The best drones for photographers of 2023
The most popular use case for drones is — you guessed it — photography. Luckily, there’s a drone out there for every type of photographer, and for every type of budget. Most camera drones are made by DJI, but there are also worthy competitors made by other brands.
Whether you’re looking to spend $200 or $2,000 on a drone, you should be relieved to know that in this industry, you can get an incredibly high quality flying robot (WITH a camera attached to it!), for often not much more than just a standard digital camera on its own.
What to expect from a camera drone, by budget and goals
You can get a decent camera drone for under $500. If you’re looking for professional image quality (maybe you need to shoot weddings or real estate), expect to spend closer to $2,000 and up.
When it comes to our picks for the best drones for photographers in 2022, DJI dominates the landscape. But consumers must know DJI is the best and have validated our findings with their dollars. Here’s proof: across the entire drone industry, DJI has a 54% market share, according to the DroneAnalyst 2021 Drone Market Sector Report. That accounts for commercial drones too. As far as the hobby side, which is primarily where camera drones are grouped into, DJI has a whopping 94% market share.
But while this list is dominated by DJI, there’s actually tons of variety for all types of photographers. Find the best drones of 2023 for you, on any budget:
The best drone for most people: DJI Mini 3 Pro
The DJI Mini 3 Pro is everything you want in a drone: excellent image quality, incredibly small and light, super simple to set up and get in the air — and best of all, it’s safe and stress-free to fly.
It basically is a best-of list of every drone feature. While not the absolute best in every category (other more powerful DJI drones like the Mavic 3 and Matrice line certainly beat out the Mini 3 Pro on certain individual specs), it is the best overall drone you’ll find on the market today when you factor in the small size and price tag. By combining the small size of the Mini and Mini 2 drones with the powerful specs found in the DJI Air and DJI Mavic series of drones, the Mini 3 wins on basically every front: camera system, battery life, and intelligent features.
And that small size is the real standout feature of the DJI Mini 3 Pro. Weighing in at 249 grams, DJI’s Mini 3 Pro doesn’t fall under the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration if you’re flying for hobby purposes. That means no need to register your drone, and no need to comply with Remote ID rules. The FAA currently only requires drones flying for hobby purposes to be registered and comply with the Remote ID requirements if they weigh 250 grams or more. Again, that makes the Mini much more accessible for people who don’t want to worry about complying (or not complying) with federal laws while flying their drones. Learn more about why drones under 250 grams such a big deal right here.
Flight time: 34 minutes
Buy it from:
Read my full review of the DJI Mini 3 Pro here.
The best drone for high-quality photography (if your budget is under $1,000): DJI Air 2S
The DJI Air 2S has the perfect combination of new and wildly innovative tech, a high quality camera, a seamless flying experience, smart safety features AND a reasonable price tag.
The DJI Air 2S is the latest in the DJI Mavic Air line, which combines the best of both worlds of the Mavic Pro and Spark. It’s about the size of a Spark in flight, but folds up like the Mavic Pro to become even smaller. It has the Spark’s nifty gesture control, but it also has the Mavic Pro’s 4K video. It’s also got great safety features with a collision avoidance sensor on the front and back.
It mostly stands out for its 1” sensor offering 20-megapixel photos and 5.4K video. That’s the same as what you get in the larger, more-expensive Mavic 2 Pro. The sensor also offers a larger pixel size of 2.4μm. You should almost always pick this over the Mavic 2 Pro.
As far as deciding between the Air 2S vs. the Mini 3 Pro, the decision is a bit tougher. The Air 2S is bigger than the Mini 3 Pro, which means you’ll have to comply with FAA rules when flying in the U.S. If you frequently travel, it’s still bulkier than the Mini 3 Pro. Compared to the old days of the Phantom, this drone is super small, but it still will likely require you to check a bag, the way a Mini 3 Pro could easily stow away in an oversized pocket. The tl;dr: if you value camera quality, go for the Air 2S. If you value portability (like you’re a frequent traveler) go for the Mini 3 Pro.
Buy the DJI Air 2S drone now from:
Read more about the DJI Air 2S here.
Learn more about deciding between the DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Mavic Air 2 and Air 2S here.
The best drone for professional photographers: DJI Mavic 3 Pro
At less than $1,000, the DJI Air2S is certainly great for hobby pilots. But if you’re a serious photographer — and are willing to plunk down some serious cash — then DJI has another drone that is far and away more advanced. Though, the price tag is bigger too. The wow-worthy DJI Mavic 3 Pro is easily the best drone for professional photographers, but it starts at $2,199. The even-more advanced Cine Premium Combo will run you $4,799.
So why is the DJI Mavic 3 Pro so great?
While it’s tough to narrow down the best features on the Mavic 3 Pro, most pilots agree the top three specs are
- A dual-camera system featuring Hasselblad
- An incredible 46-minute battery life
- Improved sense and avoid tech that makes this drone nearly crash-proof.
The Mavic 3 Pro has a three-axis gimbal with not one, not two but THREE cameras, which are:
- A custom Hasselblad wide-angle camera (24mm).
- Medium tele camera (70mm).
- Tele camera (166mm).
More serious photographers or videographers who demand the highest-quality video might consider the Mavic 3 Cine Combo. The $4,999 comes with a few extra accessories, including the improved DJI RC Pro. But the real reason to spring for it is the higher-quality video, which offers Apple ProRes 422 HQ encoding for richer video processing, with an internal 1TB SSD onboard for high-speed data storage.
Flight time: 43 minutes
Read more about the DJI Mavic 3 Pro here.
The best drone if you’re on a budget (it’s under $500, including controller): DJI Mini 2
This drone is the two-generations older model of my top pick, the DJI Mini 3 Pro. The video quality is certainly far inferior — 2.7K on the Mavic Mini vs. 4K on the Mini 3 Pro (and most other DJI drones). Though, it’s not bad given some new features thrown in that photographers should love, including one of my favorites: Cinesmooth Mode.
But if you’re on a budget, we’re okay with it. This drone goes for $449, including controller. If you have a little wiggle room in your budget, you might also consider the DJI Mini 3, which is the newer model. Though, the Mini 2 is much cheaper, thus it wins in the “if you’re on a budget” category.
And again, like the Mini 3 and Mini 3 Pro, this drone only weighs 249 grams. That’s great for casual pilots who don’t want to worry about registering or Remote ID rules. The FAA currently only requires drones flying for hobby purposes to be registered and comply with the Remote ID requirements if they weigh 250 grams or more.
Price: $399 (and often under $300)
Flight time: 30 minutes
Read my full review of the DJI Mavic Mini here.
The best drone for action sports: Skydio 2+
This freakishly smart drone has six, 200-degree color cameras. That means Skydio 2+ can see everything in every direction so it theoretically never crashes. Whether you’re flying down a pine tree-covered mountain tracking a snowboarder, or you’re navigating down a trail following a biker, this drone is a dream for pilot who need to fly in complicated environments. Skydio 2+ shoots 4K video and captures images at 12MP.
The 2+ is an improvement upon the older model from Skydio, simply the Skydio 2. Among the biggest improvements the Skydio 2+ has over the standard 2 is 20% longer battery life, longer range if you add the Beacon, and a neat AI video creation tool called Keyframe.
Based in San Francisco, Skydio is also an appealing company to buy from for consumers who prefer to purchase technology from American drone companies.
The Skydio 2+’s omnidirectional obstacle avoidance capabilities are matched only by one other consumer drone on the market, the DJI Mavic 3. That’s also an excellent pick for action sports photographers, save for one reason: price. While the Skydio 2+ goes for $1,099, the Mavic 3 starts at a hefty $2,199. If you’re purely filming action sports (and don’t need as high a quality of camera and wouldn’t use the zoom camera), then the Skydio 2+ probably delivers more value for your dollar.
Price: $1,099 (available only directly from Skydio).
Flight time: 27 minutes
Read my full review of the Skydio 2 (the older model) here and my guide to the Skydio 2+ here.
The best drone for pro photographers who need a sturdier drone or the ability to broadcast live: DJI Inspire 2
The DJI Inspire 2 has an image processing system records at up to 5.2K in CinemaDNG RAW, Apple ProRes and more. This drone also has obstacle avoidance on two sides for safety.
It is also an ideal drone for live broadcasters, because the drone’s video can be broadcast live using its dedicated 1080i50 and 720p60 transmission signal, simply by plugging the remote controller to the satellite truck.
Flight time: 27 minutes with dual-battery system
The best camera drone that’s not from DJI: Autel Evo Lite+
You don’t need to be Nancy Drew to realize that nearly every drone in this guide is from DJI. The reality is that DJI drones are of incredible quality for their price tag. They are more reliable than most. They’re simple to set up and get off the ground. But there is a myriad of reasons why you might want to consider a non-DJI drone, and — for camera quality — Autel is best.
The Autel Evo Lite+ drone manages to bridge the gap between the expensive and high-quality DJI Mavic 3 camera drone, while sticking a bit closer to the price point of the DJI Mini 3 Pro, which has a relatively low, $759 price tag.
It’s great for photographers, given its large, 1-inch CMOS sensor and the ability to capture 6K video. The adjustable aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/11.
While you can’t fly it in dense areas as it’s sense and avoid tech is not up to par versus what you’ll find with the Skydio 2+, it is a decent follow-me drone (as long as you’re flying in open areas) thanks to Dynamic Track 2.1. This feature lets you select someone to track and follow, and the drone automatically keeps the subject in the frame.
Flight time: 40 minutes
Get the Autel Evo Lite+ now. It’s available for purchase from retailers including:
Read my full review of the Autel Evo Lite+ here.
Drone photography FAQs
Even if you’re a photo pro, there are a number of terms and concepts specific to drone photography that you should know.
What is a gimbal? A gimbal is crucial to keeping your aerial footage silky and steady. Without a gimbal, your videos will look shaky and every tiny movement will appear jarring to the viewer. If your drone doesn’t have a gimbal, don’t buy it.
What’s considered “good” flight time or long battery life? This might not be the answer you want to read, but here it is: “it doesn’t matter.” Given LiPo battery technology and how far it can be pushed (ahem, Samsung exploding phones) don’t expect a photography drone to fly longer than 30 minutes. Though, one drone in this guide, the Mavic 2 does have an impressive max flight time of 31 minutes. Instead, just buy some spare batteries!
Do I need to register my drone? Usually yes! Recreational drones under 250 grams do not need to be registered, but otherwise you need to register with the FAA when flying drones in the U.S. Learn more about drone registration in our Getting Started Guide here.
Do I need a license to fly? Maybe. If you’re flying commercially, you definitely do. If you’re just flying for fun, you probably don’t need a full Part 107 certificate. Find out more about how you can get your drone pilot’s license from the FAA here. However, all pilots flying drones that weigh 250 grams or more must either fly under Part 107 (and have said license) or pass the FAA recreational drone test (referred to as TRUST).
Missed one! Best drone for videography, photography, and aerial mapping: DJI Phantom 4 Pro V. 2’s global shutter assures there is never trouble with the distorted shapes rolling shutter can cause in moving objects. Its 20MP camera, with 1-inch sensor, is better that other drone’s. It costs less to buy for what you get, and replacement parts–especially batteries–are less expensive.
Having a drone that can stay up in the air for 30 minutes would be amazing! One day maybe…
In Sweden, if you fly any camera drone, regardless of weight, you have to register yourself as a drone
Have you seen DJI’s new FPV drone? Should give that a review or at least flight-test.
DJI’s are the best. Haven’t found anything better for the price and durability.
I find it funny that you put all those drones but forget to even mention the evo 2, which in my opinion blows them away, 1800 gets you 3 bat with 40 min flight time, pelican carry case, 45mph, 5 mile range, 8k video, obs av, 3d mapping, fpv, dynamic track, and a whole bunch more.
DJI drones are the best now.
Thank you for this information..
Your blog are really informative and it has really good user experience
I am thinking of buying a drone for photography as a hobby but it seems like there are too many restrictions on where you can fly and not fly. SO I am wondering whats the point. Seems like I cant fly it at the beach or in the hills, mountains. Thoughts, advice?
I have some respect for this article for at least mentioning the skydio 2+, however, saying that DJI is the top has caveats. The Mavic was an early to market and is mass produced in China. I owned an original Mavic 1 and the experience was bad. DJI pushed bad software to the app store causing the drone to crash, they installed geofencing that prevented me from taking off in my own driveway, the drone sometimes would loose connection on takeoff and drift into trees. Don’t give your money to the CCP. Skydio 2+ is made in the USA and has the best obstacle avoidance system. While the DJI mavic 3 does have it there are a few reviews on youtube showing that it’s not quite up to par yet and they are only hopeful that firmware updates will fix it.
Everything you say about the Skydio 2 is true, yet you miss its most important feature: a truly lousy camera. Examine its footage. Note the bloom and missed pixels in just about every frame it shoots!
I was sold on being an early adopter of Skydio 2, but wish I had not wasted my money. The problem with the Skydio is that after reviewing its video, one is obliged to leave its footage on the cutting room floor, if one values basic clarity in one’s imagery. This is easily visible even in the footage shown on Skydio’s own Website, including in the recent videos about Keyframe. The problem is especially apparent in greens and soft browns. Flights in red canyons look okay.
Skydio 2 squeaks by on the excitement generated when viewers obsess on the stunts filmed. Study some footage looking at the backgrounds, not the subjects, and the problems become immediately apparent. Worst of all, Skydio ignores reasonable questions about these flaws. I had an awful run-around with tech support, until I finally noticed that the problems in my footage were apparent in all footage shot with any Skydio 2. When I noted this to tech support, with links to explicit footage, the response as only that they were sorry that they had not met my standards, a true cop-out for the junk they are passing off as expected and acceptable.
Obviously, Skydio 3 may someday include a decent camera, but for now, the Skydio is only suited to being the only game in town for filming hair-raising stunts automatically, although in lousy quality, or for surveying roofs and whatever other tricks it has that create schematic maps, not visual imagery. It is also a good, but overly expensive first training drone, since it is incredibly crash resistant, but a less expensive drone in an open field could serve as well.
It would be interesting to know more about how DJI’s geofencing affected you. There was likely a reason it prevented you from flying in your own driveway. I also live in a restricted zone, where only Part 107 flights are allowed.
Well said….S2+ is a joke as for it’s lousy camera…
The new Autel series is pretty good, the PLUS ones are a major hit and probably will be drone of year 2022…
As for Mavic 3…what a deception…bugs, failures, and now we descovered that is not a 4/3 sensor and they made it wrong by using a optical lens too small (you can see the margins of optical lens in all pictures)…DJI now is working on hiding this by cropping the footage…another mistake, as you do not buy a 4/3 but a close to 1″ sensor, with less pixels than Air2S…Big Big Fail
with out criticism and just plain great fullness for your continued support to the drone public. Your efforts and comments on drones is note worth and I hope you continue and you have my support. I look forward to the future and your help is taking all of us there.
I’m about to buy the mavic 2 pro for 1000 dollars which is the same price as the air 2s. Why do you strongly recommend getting the air 2s over the mavic?
Great overview ! Thanks for all the updates and current info !
Heads up, the links provided under the DJI mini 3 all link to buy a mini 2
Thanks for outpointing! I just updated them 😉