This is the drone you start with if you're worried about crashing. Thanks to flexible plastic and propellor protectors, you could drop this on the ground or fly into a wall without too much damage. It has a camera if you are just getting into drone photography, but we prefer this model as a starter quadcopter. Beware: when it has low battery, the drone tends to lose connection with the controller. This could become tragic if you've flown the drone over water.
If a drone in this category has first-person-view (FPV) capability, you can see what the drone sees. All except one of these drones require a smartphone (not included) to be able to view and record the video. The smartphone is held in a bracket and then it is connected to the controller. Some of these drones can be flown by only using the smartphone with a downloadable app installed that controls the drone.
There is a wide variety of full-featured drones now available for less than $100. While you won’t get the range or feature set of a more expensive option, an inexpensive drone is the perfect choice if you’re just starting out. It’s generally easier to operate than its pricier counterparts yet sturdy enough to withstand a variety of novice pilot mishaps. The majority also pack features that you might be surprised to find at this price point.
HD video starts at the resolution of 1080p as a minimum. For all of these drones, the video is captured at the lower resolution of 720p, even when they claim to have HD cameras. The resolution of still images is always higher than the video. With still photos, the resolution can be as low as 1 megapixel (equal to 1000p) and that resolution is considered HD for still photos.
And the best part? Parrot also gives you the option of piloting via smartphone or with a dedicated dual-joystick controller. The Flypad, as it’s called, is sold separately for $40 bucks, but it might be worth the extra dough if you don’t have a spare smartphone lying around and don’t feel like handing your kid your brand new iPhone every time he/she feels like flying.
If you're flying within the United States, you need to take heed of FAA guidelines—or be prepared to face potential fines or jail time. There are no-fly zones set by the FAA, so don't take off if you're near an airport without notifying the control tower first. And, even if you're out in the middle of nowhere, don't take your drone above 400 feet. Most are set to obey these regulations out of the box, but controlling a quadcopter is just like driving a car—even if you missed seeing that speed limit sign, you're still liable to pay the ticket.
As mentioned above, you will crash, and you certainly don't want to go home empty-handed. Having back-up propellers can make or break your day. Extra batteries are also a must. Current battery chemistry limits flight times to somewhere between 5 and 25 minutes for most amateur drones. Having plenty of charged spares means you can fly longer — though flying for more than 30 minutes straight can be fatiguing.
If you are a beginner just learning to fly with these cheaper drones, take your time to learn the controls by flying in a safe area that is a wide open space, with no wind, and no obstacles. At first, fly low to the ground until you can maneuver your drone correctly. Practice flying on a single battery charge and then let the drone cool down for ten minutes before flying more.
As it is for every gadget out there, a buyer must set realistic expectations when buying a cheap drone (or other devices). If you set expectations that are too high, chances of being disappointed ultimately are high, and this may ruin your drone flying experience. Instead of the high standards, expect far less from the device and let it surprise you instead while providing you with so much excitement in the process. You may consider buying a spare drone also.
The other primary consideration is how the photos and video are stored after you take them. Drones with WiFi capabilities will work with your mobile device, letting you see and store media real-time on your phone. For those that don’t, you’ll store the media on the drone, usually on a microSD card. If this is the case, know how much storage the drone comes with and whether (and by how much) it can be upgraded.
The most recent variant, the cx10c, is another small improvement over the other two. Again, it only adds one feature, but this time its a little bit more substantial, this time, they’ve added a camera. With a micro sd card you can watch videos of your flights from the perspective of the drone. It may not be a great camera, its not even a good camera, the footage is mediocre and would never compare even slightly to a high end multirotor, but for the price ($25) and the size (roughly the same as before) its amazing that it includes one.
Yuneec also has a model with a Micro Four Thirds camera. Its Tornado H920 is a huge drone with six rotors and room to hold three batteries, giving it an unheard of 42-minute flight capability. Its CGO4 camera is essentially a custom version of the Panasonic GH4, a favorite of many a terrestrial videographer. It doesn't record uncompressed video like the Inspire 2, but it's less expensive.
Flight is smooth on this drone, with an impressive climb and turning rates that meet the demands of even expert fliers. You can count on the stability of the X400W when in windy conditions – the six-axis gyros do a good job maintaining hovering with lateral winds. You can access the FPV stream on your smartphone via a WiFi connection. With the dedicated app, you can activate the camera and record sharp videos and images. It is important to note that the HD 720p camera is primarily for delivering an FPV live stream, rather than shooting pictures and videos. You can also connect this drone with a 3D VR headset if you want to enjoy a 100% immersive FPV flying experience.
There’s one other type of beginner that isn’t looking for either of those things. Some beginners just want a drone to take pictures and videos with. They need whatever drone they get to be easy to fly and have decent specs, but not break the bank. For those people, the DJI Spark is going to be the best option. There’s no reason to buy the other two drones I mentioned if you want to shoot videos and take pictures. The Spark is actually easier to fly than the Bugs 3 and Mambo FPV, so you don’t have to worry as much about the flying part.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive drone that’s a little more advanced than the beginner offerings on this list, the Altair Aerial Blackhawk is an excellent choice – the perfect drone for the pilot that already has a GoPro camera or is wanting to customize their quadcopter with an action camera. This drone is extremely stable and durable, which makes it great for aerial photography. However, its best features are a flight time of 15 minutes and a range of 300 meters – otherwise unheard of at this price range. If you already have some experience with quadcopters and want something that’s fast, fun to fly, and offers long range at a low price, the Altair Blackhawk is the perfect drone for you!
Many manufacturers mount cameras inside the body of the drone. This is acceptable for casual photography, but if you want more professional results, consider adding an external camera mount, or gimbal. Gimbals allow you to place your video or still camera in front of the drone body, away from the vibrating motor and rotors. Gimbals can swivel and pivot, providing you with additional control over your imagery.