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Best drone 2023: the 12 finest flying cameras you can buy

Updated: Jan 11

Welcome to our in-depth guide to the best drones that 2023 has to offer. Whether you're looking for your first flying camera or are a more experienced aerial filmmaker in need of an upgrade, we've spent countless hours in the air with the world's best drones to bring you our ranked guide below. (Just getting started? You can also check out our separate guide on the best beginner drones).




What's the best drone you can buy right now? That depends a little on your needs and experience, but we think the best aerial camera for most people is the DJI Air 2S. This folding flier offers the ideal blend of portability and performance, thanks to its impressive 1-inch sensor, intelligent flight modes and useful 31-minute battery life. Whether you're a novice or an experienced landscape photographer, it's a fine companion for trips to the great outdoors.


That said, the Air 2S isn't necessarily the best drone for everyone. If you want an even better camera in a similarly-sized bundle, then the newer Autel Evo Lite+ is well worth investigating. And when it comes to mini drones, the DJI Mini 2 remains top of the pile – although it's worth bearing in mind that rumors of as DJI Mini 3 are swirling.


Looking to spend a bit more on the ultimate aerial imaging tool? The DJI Mavic 3 is tough to beat. It’s inescapably expensive, but its dual-cam configuration – which includes a superb Four Thirds sensor with adjustable aperture – sets a new standard for in-flight filming. Now that a firmware update has unlocked its full suite of features and skills, it’s the easily best drone DJI has ever made.


Whatever you’re looking for from a camera drone, our list will help you find it. From affordable options to powerful, pro-friendly quadcopters, we’ve covered the very best drones for every type of pilot. Overwhelmed by the choice? Head to the bottom of our guide for top tips on what to consider when choosing the best drone for you in 2023.


 

The best drone in 2023


1. DJI Air 2S


SPECIFICATIONS


Weight: 595g Controller: Yes Camera resolution: 20MP Flight time: 31 minutes Range: 8km-12km


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REASONS TO BUY +Large 1-Inch sensor+Small and lightweight


REASONS TO AVOID -No adjustable aperture-Controller isn’t foldable


The superb Air 2S combines the best features of our two previous favorite DJI drones, the Mavic Air 2 and Mavic 2 Pro. You get the compact, folding design of the former, plus the 20MP 1-Inch sensor found in the latter. The combination is a brilliant one that we loved in our review, making the Air 2S our top choice for hobbyists and also pros who need a small drone that they can take anywhere.





While the Mavic Air 2 remains a good choice for those on a tighter budget, the Air 2S does deliver some handy advantages over its predecessor. The ability to shoot 5.4K video at 30fps gives you some extra creative flexibility, and supports a useful digital zoom option (even if we’d only recommend using that at 2x zoom). Throw in the ability to shoot 1080p at 120fps and some impressive high ISO performance, and you have a superb all-round flying machine that soars above its mid-range rivals.



2. DJI Mini 2


SPECIFICATIONS


Weight: 249g Controller: Yes Camera resolution: 12MP Battery size: 2,250 mAh Range: 5.8 GHz: 10km (FCC); 6km (SRRC)


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REASONS TO BUY +Incredibly compact size+Impressive battery life+Simple controls and app


REASONS TO AVOID -No 'follow me' mode-Pricier than Mavic Mini


One of our few complaints in our review of the DJI Mavic Mini was that it couldn't shoot 4K video – this excellent successor fixes that, while giving us a few extra treats in the process. The Mini 2 has the same ultra-compact design as before, making it the joint-smallest drone in DJI's line-up, but comes with a new controller that boosts it range (thanks to Ocusync 2.0 connectivity) and delivers a more polished flying experience.




Like the Mavic Mini, it's packed with a generous selection of beginner-friendly QuickShot modes, which see the drone perform pre-programmed moves. But the Mini 2 offers more for pro snappers, too, thanks to the inclusion of raw photo shooting, while 4K video means the arrival of a boosted 100mbps bit-rate. While it remains a fine drone, it's worth bearing in mind that rumors about a possible DJI Mini 3 continue to swirl.



3. DJI Mavic 3



SPECIFICATIONS


Weight: 895g (Mavic 3 Cine, 899g) Controller: Yes Camera resolution: 20MP Flight time: 46 minutes Range: 15km (FCC), 12km (CE)


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REASONS TO BUY +Superb Four Thirds camera+Adjustable aperture+Telephoto lens


REASONS TO AVOID -Pricier than rivals-Some missing features at launch


Looking for the most powerful compact drone around? The DJI Mavic 3 is it. This aerial powerhouse is fronted by a dual-camera that mixes a large, 20MP Four Thirds sensor with a handy 162mm telephoto lens. The Mavic 3 fits all this into in a backpack-friendly bundle we were surprised to find is somehow lighter than the Mavic 2 Pro model it's based on.


Other improvements over its predecessor include a 46-minute battery life (in reality, about half an hour of actual flight time) and the ability to shoot 5K/50p video or 4K/120p slow-mo footage. Upgrade to the DJI Mavic 3 Cine bundle, and you'll get 1TB of internal storage, a very fancy DJI RC Pro controller and the ability to shoot video in Apple ProRes 422 HQ format.


A couple of big firmware updates have finally added the polish and feature set we expected to see from the Mavic 3 at launch, making it the best camera drone around for outright image quality (if not value or portability).




4. Autel Evo Lite+


SPECIFICATIONS


Weight: 835g Controller: Yes Camera resolution: 20MP Flight time: 40 minutes Range: 12KM


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REASONS TO BUY +1-inch sensor with adjustable aperture+40-minute flight time


REASONS TO AVOID -Costs more than Air 2S-No D-Log profile


As the flagship flying machine from Autel’s latest line-up of DJI rivals, the Evo Lite+ goes directly up against the Air 2S. Capable of shooting 5.4K footage at 30fps using a 1-inch sensor, it shares a remarkably similar spec sheet. But it also both leapfrogs the Air 2S and the Mavic Pro 2 with its 40-minute flight time and adjustable aperture (ranging from f/2.8 to f/11). The Lite+ model does lack the fourth-axis stabilization of its Evo Lite sibling, but the larger pixels on its sensor give it better light-gathering potential in dim conditions.


Pro drone videographers might think twice about the lack of 10-bit video and D-Log profile, while the omission of side sensors for obstacle avoidance is a shame. But in all other respects, we found the Lite+ to be an impressively versatile piece of flying camera equipment in our review. For the money, its 20MP sensor is probably the best camera available on a drone today, which gives the Air 2S some serious competition.




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5. DJI Mavic Air 2


SPECIFICATIONS


Weight: 570g Controller: Yes Camera resolution: 12MP Battery size: 3,950 mAh Range: 10km


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REASONS TO BUY +Very easy to fly+Shoots great 4K/60p video+Strong 34-minute battery life


REASONS TO AVOID -Camera feed sometimes stutters-No screen on the controller


Previously our number one drone, the Mavic Air 2 has been nudged out of the limelight by the arrival of the DJI Air 2S (see number one) and Autel Evo Lite+ (above). But you shouldn’t rule it out as an option – after all, in our review, we called it the 'sweet spot' all-rounder of drones. It’s more affordable than the Air 2S and may just suit you better, if you don’t need the new model’s larger 1-Inch sensor.



It still shoots 4K/60p video, boasts an impressive 34-minute flight time and has a comparable maximum 10km range. You also get the same subject-tracking goodness as the Air 2S, a slightly longer 34-minute flight time, and that handy, compact folding design. While we’d stretch to the Air 2S if you can, due to its larger sensor and useful digital zoom, the Mavic Air 2 remains a great value option that is well worth considering.



6. DJI Mavic 2 Zoom



SPECIFICATIONS


Weight: 905g Controller: Yes Camera resolution: 12MP Battery size: 3,950 mAh Range: 8km


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REASONS TO BUY +Easy to fly and intuitive to control+24-48mm optical zoom lens


REASONS TO AVOID -Small 12MP sensor-Noise is a problem above ISO 100


Like the Mavic 2 Pro, the Mavic 2 Zoom landed back in August 2018, which means it's largely been succeeded by the newer Air 2S and Mavic 3 (see above). But despite the latter's inclusion of a 162mm telephoto lens, the Zoom still offers a unique 24-48mm optical zoom lens. If you're looking to capture close-up shots of subjects like people, while still maintaining the safe and legal distance of 50m, then based on our review experience, it's still worth considering due to the quality of that optical zoom.


Because of its smaller 12MP sensor, image quality doesn’t quite match the Mavic 2 Pro and the f/2.8 aperture is fixed, but photos and videos are still more than good enough for professional use. Range is also good and control is intuitive via the partner app. The real boon, though, is that zoom lens, which unlocks a world of creative shooting potential, even if the Mavic 3 beats it for outright reach.




7. DJI Mavic Mini



SPECIFICATIONS


Weight: 249g Controller: Yes Camera resolution: 12MP Battery size: 2,600 mAh Range: 5.8 GHz: 4000 m (FCC); 2500 m (SRRC)


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REASONS TO BUY +Smart, collapsible design+Incredibly stable video capture


REASONS TO AVOID -No 4K or 60fps 2.7K video-No object tracking


It's now been succeeded by the DJI Mini 2, but this ultra-compact drone will remain on sale – and that's good news for anyone who needs a slightly more affordable palm-sized drone with impressive video quality. Compared to its newer sibling, you miss out on raw photo capture, Ocusync 2.0 connectivity (for improved range) and some new motors, but the Mavic Mini is otherwise very competitive and still streaks ahead of any other drone in its weight category.


Just like on the Mini 2, we felt it was a shame there's no ActiveTrack object tracking or 'follow me' function in our review, but if you're simply looking to take your first step in aerial photography or videography, the Mavic Mini is a great option. You can also fill in some of those feature gaps with third-party apps like Litchi. We'll be keeping a close eye on its price tag, too, to see if moves further into super-bargain territory.




8. Ryze Tello




SPECIFICATIONS


Weight: 80g Controller: Optional Camera resolution: 5MP Flight time: 13 minutes Range: 100m


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REASONS TO BUY +Responsive flight controls+Lightweight and compact


REASONS TO AVOID -Choppy video transmission-Unstable in wind



Simple, lightweight and affordable, the Ryze Tello is designed to be a fun drone for first-time flyers. And despite its budget price tag, the Tello offers plenty: the battery serves up a reasonable 13 minutes of flight time, while downward-facing light sensors allow the Tello to hover in place and perform a handful of automated tricks.


We found that the image quality from the nose-mounted 5MP camera is less impressive in our review, with a limited dynamic range and noticeable compression artifacts when streaming 720p HD video. Because video is beamed directly to your smartphone, the frame rate is affected by any drop in connection strength.





That said, the app is refreshingly simple and makes for a straightforward way to pilot the Tello, with an on-screen twin-stick setup that’s rewardingly responsive. The theoretical range is 100m, but 30-40m is more realistic – which, given how even the slightest breeze can blow the 80g Tello off course, is not necessarily a bad thing.



The Ryze Tello is fundamentally a fun drone to fly on a calm day, zipping along at a rapid chop and reacting nimbly to intuitive inputs. The limited range is somewhat restrictive but, provided you don’t mind choppy video, it’s nevertheless the best starter drone around.





9. DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0



SPECIFICATIONS


Weight: 1375g Controller: Yes Camera resolution: 20MP Battery size: 6000mAh Range: 8km


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REASONS TO BUY +Large 1-inch 20MP sensor+Sturdy and fast drone+Shoots 4K/60p video at 100Mbps


REASONS TO AVOID -Large and bulky-More complex than foldables


DJI's Phantom range was the series that really took its drones to new heights – and while the Phantom 4 Pro V.20 isn't the newest model in this list, it remains a fine option for professionals who need something sturdy and reliable for windy conditions. Launched in 2018, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 was a big upgrade on the Phantom 4, bringing vastly improved obstacle avoidance and intelligent flight modes like ActiveTrack. Its 20MP 1-inch sensor can also shoot impressive raw stills and 4K/60p video at 100Mbps in the D-log color profile.





Of course, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0's size (it weighs 1,375g) means it isn't as convenient as the foldable Mavic 2 Pro, which also has a 20Mp 1-inch sensor. But it does also bring a mechanical shutter (for avoiding rolling shutter) and boasts a higher 4K frame-rate than its smaller sibling. With some excellent handling and 30 minutes of flight time that we enjoyed in our review, it's certainly worth considering if you need to shoot high-quality aerial stills and video in challenging weather that might be too much for the Mavic 2 Pro.



10. PowerVision PowerEgg X



SPECIFICATIONS


Weight: 522g Controller: Yes Camera resolution: 12MP Flight time: 3,800 mAh Range: 6km


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REASONS TO BUY +Can fly in rain and land on water+Converts into a handheld camera