Okay, so It’s time to purchase a drone, but where do you start? How much money do you want to spend? What capabilities do you want it to have? What capabilities do you need it to have?
There are so many questions to ask before you make the final decision on which drone to buy and since you’re planning to spend a good chunk of money, you want to make sure you get the best bang for your buck.
If you’re looking for a great drone for under $500, then this is the article for you. In this article, we’ll give you some information on the capabilities and special features of the top-rated drones in this price range.
I have also included a quality FPV drone that will blow you away with its performance and speed.
DJI Mini 2
The DJI Mini 2 has become one of the top “affordable” drones due to all the features it packs into its sub 249g package. The small package is a big deal because it means the DJI Mini 2 does not have to be registered with the FAA.
The camera on the DJI Mini 2 is great considering its size and has some features that are usually reserved for the high-end “professional” grade drones.
- Does not have to be registered with the FAA
- 4K Video/12 MP Camera Stabilized on a 3-Axis Gimbal
- 31 Min Flight Time
- Level 5 Wind Resistance (19-24 mph/29-38 kph)
- GPS Positioning
- RAW and JPEG file types
- No obstacle avoidance
- Does not have ActiveTrack like other DJI drones
The camera on this drone is definitely what makes it one of the top 5 best drones under $500. It has a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor capable of recording video in 4K/30 fps and taking 12 MP sill images.
The camera has AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) capabilities and can also take panorama and sphere images as well.
What blew me away was the 4x zoom function the camera has. This is commonly seen on professional-grade drones but not very often on drones in the $500 range.
Long flight time
The 31-minute flight time is very impressive compared to a lot of other drones in this price range, and even some more expensive drones. 31 minutes of flight time coupled with the 6-mile transmission distance means the Mini 2 can fly for quite a distance before it’s too far away.
It also has a Return to Home feature like all other DJI drones, which can be helpful if the pilot loses sight of the drone.
Like a sports car
The DJI Mini is also capable of hitting 35 mph in S-Mode, which is plenty fast for a cell phone-sized drone and can lead to trouble for inexperienced pilots, especially without obstacle avoidance.
The small size of this drone also makes it agile, so it handles 35 mph pretty well. It’s not quite as agile as an FPV drone, but it’s not too far behind.
Holy Stone HS720
The Holy Stone HS720 drone is one of the most popular drones on Amazon, and for good reason. This drone packs a bunch of features that are usually reserved for the higher-priced professional drones.
Its foldable design allows it to be packed into a small case which can easily be thrown into a backpack. Holy Stone claims a whopping 23-minute flight time, which is very impressive for a drone under $500.
- Has GPS
- Great for beginners
- Very accurate Return to Home feature
- No gimbal on the camera
- Long battery recharge time
Bring it on home
The Holy Stone HS720 has an accurate GPS that keeps it stable even in windy conditions. This makes getting a smooth video and clear photos much easier, especially since it does not have a gimbal-stabilized camera.
The return to home feature on this drone is very accurate. I was very impressed to see it land in the exact same spot it took off from. My expensive “professional” drone doesn’t even have that much return-to-home accuracy.
Price vs. quality
The Holy Stone HS720 is one of the best drones for the price. It is currently available for under $300 and that comes with everything needed to get the drone into the air.
It even comes with 2 batteries that last up to 23-minutes each. This drone also has some active track features that make getting footage easier and more fun, and it is very beginner-friendly too.
Camera stabilization technology
Although the camera on the Holy Stone HS720 does not have a gimbal, it does have EIS (Electric Image Stabilization). This feature makes the video coming out of the Sony sensor much smoother and the vibration dampers that the camera is mounted on help cut down on the vibrations.
This lack of gimbal can be a deal-breaker for some, but with the low price and lots of other features, the lack of gimbal on the Holy Stone HS720 is not as big of a deal.
The DJI Spark is one of the first “selfie” drones that came out. It is an older model drone, but it had top-of-the-line features when it first came out in 2017. Just because it is 5 years old doesn’t mean it is not relevant anymore.
This little drone has many features of the larger, more expensive DJI drones, and is one of the few in the under $500 price range to include obstacle avoidance.
- Active track features
- 2-Axis gimbal
- Up to 1.2-mile range
- Includes GPS
- Obstacle avoidance
- Needs to be registered
- 1080p/12MP resolution
- Short flight time (16 min)
Big features, small package
The DJI Spark is packed with different flight features and modes to make flying and filming easier and more fun. It has a few different tracking features that will make the drone follow its selected target.
It also has obstacle avoidance sensors on the front and is the only drone on this list to include obstacle avoidance sensors.
The DJI Spark can also be flown with just a smartphone, which makes it even easier to get into the air.
Professional feeling drone
While the DJI Spark might not fall into the “professional drone” bucket, it sure does fly like a professional drone. The 2-axis gimbal and 12MP camera mean the photos that can be taken with the DJI Spark are definitely professional-grade quality.
It only records video in 1080p, so the video camera resolution is lacking a bit, but that’s mostly because it is an affordable older model drone.
Must be registered
Unfortunately, since the DJI Spark weighs about 300 grams, it will need to be registered with the FAA. This can be a pain especially if you are just wanting to fly for fun, since it is an extra step that needs to be taken before the drone can be legally flown.
The 300-gram weight also plays a role in the short flight time of the DJI Spark. DJI claims the Spark can get up to 16 minutes of flight time per battery, but most pilots are only reporting about 12 minutes of flight time.
Ruko F11 Pro
The Ruko F11 Pro reminds me of the Autel EVO in its design and controller shape. The Ruko F11 PRO is definitely one of the best drones under $500 due to its image quality and long flight time.
It also has a 2-axis gimbal to keep the camera stable while the drone is flying around getting those professional-grade photos and videos.
- Includes GPS
- Includes a 2-axis gimbal
- 4K camera with EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization)
- Long flight time
- Return to home feature is not very accurate
- Lower quality controller
Impressive flight time
The 30-minute flight time that is advertised for the Ruko F11 Pro is very impressive. Most of the time drones only get about 20-25 minutes of flight time per battery, but the Ruko claims it can get up to 30 minutes of flight time. This means less time swapping batteries and more time flying and having fun.
Most high-end drones these days are coming with a 4K or better camera on them, and the Ruko F11 Pro is no different. It has a 4K camera that is stabilized by a 2-axis gimbal, keeping the footage nice and smooth.
A lot of drones under $500 do not include a camera gimbal, but the Ruko F11 Pro does, which is why it is one of the best drones in this price range.
RTH not quite up to snuff
While the Ruko F11 Pro is one of the best drones in this price range, it does have a couple of faults. It has a return to home feature, which is definitely a nice feature to have, but it is not very accurate.
One of the videos I watched while doing research for this article showed the drone returning to home and it ended up landing about 20 feet away from its takeoff point, which could cause issues if flying in a congested area.
Emax TinyHawk 2 Freestyle RTF
This is one of the best 2.5” FPV drones available, especially for FPV beginners. It is durable, the video transmission is extremely good for its size, and it is fast enough for experienced FPV pilots to enjoy as well.
The RTF kit includes everything needed to get the drone into the air, including a battery charger, and FPV goggles. Charge the batteries and get flying.
- Comes Ready To Fly
- Does not need to be registered with the FAA
- Short flight time
- No HDR on the included goggles
Ready to go
The Emax TinyHawk 2 Freestyle comes available in many different packages, and the complete ready-to-fly package is still well under the $500 price tag.
It comes with everything; a completely assembled drone, 2 batteries for the drone, propellers (plus a set of extras), a transmitter, FPV goggles, battery charger, tools, extra hardware, and a carrying case. This means you take it out of the box charge up the batteries and get it into the air.
A lot of FPV drones need to be set up and adjusted, but the Emax TinyHawk 2 Freestyle is ready to go straight out of the box.
Great for first-time FPV pilots
This has been reviewed as one of the best beginner freestyle FPV drones available. It is durable, which is great for beginners because most likely the drone will be crashed, multiple times. It is fairly cheap compared to a lot of ready-to-fly FPV kits available, which makes breaking it not quite as heart-breaking.
And, since it’s such a small drone it doesn’t have to be registered with the FAA. Registering a drone can be a pain point for a lot of pilots, especially if you just want to fly for fun. The Emax TinyHawk 2 Freestyle weighs only 49 grams (without battery) so it falls well under the 250-gram weight limit set by the FAA.
Fun for everyone
Even intermediate pilots have a good time with the Emax TinyHawk 2 Freestyle. It is a fast little drone and since it weighs less than 100 grams while flying, it is extremely agile.
The motors on this drone have more than enough power to get it up to speed quickly, so be careful if you’re still an FPV beginner, because it can get away from you in a hurry.
There are so many different choices out there when it comes to drones, so I hope this post has helped you narrow down your selection a little further.
The best drone depends on what you want to use it for. If the goal is to take good quality images and video, then I would say the DJI Mini 2 is the best drone under $500. It is at the top of the $500 price cap, however, the features and stability of the drone make it worth the extra cost.
The Emax Tinyhawk 2 Freestyle RTF is the best FPV drone under $500. It is significantly less than $500 which means if there is extra money in the drone budget, more batteries can be purchased to increase the fun. This would not be my choice for getting photo or video footage, but it would be my choice for getting into the world of FPV drones, and not breaking the bank to do it.
No matter what, enjoy it
Whichever drone you choose, make sure to enjoy it. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t fly it right away, it can be a little intimidating. There are a lot of things going on at the same time, so be sure you understand what all the buttons and sticks do before the first takeoff.
Take your time to learn, and before you know it, flying will become second nature. As Ben and Jerry’s says “If it’s not fun, why do it?”.