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Top 10 Camera Drones for 2023: Comparison, Features, and Prices

If you are avoiding the DJI brand due to security or human-rights concerns, or if you want a 6K camera, we recommend the Autel Robotics Evo Lite+. This drone can fly for up to 40 minutes with autonomous options similar to those of DJI drones. And unlike the DJI Fly app, the Autel Sky app is available for direct download from the Google Play store. However, we still prefer DJI drones for their value and image quality.

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An amateur photographer for years, and a competitive robot builder for more than a decade, associate staff writer James Austin recently took over covering photography drones for Wirecutter. Working with Signe, he has been following what modern drones can do and has been testing new releases since mid-2022.

The drones we cover in this guide might be of interest to certain professionals, including, for example, someone who wants to film a wedding, inspect gutters, or capture footage of a house going up for sale. But professionals shooting a film might want to look at higher-end models that allow them to mount specific camera equipment on the drone. Also available are drones for people who want to inspect farmland and industrial equipment, since that task can call for specialized sensors.

After reading professional and owner reviews, plus speaking to enthusiasts, experts, and manufacturers at the CES trade show, we decided to consider the following criteria while looking for drones to test:

Using the above criteria, we were able to pare our original testing field in 2016 down to the DJI Mavic Pro, the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, the Yuneec Typhoon H hexacopter, the GoPro Karma, and the Parrot Bebop 2. We tested the DJI Spark in 2017 and then the DJI Mavic Air and DJI Phantom 4 Pro v2 in early 2018. In late 2018, we tested the DJI Mavic 2 Pro (now discontinued), the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom, and the Autel Evo. We tested the Skydio R1 in early 2019 and the Parrot Anafi in late 2019. In early 2020, we tried the DJI Mavic Air 2 and DJI Mavic Mini. We tested the DJI Mini 2 in late 2020. In 2021, we considered the Autel Evo II Pro and Evo II 8K models, plus the DJI Mavic 3 and DJI FPV drones. In 2022, we tested the DJI Air 2S, the DJI Avata, and the Autel Robotics Evo Lite+.

We shot photos and videos with each drone to evaluate camera quality; the process also helped us to gauge stabilization quality and see whether propellers appeared in any of the shots. In addition, we tried all of the advertised intelligent flight modes and crash-avoidance systems by flying the drones through trees. We tested maneuverability and controller sensitivity by flying fast with lots of turns.

Photographers and cinematographers can take their skills further with the preprogrammed flight modes. We most often used ActiveTrack, which directs the drone to follow a subject (or yourself). In QuickShots mode, the Air 2S can autonomously film in elaborate cinematic ways, such as circling around a subject or zooming away from it. A mode added in 2022 called MasterShots combines several filming effects and then creates a short video for you.

Interestingly, the Mavic 3 also has a second camera, located above the Hasselblad lens. Meant for telephoto photography, this camera has a 0.5-inch sensor and can shoot 12-megapixel images and 4K videos. It has a 4x digital zoom, too, though DJI advertises it as being a 28x hybrid zoom. Not everyone needs a zoom camera on a drone (you could simply fly the drone forward in many cases), but it can be useful if you need to keep your distance while shooting videos of wildlife or people, for instance.

DJI also sells an upgraded version called the DJI Mavic 3 Cine, which supports the Apple ProRes 422 HQ codec and upgrades the internal storage to a 1 TB solid-state drive. The bundle also includes the DJI RC Pro controller, which has a built-in screen. The bundle is pricey ($5,000 at this writing), but it might appeal to professionals who want the portability of the Mavic line of drones.

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The Evo Lite+ offers a slight bump in capabilities over the DJI Air 2S but comes with a price increase to match. For one, the Evo Lite+ has a 6K, 20-megapixel camera with a 1-inch sensor. Even so, we preferred the clarity of the colors that DJI drones captured across the board.

You can have a lot of fun flying a drone by itself, but a few key accessories can make your flights smoother and even more enjoyable. We spent 40 hours researching and testing dozens of drone accessories, as well as interviewing four expert drone pilots, to find the best backpacks, landing pads, and microSD cards for foldable DJI drones. We also recommend picking up some extra batteries to extend your flying time between charges.

Three other compartments fit a camera and a tablet, flat items such as prop guards, and larger items such as a camera or an FPV headset. A compartment on one of the front shoulder straps fits a phone. The front of the backpack is also covered in looped straps that you can use to attach a drone, a tripod, or other gear with bungee cords, and two side pockets fit water or sunscreen bottles.

Once you have a registration number, you need to label each drone you fly for the next three years with that number. Unlike commercial pilots, recreational pilots do not need to complete a new registration for each drone they fly.

Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones.

All of the best camera drones feature a camera with the ability to capture photos in Raw format and video in at least 4K resolution or above. More advanced models provide the ability to capture video in flat (Raw) color profiles for color grading and to incorporate footage into a professional video workflow, alongside being able to capture video in standard profiles for footage that looks great straight out of camera.

We've also got guides to the best FPV drones if you want to dive head first into drone flying, so to speak, as well an overarching best drones guide that covers the top models in all categories.

The original DJI Mavic 3 models set a new benchmark for prosumer drones thanks to advanced features and dual cameras; the main Hasselblad camera provides an equivalent focal length of 24mm and features an amazing 20MP Four Thirds sensor that produces incredible image quality.

The camera itself is incredible and provides the best image quality possible with a folding prosumer drone. Photos can be captured in 12-bit Raw and JPEG, while video can be shot at up to 5.1K at 50fps, and 4K can be captured at up to 120fps for slow motion video. Footage can be captured in 10-bit D-Log for color grading or the Normal profile for straight out of camera footage.

Sub-250g drones are popular options for beginners and professionals alike because of their regulator-friendly nature which sees them under fewer restrictions than larger models. The Autel EVO Nano+ was the first drone in this category to feature obstacle avoidance, which in turn brings into play Quickshots. These are automated flight patterns that allow you to capture professional-looking videos at the touch of a button.

Image quality from the camera with a 12.5MP 1/1.28-inch sensor, an equivalent focal length of 23mm and a fast f/1.9 aperture is excellent overall. For stills photography, you can shoot in Raw, JPEG or both when shooting 12.5MP photos, but when taking advantage of the 50MP photo feature, you can only capture photos as JPEGs.

In terms of video, you can shoot at 4K up to 30fps, 2.7K up to 30fps and FHD up to 60fps with a maximum bitrate of 100Mbps. Video can be captured in both Standard and D-Log color profiles, with the former for straight-out-of-camera footage and the latter for color grading and use within professional workflows.

Taking the crown for best DJI drone with a 1-inch sensor from the Mavic 2 Pro, the Air 2S is now the best and indeed newest model available with this sensor size. The Air 2S features a folding design with a folded size of 180x97x77mm and a weight of just 595g, making it the smallest and lightest drone available with a 1-inch sensor. This makes it the perfect choice for photographers and videographers requiring excellent image quality in a small package that can be easily carried alongside other equipment.

The DJI Mavic Mini 3 is an impressive beginner drone, sharing many of the same features and functionality as its more advanced sibling: the DJI Mavic Mini 3 Pro. Both share the same camera with a 24mm equivalent focal length, fixed f/1.7 aperture, a 1/1.3-inch 12MP sensor and the ability to rotate the camera 90 to shoot photos and videos in both landscape and portrait formats.

The Skydio 2+ may not provide the highest resolution for stills photography but it does offer 4K video. And where this drone ultimately excels is when it comes to intelligent autonomous flight thanks to class-leading subject tracking. The subject tracking performance of the Skydio 2+, even in complex locations such as woodland, is remarkable and provides much smoother video footage than other drones making it a great option for action and sports videos.

The 20mm equivalent camera uses a 1/2.3-inch 12.3MP sensor with a fixed f/2.8 aperture with the ability to capture photos in JPEG and Raw formats. Video is slightly more limited than other drone models, but you can shoot 4K at up to 60fps and FHD at up to 120fps so you ultimately have the main resolutions required by both enthusiasts and professionals.

The Zenmuse X5S features a 20.9MP Micro Four Thirds sensor and lens mount compatible with eight DJI, Panasonic and Olympus MFT lenses. This camera provides 12.8 stops of dynamic range and the ability to shoot in JPEG and 12-bit Raw. Video can be captured at 5.2K up to 30fps, 4K DCI (cinematic 4K) up to 30fps, 4K up to 60fps and FHD up to 60fps. Raw video profiles include CinemaDNG and ProRes.

This is an incredibly powerful drone with a top speed of 55.9mph (without a camera) with wind resistance of up to 44.7mph, so it can be flown in even the most challenging conditions and still capture smooth video footage. Battery life is short at up to just 22 minutes without a camera attached, but this would be sufficient for many professional filmmaking situations. When purchasing the Airpeak S1, you will also need a compatible camera and gimbal mount.


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