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The best drones you can buy: Expert tested

I tested the best drones and chose my top picks based on flight time, video resolution, and more, for aspiring aerial photographers, videographers, and hobbyists.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Reviewed by Nina Raemont
DJI Mavic 3 Pro | Best drone overall
Mavic 3 Pro drone
DJI Mavic 3 Pro
Best drone overall
View now View at Best Buy
DJI Avata 2 FPV | Best flying action camera drone
DJI Avata 2 FPV
DJI Avata 2 FPV
Best flying action camera drone
View now View at Amazon
DJI Mini 4 Pro | Best drone for budding professionals
DJI Mini 4 Pro
DJI Mini 4 Pro
Best drone for budding professionals
View now View at Amazon
DJI Air 3 | Best mid-range drone
DJI Air 3 drone.
DJI Air 3
Best mid-range drone
View now View at Best Buy
DJI Mini 3 | Best budget drone
A DJI Mini 3 drone with a controller with a screen below it
DJI Mini 3
Best budget drone
View now View at Best Buy

I'm utterly fascinated by drone technology. The idea of a flying machine outfitted with a high-resolution camera seemed like pure fantasy during my childhood. Now, that dream has not only materialized, but today's drones are also equipped with advanced features like autonomous flight modes and obstacle avoidance. The visions of sci-fi fantasies I had as a kid have become tangible realities!

Also: The best surveillance drones

For over a decade, I've been immersed in the world of drone piloting. With mandatory drone licenses for the UK, Europe, and the US under my belt, I also possess an A2 Certificate of Competency alongside a General Visual Line of Sight Certificate. I have piloted dozens of drones through countless hours of flight — ranging from the colossal to the compact, covering every size in between. My drone flying is not just a hobby but a professional endeavor, allowing me to capture the beauty of the world from unique perspectives, day and night, in some of the most breathtaking locations globally.

What is the best drone you can buy right now?

After rigorously testing many of the leading drones on the market, I've concluded that the DJI Mavic 3 Pro stands out as the best overall drone. It distinguishes itself with ultra-high definition recording capabilities, superior frame rates, outstanding flight performance, and impressive battery longevity. In the right hands, it's capable of producing cinematic videos and stunning photographs with its trio of cameras. Moreover, its advanced flight safety features significantly minimize the risk of loss, ensuring you capture the perfect shot every time. However, I also recognize diverse needs and preferences, so I've also put together a selection of top drones varying in size, weight, and price point, based on my extensive personal testing.  

The best drones of 2024

Mavic 3 Pro drone
Katherine Betteridge/ZDNET
Pros & Cons
  • Fantastic camera system
  • Powerful drone that is stable in high winds
  • Great battery life (even if it isn't as good as advertised)
  • Expensive
  • A big drone that's not pocketable
  • Required the RC Pro controller for the best experience
More Details

This is DJI's flagship consumer/prosumer drone. It's big, it's mean, it's noisy, it has three cameras, and is the perfect drone to get the job done. If the conditions will let you fly a drone, the Mavic 3 Pro will deliver.

The Mavic 3 Pro features a 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor, 3x optical zoom, and is capable of 48MP/12MP photos, 4K/60fps video, and supports the new D-log M. 

Review: DJI Mavic 3 Pro

On top of that, the wide-angle camera now also supports the new 10-bit D-Log M color mode, allowing the sensor to capture up to one billion colors. This not only makes the camera better at capturing difficult scenes such as sunrises and sunsets but also makes it easier to process the captured video.

In terms of drones that you can pack away and carry in a bag, this is the most stable, most capable, and most powerful drone that I've ever flown. Yes, as with all drones, it takes some getting used to, and it takes time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the three cameras. But once you master this drone, you have an incredibly powerful platform for capturing unique photo and video shots.

Users also echo my feelings about this drone. Over on Amazon, 84% of those who rated it gave it five stars, with reviews packed with praise for this drone's cinematic output and powerful features.

DJI Mavic 3 Pro tech specs: Camera: 1/1.3-inch CMOS, 70mm equivalent, 3x Optical Zoom, f/2.8, 48 MP and a 1/2-inch CMOS Tele Camera 166mm equivalent, 7x Optical Zoom, 28x Hybrid Zoom, f/3.4, 12 MP | Video: 4K/60fps | Max flight time: 43 minutes | Transmission distance: up to 15km

Pros & Cons
  • Fun to operate
  • Super fast
  • Capable of crazy acrobatics
  • More robust that your traditional drone
  • Steep learning curve to get the best out of the drone
  • Not the drone to capture cinematic photos or video
More Details

The new DJI Avata 2 FPV (First-Person View) drone has completely flipped the script for me, taking what was previously quite a calming--meditative, even--activity and turning it into a crazy, white-knuckle ride. Within moments of donning on the goggles and sending the Avata 2 on its first full-speed run I felt like Wile E. Coyote, strapped to an ACME rocket, engaged in a desperate life-or-death chase after the Road Runner.

Also: I tested DJI's new Avata 2 and it's the fastest, most immersive drone I've ever flown

Everything in the kit is exactly what I've come to expect from DJI -- top-tier quality. The drone itself feels sturdy, which was a bit of a surprise since it's not much heavier than DJI's sub-250-gram ultralight drones. The prop guards seem like they can take a hit or two, and yeah, I had to put that to the test. 

However, it's important to note this is an FPV drone. So, if you're aiming to capture cinematic footage or doing detailed shots of buildings for a realtor, this might not be the best choice. Think of it more as a flying action camera than a traditional one. That distinction really shapes the kind of results you can expect from it.

DJI Avata 2 tech specs: Camera: 1/1.3-inch 12-mm wide-angle camera | Video: 4K 60fps max video recording | Max flight time: 24 minutes | Transmission distance: 13km

Pros & Cons
  • Small and lightweight
  • Excellent 4K camera
  • Really easy to fly
  • Quiet
  • All-round sensors
  • Expensive compared to the Mini 3
  • Optional DJI RC smart controller adds to the price
  • Gets hot when on but not in flight
More Details

This is an upgraded version of the Mini 3 Pro, with a redesigned chassis, upgraded camera, and the addition of omnidirectional obstacle avoidance sensors.

The sub-250g category is important in some territories because it falls into an area where there are fewer regulation headaches. This is a big deal in places like Europe, less so in places like the US. It is also one of the quietest drones that I've flown, so if you're looking not to attract attention, this is the drone for you.

That said, the Mini 4 Pro is a very capable drone that you can slip into a pocket and take with you on your adventures. That's not something you could do with the Mavic 3 Pro!

User reviews for this drone on Amazon and Reddit praise its excellent image quality, how easy it is to fly, its performance, and its quality. This is a highly-rated drone.

DJI Mini 4 Pro tech specs: Camera: 1/1.3-inch 24-mm wide-angle camera | Video: 4K 100fps max video recording | Max flight time: 34 minutes | Transmission distance: 20km

DJI Air 3 drone.
Katherine Betteridge/ZDNET
Pros & Cons
  • Omnidirectional obstacle avoidance sensors
  • Dual cameras
  • Exceptional camera quality
  • Great flight time
  • Quite a large drone, definitely not something that will fit into a pocket
  • Not cheap
More Details

For those looking for an enthusiast-level drone with prosumer features, you need to look no further than the Air 3. 

If you're a current Air 2S owner and need to get in closer to your subjects, then the medium telephoto camera will deliver exactly that in a platform that will otherwise feel quite familiar to you, which could make this the perfect upgrade. If you're coming from a DJI Mini drone, this will open up a world of possibilities for you to be even more creative in the sky.

Review: DJI Air 3

The omnidirectional obstacle sensing is a feature that could help save your drone from damage or destruction. While I'd never rely on these sensors, and always keep an eye on where the drone is and its surroundings, it's a super handy feature that makes flying safer. 

Reviewers of the Air 3 on Reddit and Amazon comment on how easy this is to fly and how much reassurance the obstacle avoidance sensors give the operator, and praise its performance, image quality, and value for money.

DJI Air 3 tech specs: Camera: 1/1.3 inch CMOS, 48 megapixels, 1-3x digital zoom, and 1/1.3 inch CMOS, 48 megapixels, 3-9x digital zoom | Video: 4K: 3840 × 2160@24/25/30/48/50/60/100 fps | Max flight time: 46 minutes | Transmission distance: 20km

Pros & Cons
  • Small and lightweight
  • Competitively priced
  • Amazing camera
  • Easy to fly
  • Lightweight build makes it a poor choice in windy conditions
  • No obstacle avoidance sensors
More Details

The DJI Mini 3 is a flying, stabilized 4K/12-megapixel camera with a theoretical range of 10km (way beyond what you should ever take it), and a rated flight time of 38 minutes with the included battery.

The standard kit comes with the DJI RC-N1 controller with no screen (you use your smartphone), but there's an option to upgrade to the DJI RC controller that has a built-in display that adds $140 to the price.

There's also a "Fly More Combo" option that adds two additional 38-min Intelligent Flight Batteries, a two-way charging hub, a shoulder bag, spare propellers, and a few other bits.

This drone gets rave reviews on Amazon for its ease of use, stability in flight, responsiveness, and the quality of the photos and videos it captures.

DJI Mini 3 tech specs: Camera: 1/1.3-inch CMOS, 12-megapixels | Video: 4K (3840×2160)@24/25/30 fps | Max flight time: 38 mins with Intelligent Flight Battery/51 mins with Intelligent Flight Battery Plus | Transmission distance: 10km

What is the best drone?

The DJI Mavic 3 Pro is ZDNET's top choice for its ultra-high definition recording, excellent frame rate, and long-lasting battery. The dual camera array is great for both aerial photography pros and newcomers alike, though the steep flight learning curve may be difficult for some beginners. 



Obstacle avoidance

Camera resolution

DJI Mavic 3 Pro




DJI Avata 2




DJI Mini 4 Pro




DJI Air 3




DJI Mini 3




*Lowest price at the time of writing. Please note that prices may vary based on retailer and available promotions, sales, or discounts.

Which is the right drone for you?

Whether you're into aerial photography as a hobby or a professional photographer or videographer looking to add something new to your list of services, drones are a great way to expand your skills. To help decide which drone best suits you and your lifestyle, use case, or what have you, consider the following:

Choose this drone…

If you want…

DJI Mavic 3 Pro

The best prosumer/consumer drone available. It also has a wide-angle camera that supports the new 10-bit D-Log M color mode, allowing the sensor to capture up to one billion colors.

DJI Avata 2

Less of a traditional drone and more a flying action camera that can do acrobatics and flying tricks.

DJI Mini 4 Pro

A high-end drone that's super portable, or the best sub-250g drone available. It is a very capable drone that you can slip into a pocket and take with you on your adventures.

DJI Air 3

A highly-capable all-rounder that's more affordable than the Mavic 3 Pro. This is an enthusiast-level drone with prosumer features

DJI Mini 3

A budget drone that doesn't compromise on camera quality. It has a rated flight time of 38 minutes with the included battery.

Factors to consider when choosing a drone

Here are some factors I suggest you consider when choosing a drone:

  • Purpose: Understand why you need the drone. Different drones are designed for various purposes, including aerial photography, videography, racing, surveillance, or just recreational flying.
  • Camera quality: If you're interested in photography or videography, the quality of the onboard camera is crucial. Look at the resolution, frame rate, and whether the camera offers features like gimbal stabilization for smoother shots.

  • Ease of use: Consider how easy the drone is to fly, especially if you're a beginner. Many drones come with features like automatic takeoff and landing, return to home, and obstacle avoidance, to make flying the drone safer and  simpler.

  • Size and Portability: If you plan to travel with your drone, consider its size and weight. Most consumer drones are designed to be portable, with foldable arms for easy transport, but can vary in weight from under 250 grams to close to a kilogram.

  • Regulations and restrictions: Be aware of local laws and regulations regarding drone flying in your area. Some places require drones to be registered, and there may be restrictions on where you can fly.

  • Price: Drones listed here can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Determine your budget and what features are most important to you within that budget.

How we test drones

I'm a licensed and insured drone operator, and rather than spending a bit of time reviewing these drones, I've put in many dozens of hours flying these drones, both for testing, flying for fun, and carrying out commercial work. Here are the factors I consider when I test a drone: 

  • Camera quality: Most of use are flying a drone to get some output, whether that be photos of potential damage to a roof, or cinematic output for a video project. The quality of the capture matters a lot.
  • Ease of flying: I'm a competent drone pilot with a lot of experience, and one thing that experience has taught me is to spot the difference between a drone that's safe and easy to fly and one that it doing to go into a wall, tree, or off and never be seen again! I like to get a good few hours with a drone before writing a review or recommending it.
  • Durability: I've put these drones through their paces in many countries around the globe, flying them in cold weather, windy weather, and into the mouths of active volcanoes. I know what they are capable of, and these drones will deliver quality photos and video under even the toughest conditions.
  • Obstacle avoidance: As well as testing the camera and flight characteristics, I've spent a lot of time testing the obstacle avoidance sensors. While I don't think that any drone operator should rely on these for day-to-day use, they're a handy safety feature in case things go wrong, and as such I like to test these features.
  • Battery life: Are the flight time specs quoted by the manufacturers anywhere near to what you an expect in the real world?
  • Price: I considered various DJI drone models at different price points that will be more budget-friendly or more high-end/enthusiast, depending on your skill level and what you are looking for. 

Are drones easy to fly?

Yes! Modern drones are really easy to fly.

That doesn't mean that there isn't a learning curve, and I highly recommend spending time learning to fly -- pick a large wide open area like a park or beach so you can get used to what your drone is capable of delivering.

Are the sensors on drones foolproof?


While they're good and can do things like avoiding people and trees and stuff like that, they can be fooled by things like branches, power lines, and telephone wires.

Obstacle avoidance sensors are a safety feature, not something that you should rely on all the time. 

Can you fly drones in the rain?


Drones are not rated as waterproof, and rain -- and even fog -- can damage the delicate electronics in the drone. While you'll see videos on YouTube of people flying in rain and snow, I don't recommend it.

Are there alternative drones worth considering?

While DJI is the biggest name in consumer drones, there are other players. Another brand worth keeping an eye on is Autel. I've tested a few of these drones from Autel, and while I've not put as many hours into them as I have with their DJI counterparts, there's one model worth considering. Moreover, here are few other drones worthy of a closer look. 

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