If you’ve never flown a drone before, chances are you won’t want to spend a fortune, so we’ve created this handy guide to the best drones for beginners.
While drones look impressive and great fun to fly – they are – some cheaper models, especially the ones that look like clones of the DJI brand, can mean a world of pain for the unwary. If you don't know what you're doing you may not even manage to get them set up in the first place, never mind getting them up in the air and preventing them flying straight into the nearest tree.
Luckily there's a whole host of drones out there that are a lot more welcoming to beginners. The trend was started by Parrot with its AR Drone, a model with its own built-in flight control enabling it to stay in the air without constant input from the pilot. The AR Drone was one that anyone could fly straight out the box, and which would simply hover if you took your fingers off the controls. It changed everything.
A decade further on and drone technology has made some serious advances. Most of today's best drone models are packed with pilot assistance technology and can not only fly themselves, but also follow their subjects automatically and return to base when they're done, without any need for input from the pilot.
While most of the best drones for beginners provide similar assistance to the newbie pilot, they're not all quite so easy to get started with. So to save you from frustration, we've put together this guide that'll point you at the drones that are not only easy to fly, but which are also easy to set up: take them out of the box, charge the batteries and hit the skies.
If you're looking for very basic toy drones, you might want to consult our best kids drone guide. And if price is paramount, head to our best cheap drone ranking. If not, read on for some buying advice, followed by our top beginners' picks...
The best drones for beginners 2022
Given that cost is the main deciding factor when choosing a first-time drone, we can think of no better introduction to the thrills – and occasional spills – of drone flying than this top-value beginners’ model from DJI. This dinky drone weighs a floaty 249g fully loaded, which is one gram shy of the CAA’s 250g regulation and that means you won’t need to jump through as many legal hoops to fly it (see our guide to UK drone regulations for more info).
The Mini SE is basically a dialled down version of the excellent Mini 2 at #2 in our list. The shell and most of the electronics are the same but there are differences in top speed (the Mini 2 hits 35mph in Sport mode while the SE is marginally slower at 29mph), battery life (31 minutes against 30 minutes), range (6 miles against 2.4 miles) and the hand controller – the Mini SE uses an older model of controller. These are all pretty negligible differences, it has to be said, and they should in no way alter your decision making if budget is a major consideration.
In fact, it turns out that the biggest difference between the two is the camera. Where the Mini 2 can shoot at a maximum resolution of 4K at 30 frames per second, the Mini SE is restricted to 2.7K at 30fps. Again, don’t let this put you off because 2.7K is plenty sharp enough for phone and tablet viewing and perfectly acceptable for most standard computer monitors, too. For added value, the SE also comes with a smorgasbord of autonomous quick-shot functions like Dronie, Rocket, Circle and Helix.
No question, this drone is amazing value. We haven't been able to get hold of a review model yet (we're working on it), but you can get an idea of many of the SE's features in our DJI Mini 2 review.
Size wise, the Mini 2 is so small it can be hidden under an iPhone and, when folded, it’s easily tucked into a pair of loose-fitting chinos. For the full low-down, head to our DJI Mini 2 review, but here's a quick look at the standout features. If you’re looking for a very capable drone that’s a cinch to fly straight out of the box but don't fancy splashing out a fortune, then this is the model for you: it's remarkably stable and reliable in flight, and a doddle to control in all conditions. It'll also shoot sensational cinematic footage.
The Mini 2's camera shoots 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second and even crisper 4K at up to 30fps. Its 12mp stills, meanwhile, are superbly detailed. Despite its size, this craft is amazingly stable in flight even in a stiff breeze. It’s also extremely fast and nimble when flown in Sport mode (up to 35mph). It will easily fly for up to 31 minutes on a single charge and up to six miles away (far beyond the CAA’s line-of-sight regulation). If you’re looking for an affordable 4K video drone that’s a doddle to fly and great fun to boot, the DJI Mini 2 is your best bet.
Launched at the start of 2022, the Autel Evo Nano is the first drone to properly give DJI a run for its money in quite some time. In fact, if you have unlimited budget, we'd probably recommend the Nano over the DJI Mini 2, because the latter has three-way obstacle avoidance sensors – undeniably useful for beginner drone fliers. There are a number of other features that make this a great choice for fledgling fliers. It's easy to set up, with a well-designed hand controller. It also clocks in under 250g, which means it's easy to transport and you won't need to take heed of so many CAA regulations in order to get airborne.
Available in four colours – red, orange, white and grey – the Autel Evo Nano is also a drone that'll grow with you, thanks mainly to the outstanding camera, which has a 1/2-inch sensor that punches way above its weight, shooting 4K video and 48 megapixel stills. A beautifully weighted gimbal wheel creates super-smooth camera movement, and the camera also delivers a pin-sharp 2.7K live feed to your phone's screen – something that very few camera drones are capable of. Read more in our Autel Evo Nano review.
A quick note before we finish with this one: while the Evo Nano's camera is excellent, the Autel Evo Nano+ is the same drone but with a camera that's in a whole different class. If you can push to its higher price and image quality is your priority, we'd recommend opting for that one instead.
Aside from being one of the best-value drones for both indoor and outdoor flying, the Tello is also a brilliant learning tool, since it can be programmed by the user to perform various movements using the Tello Edu mobile programming app (iOS and Android). This is a groundbreaking feature for youngsters who wish to learn the art of programming and robotics in an entertaining and educational way. The programming interface is very easy to get a handle on and basically involves dragging colour-coded blocks (take off, up, forward, right etc) into a specific arrangement.
Not surprisingly, the Tello’s excellent flight characteristics and raft of features are mostly as a result of the DJI components it’s fitted with. It weighs just 80g and fits in the palm of the hand. To fly it, simply download the Tello app, connect the drone and use the virtual joystick controls – its vision positioning system is so well designed that you could take it off, go and make a cup of tea and when you get back it’ll still be in the same position.
The Tello can also be launched by throwing it into the air and it will even perform a circus of aerial tricks. But what really makes this little drone such a hit is that it comes with a 720p/5mp camera that streams digitally stabilised footage straight to a smartphone. The quality of the footage and photos it produces is pretty good for a drone of this size and perfectly acceptable for casual holiday use. Moreover, it also comes with a trio of handy pre-programmed EZ Shots (Circle, 360, Up & Away) for quick, fuss-free footage. It’s hard to believe so much tech could be crammed into a drone of such diminutive dimensions – and all for such a bargain price. Head to our full Ryze Tello review to find out more.
If you want an easy-to-use drone that’s capable of capturing pristine 4K footage and high-resolution stills – and you have a bigger budget – the DJI Air 2S is, pound for pound, the best choice on the market. Like every drone in the DJI roster, it couldn’t be easier to get a handle on. Simply remove it from the box and place the drone on a table. Now fit the props, remove the camera’s gimbal cover, slot your iPhone or Android device into the hand-controller’s spring-loaded mounting, download and launch the DJI Fly app and turn on the drone. You’ll first be taken through a registration sequence after which you’ll see the default screen and a clear image of whatever the camera’s pointing at. Now go outside and fly. That’s the DJI setup experience in a nutshell. Easy peasy.
In our DJI Air 2S review, our tester was amazed at how smooth and responsive it is to your joystick input. It is truly confidence inspiring to fly in most weather conditions bar snow, rain and very high wind. From a cinematography and photography point of view, this drone absolutely excels because its camera is fitted with one-inch Sony sensor that’s capable of shooting 5.4K at 30 frames per second, 4K at up to 60fps and 1080p at up to 120fps. It doesn’t get much better than that. Add four-way obstacle sensing, OcuSync 3.0 technology for rock-steady image transmission and a plethora of autonomous in-flight features, and you have the best-value camera-equipped drone currently on the market. The only real drawback is that, at 595g, you'll need to jump through some CAA regulations before you can take to the skies.
Want to keep things really cheap while you learn the ropes of drone control? This titchy indoor drone is small and light enough to withstand a lot of crashes while you learn how to control it. And it’s so cheap that even if you do eventually destroy it, it won’t be a big financial loss.
Flying a drone indoors is an excellent way to learn how a drone behaves when you fiddle with the joysticks and this one’s an excellent starting point since the control method is exactly the same as any large outdoor drone. It comes with three sensitivity settings so we’d suggest starting on the slowest setting first while you get to grips with its flight characteristics. Thankfully, it also comes with a Headless mode that ensures the control directions (forward, backwards and sideways) remain the same no matter which way the drone is pointing. It also features a handy one-button take-off and landing function. You can expect to get a total of about 12 minutes of flying out of the two supplied batteries.
The palm-sized A20 is so light and small that it can be flown straight out of the box without the need for a CAA operator’s licence. Granted, it’s not as stable in flight as the Ryze Tello, and we wouldn’t advise using it outdoors or even a light breeze will cause it to drift away. But as an introduction to drone flying on a really tight budget, the Potensic A20 is a very worthwhile contender. Head to our full Potensic A20 drone review for the full low-down.
How to choose the best beginners’ drone
You’ll notice quite a few DJI and Autel models in our current list of drone articles, and indeed practically every other online guide to drones currently on the internet. This is because DJI and Autel are so far ahead of the curve when it comes to drone design and flight electronics that other manufacturers simply cannot keep up. Yes, there are loads of much, much cheaper drones (including a surfeit of DJI clones) littering the Amazon shopping mall but the brutal truth is that none of them holds a candle to DJI or Autel.
Where the average Autel and DJI drone flies straight out of the box, the majority of cheap drones require complicated pairing with a phone that rarely works the first time you try it. This makes them frustrating to use right from the off. But that’s not all. Many companies will tell you that their budget-priced drone comes with an amazing 4K camera capable of taking stunning images and professional quality video. In reality, the video quality is usually a great disappointment (ie crap), mostly because the camera, its sensor and its electronics are cheap and substandard. Worse, the camera probably isn’t attached to a mechanical 3-axis gimbal, the clever gizmo that ensures video footage is smooth and jitter free. In fact it most likely uses a digital stabilising system instead, or worse, it has no stabilisation at all. Cheap drones are usually also equipped with cheap batteries that give up the ghost after about 10 minutes in the air.
Many cheap drones also tend to misbehave once airborne and perhaps fly erratically for some bizarre reason. Indeed, erratic flight behaviour was a well-known anomaly with DJI’s earlier Phantom drones, but years of research and development have erased pretty much every hiccup in its flight systems.
What we’re saying here is that, when it comes to drone choice, there are really only two truly reliable players and those players are DJI and Autel. Their machines simply behave impeccably well, are a doddle to set up and fly and filled with a staggering amount of sci-fi tech that keeps them reliably aloft in a range of atmospheric conditions. DJI and Autel's cameras, too, are widely considered to be among the very best for their purpose.