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 $400. 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: according to an analysis of FAA drone registration numbers by drone market research and data group Drone Industry Insights, DJI had a 76.8% market share in the U.S.
But while this list is dominated by DJI, there’s actually tons of variety for all types of photographers. Find the best drones of 2022 for you, on any budget:
The best drone for most people: DJI Mini 3 Pro
With the DJI Mini 3, DJI just proved that ‘smaller and cheaper’ doesn’t mean ‘worse’.
To make the Mini 2, DJI stripped out some features on our top pick for professional photographers, the Mavic 3, including slightly lesser flight time, and slightly fewer sensors (though it still has some degree of obstacle avoidance nonetheless via its tri-directional obstacle sensing). What’s more, it’s still capable of recording 4K/60fps video — particularly impressive given the drone’s small size and low price point.
And that small size is the real standout feature of the DJI Mini 3 Pro.
Weighing in at 249 grams, DJI’s Mavic Mini 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.
Flight time: 34 minutes
Buy it from:
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:
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
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 is easily the best drone for professional photographers, but it starts at $2,199. The even-more advanced Cine Premium Combo will run you $4,999.
So why is the DJI Mavic 3, which launched in November 2021, so great? While it’s tough to narrow down the best, most pilots agree the top three specs are 1. a dual-camera system featuring Hasselblad, 2. an incredible 46-minute battery life, and 3. improved sense and avoid tech that makes this drone nearly crashproof.
The Mavic 2 Pro has a three-axis gimbal with both a custom Hasselblad L2D-20c aerial camera and a 28x Hybrid Zoom Tele Camera. The 4/3 CMOS Hasselblad camera uses a 24mm prime lens and offers higher dynamic range and resolution. The Zoom camera has a 162mm long-focus lens.
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: 46 minutes
The best drone if you’re on a budget (it’s under $300): DJI Mavic Mini
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).
But if you’re on a budget, we’re okay with it. This drone’s pricetag was originally $399, but now it frequently goes for under $300. Compare that with the more than $1,000 that most of its big sibling Mavic drones go for.
Plus, there are some new features thrown in that photographers should love, including one of my favorites: Cinesmooth Mode.
And again, like the Mini 2 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
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
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:
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? Yes! 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).