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The Best Drones You Can Buy Right Now

Whether you want professional video equipment or a $100 toy, there’s a drone out there for you.

best drones
Staff

Few bits of consumer tech have caught on more quickly than drones—also referred to as quadcopters or quads. These relatively affordable machines allow really anybody to capture cinematic footage of themselves and their environment. With just a couple hundred dollars, you can walk into your local electronics store and purchase a drone that can shoot stable high-definition video. However, with so many drones on sale, you might not know where to start your flying journey.

Along with quadcopters’ rapid ascent in popularity, their capabilities have been just as fast to advance. Most of these improvements focus around making them easier to fly. The best drones are supremely stable in crosswinds, unlikely to lose connectivity with a controller, and—thanks to onboard GPS—will simply return to where you launched them and land themselves if that connection is broken. Several of our select drones can shoot video in 4K and even 8K resolution and match the quality of $1,000 DSLR cameras. And beyond all that, proximity-sensing tech buffers against many of the dangers of accidentally flying into trees and other objects that can cause crash landings.

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 or a higher-end model. But rivals like Skydio and Autel are coming with their own cool offerings, too, giving you plenty of options to choose from.

The most important consideration when buying a personal drone is to choose the one that best fits your needs—in other words, 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. That’s not to mention that you also have a much higher likelihood of crashing when starting out.

For most average pilots, that will mean a drone somewhere in the area of $400 to $1,500. Most have a flight time of around 30 minutes and are able to fly at least a couple of miles away. As you move up through that price (and beyond), you’ll get better cameras and more advanced flight capabilities—including subject tracking and even obstacle avoidance. Pricier drones are often bigger, too, which can mean steadier flying in heavy gusts; however, the majority of these bigger drones also need to be registered with the FAA to be flown legally.

Regulations

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 U.S. 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 keep your drone within your line of sight.
  • Don’t fly near airports or other restricted areas, including near emergency response efforts.
  • Don’t fly higher than 400 feet.
  • Don’t fly over people or moving vehicles.
  • Don’t operate 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.

    How We Selected

    I (and my fellow drone experts who contributed to this article) know what separates the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to quadcopters. My journey, specifically, as a drone pilot started in 2018 with an indoor first-person-view (FPV) racing drone. After flying (and occasionally crashing) it for roughly a year, I started building my own drones from a collection of cherry-picked components. Throughout my time piloting FPV models—better suited for acrobatic maneuvers and racing—I’ve had the chance to also fly quite a few aerial-photography drones.

    In addition to leaning on that experience and knowledge, we recruited a few pros to help with the selection process, since they spend thousands of hours a year flying and testing every drone they can get their hands on. “Knowing what’s coming next is really part of my job,” says Matt Sloane, CEO of Skyfire Consulting in Atlanta. Sloane began his company seven years ago to help firefighters and emergency ops use drones as tools to get more “eyes on the situation.” Sloane says most SWAT teams, for instance, would happily (and wisely) risk a drone rather than an officer, and Sloane himself not only has commercial drone licensing, he also has his commercial license to fly manned aircraft.

    We also tapped Billy Kyle’s knowledge. Kyle is founder of Atmos Aerial services outside Philadelphia, a professional surveying company that he says mostly entails flying delicately around construction sites, conducting aerial mapping for farmers, as well as for real estate firms. Kyle also reviews drones and offers quick guidance through instructional videos on YouTube.

    Read on for our reviews of the best drones, plus advice on navigating the purchasing process.

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    Best Overall
    Skydio
    Skydio 2+ Starter Kit Drone

    Key Specs

    Camera: 4K at 60 fps HDR (12-MP photos)
    Flight time: 27 min
    Top speed: 36 mph
    Range: 3.8 miles
    Best Drone for Intermediate Pilots
    DJI
    DJI Mavic Air 2 Drone

    Key Specs

    Camera: 4K at 60 fps (48-MP photos)
    Flight time: 34 min
    Top speed: 42.3 mph
    Range: 6.2 miles
    Best Learner Drone
    DJI
    DJI Mavic Mini 2 Drone

    Key Specs

    Camera: 4K at 30 fps (12-MP photos)
    Flight time: 31 min
    Top speed: 35 mph
    Range: 6 miles
    High-Quality Camera
    Autel Robotics
    Autel Robotics Evo Lite+ Drone
    Now 25% off

    Key Specs

    Camera: 6K at 30 fps HDR (20-MP photos)
    Flight time: 40 min
    Top speed: 42 mph
    Range: 7.4 miles
    Best FPV Drone For Beginners
    DJI
    DJI Avata Fly Smart Combo

    Key Specs

    Camera: 4K at 60 fps (48-MP photos)
    Top speed: 31 mph
    Flight time: 18 min
    Range: 6 miles
    Best FPV Drone For Kids
    NewBeeDrone
    NewBeeDrone AcroBee65 RTF Drone

    Key Specs

    Camera: No auxiliary camera
    Flight time: 3-4 min
    Top speed: ~15 mph
    Range: ~100 yards
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