Once we start to approach the $500 price point for drones, we start to hit an interesting category of drone design. They’re a lot more than simple toys but not quite on the level of a high end (and expensive) professional drone. This type of drone is built with hobbyists in mind, but if you aren’t well versed in what to look for in a drone, you could easily find yourself wasting a few hundred bucks on a sub-standard drone. We’re here to help you avoid that.
We’ve compiled a list of reviews for 10 of the best drones under $500, and we’ve also put together a comprehensive guide that can help you identify the best drone for your specific needs. We’ll even address some of the most commonly asked questions regarding drones and specifically drones under $500.
TD;LR - 10 Best Drones Under $500:
- Holy Stone HS100 GPS FPV RC Drone
- 3DR Solo Quadcopter
- Hubsan H501S X4 4FPV Brushless Quadcopter
- DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter
- Potensic T25 GPS Drone, FPV RC Drone
- UPAIR One Quadcopter Drone
- Walkera F210 FPV Racing Drone
- ARRIS X-Speed 280 V2 FPV Quadcopter Racing Drone
- Yuneec Mantis Q YUNMQUS Foldable Camera Drone
- Dobby ZEROTECH Mini Selfie Pocket Drone
1. Holy Stone HS100 GPS FPV RC Drone
The camera in the Holy Stone HS100 isn't exactly a GoPro Hero, but it serves as one of the best introductions to aerial photography drones you can find and features a long battery life along with all the basic safety features to prevent it from crashing and burning as you continue to earn your wings. That includes a useful headless mode as well as a heavier design that resists wind without throwing off the center of gravity for this drone.
And you can really grow into some of these features as you become more accustomed to the basics of controlling drones. The full GPS receiver allows you to always know exactly where your drone is and program fairly sophisticated flight automation, while the Follow Me mode allows you to capture some cool action cam footage without having to navigate or take shots with this drone manually.
2. 3DR Solo Quadcopter
The fact that the 3D Robotics Solo isn't in production anymore means that pricing can very pretty wildly, but if you can snag it for under $500, it's well worth waiting a little bit. Even off the market, this is one of the best drones around. The sleek matte design work has a lot more style than the majority of its drone contemporaries, and with the addition of a 6 axis gimbal, it can be mounted with a GoPro action camera. Even cooler, you can play your footage on almost any device thanks to the inclusion of an HDMI jack in the body of this drone.
The truth is, the navigation and camera options here are some of the best in the business. These drones are capable of orbiting or locking onto a virtual cable that you designate, and the high-quality mobile app makes this an easy to fly drone that allow you to just focus on shooting photos and videos.
3. Hubsan H501S X4 4FPV Brushless Quadcopter
The Hubsan H501S X4 brings us back to more affordable drones. There's a refreshing amount of value in this drone, largely because it comes in at under $200 despite including a dedicated camera and built in GPS for locking in the drone's positioning or transitioning into hover mode at a given altitude. It's not the easiest drone to control for taking photos, but the learning curve here is definitely very shallow and appropriate for beginners.
And you won't have to worry about the transmission quality of the camera dropping off randomly. It makes use of a reliable 5.8G radio transmitter to make sure that video quality always comes through smooth and high definition. This drone exceeds most of the comparable competition in terms of lifespan too. The high capacity battery packs that this drone uses can last up for 20 minutes on a single charge.
4. DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter
The Phantom is one of the most expensive drones on our list, but it's also easily one of the top performances. Both the quadcopter and the radio transmitter are pre-programmed so they're ready to go right out of the box, but DJI has gone above and beyond by providing you with a whole host of options for programming flight paths and behaviors. It can essentially be fully automated, and it's a great way to first get introduced to programming.
But the Phantom really comes into its own when you realize it was built for use with a GoPro. While that will add a few hundred dollars to your purchase (and put you well above the $500 buy-in point), it can transform this into one of the most impressive aerial photography drones we've found. It's here that features like an advanced GPS system that accounts for wind and the zippy movement speed of 22 miles per hour really come into their own.
5. Potensic T25 GPS Drone, FPV RC Drone
If you're looking to get a drone on a budget, you won't find a better deal than the Potensic T25. It can be picked up right now on Amazon for less than a hundred bucks, but its features list is one of the finest we've seen. The fact that it supports both GPS and GLONASS satellite tracking allows you to take your drone more places without having to worry about losing connectivity, an especially great choice for travelers and nature photographers.
A 1080p camera is built right into the frame, and it makes use of a wireless Wi-Fi connection to deliver photos in real time. With the compatible phone app and the altitude hold feature, you can perfectly set up your shots even if you're a better photographer than you are a pilot. And the extended range and reasonable battery life allow you to make more of the time you have.
6. UPAIR One Quadcopter Drone
There's a decent chance you've never heard the phrase "2.7K" until you started this review, but it's worth paying attention to for the less than $300 price tag that the UPAIR One features. It sits squarely between 1080p and 4K in terms of video quality, and it's one of the formats most commonly featured by GoPro. This camera makes one of the most persuasive arguments if you're a videographer or photographer looking for interesting new ways to capture footage.
But despite all the possibilities of this drone, it's still easy enough to use that it can function as a perfectly suitable first time drone for beginners and children. It supports one key launch and landing as well as a worthwhile Headless mode. And the controller includes a first person view that can put you right in the pilot's seat without having to use your phone.
7. Walkera F210 FPV Racing Drone
If you want to pick up the Walkera F210, you're going to have to go through private sellers on Amazon, but that can be an advantage, since savvier and more patient shoppers will be able to find a great deal. But even with the average asking price of less than $300, this is one of the best drones around. This is a racing drone through and through with one of the best maximum control distances and top speeds offered.
And as you'd want with a racing drone, this model comes with a stable and reliable camera that can offer you a first person view of your racing course. It's also an incredibly durable model that's built to survive the early and awkward attempts at flight from inexperienced pilots. Even cooler, this is a fully modular drone, so you can beef up its performance if you're looking for something more serious.
8. ARRIS X-Speed 280 V2 FPV Quadcopter Racing Drone
Arris has produced a racing drone that can really give the WAlker F210 a run for its money with their X-Speed 280. It's everything you could want from a mid-range price racing drone: speed, agility, nimbleness, and a decent camera that can give you a great view of your surroundings even in low lighting or high intensity situations. That said, exercise caution if this is your first drone, as its high speed performance means that it can be a little more difficult to get your grips on.
This is a drone that sports a very unusual design, and it will certainly stand out aesthetically from most of the other quadcopters on our list, but it's effective. The body itself is made from very sturdy carbon fiber, and it employs thickly plated arms that are designed to bounce back easily in the incidence of even a serious crash.
9. Yuneec Mantis Q YUNMQUS Foldable Camera Drone
The Yuneec Mantis Q controls like a dream, and if you want a drone that can go just about anywhere, the Yuneec Mantis is one of the best drones under $500. Your phone can connect directly to the controller of the Yuneec drone using a USB-C or USB-A type port, and the Yuneec drone provides a clear and crisp perspective through the camera at a 1080p resolution. It looks decently good even in low lighting situations, and the controls are built with beginners in mind. The single button takeoff and landing button in particular makes the Yuneec a boon for more inexperienced pilots.
But one of the features that helps the Yuneec Mantis Q really stand out is the inclusion of Alexa functionality. The capabilities on the Yuneec are a bit limited, but being able to control your Yuneec Mantis with your voice is a really cool addition. The Yuneec Mantis also comes with image stabilization for better performance when shooting video.
10. Dobby ZEROTECH Mini Selfie Pocket Drone
The Zerotech from Dobby is a drone under $500 for users who don't necessarily want to acquire the skills of professional pilots and are instead seeking out a practical way of capturing aerial photography without having to learn a whole new skill set. While it can only shoot short videos, it features a high resolution camera that can offer crisp and beautiful image quality, and it can be controlled with simple taps and swipes of the app on your phone or other smart device.
And with the ability to fold up and fit comfortably in most pockets, this is one of the most portable and low maintenance quadcopters in this budget. Photos can be synced up with your phone with a single click, and this drone supports both facial recognition and target tracking so you can get some professional looking shots even in more complex and dynamic situations.
Best Drone Under $500 Buyer’s Guide
While our buying guide may cover drones under $500, that leaves us with a lot of wiggle room for drones at varying price points. Whether you’re looking to spend $150 or triple that, there’s a model here that would suit you. But finding out how much you want to spend is the biggest question to ask. What features do you need, what specifications are most important, and how do you measure their value in terms of the overall product.
That’s what we’re here to help you with. We’ll start by breaking down drones into some of the most popular categories so you can start looking at the best drones for your specific needs, and we’ll then break down some of the more general specs and features to check if you want a quality drone flying experience. Finally, we’ll tackle some of the most commonly asked questions we hear from would-be pilots shopping for drones. Once you’re done reading, you’ll be able to share your superior knowledge as you shop for the best drone under $500.
Type of Drone
What do you plan on using your drone for now, and what does it need to be prepared to do in the future? If this is your first time flying a drone, you may need something that’s ready to help you get acquainted comfortably with the controls and features, but if you’re going to spend close to half a grand, you’ll also want to look for a drone that can grow as your skills do. More expensive drones have a wider set of features, and even around the $100 price point, you start to see models that are specialized in different ways. Consider not just what you need now but also what you could see yourself needing in a few months, or a few years, down the line.
- Drones made specifically for beginners essentially fall into a jack of all trades territory. Drones for beginners are most easily identified by their low price point and typically are made of plastic. They offer a range of security features and flight modes that are designed to ease you into the process of flying in three dimensions, and they may include basic versions of the features you’d find in a photography or racing camera. If you want to get acquainted with a drone before picking up a more delicate model, we suggest you maybe start cutting your teeth on one made for amateurs. You can check out our list of the best drones under $200 to broaden your search.
- There are a lot of mid-range quadcopters that come with cameras, but the difference between an FPV photography drone and a beginners drone comes down to the quality of the camera. A drone that specializes in FPV video recording will usually come with at least a 1080p camera, and it may include a wealth of features that can be used to capture a better shot. When seeking out FPV photography drones, look for features that allow you to hover and automate the flight process as well as for a camera that can be controlled in a first person perspective from a compatible phone app. A strong wireless connectionN is also essential.
- Speed is obviously going to be the biggest factor in a racing drone, but that also makes them one of the biggest liabilities. If you want to invest in a dedicated racing drone, you should make sure that you understand the fundamentals, because a crash at high speeds can easily read to costly repairs thanks to the powerful motors in these quadcopters. A first person camera should be present, but you don’t need to be as worried about the resolution quality as you would with a photography drone. Most racing drones are constructed from carbon fiber because of its ability to offer decent durability without adding too much weight to the frame.
Ease of Operation
If this is your first time flying drones, chances are that you’re going to end up having an experience crashing your drone at least once. Fortunately, models under $500 typically come with the shallow learning curve you’d expect to find in beginners models. Controlling a quadcopter in three dimensions can be very difficult if you’re still getting to know the basics, so you might be better off with a model that’s easy to control.
That’s why you should look for drones with a combination of durability, features and flight modes designed for helping balance out some of the difficulties of flight (which we’ll get into in more detail below). In other words, a more expensive model that doesn’t have training wheels could end up being significantly more costly to you in the long term because you could very well end up having to replace parts or swap it out for another drone entirely.
The DJI Spark and the Phantom are both reasonably priced drones under $500. They offer some of the best performance around , but they also have a learning curve and durability that’s a best option for beginners. In fact, most models are going to offer some decent onboarding and safety features, but as you get closer to $500, you’re more likely to run into models that will have a difficulty curve that’s harder for beginners to clear.
Parts of a Drone
No matter what budget you have for your quadcopter purchase, the fundamental parts that go into its construction tend to be pretty standardized across the board, but that doesn’t mean that these parts can’t vary in terms of build quality and higher level functionality. That will allow you to more closely analyze the quality of particular drones, but it can also be used if you find yourself needing to replace parts on a broken drone or if you want to transform a more modular zone by upgrading components piece by piece. Below, we’ll outline the role each component plays briefly, but we’ll get into more detail about some of the more important parts later on in the guide.
- A drone’s standard propellers are one of the most important parts because they’re in charge of the basic controls of the quadcopter, specifically in terms of the ability to adjust altitude. Making sure to check for well built and durable propellers can go a long way between identifying the difference between toy drones and more serious drones designed with the needs of hobbyists in mind. When shopping for new drones, especially look for propellers that are made from carbon fiber rather than plastic. Also be sure to check the altitude propellers after any accident to make sure that they can safely go back in the air.
- If the standard propellers are used to support the movement of drones in vertical space, the pusher propellers are designed to give you more control of drones in lateral space. Typically located on the back of drones, pusher propellers provide you with the thrust that allows your drone to turn and move forward. Like standard propellers, they’re typically made from either plastic or carbon fiber, and the latter is always going to be preferable to the former for the price, although you can expect to pay significantly more for drones with carbon fiber propellers. If you’re worried about your propellers getting damaged in an accident, look for drones that come with built in guards to shield them from damage.
- The propellers that control altitude and forward momentum can’t power themselves, and they won’t do you any good at all if they don’t have a quality motor that can help them run at peak capacity. Almost all of today’s models in the drone industry use brushless motors, and once we start talking about drones approaching $500, you should never settle for anything less than brushless motors. Not only does the quality of the motor tell you how well the rotors on your drone are going to work, but it can ensure that your drone runs quieter and improve your battery life significantly.
- You can think of the flight controller as the brain of the drone. All of the different sensors and components of the drone connect to the flight controller, and it makes all of the executive decisions regarding how to act. When you press a button on your controller, shoot videos with the FPV camera, or swap between operating modes, you’re communicating with the flight controller. A functioning flight controller is essential for a drone to work. It’s not an option you need to scrutinize too closely if you’re buying a drone camera UK for personal use, but you should take the time to understand its functions if you’re looking to build or customize a drone.
- Whether you’re looking at a beginners drone or something more professional and catered to serious pilots, every model is going to come with a receiver. The receiver is what processes the radio signals from the various parts of the controller and relays them to the flight controller so that it can take action. You should look for drones with at least four channels. But as we’ll break down later in the guide, having additional channels can add more features to a drone.
- Located in the controller, the transmitter is what sends the channel signals from your fingers to your drone, and it’s limited by the connection supported. Stronger transmitters typically result in a longer control distance for pilots so that you can have a more engagingly exploratory flying experience.
- The electronic speed circuit (ESC) is one of the simplest components of a drone, but it’s also one of the most important. Not only does it determine how fast your drone can go, but it can also have an effect on how quickly it responds to your commands and how agile and maneuverable it is as a result. A motor without an adequate electronic speed circuit will flat out not work, so it’s important to find a reliable and nimble option that’s well suited to the motor and rotors already built into a drone under $500.
- The battery obviously provides power to drones, and it’s one of the most important features to pay attention to when looking at a drone. For that reason, we’ll get into more detail about battery life and battery styles at a later point in the guide.
- The best drones under $500 may or may not come with a camera depending on their price and functionality, but it’s one of the most common optional features in a drone, and even drones that don’t come with cameras often come with the ability to attach your own separately. We’ll dig more into the traits and features to look for when seeking out video recording below.
- GPS is another one of those optional features that can dramatically boost the functionality of a drone. And since it’s a fairly cheap bit of technology to include, most of the best drones under $500 are going to come with some sort of GPS functionality. This can help you control your drone from your smart device app, but the features associated with GPS can vary significantly between different model drones.
If you’re looking for an FPV drone, the quality of the camera should obviously be one of your top priorities, but you can find quality cameras even in less expensive models. The resolution is going to be your most important consideration here, and there are three main resolution options available: 720p, 1080p, or 4K. 720p represents the old standards for high definition, while 1080p is the current standard, and we’re transitioning towards 4K as a new standard.
For most users, 1080p will be a strong enough resolution even if you’re looking for an FPC drone. All but the most serious photographers won’t need to worry about capturing 4K footage, and it’s a rarity in this price range. The Yuneec Mantis Q being the only one of our best drones under $500 to come with a dedicated 4K camera, and even it has trouble maintaining that resolution while in movement. That said, 4K represents four times the quality of 1080p HD, so if you’re serious about capturing cool photos or video with an FPV drone, a 4K FPV option will provide you with the best experience at any altitude.
Another thing to consider when looking at an FPV drone is how well it works in low lighting situations. While a 720p camera might be a fine enough choice for a racing drone or beginners option, you can’t get it to return back to you if you can’t see where it’s going. There is unfortunately no standardized system for measuring the low light visibility of FPV drone cameras, but if a manufacturer has focused their attention on offering good low lighting video transmission to your phone or controller, they’re likely going to make it a part of their advertising.
One last important (and more quantifiable) option to look for with a camera is the maximum frame rate. Measured in seconds, it tells you how many shots constitute each of your videos. A higher frame rate offers smoother performance with less jerky results. An FPV camera drone will typically promise a rate of 60 frames per second, but it’s not unheard of to find a camera with only 30 fps, especially once you start looking at less expensive models. If you aren’t satisfied with the camera that comes in a drone, many camera drones come with a gimbal you can use to connect a more impressive HD camera.
There’s a big difference between 18 minutes of flight time and 25 minutes of flight time, and finding a model with a decent battery life is one of the best decisions you can make when shopping. Most models come with a lipo battery so that it can be recharged, but you may want to invest in extra batteries if you want to use your new gadget regularly. A battery life of about 10 minutes is common, but you ‘ll find a few models that can provide you with 30 minutes of flight time or better. 30 minutes is something of a rarity, but if you’re looking for a 1080p video camera for to record video or capture professional images, hunting down a model with a longer flying time can help you immensely.
And just because a manufacturer has a certain flight time listed doesn’t mean you should set it as the gospel. A number of environmental and situational factors can impact the battery life of a quadcopter, but the averages listed should reflect the user experience pretty accurately. You may also want to check the charging time for a quadcopter. 30 minutes or less of flight control experience will typically require an hour or more to charge, and having to check your watch for over an hour while your new tech charges isn’t the most fun experience you can have with a quadcopter.
All RC drones rely on the same technology that’s been used to navigate remote control devices for decades: radio waves. Radio waves are a popular choice because they can travel over long distances, they offer a highly reliable rate of connectivity, and they can be assigned separate channels to prevent interference from other remote controlled devices. But not all radio receivers and transmitters are built with the same level of care. The maximum control range listed on our spec list will tell you how far the radio waves can transmit in ideal conditions. Just keep in mind that the operating life of your battery can have just as much of an impact on the distance you can pilot your quadcopter.
Most quadctoper models will tell you how many channels they operate on two, and this can help you quickly and readily understand the set of features that a quadcopter offers. While a quadcopter that packs in four channels is necessary to control all the essential functions, we generally recommend that you look at a model with at least six channels. This allows the manufacturer to add more special features and flight modes, and it gives you more room to mess around if you decide to go with a more modular model that you can enhance over time.
Finally, the radio frequency isn’t the only connectivity factor to keep in mind. Radio waves can’t transmit HD video wirelessly, so most GPS flight cameras that come with an LCD screen or connectivity with your phone rely on a Wi-Fi signal to project the video from the camera. The flight range is usually significantly longer than the camera range, so if you want an excellent choice for drone ranging or capturing camera footage, you’ll get the best return on your investment by looking for one with great Wi-Fi.
Once you start looking at more expensive and specialized drone models, the inclusion of a compatible app becomes practically mandatory. Most apps are made in house, and they offer two main advantages: the ability to see or even control the video being projected from the camera in real time and the option to program more complex navigational routes or navigate the quadcopter directly using your second screen.
The capability to control your camera with a phone is one of the most basic functions in quadcopters at this price range, and they’re especially important if you’re buying a model to use for photography. Some alternatives offer LCD screens built in to the controller, but they’re typically not as intuitive as a dedicated app.
More applicable for drone racing (but still useful for photographer) is the ability to control your drone directly with swipes and taps of your fingers. As you start to look at more advanced models, you’ll find options that allow you to assign coordinates ahead of time using the GPS system or control the drone directly through your camera by swiping or tapping navigational waypoints. This is one of the coolest features we’ve found in gyrocopters, and they can dramatically change the experience for you if you aren’t a particularly talented pilot.
Common Flight Modes
As a means of making things easier for beginners and allowing for more elaborate maneuvers for more advanced photographers and pilots, many quadcopters come with advanced flight modes. Some of these are common even with less expensive models while others you’ll only find in more expensive models. We’ll briefly cover some of these more common and important modes below.
- Altitude mode will establish a specific height and keep your quadcopter hovering there. It’s a great choice for photographers trying to get a steady shot and can also be used by less experienced pilots who get overwhelmed by the sometimes complex mechanics of handling altitude.
- GPS position hold is a more advanced variation of altitude mode that will keep your quadcopter hovering stationary in terms of both lateral and vertical movement. As such, it’s one of the best ways to learn the fundamentals of flight and a huge asset for photographers working events professionally.
- While programmable modes may have different names, they essentially serve the same purpose: allowing you to program your quadcopter to hop from waypoint to waypoint. If you want to automate routines for your quadcopter, the ability to program it can go a long way.
- Return to home mode will use the GPS built into your phone (or a preset GPS coordinate) to return back to the sender. This can be a lifesaver when working with drones that have a longer control distance or flying at night. There are typically two options here: a manual return to home mode that’s triggered with a button press and an emergency return to home mode that will automatically return once the battery life gets low.
- Headless mode is like training wheels for newer operators. It will maintain its orientation regardless of how the controller is positioned, and that allows you to focus on horizontal and lateral movement rather than having to worry about keeping your quadcopter in balanced orientation with the ground.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best Drone under $500?
The DJI Phantom is fast, nimble, and fun, but it really sets itself apart from the competition due to its highly programmable nature. And while this quadcopter doesn’t come with its own camera, it does offer a ton of different features that are specially customized to help you make the most of an attachable GoPro.
What are the Best Drones for the Money?
The Potensic T25 packs in a lot of bang for the buck. Less than $150 gets you a quadcopter that includes a quality 1080p camera, and it supports satellite tracking on both the GPS and GLONASS networks. Add in some quality components and specs across the board, and you’re left with a very well rounded quadcopter that significantly outperforms far more costly models.
What’s the Best Drone to Buy for a Beginner?
Since it’s out of production, you may have a little trouble finding the 3DR Solo, but if you’re looking for a drone that’s accessible to beginners but has a lot of room to grow as their competency does, it’s worth hunting for. There are a ton of different modes available, so you can learn the basics piece by piece, but they can be used in significantly more complex ways if you plan on employing your quadcopter in a more professional capacity.
What’s the Best Photography Drone?
The UPAIR One doesn’t offer the highest resolution (instead implementing the 2.7K resolution commonly used with GoPro cameras), but it holds a steadier frame rate than the one 4K model that made our cut for the list, and it comes with a ton of different hovering and programmable modes that are ideal for capturing aerial photography.
If you’re looking for the best drone under $500, you should now have more than enough information to shop with confidence and avoid getting cheated, but we’ve also put together a comprehensive drone guide that gets into more detail about the history and mechanics of drones. And if you’re operating on a somewhat tighter budget, take the time to examine our guide to the best drones under $100 in 2020. It’s one of the best ways to learn the fundamentals before you graduate to a more professional drone.If you liked our article on drones under $500, please share and comment below what your favorite product is.