The type of drone available in the under-$400 range goes from toy to lower level mid-grade drones. At the very least you can buy a little nano quadcopter that is nothing but a 6-axis-gyroscopic flight system in a plastic shell, and at the very most you’ll have a highly-optimized mid-grade drone capable of producing the entirety of the drone dynamic. If you’re not sure what this means, we’ll simplify it: you’ll get a drone that offers FPV, is capable of taking decent aerial footage and of some form of autonomy.
But you’ll also see a lot of flexibility and inconsistency in this range of drones. For instance, a $200 drone built by a lesser known company might offer twice what a drone costing double the price does, and may or may not deliver on that promise. That’s why in this range of drones it’s important to do your research, and that will usually lead you to trust in the manufacturers that’re spearheading this class of drone (Parrot, Hubsan, Holy Stone, etc.). Then again, there are some hidden gems that outperform most drones in their class, and they’re not to be ignored. In this quick compilation of drones under $400, we have gathered an arsenal of drones from both well-known manufacturers and some lesser known companies that have released spectacular models.
Drones Under $400
This little maverick is on the upper side of the price range, and still a Benjamin short of $400. If you’re familiar with the DJI Phantom series, then think of this as a down-scaled, mini version of the Phantom 3. For only $299 this drone can shoot in 2.7k and livestream FPV directly to the built-in 7” LCD screen on the transmitter. You’re not really going to find a better camera on a drone of this size, unless it can shoot in 4k (but often what happens is drones of this caliber that can shoot in 4k sacrifice everything for the camera spec, so the footage comes out crappy because there’s no stability). With a single battery (it’s removable, FYI) it can fly over 20 minutes with all systems go, and hit speeds up to 20mph in the process. Fit with 5.8GHz transmission system, you’re not going to experience much interference and that paired with the dual-compass GPS unit synchronizes perfectly to create a responsive, agile, and intelligent machine.
Parrot is a pretty established and well-known manufacturer in this caliber of drone (they’ve even made a mark in the professional drone space with their highly-capable fixed-wing drone). The AR 2.0 is a drone that for under $300 offers FPV and can take aerial footage in 720p. It flies just under 20mph (maximum speed) and for over 10 minutes with a fully charged battery. It doesn’t come with a transmitter, as most of Parrot’s products are set to work specifically with the Free Flight 3 application (designed by Parrot, of course). It also has its fair share of autonomous features: it comes with return home, orbit, and one-key takeoff and landing. In terms of aesthetics, the AR 2.0 can come in army camouflage or a dark black and looks like something out of a high-concept science fiction movie.
Hubsan is one of the big companies leading the lower and mid-grade drone market. Their X4 was at first nothing but a 6-axis-gyrscopic flight system in a shell, and it evolved into the later models, some of which can now stream FPV. However, this H107c is a nano drone and we’ve added it to this list because it’s a fantastic deal for what it’s capable of. Priced under $100, this little ace can fly for up to 5 minutes with a full charge and can perform an assortment of aerial maneuvers. It even has a tiny little camera capable of .3MP stills (note: the micro SD card does not come with the drone). The range is over 100 feet, although you’re not going to want to fly it that high because it’ll disappear from your vision (these things are tiny). If you’re looking for an optimized, high-performing indoor toy, this drone is a perfect choice, and it won’t bring you to your knees if you fly it into the kitchen cabinet.
Simply put, UDI kills it. This drone is engineered to well exceed its price point and peer models. For under $200, you’re getting a drone that’s capable of taking HD footage, livestreaming FPV, and has a complex integrated flight system that makes it one of the most agile and exhilarating fliers at the price point. One of the most impressive attributes of the 818A is how much intelligence UDI was able to fit in its smaller chassis. Not only does it feature headless mode and return home, but it also has multiple flight modes designed to help beginners ease into the pilot experience (you can monitor the speed and sensitivity). It comes equipped with propeller guards and extra propellers (in case it crashes) and a micro SD card. It’s RTF right out of the box and flies for around 10 minutes on a full charge. UDI has great customer service and they’re reliable parts and service. Many enthusiasts say that for the price and performance, you can’t really get anything better than the UDI 818A FPV (note here: there is a less expensive version without FPV, so don’t get them mixed up).
Remember how we talked about the Hubsan X4 and said they continued to expand on it? The H109s X4 might be the most impressive mid-grade drone for its price point. We do want to note that the price for this drone has fluctuated, and while some websites sell it for $399, others will mark it up. Still, it’s available below $400, so it’s on our list. Where do we start? First, it has a gimbal-stabilized 1080p camera which can livestream FPV in high-definition. The gimbal is huge, providing excellent stabilization that mitigates the tendency for lower- and mid-grade drone footage to be lower-grade. Two reasons for the lower grade footage are the quality of the camera and lack stabilization so that the camera picks up all the movements of the drone. Smaller drones are prone to be more affected in the air than larger, more stable machines. In addition the camera specs on this drone together with the integrated GPS unit, headless mode, position lock, and return home make this drone a good value at the under $400 level. The transmitter is a 5.8GHz frequency and has an LCD screen that features the FPV livestream. Another huge selling point, the drone can fly up to 30 minutes with a fully charged battery. That’s more than some professional units three times the price. What you’re getting here is a drone produced by a well-known manufacturer that can shoot in HD, livestream FPV in HD, fly for half an hour, and contains numerous autonomous features. What more can you want for under $400? Oh, and it looks like a sexy, sophisticated, robot bumble bee.
The GoPro lover’s second most prized possession. This wouldn’t have made our list a month ago, if not for the hefty price drop on Amazon (now below $300). 3D Robotics is the first company to work with GoPro to create a drone tailored specifically to hold their camera: the Hero 3+ and above, once installed, can livestream FPV via the built-in system. The controller looks something like a gaming console and has integrated takeoff and landing one-click buttons. It also has an HDMI port, so you can feed the screen to whatever sort of platform you can imagine. 3D Robotics also has an application that feeds all the autonomous features of the drone, so you can one-click orbit, follow, return home, and cable-cam (basically like waypoint following). Although 3DR did not integrate a camera or gimbal into the drone, they did focus their efforts toward flight performance: the Solo can fly over 50mph (faster than some professional grade drones); up to 20 minutes with its payload maxed out and to distances of up to .5 miles (although at that distance the first-person-view feed starts to weaken). If you already own a GoPro Hero 3 or higher, then you’re halfway there. In addition, the battery is removable – purchase an extra or two.
Yuneec has really made a stir in the drone market in the last few years. One could say the company has really upped its game. Right under the $400 price point is the Breeze, a drone that definitely fits into the mid-grade criterion. The smartphone or tablet controlled drone can shoot in 4k, despite the absence of an integrated gimbal to support the camera. It’s a highly portable, compact machine that is capable of flying up to 100m away from the transmitter and for around 12 minutes per flight. Yuneec did not fail to integrate intelligent flight systems into this unit; it comes with return home, position lock, and even ‘follow me’ which is a tracking system (these aren’t often seen in drones of this caliber). What you lose with its full stack of capabilities is an FPV system, so you won’t have that immersive full-drone experience, but then again few drones at this price shoot in 4k. This is a fantastic drone for learning to fly, familiarizing yourself with drone autonomy, and learning the initial tricks of aerial photography. It’s certainly a good deal for the price, all things considered.
Although Antix did not work as closely as 3D Robotics did on their GoPro integration, they still developed a drone that is GoPro capable. This light-weight, dynamic quadcopter is ready to fly right out of the box, has a control range of 500m, and flies over 40mph. It’ll be hard to lose track of, since it has integrated LED lights and auto return home features. The removable battery offers around 20 minutes per flight (you can extend your flight time by purchasing additional batteries). It’s nimble, designed for power, and the gimbal will hold your Hero 3+ and above (sorry for all you old-generationers). This is one of those ‘hidden gems’ we spoke of that comes highly recommended by both enthusiasts and professionals alike, and one of those drones that becomes significantly more valuable if you own a GoPro. It also contains an integrated GPS unit which helps with position accuracy and flight stabilization. It is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a GoPro fan and the 3DR Solo is out of your price range.
Yet another drone that comes highly recommended which can also support the GoPro Hero3+ and more. If you’re wondering why we’ve added so many of these, the explanation is rather simple: since the manufacturers did not spend time on the camera, gimbal, or FPV system (except for the 3DR Solo), their efforts were spent on creating a better aerial machine, rather than a better aerial photography machine. That means for the price, they’re usually more compact, intelligent, and flight-capable. The souped up CX-20 is no exception, as it has its own VPS system, GPS unit, multiple flight modes, altitude lock, return home, and can fly for over 15 minutes with all systems go. It can support GoPros and a few other smaller cameras (depending on weight) but guarantees FPV for the GoPro Hero 3+ and above. This is definitely another drone that increases in value if you’re already a GoPro owner.
This drone is truly a marvel of engineering. It is under $400 and highly intelligent, sports an HD camera, and offers FPV. Oh, it also has a 3-axis-gimbal that supports the 1080p 30fps camera, so you’re going to experience clearer footage than any of the abovementioned drones. It is RTF right out of the box, and flies for up 25 minutes with all systems go. The camera has a very gamer feel with integrated one-key buttons. The Xplorer offers return home, orbit, follow me, and return to base modes. A lot of enthusiasts call it ‘the best drone to learn to fly/capture footage on’ because of how versatile, reliant, and capable it is. You’re basically spending $400 for training wheels that will prepare you for the flight process of a larger, more professional machine such as something from the Phantom series. It also has three integrated flight modes to assist the pilot’s learning-curve. Make no mistake; this could very well be the most impressive mid-grade drone for under $400 (some retailers sell it for $500).
If you’re someone who isn’t really too enthralled with the drone photography aspect but cares more about the recreational element of drones, then maybe you’re looking for a racing drone. If so, the Walkera F210 3D is a fantastic machine to start with. It offers FPV and comes with a Devo 7 Controller (the best transmitter on this entire list) and is proven to be quite durable. Note: you should probably learn to fly before buying this drone, despite it’s being a beginner racing drone. It flies over 50mph for longer than 15 minutes per charge. It’s capable of carrying a GoPro and has an intelligent FPV system ready to go onboard. The flight controller can be adjusted via an application that connects to either a smart phone or tablet, and the drone can pair with certain brands of FPV goggles (you’ll want to buy these for the full drone racing dynamic).
While these drones are specifically toys, they make our list because they’re the coolest toys in this price bracket. Modeled after famous aircraft from the original Star Wars franchise, these little drones can fly over 30mph for up to 8 minutes. They’re nimble, agile, and responsive, but what really makes them appealing is the fact that each has an infrared laser built into its chassis, and you can literally dogfight against other drones. Sensors pick up when a laser has marked the drone, and the respective pilot’s controller vibrates each time they’re ‘shot’. When the drone is shot three times, it careens towards the floor in a dramatic, cinematic (naturally) fashion. They’re a pricy toy, more expensive than a lot of drones which come with full on FPV systems and cameras, but if fun is what you want then look no further. You won’t get an integrated FPV or intelligent flight system, nor can any aerial footage, but you and your buddies dogfight in the dark and actually keep track of the victor. Not much cooler than that within the realm of toy drones.
As you can tell by this short list, there’s a wide range of drones in the under-$400 bracket. As with all things, it’s important that you carry out the necessary research before purchasing your first drone, and ensure yourself that you know exactly what you want from the experience. If you’re willing to dish out $400, you can have yourself a mid-grade drone that will serve as training wheels for a professional machine, but if not, you can snatch yourself a snazzy toy that’ll be a whole lot of fun indoors. In between those two, well, it’s sort of a crapshoot, but we hope we have helped you identify some of the more impressive products on the market.