The 4 Best Drones for Photos and Video of 2023 | Reviews by Wirecutter

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After new testing, we’ve made the DJI Air 3 our new top pick and added the Mini 4 Pro to Other good drones. Rc Wifi Quadcopter

The 4 Best Drones for Photos and Video of 2023 | Reviews by Wirecutter

If you’re an aspiring aerial photographer or videographer, drones are your ticket to the sky.

They provide perspectives that you’d otherwise be able to re-create only with expensive equipment such as cranes or dollies, which is why these cheap, lightweight marvels have become a staple of many online creators’ gear lists.

But you can find dozens of different models—sometimes even from a single brand—with various costs and benefits to sift through. After test-flying 33 drones, we’ve concluded that the DJI Air 3 is the best because it combines a high-quality main camera, useful telephoto camera, and the latest autonomous technology in a light-enough and relatively affordable package.

This drone offers impressive value, combining the 360-degree obstacle avoidance from the more expensive Mavic 3 Pro with two fantastic cameras.

If you want the best cameras in a drone, get this one. Its main camera has a larger sensor than that on our top pick, and it adds 70mm and 166mm-equivalent lenses to capture more distant subjects.

This drone offers DJI’s autonomous features (minus obstacle avoidance) and a 4K camera that can shoot in portrait or landscape, and it all comes in a tiny package weighing less than 250 grams.

This easy-to-fly drone provides a 6K camera and 40 minutes of flight time, and unlike DJI drones, it has no known security concerns. But the video quality isn’t as crisp or colorful.

We’ve made photos and videos with all 30 of the drones we’ve tested since 2016 and compared them each time to see which results are the best.

We fly drones through trees and at other objects that can get in their way to see if the drones detect them and avoid crashing.

This drone offers impressive value, combining the 360-degree obstacle avoidance from the more expensive Mavic 3 Pro with two fantastic cameras.

The DJI Air 3 is easy to fly, has an ample 46-minute battery life, and is equipped with two cameras, giving you options for more varied and interesting shots than its predecessor. We recommend the Fly More combo option because it’s the only package that includes the DJI RC 2 controller, which features a built-in screen and is a marked improvement over the standard controller that relies on your phone’s screen for live view.

The Air 3 can sense and avoid obstacles approaching from all directions, adding side sensing that our previous pick lacked. These new sensing abilities make the ActiveTrack feature, which directs the drone to autonomously follow and film a subject while also avoiding obstacles, easier to use in more situations.

It can hold its position steadily, even in moderate winds, so you can focus on your cinematography. And the Air 3 can go with you almost anywhere. Measuring 8 by 3.5 by 3.25 inches folded and weighing roughly 1.5 pounds, it fits well in most standard size backpacks.

If you want the best cameras in a drone, get this one. Its main camera has a larger sensor than that on our top pick, and it adds 70mm and 166mm-equivalent lenses to capture more distant subjects.

The DJI Mavic 3 Pro takes many of the best features of the Air 3 and, for a little more than twice the price, ups the camera count to three. Not only do you get a Hasselblad-branded 24mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a Four Thirds sensor, but there are also two telephoto lenses: a 70mm-equivalent with a 1/1.3-inch sensor and a 166mm-equivalent with a 1/2-inch sensor.

Thanks to the comparatively huge sensor on the main camera, the Mavic 3 Pro can capture more detail than our other picks and in a much wider band of lighting conditions. As a result, it produces better images right out of the camera but also gives editing software more data to work with to improve the images even further.

This model can capture vibrant, detailed still images with its three cameras, and its video—at up to 5.1K resolution—looks more color-accurate than that of the competition. It also has a 43-minute battery life, which isn’t the longest we’ve ever seen (our top pick beats it by a bit) in our tests but comes pretty close.

This drone offers DJI’s autonomous features (minus obstacle avoidance) and a 4K camera that can shoot in portrait or landscape, and it all comes in a tiny package weighing less than 250 grams.

If you’re just getting into drone photography, especially for personal use, the DJI Mini 3 is a fantastic starter package. Though it costs less than half as much as our top pick, it still offers a 4K camera, a long (38-minute) battery life, and a compact, lightweight build that just slides under the FAA’s 250-gram limit.

The Mini 3’s camera and sensor aren’t as high-quality as those of the Air 3, but the f/1.7 aperture provides surprisingly good image quality in lower-light conditions.

This model also comes with all the important features you need from a video drone, such as image and flight stabilization, an included controller, and smart flight modes, in which the drone flies itself to easily capture cinematic shots. But it lacks the obstacle-avoidance sensors of more expensive models.

You have the option to extend the battery life to 51 minutes via DJI’s Intelligent Flight Battery Plus, but using that add-on makes the drone heavy enough that you have to register it with the FAA.

This easy-to-fly drone provides a 6K camera and 40 minutes of flight time, and unlike DJI drones, it has no known security concerns. But the video quality isn’t as crisp or colorful.

If you are avoiding the DJI brand due to security or human-rights concerns, or if you want a 6K camera, we recommend the Autel Robotics Evo Lite+.

This drone can fly for up to 40 minutes with autonomous options similar to those of DJI drones. And unlike the DJI Fly app, the Autel Sky app is available for direct download from the Google Play store.

However, we still prefer DJI drones for their value and image quality.

James Austin has been researching and testing drones since he took over this beat in 2022. He has completed the FAA 107 drone licensing process and has so far run only a few drones into metal poles and fences.

Signe Brewster previously contributed to this guide, chronicling the rise of modern hobby drones and spending hundreds of hours flying drones in all sorts of environments.

Drones (or, more specifically, quadcopters) are small aircraft that come equipped with a camera to shoot bird’s-eye-view photos and videos. They can reach spaces that other cameras are unable to go without a crane or helicopter, making this sort of photography and videography more accessible for the average person.

But the drones we cover in this guide might be of interest to certain professionals, too. They can be great additions to a pro kit for everything from filming a wedding to inspecting gutters to capturing footage of a house for sale.

Those who work in the film industry should consider higher-end models that allow them to mount specific camera equipment on the drone. The same goes for people who want to inspect farmland and industrial equipment, since that task can call for specialized sensors.

After reading both professional reviews and owner reviews, and speaking to drone enthusiasts, experts, and manufacturers at the CES trade show, we considered the following criteria while looking for drones to test:

To test each drone, we shot photos and videos to evaluate camera quality; the process also helped us to gauge stabilization ability and to see whether propellers appeared in any of the shots.

In addition, we tried all of the advertised intelligent flight modes and crash-avoidance systems by flying the drones through trees. We tested maneuverability and controller sensitivity by flying fast, with lots of turns.

We’ll continue to send our picks up in a variety of weather conditions, and we’ll update this guide if we find that they struggle or excel in certain circumstances.

This drone offers impressive value, combining the 360-degree obstacle avoidance from the more expensive Mavic 3 Pro with two fantastic cameras.

The DJI Air 3 is the best drone for budding aerial photographers and videographers because of its automated obstacle avoidance, two high-quality cameras, and overall ease of use. Although our upgrade pick, the DJI Mavic 3 Pro, gives you even better camera quality and battery life, the Air 3 is impressive enough to please most people—for half the price.

It avoids obstacles with ease. The Air 3 can detect obstacles as they approach—from any direction—and then make flight path adjustments to avoid them. When we deliberately tried to fly the drone straight at a tree or slam it into the ground, the Air 3 emitted a loud beep and stopped itself, or simply continued around the obstacle.

This 360-degree obstacle avoidance also allows for a more robust ActiveTrack feature, which directs the drone to follow a subject or yourself. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but in our testing never ended up running the drone sideways into a tree (which has been known to happen with previous models).

In general, obstacle sensing removes stress from the flying experience, both when you’re flying manually and when you’re using DJI’s preprogrammed or autonomous flight options, which is why we’re so happy to see the tech trickle down from the Mavic Pro series.

The two-camera system is versatile and high-quality. The Air 3’s main camera has a smaller 1/1.3-inch sensor than the camera on its predecessor, the Air 2S (it’s the same size as the sensors on the Mini 3, Mini 3 Pro, and Mini 4 Pro) but still manages to get dynamic, high-quality footage. Its lens also has a larger f/1.7 aperture, letting in more light than the 2S to capture sharp, well-stabilized 4K video at up to 100 frames per second. It grabs good-looking 20-megapixel stills, too.

The 70mm-equivalent telephoto camera is mounted just above the main camera and has the same 1/1.3 inch sensor but a smaller f/2.8 aperture. It doesn’t capture as much detail in low light as the main camera, but the longer focal length provides additional flexibility in shot composition and can give you a different look than drone videographers have grown used to in this price range.

In our tests, the Air 3’s video was crisp, without any post-shoot color-balancing required, though we still preferred the colors that came out of the Mavic 3 Pro’s Hasselblad camera.

It handles gusty conditions with aplomb. While flying in winds measured at about 14 mph, the Air 3 was unfailingly stable. It didn’t drift, and it consistently recorded steady video, even when it rose above the tree line or dealt with unpredictable wind shear coming off of mountain peaks.

Other, comparably sized DJI drones we tested performed similarly, but every Mini series drone was more affected by wind. Like many drones, the Air 3 uses a combination of Galileo, GPS, and BeiDou satellites, as well as its vision cameras, to monitor movement and altitude changes.

The battery lasts long enough. With a stated battery life of up to 46 minutes—which seemed accurate in our testing—the Air 3 can fill its 8 GB of internal memory space with video footage well before it’s forced to land for a swap. (Which means you’ll want to use a microSD card for most flights.)

DJI’s automated flight modes are great (in certain situations). We most often used ActiveTrack. It’s good enough to keep up with a walking subject, occasionally has trouble keeping up with a subject on a bike, and tends to get left behind by anything faster than that.

In QuickShots mode, the Air 3 can autonomously film elaborate cinematic shots, such as circling around a subject or zooming away from it. A mode called MasterShots combines several filming effects and then creates a short video for you. In our testing, it wasn’t particularly useful, but it might be instructive for newer pilots familiarizing themselves with the visual vocabulary of drone cinematography.

It’s compact and lightweight. The Air 3 measures 8 by 3.5 by 3.25 inches when folded—about the size of a large coffee thermos—and weighs 1.5 pounds. The RC 2 controller that comes with the Fly More combo is a little bigger than a slice of bread, and about twice as thick. You can slip both into a camera bag easily or stow them in a purse or backpack.

It has great range. The Air 3 is capable of flying up to 12 miles away, though federal regulations say that you must keep a drone within your line of sight, so it’s safe to say you’ll rarely test that range. It transmits video and remote-controller data via DJI’s OccuSync 4.0 system, which we’ve found to be reliable.

DJI’s controller software is robust. You can use DJI’s Fly app—which comes ready to use on the RC 2 controller—for drone calibration, camera settings, GPS maps, and intelligent flight modes. It also tracks all of your flight information (which you can replay if you’re trying to repeat a shot), warns you about any flight restrictions in the area, and offers built-in video-editing tools, which you can use on the controller itself or through the mobile app on your phone.

The controller is easy to use. In our tests, the drone responded nimbly to our commands, even while flying in the faster and more agile Sport mode. We also found it easy to adjust the tilt of the drone’s camera with the controller’s built-in wheel and to press the dedicated buttons that prompt the camera to take a picture or start filming.

If you want the best cameras in a drone, get this one. Its main camera has a larger sensor than that on our top pick, and it adds 70mm and 166mm-equivalent lenses to capture more distant subjects.

While the DJI Mavic 3 Pro shares many features with our top pick, it’s a worthwhile upgrade if you’re willing to pay considerably more for better image quality and an additional telephoto lens. Its main camera offers a large Four Thirds sensor with a Hasselblad-branded wide-angle lens that helps to create clearer, more colorful videos and photos.

Its omni-directional sensors make flying through obstacles a breeze. When we flew the Mavic 3 Pro through drone-racing gates at a model-airplane field, it navigated the gates easily and stopped itself before we were able to fly it into any of the metal poles.

The controller’s screen (or the DJI Fly mobile app) does a good job of indicating hazards as you navigate tight spaces, making it easy to steer accordingly.

Its cameras provide amazing quality and flexibility. The Mavic 3 Pro has a main wide-angle camera with an unusually large Four Thirds sensor that works better in low-light conditions than the Air 3 1/1.3-inch sensor. The colors it produced in our testing also looked truer and brighter than those from the Air 3 and the Mini 3.

This main camera can shoot 5.1K video at up to 50 frames per second with a 200 Mbps maximum bit rate (the speed at which the camera can record video to digital media).

The other two cameras on the Mavic 3 Pro’s chunky gimbal block are a medium telephoto (70mm equivalent with an f/2.8 aperture, the same as the Air 3’s) and a longer telephoto (166mm equivalent with an f/3.4 aperture). Compared with the main wide-angle camera, these telephoto lenses have smaller sensors (1/1.3-inch and 1/2-inch, respectively), but their image quality is still good enough for stealthy wildlife photography and other kinds of long-distance shooting.

Its battery life ranks among the best in our test group. At 43 minutes, the Mavic 3 Pro’s stated battery life is a small step down from the Air 3’s 46-minute flight time, but it’s still more than enough for you to capture a satisfying amount of footage before you have to land for a battery change.

That flight time allows you to fly the drone up to 17.3 miles away, though federal rules in the United States say that you or a spotter you’re in communication with must always have the drone within your non-magnified line of sight, so you aren’t likely to be testing the range limits on most flights.

It’s not the smallest drone, but it is still easy enough to bring along. The Mavic 3 Pro is slightly larger than the Air 3 but just as portable. It weighs 2 pounds and doesn’t require any assembly before you fly, aside from removing the muzzle-like camera cover.

DJI also sells an upgraded version called the DJI Mavic 3 Pro Cine, which supports the Apple ProRes 422 HQ codec and upgrades the internal storage to a 1 TB solid-state drive. But you can buy that version only as part of the Premium Combo, which includes both the usual Fly More kit and the DJI RC Pro controller (an improvement on the DJI RC with a brighter screen, an increased transmission bit rate, and a few other features). That package costs just under $5,000, so it’s out of the range of many enthusiasts.

This drone offers DJI’s autonomous features (minus obstacle avoidance) and a 4K camera that can shoot in portrait or landscape, and it all comes in a tiny package weighing less than 250 grams.

The DJI Mini 3 isn’t DJI’s cheapest drone (that honor now belongs to the Mini 2 SE), and it doesn’t produce images as beautiful as those of the Air 3, but its low price, impressive capabilities (including 4K video), and tiny form make it an excellent choice for beginners.

It provides a good introduction to flying. This drone can take off, land, and return home with the push of a button. It also has a positioning system that’s intelligent enough for it to hover, stationary, in the air (the only sensors it uses for positioning are downward sensors to help with landing). And its 38-minute flight time with the included battery is quite respectable at this price.

Its camera is far better than what you’d get in most other budget drones. The Mini 3’s camera, which has a 1/1.3-inch sensor, can shoot 48-megapixel photos and up to 4K video at 30 frames per second. Its wide-angle f/1.7 lens provides great low-light performance, as well.

As a bonus, the camera can physically rotate to shoot vertical (portrait-orientation) video, which is useful for sharing on apps like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. The results aren’t as clear or as detailed as what you can capture on the Air 3 or Mavic 3 Pro, but they’re more than sharp enough for posting to social media.

It’s small enough to skirt the FAA’s drone-weight limit. The Mini 3’s tiny size is its best feature. Because it weighs just half a pound with the base battery, the drone slides in under the FAA’s 250-gram (0.55-pound) weight limit, beyond which you must register a drone before flying it for personal use.

DJI does offer the bigger Intelligent Flight Battery Plus, which increases the Mini 3’s flight time to an astounding 51 minutes but pushes it over that 250-gram limit. So if you want to use the bigger battery, you have to go through the (relatively simple and cheap) registration process.

It provides good-enough range. You can fly the Mini 3 up to 11 miles away with the standard battery, but since you need to keep the drone within unmagnified sight to comply with the law, you’re likely to reach the limits of your vision well before you run out of range.

The DJI Fly app (and the optional DJI RC controller upgrade, which includes a screen) maintains a smooth live stream from the drone’s camera. The app also allows access to many of DJI’s intelligent flight modes, and it can activate features such as auto takeoff and landing.

This easy-to-fly drone provides a 6K camera and 40 minutes of flight time, and unlike DJI drones, it has no known security concerns. But the video quality isn’t as crisp or colorful.

If you want to avoid buying a drone from DJI or are interested in a 6K camera, the Autel Robotics Evo Lite+ is a worthy choice.

It’s easy to use. We’ve tested a few Autel drones over the years and found them just as easy to fly as their DJI counterparts. The company’s well-designed Autel Sky app includes plenty of autonomous flight modes, too (and is available on both Apple’s and Google’s app store, unlike the DJI Fly app).

But it’s not quite as polished as our DJI picks. Autel’s drones don’t provide the same value as DJI’s models do—Autel’s flagship drones consistently lag behind in their range of features, and DJI’s drones shoot crisper and more colorful images and video.

The Evo Lite+ offers a slight bump in capabilities over the DJI Air 3—for one, the Evo Lite+ has a 6K, 20-megapixel camera with a 1-inch sensor—but they don’t lead to better performance. We preferred the clarity of the colors that the tested DJI drones captured across the board.

Its battery life is just a little shorter than our top pick’s. The Evo Lite+’s other main draw is its 40-minute battery life, which is slightly shorter than our top pick’s 46 minutes, but still plenty of time to get the shots you need..

We’ve found that a battery life of 30 minutes or so is usually plenty for us, but pilots who want to take advantage of the Evo Lite+’s 7.4-mile transmission range might find the full 40 minutes to be especially useful.

It has fewer anti-collision sensors than our top pick. The Evo Lite+ can sense obstacles approaching from its front, back, and bottom and autonomously maneuver to avoid them. In our tests, this Autel model’s sensors were sensitive enough to detect and avoid a chain-link fence.

The controller is a pleasure to use. Drone controllers usually have built-in phone clamps, and the Evo Lite+ has our favorite type, holding the phone above the controller instead of below. When you’re trying to keep your eye on a drone, it’s much better not to have to tilt your head down quite as far to glance at your phone’s screen.

It’s stealthy quiet compared with our other picks. We found the Evo Lite+ to be notably quieter than the Air 3. If you want to avoid drawing attention, it can make a difference.

If you want footage of close calls and near misses instead of sweeping vistas: Consider the DJI Avata. DJI’s second take on a first-person-view drone, this model is smaller, slower, and lighter—and has a shorter battery life—than the company’s original DJI FPV model. But after testing (and crashing) the Avata over multiple flights, we think that the Avata is a better introduction to this specific type of flying.

The fragile blades are protected by a sturdy plastic duct, so you can confidently maneuver through obstacles at speed (video). The Motion Controller that DJI packages with the drone is surprisingly intuitive to learn, behaving much like a traditional flight joystick, but it limits you to flying in the two beginner-friendly Normal and Sport modes.

One problem we noted in our testing is that when—not if—you crash the Avata at high speed, the battery is likely to fly out of the body, and it’s easy to lose in foliage. We recommend adding colorful gaffer tape to the matte-black battery or using zip ties to further secure it.

Like the original DJI FPV, the Avata lacks the larger sensor and autonomous flight modes of our top picks, so it doesn’t provide the ease of use we’d like to see for people focused on cinematography.

If your top priorities are low weight and regulation compliance: You should consider the DJI Mini 4 Pro. This tiny drone carries a camera that nearly matches our top pick’s in image quality, includes the 360 obstacle avoidance from the Air 3 and Mavic 3 Pro, and weighs less than 250 grams. That makes it easy to carry in a bag or coat pocket, and keeps it under the federal weight limit that would require you to register it with the FAA before flying.

The Mini 4 Pro does all this for about $500 less than the Air 3 (in our recommended configuration). But in exchange for that lower price, you give up the Air 3’s 70mm-equivalent telephoto lens along with its wind stability, superior speed, and longer battery life.

Drones, as a category, feel a bit icky when it comes to security and privacy, since they make aerial surveillance available to anyone for just a few hundred dollars. And on top of that, they pose the same personal-privacy questions as any connected device does.

To provide features such as geofencing, which helps pilots comply with federal regulations regarding where they can fly a drone, DJI’s apps have access to a lot of information on your phone. That can be concerning, especially since alarming reports have outlined potential security flaws in DJI drones.

There are also allegations that the company provided drone technology for the surveillance of Chinese detention camps, and in 2020, the US government placed DJI on its entity list, which meant that US companies could not provide DJI with technology but DJI could continue to sell its drones in the US.

In addition, while iOS device owners can download the DJI Fly app from the App Store, Android device owners cannot download the app directly from the Google Play store. Instead, Android users must download it from the DJI website.

DJI says that it does not sell user data. However, that statement does not rule out sharing data with third parties, which the company’s complex privacy policy suggests it may be able to do. And its iOS app currently lists information under Apple’s “Data Used to Track You” label, suggesting that it does share data, possibly for advertising.

While features such as geofencing and accessing your photos and videos within the DJI Fly app may seem potentially creepy, they are legitimately useful. If you turn them off, which DJI allows you to do, you won’t get warnings regarding federally regulated airspace, you can’t access the location of your drone if you lose it, and you can’t review your photos and footage until you load your memory card onto a computer.

Ultimately, each pilot has to make a personal call about balancing security and privacy with function.

This is not a comprehensive list of all the drones we’ve tested. We have removed models that have been discontinued or no longer meet our requirements.

We’ve recommended many DJI drones over the years. If you find an older model that offers specs that meet your needs and has a low price tag, it’s likely to be a good buy. However, drone technology is changing rapidly, and newer drones provide longer battery life, superior cameras, and better autonomous flying abilities.

A former top pick in this guide, the DJI Air 2S, is a solid drone with a larger sensor than our pick. While it lacks the Air 3’s 360-degree obstacle sensing, it has sensors on the top, bottom, forward, and back of the drone. It also offers a long-enough 30-minute flight time. It can shoot footage up to 5.4K at 30fps and includes all of the autonomous flight modes that our picks have. The Air 3 is a more versatile drone thanks to its more complete sensor package and additional lens, so we think it will be more useful for most people. But if you can live without those features and find the 2S for a decent price (say, around $800 with a controller) it’s well worth picking up.

The DJI Mini 3 Pro puts the camera of the Mini 3 on a similar frame weighing just under 250 grams but adds a suite of sensors and slightly more powerful motors, bringing this small-but-mighty drone much closer to the capabilities of our top pick. But it lacks the image processing, complete sensor suite, and slow motion modes that the newer Mini 4 Pro boasts, and is currently the same price.

The DJI Mavic 3 Classic is a good option if you want the Four Thirds sensor found on our upgrade pick but don’t want to shell out for that model’s extra telephoto lenses. The Mavic 3 Classic produces stunningly clear images with better color accuracy than the Air 3, and it includes the omnidirectional sensors found on the Mavic 3 Pro, but its price is a bit closer to that of our top pick. We’ve concluded that the Air 3’s mix of price and performance makes it the better choice for most people, but if you want the highest-quality wide-angle drone camera and don’t want a telephoto lens, the Mavic 3 Classic is worth considering.

The DJI Mini 2 is our former budget pick, and though it was an exceptional drone for its price when it debuted, the Mini 3’s camera represents a substantial step up in quality. Though DJI lists the Mini 3 at $560, it’s been discounted to $470 ever since its release, which makes it only $20 more than the Mini 2. Even at its list price, the Mini 3 is worth the extra investment over this older model. Anyone looking for the cheapest decent DJI drone should consider the DJI Mini 2 SE instead, though that model is limited to 2.7K video recording.

The original DJI FPV allows you to fly your drone via a first-person view using a headset. While it’s the most fun we’ve ever had flying, this model lacks the larger sensor and autonomous flight modes—including obstacle avoidance—of our top picks, so it doesn’t provide the ease of use we’d like to see for people focused on cinematography.

The Potensic Atom SE was the least expensive drone we tested for this guide. We actually preferred the controller design to that of the basic DJI remote. But the 13-megapixel camera, which relies on a two-axis gimbal (as opposed to the three-axis gimbal of all the other drones we tested), couldn’t keep up with the rest of the test group despite its digital stabilization software.

This article was edited by Ben Keough and Erica Ogg.

James Austin is a staff writer currently covering games and hobbies, but he’s also worked on just about everything Wirecutter covers—from board games to umbrellas—and after being here for a few years he has gained approximate knowledge of many things. In his free time he enjoys taking photos, running D&D, and volunteering for a youth robotics competition.

Signe Brewster is an editor on Wirecutter's PC team. She also writes about virtual reality. She previously reported on emerging technology and science for publications like Wirecutter, MIT Technology Review, Wired, Science, and Symmetry Magazine. She spends her free time quilting and pursuing an MFA in creative writing.

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The 4 Best Drones for Photos and Video of 2023 | Reviews by Wirecutter

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