Best drones for 2021

Want to get the best photos and videos from the air? These drones are the ones to go for.

 

While high prices once made them exclusive to Hollywood productions, the technology behind drone components — specifically cameras, lithium-ion batteries and wireless networking gear — has evolved greatly in recent years. Now, for less than $500, you can get a great drone that will pilot itself, fly for 30 minutes (or more) and shoot 4K video.

And even an inexpensive drone for beginners can offer plenty of fun. For about $50 (about £40 or AU$80), you can get a basic quadcopter drone with an integrated camera that can fly for nearly 10 minutes on a charge. But there are plenty of affordable options that fall somewhere in the middle, offering various combinations of features, video quality and price for every drone enthusiast. Below, we’ve got recommendations for the best drones for beginner and intermediate pilots looking to spend less than $1,000.

 

DJI is the undisputed leader in drone technology and dominates the market, thanks to a vast lineup of models (such as the Mavic, Mini, Tello and Phantom) for consumers, hobbyists and professionals that start at around $100 and go up to expensive drone models that exceed $20,000. (In December 2020, the US Commerce Department added the company to its Entity List, which restricts companies from exporting US technology without a license, but which is not not expected to impact product availability.) And there are other reputable brands making high-quality consumer quadcopters, including Parrot and Skydio, as well as countless upstarts making inexpensive drones you can buy at Walmart, Amazon and Best Buy.

As with most things, the more you spend, the more you get. And while there are exceptions, most flying drones under $50 may frustrate you with limited features, primitive controls and just a few minutes of flight time. As you explore the options, here are a few key things to consider:

  • Controls: Many drones come with a dedicated remote — they often look like game controllers — and can also be piloted using a smartphone app, or with a combination of the two. Some come with first-person view goggles that give you an immersive view of the drone flight as if you were in a cockpit.
  • GPS support: Support for GPS (or GLONASS, the Russian variation) will make your flights and video more stable, assist with taking off and landing and cut down on crashes. Drones with GPS often have a “return to home” feature that can recall them automatically if you get into a sticky situation.
  • Sensors: Air pressure sensors that can help with altitude assistance or “holding” will let you concentrate on flying your drone instead of having to constantly adjust the throttle.
  • Batteries: The lithium-ion batteries that power most of the best drones run for 15 to 25 minutes on a charge, though an increasing number of mid-tier models, like the DJI Mini 2, can now fly for 30 minutes or more. Still, you’ll need spare batteries — they range from $45 to $70 for the DJI drone models included here — to extend your flight time beyond that.
  • Rules and regulations: In the US, if your drone weighs 250 grams or more, you’ll need to register it with the FAA. And regardless of the weight, US national parks are off-limits — as are many state parks. Most counties and municipalities have their own regulations regarding remote control aircraft. The UK has similar rules (as does the EU), based on the drone’s weight. Always make sure you’re flying legally, wherever you are.

We’ve outlined our top picks for the best drones for kids and beginners, intermediate users and “prosumer” enthusiasts, as well as an introductory drone for folks interested in racing, which is a whole scene unto itself. We’ll update this list periodically. We’ve also included a more in-depth buying guide on the best drones below, with more information about the key things to consider before you buy.

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