Autel EVO Lite+ review

Autel EVO Lite Plus is a great 6K drone that is a serious, and more affordable, alternative to the DJI Mavic 3

Autel EVO Lite+ review
(Image: © Adam Juniper / Digital Camera World)

Digital Camera World Verdict

The Autel EVO Lite+ robust airframe means it can comfortably tackle even tricky skies while the “6K” variable aperture camera captures gorgeous video. There are a good, if not perfect, range of smart tracking features and 3-way collision sensing, but the real star here is the practicality and price. This is a top-end flying camera priced to appeal to prosumers and up.

Pros

  • +

    5.4K video

  • +

    Sturdy airframe not susceptible to gusts

  • +

    Night Mode

  • +

    Variable ƒ/2.8-ƒ/11 aperture

  • +

    Adequate subject following and orbiting

  • +

    Long battery life

Cons

  • -

    Tracking won’t follow vehicles

  • -

    No side or top sensors

  • -

    Controller battery life could be better

  • -

    Props in shot in Ludicrous Mode

  • -

    Controller doesn’t charge phone

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The camera drone market is ever-changing, but there are some trends. Since regulations made 250g a limit in many places, we’ve seen a lot of development in the ultra-light category, while premium features have tended to debut at a higher weight; Autel EVO II (opens in new tab) or the DJI Mavic 3 (opens in new tab) being obvious examples.

There is, however, a space between what is obviously a consumer market and the high-end pricing – what we might call ‘prosumer.’ This is a drone for customers who value features and quality, and are prepared to push over the 250g. That is where the EVO Lite steps in, but it is not a territory Autel has to itself – the drone is both price and feature-competitive with the DJI Air 2S (opens in new tab), which also sports a 1-inch sensor.

Autel EVO Lite vs EVO Lite+

Autel EVO Lite & EVO Lite+ – the only difference is is in the camera (Image credit: Autel Robotics)

In this review, we look specifically at the EVO Lite+, since that is the Plus model Autel was kind enough to lend us, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that there are two versions with this airframe – a slightly cheaper one with a smaller sensor which doesn’t get the ‘+’ at the end of its name. 

The standard Lite does allow for portrait-format images to suit social media, and even the rotation of your phone/monitor, while the Lite+ is focused on traditional formats.

Build and handling

(Image credit: Adam Juniper / Digital Camera World)

The Autel EVO Lite+ drone is not a small one; in fact this is where the comparison to the Mavic 3 (which shares similar dimensions) makes more sense. Sat next to DJI’s consumer flagship, the drone is a very similar size, though a little lighter at 820g. That is heavier than the Air 2S though, giving it better wind resistance and – since the weight comes from a 6175 mAh battery (theoretically up to 40 minutes in the air). 

Autel’s drone offers a very different look from the DJI competitors too, and Autel even offers a degree of choice. We tested the white version, but the Lite and Lite+ can also be had in Autel Orange or a dark grey. In all cases, the build is a bit more industrial than you’d expect from DJI, especially the slightly taller legs which are better for landing in grass and fit in the bag no problem but might seem less streamlined than some would want. We’d opt for the extra height every time though.

The arms are firmly sprung into place, resulting in a generous size of 427 x 384 x 95mm when open. Above the gimbal, there are two ‘eyes’ – collision sensors – and similar ones built into the rear and base of the drone. There are no side or top sensors, though, so you aren’t protected all round.

The back of the fuselage forms the battery, while the SD card is tucked safely under a rubber cap on the side of the drone. (Image credit: Adam Juniper / Digital Camera World)

We also noted that a round mount allows for screw-on lens filters – something which seems to have gone out of fashion with certain other brands. The charging hub, on the other hand, could stand a bit of modernizing – the batteries don’t clip in and stay easily. 

The controller

(Image credit: Adam Juniper / Digital Camera World)

Autel’s controller, which we’ve met before with the lightweight Nano, looks very like a game controller; so much so we can see old-school professionals grumbling and muttering about kids and their newgfangled ways. In practice, it fits very comfortably in the hands – and stays there thanks to a textured grip. The extendable phone holder can comfortably grip even the largest phones. We got an iPhone Pro Max in a case in with no problems.

The Autel radio system also manages an impressive 12km (7.46 miles) in the right conditions, so no concerns there. Moreover, we didn’t encounter a single drop out during our testing; the live stream can reach 2.7K where the signal is strong enough, which affords an excellent preview. We have to acknowledge that DJI claims 15km for their Mavic 3, but in practice, these drones are in the same territory in terms of range.

While the very console-like controller shape is good to hold and operate, it seems to have less space for power than some competitors. We found it’d likely need charging every three or four flights. That’s fine if you don’t buy over 4 batteries and charge at the same time as the rest (and we’re still looking at nearly 2 hours), but some others do last longer.

The other oddity about the controller is that, like DJI devices, it features removable sticks but – once unscrewed – there is nowhere to store them. If you have the Premium bundle with the bag, you can use the pocket at the top, but this doesn’t feel as solid as a dedicated slot in the controller (something we must acknowledge DJI do score on).

Flight characteristics

(Image credit: Adam Juniper / Digital Camera World)

There isn’t much to be said about the flight performance that you can’t already deduce from the hefty battery, save to say it does the job solidly. We were able to get comfortably past 30 minutes, verging on 35 minutes of useful flight and the drone seemed unaffected by crosswind.

We have no reason to doubt the theoretical resistance to Force 7 (35mph / 56kph) winds since, in “ludicrous mode” it can reach 40mph. Standard and Smooth modes are likely more useful for most videography though.

The collision avoidance is clear and detects objects at a good distance – about 8m/26ft. To be honest this is a bit more than needed and you’ll likely want to turn it off.

Autel Evo Lite+: Photos

For a serious workflow there is no doubt that the Lite+ produces excellent images. The Lite+ which we tested has a ƒ/2.8 – 11 aperture. The cheaper Lite has a 50MP camera with ƒ/1.9 aperture and 1/1.28-inch sensor which it can rotate on a 4-axis gimbal, so might be of interest to social media creators. The Lite+’s camera captures 20MP but from significantly larger 2.44µm photosites.

If you’re comparing against DJI’s offerings, the Lite+’s adjustable aperture is something the Air 2S isn’t able to offer, but the Mavic 3 does. The other camera specs – both megapixels and microns – are re-tellings of the same figures as the Air 2S. Finally the field of view, at 29mm EFL, is narrower than the Air 2S’s 22mm EFL or the Mavic 3’s 24mm. The relative benefit is a matter of personal perspective (sorry); we found the Air 2S felt a bit too wide when reviewing it – no such issues with the Lite+.

The standard Lite also packs phase and contrast-detection focus, while the Lite+ is only contrast based. Focusing isn’t as quick as we’d like, either, and with the 1-inch sensor on the Lite+ there is the potential, in low light, to end up losing focus as you travel. On the plus side the adjustable aperture gives you an option here lacking in the cheaper model.

Looking at the results, we’d definitely recommend shooting in RAW. In this comparison the Adobe RAW’s default (right) seems to create a more engaging image than the default JPEG (left). (Image credit: Adam Juniper)

Just as when we tested the Mavic 3 – in similar conditions and the same location (see review) – we ended up preferring to tweak RAW images ourselves rather than using the default JPEG settings. It’s not that the NANO Lite+ didn’t give real-feeling images, but RAW made it possible to draw a bit more out in terms of contrast.

Again the advantages of shooting in RAW are made clear with a slight exposure adjustment along the horizon. (Image credit: Adam Juniper / Digital Camera World)

Autel EVO Lite+: Video

Autel describes the Lite Plus’s video as “6K” which, in truth, is a bit of an exaggeration – 5472 x 3076 pixels is same as that DJI call “5.4K” on the Air 2S. It is still more than the 5.1K (5120 x 2700) on the Mavic 3, and at 16.8 MP, twice the pixel count of 4K video with is jaw dropping when watched on a monitor up to the job.

The digital zoom – with 2x and 4x options on screen – provides the opportunity for a different field of view. While the 2x does lack some of the sharpness of the standard output, it seems adequate for output. You will spot some sharp aliasing on crisp lines at this scale, but the footage is still good. 4x, however, is another matter. What amounts to 4 megapixels of data becomes a softer image, only really suitable for viewing in a smaller window (like an embedded YouTube player).

Video sample; There is no question that the drone’s “6K” video is gorgeous, as these clips reveals; detail is sharp.

The data rate for video is 120Mbps, slightly less than the 150Mbps of the DJI Air 2S, though it’s not easy to see the difference. HDR is now available (a feature missing at launch) but there is no option to record 10-bit video. It is possible, however, to record a flat profile at 8-bit for later editing, similar to DJI’s D-Log (a feature which was added later, but is there, we assure you).

The practical upshot of this is you’ll probably see some spikes in the histogram when grading video but you’ve still got a good couple of stops of flexibility. It’s a shame there is no 10-bit recording, but you do have 1.3x lossless scaling available in 4K which means video editors still have plenty of ways to ensure excellent finished output.

Video sample: Caught in low light the video shows little noise except in areas of similar tone (tree leaves especially).

Flying and features

Flying the drone is a breeze as you’d expect given the grip-friendly controller and annexation of your phone as a live view monitor. As with competing products, you need to download Autel’s free app and connect it to the controller.

A feature we liked on the Autel Nano is added here; the ability to narrate your flight to the video’s audio via the phone microphone. While it does tend to pick up movement noise, this makes adding notes easy and you can listen back when you play videos in the app.

Video sample: Subject tracking worked even in low light (notice we’re shooting with the shutter at 1/30 and ƒ/2.8). 

The subject following works reasonably well, and copes with this cyclist taking sharp (albeit not very fast) turns. It only wants to follow, however, not orbit a moving subject. (Image credit: Adam Juniper)

While Autel provide some tracking and smart shots, they feel like less able equivalents of those DJI offer with the Air 2S and Mavic 3. How often a professional user would actually benefit from these features is open to doubt anyway, so for most it won’t be an issue, but attempting to use the subject tracking can be frustrating. The drone is distinctly hit and miss in the subjects it offers (highlights with a blue cross) for you to track, and even if it works at first it might well lose them soon. With higher contrast, things worked better, and it was able to orbit areas on the ground like buildings or even a dock.

 

The app includes zebra and histogram options to help guide exposure. That said, the auto mode does a fair job. (Image credit: Adam Juniper / Digital Camera World)

On the plus side, the app offers a good range of photographer-friendly features.

Autel also earn many operators’ love by deliberately not building in geofencing restrictions. It is up to the user to ensure they’re flying safely rather than requiring pre-flight bureaucracy and unlocking. The drone also doesn’t include ADS-B which warns you about nearby aircraft; this could be more useful though again isn’t really missed.

Software tools

Since the drone’s initial launch, the EVO Lite+ has gained a few features (not least of which was HDR and Log profiles, mentioned above). Autel hasn’t restricted themselves to photographic improvements though. Both Lite drones also gained Wi-Fi fast downloading which can transfer files to your phone quickly in a similar manner to recent DJI drones. Another addition is the ability to order a service online..

Night Mode (Image credit: Adam Juniper)

The camera did well in the dark, but also offers a distinct ‘night mode’ for long exposure effects. We’ve got to admit we weren’t able to see the benefit, though we did appreciate the fog and rain mitigation options.

 Portrait Mode (Image credit: Adam Juniper / Digital Camera World)

The “Portrait” mode is also somewhat odd. It seems to produce a very slightly softened background – as iPhone users might expect – but doesn’t do a great job of selecting the subject from the background. Nor, in truth, does it seem very useful from a wide-angled lens in an aerial position, but it’s there if you want it.

Autel EVO Lite Plus: Verdict

(Image credit: Adam Juniper / Digital Camera World)

If you’re looking at the EVO Lite, then we’re guessing you’re already prepared to step past the 250g limit and deal with the bureaucracy (registration or perhaps a qualification like the A2CofC). Given that, the EVO Lite+ is clearly a contender against the Air 2S and Mavic 3 – perhaps, especially, the later. 

The size, near-900g weight, and variable aperture, puts the drone nearer the Mavic 3, while the price is significantly more attractive. It might lack the additional zoom camera of the Mavic 3, and the larger 4:3 sensor, but 1-inch is still very impressive and the long flight time is very useful in the field which puts both a step above the Air 2S.

The visual output is excellent, and the camera options good, with the only real loss being that video is caught at 8-bit (16.8 million colors) rather than 10-bit (1 billion). There is still room to edit with the log profile, though, which will be enough for most pros. For our money we’d rather have the adjustable aperture.

Which brings us to the ultimate point – value. The Autel EVO Lite+ Premium bundle (with three batteries, UV filters and a bag) costs around $1,800 / £1,500, while the Mavic 3 Fly More bundle is $2,849 / £2,399. Given that, the Autel EVO Lite + seems to represent much better value than either of DJI’s contenders – assuming you can live without a few tracking features.

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With over 20 years of expertise as a tech journalist, Adam brings a wealth of knowledge across a vast number of product categories, including timelapse cameras, home security cameras, NVR cameras, photography books, webcams, 3D printers and 3D scanners, borescopes, radar detectors… and, above all, drones. 


Adam is our resident expert on all aspects of camera drones and drone photography, from buying guides on the best choices for aerial photographers of all ability levels to the latest rules and regulations on piloting drones. 


He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones (opens in new tab), The Smart Smart Home Handbook (opens in new tab), 101 Tips for DSLR Video (opens in new tab) and The Drone Pilot's Handbook (opens in new tab)