When you’re just getting started with drones, there are so many of all types to consider, and it may seem daunting to pick one that fits your budget and that promises to perform well. If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering whether shelling out a little bit more money on a drone will give you a more satisfying beginner flying experience. Is paying more going to help you fly better?
Unsurprisingly, drones that are a bit on the pricier side are going to be easier to fly. They have more features such as GPS, hovering stability, and obstacle avoidance that will help you fly smoothly and with fewer crashes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should start with an expensive one.
The best drone to start with as a beginner is ultimately not a one size-fits-all answer. How you choose your first drone is going to depend on your goals, your budget and your preferences. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the choices out there, and agonizing over which one is the BEST ONE to start with, relax a little, and remember that there’s no such thing. You’ll probably enjoy and end up getting attached to whichever one you pick! And if not, you can sell it on, and try something else. The important thing is to get started!
Should I Start Small or Go All In?
Before you can decide whether you need to keep to your budget, or break the lock off your wallet, you need to consider your goals for yourself as a drone pilot. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to as you think about what you see for yourself and drones:
- Are you simply curious about drones and want to test one out for yourself?
- Are you more interested in the flight/flying aspect or the photography/tech aspect?
- Are you hoping to possibly turn drone flying into a business prospect?
- Are you interested in getting into drone racing?
- Are you going to be the only one flying your drone?
While it’s certainly true that more expensive drones are going to come with more intelligent flight modes and other features that may give you an easier flight experience, sometimes the easy road is not the best road. If, for example, you’re simply curious, or you’re primarily interested in the photography aspect drones, or even having awesome FPV flying experiences – those are definitely cases where you may want to jump straight to the mid-level consumer drone range. They’re going to give you the features and tools to get you flying easily and give you a satisfying experience right off the bat.
There’s a lot to be said though for starting from the bottom. When you get a drone that is just a little bit harder to fly – without all the smart flight modes and performance optimizing features – you are going to challenge yourself to become a better drone pilot in the long run. When it’s just you and the drone, you’re going to have to master the controls and build the skills and muscle memory to really be an excellent drone pilot. This foundation of learning, though it may require a little bit more work and possibly even frustration in the beginning, is important especially if your goals for flying a drone involve professional aspirations. Sometimes the smart features fail you, or don’t perform as expected, and if you have the confidence and skills to effectively maneuver your drone each and every time, you can avoid some potentially dangerous or costly problems.
If you’re interested in getting into drone racing, then you definitely will need to build that high level of control, as racing drones don’t typically come stuffed with smart features. Not to mention that you will be flying extremely fast, and need to have your fingers well trained to react in just the right way to avoid crashes.
If you think it sounds inspiring and exhilarating to master flight controls without the help of smart features, the best beginner drone for you is probably a cheaper one, possibly even in the “toy” drone category. These drones aren’t going to offer you a lot of help with flying, and you’re going to have to master the joysticks to fly them successfully. You will probably have a few crashes before you’ve gotten the hang of it, and may even get it stuck up in a tree or on a roof. But if you’ve only spent $50 or so, it’s not going to put you out that far if you need to replace it.
“Easy” Flight Features
If you’re thinking that some smart flight features are the way to go for you, there are a few in particular that you can look for as you’re choosing a drone. These features will help you to hopefully avoid crashes, and achieve smooth flights, high quality photos and videos, and exhilarating FPV flight experiences, right from the start.
Having a GPS equipped drone offers a number of advantages. For one thing, by “knowing” where it is in space, the drone is able to have better stability in general, providing for smoother flight and better navigation. One especially helpful effect of having GPS means that your drone can hover in place, often even in a headwind. This can be key for a beginner who’s feeling flustered or turned around. When you let go of the controls for a moment, your drone stays where you left it, midair, rather than drifting wherever the breeze is blowing.
Another extremely helpful aspect of having GPS in your drone is that it is the brains behind the return-to-home feature (RTH). This means that if your drone’s battery is critically low, or it has lost connection with the controller, or you simply push the RTH button, your drone will take itself back to its take off point, rather than flying away or running out of juice midair.
For many GPS drones, this smart feature will keep your drone locked on to a moving object, following along to video. This is a great feature for athletes who want to record their achievements without having to rely on a friend to capture the event. Other intelligent flight modes on many consumer drones can offer similar results, with the drone flying autonomously while capturing photo or video with no one directly at the controls at all.
Some of the higher end consumer drones have obstacle avoidance features powered by onboard sensors to detect proximity to objects and either stop or go around them. This feature tends to up the price point of the drone, and may not be as effective as one might wish. If you do have obstacle avoidance, it’s best not to rely on it too heavily, but in some cases it can save you from collisions.
Learning to fly a drone is a process, and for some (almost everyone?!) it can be tricky to get a hang of the controls, especially if your drone gets turned around to face you rather than away from you. In this case, when you push the controller stick to move left, the drone will move right instead. Headless mode means that the drone will respond to the controls relative to you, regardless of which way it is facing, which can make things a whole lot less confusing, but it also means you may not learn the finer points of using a drone controller.
Gimbal and Camera
These aren’t really flight features that make it easier to fly the drone, but if you are most interested in getting great photos and videos with your new drone, you’re only going to get that if you put up a little more money. A cheaper toy drone may have a camera, but it’s not going to be high quality enough to give you great shots, and if it has a gimbal, it probably won’t be anything to write home about either. Instead look for a drone that has the camera and gimbal quality that you’re looking for, and start out using beginner mode to learn the flight basics.
Two Categories of Beginner Drones
There are basically two schools of thought when it comes to choosing your first drone. The first one says that you should get a drone that will be fun and easy, and do all the things you want it to, even if it’s a little bit on the expensive side. The second one says you should start small and somewhat expendable, learn the ropes, master the controls, then move on to the real deal. So here we’re going to offer you two lists of good beginner drones, one for each of these approaches to choosing your first drone. For the most up to date product recommendations, you can check out our recommended product page.
Best Drones for Mastering Flight Skills
The drones in this list are all under $100, and offer limited features to help with flight stability. The goal with any of these drones is to get your feet wet in the world of drone flying, learn the controls, and get some miles logged before moving on up to something bigger and better. Keep in mind that these drones are probably going to be harder to fly than something bigger, partly because of the lack of smart features, but also because they are lighter weight, and more susceptible to breezes. But if you can control one of these with ease, when you move to a more expensive drone, you’ll have no trouble at all.
Syma X20 Mini Drone
Symatoys offer several levels of toy drones, any of which would be a good place to start. This palm sized mini drone offers several helpful features, including a headless mode, and altitude hold for a little bit of help with stable hovering.
- Flight Time: About 5 minutes
- Safe for indoor flight
- No Camera
- Headless mode and altitude hold
- $40 from Amazon
Husban X4 H502E
This inexpensive beginner drone actually does come with GPS, which means a Return To Home option, allowing you to push a button and get your drone to land back at your feet – always reassuring when you’re just starting out. It also offers altitude hold to give more stable flight and hovering ability. Though it has a camera, it’s not going to give you anything high quality.
- Flight Time: over 12 minutes
- GPS Equipped
- Altitude hold
- 720p Camera
- $65 from Amazon
This drone is getting closer toward the boundary of “easy to fly” drones, but still affordable enough that it’s great for practicing and building skills without having to worry about crashes. As a DJI product, it can be controlled with the DJI app from your smartphone or tablet, or with an optional separate controller. It also offers altitude hold for boosted ease of flight. But don’t expect anything stunning from the photo or video quality, or from the range performance of the controller for that matter.
- Flight Time: over 12 minutes
- Altitude hold
- 5MP / 720p Camera
- 100m Range (more realistic: 30-40m)
- $99 from Amazon
Hubsan X4 H122D
If you’re interested in stepping into the world of FPV racing, this budget friendly beginner drone comes ready to fly. It’s not breathtakingly fast, with a top speed of 10m/s, but it will give you enough speed to get started with learning how to navigate with quick reflexes. It is compatible with Fatshark racing goggles as well, so you can start learning to fly in FPV mode. The camera and flight time are about what you would expect at this price range.
- HT015 transmitter compatible with Fatshark goggles
- Flight time: 7 minutes
- 720p Camera
- Return to Home function on low battery
- $80 from Amazon
Best Drones For Easy Beginner Flight
These drones are relatively budget friendly options that still give you excellent video and photo quality. They are packed full of flight friendly features making it easy to fly smoothly and effortlessly right from the beginning.
DJI Mavic Air 2
The Mavic Air 2 is a great choice for beginners with its multitude of flight features including flight stability enhanced by GPS, subject tracking and DJI’s Quickshot photo and video modes to capture high quality footage with minimal skill and effort by the pilot. It has a great camera with the ability to shoot excellent 4K/60p video, while a 1/2-inch sensor ensures better ISO performance than its predecessor. The Mavic Air 2 also supports slo-mo 1080p video up to 240fps. It has good flight time with a 34 minute battery life – much longer than you’ll get with any of the toy drones. It comes with a designated controller, though the controller doesn’t have a built in screen and must be used in conjunction with a smartphone or tablet.
- Flight time: up to 34 minutes
- 12MP Camera / 4K/60p video
- 10km range
- GPS, Obstacle Avoidance
- $988 from Amazon
DJI Mavic Mini
The Mavic Mini is a great option for easy flight, coming at a more affordable price with the sacrifice of only a few of the features of the Mavic Air 2. It’s smaller and lighter, and at less than .55lbs it doesn’t have to be registered with the FAA. It also has a 12MP camera, but lacks the 4K/60fps 2.7K video that the Mavic Air 2 has. The video is remarkably smooth for the size of the drone, as is the video transmission quality. The Mavic mini is easy to fly, and has a compact, collapsible frame making it very transportable. It also offers automated photo and video capture, but lacks object tracking capability.
- Flight time: around 30 minutes
- 12 MP Camera
- 4000m range
- GPS, Obstacle Avoidance, No object tracking
- $499 from Amazon
The Parrot Anafi is a great drone when it comes to camera quality. It’s small in size as consumer drones go, but with a 21MP camera that has 180 degrees of vertical range, you can get pictures directly upwards, which is not possible on any other drone of its kind. That together with the 2.8x zoomable lens puts this drone in an altogether different class. If photography is your thing, this drone is a great place to start, especially with Follow Me mode, and SmartDronies mode to help you with getting some great shots.
- Flight time: up to 25 minutes
- 21 MP Camera
- GPS, No obstacle avoidance
- $699 from B&H Photo