The best drones on the market for every drone pilot – from amateur hobbyist to aspiring quadcopter careerist.
Part of my job as a drone pilot instructor is guiding people to the best drone that fits their needs, price point, and areas of passion. Often I’m helping someone select the first drone they’ve purchased. Other times, they’re looking to upgrade to the next level and make a more sizable investment in their hobby or business.
Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of pilots pass their FAA Part 107 exam, learn to fly, and select a drone they truly love. We have hands-on experience with the vast majority of makes and models out there.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of what we believe to be the best drones currently on the market for every drone pilot, price point, and intended use.
DJI Mavic Air
The Best All-Around Drone
Let’s face it: if you’re doing research on drones, the name DJI is going to come up. They are the industry leaders in the consumer drone market, and for good reason.
The Mavic Air is often the easy answer to the question, “What drone should I get?” This is especially true for folks who’ve never purchased one before but are ready to make a bit of an investment in the hobby.
Its reasonable mid-range price point, portable design, and robust features make it a great all-around option for those who are just diving into the world of drones, but want to do so with some seriousness.
So what makes the Mavic Air such a great all-around choice? Here are a few standout features and important things to note in your decision-making process.
Size and portability
The Mavic Air is a serious drone with some professional-grade features, but you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a toy. When folded and collapsed, it’s not much larger than the average smartphone. It will fit comfortably into one of your hands.
Its zip-up soft-shell case and foldable remote make this setup super easy to throw into a backpack before you head out on your next adventure to grab some aerial footage.
Video & photography features
High-resolution 4K video comes off the Mavic Air in 24FPS or 30FPS (for reference, most Hollywood films are captured in 24FPS). For those seeking a slow motion, cinematic feel, the Air can shoot at up to 120FPS in 1080p full HD.
That slow motion setting is ideal for action footage like skating, team sports, and wildlife. The ultra high-frame rate means the video will be butter smooth when it’s slowed down in editing.
As far as stills go, the Air shoots ultra-sharp photography utilizing high-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging and the option to shoot spherical panoramas from the air.
Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (APAS)
When enabled, onboard software called Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (APAS) helps you actively avoid obstacles, guiding the drone smoothly around objects in its path. We’ve found this software to be especially useful for pilots who are still becoming comfortable with flying.
In addition to the obvious benefit of helping pilots avoid collisions, the APAS ensures that smooth, uninterrupted video footage is collected even if the drone has to actively avoid an obstacle mid-shot.
About the battery
At the end of the day, no drone is perfect, and most of the time you’re sacrificing in one area to benefit in another. In the case of the Mavic Air, the small size, light weight, and portability of this drone means that the battery is on the small side, putting the maximum flight time around 21 minutes.
For that reason, I generally recommend that if folks are purchasing an Air, they spring for DJI’s Fly More Bundle, which includes a total of three lithium batteries as well as some additional useful accessories. It won’t set you back too much more, and I think most people find that it’s worth it.
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
The Best Full-Featured Drone
The Mavic 2 Pro is DJI’s flagship consumer drone, and it’s what we tend to recommend for those who are seeking a drone with full-fledged features and are ready to make a more significant financial investment.
The onboard Hasselblad camera paired with DJI’s vast range of features opens the door to a variety of pro-sumer and business applications including professional videography, commercial inspections, land surveying and more.
Chock-full of industry leading features, this is a solid option for those looking to move from hobbyist to serious drone operator.
Professional footage and photography
In partnership with Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad, the Mavic 2 Pro gimbal-stabilized camera boasts a large (1-inch) CMOS image sensor. This allows the camera to capture loads of raw video data and shoot beautiful footage, even in low light.
In truth, this is the kind of footage and photography normally only gathered on DSLR cameras, but in a folding all-in-one drone.
When you’re considering the cost jump from the Mavic Air, the Mavic 2 Pro comes in at about twice as much. At the end of the day, the industry-leading sensor on the Hasselblad camera (paired with a boatload of manual camera features like aperture control) is mostly what you’re paying for here.
Of course, higher build quality and some added bells and whistles are on board too when you’re comparing it side by side with cheaper options. But if quality of footage and photography is important to the work that you’re doing or the hobby you enjoy, it could very well be worth the jump in price.
Size & portability
Despite its pro-grade hardware, the Mavic 2 is still a foldable drone designed with portability in mind. It can slide easily into a camera bag or a backpack. I usually tell people who are planning on doing a lot of traveling with their Mavic 2 Pro to consider the Fly More Bundle, which includes a sturdy travel bag as well as two extra batteries (also super useful for on-the-go).
Expert control made easy
The Mavic 2 Pro comes with a remote that allows you to easily snap in your smart phone and monitor video real-time in 1080p up to 8 kilometers (5 miles) away.
With a little practice, the controls become intuitive, and DJI’s onboard obstacle avoidance and return-to-home software provide guidance and support to help keep your drone out of harm’s way.
Of course, you’ll always want to abide by FAA regulations and ensure you’ve received your Part 107 certification before taking flight).
What about the Mavic 2 Zoom?
The Mavic 2 Zoom was released alongside the Pro, and it is identical to the Pro in all ways but the camera. Instead of the DSLR-like Hasselblad hardware, the Zoom boasts a 2X (24mm-48mm) zoom function but a smaller image sensor and slightly reduced overall image quality.
However, the quick and dynamic zoom function – that ability to pull in on a subject or tighten a shot – might afford greater creative freedom to some, especially for those who are less interested in taking advantage of the ability to edit raw video and photos.
The Mavic 2 Zoom is an excellent drone, and it might be the right choice it the pro-level Hasselblad camera is a bit overkill for your needs.
If you’re truly caught in a choice between the two, this video provides a helpful and detailed feature comparison.
The Best Beginner Drone
For those looking to get their feet wet without dropping a huge chunk of change, the Tello Quadcopter is my go-to recommendation. This is also a great choice for kids!
With an onboard HD camera (recording at 720P), and an easy-to-use app smartphone app for flight, it’s a step above other toy drones. It’s great for anyone wanting to experience what it’s like to fly a camera drone at a really affordable price point.
Due to its super light weight (under 3oz), the FAA does not require this drone to be registered to fly outdoors. This adds to its appeal for folks wanting to experiment with drone piloting without much upfront investment.
To boot, Tello is compatible with most blue tooth remote controls. This is handy if fly-by-smartphone isn’t your thing or you’d prefer your kid(s) have the ability to fly the drone without using a smart device.
If there’s a downside to this drone, it’s that the Tello’s battery life tends to be short-lived. You’ll likely only a get a few minutes of flight out of a single charge. But just like the drone itself, extra batteries are inexpensive. The link above points to a bundle that includes a few spare batteries along with some fun accessories.