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Drones have an excessively wide range – in altitude, features, and especially cost. While the professional-level units can have sky-high price tags, that’s far from your only option as a beginner. It’s entirely possible to find a decent, affordable drone under $100. And if you’re just taking your first foray into the world of flying, or gifting someone their first one, these durable drones are a great place to start.
“It’s best to practice before getting a much more expensive model, like a Mavic,” says David Abitbol, a web developer and blogger based in Jerusalem, who uses drones to photograph the historic city. “And [it’s good] to start out on something that can handle a few bumps, crashes and collisions.”
Here’s everything you should know when you’re shopping for the best drones under $100.
What Are the Best Drone Features and Tools to Consider?
Modes: Flying is just the beginning. Drones are also excellent options for photography, videography, and include all sorts of extra features. Tricks like Headless Mode, where you don’t need to worry about which direction the drone is facing, is vitally helpful to a first-time flyer. In this mode, the drone’s front is always aligned with your controller, making it much easier for newbie pilots to handle.
VR Mode is another feature to consider if you’ve got a set of goggles – simply slide in your phone to see what your drone is seeing in real-time. Not only is it helpful for getting the precise camera angles and footage you’re going for, but also puts you in the pilot’s seat, giving you a drone’s-eye-view as if you’re the one in flight.
Electronic Image Stabilization: Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) or Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is going to be a huge help if you’re planning to take photographs or film. The drone’s propellers can create shakiness while in flight, leading to blurry pics and video, but EIS compensates for that using a motion sensor to stabilize things.
Gimbal: Another invaluable photography tool is a gimbal. This pivoted support system lets your camera stay at the same angle using motors and sensors, no matter how much your drone vibrates or moves around. These usually come pre-calibrated on the lower cost models, but be sure to check to see if you’ll need to manually calibrate it.
Battery Life: Battery life may seem excessively short compared with the common mobile devices we carry around, but average flight time for these drones is usually under 30 minutes. Also, a drone that weighs 250 grams is usually the cutoff, and you’ll need to register it with the FAA if it’s above that.
Some final advice from Abitbol: “Like all cameras in this class, they should not be flown when it’s windy outside, as this can cause blurry photos, or worse, completely carry a drone away. Always use the propeller guards if they’re available, and make sure to read the instructions carefully.”
Article reflects current prices at time of publication.
1. DJI Ryze Tech Tello Quadcopter Drone
Most cheap drones are classified as a toy, but the Tello is a little different. First, it’s made by DJI, the company responsible for creating some of the best consumer and professional drones available. And while its small size doesn’t match up to the higher-end models, it’s still got a lot going for it. The Tello films video in 720p, and takes s pretty decent 5MP photos too, especially in bright and sunny conditions.
With 13 minutes of flight time, it’s lightweight, and thanks to the Tello’s sensors, you can even fly it indoors. Tricks and flips are simple, and it’s compatible with VR headsets for a first-person view. The designated app seems to work better on iOS than Android, but sync it to your phone or tablet, toss it in the air and send it on upwards.
“It’s great for kids because it’s solidly built with a confidence-inspiring fit and finish,” Abitbol says. “It even has a programing language called Scratch that you can use to teach kids the basics of programing and to pre-plan your drone’s flight. The Tello offers the best overall drone experience in its class, even with its limitations.”
2. EACHINE E520 Drone with 4K Camera
Weighing in at 1.59 pounds, the EACHINE E520 was built to take a few bumps and bruises.
It has 4K HD video capability with a 120º wide angle camera, and saves directly to an SD card. However there’s no gimbal, which means the video quality can sometimes get a bit shaky. Flight time is about 17 minutes, and there are plenty of features to play with, like 360º flips and follow-me mode, as well as drawing custom flight paths on the app for the drone to trace.
It’s foldable and easy to pack away for travel and transport too. This doesn’t automatically self-balance or stabilize, and needs to be calibrated before flying, so even though it’s still good for beginners, you’ll need to develop some piloting skills to really get the hang of it.
3. DROCON Drone for Beginners X708W
The built-in HD camera on this DROCON provides a live high-def video feed right to your device, which you can view in real-time over WiFi. And the app works well with both iOS and Android. 360º 3D Flip Mode lets you roll it around in mid-flight. Controlling it with Headless Mode is effortless, and one key return means you can always call it back safely.
“Kids and adults alike will love its maneuverability and prowess at doing all kinds of flips,” Abitbol says. “This is probably the most fun drone to fly, and comes fully equipped with blade guards and a controller. It’s also lightweight and can handle being banged around as well.”
4. Ruko B7 4K Drone with Camera
Ruko’s B7 features an 18-minute battery life, a range of about 200 feet, and can handle more than a few crashes. It has dual cameras, which gives you a larger frame for shooting, and two different views, both of which you can see right on your device. There are also three speed modes, which is ideal for total beginners to learn at their own pace, and you can even change the settings mid-flight. Controlling the direction of this drone is even easier, requiring only slight movements of your phone thanks to the Gravity Sensor Mode. We also like the Gesture Control feature, where you can snap a photo or start recording with just a simple hand motion.
“Flying it in windy conditions isn’t recommended, but the instructions are well-written,” Abitbol says. “This is a very good drone for beginners, children and indoor flights.”