Best drones under 500 [April 2017]: Definitive buying guide

By V Kadamatt | Buying Guides

Jun 01
Best drones under 500: Featured Image

This article on the best drones under 500 dollars is updated on : April 2017

Best drones under 500 : Contents and overview

Best drones under 500 : Selection Criteria

The drones in this article are at a price range of $350 – 500. We’ve divided this article on the best drones under 500 into two categories: photography/videography drones and racing drones and handpicked two of what we think are ‘best’ drones that fall under each category.

The crafts mentioned in this article are thoroughly reviewed and tested for different traits including the overall design and build, ease and flexibility of control and flight characteristics, photography and videography capabilities.

At the end of each model’s review, we have listed what is awesome and what is not so awesome for each model to help you quickly glance over the pros and cons before making a decision to purchase these drones under 500 dollars.

Best photography drones under 500

Top Pick : DJI Phantom 3 standard

best drones under 500 DJI phantom

Without doubt, DJI is the leading drone manufacturer of today. The phantom 3 series has taken the industry by storm and has been the favourite for hobbyists and professionals alike. The phantom 3 standard, unlike the professional and advanced versions fills in on the price gap between the consumer/hobbyist and the pro drones.

It is a perfect drone to get if you are a beginner to an intermediate flyer looking to learn how to operate a drone before making a transition to a pro photography drone. Even if you are just a hobbyist, it is definitely one of the best drones under 500.

Design and build

The DJI phantom 3 standard is built fully in white plastic that may look amazing to some but not too spectacular to others. The body of the multicopter hosts its electronics and has long landing gears attached to the bottom of it. The overall build is sturdy, strong, durable and pretty resilient to crashes and hard landings. The Phantom 3 is the best built among the best drones under 500 range, according to what we've tested.

Standing at about 180 mm in height, the phantom 3 standard falls in among the taller drones, taking away from some of its compactness and portability. However, it is a small price to pay for its flight and videography capabilities, especially with its nicely fitted gimbal that sits right beneath the body connected to it by rubber joints that absorbs most of the vibrations.

Flight and Control

Control

The phantom 3 standard comes with a simple but elegant white controller that has two sticks for control like most UAV controllers, a dial and few switches on the side. The controller has a clamp to which you can attach a phone that would host the DJI Go app (in either iOS or Android) that will give you a live view of what the camera on the drone sees.

The app will also display information such as flight mode, signal strength, battery level, GPS, altitude and speed. It contains a map that contains the drone’s location information gathered via GPS.

The app display also contains the controls for take-off, landing, RTH function, waypoint setting, home and course lock, follow me and point of interest function which is amazing and more than you could ask for, given the price.

You can also control the videography (starting, stopping and changing video settings) on the app.

Flight

The phantom 3 standard is an incredibly easy to fly drone even for the beginner, especially when utilizing both the manual and automatic control features. Even when on the manual mode alone, flying is easier compared to most other competitors because of its stable and responsive flight.

The phantom 3 can handle basic aerobatics pretty well, despite not being built for it. The craft is overall very manueverable and produces great, undisturbed quality video even in during its fastest movements and manuevers. The phantom 3 is also the best in the category of best drones under 500 for photography.

Videography and photography

For the price, the phantom 3 standard arguably offers the BEST video and picture quality compared to the competitors. The camera can capture at a resolution of 2.7k (2704 x 1520 pixels at 24 – 30 fps)

Videos can be captured with excellent detail and precision without disturbances due to motion of the craft. Considering its price range, this is the best bang for the buck.

This is especially thanks to its reliance on vibration absorbing gimbal on which the camera is placed, unlike other models like the parrot bebop 2. The only downside is the occasional visit by the propellers of the craft itself on the screen during speedy travel.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Stable and extremely easy to fly. Decent even in windy conditions
  • Excellent video quality for the price. Because the camera is independent of the movement and placed on a gimbal, videography is unperturbed due to movement.
  • Excellent and easy to use controller
  • Fast travel
  • Decent control range and flight times
  • Micro SD card slot

Cons

  • Lack of compactness and consequently compromised portability
  • Mediocre looks, but this is subjective!
  • Propellers occasionally appear in the recording if flying fast, especially in windy conditionsn
  • Mediocre battery charging speed
  • No flight controls on the app

Given features and specifications

  • 22 - 23 minute flight time
  • 4800 mAh Li-on polymer battery
  • Up to 2.7k HD/30 fps video
  • 1000m range
  • Automatic flight assistant and return to home (RTH) function
  • Dedicated mobile app
  • Micro SD card slot (8GB card comes with the box) and supports up to 128GB
  • DJI Wi-Fi downlink
  • GPS module

Click here to check current price on Amazon


Parrot Bebop 2

Best drones under 500 : Parrot Bebop 2

Parrot’s Bebop 2 is an upgraded successor to Bebop, with improved flight times (claimed 25 minutes) and autonomous flying. Although it looks pretty similar to its predecessor, the Bebop 2 is completely revamped including improved lenses, a more reinforced structure and propellers. Like the DJI Phantom 3, it is among the best drones under 500 USD you can get.

Design and build

The Bebop 2 has a better build material and constructed more sturdily and intelligently compared to its predecessor. The landing gears are angled outwards to make it more of a stable lander. The body is constructed from a reinforced fibreglass making it pretty durable and resilient. The bepop 2 is definitely one of the better built drones in the best drones under 500 range.

However, the camera placement at the front of the body makes it vulnerable to nasty damage if it crashes head on or nose dives into the ground.

A large red LED placement at the rear of the craft makes it visible in far off distances but because it is placed in the rear and not at the bottom, it might still be difficult to spot and tell the orientation of the craft at high altitudes.

Flight and Control

The Bebop 2 drone flies quite nimbly, is very manueverable and can reach up to 16 m/s speeds horizontally. The Bebop 2 has a very stable hover and can withstand low to medium winds.

However, the craft is known to lose its stability with stronger winds and gusts. This may be from the fact that it is quite light weight.

There are two main ways to control the craft – one being the iOS/Android app on smartphone and table and the other way being the sky controller. The latter however, requires additional purchase that will take the drone price way above $500 where there are better options from competitions.

The app is pretty sophisticated but easy to learn and use for even beginner flyers. Many of you may prefer the traditional way to control the craft and this is the main downside to controlling the craft without the additional sky controller purchase.

The main advantage of the app is that it makes it easy to fly and even capable of doing ‘tricks’ like automatically with the stroke of a button.

Photography and videography

The drone captures videos rather unorthodoxly. Rather than using a camera attached to a 3-axis gimbal on most drones, the Bebop 2 uses fish-eye wide angle lens and software technology to stabilize the camera during movement and to give it a 170 degree view angle.

The craft is capable of capturing some pretty decent video and photos using its 14 megapixel camera at 1080p, 30fps. The digital stabilization capability does its job pretty well, especially when the drone moves through light winds.

However, when the drone enters higher speeds of travel, expect to lose a lot of sharpness and introduction of horizontal aliasing, making the objects look like they have lines on them. At extreme vantage points, the camera is prone to capturing blank spaces and lens flares.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Nice and responsive flying experience
  • Excellent battery life and control range
  • Fast travel speed
  • Easy to use app that can be used to control the craft without the sky controller
  • Good for indoor flying
  • Looks unique and awesome!

Cons

  • Mediocre video quality, compared to drones like the phantom 3 standard
  • No micro SD card slot (Max 8GB internal)
  • You have to purchase the sky controller separately if you want a more traditional flying experience. This also takes away the portability advantage
  • Signal inconsistencies with the app control
  • Blank spaces in the video in extreme angles and vantage points and prone to lens flares
  • Less stable and not resilient to windy conditions, compared to models like the phantom 3
  • Drone tilting creates horizontal aliasing on the objects captured in the video

Given features and specifications

  • 20 minute flight times on average
  • 2700 mAh battery
  • Rear flash LED for greater visibility
  • Up to 2 km flight range in ideal conditions (Requires an additional ‘sky controller’)
  • 14 megapixel 1080p camera at 30 fps
  • Advanced smart phone app for flying
  • RTH function

Click here to check current price on Amazon


Best racing drones under 500

Top Pick : Walkera F210 FPV

Best drones under 500 : best racing drone

Design and build

The Walkera 210FPV is a nice looking quad that has a carbon fibre construction which makes it extremely resilient to crashes. It is an excellent improvement over the Walkera runner 250 model. The on-board receiver is cleverly equipped with two folding antennas that are positioned to clear the props for storage and in the event of a crash.

The build quality is excellent, sturdy, and durable and has a real quality feel to it. The XT60 connecter to the video transmitter is embedded within the frame, making it well protected from randomly disconnecting from violent stuns and flips.

The box comes with a battery anti-slip pad that can be added onto the craft, which will prevent the battery from slipping around and randomly redistributing the body’s weight.

Overall, everything is pretty well concealed, sturdy and fitted together in a modular way. The design of the Walkera 210FPV is second to none in the racing drone category. An excellent choice among the racing drones under 500. It is also one of the best drones under 500 you can get, overall.

Flight and controls

The controls for the craft are done via the Devo 7, 2.4Ghz system which is available in both mode 1 and 2. Right off the bat during your first hover, you can tell that the controls for the craft are pretty responsive and snappy. This drone is one of the best flyers in our list of best drones under 500 category.

The craft is pretty stable even during gusts and can movefast – exactly what you would expect from a decent racer drone. This is especially because the craft is light and comes with a 4S battery pack, driven by four 28 size 2500KV motors. The Walkera is fast, insanely fast. It is highly recommended that you pilot this craft only if you have decent skills with a quadcopter, especially in acro mode!s

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Low light conditions are incredibly well handled by the HD camera and includes IR capability for night FPV flight. It runs to an OSD and 200mw VTX, 120 degree super vision lens and real time image transmission The FPV experience is amazing, overall.
  • Very stable for a racing drone
  • Extremely tough and durable, resilient to crashes: The body is designed from carbon fibre and alloy body design. It even feels like it is built to withstand and survive violent crashes.
  • Extremely fast: The quadrotor is driven by four 28 size 2500KV motors on 4S battery, weighing less than 400g.
  • The mushroom antenna is ideally placed and provides excellent transmission range for both images and telemetry. Telemetry information is provided through an OSD that can be turned off if desired.

Cons

  • Camera does not include recording capability. There is no mount/platform provided for optional recording camera.
  • Top heavy drone, might need some time getting used to in Acro mode.
  • Very flat sliding turns in stabilized mode. Applying roll to induce banking for tightened turns may prove to be fruitless

Given features and specifications

  • Night Sight HD Camera
  • Centralized Control System Design
  • SP Racing F3 Flight Control
  • Metallic Case Design
  • Battery: 14.8V 1300mAh 40C 4S Li-PO
  • 8 – 10 minute flight time
  • 500m control range
  • Powerful Motor Design
  • Dimensions: 182x182x103mm
  • Weight: 370g
  • Remote Controller: DEVO 7
  • Flight Controller : FCS-F210(F3)
  • OSD : F210 OSD

Click here to check current price on Amazon


Eachine Racer 250 FPV: RTF model with transmitter and 7inch monitor

Best drones under 500 : best racing drone 2

Note: ARF and BNF models are cheaper

Design and build

The Eachine Racer 250 has a decent build. Made out of carbon fibre, the body is strong, sturdy and durable. A nice advantage to the build is that it is pretty easy to disassemble and assemble, enabling easy swapping of the standard motors on the craft for a nice upgrade.

The rotor arms are made of plastic and although this may raise red flags for some who may believe that carbon fibre rotors are must, the worry is unnecessary. The plastic rotor arms are dense and highly crash resilient.

All the parts in the craft are light and sturdily fitted together, enabling to craft to be agile and nimble. The only parts that may be vulnerable to easy damage are the headlights, capacitors and the monitor attachment to the transmitter. Pretty solid, relative to some other racing drones under 500.

Flight and controls

The Eachine Racer 250 is stable, nimble and fast and powerful and arguably the best racing drone for the beginner flyer. The aircraft is capable of flying quickly to decent distances without losing signal and lag or shake in the video stream.

The craft is built for both daylight and night time flying. Equipped with a HD night system, you can always see what is in front of you, even at the darkest of hours! The bright headlights also make it easy to tell the orientation of the craft at a distance. The craft is also capable of handling itself pretty well even in windy conditions. The Eachine racer 250 is definitely one of the best drones under 500 you can get, especially if you are into racing.

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Easy disassemble and assemble
  • Extremely cheap if you get the ARF or BNF version
  • Easy to program
  • Excellent HD night vision
  • Frame built for different types of cameras and secondary camera including GoPro
  • Bright headlights making it easy to tell where the craft is and its orientation
  • Withstands wind very well
  • Reversible propellers
  • Fast and excellent range
  • Includes an USB Flexiport for the ability to auto-tune (or manually configure any aspect of flight control from your pc using the free open source openpilot (or librepilot) software.

Cons

  • Lag and overcompensation during tilting, especially steep tilts
  • Plastic material surrounding the headlights, capacitors and the attachment to the FPV monitor could break
  • Limited spare body parts (have to import)
  • Poor packaging
  • Battery can get displaced while doing aggressive maneuvers
  • Limited or no instructions
  • No included video monitor or means of recording a video stream

Given features and specifications

  • Weight: 400g (without battery)
  • Flight time: 10 mins
  • Max range: 300m
  • Support for HD night
  • Adjustable camera, 1000TVL
  • Headlight LED: white 3W
  • Open Source & Fully configurable
  • I6 2.4G Transmitter
  • 7 inch 5.8G 32CH Monitor
  • Real-time image transmission, automatic search frequency, snowflakes screen.
  • Carbon Fiber, super anti-fall structure.
  • Easy disassembly quick change propeller device.
  • Ultrafast flight speed easily manipulated.
  • Long distance remote control high sensitivity.
  • LiPo 3S 1500 mAh, 11.1 V 25C. Upgradable to 4S LiPo battery

Click here to check current price on Amazon


Conclusion

If you are a beginner to an intermediate flyer having some basic quadcopter flying experience under your belt, purchasing onf of these best drones under 500 price category would be the best move to make. It is important to think over what you would like to do with your drone before making a purchase - photography or racing?

If you plan on becoming or are a professional photographer, a racing drone may not have the photography capabilities for you. If you are a drone racing enthusiast, a model like the DJI phantom 3 standard will have little to offer for you.

If you are a hobbyist, choose what you would like most : excellent photography/videography vs excellent maneuverability, speed and agility and make your pick accordingly!

That's all folks! We hope you loved this buying guide on the best drones under 500. Let us know what you think down in the comments below 🙂

Best drones under 500 [April 2017]: Definitive buying guide was last modified: August 2nd, 2017 by V Kadamatt

About the Author

Artificial Intelligence , UAV and RC enthusiast. Software professional, part time philosopher and star gazer. Also loves physics, mathematics, economics, psychology, fantasy, Sci-Fi and futurology.

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