Drones are typically daylight flyers. The smaller sensors mixed with laws restricting nighttime flights meant consumer drones were grounded at night. But, the Federal Aviation Administration laws eased up last year, allowing night flights with a proper certificate and visibility lights. Of course, that doesn’t mean much if consumer drones aren’t capable of taking photos at night. That’s why Autel made two versions of its new mid-sized consumer drone: the Autel Evo Lite+ and the Evo Lite.
The drone with the plus in the name has a few distinct advantages including a larger one-inch sensor and a lower pixel count for better high ISO performance. But, the Autel Evo Lite+ also has a few key specifications that are notably better than its main competition, the DJI Air 2S. The Evo Lite+ has a battery that will last for ten more minutes and a variable aperture lens. But, choosing between Autel and DJI is a little like choosing between iPhone and Android. Each drone system has its subtle nuances and pros and cons.
The Big Picture
- Excellent battery life
- Novice mode for beginners
- Great wind resistance
- It comes in bright orange!
- Larger one-inch sensor
- Variable aperture lens f2.8-f11
- Good low light performance
- No geofencing
- No obstacle avoidance sensors above the drone
- Auto mode has a tendency to overexpose
- Pricier than competing models
DJI is often the first name that comes to mind when looking at camera drones. But the Autel Evo Lite+ intentionally outranks the competition in several key specifications. Unlike the DJI Air 2S, it has a variable aperture lens, along with longer battery life and better wind resistance. But, the Air 2S has more obstacle detection features, a wider lens, and geofencing. The Lite+ is proof that, when there are multiple competing companies, there’s a bigger push for innovation.
Designed for low light, the Lite+ has a larger one-inch sensor, an aperture that gets down to f2.8, and 20 megapixels for less noise than the 50-megapixel option. That produces some pretty solid aerial images. Despite being a mid-level drone, flight is still easy enough for beginners with a bit of patience, though auto mode has a tendency to overexpose. Drone pilots will have to watch out for obstacles above the drone, as the drone lacks sensors at the top. But, it offers an excellent battery life and a smooth flying experience.
I’m giving the Autel Evo Lite+ four out of five stars.
I tested the Autel Evo Lite+ drone with the On the Go Bundle, which includes two extra batteries, a three battery charger, ND filters, extra props, and a bag. All of these were loaner units.
The Autel Evo Lite+ is the series’ low light flyer. It lacks some of the innovations of the Evo Lite, including a four-axis gimbal for vertical shots. But, it uses a larger one-inch sensor, 20 megapixels for larger pixels, and it has an adjustable aperture. One of the biggest ways that Autel sets itself apart from competitors like DJI is a 40-minute battery life as well as a lack of geofencing, which can be a good thing or can be a bad thing.
Autel lists these key tech specs for the Evo Lite+:
- 6K 1-inch CMOS Sensor
- 20 Megapixel Photos
- F2.8-f11 adjustable aperture
- HDR Video
- 16x digital zoom
- Up to 3X Lossless Zoom
- Dynamic Track 2.1
- Level 7 Wind Resistance
- 40 Min. battery life
- Three way binocular vision sensors
- 7.4 miles transmission range
I rarely get truly excited about the color of a camera, but every time I lose sight of my drone in the clouds I wonder why nearly every drone is the color of clouds. Well, the Autel Evo Lite+ is available in bright orange. While the sample I tested was plain white, I’m excited someone finally decided to use a highly visible color. A drone pilot should be able to look at the screen, then look back and easily see exactly where the drone is in the sky. That’s hard to do if the drone is the same color as the clouds.
The Evo Lite+ is a mid-sized drone. It’s not small enough to not require an FAA registration, but it’s not terribly large either. It weighs 835g, which is just shy of 30 ounces. It’s almost 17 inches across at its widest point. But, with each arm folded in, the drone will take up about as much room as a 70-200mm f2.8 lens (not including the controller and any extra batteries).
The Evo Lite+ has a fairly traditional design. The camera and gimbal sit at the front of the quadcopter. A large battery slots in at the back. One side houses a micro SD card slot and the other a USB-C port on the other. If you forget to grab an SD card, it carries 6GB of storage on the drone itself.
Of course, that’s extremely oversimplifying the tech. The drone also has two obstacle avoidance sensors in the back, two at the bottom, and two at the rear. The front two cameras give the obstacle avoidance system a 150-degree view. Notably, there are no sensors on the top, so pilots will need to take extra care to avoid flying up into obstacles, such as taking off near trees or powerlines.
The quadcopter is paired with a controller that reminds me a bit of an older Playstation controller. There are the two joysticks and,a home button, on/off button, and a pause button between them. At the front by the index fingers are two buttons: one to shoot, the other a customizable function button. On the left, a control wheel adjusts the shooting angle using the gimbal. A pull-out cradle houses your smartphone. The controller is comfortable and simple enough to use.
Drones are made to be light enough to fly and the Autel Evo Lite+ is no exception. I did not experience any broken props or other pieces during my flights. However, it’s a bit expected to have to occasionally replace props. It’s probably not going to survive a major crash, but hopefully, the object detection system will help prevent one.
The Autel Evo Lite+, however, does have a pretty great wind tolerance. It’s rated Level 7, which is between 32 and 38 mph. I flew in wind at around 15 to 18 mph. This was enough to move the trees and get curious strangers asking questions about flying on such a windy day. But it stayed pretty steady, just understandably moved a bit slower when flying into the wind.
Like most consumer drones, it’s rated to fly in temps above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The specs also say to keep it below 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I flew in temps in the low to mid-80s, and while the drone battery was warm to the touch, the drone performed just fine.
Ease of Use
The Autel Evo Lite+ wasn’t my first drone flight, but it was my first time flying an Autel drone. I still consider myself a novice drone pilot. I own a DJI Mini 2, but I’ve had it for less than a year.
While the Evo Lite+ is a mid-level consumer drone, it’s not terribly daunting for beginners either. The drone has a novice mode with a few protections built-in. For example, you can’t fly without a GPS signal, while this mode also restricts speed and height.
The first time using the Autel Sky app, a pop-up walks through basic drone operation. The drone runs through a few pre-flight checks, like checking the gimbal and compass. Take-off simply requires pushing both joysticks to the bottom corner to start the motor, then pressing and sliding the button on the screen. On the first flight, the app also walks through what each joystick does and how to navigate.
The app uses a few built-in modes. Besides the basic shooting modes, there’s a pano option with spherical, vertical, and horizontal options. A portrait mode allows the pilot to select a person on the touchscreen and keep that person in the frame. Quick Shot, Track, and Hyper-lapse automate flight patterns for video. The drone is equipped with auto exposure as well as full manual mode and JPEG and DNG files.
The quadcopter has obstacle detection sensors at the front, back, and below. The screen flashed with warnings and blared audible alarms as well if I flew within a few feet of another object.
The obstacle detection notably doesn’t include the top. What made me most nervous about this is the fact that the Return to Home button first sends the drone to a specific altitude. This can be set in the settings, but the lowest option is 82 feet. I can see beginners mistakenly assuming that this will land the drone and accidentally sending the drone up into a tree or other obstacle. Be sure to only use this feature with no obstacles above the drone. I preferred manually landing instead. This still has a few protections built-in. For example, it wouldn’t land on dirt. Once you lower the drone so far with the joysticks, the drone automatically finishes the landing process.
Unlike drones from DJI, the Evo Lite+ does not use geofencing. This is both good and bad. For pilots who regularly obtain special clearance, the drone is ready to fly in those restricted areas without any additional steps. But, for beginners, the lack of geofencing is more of a negative. There are no built-in protections to keep newbies from accidentally breaking a law. While every drone pilot needs to do their due diligence to research local drone laws, geofencing offers an extra level of protection for areas that may not obviously be a no-fly zone. Case in point — I had no idea that one of my neighbors actually has a runway until my DJI drone warned me that I was in a yellow zone.
At the corner of the screen, the app has a map mode, which shows nearby features such as airports. But, the app only labels the no-fly zones on the map in China and Japan.
In auto exposure mode, the drone tended to err on the side of overexposure. Roads and fair-skinned people tended to be blown out, lacking details. I would have preferred leaning towards underexposure, since those shadows are a bag part aerial images and I would darken them in post anyways. I found the best results using Pro mode and manually adjusting the exposure.
Autofocus is rarely an issue with drones. The smaller sensor creates a wider depth of field, and the top-down view tends to favor more of the image in focus anyways. I couldn’t find fault with the autofocus system. It locked onto bikers and boaters with relative ease.
With a one-inch sensor, the Evo Lite+ offers the image quality of a high-end compact camera, rather than the more smartphone-like quality of smaller drones. At 20 megapixels, the images have enough detail without going over the top. I don’t think I would want more detail in aerial images; there’s already so much to look at. Adding enough resolution to see every leaf from a bird’s eye view would create an image that’s too busy and distracting. The 20 megapixels is an ideal amount for a one-inch sensor. It does, however, limit the ability to crop in post.
Most of my images were sharp and the video was incredibly smooth on the gimbal. But, you can get some blur if you don’t pause the flight to take a shot.
When properly exposed, the Evo Lite+ has good colors, with DNG files as a neutral starting point for adding your own style. Colors naturally wash out a bit when overexposed; I do think this is a drone best shot in Pro mode for the most control. If you fly this towards the sun at sunset, you can get some really pretty flare. My favorite is placing the sun just on the top edge of the image, which will create a soft orange glow on that edge.
That flare comes from a 29mm equivalent lens with a variable aperture from f2.8 to f11. The variable aperture gives pilots more control over the look of the images working in more types of light. I did occasionally wish for a slightly wider lens when I wanted to fit an entire large property in the image without flying above 400 feet. The zoom that’s included is a lossless digital zoom — there’s a noticeable lack of sharpness. Whenever safe, flying closer is a better choice than using the lossless zoom.
High ISO images
The Lite+ is designed more for low lite than the Lite model. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the images at ISO 6400 turned out. There is some noise for sure, but, with the aerial view, that noise tends to be disguised a bit among the texture of the leaves and grass from such a high angle. These high ISO images still print fairly well.
However, with the f2.8 aperture, photographers won’t need that high ISO unless flying in the dark or freezing action on the ground. Flying about 20 minutes before sunset, I was still able to get sharp shots at 1/25s and ISO 100 as long as I was hovering and not flying.
RAW File Versatility
The RAW files tended to be more overexposed than the JPEGs. With that and the tendency to overexpose in auto mode, the best results come from underexposing just a bit in manual mode if you plan to edit. The overexposure is easily fixed, thankfully, and the DNG files offer more flexibility with colors. There is a bit of barrel distortion from the wide-angle lens, however, without the profiles available to correct it just yet.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy It?
The Autel Evo Lite+ is an excellent choice for aerial photographers who need a longer battery life and extra wind resistance. The variable aperture lens will help avoid needing ND filters in bright light for stills and in some instances video as well. And the bright orange color option will make it easier to maintain a line of sight. Buy it if a long flight time and great low light image quality are at the top of your list.
However, it is a bit pricier than the competing DJI Air 2S, which has a similarly spec’d camera but a shorter 30-minute battery life and a fixed aperture lens. The Air 2S is the better choice if obstacle detection is a top priority because it can also sense obstacles above the drone. Opt for it instead if you need obstacle avoidance on all sides for automated flight paths, or if you want geofencing to prevent accidentally entering a no-fly zone.