Personal drones are more capable and more affordable than ever, and they can be a great investment whether you’re looking to expand your current, ground-based video or photography toolkit or just wanting to take up a new hobby. It’s now possible to dip your toes in for as little as $100 (or even less) and get a drone that you can have fun flying around. Spend a few hundred to a thousand, and you can expect pro-level drones packing better cameras, longer flying times and distances, and more advanced flight capabilities.
Read on for our reviews of the best, plus advice as you navigate the purchasing process.
What To Consider
For better or worse, there’s one company that stands pretty far apart from the others when it comes to consumer-level drones: DJI. And that’s true whether you’re shopping for something on the affordable side of things or a higher-end model. There’s a bit more competition when it comes to higher-end commercial drones, but that’s not of much benefit to most average pilots.
The most important consideration when buying a personal drone, however, is to choose the one that best fits your needs—ergo the one that you’re most likely to use. An expensive, high-end model could be great for pro-level video, but you might not get as much use out of it as a more affordable, portable drone that you can easily bring along on trips. On the flip side, you don’t want a drone that’s too limited in capabilities if you’re regularly making long flights or piloting it in more difficult conditions.
For most average users not looking to shoot professional-level video, that will mean a drone somewhere in the area of $400 to $1,500. Most have a flight time in the neighborhood of 30 minutes so you aren’t constantly worrying about your battery running dry, and they’re able to range at least a couple of miles (some many more). As you move up through that price (and beyond), you’ll get more advanced flight capabilities and better cameras. Pricier drones are often simply bigger, too, which can mean steadier flying in turbulence and the ability to carry bigger and better cameras.
Even an inexpensive drone is a serious tool, not a toy, and you’ll want to make sure that you’re following all the local regulations when flying one. In the United States and Canada, that starts with registering your drone for a nominal fee if it’s above a certain weight (250 grams, or 8.8 ounces, in both countries). Other guidelines are also similar in both countries, and include things like:
- Always keeping your drone within your line of sight.
- Not flying near airports or other restricted areas, including near emergency response efforts.
- Not flying above 400 feet.
- Not flying over people or moving vehicles.
- Not operating your drone while you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
There can be hefty fines for violating the rules, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with them. You can find the full guidelines for the U.S. and Canada from the FAA and Transport Canada, respectively, and PCMag also has a good overview of the basics of drone flying.
How We Selected
To pick the best drones, we relied on our own previous knowledge and coverage, researched a range of trusted sources including Wired, CNET, and Wirecutter, and thousands of consumer reviews. Our Consumer Score represents the percentage of people who bought these drones and rated them at least four out of five stars on retail and review sites like Amazon, Best Buy, and the manufacturers’ web pages.
Good All Around
DJI Mavic Air 2
Consumer Score: 75%
Camera: 4K at 60 fps, 48 MP | Flight time: 34 min. | Top speed: 42.3 mph | Range: 11.5 miles
DJI’s original Mavic Air was one of our top picks in a previous version of this guide. And the company’s Air 2 offers clear improvements over its predecessor in the two areas that matter most: its camera and flying capabilities. Bumps there include the ability to shoot 4K video at 60 fps, along with still photos up to 48-megapixels, while the drone’s flight time has been increased to a lengthy 34 minutes (up from 21). As PCMag notes in its review, those upgrades do come with a slight trade-off in the size and weight of the drone, which are both increased, but it’s still highly portable when folded up, and can easily be tucked in a bag or backpack. The drone itself runs $800, but Wirecutter and others recommend opting for the Fly More Combo pack, which gives you three batteries and some additional accessories for almost another $200.
DJI Mavic Mini
Consumer Score: 90%
Camera: 2.7K, 12 MP | Flight time: 30 min. | Top speed: 29 mph | Range: 2.5 miles
The Mavic Mini’s small size and affordable price might make you think that it comes with some serious compromises. And yes, there are some. But the drone’s advantages will likely outweigh them for most folks. Chief among those are its size and weight, the latter of which comes in just under the 250-gram mark, which means you don’t have to worry about registering it. The biggest drawback is that the Mini doesn’t shoot 4K like DJI’s higher-end drones, but you’ll still get some impressive 2.7K video and 12-megapixel still images. As Wired notes in its review, the drone’s small size does also have some inherent limitations—namely, that it can be more of a challenge to fly in windy conditions and easier to lose sight of, which you’ll want to do your best to avoid.
Consumer Score: 77%
Camera: None | Flight time: 4 min. | Top speed: 35 mph | Range: 200 ft.
Racing drones are in a world of their own, and can become a serious (and expensive) hobby for those that really pursue it. If you’re not ready to get into building and customizing your own flyer just yet, CNET recommends the Emax Tinyhawk as an affordable starting point that’ll still let you have a ton of fun. It’s available in a kit that includes a controller and FPV goggles for the full drone racing experience, and, while far from the fastest around, it can still reach speeds up to 35 miles per hour. Just as importantly, it’s durable enough to withstand some crashes as you’re honing your pilot skills.
Ideal for Video
DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Consumer Score: 86%
Camera: 4K, 20 MP | Fight time: 31 min. | Top speed: 44 mph | Range: 11 miles
DJI fit a great camera and long battery life (as drones go) into the Mavic 2 Pro, which is so compact that you’ll actually bring it to the places you want to shoot. It takes photos at 20 megapixels and shoots 4K video, which is plenty of resolution for even serious YouTubers. That camera is so powerful that you don’t really need to consider buying one of DJI’s bulkier Phantom drones.
Among the reasons DJI has absolutely dominated the drone market are its smart flight features. You can set the Mavic 2 Pro to hold its position even in strong wind, autonomously follow a target, or respond to gestures from the person being filmed. It also has sensors that help it avoid obstacles, preventing crashes that were an inevitable part of drone ownership even a few years ago. The Mavic 2 Pro also beats many other drones for battery life, with over 30 minutes of flight time per charge. The gimbal and stabilization system are industry toppers, which results in footage that looks like a high-budget movie.
Consumer Score: 77%
Camera: 720p, 5 MP | Flight time: 13 mins. | Top speed: 17.8 mph | Range: 328 ft.
There may be a handful of clear favorites when it comes to higher-end drones, but things get quite a bit more confusing if you’re just looking for a cheap flyer to try your hand with before investing in something more serious.
While there’s still no mistaking this for a pro-level piece of equipment, the Ryze Tello benefits from a partnership with DJI that gives it some decent capabilities for the price, and those willing to invest the time can get even more out of it thanks to its support of the Scratch programming language.
Consumer Score: 81%
Camera: 5.2K, 20.8 MP (with X5S camera) | Flight time: 27 mins. | Top speed: 58 mph | Range: 4.3 miles
What do the professional movie makers get in the Inspire 2 that most consumers don’t? A magnesium-alloy body, the ability to swap out lenses, faster speed, and an insane 5.2K video quality. It also has retractable landing gear, so you swivel the camera 360 degrees without anything obstructing the view. Keep in mind that pro-level drones can be operated by two people: one to pilot the drone itself, one to wear a live-feed headset and point the camera where it needs to look. (A separate nose-mounted camera is there to show the pilot the drone’s heading.)
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