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.
Update January 2017: We will frequently update this list with new and exciting drones in the price range. This month we’ve added a quadcopter that is not altogether new, but a solid performer and debated omission from our list previously, the 3DR Solo.
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.
Check out the range of DJI Phantom 3 drones starting at $475 today.
Your need for speed starts here, the TBS Vendetta is a racing drone. with a carbon fiber monocoque design, you can expect speeds in the 70 – 100 MPH range. Made to be strong, easily repaired and modular for future upgrades, the TBS Vendetta is a hard drone to beat in terms of speed.
Speaking of modularity, this racing drone has an optional mount for a GoPro camera, we’re not sure it’ll compare to the camera focused rigs on our list, but we’re all for options.
Check out the racing TBS Vendetta for $499 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.
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 for $419 from Amazon today.
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 $400 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 $415 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you have a drone suggestion that belongs on this list? What’s the best drone under $500 in your opinion?