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.
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Thank you for joining us here at Drone Rush, we are a group of passionate technologists, eager to fly every drone we can get our hands on. Our enthusiasm for drones began as a hobby, and rapidly grew to seeking out the best camera drones on the market. Learning that there are many forms and functions of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAS,) we strive to learn them all.
We invite you on this drone journey, we ask you to trust us as a source to find the best drones on the market today. We also want to help you get the most from the experience, watch for tools, tips and tricks for your drone flights.
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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?
Check out the range of DJI Phantom 3 drones starting at $499 today. Available in Standard, Advanced, 4K and Pro. (The price fluctuates up over $500 sometimes, but we recommend only buying if under $500 at this point.)
Announced at CES 2018, the new Uvify OOri is a palm-sized drone that is one of the most capable machines for the size we’ve ever put hands on. Enjoy safe and stable flight in your living room, or unleash it on the race track with speeds exceeding 50 mph. This can be a fun small flier, or take advantage of it as a race drone trainer.
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 $345 on Amazon today.
If you are flying for pay, or any other form of compensation, you must operate under a different set of rules and possess a commercial drone license. We call it the Part 107, it’s not too hard to get, but it will take some time to learn all the rules. We want to help you learn the rules and get your commercial license, check out our drone pilot training material.
Yuneec Mantis Q
A recently announced drone, we have not flown it yet, stay tuned for update.
Yuneec officially announced the new Mantis Q in August 2018, with shipping slated for September. We like to recommend drones we’ve already flown, but we’re going out on the wing here for Yuneec, adding the Mantis Q to this list. The Yuneec Breeze that formally held this position was a great beginner’s drone for less than $500. The Mantis Q appears to be a more intermediate machine, offering a 4K camera, obstacle avoidance sensors and plenty of self-piloting modes.
You can order the Yuneec Mantis Q for $444 for a base pack now. Watch for the X-Pack option with additional batteries and more coming later this year for $649.
Drone legal and safety
There is a common misunderstanding that the Ryze Tello is a DJI drone. It is true that it is built with many of DJI’s commercially available components, and is sold on the DJI store, but it is still just a fun, mini drone, with some great functionality from another company. We think Tello is a solid offering for a new pilot. Safe enough to fly indoors, with a few flight assist features to help you learn and have fun. It is not, however, going to capture those great drone photos and video that you love.
Check out the Ryze Tello from $99 for the base unit, up to $138 with a remote control.
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 $365 on Amazon.
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 $179 on amazon today. (Often as low as $130.)
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 kit with extra batteries for $44 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?