Autel Robotics is expanding its camera drone line to better match up against market leader DJI. The new models, dubbed Evo Nano and Evo Lite, are sized down from the heftier Evo II Pro, reviewed by PCMag last year. Each is available in a standard version, or a Plus edition with an upgraded camera.
Like the Evo II Pro, the Nano Lite models have fewer built-in flight restrictions than models from DJI, adding appeal for pilots who don’t want to deal with geofences and locked out flights. Operators need to take extra care to ensure they are flying in allowable airspace.
The Evo Nano is a member of the smallest class of consumer camera drone, a direct competitor to the DJI Mini 2. Like the Mini 2, it sports a 249g takeoff weight, so there’s no need to register the drone with the FAA for legal flight in the US. Quadcopters that weight 250g or more are subject to a $5 registration fee.
To meet its light weight, the Nano is small, with folding arms for easy transport, and a battery that can keep it flying for up to 28 minutes at a time. It includes forward, aft, and downward-facing obstacle sensors, and captures the world with a nose-mounted camera, stabilized with a three-axis gimbal. It’s available in four color options: Arctic White, Autel Orange, Blazing Red, and Deep Space Gray.
Unlike the EVO II Pro, the Nano requires a smartphone to fly. Its remote doesn’t include its own screen to show the camera view; instead it relies on an Android handset or iPhone to control and view through the camera using the Autel Sky app. The drone doesn’t include any internal memory, but does have a slot for microSD cards.
Autel is selling the Nano in two versions. The basic Nano camera has a smartphone-sized 1/2-inch image sensor with support for 4K30 video and 48MP stills, fixed focus optics, an F2.8 lens, HDR photos, and a blurred background portrait mode option. It starts at $649, a $200 premium versus the DJI Mini 2, but also comes with some extra features, notably obstacle sensors, and a camera that’s closer in performance to the midrange Mavic Air 2. The basics are included with the $649 configuration, but you can also get the Premium $799 bundle with extra batteries and a carrying case.
For $799, you can step up to the Nano+, or splurge on the Nano+ Premium bundle to enjoy extended flying times and a carrying case. The Nano+ has a different camera than the Nano, one with an innovative image sensor.
The Nano+ sensor is a 1/1.28-inch class, in between the Nano and 1-inch sensor drones in size, and promises to do a better job in dim light than the regular Nano. The lens sports an F1.9 aperture, one that gathers twice the light as an F2.8, and eschews the standard RGGB Bayer color filter array for an RYYB design. It uses yellow filters instead of green to interpolate color images and promises an additional 40% efficiency in gathering light. In addition, the Nano+ has focusable optics, with a hybrid contrast and phase detection autofocus system onboard.
RYYB sensors are a relatively new thing—the Nano+ is the first drone to include the color filter design, and it’s one that has yet to make its way into enthusiast and professional swappable lens cameras. We’re eager to see how it performs, especially in regards to color fidelity.
Autel’s other new aircraft, the Evo Lite, is closer in size to the DJI Mavic Air 2 and Air 2S drones. That means you will have to deal with FAA registration in order to fly it—the aircraft comes in at 1.8 pounds (835g), well above the 250g registration figure. It follows the same basic design paradigm—a small drone with folding arms, a nose-mounted camera, available in the three color options: Arctic White, Autel Orange, and Deep Space Gray.
The bigger quadcopter has room for a beefier battery, one that can keep it in the air for up to 40 minutes of flying time. It includes three-way obstacle avoidance sensors, offers 6GB of internal storage plus a microSD expansion slot, and uses the same remote and smartphone companion app as the Nano series.
The standard edition of the Evo Lite uses the same 50MP RYYB camera as the Nano+, but mounts it on a four-axis gimbal instead of the standard three-axis model. The extra movement adds support for vertical portrait orientation video and stills, and improved processing power ups the top video frame rate to 4K60. The Evo Lite is priced at $1,149 in a ready-to-fly configuration with the remote and a single battery, and can be had in Premium bundle with three flight batteries and a carrying case for $1,549.
The Evo Lite+ goes even further with its camera, moving to a 1-inch class sensor, similar to what you get with the Evo II Pro and DJI Air 2S. The Lite+ camera supports 20MP stills, up 6K30 or 4K60 video, and three-axis gimbal stabilization—Autel swapped support for vertical video in favor of the larger camera for this model. Like the Evo II Pro, the Lite+ includes an adjustable F2.8-11 aperture, so you won’t be as reliant on neutral density filters to keep shutter speeds set for video when flying in daylight.
Autel has one more drone at CES, but it’s not one for consumers. Instead, its Dragonfish Pro drone is targeted to enterprise, with three-hour airtime, an 18-mile operating range, and a hybrid design that is part airplane and part helicopter—its VTOL rotors are reminiscent of the V-22 Osprey. Don’t expect to add one to your camera bag, though, as use cases are purely industrial and pricing starts at a staggering $99,000.
Senior digital camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim’s interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father’s Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007.
He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H Photo, where he wrote thousands upon thousands of product descriptions, blog posts, and reviews. Since then he’s shot with hundreds of camera models, ranging from pocket point-and-shoots to medium format digital cameras. And he’s reviewed almost all of them. When he’s not testing cameras and gear for PCMag, he’s likely out and about shooting with …
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