Skip to main content

The best cheap drones to buy in 2021

Best cheap drone: DJI Mavic Mini
(Image credit: DJI)

Looking for the best cheap drone? This guide picks out some of the best buys, and helps you pick the right one for you - and the right price.

Drones excite everyone from filmmakers to children. When you first start looking for a camera drone, it’s easy to think there are a limited number of companies all charging excessive amounts, but read on and you’ll discover there are options for every budget if you know where to look.

Leaving aside the near-disposable toys, the minimum criteria to get on this list is a camera you can record with. At the lower end, this is done by sending video by wi-fi to a phone, while higher quality is achieved by recording on-board MicroSD cards

Flight time is always a crucial factor, and the while it’s essential to remember that quoted ranges always vastly exceed reality, you’ll obviously want a longer battery life for more distant shooting.

Another unavoidable factor is weight; 250g is the legal limit for registration in most places (check out our guide to drone rules & regulations) so be prepared for a bit of paperwork if you’re exceeding it.

Best cheap drones to buy in 2021

(Image credit: ZLRC)

1: ZLRC Beast SG906 Pro 2

Cinema-stabilization tech at half the price

Video resolution: 2048 x 1080 video | Stills resolution: 12 megapixels | Range: : 1200m | Flight time: : 26 mins | GPS: : Yes | Weight: 552g | Dimensions: 283 x 253 x 70mm (open); 174 x 84 x 70 mm (folded)

Powered 3-axis gimbal for smooth footage 
Optical flow & GPS sensor for reliable hover
 Weighs more than 250g and 500g registration limits

Unusually for a budget drone, this system sports a powered 3-axis gimbal; that means that the camera will be automatically stabilized and held level, the system which usually holds the high-end brands (like DJI) above the ‘cheap’ ones.

There are also folding arms, foldable propellors and brushless motors, all signs of the higher end of modern drones, and their construction is of durable matt black plastic. The remote, too, features a mono LED which helps with setup and measuring signal.

The gimbal’s Sony IMX179 sensor captures 2048 x 1080p at 24fps – pretty cinematic – or 12 megapixel stills, though you can also capture from the system’s downward-facing camera at 720p. Adding these two together makes 4K according to the marketing, which is quite an impressive bit of exaggeration. 

The HFun Pro app isn’t short of features at all and you can record to both the app and the MicroSD at once. 

(Image credit: Holy Stone)

2: Holy Stone HS175D

A fold out GPS drone that can fly fast and shoot 2.7K

Video resolution: 2688 x 1512P video | Stills resolution: 12 megapixel still | Range: : 500m | Flight time: : 23 mins x 2 | GPS: : Yes | Weight: 215g | Dimensions: 145x90x60 mm(folded); 360x300x70mm (unfolded)

Camera can be tilted by remote
Below the registration weight in FAA and EU
 Follow me mode’s horizontal movement could be faster

Improving their already impressive HS175, Holy Stone have taken the laudable step of upgrading to brushless motors and a 4K sensor for only a few dollars more. Given the design hints at the DJI Mavic Air 2, it seems only reasonable to look to the tech, too! 

Staying comfortably under the weight limit for registration and featuring key functions like GPS return to home, altitude hold, one-key take off & landing and follow me there is a lot on offer here.

For extra creative possibilities, the camera can be vertically tilted mid-flight and, crucially, video or images are stored to a MicroSD card on board (though lower res versions can be recorded directly to the app for instant sharing). The 4K is subject to electronic image stabilization which is not cinema smooth but impressive all the same.

The fold-out remote, which takes 2xAA batteries, is easily got to grips with and, despite a slight latency, control within a sensible range is intuitive (headless mode is there for absolute novices).

(Image credit: Drocon)

3: Drocon Ninja DC-014

Compact toy drone with a camera

Video resolution: 1280 x 1080 | Range: : 50m | Flight time: : 6-8 mins | GPS: : No | Weight: approx. 90g | Dimensions: 109 x 109mm open / 140 x 69 x 30mm (folded)

Good range of control options
Fun flips make this good for the kids too
Will drift in wind

This tiny foldable drone shares many of the features familiar to those who have shopped for kids toys – 360˚ flips, headless mode – but it also manages to fit a camera into its frame. Especially nice is that it’s adjustable on the vertical axis, so if you’re not liking the footage you’re getting you just need to land, tweak and take off again.

The recording takes place on your phone, so is subject to the risk of interference, but the app allows capture of pleasingly clear video or acceptable stills via the trigger on the remote.

With altitude hold but no GPS this is a great drone to build your drone control experience as it’ll hover and just need nudging if there are gusts. Three speed settings add fun, while one key take-off and landing and a low battery beeper are practical.

(Image credit: Ryze)

4: Ryze Tello

The cheapest way to own some DJI tech

Camera: 720P / 5 megapixel | Range: 100m (wi-fi) | Flight time: 13 minutes | GPS: No | Weight: 80g | Dimensions: 98 x 93 x 41mm

Camera features like high-end drones
Programmable flights for fun educational experiences
You’ll want more than one battery

Despite harking back to 2018, the Tello seems to happily occupy this spot in the budget drones list without any contenders to topple it. The combination of DJI’s tech and an intel processor gives the system a lot of power so the digital stabilization of the video is good for 720P.

The drone has removable propellor protection for safe play, and vision-based downward sensors for perfect hovering and landing (though the flash launch by throwing into the air is even cooler).

We like that remote isn’t needed – the EZ Shots control app provides a live view and on-screen controls – but you can always add a generic Bluetooth game controller. The stand out feature, though, has to be compatibility with education-targeted programming language Scratch making this the best way to teach programming 

(Image credit: DJI)

5: DJI Mavic Mini

Best cheap drone with professional features

Video resolution: 2.7K@30fps video | Stills resolution: 12 megapixel | Range: : 10km (USA) / 6km (Rest of World) | Flight time: : 30 minutes | GPS: : Yes | Weight: 249g | Dimensions: 140×81×57 mm (folded) ; 159×202×55 mm (unfolded)

Captures cinema-smooth 2.7K video 
Beginner friendly
Not 4K video
Superseded by more expensive DJI Mini 2

The Mavic Mini is a budget drone. If you disagree, remembering DJI also supply high end broadcast equipment. While orders of magnitude cheaper, the features available on the Mini are not that different; a 3-axis stabilized gimbal produces smooth, rich cinematic-looking 2.7K video and an ergonomic radio remote controller which links to your phone via cable for very low latency. 

The drone sports GPS for automatic hover, return to home and some social-friendly ‘Quickshots’ (where the drone and camera do the work for you), as well as a landing sensor so it can touch down gently itself. It’s also just u\nder the registration weight for those who hate paperwork!

We love that DJI are always thinking like photographers – adding 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 true 4K check out the newer DJI Mini 2.

(Image credit: Holy Stone)

6: Holy Stone HS720E

Best cheap drone bundle deal with bag and batteries

Camera: 4K | Range: : 1km | Flight time: : 23 min x 2 batteries | GPS: : Yes | Weight: 495g | Dimensions: 177x104x58 mm (folded) ; 337x240x58mm (unfolded)

Shock absorption and electronic stabilization
Option of 60fps video 
No stabilizing gimbal, only vertical tilt.

When you’re looking at investing in a drone, the cheaper DJI drones are well worth investigating but you’ll soon see that their prices rise when bought with the clearly more efficient ‘Fly More’ bundles. Here the HS720E is hard to find without a spare battery and case so offers a wallet friendly alternative which can capture 4K (or 60fps at 1080P).

With firmly build folding arms and brushless motors, and featuring built-in battery meter LEDs there is a lot on offer here. The camera is a good quality Sony lens with physical dampening in the case and really good electronic image stabilization, though sadly no gimbal. Recordings to the MicroSD are good.

The system also features optical flow, GPS and altitude sensors which it uses to hover with the precision you’d expect, as well as the reassurance of return to home, though it’s worth checking the HS175D (also on this list) for a more portable alternative.

Read more: 

Adam Juniper

Adam is Digital Camera World's resident drone expert. He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video, and The Drone Pilot's Handbook.