DJI Mini 2 flying angle bushes

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 drone. We may look at building a custom rig one day ourselves, but for now, we’ll focus on off-the-shelf devices, the kind that keep the budget fairly low while you 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.

Jonathan Feist, Drone PilotJonathan Feist

Why trust Drone Rush?

I’ve been a fan of flight since a young age; while I’ve had few opportunities at the helm of manned aircraft, the hours on my fleet of drones continue to grow. I enjoy putting cameras into the sky, silky smooth aerial imagery makes me happy. My goal is to help all pilots enjoy flight legally and safely.

 

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Best drones under $500

DJI Mini 2: Best camera drone under $500

DJI Mini 2 flying top bushes

The DJI Mini 2 is the drone we most want in our arsenal, never mind that it’s the best drone under $500, and the only viable 4K camera drone in the price bracket, it’s also one of the most portable machines to haul with you on the go. There are better camera drones out there, and there are more affordable basic airframes for learning the how to fly, but as a simple craft for some hobby camera work, it’s hard to beat the Mini 2.

Under the hood, the Mini 2 packs a 4K camera on a 3-axis gimbal, it has up to half hour of flight time, great range, and is reasonably fast.

Why we fly the DJI Mini 2

If you are content with the photos and video that your phone can produce, but want wings, the Mini 2 is a superb option. The ease of flight, compact size, and portability make the Mini 2 our first choice for a drone to throw in the backpack and hit the trail.

What we like


  • 4K camera
  • Fun and easy to fly
  • Under 250 grams
  • Very portable
  • Best GPS and camera for under $500

What we don’t like


  • Not a big camera drone

DJI Mini 2
DJI Mini 2
  • 4K camera
  • Very portable
  • Easy to fly
  • 249 grams
Best drone under $500

The DJI Mini 2 is a superb update from the Mavic Mini, now offering a 4K camera, Ocusync 2.0 and more power.


DJI Mavic Mini: Value GPS drone

DJI Mavic Mini review top light

The DJI Mavic Mini was the first DJI drone to rock a good camera and weigh less than 250 grams, meaning it does not need to be registered with the FAA before you fly. It may not be the first DJI drone in this price bracket, but it’s almost laughable to compare the old Spark to the capabilities of the later Mavic series drones.

The Mavic Mini has a solid 2.7K camera, and only about 1 mile of connectivity, making it one of the least capable DJI drones still on store shelves, but the value is there.

Why we fly the DJI Mavic Mini

We really enjoy the Mavic Mini. It’s not the best drone around, but it’s certainly the best drone at this price point, making it a fun, safe, and reliable option for new pilots, and for those that risk carelessly tossing the drone into a backpack.

What we like


  • Fun and easy to fly
  • Very portable
  • Good 2.7K camera
  • Under 250 grams

What we don’t like


  • Limited range
  • Only 2.7K camera

DJI Mavic Mini
DJI Mavic Mini
  • 249 grams
  • Great 2.7K camera
  • Very portable
The smallest Mavic drone

The DJI Mavic Mini is the best drone to hit the market in 2019. It's no Mavic 2 series drone, but we've seen nothing this good under $500 before.

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Hubsan Zino Pro: When a toy-maker goes pro

Hubsan Zino Pro Plus promo shot

The Hubsan Zino Pro appears to be inspired by the Mavic series of drones. It offers a similar overall shape and folding design, while hanging a decent camera from the nose. The result is something comparable to an older Mavic drone, or the new Mini drones. Hubsan makes fun toys, it’s great to see them produce a competitor in the GPS-enabled camera drone segment.

Why we fly the Hubsan Zino Pro

We respect Hubsan and the Zino Pro, we think it’s a solid drone that’s perfectly capable for the price. We hesitate to purchase it for ourselves with the DJI Minis on the market, but Zino is still worth it, if you go that route.

What we like


  • Competitive small camera drone
  • Interchangeable lens filters
  • Easy to fly
  • 4K camera

What we don’t like


  • Low quality camera

Hubsan Zino
Hubsan Zino
Hubsan can make a camera drone

The Hubsan Zino Pro is a compact, folding drone with 4K camera, decent flight time and a solid set of flight features. Is this proof Hubsan does more than just make toys?


Ryze Tello: Great beginner drone, fun and educational

Ryze Tello Iron Man Edition banner

The Ryze Tello is the kind of drone that most people should expect to get as their first drone. It’s a simple craft that has more fun features than you might expect. Fly by phone, grab the optional remote, or code your own navigation. That’s right, Tello is a great choice for the educational space, as a safe indoor drone with tools to help you learn about flight and flight controls.

Why we fly the Ryze Tello

Make no mistake, the Ryze Tello is not a camera drone, nor will it keep up on the race track, but as a simple beginner’s drone, it’s fun to fly, safe for indoor flight, and educational.

What we like


  • Easy to fly
  • Lots of flight options
  • Safe for indoor
  • Educational

What we don’t like


  • Limited range
  • Simple camera
  • Remote is optional add-on

Ryze Tello
Ryze Tello
  • Educational drone
  • Safe for indoor flight
  • Fun to fly
Educational drone

The Ryze Tello is one of the most capable and versatile mini drones around, enjoy different designs, code your own flight features, or just fly in your living room for fun.


Hubsan H501S: Powerful GPS-enabled toy drone

Hubsan X4 H501S table

The Hubsan H501S is an older drone, but is one of the best GPS drones from Hubsan. It’s powerful, reliable, and easy to fly. The camera is not amazing, but can give you a nice view from the sky at least. This is a great option for newer pilots that want to just bounce around the park.

Why we fly the Hubsan H501S

As a simple drone for park flying, this is a solid option, but please don’t expect the H501S to produce amazing aerial imagery. Still fun and fast.

What we like


  • Easy to fly
  • Great toy-class drone

What we don’t like


  • Older drone
  • Limited range
  • Limited battery life

Hubsan H501S
Hubsan H501S
  • Capable toy drone
  • GPS and a decent camera
Great starter drone

The Hubsan H501S was one of the first GPS-enabled drones from Hubsan with brushless motors and a 1080p camera.


Bonus budget drones

Hubsan H107
Hubsan H107
  • Great beginner's drone
  • Simple to fly
Hubsan H111
Hubsan H111
  • Fun to fly
  • Safe for indoors
  • Good trainer
Syma X5C
Syma X5C
  • Great beginner's drone
  • Easy to fly
  • Resilient

Further Reading: When budget is of no concern, here are the best drones


Frequently Asked Questions

Is $500 enough, or should I budget for a more expensive drone?

Your needs should dictate your budget. For $500, you should be able to get a solid racing drone setup, with all the extra parts to handle a crash or two, but at this price, you’re only getting an entry-level camera drone. Drones equipped with the best smartphone-caliber cameras will run from $800 – $1500 or so, and expect to spend more than that if you want a drone that has a camera sensor that is better than what a smartphone offers.

Don’t get us wrong, drones benefit from putting those smartphone sensors behind larger and better lenses than your phone can handle, producing much better results, but DSLR-level results should only be expected for high-end DSLR prices.

Is $500 too much for my first drone?

It is not fair of us to say that $500 is too much for your first drone, but we do recommend you start flying with a $30 unit. Learn how drones operate, how to control the sticks, with a drone that won’t break the bank when you crash – and yes, you will crash. A $500 drone with GPS and a reliable self-hover makes flight a lot easier and safer for beginner pilots, so don’t be afraid to give it a go. Fly safe!

Can I get a good 4K drone for under $500?

Not long ago, the answer to this question was no. Then came the DJI Mini 2 in November 2020. The rules still apply for the caliber of camera here, this budget produces images similar to higher-end smartphones, but, indeed, there is now a 4K drone for under $500 that we can safely recommend.

Do I need a license to fly these drones?

Yes, the FAA requires that all hobby pilots acquire their TRUST Certificate, and that all paid operations be conducted by Part 107 Certified pilots.


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