in-the-action feeling as you zip around a track. Aspiring racers will love this drone's speed and maneuverability, and that it's super-easy to learn to fly. However, you'll want to spring for the optional battery pack, as this drone's endurance is a very short 4 minutes.
Read our full Aerix Black Talon review.
7. Propel Star Wars TIE Fighter
Best Star Wars drone
Flight Time: 10 minutes | Camera: none | Smartphone Controlled: No | FAA Registration: Not required | Indoor Use: Yes | Rotors: 4 (2 blades per, replaceable)
The force has awakened with Propel's Star Wars drones, including the X-Wing, a TIE Interceptor, and an Imperial speeder bike (complete with Stormtrooper). All the drones are outfitted with IR blasters and receivers, so you can do battle with each other. The drones' controllers play a number of sound effects and music from the Star Wars movies. Each drone is hand-painted and numbered, too.
Read our full Propel Star Wars drone review.
How we test drones
When we take a new drone out for a spin, we evaluate it based on a number of factors:
- Design: How well is the drone built, and does it look good? If it comes with a controller, we take a look at its ergonomics.
- Durability/Repairability: Face it. You're going to crash your drone at least once, but a good model should be able to survive a few mishaps without a problem. And, if something happens to break (it's usually a rotor), how easy is it to repair?
- Flight Performance: How easy is the drone to fly? Is is stable when hovering, or does it require a lot of stick work? How does it respond to your commands?
- App: How intuitive is the app? What sort of features are available?
- Camera Quality: If the drone has a camera, then how good are the photos and videos it takes?
- Flight time: How long can the drone stay in the air before its battery runs out? This varies a lot based on the size of the drone, but the best drones have batteries that last up to 25-30 minutes.
- Price: Obviously, we don't expect a $50 drone to perform as well as a $1,000 drone, so we take its cost into consideration when rendering a final verdict.
What to look for when buying a drone
Drones aren't just fun to fly. They can let you capture breathtaking footage, some in high-resolution 4K video. They're also more affordable than ever, as quality beginner models now cost less than $60. Good camera drones start at a few hundred dollars. More complex drones, starting at less than $1,000, offer customizable and programmable features, turning them into truly autonomous devices that can make their own decisions. Plus, a new class of racing drones has started hitting the scene.
Drones aren't that complicated, but there are a few key features you should consider when you are shopping. There are also some key rules you need to follow when you take to the air.
FAA has rules you have to follow. The most important two: Never fly around or above people, and always keep your drone in sight. The FAA has a full list of safety guidelines for model aircraft that you should check before you take off. There are also restrictions on where you can fly: For example, within 5 miles of an airport is off limits. Mapbox provides a great interactive map of no-fly areas, and local RC (Remote Control) aircraft clubs may list fields that they use.
Non-commercial drones that weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds have to be registered (there's a $5 fee), and have to carry your license with you while flying the drone.
Most drones use a remote control with two joysticks — a bit like an Xbox or PlayStation controller. One stick controls what's called the attitude of the quadcopter, including roll (tilting left and right) and pitch (tilting up and down). The other stick controls throttle and the rotation of the quadcopter. A good remote control should fit well in the hand, with sticks resting comfortably under your thumbs and providing a smooth, responsive feel that allows you to guide the quadcopter by touch.
Some models skip the remote control, or offer it as an extra-cost feature, and instead use a smartphone connected via Wi-Fi and a flying app. These apps often provide a live video view from the quadcopter camera. However, apps don’t allow the precision of real controllers: It is easier for your thumbs to slip, possibly causing a crash.
Construction and Repair
Despite what the ads tell you, drones crash all the time. A good drone will take an unplanned descent and ground interface (aka: a crash) in stride, without damaging the frame. It will also include shields to protect the rotors and electronics from harm.
Regardless, things still get broken sometimes, particularly racing drones. A good model will offer a ready supply of cheap parts like rotors and struts to replace the broken ones, and will make it easy to swap these parts out when required. The same is true of batteries.
Very few drones offer more than 20-30 minutes of battery life, so an easily swapped battery can give you more flying time without hassle. This tends to be a feature of more expensive models, with a spare battery typically costing more than $100.
Want to show off your aerial exploits? A camera, either built-in or add-on, can capture those dramatic vistas for posterity. The best drones will have cameras that can record video at resolutions of 4K or higher, but even budget models are getting better, able to capture video at 720p. However, they tend to use smaller image sensors, so the quality won't be that great.
Some drones also offer first-person view (FPV), sending a pilot's-eye view from the drone itself to a phone or tablet. Some models offer video goggles for the ultimate pilot-seat flying experience.
Do you still have questions about drones? Or opinions about what does and doesn't belong on this list? Join our drones forum to sound off.