The cost of the best cheap drone deals continues to fall as the markets soar for hobbyists and for action video drones. As drones continue to, um, fly off the shelves, feature-creep works to your benefit. Many features that were available only in drones with multi-thousand-dollar price tags just a few years ago, are now common in more affordable drone models — usually for less than $300. The vast selection of drones with different feature sets can be confusing, but we’ve done the field work to find the best cheap drone deals available today. We’ll continue to update this post as feature lists climb and prices drop.
The entry threshold to the drone hobby and sport is low. You don’t need a license to operate a drone — although you must register the craft with the FAA. As you likely already know, there’s a wide range of differences among the hundreds of drone models on the market. If you get the fever and continue to advance and improve your drone pilot skills, odds are you’ll want to upgrade. You may also want to trade up when drones with new features hit the market. Whether you’re a novice or seasoned expert, however, there are a few major factors to consider as you choose your next drone.
- Purpose and Experience: If you’re buying your first drone, keep it simple. Just as you wouldn’t buy a Formula One race car for a daily driver, it’s not a great idea to buy a high-performance, high-cost first drone. Start with a low-cost drone designed for beginners to help you learn and to avoid wallet pain if you crash it or lose it. Once you get the hang of drone piloting, you’ll feel more confident spending the money for a drone with greater speed, range, and video capabilities.
- Photo and Video Capabilities: Image and video capture are a primary enjoyment factor for many drone pilots. Drone video cameras generally start 720p resolution and can go as high as 4K. Video refresh rate is important, and anything slower than 60 frames per second (fps) could look a bit choppy for some viewers. For general use, a higher refresh (up to 60 fps) is more important than higher resolution. HD resolution, or 1080p, is sufficient for most amateur purposes.
- Speed and Range: You will find that there are trade-offs between battery run time, drone operating distance capability, and drone speed. If you want a drone to follow you while you jog, hike, or ride a bike, for example, range and speed aren’t as important as operating time.
- Extra Features: Yesterday’s hot drone features are now often commonplace, especially with midrange-priced models. GPS Follow Me mode, Auto Return Home, and multiple flying modes are increasingly available at most price levels. Image stabilization and obstacle avoidance capabilities are more than checkbox features, because performance for both can vary significantly between drone brands and models.
- Cost: Even though drone prices have dropped significantly, price is still usually a fair indicator of relative performance, features, and quality. Drones that cost less than $100 are usually all that a beginner needs and models that sell for over $1,000 are most appropriate for expert or even commercial use. The sweet spot between $150 to $600 or $700 (with prices dropping) is where most casual or club drone pilots should find all or more than they need. The values are particularly astounding between $150 to $300.
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