UPDATED NOV: So you want to buy the best portable drone…
Have you seen those amazing videos with dreamy drone footage that make you immediately want to visit a place? Yeah, me too, and I’m annoyed I’ve haven’t uploaded any, yet. Video shot by portable drones is such a great way to highlight the aerial beauty of a location. And many drones are not really all that expensive. The key is knowing what you want your drone to do.
With the holidays around the corner, you can take advantage of sales on many of the best drones on the market.
While the bigger, more expensive, drones are often for commercial aerial videographers, there are some great quality drone kits with cameras and popular small drones with cameras if you want to simply capture footage of your travels. And there are a ton of drones in the $200 range.
You can fly most ‘toy’ drones without being certified. But if you want to fly bigger, professional drones weighing more than 4kg (8.8 pounds), or those taking very high quality photos even under 8.8 pounds, you need to be trained, certified, know the rules and be insured! If you have a 5 pound piece of machinery flying near you, you want to be insured against bodily or property damage.
What to consider before buying the most popular drones?
Like any piece of technology, there is lot to consider when buying the best portable drone. Drone technology changes often! Below are some considerations when thinking about buying the best portable, most popular drones.
Why do you want a drone?
This might sound stupid, but what do you want to do with it? Do want to shoot images you can’t shoot at ground level? Are you looking to capture amazing videos of your holiday? How about selfie videos? There are also ‘Selfie drones‘ that follow you around. Are you looking to shoot quality video that may be of interest to a hotel or a resort destination? What’s your intent?
2) What are your minimum drone requirements?
Once you figure out what you want to do with your drone, then create a list of minimum requirements. Drone specifications can be quite varied. Does your drone need to have a camera with a certain number of megapixels? If you want to shoot video, how high-res? Do you need WiFi? What about an removable card to upload to your computer? What about a remote control versus controlling your drone via an app on your phone? Write down your requirements and narrow your search.
3) How technically inclined are you? DIY drones with camera vs RTF drones
Some drones need to be assembled, called DIY, and others are ready-to-fly, called RTF. RTF drones are great for beginners if you want a ready solution, but they cost a bit more because they are already assembled. DIY drones are great if you want to assemble a drone and fully understand how it works. DIY drones are easier to fix if you break them because you can more easily get replacement parts. I’m more of an RTF kind of woman.
4) Which cheap drone or affordable drones to consider. Best Drones Under $200?
If budget is a concern, keep in mind you may lose your drone in the trees, shrubs, the ocean, or off a cliff. Bye-bye drone… There are a lot of reasons that will cause your drone to crash, like GPS interference, magnetics in the environment, metals, satellite functions and other things. Ask yourself whether can you afford to lose your drone. I recommend trying the least expensive, popular drone with the best minimum drone requirements to get your bearings, then upgrade as you improve.
If you are just starting out, some of the best, compact, portable, easy-to-use drones still cost less than $200! You’ll be capturing great images and video in no time with these popular drones under $200.
While there are a lot of brands out there, Holy Stone clearly has the market on options with quality reviews in the lower-price drone market. All these drones are generally great, portable drones because they are lightweight, easy to fit in your bag and require little assembly. Most weigh around or under 2 lbs which make them very portable drones as well.
HOLY STONE HS160 SHADOW FPV RC DRONE FEATURES:
- Foldable & Flexible: Carry it in your pocket!
- Weight: 83g / 2.925oz
- Recording Modes: 1280 x 720P
- Transmitter Operation Range: up to 230 feet
- WiFi Transmission Range: up to 100 feet
- Playing time: 7-9 mins
- WiFi FPV Real Time Transmission: Watch videos and take photos with a FPV function on your phone
- 720P HD Camera for Aerial Photography
- Altitude Hold Function: Has a built-in barometer that helps to hold altitude and provide stability during flying
- One Key Start/Landing
- 3D VR Mode: Add a 3D Virtual Reality headset to this drone if you want
- Gravity Sensor Mode: This allows the quadcopter to follow the direction you move your phone automatically
- 4 Speed Modes
Syma X5UC 2.4Ghz 4CH 6-Axis Gyro RC Drones Headless FPV Quadcopter with 2.0MP HD Camera WIFI Support
This is a great stable drone that weighs around 2 lbs and you can fly indoors and out. Price mark is around $75. It’s a good starter drone.
- HD Wifi Camera : 2MP Photos/1MP Video
- Charging time: Around 130 minutes
- Flying time: About 7 minutes
- Weighs around 1.45 lbs
- 2.4GHz Frequency Remote Control
- Height and hold function for hovering
- 6-axis Gyro stabilization system makes the drone more stable when flying
- Can be flown indoors or outdoors
- One key automatic take-off, landing and return
- Left hand throttle mode
This package allows you to use the camera it comes with or mount your GoPro onto the drone. This is quite a sophisticated, long-range drone flying up to 1650 ft (5 football fields!). It’s a complete kit with extra battery and spare parts. Price point is around $150.
GoPro Ready HD Camera Drone – F100 Ghost Ultimate Drone Package features:
- Weighs 2.2 pounds
- 1080p HD Action Camera Drone
- GoPro Ready
- 2.4 GHz Remote Controller
- 2-speed control for smooth responses
- Changeable body shell colors
- 15 minutes of flight time
This is another great drone around the $100 mark. It comes with a HD Camera, Ready To Fly 4-Channel controller, 2.4GHz 6-Gyro with Altitude Hold. There is also a ‘One Key Return Home’ function so you don’t lose the darned thing!! Just what I need and under $125.
Holy Stone F181C RC Quadcopter Drone with HD Camera features
- Video Recording Modes: 1280 x 720p
- One Key Return & Headless System – helps you not lose your drone
- Altitude Hold: The drone will hover after you release the throttle
- Shoots quality images and videos.
- One Key 360° 4-Way Flip and continuous roll for smooth performance
- Comes with an extra battery for longer flying
- Range: About 170-325 Feet
- Battery Flight Time: 7-9 Minutes, Charging Time: About 80 Minutes
- Weighs: 14.1 Ounces
- 4GB Micro SD card included
This one is at the higher end of this price range. What I love about this is there are three ways in which it will come back to you – first by pressing one key, or when you run low on battery or low on signal. It’s a great drone if you are concerned about losing it. It’s also a bit more heavy making it more stable. Around $200.
Force1 Drones with Camera – “MJX B2C Bugs 2 Specter” 1080p Brushless GPS Drone with Camera + 2 RC Drone Batteries and Extra Camera Drone Propellers features:
- Popular small drone with a good camera that captures hi-res photos + video
- 1-key lift and land: It’s very easy to takeoff and land with altitude hold. This drone is a great beginner drone for everyone
- 3 Return-home settings: 1-Key Return, Low Power Return and Low Signal return. The GPS in the drone makes it a bit more worry-free
- Bonus battery
- 1080p video camera
- 30-minute flight time!
- LED lights for night
- Weighs 3.5 pounds
- Comes with extra propellors because you never know when you may crash…
This upgraded Holy Stone comes with 5g Wifi Transmission and provides great, life video feed up to 1600 ft. Comes with the standard one-key take off and landing, hover mode, altitude hold and is okay for beginners. This comes in around $275.
- Advanced 1080P FHD 5G Wi-Fi Camera
- 120° wide angle lenses
- Weight: 1.5 pounds
- Flight time: Up to 15 minutes
- FAA Registration Required
- Charging time: 3-6 hours
Sometimes you just want to invest a bit more for a more professional-quality drone and there are some great brands and options out there. Again, you’ll come across Holy Stone and DJI brands being the most popular drones on the higher-end market.
The SELFIE DRONE – This is a great mid-range drone and a GPS-assisted ‘Return Home Quadcopter’ that also requires FAA registration.
It comes with an adjustable wide-angle 720P HD WIFI camera. There are ‘Follow Me’ and ‘Altitude Hold’ modes, which keeps the drone nearby as you walk and move. The battery has 15 minutes fly time and has good long range control. The price range is slightly less than $300.
- Weight (with Battery) : 1.5 pounds (FAA is required)
- Flight time: 12-15 minutes
- Wi-Fi Distance: 500 feet (Outdoors with no obstructions)
- Satellite Systems: GPS / Glonass
- Camera: Lens：FOV 120°/2.0
- Recording Modes：HD1280*720 P
- Supports SD Cards: TF Card 8GB included
- Max transmission distance for Remote: 500m
- Max Charging Time：3-6 hours (Depend on Charging Power)
Another great option from the Holy Stone family is the HS700 which comes in at 1.35 lbs. It’s a brushless motor drone with Follow-me function, so it’s a great selfie drone. There is a custom flight path function where you draw a map area on your app and the drone will fly in that designated area and then back to you. This drone comes in at a bit over $300.
- Flight time: Up to 20 minutes
- Battery Charging time: Up to 7 hours
- 1920×1080 Camera
- Maximum control range: Up to 3280 ft
- Wifi Range: 1300 ft
- One key start and hover mode
- Auto return when drone runs out of power or loses connection
- 5g live video transmission
- States that breakdowns rarely occur and motor replacement rarely occurs
DJI DRONE SERIES
These are the ‘bad-boys’ of the market – The DJI Series. One day I will graduate up to a DJI drone. They take such impressive imagery, but I really need to get better at flying before I get one of these popular drones. DJI is considered the industry leader and I’ve seen a lot of footage shot with these drones. It’s quite impressive, but these drones should be considered a step or two up from an initial purchase.
This is a great beginner DJI drone with lots of rave reviews. This would be the first one I would get if I were buying a DJI. One comment someone mentioned with this drone is that, “you can’t use it to spy on people because it’s loud – not lawn mower loud, but hair dryer loud.” Makes you laugh…. Any rate, for the money (around $750) and quality, the DJI Phantom Standard is a great option.
- Great for beginners who need a ready-to-fly, affordable solution with Intelligent Flight modes
- Automatic flight assistance to get the drone to return to you with one button
- See what the drone sees on your phone with live HD feed via an app
- Flight time around 25 minutes
- 2.7k video shooting 30/fps
- 12MP camera
- WiFi video downlink
- 8.2 pounds
This is a great professional drone for aerial videographers as well as a beginner model with it’s Beginner Mode. If you are serious about flying and don’t want to futz around with cheap models, this is a great one to buy. You can link your phone or tablet to it and see what the drone is seeing in real time. Around $800.
- Fully stabilized 3-axis 4k UHD video camera, 30 fps and 12 mp photos
- Lightbridge technology for HD streaming of live video directly from drone
- Fly indoors with integrated optical and ultrasonic sensors (Vision Positioning) to fly precisely without a GPS signal
- Includes GPS navigation with auto takeoff and landing, high power flight batteries, and built-in safety database showing no fly zones. FYI – This drone cannot be flown within 15 miles of the US White House. I understand it won’t even start! If you live in that region, look for a drone you can actually use!!
- Use with an iOS or Android app
- 9.2 pounds
- Up to 23 minutes fly time
Individually, I highly recommend the DJI Mavic Pro Fly More Combo. This truly has all the bells and whistles and is quite beefy at a bit over 8 pounds. It can fly up to 22 mph and to a distance of over 4 miles. Not sure I’d want to fly that far and still keep my eye on it, but that’s what it does! There’s also an aviation sensor that recognizes obstacles so the drone doesn’t run into them. It’s collapsible, so it’s a great portable drone to travel with. The kit includes lots of extras and spares and even comes with a carry bag. It costs over $1000, but if you are looking for a high quality drone bundle, this is it.
- Pocket-sized remote controlled drone with OcuSync transmission technology,
- Flies up to 4.3mi (7km)
- Full HD 1080p video streaming
- Uses FlightAutonomy to see obstacles up to 49ft (15m) away at a max speed of 22 mph (36kph)
- Hovers precisely and can automatically land where you take off
- Up to 27 minutes flight time
- Offers a high-precision 3-axis mechanical camera stabilization system, for beautifully clear photos and smooth videos
- 4K video, captured at 30 frames per second.
- 12-mp camera with Adobe DNG RAW support. Put it in ‘Gesture Mode’ and point it at yourself to get cool selfies.
Further considerations for buying the best drones
5) What is your drone made of and how easy can you find replacement parts?
Most cheap drones are made of plastic. These are lightweight, which makes them a great portable drone, but they will also shift around in the air if there’s a lot of wind. Better quality drones are made of fiberglass or carbon. These will cost more, but are more durable. For better quality drones, stay away from aluminium as the material is just not that solid.
If you need to replace a propellor or some other bit that is broken, how difficult are these to find? Again, this is more important for more expensive drones.
6) Flying time and flight range for drones
Flight time can be a real pain. Lots of drones fly between 5-8 minutes before the battery dies. That’s standard. You’ll need to have extra batteries or a drone that recharges quickly. If you find a kit offering extra batteries, buy them.
Flight range is important as well. Most portable drones fly to 100 feet, which might be fine for general purposes, but if you are hoping to get that high aerial shot you’ll need to invest in a drone that has a greater flight range, like 1600 feet!
7) Traveling with your drone on a plane
If you plan to travel with your drone on a plane, ensure your drone stays safe and you follow the requirements for traveling with a drone. For ease of carrying, buy a drone with foldable arms. If it comes with a carry case, even better!
Otherwise, create a shock-resistant solution to carry your drone. This will keep your drone from bumping around in your carry-on luggage because you NEED to carry it on with you. Do not check your drone in your suitcase. When you travel with your drone, disassemble the loose parts and remove all batteries. If you have Lithium batteries, most often you can only travel with two, and put a piece of tape over the connectors so there is no transfer of energy.
What to consider BEFORE FLYING a drone
We’ve spent a lot of time reviewing drone regulations and focusing on the most popular and best portable drones here. You do not need to be certified to fly smaller drones that are considered to be toys, but that doesn’t mean you do not need to ask permission to fly your drone. You can’t just fly your drone anywhere, especially if you are taking photos or video.
Many countries have strict restrictions on drone usage. Taking photos from drones and shooting video from drones is not allowed in many areas. And the higher quality photos and videos your drone takes is also becoming a concern. It appears the clearer your images, the more you need to be certified, even if you have a light-weight drone. Other general requirements for drone usage include not flying over people or groups, not flying higher than the zone limits, not flying near airports, near military zones, religious zones, not losing sight of your drone, not flying in the dark, among others. It all comes down to safety and privacy, and each country and US State differ.
Country regulations and restrictions on drone usage
France, for instance has a good website for tourists with guidelines for flying drones for recreational purposes in France. It’s pedantic. And, if you wish to use your drove videos for commercial purposes, you need the approval of the French DGAC (direction generale d’Aviation Civile), basically the civil aviation department. Each country will have different rules and requirements, but many of them are similar. Do your research before assuming you can fly your drone.
Italy’s drones laws differ slightly. The drone laws in Albania appear to be a bit more relaxed than other countries. Drone regulations in Spain are controlled by the AESA (Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aerea). Egypt’s drone laws are yet another story. You are allowed to fly drones in Egypt, but you first need approval by the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority, and that appears to be difficult to come by. Here are Greece’s drone regulations, and those of other countries and individual States in the US.
Hopefully this information will help you decide on the best drone to buy. Most of these come with a 4* rating. If I wouldn’t buy it, why should you? Do you have a good quality cheap drone I should add to the list? Let me know.
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