At the moment, finding a drone with a good zoom camera is relatively hard. Especially in the consumer market. Options are fairly limited and if you consider purchasing commercial grade equipment, you’re looking at spending several thousand dollars.
After several years of flying drones I wanted to put together some reviews based on my own experiences with drones that have zoom cameras and from that, I’ve come up with my top five consumer drones for those with an average budget.
Out of the five, it was obvious the Mavic 2 Zoom was the clear winner and you can see why below.
However, I also wanted to share with you some zoom cameras that I think are the best of the best so, at the end of the article, I included a collection of some commercial grade equipment that you may want to consider too if you have a healthy budget.
Let’s dig in!
Best drones with a camera review
DJI Mavic 2 Zoom – Best Overall
The Mavic 2 Zoom is probably one of the most well-known drones on the consumer market and is popular for a reason. It boasts a 1/ 2.3” CMOS sensor and a 24-48mm lens that gives you 2x optical zoom and 2x digital zoom capabilities giving your drone footage a great cinematic effect.
Besides the usual ActiveTrack, HyperLight, and HDR abilities, one of the particularly cool features of this drone is ‘Dolly Zoom’ which adjusts the focus of your subject whilst flying to create an intense special effect.
I love flying the Mavic 2 Zoom because it’s sturdy, yet lightweight takes stable professional shots thanks to its 3-axis gimbal, and folds away into a compact little carry case. In the future, it would be great to have some sort of control over the aperture, however, especially when adjusting the focal length.
The Parrot Anafi is a great alternative to the Mavic 2 Zoom if you’re looking for similar features for half the price. However, the lack of optical zoom does put me off slightly. Nevertheless, its 2.8x digital zoom is surprisingly high quality. However, I did find that if I was shooting in 4k mode, I could only get 1.4x zoom which was frustrating.
The camera sensor is 1/ 2.4” CMOS and it offers a 23-69mm focal length.
On the parrot you get a 2-axis mechanical gimbal teamed with EIS 3-axis stabilization so it’s pretty stable in flight though a little slow when yawing to prevent excess shake.
Also, the fact you have to pay for the follow me mode in-app is also a bit of an annoyance but I got over it quickly. Overall, the Anafi is a fun drone to fly, and when considering it’s half the price of the Mavic 2 Zoom it’s a very viable alternative.
Ruko F11 Gim– Cheapest Drone with Zoom
I was really excited to try out the Ruko F11 as they do offer impressive features for their price point and having flown their F11 Pro in the past, I was excited to see what difference a gimbal would make.
It’s only 2-axis so it’s not perfect but gives you far better video stabilization than the pro did. Similar to the Anafi, it also has EIS stabilization too.
In terms of the zoom, it is digital zoom and offers up to 5x. It’s not as great as some of the other drones featured in the lineup but gets pretty closeup to objects far away and the loss isn’t terrible.
Overall, it’s lightweight and easy to fly and has a similar aesthetic to the Mavic 2 Series. Quality is on par with the Anafi for a cheaper price.
DJI Mini 2 – Best Lightweight Drone with Zoom
The DJI Mini 2 is the successor of the Mavic Mini and comes with a lot of features for a small price. It’s also only 249g so you don’t have to register it with the FAA.
It has a three-axis mechanical gimbal offering flawless image stabilization and now comes with a 4k camera that uses the same sensor as the Mavic 2 Zoom which is great for image quality.
The drone offers 4x digital zoom in FHD mode, but this decreases to 2x in 4k mode, and I found that images remained fairly sharp and I was happy with the quality.
I do love the mini 2 but a big issue for me is the controller. I admittedly have a pretty large phone, but nowadays who doesn’t? And it’s difficult to get it to fit. You can just fly the drone via the app, but sometimes it is nice to have a controller too.
The Mavic Air 2 offers a 1/2” CMOS sensor that can take 48MP shots and supports 8K hyperlapse too.
The 48MP capability means that a lot more information is stored in the image ensuring that images are pretty sharp and detailed.
Previously, the Mavic Air 2 didn’t offer zoom and had to be digitally zoomed and cropped post-production, but now you can get up to 4x digital zoom. The 4k/30fps and 2.7k/60fps modes offer 2x digital zoom and FHD 1080p/60fps can offer users 4x zoom.
The Mavic Air 2 is lightweight and sturdy and is built with a three-axis mechanical gimbal. It also has many of the cool features that the Mavic 2 Zoom has such as HyperLapse, Active Track, and course-plotting capabilities. It’s also a fair bit cheaper than the Mavic Zoom which is why I added it to the lineup.
Zoom Camera Drones Buying Guide
When testing out these drones, I wanted to be as fair as possible on my criteria and not get sidetracked. So, I put together this definitive buyer guide to help me focus on which elements are important when considering buying a drone with a zoom camera and help you make a more educated choice for your next purchase.
Type of Zoom
Zoom capabilities on drone cameras vary vastly and you’ll either buy a drone that has optical zoom or digital zoom. Sometimes they have a combination of both.
Optical zoom is better than digital zoom because it changes the focal length of the lens when zooming, creating a sharper picture with more clarity.
Digital zoom on the other hand is essentially zooming in on the picture you already have. There’s no change in the focal length and because of this, if you zoom in too much, your images can become pixelated and blurry.
Portability is a key feature of any good drone in 2021. We will need to travel to sites we need to shoot so having a drone that is either compact or easily packs away is key. You don’t want to have to be carrying something that’s too big or awkwardly shaped for a long time.
Build Quality of the Drone
If you’ve ever used a DSLR camera, or just if you’ve used a large zoom on your phone, you’ll know that stability is key to capturing a great shot.
Because of this, I wanted to assess the overall build quality of the drone and particularly pay attention to the gimbal. Mechanical 3-axis gimbals are the best, though some drones have just a 2-axis gimbal or built-in image stabilization in the camera.
Overall Camera Quality
The overall quality of the camera will also affect the final result and therefore I wanted to take it into account in the reviews. The camera’s sensor is a great indicator of high-quality imagery.
Though megapixels have some importance if you intend on sending your images to print, a high-quality image sensor will ensure your zoom isn’t too pixelated or noisy. Nevertheless, if you’re wanting a drone with great camera zoom, higher megapixels are good as you’re capturing more detail per inch incase you need to digitally zoom in later.
Smart features on a drone can make even novice drone pilots look like professional cinematographers and can allow you to create shots from fun angles without compromising the image. For example, active track/follow me modes are great for anything that’s moving in your image.
Conclusion: My Choice for the best drone with a Zoom Camera
Out of the five drones that I reviewed, my personal favorite is the Mavic 2 Zoom. It offers the perfect combination of optical and digital zoom for a consumer price range.
However, there are better models out there. If you have a very healthy budget and are wanting to shoot commercial budgets you may find that you need something which offers beyond what the above drones can.
For example, the Zenmuse Z30 camera offers unparalleled 30 x optical zoom with an additional 6x digital zoom meaning you can capture even the slightest details. The camera is compatible with the Matrice series of DJI drones.
Want another option for a meet in the middle?
The Autel Evo II is an 8k camera drone meaning it offers 16x the pixels of 4k options and thus better image quality when zoomed digitally and can offer lossless zoom up to 4x and 8x zoom if you’re willing to compromise a little bit of detail and clarity.
Have you chosen to purchase any of the drones I featured today? Let me know about your experiences in the comments below.