Drones and Quadcopters have gained a ton of popularity in the recent past due to their capabilities in recording aerial footage to add scenic beauty to video clips and movies. DJI is one such brand that has pioneered the use of drones and has allowed consumers to get a hands-on experience of becoming a drone pilot. However, a good drone with decent camera capabilities can prove to be quite heavy on your pockets, or so you think. We’ve handpicked a few of our recommendations of affordable drones that get the job done and while doing so, do not propel a hole in your pocket!
We’ve listed out our favorite cheap drones in the ascending order of price, right from $49 to $299, so make sure you pick the one most suited for your needs. To differentiate the drones we’re referring to, from cheap toys you can find in any store, you should know that these devices are more expensive and have better performance as well as much more powerful and complex components and in some cases, can work autonomously, without any interference from a pilot.
What are Drones good for?
Drones are in all manner of speaking awesome. They fly, swim or drive and they can do this on their own. Many models have their own AI which acts as an autopilot, but they can be remotely controlled by the user. Drone enthusiasts have found many uses for these gadgets, such as aerial photography or aerial surveillance (underwater exploration for models which operate in this medium). In terms of research, they can be the focus of students or hard-core programmers who want to make them fully autonomous and experiment with different programs to make them fly better.
But for regular users, the bottom line for these gadgets is that they’re fun. They can make excellent gifts for both kids and adults. And every affordable drone we have listed below have cameras!
Where to Buy Cheap Drones?
No matter what type of drone you’re looking for, there are a number of online stores from which you can buy some pretty affordable drones. Of course, performance is reduced with the price, but if you’re new in this area, buying a cheap model for starters would be a good idea.
Amazon – Amazon offers a wide variety of drones, and depending on the cash you’re willing to part ways with, you’ll most likely find some great models.
HobbyKing – One of the best places to find drones of any kind as well as all the components needed to build your own designs.
Helipal – Similar to HobbyKing, Helipal offers its users both fully built drones as well spare parts and components for DIY lovers.
Kickstarter / Indiegogo – These two crowdfunding sites are increasingly seeing a surge in a number of affordable drone projects. We are listing some of them at the end of this article, but do keep an eye on these sites.
Best Cheap Drones to buy
1. UDI U818A Quadcopter with 2MP Camera
This is one of the cheapest drones you can get, retailing at $49.99, and that too with a camera that’s not too shabby. While the resolution might seem like a paltry 2MP, you can shoot videos in 720p at 30fps. It operates through a headless mode meaning when moving forward, the drone will not lean forward too much and will maintain low steepness. The body is made entirely out of plastic.
There’s a 6-axis gyroscope for stabilization and a “return home” function which will ensure your drome comes back to you in case the battery is depleting. The flight time is about 6-7 minutes and it takes in a micro SD card for storage. This is a beginner’s drone and can be a good option for first-time fliers in order to get familiarized with the controls of flying a drone. Being a beginners’ drone, do not have much expectations from the image quality or the range, rather consider this as a small investment to learn how to fly. It can be a nice gift to a teenager.
2. Drocon Training Drone for Beginners
What’s special about this drone is that it brings the live first-person view to your smartphone using Wi-Fi transmission. There’s also one-key return, which will make the drone come back to the location it took off from and also has 360-degree flip controls. There’s an HD camera on board and you also get protectors for the propellers. The flight time, similar to the previous one is about 6-8 minutes at most.
Yet again, this is a beginner’s drone, mainly to learn how to fly, but with the extra capability of viewing the live feed from the camera. For $65.99, this is another decent and affordable drone.
3. DBPower X400W RC Quadcopter
This one too, just like the two preceding cheap drones, has support for headless mode and one key return functions. The camera, stabilized by a 6-axis gyroscope can output to a live feed which can be viewed on a smartphone. Additionally, you can also pair your smartphone with a VR headset in order to get a 3D FPV of the drone’s flight.
The 750mAh battery can allow the drone to fly up to a range of 100m with an average flight time of 6-8 minutes on a single charge. At $69.99, you get a drone with the ability to view live feed, that too in VR.
4. Snaptain S5C Wi-Fi FPV Drone
This cheap drone from Snaptain has a 720p HD camera and while that may seem more or less similar to the previous cheaper ones, this is a wide-angle lens giving you more coverage in terms of field of view. The live feed from the camera can be viewed on the smartphone even in VR and the drone has all the basic features like headless mode and one key return as well as one key take-off and landing which can be really helpful if you’re a beginner.
Two areas where this drone stands out from the previous ones are voice control and altitude hold. You can speak out commands like “take-off” or “land” in order for the drone to perform that specific task. Altitude hold is another cool function which will allow the drone to fly at one particular level which also ensures stability. There are two batteries provided within the package and the flight time with each battery is about 7-8 minutes. Overall, a good purchase for $74.99 if you’re just starting off.
5. U818A Discovery HD+ Drone
This is an upgraded variant of the first drone mentioned at the beginning of the list. While most of the features remain the same, the camera is upgraded to an “HD+” variant and there are some new features like altitude hold that can be helpful. You can also perform 360-degree stunts with just the press of a button.
The camera takes in a microSD card for storage, and instead of just one on the earlier model, this updated version comes with two included batteries which essentially doubles the flight time to about 15-20 minutes (about 7-8 minutes with each battery pack). If the aforementioned upgrades are necessary to you, you can get this drone for $99.99.
6. Holy Stone HS200 RC Drone
This is another good option if you have a budget of about $100. The 2MP camera onboard can shoot images and video in 720p and comes with all the generic controls of headless mode, altitude hold, and one key return. There are protectors included for the propellers and four additional propellers too in case you end up losing or destroying the stock ones.
However, you get just one battery included which can give you a flight time of about 7-8 minutes. There is support for first-person view feed as well. A good alternative to the previous drone for $99.99.
7. DJI Tello Quadcopter Drone
DJI is one of the most well-known brands with regards to drones and Tello is a small drone made by DJI mainly for starters and beginners who want to learn to fly. You can perform various tricks with Tello and the onboard 5MP camera, the highest in the resolution of all the drones mentioned above, can record video in 720p.
Tello can fly up to 10m high and in a 100m radius. The duration of the flight is also the highest till now with 13 minutes on a single charge. There’s also support for FPV using a VR headset, and you get the DJI’s professional flight tech. If you have a budget of $100, this is your best option hands down.
8. Holy Stone HS110D RC Drone
Another decently affordable drone from Holy Stone with a 720p HD camera for video recording, but this time with a wide 120-degree field of view giving your footage a GoPro like effect. Rest of the features are identical to all the other drones like headless mode, altitude hold, one-touch return, and 360-degree flips.
You can use VR headsets for FPV viewing and the flight time is improved to about 10-12 minutes. The design is also slightly more refined compared to the cheaper alternatives. You can get this drone for $129.99. It’s a best seller on Amazon for a reason.
9. Altair 818 Hornet Drone with Camera
This cheap drone is slightly more sophisticated compared to the previous ones and has a stabilized 720p wide-angle camera with a 120-degree field of view. The full range of the drone is up to 150m and the flying time is about 5 minutes on a single charge and luckily, there are two batteries provided in the package which enables a total flight time of about 30 minutes which is commendable.
Then there are features like automatic orientation adjustment, one touch return, altitude hold and emergency automatic landing. This drone sells for $169.80 and if a long range and greater flight time are your priorities, then this is a good option.
10. Holy Stone HS700 FPV Drone
This is the most expensive of the lot in this list and that is because it uses a 1080p camera instead of a 720p one and it transmits the live feed through a 5GHz Wi-Fi channel rather than 2.4GHz. Apart from the regular features like headless mode, one-touch return and live FPV feed, this also has a “follow me” option which will enable the drone to track your movements and then move accordingly.
There’s also in-built GPS for flight assist which can help the drone come back to its original location in case of low battery or loss of signal. The motor is brushless which makes lesser noise than the rest. The flight time is claimed to be 20 minutes which is the highest on this list. If you do not like the quality of the onboard camera, there’s also a GoPro mount available which you can make use of. While $299.99 might seem steep, the features of this drone are surely more sophisticated than the rest.
11. DJI Mavic Mini
The Mavic Mini is a newly announced drone from DJI and one of its smallest and lightest drones yet. It is a small and lightweight drone, coming in at just 249 grams, which makes it safe enough to fly in the open, without requiring registration from the FAA or DGCA (in India). It includes high-grade motors that promise to offer up to 30 minutes of flight time, Wi-Fi transmission signals to provide stable control over drone using HD live feed, and GPS and downward visual sensor that detect the ground below to offer precise hovering and stable landing.
Despite its small size, the drone, however, does not compromise on the overall flying and photography/videography experience. It offers the ability to capture videos in 2.7K at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps, along with photo shooting capabilities in 12MP. Further, the drone uses DJI’s Fly app to simplify the flying and shooting experience and offer tutorials for beginner pilots, along with a few professional modes. For a price of $399, the Mavic Mini has a lot to offer. And thanks to its lightweight design (under 250 grams), you can enjoy it openly without requiring the need for registration (in most countries).
Drones available in India
Due to strict drone laws in India, importing drones from outside the county is a nightmare and there’s a major chance that your package will be held by customs and will not be delivered to you. So, your only option is to purchase a drone being sold on e-commerce platforms in the country itself, and luckily, the DJI Tello does sell in India for Rs. 13,000 which is nearly double the selling price in the US, but there’s little one can do about that.
There also are some generic Chinese drones available on Amazon India but with little or no reviews which makes it hard to judge if the product is indeed worth your money. We’ll leave links to a few that you can purchase.
So, there you have it. Ten best drones you can buy on a budget which will help you learn how to fly and give you a basic idea about drone controls. Once you’re well-versed, you can invest in a more sophisticated drone with much better features and camera capabilities.
Not satisfied with commercial models? DIY is the solution!
If you’re not quite happy with commercially available drones, for any reason whatsoever, you can always build your own, to your exact specifications. Although this way isn’t for the faint-hearted, as you will have to spend some time learning how such a device works, calculate all the different parameters, such as motor power, weight or propeller length and more, as well as putting it all together like a very complex jigsaw puzzle.
Starting building drones can be somewhat difficult, and depending on how complex is your design, different skills may be required. For instance, creating an autonomous drone will require users to know how to use small factor computers, like the Raspberry Pi or Arduino, and to possess some wicked programming skills for writing the drone’s program. Nevertheless, with time and dedication, this can be achieved.
Obtaining the hardware required isn’t that hard, as there are lots of stores which stock these components. Just to give you an example, here are some examples:
Tutorials are a great way to see what designs are most successful, as well as getting some tips on how is the easiest/best way to build a drone. Another important factor to consider when looking at DIY solutions is the price, and if you’re more interested in powerful, high-tech drones with specialized purposes, building it on your own will have you a pile of money.