Published Jul 24, 2021
Until recently, aerial photography (and videography) was a costly proposition requiring helicopters, airplanes, or build-it-yourself rigs. Thanks to inexpensive drones this is no longer true. It’s not surprising that so many people have discovered drones and the unique perspectives they can provide.
All of the products in this guide fall into the ‘buy and fly’ category, meaning they require no extra components or customizations. Options range from personal ‘selfie’ drones to advanced models capable of producing pro-level photos and video.
Our pick: DJI Air 2S
The DJI Air 2S is our top pick for most drone users. It strikes a great balance between features and price, and in some cases outperforms much more expensive models. Its small size makes it good for travel, yet it’s intuitive enough for anyone to fly.
Most notably, the Air 2S includes a camera with a large 1″-type sensor, a feature previously reserved for models costing hundreds of dollars more. It captures 5.4K/30p video and 20MP photos in Raw or JPEG format, and DJI’s Smartphoto feature uses computational photography techniques to deliver very high quality images. A new feature called Mastershots will even shoot a series of video clips and automatically edit them together for sharing. Pilots are aided by DJI’s APAS 4.0 (Advanced Pilot Assistance System), which uses obstacle avoidance sensors to navigate around objects in the drone’s path.
The Air 2S is ideal for most hobbyists and advanced users, though even professionals will discover it meets their needs much of the time. The only notable shortcoming is a fixed-aperture lens, which means advanced users may need to rely on ND filters more than they’d like when shooting video.
Most travel-friendly: DJI Mini 2
The DJI Mini 2 is our top pick for those who prioritize portability and fun over absolute image quality. This affordable, ultra-compact model is small enough to be a true ‘take anywhere’ drone, fitting into a small bag or even a glovebox for travel. Despite its small size it boasts a 31-minute battery life and includes features like panoramic photo capture.
It can record 4K/30p video using a 100 Mbps codec, generating very good video footage, and photos can be captured in both Raw and JPEG formats. The Mini 2 includes several of DJI’s QuickShots settings including Dronie, Rocket, Circle and Helix.
Between its minuscule size, long battery life, and pleasing photos and video, the Mavic Mini should meet the needs of most casual users and travelers. If getting the absolute best image quality possible is your top priority, however, take a look at our top pick with a larger image sensor.
We considered all of the drones below when selecting our winners. Choosing the right drone is a very personal choice that depends on the specific combination of factors that matter most to you, so take a look at all the drones for a detailed breakdown of their strengths and weaknesses.