Serious drone pilots end up sinking hundreds, if not thousands of dollars into their rigs, building their own from parts or just picking up a ready to fly quadcopter. We may look at building a custom rig one day ourselves, but for now, we want ready to fly devices, and we want to keep the budget fairly low while we get the hang of things.
We have smaller budget lists as well, but let’s bump it up to half a grand today: this is our list of the best drones under $500.
The following list is in no particular order, but I’m sure you’ll find that we represent a few different categories of fliers, including toys, photography drones and high speed racers. Without further ado, here are some of the best drones you can pick up for under $500.
DJI Phantom 3
Available in a few configurations, the Phantom 3 is, obviously, the drone that paved the way for the Phantom 4 and the Mavic Pro after that, the best drone that DJI has to offer today. The models include the Standard, for the beginners in the crowd and those looking to stick under today’s $500 mark, then there’s the 4K for those that just want a bump up from Standard in video quality, then the Advanced, which is the closest to the Phantom 4 with 4K recording, 3 miles of range, and up to 720p live view video streaming back to your smartphone.
Related reading: Is the DJI Phantom 3 still worth it?
DJI recently announced the DJI Spark, a very compact quadcopter with folding propellers, made to go with you and fly in the moment. Controllable by hand gestures alone, Spark has a few built-in flight modes as well, you get the best of drone flight with the least amount of effort and skill possible. Billed as a selfie drone more than a compact flier, you may stand in front of this thing more than you do behind a controller.
Introduced with the DJI Spark, we hope DJI Quickshot autonomous flight features make it to other drones as we go. Fly by hand or with the optional controller.
Walkera F210 3D
As far as an out-of-the-box solution goes in the racing world, the Walkera F210 3D is one of the best drones you’ll find today. It packs both normal and night vision cameras, a sturdy build, simple customizations and a lot of thoughtful longevity features. Not saying it won’t break if you crash it, but they’ve done what they can to protect core components and make the rest easy to replace.
Best of all, you can tweak the flight characteristics directly, adjusting the flight controller to your specifications. The F210 3D is lightweight, we hear it is extremely agile, particularly in those demanding corners of technical courses, and is fast enough to keep up.
We can’t guarantee you’ll win races with the Walkera F210 3D, but if any ready to fly drone purchase was going to get you there, this may be it.
Check out the Walkera F210 3D for $415 on Amazon today.
Parrot Bebop 2
We recently recognized the Parrot Bebop as one of the best drones on the market, so it stands to reason that the second rendition of the unit should garner some attention. With an optional VR helmet that puts this drone above our current price bracket, the quadcopter alone hits the right price point. You’ll be flying using the accompanying mobile app on your phone.
Related Reading: Parrot Bebop 2 hands-on review
With a few additions over the first gen. Bebop, and a newly added Follow-me mode, the Parrot Bebop 2 offers up 25 minutes of flight time with 1080p video capture and 14MP. Check it out with VR headset for $499 from Amazon today.
Yuneec has a few great higher-end drones in the commercial and camera category, but they also have some great consumer offerings on deck as well. In this price bracket, the Breeze is a super offering. A stable flying portable quadcopter with optional dedicated remote and mobile device powered VR headset, control by phone and enjoy the sky. The base package is just the drone, the controller and headset are optional, unfortunately, but you can still get in on the whole package for less than $500.
Hubsan H109S X4 Pro
It has a mouthful of a name, but the H109S X4 Pro is one of the better drones from Hubsan, at least under $500. Certainly a huge step up from the toy class budget drone from Hubsan in our best drones list. With 1080p video capture, live video streaming, GPS enabled flight with return and follow-me features, this quadcopter is a reasonable contender in the hobby line of craft like the Phantom 3 above.
Check out the Hubsan H109S X4 Pro for as low as $399 on Amazon today.
When the folks at Zerotech went to the drawing board to build a small drone, they thought of a lot of great features, and managed to pack them in a small package. Stable flight is the key to the success of this drone, at least when there is little to no wind. A stable hover means that you can place up to eight of these in close proximity and fly them in a choreographed ballet. They are a little pricey to be grabbing an eight-pack right away, but you can grab one for now and enjoy some fun maneuvers.
The Zerotech Dobby is $265 on Amazon today.
Despite being officially discontinued, we have decided to include the 3DR Solo on our list. It is one of the earlier and better quadcopters to embrace the GoPro action camera as a tool for the air. In addition to a gimbal for the GoPro, you can stream video back to your mobile device in hand, and even utilize HDMI to broadcast the video beyond mobile.
Please do keep in mind that the 3DR Solo is no longer in active production, but they are still fairly easy to find new and parts are not hard to find either. Check out the 3DR Solo with everything but the GoPro for $244 on Amazon.
DBPower UDI U842
Stepping up from the basic toy class drones out there, particularly those from this same manufacturer, the DBPower UDI U842 camera drone is still a toy grade unit itself, but one of the nicer units available at this price point. Now, we’re not talking the general under $500 price point, this drone is just $120. Update: unfortunately, the price has gone up about $45.
Packed with a stationary 720p camera and 9 minutes of flight time, this is a highly responsive drone for it’s price. Expect to have tons of fun flying it, but do take your time at first, it’s a tad squirrelly and likely to get out of control.
Check out the DBPower UDI U842 for $120 on Amazon today.
Hubsan H501S Brushless
Hubsan has been gradually expanding their line with improvements on flight capabilities and build quality. Putting hands on the H501S Brushless was a pleasant experience – this is a solid quadcopter made of a sturdy material that feels somewhere between metal and plastic. The brushless motors are as much a style point as a feature, and the feel of spinning them is superb.
This GPS equipped flier is controlled by smartphone or dedicated remote and has some of the best flight features in the Hubsan stables, including follow-me modes, waypoint guided flight and return to home functions.
Check out the Hubsan H501S X4 brushless for $258 on amazon today.
Bonus budget drone: Syma X5C
I’m not going to pretend that the Syma X5C is an amazing drone, it is, however, my recommendation for the best practice quadcopter for first time flyers. My first time up was on a windy evening, first mistake, so it took all of 45 seconds before I crashed into a tree and had to launch a rescue mission for retrieval.
This is the bottom line of it, that first tree crash was not my last, nor even close to my worst, but there is no damage to speak of. Even with bite marks from the dog, the Syma X5C still flies as strong as it ever did. Regardless the spectacular bang-for-the-buck value, the value of the flight experience you can gain with this drone is through the roof.
Related reading: First time pilot? Don’t make these mistakes
If you plan to fly a drone at any point, please start with an inexpensive trainer like this Syma X5C, just over $30 on Amazon.
A big thank you to Carter in the comments for keeping us honest, the Syma in the image and links is the X5C-1 Explorer edition. The early model X5C was a less capable machine.
Stay tuned for more great lists of best drones in different segments, different price points and more. Also stay tuned for some specific drone coverage, we’re bringing in some popular quadcopters for review and testing, and we couldn’t be more excited.
Further Reading: When budget is of no concern, here are the best drones
Do you have a drone suggestion that belongs on this list? What’s the best drone under $500 in your opinion?