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The best drones for beginners in 2021: drones that keep it safe and simple

best drones for beginners - DJI Mini 2
(Image credit: DJI)

If you're looking for the best drones for beginners, then you're in the right place. Whether you're looking to upgrade your photography with an aerial view, or you want to find a great racing drone for an affordable price, we've rounded up our favorites here.

However, choosing the best drone can be admittedly a little tricky, especially if you're a beginner. There are countless drone models out there, all with varying features and price points. So, how can you pick the best beginner drone?

Professional and high-end consumer drones can cost hundred, or even thousands – which is a significant investment! However, there are plenty of cheap drones to explore that can whet your appetite for aerial photography or drone racing. Investing in a more affordable drone is a great way to give yourself some vital experience. This way, if your drone ends up stuck in a tree or taking a dip in the drink, you're not going to be left too out of pocket! 

Alternatively, a more affordable drone is also a great option for kids that want to experiment with this exciting tech.

What is slightly less exciting, although no less important, is drone regulation. For years government legislation limped after the quickly emerging technology. However, it's now very important to ensure that you comply with your local regulation. Essentially, if you buy a drone that weighs over 250g (8.8oz), then you'll have to pay a small registration fee and take an online exam. 

What is slightly less exciting, although no less important, is drone regulation. For years government legislation limped after the quickly emerging technology. However, it's now very important to ensure that you comply with your local regulation. Essentially, if you buy a drone that weighs over 250g (8.8oz), then you'll have to pay a small registration fee and take an online exam. If you're not happy with this prospect, then you'll have to stick with a drone that's under the 250g limit, which are generally considered as toys and very safe. 

You might actually find it somewhat useful to use a lighter piece of tech, too. The high end drones offer sophisticated technology that can actually detract from getting to grips with the core controls; being able to nail the basic manual controls will pay dividends later on. 

The two-stick control method is nearly universal; even drones that don’t include controllers will put a touch-based equivalent on your phone screen. There is an arrangement called “Mode 2” which is now near-universal that puts the throttle (up/down) and rotation (yaw) are on the left stick, while the right lets you direct flight (roll & pitch). 

As well as “Mode 2,” drones share many characteristics; rechargeable batteries, an even number of rotating props, some form of remote control receiver, and a processor to translate that input into the minor changes in the propeller speed which, in turn, move the craft. 

However, you will notice some vital differences when looking at the different drones on the market. Depending on what the drone is intended for, you might see some interesting design quirks. Speed and maneuverability will be important for those who want to race their drones, while size and safety guards will be paramount for users looking to play indoors. Alternatively, great camera quality and drone stability will be what photographers and videographers will be looking for.

The selection below are all great drones for beginners, but their design goals, and prices, differ. So with everything from a drone that costs the price of a decent camera, down to a drone that costs less than a meal out with your partner, here is our rundown of the best cheap drones on the market today.

And if you're dipping your toe in the world of drones, you might be interested in the best dash cams available right now. 

The best drones for beginners in 2021

Editor's Choice

(Image credit: DJI)

01. DJI Mini 2

A drone with camera power to challenge prosumer rivals, but the cost, size and weight for everyone

Weight: 242g | Dimensions (folded): 138×81×58mm | Controller: Yes | Video resolution: 4K 30fps or FHD 60fps | Camera resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 31 minutes (2250mAh) | Max Range: 10km / 6.2 miles | Max Speed: 57kph / 35mph

Very portable
No registration cost
Beginner-friendly app
Some prosumer features
Susceptible to gusts
Price rise from predecessor

The DJI Mini 2 has arrived sooner than many expected to refresh what was already an excellent drone, and it maintains its key positive features: it is under the 250g which is the weight for pilot registration in the USA & China, it has GPS-based return to home and other pilot-assist features, and it includes very share-friendly ‘QuickShots’. In fact, other than all-round object collision systems, the drone has almost everything you’d expect from a folding drone costing more than twice as much.

The accompanying remote control is also completely new, and in FAA areas offers up to 10km (6.2 miles) range via automatic channel switching, meaning you can confidently take the drone out in even 24mph wind and remain confident the drone won’t out of contact. The camera gimbal will keep images horizontal and vibration free while recording up to 4K video, as well as selection of other effects recently only known on DJI’s prosumer models, like panorama (and even sphere panorama). Photographers can choose Raw, manual exposure, exposure bracketing and other features they’d expect on the ground.

If you’re thinking of the Mini 2 as your first drone, but you’re already familiar with cameras, then this is definitely the best choice. It’s also pretty handy indoors thanks to downward-facing visual and sonar distance sensing systems which can help it hover even without GPS, and the optional propellor guards (detachable cages too prevent any accidents while flying near obstacles). The app also makes getting the images to your phone easy if you don’t want to wait until you get home.

best drone for beginners - DJI Mavic Mini

(Image credit: DJI)

02. DJI Mavic Mini

Much of the appeal of the Mini 2, but at a lower price

Weight: 249g | Dimensions (folded): 140×82×57mm | Controller: Yes | Video resolution: 2.7K 30fps | Camera resolution: 12MP | Battery life: 30 minutes (2400mAh) | Max Range: 4km / 2.5 miles | Max Speed: 47kph / 29mph

Very portable
No registration cost
Crisp stabilized video and stills
Beginner-friendly app
Susceptible to crosswind
Radio susceptible to interference
Noise in low light
Old-fashioned MicroUSB sockets

Launched at the end of 2019, this drone was aimed squarely at the consumer market (and specifically to avoid the 250g registration limit). It still packs quite a punch – 2.7K video, GPS, altitude hold and a mechanical gimbal – meaning that images and video it recorded to its MicroSD card were of more than adequate quality for YouTubers or Instagrammers. Indeed the drone has been understandably popular (while, equally predictable, DJI’s attempt to brand it a ‘FlyCam’ has not caught on. Going into 2021, the only slight worry would be supply, but DJI are still selling it and supplying it for now, while gently pointing out a newer model is on offer.

For consumers not confident learning to fly and shoot video at the same time, the automated QuickShots provide several striking orbiting or other dramatic swooping shots while keeping your subject in frame – the DJI Mavic Mini makes use of its intelligence to do this from the main camera rather than packing any extra scanners, which probably helps even this first model pull off 30 minutes of flight time (as with all drone official times, expect about 20% less).

For kids, families or just anyone interested in getting started in aerial photography/videography, the original Mavic Mini was and is a surprisingly capable machine, but the ‘extended wi-fi’ radio system mean that, in bad conditions, the signal can become intermittent even before the drone reaches the legal range. Similarly the motors can only compensate for a maximum of force 4 cross-wind, though of course on bad days you could play indoors with the propellor guards. There are also a great range of safety features (hover, return-to-home, tutorial, and geofencing to prevent you from getting into trouble near an airport).

• See DJI Mini 2 vs Mavic Mini

(Image credit: Parrot)

03. Parrot Anafi FPV

This brilliant drone kit comes with goggles

Weight: 310g | Controller: Yes | Video resolution: 4K HDR 30fps | Camera resolution: 21MP | Battery life: 25 minutes (2700mAh) | Max range: 4km / 2.5mi) | Max Speed: 55kph / 35mph

4K camera with HDR
FPV system
Great bag included
No collision sensors
Requires registration

Parrot have done an amazing job of straddling the fun and the functional aspect of the drone market ever since they essentially created it ten years ago, and the Anafi (especially the new FPV kit) epitomizes that.

The Anafi is a professional drone, with a 4K camera capable of zoom (at least in video mode), with a gimbal-stabilized camera. In fact some surveyors choose this over DJI products because it can tilt its camera up and down to create 3D models or, for mere mortals, get some unique angles for action shots. But, with the addition of First Person View (FPV) goggles you can also flay it from inside the cockpit. Parrot’s goggles are included in the FPV kit, and at first they were the only ones supported, but a later software update means you can use other VR headsets. 

The app is fully featured and great for ‘Arcade mode’ racing or settings-obsessed photographers. The only thing missing from a much more expensive craft (and admittedly this isn’t cheap) is a collision sensing system, but the Anafi is surprisingly robust, especially the FPV version with improved legs. Compatibility with Pix4D tools offers an interesting route into 2D and 3D survey work should you decide to offer your services commercially.

04. Ryze Tello

A bit DJI, a little Intel. Feature packed and fun

Weight: 80g | Controller: via Phone, ideally with a Bluetooth game controller | Video resolution: 720p, 30fps | Camera resolution: 5MP | Battery life: 13 minutes (1100mAh) | Max Range: 100m | Max Range with controller: 60m | Max Speed: 36kph

DJI software
VR compatible
Highly affordable
No SD card onboard

With more than half of the global market, DJI have kept their tech at the serious end of the market.  However, a friendly relationship with neighboring firm Ryze has led to the Tello, a compact drone that doesn’t skimp on the tech. It beams 720p video back to a phone in WiFi range (100m), or 5mp photos, which are recorded by the App. 

This data link also provides you a battery warning, and the drone is capable of taking off and hovering using its 14-core processor and in-built sensors. That power makes for fun features like the “Throw & Go” launching and flips, but also supports Scratch, a simple, block-based programming language that means literally anyone (kids included) can have fun ordering the Tello about.

If you think your kids need a little more convincing that programming drones is as cool as flying them, look out for the Ryze Iron Man Edition. Programming tech seemed to work out pretty well for Tony Stark, after all. 

05. Parrot Mambo FPV

Light, easy to fly and adaptable; a drone for all

Weight: 63g+10g (camera) | Controller: Via phone or supplied controller | Video resolution: 720p 30fps | Max Range: 100m | Max Speed: 29kph

Bluetooth controller included
FPV camera can be removed 
Range is only 100m
Live stream is 720p

Parrot’s Mambo has been around a little while now, but this top drone for beginners just keeps delivering thanks to the LEGO-like studs for clipping on extras and the FPV goggles making this a little like an indoor Anafi.

First came a version with a pellet gun for livening up office warfare. Now an FPV camera which makes it into a mini FPV racer. In all cases build quality is great; the French company essentially started the consumer drone revolution with the AR.Drone and although this is a little pricier than other mini-drones, the quality of the device and the app is impressive.

The quad has three flight modes: Easy, Drift and Racing. The first will hover when you release the controls, Drift releases the horizontal stabilization and Racing puts the onus completely on the pilot. This is a great way to learn in steps, and to easy you through the learning curve to becoming Top Gun pilot.

(Image credit: Hubsan)

06. Hubsan X4 Storm (H122D)

A beginners kit for drone-racing fans

Weight: 117g | Dimensions: 157 x 157 x 62mm | Controller: Yes | Video resolution: 720p | Battery life: 6 minutes | Range: 100m | Max Speed: 36 kph / 22mph

Racing-inspired design  
Controller or FPV mode monitor
Built-in lights for low light & indoor play
Video latency could be better
Quick for its size, but it’s tiny

Drone racing is as close as you can come to pod racing (you know, the only good bit out of The Phantom Menace), and it’s a different world to the polished products of the bigger brands like DJI & Parrot. A little like Anikin Skywalker’s jet-powered pod, pilots tend to build and refine their own from parts.

With this drone Hubsan have provided some of the aesthetic and experience of that world in a pre-configured kit so you won’t have to spend the first hours trying to tune your monitor into your quad or fiddle with PID settings. They’ve also provided a monitor which can clip onto the handset OR onto a head mount for the FPV effect that the Drone Racing League stars choose, though the drone is even more compact than a typical racing quad, so you’ll want to use it in low wind or indoors.

The frame is robust, there is a beeper in case you lose it in a field, and it’s able to record video to an on-board card so you can relive your flights later without the occasional choppiness that comes with transmitted video. Just like a real racer, as you get better, you can adjust the pilot’s view camera – the faster you fly, the steeper you’ll want it.

Best drones for beginners - Holy Stone HS100 Navigator

07. Holy Stone HS100 Navigator

GPS camera drone brings video in at a modest price

Weight: 700g | Dimensions: 500x500x175mm | Controller: Yes | Video resolution: 720p @ 30fps | Battery life: 15 minutes (2500mAh) | Range: 500m | Max Speed: 18.5mph / 30kph

GPS-enabled 
Camera tilt via remote control
Control range of up to 500m
Brushed motors won't last long
720p resolution is disappointing

This excellent drone for beginners introduces not just the experience of flying, but the basic feature set of a serious photography or videography drone for a fraction of the cost. That’s because it includes a GPS positioning system, and control is via a good quality phone app (a phone will clip into the radio controller and serve as a screen). 

Together this gives higher-end features like ‘follow me’ (the drone will follow the location of the phone) as well as making the drone easy to fly – let go of the controls and the drone will just hover, at the same altitude, even in a breeze. It can also return to its launch point at the touch of a button.

The design is clearly inspired by DJI’s Phantom, right up to the 4-light intelligent battery. That said the battery has a Micro USB socket built right in for easy charging - DJI haven’t thought of that yet! 

On the down-side the camera is not gimbal stabilized, so the drone's vibrations are certainly more than visible in the adequate but gloomy video, and, sadly, it sends back its signal via wi-fi, so it tends to drop out after around 100m, but clean video is recorded to the Micro SD card on the drone nonetheless. 

Nice touches are the extra landing legs, prop guards and stylish pilot’s manual notebook in the box.

(Image credit: Holy Stone)

08. Holy Stone HS510

Registration-free video in at a low price

Weight: 245g | Dimensions: 240x235x55mm | Controller: Yes | Video resolution: 2.7K @ 25fps (4K @ 16fps) | Battery life: 16 minutes (1500mAh) | Range: 300m (FPV) or 800m | Max Speed: 18.5mph / 30kph

Spare battery included
Relatively high build quality
Good price
Manual camera tilt
720p resolution is disappointing

This is a great little drone and it’s a real shame that, like so many brands, Holy Stone have succumbed to the obsession with adding 4K to marketing materials. In this case the aircraft can actually record 4K video, but only at 16 frames a second; perfectly adequate 2.7K is available at 25fps but that clearly isn’t exciting enough for HS’s sales team.

Ignoring what you’re not getting, the HS is a sturdy but compact folding drone which isn’t meant to offer professional video quality, but does at least offer (via landing and manual tweaking) your choice of camera angle, as well as GPS-bolstered features like orbiting a point of interest or automatic return to home (which it can even do if it loses connection).

It’s not only small enough to experiment with indoors, but includes a so-called ‘optical flow’ sensor – a visual-light sensor which points downward so, in good light, can maintain a reliable hover even when a roof blocks GPS. There are minor irritations – like the 32GB SD card limit – but in all you’re getting a lot of fun, even in bad weather, for not too deep a dip into your pockets.

(Image credit: Simrex)

09. Simrex X20

Budget drone with a camera-stabilizing gimbal

Weight: 595g | Dimensions: 200x103x89mm (folded) 445x371x89mm (unfolded) | Controller: Yes | Video resolution: 1280P | Battery life: 30 minutes (3000mAh) | Range: 500m (wi-fi) | Max Speed: 18.5mph / 30kph

Motorized Gimbal
Records to SD Card
Accessible price
Dubious component quality
USB charging only

With a lower price point than DJI’s Mini, this drone does come with compromises but, unlike so many budget drones, it doesn’t miss out on a mechanical gimbal or a class 10 SD card slot. The former gives you stabilized video and the later means you’re not dependent on a radio connection to your phone to record video, which is essential. It’s also nice to have speed settings and a folding design.

When you’ve seen unstabilized (or – nearly as bad – digitally stabilized) video you’ll understand why those capturing aerial footage with a drone insist on a mechanical gimbal, but getting one at a price point this low is rare. In a decent folding drone even rarer, and here you’ve got all the features (like one-press return-to-home) that come with GPS, useful for safe operation.

The footage isn’t as sharp as the 4K the packaging claims; there is fish-eye distortion and a softness near the centre. Setup could be more elegant, but is broadly the same as pricier products, though the ‘charging cable’ (a USB lead) also highlights the difference between this and a DJI Mini 2. Ultimately you get better video with a Mavic Mini, which doesn’t pretend to be 4K. Nevertheless this is a cheaper route into many of the features – if not the elegant software and pure ease of use – of the bigger brands.

10. JJRC H36

As cheap as they come, but powerful (and safe) fun

Weight: 22g | Dimensions: 95x95x50mm | Controller: Yes | Camera: None | Battery life: 6 minutes (150mAh) | Max Speed: 30kph

Great design in terms of safety
Extra batteries available
Bargain price
Connectors are a bit ‘low tech’

This spectacular little ‘copter is ideal for indoor flight since all the props are protected with the almost turbine-like guards. No camera; just human learning to live in harmony with machine. 

After charging the tiny Li-Po battery using any USB outlet, it is clipped to the bottom. Slightly fiddly, admittedly, but once connected there is the power to whizz around for several minutes and really get to grips with the experience of flight, honing your skills. It also offers a ‘headless’ (easy) mode and a flip function to wow spectators.

The controller, powered by 2 AA batteries, has the tell-tale sign of a real pilot’s drone: the left stick does not spring back to the centre vertically on release. That’s because this is the throttle and, in flight, you need to be constantly adjusting this manually to maintain altitude. 

It’ll come easily enough, and the game-controller shape is natural to hold. The controller does include buttons to ‘trim’ (tweak) the drone’s drift as well as the option to adjust the speed (low rate or high rate). And the price means you can't really go wrong.

(Image credit: Potensic)

11. Potensic A20 Mini Drone

This quadcopter drone is perfect for kids

Weight: 190g | Dimensions: 78x31x88cm | Controller: Supplied | Video resolution: 720p @ 30fps

Budget-friendly
Great for kids
No photography or video capability

This Potensic A20 Mini Drone is perfect for kids and beginners, complete with two rechargeable batteries and a controller. While the Potensic A20 might not come with any photo or video capabilities, it's a great option for those looking for a durable and affordable option that won't be at risk of breakage from small, clumsy hands! 

Featuring Altitude Hold and One Key Taking off/ Landing, every aspect of the Potensic A20 Mini Drone is designed to be simple to use, no matter whether you're introducing a kid to drones, or you're a beginner yourself. 

One of our favorite aspects of the drone is its Headless Mode. Ordinarily, the forward direction of a flying drone is the same as the nose direction. However, Headless Mode means that the forward direction will be the same as your transmitter. This is particularly useful for kids or beginners who might not be quite au fait with some of the trickier aspects of piloting a drone. 

Weighing just 190g, not only does the compact and lightweight nature of the Potensic A20 make it easy to carry around or store away, it also means that you won't have to register the drone with the FAA in the USA. 

12. Attop A11

A complete mini starters kit with dual-sprung control sticks

Weight: 22g | Dimensions: 89x89x24mm | Controller: Yes | Video resolution: No camera | Range: 25m | Max Speed: 18.5mph / 30kph

Safety-conscious propellor guards
Three batteries included
No photography or video capability
Swapping batteries puts stress on wiring
Fiddly connectors aren’t child friendly

This little drone doesn’t seem to be sure what its name is; on the top it says Pioneer, on the box it says Cyclone, and on the paperwork it says ATTOP. It does, however, seem very sure of itself in the air, even when flown hard into a wall, which makes this a great beginners drone. It also has both control sticks sprung, just like DJI or Parrot drones.

You can, of course, opt to take a steady and restrained approach to flying your first drone, in which case you might want to dive straight in with features like a camera and GPS-hold, but if you’ve got a less tentative approach (or your kids do), all you really want is firm construction and some spare batteries.

The A11 has a straightforward joypad-like remote (compact, ideal for kids). It has auto-pairing and one-key take off, and the drone can essentially be thrown into the air to get going. The battery is charged while in the drone using the supplied USB lead, so you need to plan ahead (there also isn’t a light until the battery is charged). It’s also all-too-tempting to pull the battery out with its cable, so the battery could easily be damaged.

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