Best cheap drones 2022: top choices for beginners, kids and pilots of all ages

The best cheap drones (under $500) for shooting aerial videos, taking photos and just having fun

best cheap drones for beginners: Ryze Tello
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(Image credit: Ryze)

With T3's best cheap drones of 2022 guide, you'll find a carefully curated list of budget-friendly drones that aim to offer the same fun and entertainment of a premium priced drone without the sky high price tag. Today, you'll find many of the advanced features have dripped down to these cash conscious options including GPS locking, intelligent flight controls, and quality cameras. Even better, many of these new features can now be obtained for under $500 or less.  

For a list of more advanced drones for more experienced flyers, head to our general best drones guide, For new fliers who aren't on a budget, the best beginner drone guide offers some great starter drones as well. All of the quadcopters featured in our best budget drones guide present a great way to learn essential flight skills and control, and for exploring how to capture great aerial videos and stills, before progressing onto a larger drone with more advanced features.

To save you the bother of scouring the interweb for a suitable budget-priced drone, we’ve done the work for and collated this lovingly-crafted list of top affordable drones for under $400 from retailers like Amazon, BestBuy and Walmart. Whether it’s shooting awesome videos and stills or simply flying for the fun of it, this list of the best cheap drones of 2022 has some of the most popular drones available today.

Best cheap and affordable drones 2022

Ryze Tello droneT3 Award

(Image credit: Ryze)
The best cheap drone overall, thanks to flight tech by DJI

Specifications

Best for: Learning the ropes
Type: Mini drone/education
Weight: 2.82 oz.

Reasons to buy

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Flight technology designed by DJI
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Programmable
+
Lightweight

Reasons to avoid

-
Not foldable

"There's much to love about the Ryze Tello drone, from its impressively precise aerial maneuvers to its smooth stabilized video and good app support. However, it's hard to fly in even the lightest wind and video footage becomes unstable at the outer reaches of the drone's range." – T3's Ryze Tello review (opens in new tab)

If you’re looking for a small but exceedingly well equipped ‘selfie’-type drone then consider this remarkable little contender from Ryze, which is equipped with a lot of DJI-sourced tech. It stays in the air for 13 minutes at a time, comes with digital image stabilization, shoots video in pretty decent 720p, snaps 5mp stills and hovers on the spot without the aid of GPS. 

The Tello weighs just 2.82 ounces and measures 3.85 inches at its widest point. In other words, it’s small enough to tuck in a jacket pocket despite not being foldable like the DJI Mavic range. Although ostensibly designed for indoor flying, this little craft is also adept at flying outdoors, as long as it’s not too windy (without GPS on board, it could drift with the breeze and may not make it back to you). 

To fly it, simply launch the Tello app on your phone, select hand launch, throw it into the air and steer it using the virtual joysticks on the screen. Everything the camera sees is streamed to the phone and, because it has digital stabilization, the footage it shoots is surprisingly smooth. The app also comes with a few pre-programmed ‘EZ Shots’ including circle (the drone flies around the user with the camera pointing inwards) and dronie (the drone flies away from the pilot while automatically filming at the same time). The Tello has a 100-meter range and is capable of performing aerobatic stunts.

You can also program this drone to perform a series of maneuvers with no real-time input from the pilot. Simply drag a series of named color-coded ‘blocks’ (‘take off’, fly forward’, ‘land) into a specific order and the Tello will follow the commands. This is a great educational feature because it teaches kids (and adults) the basics of robotics in an easy and fun way. At just $100 (or $160 for the Elite Combo with three batteries and more), this little sky star is a steal.

DJI Mavic Mini, the best cheap drone in 2022

(Image credit: DJI)
The best affordable camera drone on the planet, period

Specifications

Battery life: 30 mins
GPS: Yes
Camera: Yes
Camera gimbal: Yes
Weight: 0.55lbs

Reasons to buy

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Palm sized
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Excellent price
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Shoots superb 2.7K video and stills

Reasons to avoid

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No obstacle avoidance

"DJI Mavic Mini is yet another example of DJI's mastery of the drone market. This is the loveliest, most desirable little camera-equipped drone ever to snap from the air. Smooth, fast, eminently controllable and stupefyingly small, DJI Mavic Mini shoots exceptional 2.7K video and impressive 12mp stills while costing no more than a half-decent compact camera. You WILL want one…" – T3's DJI Mavic Mini review (opens in new tab)

If you want to shoot video or photos and your budget is an absolute maximum of $400, then stop here now and forget everything else because this is the drone for you.

DJI’s Mavic Mini is unquestionably the best high-quality camera-carrying drone for the masses. It weighs a floaty 8.78 ounces (0.55lbs) fully loaded, which is a fraction shy of needing to register it with the FAA.

Size-wise, this drone is so small it can be hidden under an iPhone and easily tucked into a jacket pocket. Its low weight, small size and flexible front propellor arms also give it a better chance of surviving a crash. 

The DJI Mavic Mini’s camera shoots 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second and crisp 2.7K at up to 30fps (believe us, 2.K is plenty sharp enough for the average computer monitor). Its 12mp stills, meanwhile, are nicely detailed. Despite the size, the craft is surprisingly stable in flight and fast and nimble when flown in Sport mode. It will easily fly for up to 30 minutes on a single charge and up to 4km away (far beyond the FAA’s line-of-sight regulation). Granted, one thing this drone doesn’t have is obstacle avoidance, but we don’t think this is a deal-breaker if common sense prevails.

If you’ve always hankered after a top-quality camera drone and have one cent shy of $400 to spend, then this is far and away the best model for you. It’s remarkably stable and reliable in flight, a doddle to control and it shoots stunningly good cinematic footage to boot.

Potensic A20 Mini DroneT3 Award

(Image credit: Potensic)
This budget option is a brilliant choice for kids

Specifications

Best for: Learning the ropes
Type: Toy
Weight: 6.73 oz.

Reasons to buy

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Very easy to fly
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From one of the world's best drone manufacturers

Reasons to avoid

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No photography or video capabilities
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Too lightweight to fly outside

"Simple to set up and use, the Potensic A20 Mini Drone is great fun to fly and comes with a small controller to make it ideal for kids. It's too light to use outdoors though, and there are lots of similar alternatives that cost less." – T3's Potensic A20 Mini review (opens in new tab)

The Potensic A20 is a great option for kids keen to try out their drone skills for the first time. As a beginner's drone, it does what it says on the tin, with all the features you'd expect: well-protected propellers for those inevitable bumps and scrapes, an emergency stop button for those times when your little darlings fly a little too close to the dog/oven/baby and an un-ignorable low power alarm.

It's a breeze to fly inside or outside, if there isn’t a breeze. The altitude hold function keeps the drone very stable and one-touch take-off and landing controls allow kids to grasp the basics of drone flying in record time. We also love the fact that it comes with two rechargeable batteries, minimizing the risk of meltdowns when the drone's power levels start to flag. Top budget choice.

Snaptain S5C drone

(Image credit: Snaptain)
Affordable and feature-filled

Specifications

Best for: Flight practice
Flight time: 8-10 mins
Camera: 720p

Reasons to buy

+
Fairly affordable FPV drone
+
Comes with controller
+
Multiple batteries

Reasons to avoid

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Unreliable phone connection
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Struggles with wind

"The Snaptain S5C isn't here to dazzle, but it's a competent enough flier to have some fun with, and it conveniently includes a controller and extra batteries. The competition just doesn’t leave much reason to choose it." – T3's Snaptain S5C review (opens in new tab)

If you want to try your hand at drone piloting but don't want to spend a fortune, the Snaptain S5C is likely to be on your radar. This drone offers a bunch of features that go beyond its sub-$70 price tag – in fact, you can often find it on sale for less than that. 

There are lights for visibility, as the S5C has an 80m range as well as simple take-off and landing controls. You can also get an FPV through your phone and attach it to the controller, and there's a spare battery in the box to keep you flying for longer. 

It's not the best in windy conditions and the camera quality isn't up to much but you do get the full drone experience here without the expense. 

Potensic A20W on white backgroundT3 Approved badge

(Image credit: Potensic A20W)
This budget camera-equipped option is a great choice for kids

Specifications

Best for: young children
Type: toy
Weight: 191g

Reasons to buy

+
Very easy to fly
+
From one of the world's best drone manufacturers

Reasons to avoid

-
Too lightweight to fly outside

"The Potensic A20W comes with a 480p camera, which is a great way for kids to get into aerial videography. It’s also a doddle to fly because it features altitude hold technology for rock-steady indoor flight. Believe us, your kid will love it. And so will you." – T3's Potensic A20W Mini review (opens in new tab)

The Potensic A20W is a top option for young wannabe pilots keen to try out their drone skills for the first time and shoot some acceptable 480p video and stills while they’re at it. As a beginner's drone, it does what it says on the tin, with all the features you'd expect: well-protected propellers for those inevitable bumps and scrapes, an emergency stop button for those times when your little darlings fly a little too close to the dog/oven/baby and an un-ignorable low power alarm.

Thankfully, the Potensic A20W is equipped with a barometer to keep the drone on an even altitude plain. We can’t stress how important this asset is when considering a toy drone. It means the child can concentrate on maneuvering the drone instead of wrestling with the power stick and trying to steer at the same time. Hence, it’s a breeze to fly with one-touch take off and landing controls allowing kids to grasp the basics of drone flying in record time.

For the low price, this drone is fantastic value not least because it comes with a small but very well designed hand controller that features a cradle for a smart phone, a button for automatic take-off and landing, three flight speeds and a headless mode.

It has to be said that the footage the camera produces is definitely on the low end of the cinematic scale but for kids it will do just fine. Just be warned that the camera doesn’t have a gimbal so video footage will pitch and roll as the drone moves around.

The Potensic A20W comes with two extra rechargeable batteries, which is good because you'll only get around nine minutes of airtime on one charge. The main limitation is that while the A20 is robust enough to handle a few minor collisions, it's really too lightweight to handle being flown outdoors in anything but a still day.

HOLY STONE HS100 GPS FPV droneT3 Award

(Image credit: Holy Stone)

6. Holy Stone HS100 GPS FPV

The best low-priced drone for aerial photography beginners

Specifications

Battery life: 15 mins
GPS?: Yes
Camera?: Yes
Gimbal?: No, but camera angle adjustable

Reasons to buy

+
1080p HD camera
+
Adjustable camera pitch
+
Great price

Reasons to avoid

-
No camera gimbal

Designed to introduce aerial photography novices to the world of cinematic drone photography, at the front of the Holy Stone HS100 GPS FPV is a fixed 1080p Wi-Fi camera with 120-degree field of view and 90-degree adjustable angle, ensuring you can capture decent footage or stills and experiment with shots from multiple perspectives. The drone is also suitable for use with FPV (first-person view) goggles.

‘Follow Me’ mode is on-hand to further boost the dynamism of your shots, enabling the drone to automatically follow a subject and keep it in the frame at all times – ideal for epic selfies or shooting fast-moving activity.

The Holy Stone HS100 also comes equipped with GPS precise positioning, ensuring smooth flight and the ability to return to the take-off point at the touch of a button, or as a safety measure if the battery or signal drops. ‘Headless Mode’ and ‘Altitude Hold’ take the stress out of flying so pilots can focus on getting their shots in the bag.

The Holy Stone HS100 ships with a brilliant hand controller and a robust cradle for your phone, whether it’s Android or iOS. This is an excellent value sub-$300 model that is a lot cheaper at Walmart than it is at Amazon.

DJI SPARK droneT3 Award

(Image credit: DJI)

7. DJI Spark

The best drone for selfies

Specifications

Best for: Selfies and autonomous flying
Type: Camera drone
Battery life: 16mins
GPS?: Yes
Camera?: Yes
Gimbal?: Yes
Weight: 0.66lbs / 300g

Reasons to buy

+
Takes great selfies and 1080 video
+
Flies exceptionally well
+
DJI reliability

Reasons to avoid

-
Propeller arms don’t fold
-
Gesture mode can be hit and miss

DJI’s cute little Spark is a bit ruffled around the edges now but still a worthwhile punt – mostly because it’s made by DJI, the Chinese company that knows more about drones than anyone else. The Spark is roughly the size of its closest cousin, the DJI Mavic Mini. However, because its propeller arms don’t fold, it won’t fit in a jacket pocket like the folded Mini will. Even so, this air-snap gizmo is still incredibly portable and one of the smartest selfie drones in existence, available in five lush colors.

The Spark comes with front obstacle avoidance and is rock steady when flown indoors or out. Its camera shoots very acceptable 1080p video and 12-megapixel photos and is equipped with a two-axis mechanical stabilizer for relatively smooth video footage. The battery provides around 16 minutes of flight time, which can be considered quite decent for a drone of this size.

The Spark can be operated in three ways: using hand gestures, a mobile device or, for much greater range (up to 1.2 miles), a dedicated hand controller. While not designed for high-quality videography, it still shoots excellent footage. 

It’s also reassuringly tough as nails, as was aptly demonstrated at a DJI event when one was accidentally flown at full speed – that's 31mph – into a tree. The only thing damaged was a prop; everything else, camera included, worked perfectly. Another great reason to consider snapping one up.

Buying an affordable drone: What you need to know

Consumer drones come in many shapes and sizes and at wildly varying price points. You can buy a small indoor flyer for less than $25 or spend in excess of $10,000 for a heavyweight camera-carrying monster. Most cheap indoor toy drones aren’t that much fun, to be honest, unless the drone has a built-in altitude sensor to gauge its distance from the floor. Sensor-equipped toy drones like the Parrot Mambo hold their position indoors impeccably well and are great models to learn on since their stick control methods are exactly the same as with bigger outdoor models. 

Ultimately, we’d advise against buying your kid a cheap indoor toy drone without some form of positioning sensor built-in, otherwise the drone will be really difficult to control. In fact, like the tiny remote-controlled helicopter you ill-advisedly bought last year, it will likely crash within the first three minutes and then be put away with all the other toys, never to be seen again.

So, perhaps forget the really cheap indoor models and opt for an outdoor one instead. Even some of the cheapest outdoor drones use GPS to locate their position in the sky and this bit of tech is vitally important, especially if you're a beginner. GPS-equipped models are, far and away, the easiest form of model aircraft to fly – and the most reliable. They will hover in one spot, only drifting a little even when flying in a stiff breeze. Some models are even equipped with a clever return-to-home (RTH) feature that will fly the drone back to the user and land, all automatically with zero input from the pilot.

However, it is essential that you read the drone’s manual before take-off and acquaint yourself with all controls by practicing at low altitude and at low speed before reaching for the sky. Also, be mindful of where you fly it and know your local ‘drone’ laws intimately (see below).

Best affordable drones 2020

(Image credit: DJI)

What's the best type of drone for you?

If you just want to whizz about the local park or heathland, try any of the budget-priced Chinese GPS-equipped copters below. They’re cheap enough not to cause too much of a fuss if crashed but their onboard cameras – if they have one – are woefully low on the resolution front making them near useless for cinematography purposes. This brings us neatly to the arena of the HD camera-carrying drone…

Photography and video are the two main reasons why drones have soared to such stratospheric popularity. And all because of Chinese company, DJI. 

When, in July 2014, DJI released the Phantom 2 Vision+ with a built-in HD camera and three-way gimbal (the clever bit that keeps the camera rock steady no matter what the drone is doing), the world rushed at the opportunity to shoot the sort of aerial video previously only accessible to those sitting in a helicopter seat.  

Video and photography fans are naturally more interested in the quality of the camera onboard than the mothership carrying it. The very best models sync the images from the camera to the user’s phone, which is normally plugged into a hand controller. This allows the pilot to see exactly what the camera’s pointing at and record video or shoot stills accordingly.

Companies like Potensic and Eachine are producing some excellent models of this nature that are good at shooting video and especially photo stills. Granted, none of them hold a candle to the DJI fleet in terms of high-end image quality, rock-solid reliability and integration between phone app and craft, but they’re a darn sight cheaper to buy and just as much fun to fly.

USA drone regulations: What you need to know

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has some regulations regarding drone ownership and flying. In a nutshell, all owners of drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds are, by law, required to register online as a drone operator. Registration costs $5 and is valid for three years. You must be 13 years of age or older.

Read the full guidelines, and register as a drone operator, at www.faa.gov.

So you don't get yourself into trouble in a public place, there are also some basic rules you need to follow:

Also, remember that in the US it is illegal to fly any drone in a National Park. Yes, we know that that is exactly where you’d like to fly a camera-equipped drone, but rules are rules. If you want to find out more about where and where you can’t fly a drone, check out these handy tips in our US drone rules and regulations guide.

Derek (aka Delbert, Delvis, Delphinium, Delboy etc) specialises in home and outdoor wares, from coffee machines, white appliances and vacs to drones, garden gear and BBQs. He has been writing for more years than anyone can remember, starting at the legendary Time Out magazine – the original, London version – on a typewriter! He now writes for T3 between playing drums with his bandmates in Red Box (redboxmusic). 

With contributions from