Drones are rapidly improving in quality and becoming more affordable, which is why personal drones are on the rise. Today, you can get a drone on almost any budget, but if you’re new to drone flying, or you are just a casual flyer, I recommend you look for a drone that is under $500. There’s no need to spend thousands on a professional drone, especially if it’s for your child. Below, are my top picks for drones under $500 with a camera and a short buying guide to help you make the right decision.
Keep in mind that the prices on Amazon can fluctuate due to discounts. Some may exceed $500.
Factors to Consider Before Buying a $500 Drone
Today, drones are used for all sorts of things, including racing, taking selfies, aerial photography, and just flying for fun. Before you buy anything you need to decide what you want to do with your drone and what you want your drone to do. Different drones are good for different activities, for example, selfie drones can take great selfies, but their range is very limited, so they aren’t ideal for taking any professional aerial video. Once you determine what you’ll be doing with the drone, you can choose what type of drone you need.
You’ll want to consider the quality of drones under $500 as well. With drones, you typically get what you pay for, so the more it costs, the more features it usually has. For 500 dollars, you can’t expect the drone to have all the bells and whistles and be perfect, but they are better than flimsy toy drones. A good drone for under $500 will typically have a flight time of at least 15 minutes, and an operating range of a kilometer or so. More expensive drones can fly longer and farther, but they are not at all necessary for beginners.
Before you buy a drone, you will also want to consider the rules and laws that are in place. When you get your drone you’ll almost certainly want to open it and fly it right away, but you need to know what rules there are and also how to stay safe. As a general rule of thumb, you should never fly your drone more than 400 feet off the ground, and never fly it if it’s not within your line of sight. Most drones will also need to be registered with the FAA before you can fly.
Tips for Choosing the Best Drone Under $500 for Your Needs
To choose the best drone for your specific needs, you’ll have to do some research. This buying guide is a good jumping off point, but never be afraid to do more research. You should learn as much about a product as you can before you decide to buy it, so don’t rush the researching phase. It’s a good idea to also learn about some useful features to look out for when shopping for your drone.
I recommend buying a drone with a mechanical gimbal stabilization system, whether it’s 2 or 3 axis. Gimbals stabilize the camera so that your video is clear and steady and there’s no “jell-o” effect, where edges of objects are warped and wobbly. Gimbals are a very useful feature to have, but a good image stabilization software can be just as effective, it varies from brand to brand. Another useful feature that is common among drones is an altitude hold function. The altitude hold feature allows you to keep the drone hovering at the same altitude without you having to control it.
Drone Reviews Under $500
- Camera: 1080P
- Flight Time: 16 minutes
- Range: 1.24 Miles
- Stabilization: 2-axis mechanical gimbal
- Hand Gesture Control
What sets this drone apart is its ability to follow hand gesture commands. Using hand gestures, you can easily take breathtaking selfies. Spark also features FaceAware, which makes it easy to take off using facial recognition. The drone recognizes your face and within seconds the drone is hovering in the air.
Another cool feature is ActiveTrack, which recognizes and tracks different objects going at different speeds. This makes it easy to steadily track an object or person and takes all the work out of it. Instead of you having to manually follow whatever you’re trying to record, the drone can lock on and track it for you.
- Powerful Propulsion
Perhaps most importantly, this drone is made fromhigh-quality materials and can withstand pretty heavy winds. Thanks to the super powerful propulsion of the DJI Spark, this drone is able to steadily fly in winds up to 31 mph.
You can download the DJI GO 4 app and edit and share all of your videos and pictures directly through the app. You can also use the app to control the drone, and with the TapFly function, you can tap somewhere on your phone and the drone will fly there, while recognizing and avoiding obstacles.
The only downside to this drone is that it is slightly over our $500 budget. However, it has so many great features and functions that I couldn’t leave it off this list. It is definitely worth the little splurge, you’re paying for a quality drone.
DJI Phantom 3
- Camera: 2700P
- Flight Time: 25 minutes
- Range: 0.5 miles
- Stabilization: 3-axis mechanical gimbal
- Return Home Function
It’s easier than you might think to lose a drone. If it drifts just slightly out of range from your controller you would typically lose control and your drone might drop, or do an emergency landing if it has that feature. The Phantom 3 uses GPS technology to return back to you at the push of a button or if it ever drifts out of range from your controller.
- Full Control
The control on this drone is amazing and a breeze to get the hang of. With live video streaming back to you, you can see things from a whole new perspective. And best of all, you don’t have to move the entire drone to move the camera, you can control the camera and which direction it points independently.
- Compatible Mobile App
The Phantom 3 connects with the DJI Go app that you can download for free. The app has tons of cool features itself, like a map and radar that tracks your drone, your stats (speed, altitude, etc.), and keeps flight logs for you.
There are several other things you can program the Phantom 3 to do, including “follow me”, and follow flight paths that you have designed. You can also select a point of interest for the Phantom 3 to focus on and face towards at all times.
All great things have their downsides, and in this case, it is the price tag. The DJI Phantom 3 is over $500, but still below $600, so it’s not too far over budget. With all the cool features and functions it has I’m surprised it’s even that affordable to begin with, it’s definitely worth the extra money.
Parrot Bebop 2 FPV
- Camera: 1080p
- Flight Time: 25 Minutes
- Range: 1.2 miles
- Stabilization: 3-axis digital stabilization system
- Immersive Flight Experience
Hands down the coolest part of this drone is the incredibly immersive flight experience it offers. FPV drones are nothing new, but this drone lets you go further than just a first-person camera. With the included FPV goggles or cockpit glasses, you see exactly what your drone sees in a very surreal way. As the name suggests, the goggles make you feel like you are sitting in the cockpit, with a front row seat to all the action.
- GPS & Visual Tracking
The Bebop 2 is also a master tracker; it can lock onto an object or person and follow them, keeping steady and in focus. You can program the drone to follow you and record what you do, whether it be walking in the woods or setting a world record.
The main advantage of this drone is how easy it is to use and how comfortable the FPV goggles are. As someone who wears glasses already, I try to avoid things that go over my glasses because I typically can’t wear both. However, the FPV goggles were super comfy, even with my glasses on, and the drone was easy to get used to.
Unfortunately, the goggles only work with smartphones that are 4.7” to 5.2” long. A lot of smartphones fall under that category, but there are also several that do not, so make sure your phone is compatible with the goggles before you buy this drone.
Parrot Bebop 2
- Flying Time: 20-25 minutes
- Charging Time: 90 minutes
- Operation Range: 300 Meters
- Camera Resolution: 1080P
- 360 Flip Capability: Yes
- Weight: 1.1 pounds
- What’s Included: Drone, High-capacity battery, Charger, USB, Parrot Skycontroller, Smartphone and tablet mount, Parrot Cockpitglasses.
- Parrot Cockpitglasses
A great feature that this drone has is the Parrot Cockpitglasses that are included. This gives a first-person view, which makes it feel like you are truly piloting the drone.
- FreeFlight Pro
This is the app that is used in conjunction with the Parrot Cockpitglasses, but it also offers more than just a different point of view. It also saves all the footage that you collected with your drone. With your photos, routes, and videos in one place, you’ll never have a hard time showing your friends and family what you discovered.
- Great Battery Life
The battery of the Parrot Bebop 2 is substantially better than the one of its predecessor. It has double the life, which brings it from 11 minutes previously to up to 25 minutes. This is so important if you’re looking for a drone to fly far in range.
The drone’s extremely lightweight design is always a great feature to have. This allows for the battery to not work as hard to keep it in the air unlike more heavier drones on the market. The camera is also decent for this price range. It can capture 14-megapixel shots at 30 frames per second.
With the camera being decent, there is also a setback. Unfortunately, image distortion will happen due to not having a great stabilizer in place. The control sticks of the Parrot Bebop 2 can also become unresponsive before the drone reaches its’ extended service range.
Which Drone I Recommend?
In the end, the best drone under $500 with a camera is the DJI Spark. It is my winner because it has exactly what any beginner would need. It is a durable drone, with FPV capabilities up to 1.2 miles away and a mechanical gimbal to keep it stable while you’re in the air. I definitely recommend the Spark to anyone looking for a high quality, casual drone, regardless of age. I also recommend purchasing extra batteries with it, so that you can just pop a new pair in when one dies instead of having to recharge them right at that second. The drone comes with several accessories, including an extra battery, propeller guards, battery charging base, a power cable, and a shoulder bag. It also comes in various colors, such as Alpine White, Sunshine Yellow, Lava Red, Mountain Green, and Sky Blue, so there’s something for everybody. If the Spark doesn’t seem like the right fit for you, that’s okay too, any of the other drones are great options to consider.