Drones are highly useful pieces of equipment for photographers and videographers and, these days, there are more consumer options than ever before. However, with the tech rapidly evolving, drones can be quite pricey, ranging from just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, so choosing the right option to invest in can be challenging. In this guide, we'll look at some notable releases this year, and some key differences between them, to help narrow your search and compare options more easily.
DJI Mini 4 Pro
For its features and its price, the DJI Mini 4 Pro is, in general, a good option for everyone. It has all the autonomous features that DJI is known for, alongside a single camera that can shoot 4K60 fps HDR and Slo-Mo 4K/100 fps video. Under the lens is a 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor with an f/1.7 aperture. Compared to older models, the Mini 4 Pro also has many quality-of-life updates, like 12.4 miles of transmission range and omnidirectional obstacle avoidance, which provides complete protection on all sides, even at low altitudes.
It sports long, 34-minute battery life and a lightweight build that weighs 249 grams—just under the FAA’s 250-gram limit. You also have the option to extend battery life to 45 minutes via DJI’s Intelligent Flight Battery Plus, but using that add-on makes the drone heavy enough that you’ll have to register it with the FAA. Other features, such as image and flight stabilization, an included controller, and smart flight modes, round out the Mini 4 Pro and make it the best drone for letting beginners and pros get out there and shoot.
DJI Air 3
According to DJI, the Air 3 is the first in the Air series to come equipped with a dual-primary camera system. To be more specific, a 24mm wide-angle lens and a 70mm telephoto lens capable of shooting 4K/60fps HDR video are packed into this thing. Both lenses make use of the same 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor to ensure consistent image quality. The Air 3 also comes with many great features, such as all-around obstacle avoidance, as well as various shooting modes like FocusTrack or MasterShots, just to name a few.
The Air 3 is capable of a lengthy 46 minutes of maximum flight time. Not only does it fly longer, but it’s also quite a bit faster than the Mini, too. Another big reason you might want to opt for this drone is a feature called Waypoint Flight that allows users to plan flight routes and shooting actions in advance. But at 720 g, the Air 3 is nowhere nearly as small as the Mini.
Ultimately, get the Air 3 if you need more than the Mini 4's singular focal length. It's also a great midpoint worth considering if you're between the Mini and don't want to break the bank with DJI's flagship Mavic 3 Pro.
DJI Inspire 3
It's been quite a year for DJI's lineup, with several of the brand’s flagship drones getting some kind of update. The Inspire series is no exception. This line hasn't seen an update since all the way back in 2016, but DJI blessed us with the Inspire 3, an all-in-one 8K camera drone, in April of this year. It is equipped with DJI’s lightest-ever full-frame three-axis gimbal camera, the Zenmuse X9-8K Air, which is custom-built to take drone cinematography to the next level. This drone and camera system is heavily aimed at professional filmmakers and is built on the DNA of DJI’s top-of-the-line Inspire 2 series. The Zenmuse X9-8K comes with DJI's latest image processing system, CineCore 3.0, and supports recording video up to 8K resolution at 25 fps in CinemaDNG and 8K at 75 fps in Apple ProRes RAW, meeting the needs of top-class film and television productions.
A significant upgrade over the Inspire 2, the Inspire 3 uses DJI's all-new O3 Pro video transmission system, which supports simultaneous video transmission of the gimbal and FPV cameras. O3 Pro enables a maximum transmission distance of 15 km in single control mode and 12 km in dual-control mode. The gimbal camera and FPV camera support 1080p/60 fps live feeds and an ultra-low latency of 90 ms. Two remote controllers can receive live feeds and control the drone independently, so the pilot and gimbal operator can be at different positions on set. The Inspire 3 also uses a new TB51 dual-battery system. TB51 batteries are smaller, lighter, more streamlined, and have higher voltage compared to TB50. They provide 28-minute maximum flight time and support hot swapping, with a redesigned battery release that allows effortless continuous operation. If you just want the gist of it, the Inspire 3 is a powerful drone aimed at filmmakers, so if you're a casual user, this might not be the right drone for you.
DJI Mavic 3 Pro
The Mavic 3 Pro is one of DJI’s best offerings this year. For starters, its price point is on the higher end of DJI's drones but, in return, you get a ton of bells and whistles appended to in this package. The main draw is its 5.1k Hasselblad triple camera system, which comprises a wide-angle 24mm lens with a Four Thirds CMOS sensor, a 166mm telephoto lens, and a 70mm telephoto camera. Like the rest of its DJI siblings, it’s got omni-directional obstacle avoidance along with other features like built-in GPS, DJI's ActiveTrack subject recognition, and other intelligent flight modes.
It's also able to deliver long-range control and video transmission, as well as lengthy flight times, thanks to its compact, lightweight design and 43 minutes of battery time. The Mavic 3 Pro very much encapsulates the idea of an upgrade choice. Get this drone if you want a fully kitted-out piece of equipment that suits all kinds of creative applications.
QYSEA FIFISH V-EVO Underwater AI ROV
QYSEA's Fifish V-Evo occupies a different space compared to the other drones released this year. For starters, it’s an underwater drone capable of shooting 4K video at 60 frames per second, with a tether length and maximum depth rating of 328'. It's also got a lengthy four hours of operating time and even has a robotic claw that can move around and salvage underwater objects. However, unlike their aerial counterparts, underwater drones generally need to be physically tethered since wireless signals don't transmit through water very easily. Another feature exclusive to underwater drones, the V-Evo is equipped with a set of dual 2500-lumen LEDs that help improve visibility. It can maneuver a full 360 degrees while underwater and can even maintain its position in moving water. The V-Evo can also connect to and be controlled by an FPV headset. QYSEA says the drone is suitable for leisure and professional use, but if underwater videography is your thing, it's a great model to consider.
Autel Robotics EVO Max 4T
Autel Robotics' Evo Max 4T is a high-end drone aimed at industry users, first responders, and for use in technical applications. It features a folding structure that makes it easier to store and transport compared to other industrial drones. The 4T is powered by a triple camera system that includes a 50MP Wide Camera, 8K zoom camera with 10x optical zoom, and, finally, a thermal camera with a 640x512 sensor and a 16x digital zoom. The Wide Camera offers 50MP resolution and 4K video support at 30 fps. The camera is also well suited to capturing detail in dim light, with a high sensitivity of ISO 64000. The zoom camera is capable of a 10x optical and 160x digital zoom that can display details of targets up to 1.24 miles away. The thermal camera makes up the final lens and is essential for detecting heat from up in the air, which has several uses.
Other features include autonomous path finding, as well as using AI recognition technology to lock onto different types of targets like heat sources or vehicles. It’s also capable of navigating indoors, underground, and in environments without GPS. Its IP43 rating allows it to make the most of its 42 minutes of flight time in all weather conditions.
Autel has stated that the EVO Max 4T also features its new A-Mesh system that allows for drone-to-drone autonomous commutation and is otherwise mission-ready, with 6 antennas, 4 frequency bands, AES-256 encryption, and optional 4G integration. The MSRP for this drone starts at $8,999 and it comes with the Smart Controller V2. It’s also compatible with the Live Deck 2, which can transmit real-time full HD video to your TV or display.
Whether 2023 is finally the year you start shooting with drones or you're looking to upgrade from your current setup, we hope you found the right drone on this list. Be sure to leave your thoughts and questions in the Comments section, below. To complement your drone, we're big fans of accessories like these Lume Cube lights or a landing pad, but if you want to do a deeper dive into all the accessories for your drone, check out this guide from the Explora team for some great gift recommendations for drone owners to make the most of your new kit.