Drones offer a perspective you simply can't get any other way and they don't have to cost the earth either.
They can be amazingly easy to fly and produce stunning video. Drones such as the DJI Mavic Air 2 and Mini 2 have a lot technology from pro-level drones, but are still within most people's budget.
Budget, of course, is the first consideration when choosing a drone. The price range is larger than most gadgets, starting from as little as £10 / $10 for one of the best cheap drones right up to thousands for 'prosumer' models which border on professional drones.
But as you'd guess, you'll need to spend quite a lot if you're more interested in capturing aerial video that's similar in quality to video from your smartphone. There are some excellent mid-range options such as the £419 / $499 DJI Mavic Mini 2.
This used to be ideal because it didn't need to be registered in the UK, but the law has changed and you must make sure you understand the new regulations them before you buy and fly a drone.
Whether you do or don't have to get an Owner ID and / or Flyer ID for your drone, don't forget that the laws on actually flying drones apply to all the drons here.
You can't just fly a drone wherever you like. So read up on the regulations as well as where you're allowed to fly. If in doubt, speak to the landowner or the local authority.
Scroll down below the reviews to find more in-depth buying advice.
Best drones 2021: Ranked & Reviewed
DJI Mini 2
- Great video quality
- Under 250g
- No obstacle avoidance
- No ActiveTrack
The Mini 2 is a fantastic drone and fully deserves its place in this list. Video quality is markedly improved over the Mavic Mini, and the ability to shoot RAW photos (as well as the auto exposure bracketing feature) means it’s a great tool for aerial photography as well.
Add the upgraded motors which allow for better wind resistance, the significantly better controller and massively better range (and performance when there’s lots of interference) it easily justifies the price hike.
Even without Active Track (which is the biggest disappointment – not the lack of obstacle avoidance) it’s a great buy.
Plus, since the law changes on 31 December 2020, the Mini 2 is even more desirable as you can fly it in places where you can't fly heavier drones.
Read our full DJI Mini 2 review
DJI Mavic Air 2
- Shoots 4K video at 60fps
- Good obstacle avoidance
- No LOG video profile
- App limited to 1080p output
The Mavic Air 2 is one of the best options under £800/$800. And it's still one of the best consumer drones around. It's still widely available, but may not be for much longer as it has been replaced by the 2S.
Shooting 4K60 is great as it means you can slow the footage in your video editor for a more cinematic look, and you can also shoot slo-motion footage at 240fps in 1080p.
Add the upgraded obstacle avoidance, remote control and flight time when compared to the original Mavic Air and there's no contest: the Air 2 is superior in every way. It isn't perfect due to the lack of obstacle sensors on the sides, but accept and work around its limitations and you'll be extremely happy with it.
The Air 2S is better, but it's more expensive and only those that understand 10-bit video will really benefit from the upgraded camera.
Read our full DJI Mavic Air 2 review
DJI Air 2S
- 1-inch sensor
- HDR & Log profiles for video
- App limited to 1080p output
- More expensive than Air 2
The Air 2S adds features that are missing from the Mini 2 as well as a better camera. It's not worth upgrading to if you already own a Mavic Air 2 but if you don't, there are some upgrades to justify the extra £130 / $200 such as the camera's 1-inch sensor and extra sensors for avoiding obstacles
It’s not just about the money though: only pros will be able to get the most out of the Air 2S’s 10-bit capabilities and if you are only going to shoot in standard 8-bit, you’re may not notice a huge difference in quality at 4K between the Air 2S and Mavic Air 2.
It will perform better in low light, but this isn’t when most people fly. Put simply: if you care about eking out those last drops in video quality and know what you’re doing, the Air 2S is the obvious choice. If you don’t have the first idea about how to work with Log video and would rather stick to QuickShots and the editor in DJI’s Fly app, you’re probably better off saving your money and going with the Mavic Air 2.
Read our full DJI Air 2S review
DJI Mavic Mini
- Under 250g
- Basic video quality
- No obstacle avoidance
Aimed at first-time fliers, the Mavic Mini is a cut-down version of the Mavic Air 2. It’s a competent drone which is easy to fly, but it doesn’t have obstacle avoidance and, like the newer Mini 2, uses the DJI Fly app which has a more limited feature set.
The good news is that it takes respectable video and photos, and it’s light enough to fall into the new A1 flying category which means you can fly close to people and buildings.
It's currently being sold alongside the new Mini 2, but even though it's cheaper, you're better off spending the extra on that drone if you can afford it. If, however, you see the Mavic Mini cheaper than the RRP, especially if DJI discontinues it soon, it could still be a bargain.
Read our full DJI Mavic Mini review
- Camera can tilt upwards
- Shoots 4K HDR video
- No obstacle avoidance
- Some features behind paywall
With a gimbal that can tilt up 90 degrees as well as down, plus a battery that charges via USB-C and the ability to record 4K HDR video, the Anafi is a good alternative to DJI.
The snag is that it has no obstacle avoidance and some of the autopilot modes have to be unlocked with in-app purchases which grates when you've just spent this much on it.
Read our full Parrot Anafi review
DJI Phantom 4 Pro v2.0
Re-introduced after a shortage of components, the Phantom 4 Pro v2.0 is still one of DJI's most capable drones. The main disadvantage is that is doesn't fold, so unlike a Mavic, it's not nearly as portable.
The v2.0 was originally launched in 2018, but still holds up in terms of specs. It records 4K video at up to 60fps, but the main attraction is the mechanical shutter. Admittedly, this is only really a benefit if you want to use a drone for mapping (photogrammetry), but none of DJI's other consumer drones have a mechanical shutter.
It has OcuSync 2.0 HD for image transmission to the remote controller, plus obstacle detection in five directions and avoidance in four.
If you're looking for the specific features on offer here and don't need portability instead, the Phantom is still a good choice.
Drone Buying Guide
Some people just want to fly for fun, but most people want a drone to take aerial photos and videos. And if you want them to be any good, you will need to spend mid-range smartphone money. We've yet to see a cheaper drone achieve stabilised, great quality video.
You tend to get what you pay for with drones, so the higher price, the better the camera and the more features (such as obstacle avoidance) that are included.
Flight time and range
Flight time varies a lot, and it isn't tied to price. The Mavic Mini is DJI's cheapest drone, yet flies for up to 30 minutes on a charge.
Don't pay too much attention to range. It sounds great to be able to fly several kilometres away, but most local laws (including in the UK) say you must keep drone in sight at all times. What's useful about long range claims is that these drones should cope much better with radio interference, unlike short-range models which can lose connection to the controller, or have a choppy video feed.
Very small and light drones can be blown around in the wind, which is why having GPS on board is a must: it allows the drone to automatically hover in place. Look also for the wind speed which a drone can resist: the lower the speed, the calmer conditions you'll need to wait for before you can fly.
Although it's rare on most of the drones below, crashing is a distinct possibility. Almost all drones come with a full set of spare propellers, but as two rotate anti-clockwise and the other pair clockwise, you’ve got only two spares for each pair of spindles.
Check first if spare parts are easy to obtain for a particular drone, and also their prices.
Not all drones come with cameras. You don’t need a camera, since you should always have the drone in your line of sight while flying it.
At the cheaper end of the price scale you should go for at least 1080p (1920x1080). Bear in mind that - as ever - you can't trust specs alone. Read our reviews to find out how good each drone's camera is. Bitrate is just as important for detail in video: the DJI Mini 2's 4K video is impressive because it can record at up to 100Mbps. The older Mavic Mini was limited to 40Mbps.
Also, you’ll only get smooth, stable footage if you buy a drone with a gimbal. This is a stabilised mount for the camera which keeps it steady when the drone tilts or moves around.
Some drones record video directly to a microSD card but others record from the remote control, or even over the air to a smartphone. Direct recording is usually more reliable and better quality as the video doesn't have to be transmitted before being recorded.