In the under-$500 drone price bracket, you’ll find everything from the cheapest, tinniest little indoor nano quadcopter, all the way to mid-grade drones that can prep you for the big leagues. Usually, $400-$700 is really where you see the mid-grade drones flourish, while the closer you get to $1000, the more the machines become professional grade. Once you pass $1000 and find yourself in the professional drone market, then the sky is the limit; you can purchase a commercial favorite like the Phantom 4 Pro at around $2k, while there are industrial drones available for more than 10 times that price.
So if you’re currently looking at the under-$500 bracket, the type of drone you’ll buy greatly depends on the experience you want. Do you want your barebones quadcopter just to see what all the fuss is about? Or do you have your eyes set on professional grade aerial photography so you want to learn how to fly an optimized machine, but not have a panic attack if you crash it? Between those two grades of drone, you’ll find it’s a bit of a crapshoot, with some drones lending themselves toward beginner machines, and others toys. Here we’ve compiled a list of drones under $500, and we’ve covered the entire spectrum from toy to mid-grade drone.
Drones Under $500
This is absolutely the best bang for your buck in the under-$500 price bracket. In fact, the only reason the Phantom 3 Standard can be picked up for less than half a grand is because it has been succeeded by several models in the Phantom line. Oddly enough that only caused it to retain its value more. This DJI crafted machine can shoot in 2.7k UHD with a camera fit on an integrated 3-axis gimbal. DJI’s very own Lightbridge technology gives the 3 Standard the capability to livestream FPV at 720p, in high-definition with very little latency. It flies for up to 25 minutes (removable battery) and has all those autonomous tech guts you’d expect from a DJI machine (except for the new stuff, like obstacle avoidance and draw). Better yet, it’s RTF, so just charge it up, make sure everything is functioning, and then start flying. If you’re ultimately set on the Phantom 4 Pro or anything in DJI’s arsenal (the leading manufacturer of commercial drones) and don’t mind dishing out a bit of money to make sure your piloting skills are up-to-par before diving head first into a 1k+ purchase, why not pick up a machine designed by them? Even if not, for what the 3 Standard can accomplish, it shouldn’t even be considered a mid-grade drone.
You’ll see UDI all the time in the lower and mid-grade drone brackets since they make really well-engineered, compact drones. The 818A FPV is no exception to their standard of design. Sitting in the lower half of our under-$500 price range, the 818A FPV offers first-person-view livestreaming, high-definition aerial footage, and a whole lot of brains. Yeah, they somehow manage to fit headless mode, return home, position lock, and multiple flight modes (to slowly integrate beginner pilots) into a machine that also flies for up to 12 minutes at a time. Add that to the removable battery, and you have a mid-grade quadcopter priced like an upper-end toy.
This drone is at the total opposite side of the spectrum (it costs less than $30), but it’s just so much fun for what it is. Despite its size and capabilities you really can’t go wrong for the price. You’re getting a drone that can fly indoors for up to 5 minutes, a transmitter that has four different speed controls, and everything you need to start flying. This drone is like a tiny little flight system tucked in a shell, but it’s certainly fun, easy to use, and your wallet will barely feel a thing.
This drone is only recently coming to light in the mid-grade criterion, but for good reason. For just under $400, the Xplorer comes with its own 1080p 30fps camera linked to an integrated 3-axis-gimbal (the gimbal here is a game changer). It’s RTF right out of the box and offers a FPV downlink that streams directly to smartphone or tablet capable of running the Xiro flight application. With the 5200mAh LiPo battery the Xplorer has around half an hour of life (even with all systems active) and the drone can fly at speeds up to 25mph, depending on conditions. If that alone doesn’t sell you, it also has a range of autonomous features, including orbit, follow me, selfie mode (Xiro’s very own), and position lock. This is an extremely capable and affordable mid-grade drone that can serve as either an astounding toy or training wheels before making that step up to a professional drone.
This is one of the drone community’s favorites. 3D-Robotics worked specifically with GoPro when designing this drone, creating an FPV system that would allow the GoPro’s feed to livestream directly to a phone, tablet, or LCD screen. They succeeded: this drone is for all you GoPro lovers out there (do note, it’s compatible with a Hero 3+ and above). Because the camera doesn’t come with the drone, 3D Robotics dedicated all its efforts to create a beast of an aerial machine; it can fly up to half an hour and hit speeds over 50mph. That feat alone is astounding in a drone of its size, but to top that they also integrated their own assortment of intelligent flight systems. The 3DR Solo has orbit, return home, one-key takeoff and landing, cable cam (think waypoint following), and position lock. With a control distance of up to half a mile, you’ll have no problem sending this drone wherever you want. The dedicated controller is responsive and feels gamey, and the application that features the intelligent systems is thorough and well-designed. Obviously, if you don’t have a GoPro and want FPV/aerial footage you’re looking at another $400+, but for what this drone can accomplish in the air it comes highly recommended.
The successor of the Bebop 1 comes in just below $500 (depending on where you purchase it) and it can do a whole lot. Piloted by Parrot’s very own Free Flight 3 application, this drone can take aerial footage in 1080p at 30fps. It sports the more complex Parrot intelligent systems and has an integrated onboard GPS unit that helps with flight accuracy (and position lock when you leave the sticks for a moment). It’s nimble, accurate, and can be piloted from a smartphone or tablet. Oh, did we also mention that it livestreams FPV in HD directly through the application? And that it can fly up to 40mph? Although on paper some of the other drones we’ve listed might take the cake, read up on this drone; a lot of pilots prefer the ease of use and responsiveness of the Bebop 2.
This is another drone that adds a lot of value if you happen to already own a GoPro. If not, you’ll need a GoPro and a separate camera transmission system to have aerial photography and an FPV livestream. However, the Blade Chroma uses GLONASS and GPS for higher position accuracy. It’s fit with a whole assortment of intelligent systems (follow me, active track, orbit, selfie mode, return home, multiple flight modes from beginner to advanced, and position lock) and failsafe systems. The transmitter has a built-in LCD screen which the FPV livestream will feed to. It flies for over 25 minutes per flight at over 35mph. If you read up on the drone and the user experience, you’ll see that customers are extremely happy with not only the unit, but the customer service offered by Blade.
If the Parrot Bebop 2 was a bit out of your price range, since it sits just under $500, take a look at the AR 2.0. It’s about half the price and still quite capable. It can livestream FPV, something the Bebop 2 can’t do, and its camera is capable of capturing footage at 720p. It flies for around 10 minutes and has a maximum speed of 15mph (it’s not as powerful as a full-on mid-grade drone). Since it’s a Parrot-engineered machine, it’s controlled via a smartphone or tablet with their Free Flight 3 application. It implements the return home, orbit, auto takeoff and landing, and position lock intelligent flight systems. This drone is most commonly considered an upper-end toy that greatly assists pilots when first learning to pilot. Don’t expect lots of quality or no latency on the FPV/aerial photography capabilities, but do expect a whole lot fun. If looks count for you, this drone comes in a sleek dark black, and an army camouflage scheme.
This drone sits at the bottom of this price bracket and should be considered a toy, although a toy capable of giving a taste test into the mid-grade realm. What we mean is that for $130 it offers FPV (with VR headset compatibility), a little HD camera that takes 2MP stills and shoots in 720p, and it has a list of intelligent flight systems all intended to make the learning curve easier. Among these intelligent flight system are one-touch takeoff and landing, position lock (which is greatly beneficial for when the pilot is no longer holding the controller, the drone will stay in place rather than run for the heavens), and a custom route mode, so you can pre-calibrate a desired flight path which the Blue Jay will carry out on its own. It flies for around 10 minutes and supports a 500mAh battery (a nice little perk: the package comes with extra one, so you can double your flight time). All things considered, for what it is, this drone is extremely capable, fun, and affordable. Definitely a machine to consider if you want to see what all the fuss is about, and get a little teaser into the drone dynamic.
sort of at the middle of the price bracket, the AP10 Pro packs a big punch for such a small machine. If you haven’t noticed, a lot of our selection process is based on the cost to value ratio; we judge a drone for what it offers at a given price point. This drone certainly checks out in that regard. For under $300 the AP10 pro offers a camera that shoots in 1080p at 60fps and takes 16MP stills. Not only does it have a 90 degree FOV, but it also livestream FPV. On top of that, the drone is capable of hitting speeds up to 44mph and the 5300mAh battery allows around a half an hour of life. Sounds too good to be true, right? Reviews say otherwise: it’s true. For icing on the cake AEE also implemented intelligent systems like return home and position lock, so there are some safety nets for all you ultra-beginners out there.
yet another GoPro inspired drone (oops, we mean compatible). This drone is fit with a 2-axis gimbal ready for a GoPro or other small camera (make no mistake, there isn’t a FPV system integrated like the 3DR Solo). The 5000mAh LiPo battery provides around 20 minutes of flight and the drone can reach speeds over 50mph. It’s fit with flashy LED lights, one-key auto-return, and a dual unit GPS system (for improved accuracy and responsiveness). It contains multiple flight modes from film, sport, to expert, which have programmed parameters to assist with certain elements. Traxxas is one of those companies coming out of the woodwork with some really innovative, dynamic, and affordable drones in the mid-grade and lower grade. If you’re a GoPro owner, then you’re fitting your camera onto a machine that can fly (almost) like a professional.
for under $400, this drone is simply a steal. Hubsan is impressive across the board as one of the most reliable, consistent, and prolific companies in the industry (although they haven’t really broke into the professional drone space yet). The H109S X4 Pro is really a testament towards the quality of their engineering; they fit a whole lot into a little machine. Fit with an HD camera that can shoot in 1080p and livestream directly to the transmitter’s built-in LCD screen, the H109s will have no problem with FPV or aerial photography. The 7000mAh battery provides nearly 30 minutes of flight with all systems go and takes around 3 or so hours to charge (recommend you stock up on batteries). The integrated GPS unit allows for higher position accuracy and altitude hold. The drone itself flies over 40mph and can perform an assortment of aerial maneuvers. The implemented smart systems include one-key takeoff and landing, return home, and position lock. Oh, it’s also ready-to-fly right out of the box (save for AA batteries needed for the transmitter). Also, something to note here, the version above the standard (which is more expensive than $500, thus it didn’t make our list) offers a 3-axis-gimbal to stabilize the camera. You might find it greatly rewarding to upgrade, as a chief problem with these smaller drones is their inability to capture stable footage, despite the quality of the camera.
If you search for a Hubsan X4, you’ll find a good number of quadcopters under $100 that do nothing but fly indoors. Hubsan expanded on a nano design and came out with a plethora of optimized and intelligent drones. The H510S, for the price, is just as impressive as the abovementioned 109S. It livestreams FPV and comes equipped with a 1080p camera. It flies for around 18 minutes and has a maximum speed of 25mph. It sports the range of intelligent systems you’d expect from Hubsan (auto takeoff and landing, return home, and position lock). Transmitting at 5.8GHz frequency, the machine does not have any problems with interference. All this for below $300.
The toy to mid-grade bracket of drones is really fun because it’s so dynamic. You can hit the top of that $500 budget and buy a drone that can shoot in 4k and prep you for a top-tier machine, or you can dive in on a budget and have a fun little quadcopter that’ll float around the living room. Then in-between there is an assortment of drones that are half toy/half trying-to-be-taken-seriously, or some strictly toy and some strictly wanting-to-be-taken-seriously. It’s a huge market. We hope we’ve narrowed the list down to a few quality units available on the market.