4 Best Drones Under 500 dollars in 2023 [Expert reviews]
Drones are becoming more popular by the day, or so it seems. I don’t think it’s that strange, I’ve had a few myself and you can make beautiful images with them. It’s just a lot more fun if your wallet isn’t emptied.
With years of experience as a professional photographer, I have had some use for drones. From the DJI Phantom to the DJI Mini. My goal is for you to buy the right drone without spending too much.
In this article, I will tell you exactly what the best drone under 500 dollars is, and not only that, I will also give you the best price. This way I can be sure that you will get the best deal and can fly straight away.
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What is the best drone under 500 dollars?
With years of experience in the camera industry, I have had a few drones myself. My search started years ago when I also had $500 and wanted to buy a drone. I then settled on the DJI Mini, which was perfect for me.
My goal is for you to buy the right drone under 500, so it is not necessarily the newest or most expensive. If you are a beginner, a $500 budget is perfect and you can certainly buy a good drone.
Drones are very complicated and there are many aspects that I paid attention to when selecting the best drone. The sensor is of course important, but the weight is also a priority. There are fewer rules with drones under 250 grams (EU).
I have looked at what rules there are currently for drones, you can find them at the bottom of this article. This way you avoid an unnecessary fine and can fly without worrying.
Let’s start with the first drone!
DJI is very well known when it comes to drones, I have only had good experiences with them and they are the most innovative. To start with the first drone, we have the DJI Mini 3.
A fairly recent model, so the extra functions are also up to date. You can currently pick it up for under $500, making this a really good deal.
It is very small and light, so I was even able to put it in my camera bag that contained an extra camera and lens. It also means you do not need any additional courses or certificates (EU). All in all, the best drone under 500 dollars!
What I like/dislike about the DJI Mini 3
- The best thing about the Mini 3 is the vertical mode, where the camera can rotate 90 degrees, so you can make videos for Reels and TikTok.
- DJI is known for its high-quality sensor and image quality, with the HDR mode the dynamic range is even wider. I was even able to take quality sunset photos with detail in both shadows and highlights.
- You don’t have to buy any courses or certificates (EU), because the Mini 3 only weighs 249 grams. DJI knows what they are doing, that is why the Mini series is so popular. This will save you at least $100.
- If your battery is almost empty, the drone will automatically return with the ‘return-to-home’ function, so you don’t have to worry about losing it.
- Due to its low weight, the Mini 3 is a lot less stable in windy conditions than heavier drones such as the DJI Mavic Air or Pros.
As a second drone, I chose another DJI, this time the DJI Mini 2 SE in the Fly More Combo Kit. The specs are very good, just like the Mini 3, and the Fly More Combo kit gives you a total of 3 batteries.
Batteries quickly become very expensive, which is why a kit like this is perfect to start with. When I bought my first drone I also had 3 batteries, and I must say that I definitely needed them.
Once you are flying, time passes quickly and with a little wind, the battery lasts less long, making this the best drone under $500 with extra batteries. And yes, you even get a bag to store it in.
Overall, this is the best photography video under 500 dollars.
What I like/dislike about the DJI Mini 2 SE
- As I have just mentioned, the biggest advantage is the extra batteries that you get with the Fly More Combo kit, you will need these anyway, I know from experience.
- You have a high-quality sensor, with which you can shoot 2.7K videos. This is slightly lower than 4K, but in the videos I made with it you can see all the details.
- Because it is a DJI drone, you have useful functions such as Return-To-Home in case the connection is lost.
- The flight time is 31 minutes per battery and if you add all the batteries together it is even 93 minutes. You can simply hang in the air for more than 1.5 hours (!).
- Due to the low weight, the drone is very sensitive to wind, with a little wind I notice the difference with a Mavic Pro, for example.
- You don’t have 4K videos, which can make digital zooming and cropping for Reels and TikTok difficult.
As a third candidate, we have a completely different drone, this one is from Xiaomi. To be precise, it is the X8SE V2 (2022), which is the latest to be released. For this amount, you have unique functions.
You can mount things under the drone (and drop it while flying). You also have a speaker that you can talk to. These are features that we did not see on the DJI drones but are still useful.
The weight is 770 grams, which means you must obtain a drone license (EU). Read more about this at the bottom of this article. This will increase the price slightly, but you will have a unique drone.
Overall, I think this is the best photography drone under 500 dollars.
What I like/dislike about the FIMI X8SE V2
- To start with, this drone has a 48 MP Sony sensor, we know from Sony that the quality is always good and that is also the case with this drone.
- You have useful functions such as Return-To-Home, tracking, and flight planning, you can read more about them here.
- To make it even more unique you can fly it in the rain, they claim it is rain-proof. I wouldn’t dare, because I don’t know about the warranty either.
- If you want to lift something, that is also possible, but it should be possible to lift up to a few hundred grams. By the way, you can drop it mid-flight.
- The drone does not have obstacle avoidance, which allows it to avoid trees. So you have to pay close attention to the environment.
- I looked at reviews and the drone didn’t seem very stable when there was wind. It cannot be compared to DJI’s drones.
- Due to the weight, you need a drone license, which will cost you at least $100 extra. Something to take into account.
Finally, I chose a DJI drone again, or at least one powered by DJI. This drone is one of the smallest I could find, which also provides decent video quality. By the way, it only costs $100, so you shouldn’t expect too much.
It doesn’t come with a remote control, so you always have to control it with your phone. This won’t allow you to fly very far, but you can definitely put it in your pocket.
For a low price, the DJI Tello Drone is a real bargain, if you don’t know yet whether flying drones is something for you, I will get this one first. Then you’ll find out soon enough!
All in all, this is the best beginner drone under 500 dollars.
What I like/dislike about the DJI Tello
- The Tello is very light and compact, so you can take it anywhere.
- You don’t need a drone license to fly it, if you buy it you can immediately take to the air to make videos.
- To capture memories, the 720p video function is more than sufficient, you don’t necessarily need 4K video for this.
- Despite the low weight, the Tello drone is very stable in the wind, which really surprises me. DJI is generally the best at making stable drones.
- You can ‘only’ fly for 13 minutes, depending on the battery you choose. That’s why you should actually take a few extra with you, because time passes quickly.
- If you buy the Tello you don’t get a remote control, so you have to use your phone at all times. This means that the battery of both the drone and your phone will run out quickly.
What to look for when buying a drone under 500 dollars?
Certificates & Rules
If you want to fly a drone, there have been a lot of rules in recent years. I don’t want to discourage you from getting a drone, but you have to stick to them otherwise you could risk a fine.
I’ve researched the rules for flying drones in the EU and the USA, if you’re located anywhere else, you must do some research yourself.
WHen flying in the European Union (EU)
Drones under 250 grams (DJI Mini 3, Mini 2 SE & Tello):
No certificate is required, but an operator number is required.
Drones from 250-500 grams:
For drones in this weight class, you need an A1-A3 certificate, this is the basic certificate and costs €100 in most cases.
Drones from 500gr-2 KG (FIMI X8SE):
For the heavier drones, you need the A2 certificate, which is an additional certificate and costs an average of €200.
For all drones with a camera, you must request an operator number, which you can do on the website of your local government.
WHen flying in the United States (US)
There are many rules regarding flying drones, these are the rules if you want to fly recreationally:
- You must take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST), required by the FAA.
- You are not allowed to do side jobs, it is only recreational.
- You must register your drone with the FAA on the FAA website.
Here you can read all the rules for recreational use as a hobbyist.
This is a list for flying your drone commercially:
Video and photo quality
When I look at drones, one of the most important factors is the image quality. That is of course the photo and video quality. A camera does not necessarily have to have a high resolution, the image quality is also determined by the sensor size.
Almost all sensors in drones are small, so the quality will not be optimal, regardless of the resolution. It can be compared to your smartphone, but you have many follow-up options.
The FIMI X8SE is unique on this list, it has a 48 MP sensor with which you can observe many details.
Weight & Design
As I already mentioned, this is very important, the weight determines a number of other factors. You need a certificate for drones heavier than 249 grams. DJI is very smart, their Mini line-up all weighs 249 grams, which eliminates this requirement.
For heavier drones you do need proof, I have explained above which one you need and approximately how much it will cost.
The DJI Mini and Tello are also very small, making it easy to put in your camera bag or any other bag. This was important to me, so I didn’t have to take extra bags with me during a trip.
The remote control is also important because it largely determines how far you can fly. With many remote controls, you can easily reach 10 KM, but the question is whether your drone can withstand that.
DJI now has a Pro controller, with which you can receive video images without connecting your phone. This Pro controller costs a little more money but does have a built-in screen. So handy!
Have we talked about batteries yet? I don’t think so yet. With many drones you have the option to use different batteries, the large-capacity batteries are often slightly heavier at DJI. You must take this into account because the drone weighs more than 249 grams and you therefore need a drone license.
Additional functions such as tracking, return-to-home, battery warnings, etc. are useful to have. Fortunately, almost every drone on this list has at least the last 2 options. The newer drones also have advanced tracking capabilities that are interesting if you just want to take beautiful images.
Now you know exactly what the best drone up to 500 dollars is, it is up to you to make a choice. I paid attention to important aspects such as image quality, weight, and flight time. Every drone on this list has these requirements.
I prefer DJI drones, so I have worked with them for a long time and have never had any problems with them. The Xiaomi drone will undoubtedly also do well, it even has a few extra unique functions.
If you want to buy a drone, you can help me by doing so via a link in this article, so you help me to continue helping creatives like you!
Who is Sebastiaan?
Hi! I am Sebastiaan, the writer of this blog. With years of experience as a professional photographer, I want to share my expertise with you. From recommending cameras and lenses to giving tips that make a world of difference, that’s what I enjoy doing most.
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