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Best Drones With Zoom Cameras in 2023 (What Drones Can Zoom in?)

Updated in 2023 by Paul Posea
zoom drone final

I’ve tested many drones in the past five years, but I’ve never really talked about a specific category: drones that can zoom in.

I’ve got my fair share of flying with the DJI Mavi 2 Zoom, and I’ve been lucky enough to test a few alternatives, too.

Because zooming isn’t on high demand on the consumer market, with most models only featuring low quality digital zoom, I’ll only talk about the three drones that can zoom in and still get good video and photo quality.

I’m going to go through each of my best zoom drones, comparing specs, prices and features to see if they hold up to the Mavic 2 Zoom, while also explaining the difference between Optical Zoom, Digital Zoom and Hybrid Zoom.

So, zoom in for more details! Or scroll down, I mean.

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DJI mavic 2 zoom camera

1. DJI Mavic 2 Zoom -  Best Drone With Zoom Camera Overall

As one of the first consumer drones with a dedicated 2X optical zoom camera, the Mavic 2 Zoom must be at the top of this list.

It comes with DJI build quality and image processing, a long-lasting battery and a fantastic range for its size. I really loved how sturdy the drone feels and the new, improved gimbal that doesn’t feel like it’s going to break on it’s own.

The drone features a 12MP, 1/ 2.3" CMOS sensor and a 24-48mm lens that has 2X digital and optical zoom.

But what’s the big deal about optical zoom? There are plenty of drones out there with digital zoom. Well, that is true - but the quality sucks.

Optical zoom uses the lens of a camera to physically zoom in on a subject, while maintaining image quality. Digital zoom, on the other hand, crops and enlarges a portion of an image, resulting in a loss of quality as the pixels become more visible. 

Hybrid zoom is a combination of both optical and digital zoom, allowing for greater magnification while still maintaining some level of image clarity.

So, the Mavic 2 Zoom is all about getting close to the subjects without compromising on quality. But that’s not everything! While shooting and zooming in, you can basically “compress” the scene using the increased focal length.

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This can come in handy when you want to focus more on a specific subject, bringing it closer to the foreground when the distance doesn’t allow it. It can also increase the parallax effect for a classic cinematic effect that can only be recreated with an optical zoom feature.

For me, this was the main reason to use the Mavic 2 Zoom - my shots seemed way smoother and more cinematic. It takes a little partice and experimenting with different scenes and distances, but the results are awesome.

Of course, you can use the zoom feature to keep a safe distance from cars, buildings or people, too - so it can also be seen as a “safety” feature if you will.

On top of everything else, Mavic 2 Zoom comes with ActiveTracking, HDR capabilities and ActiveLighting. The price is well worth it for what this quadcopter can do, and it is by far the best consumer zoom drone on the market right now.

If you want an in-depth guide about the camera settings and the benefits of the zoom feature in general, this video is great for a quick start:

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DJI Mavic 3

2. DJI Mavic 3 - Best Hybrid Zoom Drone

The DJI Mavic 2 Zoom is your best bet if you plan to use the zoom feature every time you go out to take great shots.

However, if you want a step up with your budget, you should go for the DJI Mavic 3. This "prosumer" drone has the upper hand when it comes to zooming in, thanks to its two-camera setup that can go up to x28 hybrid zoom. 

The Mavic 3 features two cameras. The main camera has a 4/3-inch sensor and up to 4x digital zoom, while the second camera sports a ½-inch sensor and a 7x magnification telephoto lens. 

Together, these cameras enable Hybrid Zoom allowing users to achieve a maximum of 28x digital zoom. Of course, I wouldn't recommend going that "close" unless the conditions are ideal. Otherwise, it is difficult to get a clear shot. But hey, this drone can actually do it!

You should know that the “real” zoom comes into play only after 7x, when you actually switch to the telephoto camera. The 2X and 4X settings are just digital crops of the main sensor.

Once you’re at 7X, you can go further to 14X and then 28X. Again, the last two options being just crops of the 7X optical zoom lens.

The video quality is as good as it gets for a drone in this price range. What applies to the Mavic 2 Zoom also applies to the Mavic 3 when it comes to how “useful” the feature can be.

Apart from getting really cool cinematic shots with the increased focal length, you should know that even the 14X and 28X settings are more than useful in specific scenarios.
Sure, you won’t get the clearest results, but thanks to the high-end stabilization you might get a lot of shots that you wouldn’t even think are possible.

I found this awesome video that showcases the zoom capabilities of the Mavic 3 in great detail. Check it out!

Autel Evo II

3. Autel Evo II - Cheaper DJI Alternative

Autel is very well known for its more affordable drones that come packed with awesome features.

The Autel Evo can zoom in up to X16, with x3 lossless zoom. Unlike the Mavic 2 Zoom, this drone doesn't have an optical zoom camera (which is understandable at this price range), but the shots it captures are smooth and sharp.

Autel Evo II features a beefy 20MP Sony sensor that won't disappoint you even in rough conditions. The drone does very well in low light conditions; it has a 40m+ flight time and 9km range. 

Of course, the zoom feature is what matters the most here, and if you don't push it too far or you're in bad light conditions, you'll get awesome results!

Can drones zoom in?

Just like your typical smartphone, most drones offer the option to zoom in digitally. But that doesn't mean the quality will stay the same. For the best results, you'd have to use a drone made specifically for zoomed-in shots, like the Mavic 2 Zoom or Mavic 3.

Why is zooming in useful in a drone?

Zooming in with a drone is useful for capturing detailed images and footage, as well as giving you a closer view of the landscape.

Zooming also allows you to identify objects or features more precisely, which can be very helpful when surveying an area. With optical zoom, drones can capture highly detailed images without sacrificing much quality compared to digital zoom.

At the same time, because optical zoom comes with increased focal length, you can use this feature to get more cinematic shots with smoother panning and better subject focus.

Optical zoom can actually change the composition of your shots entirely, so it is not just a gimmick. If used properly, it can improve the quality of any video you’l be shooting.

What is the difference between Optical Zoom and Digital Zoom?

You’ve probably heard about Digital and Optical Zoom before, but what’s the difference and why does it matter?

Digital zoom is a process of manipulating an image using software to increase the apparent size of an object without actually zooming in with the camera lens. Optical zoom, on the other hand, uses mechanical movement within the camera's lens to zoom in optically, providing greater clarity of the object as well as higher-resolution images.

Consumer-level drones don't usually feature an optical zoom camera because it is both more expensive and harder to install due to their bigger size. 

What is Hybrid Zoom?

Some camera setups can use both optical and digital zoom, or “Hybrid Zoom” for short.

Hybrid zoom is a combination of digital zoom and optical zoom. It combines both technologies allowing users to gain maximum magnifying power and image quality. Hybrid zoom allows you to obtain maximum clarity and resolution while also being able to zoom in closer than possible with optical zoom alone.

What drones have optical zoom?

Most drones that can zoom in, like the Zenmuse series from DJI, are not considered “consumer” drones and are mainly used by professionals in the cinema industry.

DJI Mavic 2 Zoom is a lightweight, foldable drone that has 2X optical (4X digital) zoom.

How far can a drone zoom in?

Most drones can go up to 4x digital zoom, but the quality can massively decrease. The Mavic 3 will use its two-camera setup to get as far as 28x zoom while still getting decent-quality shots.

What DJI drones have optical zoom?

DJI drones equipped with cameras that feature optical zoom capabilities include:

  • Mavic 2 Zoom: 12-megapixel camera with up to four times lossless zoom, including 2x optical zoom
  • Phantom 4 Pro V2.0: 20 megapixels and up to 8x zoom, including 6x lossless digital zoom
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.

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paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.
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