The holiday season is just around the corner, we’re thinking you want to buy a drone. Perhaps you are buying for a family member, or for yourself, no matter your price range or your pilot, we’re here to help you pick a drone.
Before we dive into the list, join us for a short getting started guide. There is much to know about flying a drone, and plenty of machines to choose from, let’s make sure you are looking in the right direction.
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Before you buy a drone
Aside from price, it is important to consider form-factor, size and features of a drone before you spend the money. After all, a first time pilot will be overwhelmed by a big camera drone, a racing drone enthusiast will be bored with a cheap nano drone and someone looking to take photos from the sky will not use a toy-machine from the under-$100 range.
Most of all, safety should be your number one criteria when choosing a drone.
The FAA is in charge of all airspace in the United States, and they have some rules you need to follow with your drone. We’ve covered the rules in-depth, but I can sum up by saying that safety is key. You cannot fly in places or ways that endanger humans. That means stay away from airports, don’t fly over top of people and keep your drone in-sight at all times.
Please also note that your city, state and federal government may make rules as well. For example, you cannot fly near the White House or in any national parks. I cannot fly in city parks here in Portland. Check for rules before you fly, the fines can be steep.
Drones from the video:
- Hubsan H111 – $20
- Syma X5C-1 – $30 -$60
- Hubsan H502S Desire – $140
- Yuneec Breeze – $300
- Parrot Bebop 2 – $400
- DJI Spark – $400 – $600
- DJI Mavic Pro – $900 – $1200
- DJI Mavic Pro Platinum – $1000 – $1300
- DJI Phantom 4 Pro – $1300 – $1700
- Yuneec Typhoon H – $799 – $1300
- Yuneec H520 – $1999 + camera
- DJI Inspire 2 – $2500 – $6200+
What type of drone is right for you?
There are a bunch of ways to categorize drones. We like to keep it simple with toy-class drones, racing drones, hobby drones, camera drones and professional/commercial drones.
A toy class drone will generally cost you $200 or less, and includes all those $50 drones you might find at the local grocery store. These drones are fantastic fun, and great training machines, but they are toys. Do not expect GPS, do not expect quality cameras and do not expect reliable flight or lengthy flight times.
The key to toy drones is that you can fly most of them indoors. Many are small enough, or packed with prop guards or other safety measures to make them safe for both your children and your home.
Best nano drones
Micro class fliers, nothing much to them, just super fun little machines to boot around the living room.
Best cheap drones – under $100
If you are looking for a trainer drone, a machine for a first time pilot that you don’t mind overly if it gets hurt, a cheap drone may be in order. These are most of the drones you will find at your local store, still great fun, but a little larger, perhaps you’ll want to fly them outside. We even have a guide for getting started with this class of drone.
When you have the need for speed, you’re going to want a racing quad. Make no mistake, there is a dramatic difference between a “racing” drone and an actual racing drone. You’re looking at a minimum of $200 to get started here, but you’ll enjoy speeds up to 100 mph if you go for the real deal.
Before you buy a racing drone, learn what it takes to get started in our drone racing guide.
Forgive me for using the term ‘hobby’ loosely here. To me, a hobby drone covers every machine that isn’t used for work. However, for our purposes today, let’s consider a hobby drone to be a machine that is over $100, but less than about $500. These are machines that offer up GPS, a decent camera and some flight capabilities.
Best drones under $200
Expanding on our price-driven lists, a machine in the $200 range is going to be more reliable, more capable and, overall, a lot more useful than a sub-$100 machine. You’re still looking at something that is for fun, not for camera work, but at least someone more than a child can get some long term use out of these machines.
Best drones under $500
Stepping up a little more, there are a few very capable machines in the $500 range. This is the segment that I think offers the best overall drone flight experience, as long as you’re still not looking for a solid camera performer.
Best drones for kids
Simple enough, we brought together the best drones from the lists above. You may have already seen these machines then, but you can now get our opinion as to why these drones may be good for the child in our life.
Best drones for beginners
Once again, we pulled together most of the lists thus far in this article. Instead of focusing on drones for children, this time we focus on drones that help a new pilot, regardless of age, learn how to fly. Many of the drones on this list can grow with a pilot.
Ah yes, aerial photography. This is what many envision their drone experience to be all about. We can’t blame you, there are some absolutely amazing photos and videos to be had from up there. We hate to break it to you, however, you are most likely going to need to spend more than $500 to get the sort of footage worth doing anything with.
A $500 range drone can capture some shots, a $1,000 drone can do it better, but the least expensive machines we know of today that capture consistent quality imagery will run you $1,200 or more.
Best drones under $1,000
Loaded with machines that capture good photos and video, a drone in the $1,000 range can all but fly itself. This caliber of machine will have GPS aided flight that provides a near solid hover, autonomy to help you get some great shots, and a 4K stabilized camera.
Best camera drones
Starting this list are many of the drones from the $1,000 club, but then we add in several that will cost you up to $2,000 and a few more that, well, some cost more than a car. Our idea of an ideal camera drone is one that can exchange cameras, or at least lenses, has at least 4K video recording and a flight time in excess of twenty minutes.
You can get some great shots out of machines in the $1,500 range. The Yuneec Typhoon H and DJI Phantom series make up most of the best drone footage you’ve seen on YouTube. That said, a drone used in that TV commercial or in a movie had a starting price of around $5,000, and may have cost up to $250,000.
I don’t want to get into it, but it’s easy to think of drones like cameras. We can all buy a point and shoot camera, or use our phones, but a movie set has a rig worth tens of thousands of dollars. Pro tools just cost money.
Professional drones and commercial drones
Once again, we have a slightly ambiguous category. A professional drone, to me, is one that you can use to make money. I assume you want to produce quality, so I don’t consider toy drones to be professional drones, but I certainly consider camera drones to be for the pros. Actually, that explains our general approach when we say professional drones, we’re generally talking about camera drones.
The flip side to this is the commercial market. You may have heard that Amazon wants to make home deliveries using drones, but that’s just the beginning of cargo flight. What sort of cargo do you have? Passenger drones are coming fairly soon. Agriculture is another huge player, farmers can inspect and spray crops faster and better than ever before thanks to drones.
Finally, there are many industrial uses for drones that we lump into the commercial offerings. Pipe line, power line, railway, bridge and building inspections are the easiest examples here.
I doubt you are buying a drone of this caliber as a gift to a loved one, but, at least now you know what the big machines are all about.
They do not fly, but we’ve put together some fun toy robots that we’ve been wanting to play with. Let’s be fair, it’s basically just a list of Star Wars robots, but you know what, we’re okay with that.
Please remember, safety really is the key to a successful drone experience. There are many great machines to have fun with, and many factors that go into making the right purchasing decision, we hope you are more prepared for this holiday season.