You can’t have a conversation about drone brands in 2023 without mentioning Autel and DJI, often in the very same breath.
DJI may be respected by many as the leader of the drone world, but new contenders emerge all the time eager to push DJI out of that coveted spot.
Autel is one of the most promising of those contenders. Its drones continue to be examples of today’s best technology in areas like video performance, battery life, and intelligent features.
I’m tremendously savvy in DJI and Autel drones alike, as these are my two preferred brands. I’ve tried many new drones from these respective manufacturers, often as soon as they were released.
This guide will take you through all the facets of what makes a drone brand great, from technical features and specs to smart features and elements you can’t quantify as easily, such as enjoyment. You’ll see why I continue to be a DJI lifer but with a big soft spot in my heart for Autel.
It’s my hope that the information this guide will help you in your quest to find a great drone, whether you’re buying your first, your next upgrade, or a gift for someone special.
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
Autel vs. DJI – Which is better? The quick answer
Everyone has preferences and opinions they’re entitled to when it comes to which drone is better.
And there’s not necessarily one correct answer, as it depends on what you’re looking for in a drone.
In my experience, DJI drones are better between DJI and Autel. DJI produces commercial heavyweights outside the traditional consumer sphere such as the Agras T40, Matrice 300 RTK, and Mavic 3 Thermal. The brand also makes commercial consumer drones, from the extremely popular Mini Pro 4 to the Mavic 3 Pro with a triple-camera system.
Its other Mini drones are light enough to forego recreational registration and have beginner-friendly features.
Autel is primarily known for the EVO series, a cluster of commercial and recreational drones. They include the EVO Nano Series, EVO Lite Series, EVO II Series, and EVO Max Series.
While many of its drones are ready for everyday or project-driven operations, Autel also produces solutions for mapping and surveying, inspection, and security.
Even still, if you ask me, its drones don’t have quite the same versatility as DJI’s.
What are Autel drones?
Autel, known as Autel Robotics in full, produces enterprise and consumer drones.
Most of its drones are intended for recreational and commercial use, with the Dragonfish and EVO II Enterprise series drones rivaling the enterprise capabilities of DJI.
Established in 2014, Autel’s first drone, the X-STAR, came a year later.
It rose to success, allowing Autel to develop the EVO drones that have since made the manufacturer famous.
Autel expanded to American soil (it’s based in China, like DJI), and the EVO II series in 2020 performed remarkably well.
What are DJI drones?
DJI, known as Shenzen DJI Sciences and Technologies Ltd. in full, translates to Da Jiang Chuangxin, or “Great Frontier Innovations” in Chinese. The company specializes in commercial, recreational, and enterprise drones.
Frank Wang, also known as Wang Tao, invented DJI in 2006. Wang is a business and aerospace engineer from China and DJI’s CEO.
He was in college at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2003 and built a robot that year, winning third place for his design.
The earliest DJI prototypes emerged from Wang’s college dorm. He sold his flight control components and used the money to obtain a building and staff in 2006, when DJI began in earnest.
The Phantom was DJI’s debut drone and how the brand made its move to North America. When the Phantom 3 came out in 2015, DJI rose to even greater success.
As of March 2021, 76 percent of drones in the global consumer market are from DJI.
The top Autel drones
It’s impossible to decide whether Autel or DJI drones are better without reviewing the drones behind the brands.
Let’s begin by assessing Autel with a brief yet jam-packed review of four of the best models I’ve explored from this manufacturer.
1. EVO II Pro V3
The original EVO II Pro was released in 2021 and subsequently improved. The V3 is the best version of this drone money can buy, so why wouldn’t I focus on it?
The one-inch Sony CMOS sensor is the kind of quality product you’d expect in a DJI drone.
The EVO II Pro V3 is capable of stunning 6K Ultra HD video quality, the likes of which DJI doesn’t offer in most of its consumer drones.
The 20 MP image quality is standard for 2021 and admittedly could be better, such as 48 MP, but I imagine Autel is done retooling the EVO II Pro at this point.
It’s an imaging powerhouse with features like a configurable aperture, 12-bit DNG for speedier post-processing, 6K hyperlapses in RAW or JPEG, and the Moonlight Algorithm 2.0.
It’s safer than ever to fly the EVO II Pro V3, as it includes more than a dozen sensor groups to detect and dodge obstacles from all directions.
The EVO II Pro includes SkyLink 2.0 video transmission over more than nine miles with HD quality. Its flight time is touted as 40 minutes.
2. EVO Nano+
Debuting in January 2022, the EVO Nano+ is Autel’s answer to the DJI Mini line.
Weighing under 250 grams and available in four fun, vibrant colors, the Nano+ features a 1/1.28-inch CMOS sensor that takes 50 MP photos and 4K video, just like DJI’s Mini 3.
The photo quality is the stuff of wonder, with a dual autofocus system, a larger aperture to let in more light, and a color filter array that enriches your images with lifelike yet natural color.
You can also use HDR to make composites with brighter brights and darker darks that expand your photography’s dynamic range and contrast.
Your photos will be the talk of the town…or at least the online community.
Its obstacle avoidance system is something DJI lacks in its comparably-sized drones. Pilots of all flight experience levels benefit from obstacle avoidance, and Autel’s is some of the best in the game.
The EVO Nano+ is chock full of fun flight features, including Dynamic Track 2.0 for tracking subjects, SkyPortrait for taking selfies of you and all your friends, and cinematic modes from Fade Away to Flick, Rocket, and Orbit.
3. EVO Lite+
Another best-seller in Autel’s collection of consumer drones is the EVO Lite+, which comes in three engaging colors.
Its one-inch CMOS sensor shoots videos in 6K at 30 frames per second, an accomplishment for a lightweight drone of its class. Its RGGB camera shoots in 20 MP, which is passable.
The same CDAF and PDAF autofocus system makes its return in the EVO Lite+, as does a togglable aperture, HDR, natural colors, obstacle avoidance, the Moonlight Algorithm, SkyPortrait, cinematic modes, and Dynamic Track 2.1.
The EVO Lite+ boasts Defog Mode. While this admittedly only comes in handy in limited circumstances – such as outdoor shooting in hazy conditions – I love this feature!
It adds clarity to your waterfall or mountain videos, so your footage rises to the top in the eyes of your clients.
The EVO Lite+ has a transmission range of over seven miles and can sustain flight for 40 minutes, an Autel standard. You can get your work done lickity-split with a drone like this.
4. EVO Max 4T
As part of the EVO Max series, the 4T is one of the newer drones in the Autel family, released in January 2023.
The 4T is not your average consumer drone. This professional drone takes autonomy to a new level with features in its toolkit you will want for all your commercial endeavors.
Its triple camera system includes one thermal camera with 16x Digital Zoom capabilities, one wide camera with a 1/1.28-inch CMOS sensor and 50 MP resolution, and one zoom camera with 160x Optical Zoom and 48 MP image quality.
These cameras enable you to tackle an array of professional challenges and tasks with one drone rather than having to travel with the whole fleet.
Additionally, the EVO Max 4T includes a laser rangefinder, 3D map planning for data security and mission planning, a projection screen, and the best obstacle avoidance Autel offers, as you get 720 degrees of obstacle avoidance.
The battery time is about standard at 42 advertised minutes (fewer when you fly it), but given the size of this remarkable drone, that’s still quite an accomplishment!
The top DJI drones
Now that I’ve assessed my favorite Autel drones I’ve personally flown, let’s see the other side of the coin and reveal these DJI drones that I never go without.
» MORE: Best DJI Drones for Real Estate
1. Mavic 3 Pro
Brand-spankin’-new, the Mavic 3 Pro made its shining debut in 2023. Its triple-camera system is so good that words barely suffice to describe it, but I’ll try!
The 4/3 CMOS Hasselblad camera lets you set its aperture and shoot in a passable 20 MP, the 1/1.3-inch CMOS medium tele camera has 3x Optical Zoom and a much better image quality of 48 MP, and the 1/2-inch CMOS tele camera shoots in 12 MP but with 28x Hybrid Zoom and 7x Optical Zoom.
There’s a camera in this drone for anything your busy schedule as a pro drone pilot throws at you. Need high-def image quality? Use the medium tele camera.
Interested in zooming in extra close from a distance? Try the tele camera. The Hasselblad camera is a great in-between.
Of course, the Mavic 3 Pro is more than a camera. It includes 5.1K video at 50 frames per second and many fun shooting features.
Speed up with Hyperlapse, maximize dynamic elements with HLG, bring out the vivacity of life with 10-bit D-Log, and continue the fun after dark with Night Shots.
Just like the three cameras are suited to your every need, so are these great features.
I’ve never personally hit 43 minutes with it, but close enough to 40 minutes that I’m satisfied. I also adore the ultra-safe obstacle avoidance system.
2. Mini 4 Pro
The Mini 4 Pro is no doubt the Mini to end all Minis.
Popping up in stores and online in 2023, this newer drone (at least as of the time of this publication) is as lightweight as any other Mini but boasts such advanced features you’ll wonder if you’re flying a Mavic instead.
The 4K HDR video at 60 fps is standard for Minis, but here’s something this drone has that other Minis don’t necessarily: omnidirectional obstacle sensing.
Of course, obstacle sensing is not the same as avoidance, but it’s better than the absence of both.
The True Vertical Shooting will make using the Mini 4 Pro a paradise for social media stars.
I think this feature is so fun, and that goes double for ActiveTrack 360, which has some of DJI’s best subject tracking I’ve ever seen.
The 20-kilometer FHD video transmission system pushes the limits of what a DJI drone can do, and its battery life is on par with other Minis.
The Mini 4 has enough special features to differentiate it from the Mini 3 or Mini 3 Pro, but it is also the same reliable Mini drone you already know and love.
Its familiarity makes it a blast to fly right out of the box.
I’m still learning FPV myself since it’s quite tough if you’re used to flying drones the standard way, but the Avata has made it easier to learn than I thought.
It has a good weight and size, prop guards, and a remote that I found easy enough to orient myself to after some time and practice.
The 4K video wasn’t necessary, considering FPV drones aren’t primarily about high-quality footage, but I love that DJI included it anyway.
The DJI Goggles are a treat to wear, and with OLED screens, the quality is excellent.
You need clear footage, especially when flying FPV, as these drones are so much more prone to crashes due to the way they fly and their speed.
4. Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
When you need to get work done, there’s the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0.
The Phantom was the drone that started it all for DJI, and the 4 Pro, the improved and better version, proves why this is a legacy series to this day.
The one-inch CMOS that achieves 20 MP images and 4K videos at 60 fps is a DJI standard. It’s good enough for filmmaking, documentary-making, and professional photography in news or real estate.
After all, the gimbal camera features an optimized wide-angle lens for more sharpness and detail, while D-Log color improves the exuberance of your footage.
The precise mechanical shutter for less shutter distortion keeps your shots crystal-clear, even if your subject is in motion.
The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 uses DJI’s OcuSync 2.0 footage transmission system for sending HD video on the go. You can always keep up with your social media audience or send footage to clients while you’re still onsite.
I can’t decide what’s better: the 3D mapping through FlightAutonomy to automate your flights and enhance safety, or the Intelligent Flight Modes like Gesture Mode, Draw Mode for waypoints, TapFly for setting the drone’s trajectory, RTH, or ActiveTrack.
It’s a tough call!
Autel vs. DJI – Which drone brand wins?
So, which drone brand wins out? As said, it’s not quite so cut and dried. Different drones suit various audiences.
While I like DJI more, and most drone pilots agree with that stance, you might be more of an Autel pilot, and that’s fine!
To showcase how these manufacturers excel and where let’s compare them on the most important points a pilot considers when shopping for a new drone.
Image and video quality
DJI might be the drone leader in many regards, but its image and video quality sometimes pale in comparison to what Autel offers.
Autel drone image resolution goes up to 50 MP, and 6K video quality is standard across many of its drones.
In the meantime, DJI drones max out at 48 MP image quality and 4K HD.
However, the average image quality of an Autel drone is only 20 MP, especially for consumer drones, so you’re sacrificing image quality an iota for better video quality.
There’s enough of a difference between 4K and 6K, and I won’t pretend otherwise.
Perfectionist pilots who seek the best of everything will find it too tempting to pass up Autel.
However, you’re not necessarily harming your professional aspirations if you choose a DJI drone.
The 4K video quality is fine!
When it comes to smart features, it’s DJI first and every other drone brand behind them.
DJI’s Intelligent Flight Modes are the best on the market, bar none.
Holy Stone, Autel, and other drone manufacturers have their own versions of many of these smart features, but there’s something about the way DJI programs its Intelligent Flight Modes that’s better.
And the Intelligent Flight Modes keep improving, becoming smarter, more automated, and more intuitive.
The average battery life of a DJI drone is about 32 to 34 minutes, with anything over that uncommon. By comparison, an Autel drone flies for 40 minutes as a baseline, sometimes up to 45 minutes.
These advertised times are not what you get in true flight scenarios. That’s not a fault on DJI or Autel’s parts, though.
Expect to get several minutes less time in the sky when flying in ambient conditions, and far less time if you fly in high winds, even within the drone’s wind resistance limits.
DJI leads the pack in offering greater video transmission capabilities with seemingly every new drone it releases.
It’s never a substantially huge transmission distance over Autel, but it’s about more than that.
DJI’s transmission system is one of its starring features, so the manufacturer puts a lot of time, effort, and development toward it.
It’s a reliable system pilots have come to know and love. Other brands don’t quite compare.
Although DJI has some of the top industry-leading safety features, they’re integrated sporadically into its drones, especially the Mini line.
For some reason, those drones almost always lack obstacle avoidance.
Even the Mini 4 has obstacle detection but not avoidance.
On the other hand, Autel has always had solid obstacle detection with its consumer and commercial drones, installing various types of sensors throughout the drone to read obstacles as they come from all directions.
DJI’s assortment of accessories includes everything you need to get started, from charging cables to additional battery chargers, carrying cases, spare props, and more.
The problem? Most of these accessories don’t come with your purchase.
Upgrading to the Fly More Combo usually adds more accessories, but not to the same degree as Autel.
Autel has many drone bundle packages, with the most famous and my favorite being the EVO II Pro. The V3 edition comes with so many items that it’s worth the price tag of over $1,000.
As a long-term DJI pilot, I can freely admit that supporting this brand means spending lots of money on extras and accessories because they’re simply not packaged with the drone.
It’s kind of like how Apple has gradually stripped away the accessories included with modern iPhones. People still buy them, though, just like we all still support DJI.
I would put Autel and DJI on about even footing here. Some DJI drones are ridiculously expensive, and the same can be said for Autel.
However, it’s not like either manufacturer decided to make the drones expensive solely for profit. The costlier drones have a hefty price tag for a reason.
They’re usually enterprise-level drones with high-end cameras, heavy-duty casing, long flight times, and advanced components.
Even DJI and Autel’s cheaper drones aren’t that cheap compared to a Holy Stone, for instance.
However – I do like Holy Stone, so don’t take this as a dig – the reason Holy Stone drones are cheap is because they usually lack features like a gimbal.
DJI and Autel don’t skimp out like that, so their similar drones cost more.
» MORE: Best Drones Under $1,000
Ease of use
These two major manufacturers both have beginner-friendly drone series. That’s the Mini line for DJI and the EVO Nano Series for Autel.
Beginners aside, I’d say any drone you pick up and fly from Autel or DJI is easy to use after you get the hang of it.
There’s always a slight learning curve, even if you’re exclusive to one brand like DJI, as technology and features advance.
Once you get over that small hump, it’s usually smooth sailing.
Of course, the exception to this rule is DJI’s collection of FPV drones, Avata and the DJI FPV. As I alluded to before, learning to fly an FPV drone is an entirely different ball of wax.
In the great battle of DJI versus Autel, my mind is set. DJI is the leading drone manufacturer for a reason.
Its drones are designed for different pilot needs, budgets, and interests, whether basic commercial use, recreational flights, or professional enterprise work.
Autel is an excellent brand in many ways, and while I’d fly many Autel drones any day, I can’t help my love for DJI.