Drones offer a perspective you simply can’t get any other way and they don’t have to cost the earth either.
The latest models are 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 a great place to start 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 amazing aerial video. However, 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
1. DJI Mini 2
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
2. DJI Mavic Air 2
The Mavic Air 2 is one of the best options under £800. And one of the best consumer drones around.
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 (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.
Just bear in mind that you’re more restricted in the places you can fly it after 31 December 2020, unless you pay for and complete what’s called a A2 Certificate of Competency course.
Read our full DJI Mavic Air 2 review
3. DJI Mavic 2 Pro / Zoom
If you can afford more than a Mavic Air 2, the Mavic 2 Pro is still one of the best choices. This is mainly thanks to its great camera, and ability to shoot in 10-bit colour. If you don’t care about this, and the fact it tops out at 4K/30, then save your money and get a Mavic Air 2.
The Mavic 2 Zoom is also an excellent drone. Its long flight time is a real advantage, and it remains fairly portable.
Its obstacle avoidance system is also impressive, as is its object tracking and video transmission system. But it’s the zoom lens which really makes the difference, letting you get closer to your subject.
Read our full DJI Mavic 2 Zoom review
4. DJI Mavic Mini
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
5. Parrot Anafi
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 won’t avoid any obstacles and some of the autopilot modes have to be unlocked with in-app purchases which grates when you’ve just spent hundreds on it.
Read our full Parrot Anafi review
6. DJI Phantom 4 Pro v2.0
Recently re-introduced after a shortage of components which meant it was out of stock for most of 2019, the Phantom 4 Pro v2.0 is 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 there’s nothing to quibble about in terms of specs. It has OcuSync HD for better image transmission to the remote controller, plus obstacle detection in five directions and avoidance in four.
If you’re looking for a top-quality drone for recording fantastic aerial 4K video, the Phantom is still a good choice.
7. Hubsan H501S X4
If you’re looking for an easy-to-fly drone with a first-person-view camera, the Hubsan H501S is one of the most affordable options.
But don’t be fooled: the video and photo quality is not up to the level of even the Mavic Mini, so if you can afford a little more, it’s well worth doing so.
The real attraction here is the low price.
Read our full Hubsan H501S X4 review
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 £300+. 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 (1920×1080). 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 new 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. Parrot’s Bebop 2 has a fixed wide-angle camera that does a reasonable job without a gimbal, but the quality from all of DJI’s drones is generally noticeably better.
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.
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