If you’re an aspiring aerial photographer or videographer, drones are your ticket to the sky.
They provide perspectives that you’d otherwise be able to re-create only with expensive equipment such as cranes or dollies, which is why these cheap, lightweight marvels have become a staple of many online creators’ gear lists.
But you can find dozens of different models—sometimes even from a single brand—with various costs and benefits to sift through. After test-flying 33 drones, we’ve concluded that the DJI Air 3 is the best because it combines a high-quality main camera, useful telephoto camera, and the latest autonomous technology in a light-enough and relatively affordable package.
The DJI Air 3 is easy to fly, has an ample 46-minute battery life, and is equipped with two cameras, giving you options for more varied and interesting shots than its predecessor. We recommend the Fly More combo option because it’s the only package that includes the DJI RC 2 controller, which features a built-in screen and is a marked improvement over the standard controller that relies on your phone’s screen for live view.
The Air 3 can sense and avoid obstacles approaching from all directions, adding side sensing that our previous pick lacked. These new sensing abilities make the ActiveTrack feature, which directs the drone to autonomously follow and film a subject while also avoiding obstacles, easier to use in more situations.
It can hold its position steadily, even in moderate winds, so you can focus on your cinematography. And the Air 3 can go with you almost anywhere. Measuring 8 by 3.5 by 3.25 inches folded and weighing roughly 1.5 pounds, it fits well in most standard size backpacks.
The DJI Mavic 3 Pro takes many of the best features of the Air 3 and, for a little more than twice the price, ups the camera count to three. Not only do you get a Hasselblad-branded 24mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a Four Thirds sensor, but there are also two telephoto lenses: a 70mm-equivalent with a 1/1.3-inch sensor and a 166mm-equivalent with a 1/2-inch sensor.
Thanks to the comparatively huge sensor on the main camera, the Mavic 3 Pro can capture more detail than our other picks and in a much wider band of lighting conditions. As a result, it produces better images right out of the camera but also gives editing software more data to work with to improve the images even further.
This model can capture vibrant, detailed still images with its three cameras, and its video—at up to 5.1K resolution—looks more color-accurate than that of the competition. It also has a 43-minute battery life, which isn’t the longest we’ve ever seen (our top pick beats it by a bit) in our tests but comes pretty close.
If you’re just getting into drone photography, especially for personal use, the DJI Mini 3 is a fantastic starter package. Though it costs less than half as much as our top pick, it still offers a 4K camera, a long (38-minute) battery life, and a compact, lightweight build that just slides under the FAA’s 250-gram limit.
The Mini 3’s camera and sensor aren’t as high-quality as those of the Air 3, but the f/1.7 aperture provides surprisingly good image quality in lower-light conditions.
This model also comes with all the important features you need from a video drone, such as image and flight stabilization, an included controller, and smart flight modes, in which the drone flies itself to easily capture cinematic shots. But it lacks the obstacle-avoidance sensors of more expensive models.
You have the option to extend the battery life to 51 minutes via DJI’s Intelligent Flight Battery Plus, but using that add-on makes the drone heavy enough that you have to register it with the FAA.
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.