Although drones were once considered a niche item reserved for only the most dedicated of RC enthusiasts, these days, they’re used in everything from amateur YouTube videos to blockbuster feature-length films. If you’re even remotely familiar with the fruits of aerial imaging, it’s pretty easy to see why. Because let’s be honest. For all the controversy that comes about over issues like privacy, drones make for an engaging way to explore the sky, offering features like first-person video (FPV) for immersive piloting and stunning optics quality in order to capture the moment.
Given the surge in drone demand, the market is more crowded than ever before — a reality that’s both good and bad for you as the consumer. On the one hand, drones are much more affordable than they used to be, and established brands like DJI have had plenty of time to put together quality offerings that aren’t just incredibly capable but also surprisingly easy to operate. However, as is often the case, there are imitations abounds, which can make it difficult to tell the difference between a budget alternative and a rebranded knockoff. Never fear — we know a thing or two about drones ourselves. Rather than letting you go it alone, we’ve put together a guide to help you find the best one for your needs, complete with a brief explanation of what they do and some important features to consider when shopping. So, without further adieu, here are our best drones for every budget.
What Is A Drone?
From Quadcopters To Unmanned Aerial Systems
Whether you call it a quadcopter, a multirotor, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or even an unmanned aerial system (UAS), most drones are pretty similar in principle, even if they differ when it comes to the nitty-gritty. Simply put, a drone qualifies as any unpiloted aircraft that has the flyer guiding it from the ground. While this could technically refer to a variety of aerial remote control devices, it’s typically only used to describe a particular subset of the available offerings.
For starters, most drones will usually feature some sort of powered rotor arrangement — be it of the quad-, hex-, or octo-variety. This configuration provides the source of thrust, and it’s responsible for movement along three axes: yaw (vertical), pitch (transverse), and roll (longitudinal). In practice, it’s the rate at which and direction in which the propellers spin that ultimately determines how the drone will fly. For example, if the rightward rotors spin faster, the drone will rise to that side, resulting in a hard bank to the left. Thus, if all four increase at the same rate, the drone will rise evenly through the air. It should be noted that while these devices technically have a forward-facing orientation, their symmetry allows them to be flown from any number of different angles.
These days, a lot of drones will come with some sort of onboard camera. At their most basic, they can only be used for blindly shooting stills and video, with no type of preview available to the user. However, more advanced models will integrate some sort of FPV system that allows one to see what’s happening from the drone’s perspective in real-time. In addition to being better for setting up your shot, it also makes operation a hell of a lot easier (especially if you can’t actually see where you’re flying).
Disclaimer: Anything above toy-grade — or a drone that weighs between 0.55lbs and 55lbs — will require registration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Given the increasing frequency with which these devices are being flown in public areas, many people view them as some kind of threat, be it for privacy or personal concerns. As such, there are tons of restrictions on where and when you can fly a drone. In order to avoid unwanted legal consequences, we strongly suggest you familiarize yourself with your local regulations. Doing so will keep you out of trouble and keep flights safe for you as well as everyone around you.
Eye In The Sky
Key Features To Watch Out For
Size: If you’re just getting into the hobby, we suggest that you start out with a drone that’s on the smaller side. In addition to being cheaper upfront, you can also fly them in far more places, whether that’s in your own home or at a park close by. Better still, you’ll avoid the hassle of having to register your device with the FAA. Sure, that comes with the territory when you get into bigger drones, but it’s not ideal for first-timers. All that being said, if you’re an experienced flyer, getting a bigger drone is to your advantage. They’ll be more stable, fly for longer, and come with a much bigger payload capacity should you want to attach any external accessories.
Flight Time: While some drones can be flown for little more than five to seven minutes at a time, others will be good for longer bouts of half an hour or more. Extended bouts of camera usage will accelerate a drone’s battery consumption. If you want to maximize your flight potential, we suggest that you limit your aerial photography to when it’s absolutely necessary. It also helps to remove prop guards and other peripherals in order to reduce weight. However, do so at your own risk — it might give you a bit of a bump in performance, but you’ll be exposing yourself to damage from the lack of added protection.
Range: Range describes the maximum distance you can fly your drone away from you, limited by the reception of your transmitter and receiver. As a general rule, the farther you can fly, the better because you’ll have much more freedom to explore before you lose control of your device. On the lower end of the spectrum, some drones will only have a range of a couple-hundred feet; at the upper end, you’ll find others that can fly for up to several miles.
Camera Quality: When considering which drone is the best one for your needs, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your camera usage. If you’re intent on getting the best-specced model out there, be sure to pay attention to features like resolution, shutter speed, frame rate, and aperture. It also helps to have some sort of in-body image stabilization in order to get the most out of your shots. However, if you’re only concerned with using it for FPV purposes, you can get buy with something that has a little less behind the lens.
Operational Modes: Last but not least, most drones will come with a couple of different built-in operational modes. For some, it may only be beginner and expert setups, but you’ll also find plenty of other options with automatic return functions, pre-programmed flight paths, and even follow-me functionality. If you’re after a drone that can pilot itself with the push of a button, look into those that can do more than respond to your direct input.
Offerings At Every Budget
Hubsan X4 H107D+
The Hubsan X4 is great for newer or first-time pilots, but it’s also an ideal training drone for those looking to sharpen their flying skills At just a little over 4″ by 4″, it’s plenty small to be flown indoors, and it’s even capable enough to be used outside assuming the conditions are right that day. While its max flight time is only about 7 minutes, recharges are quick — around an hour — allowing you to get back to the fun before you know it. But the best part is that even given its size and price, the X4 comes with a real-time FPV camera also capable of shooting 1080p stills and 720p video.
Flight Time: 7 Minutes
Range: 328 Feet
Max Camera Resolution: 720p Video, 2.1MP Photo
If you’re willing to spend just a little extra cash, the Ryze Tello offers an excellent step up from the above pick. It comes with a flight controller from DJI, allowing for virtually unmatched performance at this price point. In practice, this means that it can fly for up to 13 minutes, with a max speed of just under 18mph. What’s more, it comes with EZ Shots, a series of pre-programmed flight patterns — including Circle, 360, and Up & Away — that allows you to create stunning pro-grade photos and videos with little effort at all. And because of its convenient sharing feature, you can even upload your media to your social channels right from your smartphone.
Flight Time: 13 Minutes
Range: 328 Feet
Max Camera Resolution: 720p Video, 5MP Photo
While it’s more than double the price of the Tello, the Ruko U11 is in an entirely different league of drone performance. For instance, it features a 90°adjustable camera that takes crisp 4K photos and HD videos, allowing you to capture high-quality content from a variety of different perspectives. But that’s not all — it also comes with a bevy of built-in operational modes, such as Point Of Interest, Follow Me, as well as Auto Return. And should you want to chart your course ahead of time, the U11’s Waypoints Fly allows you to create a custom route for it to trace. And when you consider that it comes with a pair of long-lasting 1200mAH batteries — each good for 20 minutes of operation — this is one option that’s hard to pass up.
Flight Time: 20 Minutes
Range: 1,640 Feet
Max Camera Resolution: 1080p Video, 8.3MP Photo
Holy Stone HS720E
The HS720E from Holy Stone comes with many of the same features found on more expensive models, albeit at a much more affordable price point. In addition to its high-quality 4K UHD camera, it also includes Electric Image Stabilization, an addition that ensures optimal video recording by guarding against frustrating shakes and blurring. And because it comes with an air optical flow & air pressure altitude control system, the HS720E is also very easy to fly both indoors and out. Add to that a set of robust brushless motors for maintenance-free operation and a Fly More Kit complete with batteries and carrying bag and the result is a drone that performs well outside of its class.
Flight Time: 23 Minutes
Range: 3,277 Feet
Max Camera Resolution: 4k/30fps Video, 8.3MP Photo
DJI Mini 2
There’s no doubt that the above offerings are solid entries into the hobby; however, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better balance of price, performance, and size than you do with the DJI Mini 2. At just 249g, it’s right under the FAA’s registration weight requirement, so you’re technically still considered to be flying a toy. However, when it comes to its performance, this little drone is anything but infantile. Rather, with a 5.2-mile range, 4k/30fps video transmission, and direct smartphone connectivity, the Mini 2 comes with many of the same features found on its bigger siblings — all in a much more compact package. Supported by DJI’s industry-leading OcuSync 2.0 technology, it makes for incredibly reliable transmission at distance.
Flight Time: 31 Minutes
Range: 6.2 Miles
Max Camera Resolution: 4K/30fps Video, 12MP Photo
Hubsan Zino 2 Plus
Hubsan’s Zino 2 Plus makes for an excellent bridge offering between cheaper toy-grade drones and the pricey pro-grade stuff. Across the board, it’s a pretty consistent optical performer, with 12MP photos, 4K/60fps video, and 100Mbps bitrate transmission. As an added bonus, it even supports time-lapse and panoramic photography, with a set of included neutral density filters to further fine-tune your content’s appearance. When it comes to its in-air capabilities, the Zino 2 Plus is equally adept, with 9km of range (about 5.6mi), 6-level wind-resistance, and a slew of specialty program modes — from ‘search the apron’ to headless to orbiting — in order to allow for fun, hassle-free flying.
Flight Time: 35 Minutes
Range: 5.6 Miles
Camera Resolution: 4K/60fps Video, 12MP Photo
Although the Parrot Anafi isn’t as well-rounded as some of the offerings from DJI, it does excel in a couple of key areas. For instance, it comes with a 21MP camera that’s great for shooting high-quality stills. When paired with in-built 3-axis image stabilization, it makes for a surefire way to upgrade your aerial photo capabilities. The Anafi also has the edge when it comes to consistent connectivity, with a phone holder transmitter that also doubles as an antenna. Top it off with consistent support for software updates — easily performed over Wi-Fi — and the Parrot Anafi makes for some pretty stiff competition against one of the industry’s mainstays.
Flight Time: 25 Minutes
Range: 2.4 Miles
Camera Resolution: 4K/30fps Video, 21MP Photo
DJI Mavic Air 2
It’s best to think of DJI’s Mavic Air 2 as the bigger brother to the ultra-compact Mini 2. For most fliers, this is all the drone they’ll need, with features like a 1/2-inch Quad Bayer image sensor, intelligent shooting modes, and FocusTrack technology for easy aerial framing. In practice, this means that it’s good for stunning 48MP photos and 4K/60fps HDR videos. And to make sure that you get the most out of your 34-minute flight time, DJI has equipped the Mavic Air 2 with Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems (APAS) 3.0 obstacle avoidance and 2.4/5.8GHz dual-frequency communication that automatically switches between channels to ensure that you have a reliable control at distance.
Flight Time: 34 Minutes
Range: 6.2 Miles
Camera Resolution: 4K/60fps Video, 48MP Photo
PowerEgg X Wizard
Sure, many pilots complete successful flights near water with no problems at all; however, for some, it’s a much riskier maneuver that results in a total write-off. Rather than taking your chances, swallow your pilot’s pride and invest in a drone with some amphibious capabilities — you’ll appreciate it in the long run. The first of its kind, the PowerEgg X Wizard comes with a fully waterproof housing and a set of water-landing floats, not dissimilar to those found on a seaplane. And the good thing is that even with the added bulk, it still boasts some impressive flight performance, including level-5 wind-resistance, 3.7 miles of range, and up to 30 minutes of operation with every charge.
Flight Time: 30 Minutes
Range: 3.7 Miles
Camera Resolution: 4K/60fps Video, 12MP Photo
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2
Now in its fourth iteration, the DJI Phantom series is one of the original drones responsible for the influx of new fliers over the last several years. And it’s for good reason. Optically, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, with a 1-inch sensor — the largest of the lot — and a mechanical shutter that’s capable of shooting 4K/60fps videos and 20MP photos. But it also packs superior in-air capabilities. For instance, it comes with 5-way object avoidance, flight speeds of up to 45mph, and an intelligent battery that alerts the pilot once the minimum distance for a safe return journey has been reached. If you’re after one of the best consumer drones money can buy, look no further than the DJI Phantom Pro 4 V2.
Flight Time: 30 Minutes
Range: 6.2 Miles
Camera Resolution: 4K/60fps Video, 20MP Photo
The 50 Best Gadgets For Men
While there’s no denying that drones are one of the better developments in the last several years, we’ve but scratched the surface when it comes to tech-forward fun. Be sure to check out our guide to the best gadgets for men where you’ll find a grip of gizmos that are sure to add some 21st-century innovation to your everyday routine.
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