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 2023, 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 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:
The best drone for 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
The best drone for photographers on a budget: DJI Air 3
While not as good as the DJI Mavic 3 drone, it’s also far cheaper. Enter, the Air 3 drone.
This drone sits as a bit of a Goldilocks, middle option between my top pick for most people, the DJI Mini 3 Pro, and the best drone for photographers, the DJI Mavic 3. It’s larger, more robust and more expensive than the Mini 3 Pro. But it strips out some features that you might not necessarily need in the Mavic 3 drone, allowing you to save money.
The DJI Air 3 drone, like the Mavic 3, has two cameras: a wide-angle camera and a 3x medium tele camera, both of which are capable of delivering 48MP photos and 4K/60fps HDR videos. Other standout specs include:
- Up to 46 minutes flight time
- Omnidirectional obstacle sensing
- O4 HD Video Transmission System
The DJI Air 3 is the latest in the DJI Air line (following the beloved DJI Air 2S), and it marks a series of firsts, including:
- First within the Air Series with a dual-primary camera system (wide angle and tele)
- First within the Air Series to include omnidirectional obstacle sensing
- First drone of the Air Series to support 2.7K vertical video shooting (9:16)
It mostly stands out for its 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor offering 48-megapixel photos and 4K video.
As far as deciding between the Air 3 vs. the Mini 3 Pro, the decision is a bit tougher. The Air 3 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.
tl;dr: If you value camera quality, go for the Air 3. If you value portability (like you’re a frequent traveler) go for the Mini 3 Pro.
- Order the DJI Air 3 drone from B&H Photo now, starting at $1,099.
- Order the DJI Air 3 drone from Amazon now, starting at $1,099.
For you comparison shoppers, I’ve put together a couple comparison guides to help you make the best buying decision if you’re considering the DJI Air 3. They are:
- DJI Air 3 vs. Mini 3 Pro: which drone is better for you?
- DJI Air 3 vs DJI Air 2S: is it worth the upgrade?
The best drone 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 the 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
The best drone for live broadcasts: 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 follow-me drone: Skydio 2+
This recommendation only comes to you as a “kind of.” Unfortunately in August 2023, Skydio called it quits on its consumer drone arm, meaning this drone is no longer in production. I’m still recommending it, largely because there just really aren’t any good options for camera drones made in America.
That said, here’s why I love the Skydio 2+ as a follow-me:
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 Skydio 2+’s omnidirectional obstacle avoidance capabilities are matched only by one other consumer drone on the market, the DJI Mavic 3.
If you’re seeking a similarly excellent follow-me drone at a similar price point (and don’t mind that it’s not made in America), turn to the DJI Air 3, which is the first drone in the Air Series to include omnidirectional obstacle sensing. That’s executed via a pair of fisheye lenses on the front and the back to detect obstacles in all directions, offering up that standard forward, backward, left, right and upward sensing. Meanwhile, the bottom is equipped with binocular lenses and a 3D TOF, which are what contribute to the full, omnidirectional obstacle sensing. From there, obstacle avoidance is achieved via APAS 5.0 tech.
Price: $1,099 (new, though Skydio has ceased production)
Flight time: 27 minutes
The best camera drone that’s made in America: Skydio 2+
As stated above, this recommendation is only half-hearted given that Skydio announced that it had shut its consumer drone arm in August 2023.
So why is my top pick for a camera drone made in America one that isn’t even in production anymore? That’s because the pickings are pretty slim, as there just aren’t that many American drone companies that produce consumer camera drones (most American drones focus on the military or high-end industrial markets). Many companies including two based in California — 3D Robotics and GoPro — have tried to make camera drones yet failed.
Most of the other top American drone companies, like Skydio, now only produce enterprise drones.
Read my Skydio 2 review here.
The best non-DJI camera drone: 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?
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).