The best cheap drones prove that drone flying and drone photography don’t have to be expensive pursuits. While there are plenty of dazzlingly expensive drones out there, they tend to be geared toward pro broadcasters and film crews.
For the casual consumer, and for kids and novice users, there are lots of inexpensive drones that are easy to fly – and more importantly, are a lot of fun, too.
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In this guide, we’ve picked out the best drones that can be bought for the right price. We’ve been selective, and only picked drones that we think are worth the money. Our minimum requirement is that the drone needs to have a camera you can record with, true of every device on this list except for one which is definitely a choice for kids.
Getting the footage off the drone will require either a Wi-Fi connection to a smartphone, or an onboard microSD card slot – the latter is the better-quality option, but adds to the cost.
Something else to think about is the max flight time. In the real world, flight times will generally be lower than advertised on the box, but by comparing drones’ stated flight times side by side you get an idea of which one has the overall better battery life. It’s also vital to check drone weight. In most territories, 250g (8.8oz) is the legal maximum weight beyond which a drone needs to be registered (check out our guide to drone rules if you’re unsure), so be aware that getting a heavier drone comes with some paperwork.
While all the drones on this list tend toward the budget-friendly, we’ve stuck to examples that give you good value. If it seems a bit pricey, it’s because it more closely competes with prosumer models.
Best cheap drones to buy in 2023
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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 it 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 the education-targeted programming language Scratch making this the best way to teach programming.
Read our full Ryze Tello review (opens in new tab) for more details(opens in new tab)
The Holy Stone HS175D is an upgrade to the HS175, which we already liked, but the manufacturers have gone on to add brushless motors and a 2.7K sensor (not 4K, as it falsely boasts). It's clear from the design of the HS175D that Holy Stone has taken a few cues from the DJI Mavic Air 2 (opens in new tab), which we feel is pretty reasonable. If you're going to crib, do it from the best.
Comfortably under the weight limit for registration, the Holy Stone HS175D also packs in plenty of useful features, like GPS, return to home, altitude hold, one-key take-off/landing, follow-me, and more.
The camera can tilt vertically in flight, and having a Micro SD slot is really handy for recording high-quality footage (though you also have the option to record directly to the app for quick sharing. There's also electronic stabilization for the 4K footage – it's not cinema quality, but it does well.
Control can be done with the fold-out remote, powered by two AA batteries. It's easy to use, and while there's a little latency, it functions well if you stay comfortably within the 500m range.
See our full Holy Stone HS175D review (opens in new tab) for more details(opens in new tab)
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 the 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.(opens in new tab)
The Mini SE is a budget drone. If you disagree, remember DJI also supplies high-end broadcast equipment. While orders of magnitude cheaper, the features available on the Mini SE 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 SE has been purposefully designed to offer a cheap DJI drone - merging the features of the similar Mavic Mini and the Mini 2 (the company’s first ultralights) with a new low price. They have limited availability to certain regions, but that does include the USA.
The drone sports GPS for automatic hover, and 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. It’s also just under the registration weight for those who hate paperwork!
We love that DJI is 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 a true 4K check out the newer DJI Mini 2 (opens in new tab).
Read more: DJI Mini 2 vs Mavic Mini (opens in new tab)for more details - DJI Mini 2 vs Mini SE (opens in new tab)
The Cetus line of FPV drone bundles offers a relatively user-friendly way into the unique experience of flying a drone as if you were inside it. Gaining your FPV chops is aspirational amongst kids of all ages – there are plenty of experienced drone users who still long to try this more fun, immersive means of flying.
The design of the Cetus is all about minimizing risk (and cost); the whoop-style airframe completely encases the propellors in a single plastic mold which also houses and shields the camera.
A sensor allows stable hovering at a set distance from the floor, making this an ideal indoor toy, while the VTX (video transmitter) includes basic on-screen display data for the pilot. Enthusiasts can also use the controller with FPV simulators while the batteries charge, and a charge tester is in the bundle.
The Mini SE is now available in most markets, but DJI’s next cheapest option has evolved from the Mavic Mini, through Mini 2 to – just before the end of 2022 – the Mini 3. This is a trimmed-down version of the Mini 3 Pro which debuted 7 months before but the sacrifices are not too many.
It manages up to 10Km range with DJI’s newer radios (it uses O2 tech) 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.
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 siblings.
Read our full DJI Mini 3 review for more details(opens in new tab)
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 that 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 a return home, though it’s worth checking the HS175D (also on this list) for a more portable alternative.
Read our full Holy Stone HS720E review (opens in new tab) for more details(opens in new tab)
The Potensic A20 is our pick of the best drones for kids (opens in new tab). It is compact and robust and available in some color options. Thanks to the in-built pressure sensor it is capable of hovering without the operator’s help. That said, as is typical with this class of drone, it’ll still drift a little without constant attention. There is a pilot-friendly ‘headless mode’ available, which some beginners prefer, but we think you’re better off with the standard controls.
In either case, the drone can be moved around a room using a single control stick, which is easier than most video games! If you do crash, there are good solid prop guards and the drone is too light to cause any serious harm.
We like the A20 as a kids drone, and adding a camera – for those with a smartphone – makes the A20W even more fun. It has all the advantages of the robust airframe with its funnel-like propellor guards, and also ships in a pack with three batteries. The app has an adequate level of polish, and allows the live-streamed video to be recorded as you fly.
Don’t expect miracles; the camera has no kind of vibration suppression while the airframe is light enough to dance around a little. That said, it’s still a step above having no camera for a little less cash than others. The altitude-hold sensor means you can pilot with just one hand if you choose, and it’s light enough to be safe indoors.
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