Approaching any new purchase with the idea of being frugal about it isn’t a bad course of action, especially in a time when inflation and wages seem to be a bit out of sorts with one another.
Thinking frugally may be the best way to get an otherwise costly experience without that high cost.
As we’ve seen over the course of many years now, technology may start out with some out-of-reach prices, that, over time, will become more affordable.
We’ve seen this in the technology that goes into drones. Many of the higher-priced system features have found their way into some really affordable lower-priced options.
You can get that top-of-the-line experience without paying that top-of-the-line cost.
When we look at drones and the cost vs. abilities, we see that there can be found some nice affordable options available.
Also, when we look at drone systems as a whole, we want to consider certain factors.
Factors such as flight time, video resolution, image stabilization, max speed, transmission range, and of course, smart features.
These factors tell us if we’re going to get our money’s worth from the product or not, and what type of experience we might be able to expect.
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
Flight time is an important factor when considering any drone system.
As they are powered by a battery, flight times can certainly vary from model to model, with some of the costliest systems offering flight times of nearly 40mins.
With lower-cost drones, you can expect to have about 10 minutes to 15 minutes of flight time per battery.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy hours of drone-flying fun still; you’ll just have to land your drone to change the batteries more.
Many people, professionals and hobbyists alike, use drones to take photos and shoot videos.
If you fall into this category, you’ll want a drone equipped with a camera that has a decent resolution.
Resolution measures how many pixels can be contained on the display screen or in the camera.
The higher the number, the better the image quality for a clear view and capturing fine details.
If you only want to upload videos to share with friends or upload to social media, a camera with 1080p HD resolution is more than acceptable.
A drone with anything less, like 720p, is generally considered “toy” quality and is decent for photography but does not promise the best video resolution.
4K is the recommended minimum resolution for professional videography.
4K has quadrupled the number of pixels as that of a 1080p camera, allowing it to capture small details, such as faces, at a farther distance.
This is desirable in a drone camera because the drone may be flying as high as 400 feet above the subject.
In any drone you may consider, image stabilization technology is important as it uses sensors to detect and compensate for the drone’s movement.
This reduces the effects of camera shake and the amount of noise contained in any video footage you may record.
This will ensure that you capture smooth, stable, detailed footage when the drone is in motion.
Currently, there are three types of image stabilization technology available:
- Mechanical Stabilization: A gimbal is a device that uses motors and sensors to stabilize the camera. It usually has three rotational axes (pitch, roll, and yaw) that move independently of one another, although some have one or two paired with another stabilization system. You’ll find this type in many professional-grade drones since it is the most reliable and provides superior performance.
- Electronic Stabilization: Electronic image stabilization uses software to reduce the effects of camera shake and vibration. This type is often found in lower-grade consumer-quality drones because it is less expensive than mechanical stabilization. It’s easier to maintain, but it doesn’t offer the same results as that of a gimbal system.
- Optical Stabilization: Optical Flow Positioning combines a lens and sensors that move in response to the drone’s movement to reduce the effects of camera shake and vibration. Since it does not rely on software, it can be more reliable than Digital Image Stabilization. It is often considered inferior to the above two types but comes at a reasonable price commonly found in mid-range drones.
According to the FAA, the maximum allowable speed for a drone is 100 mph (87 knots).
Custom-built drones have been known to be able to reach 200 mph.
Most drones available for retail won’t achieve such high speeds. And unless you’re racing your drone against others, you wouldn’t want them to.
For most photography and videography purposes, the drone should be stationary once it reaches its target point, so speed is not a factor.
That is unless you are filming a moving object, in which case a mid-range drone is acceptable as it would have an appropriate speed.
Mid-range consumer drones, including trick drones, seem to have an average top speed of 40-60 mph, and beginner or toy drones achieve top speeds of around 10-12 mph.
High-end drones, especially racing drones, can be customized to reach top speeds of 100 mph or more. Fixed-wing drones generally are faster than their rotary-wing counterparts.
The transmission range of a drone determines how far away it can get from the controller, or “ground station,” before losing transmission.
Here there are actually two limits: one for the video transmission and the other for the control link between the aircraft and the controller.
It’s very possible to lose the video feed and still maintain control of the aircraft. High-end commercial drones have a range of about 2.5-9 miles.
Mid-range models can usually fly about 400 meters, and low-cost toy drones typically range from 20-100 yards.
Flying a drone for the first time isn’t always easy. Like anything, it takes some practice.
This is why many mid to high-end drones have built-in smart features that make them easier for beginners to learn and convenient for professionals.
For example, automatic takeoff, return, and landing features are helpful for beginners and professionals alike.
These take the guesswork out of launching your drone and help you avoid returning to home troubles.
With the push of a button, your drone takes off and hovers in the air, waiting for your control.
Another smart feature is Altitude Hold. This automatically keeps the drone at a set altitude and makes it hold that altitude while flying.
Most mid-range and high-end drones offer features like Spotlight and ActiveTrack that can keep the drone focused on a subject while your drone flies freely.
This feature may be found on lower-end drones, but they lack the ability to do it well.
Note: Here we have assembled some of the best affordable drones that can currently be found that will provide the most similar experience to those found in their more costly higher-end cousins.
1. Holy Stone HS720E
GPS Drone with 4K EIS UHD 130 FOV Camera for Adults Beginner, FPV Quadcopter with Brushless Motor, 2 Batteries 46 Min Flight Time, 5GHz Transmission, Smart Return Home, Follow Me.
- Video resolution: 4K
- Stills resolution: 4K (3840x2160p)
- Range: 1km
- Flight time: 23 min x 2 batteries
- GPS: Yes
- Weight: 495g
- Dimensions: 177x104x58 mm (folded) ; 337x240x58mm (unfolded)
- Landing Lights
- Electronic Image Stabilization
- 4K video
- Long charging times
- Above 250g
- Requires frequent calibration
The HS720E is an excellent budget drone and comes with a generous selection of extras, including an additional battery and case.
It does produce surprisingly good video and is easily portable with a camera that is more capable than that found usually in the budget category.
The weight of the HS720E will be a problem for some who don’t wish to register their aircraft as it is well over the 250g limit, weighing in at 557g, and therefore would need to be registered.
It does offer a 4K camera system that is an actual 4k camera.
It also has a decent range for a budget drone system, able to fly out to around 700m.
It even offers some of the more popular smart features found in higher-end systems, such as tap-to-fly and Point of Interest.
2. Potensic Atom SE
- Flight Time: 31 minutes (x2 batteries)
- Video Resolution: 4K at 30 FPS
- Image Stabilization: EIS
- Transmission Range: 13,123′
- Smart Features: Return to home, follow me, points of interest, circle flight
- Decent flight time
- Under 250g
- Good build quality
- Limited camera control
- Sensitive controls
- Slow GPS response
The Potensic Atom SE is an ultra-light, foldable, pocket-sized, excellent entry-level drone with intelligent flight features and ease of use that make this an appealing drone for beginners.
The relatively low price point makes it accessible, with the trade-off of limited camera stabilization and control, and no obstacle avoidance.
The weight of 8.8oz / 0.55lbs / 245g, including everything you need to have on board to fly (propellers, a battery, and a microSD card) means this drone is under the weight required for hobbyist registration.
The camera is very basic. While it is capable of taking decent photos (in both JPEG and RAW), the gimbal controls are limited, and the stabilization isn’t stellar.
For these reasons, you’re going to be limited in terms of high-quality video.
» MORE: Potensic Atom SE Drone Review
3. DJI Mini SE
- Video resolution: 2.7K@30fps video
- Stills resolution: 12 megapixels
- Range: 3.5km / 2.17mi
- Flight time: 30 minutes
- GPS: Yes
- Weight: 249g
- Dimensions: 138 x 81 x 58mm (folded) ; 159 x 203 x 56mm (unfolded)
- Under 250g
- DJI quality
- Rich video/photo capture
- Manual shutter
- 2.7K resolution
- Limited range
- JPEG only
The SE has been purposefully designed to offer a cheap variation of a DJI drone. It offers some of DJIs best quality of the Mavic Mini and the Mini 2 with a new more budget-friendly price.
The Mini SE sports GPS for automatic hover, and return to home, as well as some Quickshots features as those found in their Higher-end systems.
It’s also just under the registration weight for those who hate paperwork! Then add in functions like RAW and exposure bracketing, as well as taking advantage of the aerial location with assorted panoramas.
The 2.7K video is excellent, but if you need a true 4K, check out the newer versions, such as those in the DJI Mini 2 or even the latest Mini 3.
4. DJI Mini 3
- Video resolution: 4K
- Stills resolution: 12 megapixels
- Range: 10km (USA) / 6km (Rest of World)
- Flight time: 38 minutes
- GPS: Yes
- Weight: 249g
- Dimensions: 145×90×62 mm (folded) ; 171×245×62 mm (unfolded)
- Rotating camera
- Under 250g
- 4K 30fps
- 38 min flight time
- Not as budget-friendly
- No subject tracking
- No collision sensors
The DJI Mini 3 may seem to be a bit out of the budget drone realm. But it is hands down the very best you can get for the money.
It’s a scaled-down version of the Mini 3 Pro. It can manage up to 10 km range with DJI’s newer radios and, most significantly, drops the smart collision sensors and subject tracking features.
It also drops 4K 60fps mode but can still capture 4K 30fps which is more than enough for most, and also retains the ability to rotate the main camera to portrait mode for social-media fans – the only drone on the market today with such a feature.
For many content creators, this is a great way to trim about $200 from the price of a high-end, low-weight drone.
It remains pricey but noticeably cheaper than its higher-end siblings and contains some of the very best DJI has to offer at what can only be considered an extremely good value.
5. Ryze Tello
- Video resolution: 720p
- Stills resolution: 5 megapixels
- Range: 100m (Wi-Fi)
- Flight time: 13 minutes
- GPS: No
- Weight: 80g
- Dimensions: 98 x 93 x 41mm
- Lightweight at 80g
- Multiple apps
- Stunts built in
- Only a 5MP camera
- No video to SD card
- No wind resistance
- Short range
The Ryze Tello is a unique drone made specifically for beginners and STEM students.
It came out of a collaboration with DJI and the Ryze company as an affordable beginner drone system.
First released in 2018, the Tello lacks many features we have come to expect and offers the unique ability to be programmed by the user, something no other system has.
It has a limited 13-minute flight time and, due to its size and weight, does not do well in windy conditions.
It does, however, perform quite well when used indoors. It is a solid-quality little flyer with some DJI tech hiding inside. For the cost, it is a sure winner.
No matter your budget, there is a drone out there for you. Whether you are new to the hobby or whether you are experienced, there is nothing more exciting than getting out and flying a drone.
It is an exhilarating experience that all can enjoy, be it by yourself or with others.
There are rules and regulations that do need to be followed, and it’s always good to make yourself aware of these rules and regulations prior to lifting off and seeing the world through the unique view that any drone is able to provide.
One such regulation to be aware of is taking and passing the FAA TRUST test. Here are some links to it, just to help you out.
List of FAA Approved Test Administrators (FAA Approved TRUST TA)
- Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA)
- Boy Scouts of America
- Chippewa Valley Technical College
- Community College of Allegheny County – West Hills Center
- CrossFlight Sky Solutions
- Drone Launch Academy LLC
- Drone Trust
- Drone U
- Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU)
- HSU Educational Foundation
- Lake Area Technical College
- New College Institute (NCI)
- Pasco-Hernando State College
- Pilot Institute
- Proctorio Incorporated
- Robotics Education & Competition Foundation
- Tactical Aviation
- UAV Coach
- University of Arizona Global Campus
So, charge up, take the TRUST exam, and get out there and fly. You’ll never be the same afterward. Most importantly, have fun!
Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!