Last Updated on May 21, 2023 by Photography PX
When most of us picture drones, it’s usually the flagship models that come to mind with loads of features and powerful motors. And while they’re indeed popular, they’re not the only players in the game. Pocket drones, a subdivision of camera drones, are grossly underrated and usually overshadowed. But they’re a powerful force ready to deliver high-quality results to traveling creators while being compact and discrete.
Pocket drones, being small enough to fit into most average-sized jackets and sweatshirts, allow creatives to capture a unique perspective unbound by traditional photography. And they’ve opened a new world of possibilities compared to their larger siblings, despite their rather humble appearance. So now, you can access aerial photography at a moment’s notice. And you can capture stunning images and videos without being weighed down by the hassle of a larger drone. As such, it’s no surprise to see this rather faint niche gradually become the next evolution in the industry.
Table of Contents
Thankfully, today’s pocket drones have many high-end features from their larger peers, and they’ve become noticeably more sophisticated. You can now find models with features such as AI subject tracking, obstacle avoidance, three-tiered GPS, and much more. And they’ve become equally as powerful in many key areas. And these days, many of the initial drawbacks are long gone.
But, you can find many drones that fall into this pocket segment, and not all are made equal. Many won’t offer similar images to your smartphone or the flight experience you’re likely after. So picking the right pocket drone that’s genuinely worthwhile as an investment will be tricky. So to aid in that quest, we’ve compiled a list of the best pocket drones on the present market. And we’ve also included a brief guide on some of the relevant factors to consider beforehand.
5 – DJI Mavic Air 2
Registration Required: Yes
DJI’s Mavic Air 2 is quite an improvement over the original model and a solid all-rounder. It features a 1/2-inch Bayer sensor, 24mm lens, a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, 4K 60 FPS, 2.7K 60 FPS, 1080p 240 FPS video, and 48MP photos. For control, it connects via the DJI Fly app, ready for a maximum range of 10,000m and a 34 minute flight time.
The Air 2 weighs 570g, so it does require registration. Thankfully, it remains pocketable nonetheless and easily fits into a jacket pocket. Even so, the added weight comes with notable benefits. Firstly, it offers a full complement of obstacle avoidance and landing sensors, giving the drone advanced autopiloting functionality. It also provides unrivaled longevity at 34 minutes of flight time, making it among the longest in the industry. And it does so with a larger 1/2-inch sensor, capturing 48MP HDR photos with exceptional detail and latitude for post-processing. Other bonuses include replacement propellers, SmartPhoto, HDR video, QuickShots, time-lapse, panorama, and RAW photos.
Overall, DJI’s Mavic Air 2 ups the line with a host of new features with the same friendly price and compact size.
4 – Parrot Anafi
Registration Required: Yes
Parrot’s Anafi offers portability with quite an interesting feature set. It features a 1/2.4-inch CMOS sensor, a 26-78mm lens, a 3-axis hybrid stabilization, Cinema 4K 24 or standard 4K 30 FPS, 1080p 60 FPS, and 21MP photos. For control, it connects via the Freeflight 6 app, ready for a maximum range of 4,000m and a 25 minute flight time.
At 320g, the Anafi will require registration. Even so, it maintains a compact, portable design that easily fits into a jacket pocket with power to withstand 31 mph winds. And, unlike rivals, it offers a 180º tilting camera, letting it take photos 90º upwards. And this remains a distinct feature in this particular class, especially great for capturing below-level or low-angle shots. It also offers a 2.8x zoom lens for a penalty-free zoom to get you closer to subjects without losing image quality and risking danger. Yet, it’s also one of few drones providing the slightly wider 17:9 aspect ratio used in cinematography for more cinematic video. Other bonuses include replacement propellers, the Dolly Zoom effect, QuickShots, RAW, time-lapse, and HDR video.
Overall, Parrot’s Anafi is a versatile option with a robust feature set and a unique angle that remains unmatched amongst rivals.
3 – Ryze Tech Tello
Registration Required: No
The Ryze Tech Tello is a collaborative release with DJI offering fun and educational value. It features a 720p HD camera capturing 30 FPS videos and 5MP photos with electronic image stabilization. For control, it connects via the Tello app, ready for a maximum range of 100m and a 13 minute flight time.
But, crucially, weighing only 80g, Tello is ultra-lightweight and portable. And it’s well suited for indoor or outdoor use, given its 18 mph top speed. But, crucially, Tello offers a mobile programming app supporting Scratch 3 developed by MIT. You can program the drone through the app to perform various aerial movements like stuns or flips through coding. As such, it’s a great hands-on resource if you’re curious about developing programming skills. Other bonuses include EZ Shots and VR compatibility.
Overall, Ryze Tech’s Tello is an excellent pocket drone that makes up for image quality with portability and educational value.
2 – DJI Mini 2
Registration Required: No
DJI’s Mini 2 substantially improves the original model. It features a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, a 24mm lens, a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, 4K 30 and 2.7K 60 FPS video, and 12MP photos. For control, it connects via the DJI Fly app, ready for a maximum range of 10,000m and a 31 minute flight time.
Coming in at 249, the Mini 2 doesn’t require registration. But, despite its small size, DJI refined the design, making it even more precise and stable. Now, it offers class 5 wind resistance, letting it fly accurately even in 24 mph winds. Yet, they’ve also equipped the drone with several high-end features from the mid-range Mavic lineup. Namely, it receives Ocusync 2, their excellent transmission technology for low latency lag-free connections. And it also gets a three-tiered GPS system, which is rock solid and offers near-perfect positioning. All the while, it’s equally as small and pocketable as the original Mini. Other bonuses include replacement propellers, a 4x digital zoom, panorama, time-lapse, HDR, and RAW photos.
Overall, DJI’s Mini 2 offers several high-end features coveted by the Air lineup, all without their price, weight, and general bulk. And considering its performance and reliability, it’s quite a powerful pocket drone.
1 – FIMI X8 Mini
Registration Required: No
FIMI’s X8 Mini revitalizes their X8SE, their best-selling and most popular release to date. And it comes to market as the first real challenger to DJI’s Mavic Mini lineup, but a real challenger indeed. It features a 1/2.6-inch CMOS sensor, a 26mm lens, a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, 4K UHD 30p, and 12MP photos. For control, it connects via the FIMI NAVI mini app, ready for a maximum range of 8,000m and a 31 minute flight time.
The X8 Mini comes in at just 245g with the Pro flight battery, letting it fly without registration. But it also captures RAW photos and 4K videos in HDR, both providing more latitude and detail when flying in challenging lighting. The drone itself uses two distance sensors, an optical flow sensor, and a three-tiered GPS system for excellent in-air accuracy and precision. And it can maintain its accuracy despite class 5 winds of 24 mph, so you can fly with minimal issues in most circumstances. But, crucially, you can fly this drone using the app and smartphone alone, making it supremely more convenient than rivals. Plus, it also debuts an AI Smart Tracking Mode to this category. Now, the X8 can confidently track moving subjects across the frame. And it’s even one of the first drones offering live streaming support via the flight app to boot. Other bonuses include replacement propellers, QuickShot modes, time-lapse, panorama, a 3x zoom, and the Night Mode.
Overall, FIMI’s X8 becomes quite an excellent release that manages to circumvent DJI’s ongoing dominance. And it obtains many high-end features from the X8SE without its size, bulk, and weight. And it’s an excellent option for creators looking for a pocketable drone with a well-rounded feature set.
What to look for in Pocket Drones:
Below is a list of the most important factors to consider before purchasing a pocket drone.
When looking at pocket drones, it’s critical that you factor in the drone’s folded size. And this becomes the most vital consideration, above even image quality. Ideally, you want the folded dimension to measure somewhere around 160x100x75mm (LWH). This form factor is small enough to tuck into most jacket pockets comfortably. Anything larger will likely require an oversized jacket or even a dedicated carrying case. And they can somewhat defeat the entire purpose of a pocket drone. You’ll also want to consider the drone’s airborne weight. Ideally, you want it to be less than 350g, so even if it requires registration, it’ll be light in a pocket. But outside of those factors, the remaining portability aspect will be personal preference.
You’ll want to consider the protection options available when transporting the drone. Most foldable drones don’t have secure propellers. And the last thing you want is to damage them, as it can cause a catastrophic crash. So it’s a good idea to look into a soft case to prevent damaging the propellers and help prolong their lifespan. Otherwise, using a small carrying bag is the best option to protect the drone while traveling.
You can find many pocket drones with 480p SD or 720p HD cameras, which won’t offer the image quality bump you’d likely want. They also usually don’t offer mechanically stabilized cameras, so their videos are too shaky to share online. As such, these cameras are best for FPV flying alone rather than capturing social media-worthy images. So if image quality is essential to you, consider skipping these models altogether and looking for drones with either 2 or 3-axis stabilized cameras. And, ideally, opt for models with 4K resolution.
The drone’s battery life per flight and recharging time is another thing to consider. If you plan on taking it on all of your travels, you don’t want to be stuck waiting four or five hours for a battery to recharge. So it’s a good idea to opt for spare batteries if you plan on flying frequently. Otherwise, look for a drone with USB-C compatibility so you can charge on the go.