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Best drones in 2021: Digital Photography Review

Published Nov 19, 2021

DPReview staff

Until recently, aerial photography (and videography) was a costly proposition requiring helicopters, airplanes, or build-it-yourself rigs. Thanks to relatively 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.

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 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.

Best for pros: DJI Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Cine

The DJI Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Cine are our top picks for pros or enthusiasts who demand the best video or image quality available from an all-in-one drone. They feature a dual-camera module that combines a 20MP Four Thirds image sensor capable of high quality capture with a secondary 1/2″ sensor designed for zooming, and boast an impressive 46-minute flight time.

Both versions of the Mavic 3 can record 5.1K/50p and 4K/120p video using a 200 Mbps codec. The Cine model adds the ability to record using industry standard ProRes 422HQ, a more advanced controller with an ultra-bright built-in screen, and 1TB of onboard storage—though at a price premium.

Between a large image sensor, impressive video specs and best-in-class flight time, the Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Cine are the best option for those who want the best performance available without moving up to a larger professional model featuring interchangeable cameras. For everyone else, we’d recommend taking a look at our top pick, the DJI Air 2S.

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.

Also Consider:

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