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Best Overall: DJI Phantom 3 at Amazon
"The DJI Phantom 3 delivers superb performance with a brilliant combination of features including a 4K camera and up to 25 minutes of flight time."
Runner-Up, Best Overall: DJI Spark at Amazon
"The DJI Spark offers a top-notch blend of performance features, price, and low-profile design, all while sporting a max speed of 31 mph."
Best Budget: Drocon U31W at Amazon
"The Drocon U31W may not be as fancy as some other drones but it’s an impressively well-received device for the price."
Best Camera: Yuneec Typhoon 4K at Newegg
"If you can score a refurbished model, the Typhoon Q500 is an impressive quadcopter packed with features and a 12MP camera capable of 4K video."
Runner-Up, Best Camera: Upair One at Amazon
"If you want a good camera on a capable drone but still have some learning to do as a pilot, the UPAir One is not a bad option."
Best for Kids: Parrot Mambo at Amazon
"Parrot’s Mambo drone is an affordable little device with a quirky design that makes it a great pick for older kids and beginner pilots."
Courtesy of Amazon
To get this drone for less than $500, you may have to seek out a refurbished model, but the DJI Phantom 3 delivers superb performance with a brilliant combination of features. To start, there’s the camera, which is available in both 2.7K and 4K versions and comes mounted on a three-axis gimbal for extra control and stable video.
The package only gets better with DJI’s remote which can control the drone from anywhere within a 0.75-mile range. You can view a live feed from the drone's camera using the DJI Go app on your phone as well. The Phantom 3 can keep track of its location using GPS (and vision positioning systems in the 4K model), and it has a number of advanced flight modes, such as Follow Me, which allows the drone to fly on its own.
The included battery offers up to 25 minutes of flight time, giving you long enough to get up in the air (even when you're first learning) and capture plenty of great images and video. You can find refurbished models of the DJI Phantom 3, Phantom 3 SE with 4K camera, and Phantom 3 with 4K camera all for less than $500.
The DJI Spark offers a top-notch blend of performance features, price, and low-profile design. This isn’t a pocket drone, but it’s not as big as the Phantom, either. Even bundled with a remote control, the DJI Spark stays below the $500 mark thanks to a few newer DJI drones which come in at higher price points.
What you get from the Spark is a competent drone that can hit a max speed of 31mph, fly for 16 minutes on a full charge, and travel up to 1.2 miles from the controller. On the front of the drone is a 12MP camera capable of recording video in 1080p at 30 frames per second. While that’s not the best quality on our list, the Spark camera is mounted on a two-axis gimbal which enables angle adjustment and stable video.
The Spark can be controlled with a phone or controller, and can even perform some autonomous flights. It has a number of gesture-based controls, can track subjects, and uses both GPS and vision positioning. As far as drones go, the Spark is highly versatile.
The Drocon U31W may not be as fancy as some of the other drones on our list, and some of its features may be dialed down substantially, but it’s an impressively well-received device for the price. It also offers plenty of features that make it ideal for first-time fliers, including rotor guards, which make it safer to practice with.
The Drocon U31W’s 2MP camera is capable of 720P video which may not be much for recording, but it does offer a way to connect to your phone for flying with a first-person perspective. If you want to take big group selfies, it can certainly help with that as well courtesy of its 120-degree field of view.
As we mentioned, this drone also has some handy features for beginner pilots, such as an altitude-hold mode, one key take-off and landing, and a headless mode so you don’t need to pay attention to which direction the drone is facing. While many of the other competing drones offer similar or better features, the Drocon U31W is dramatically cheaper, making it a solid option for first-time drone owners.
Courtesy of NewEgg
If the DJI Phantom 3 isn’t quite your style, then Yuneec’s Typhoon Q500 is your next best bet for a killer drone camera under $500. Once again, scoring this high-quality drone at this price requires going with a refurbished model, but that gets you an impressive quadcopter packed with features and a 12MP camera capable of 4K video at 30 frames per second or 1080p slow-mo video at 120 frames per second.
The Typhoon Q500 features a 4K camera mounted on a three-axis gimbal for steady recording. The package even comes with a handheld mount for the camera if you want to use it separate from the drone. A controller is also included, and it has a video screen built in, so you can see from your drone's perspective.
If you want to fly for a while, you can take comfort in the Typhoon’s long 25-minute battery. The Typhoon also features some autonomous modes, such as the Watch Me and Follow Me modes which can help you make use of the 4K camera even if you don’t yet feel like a confident drone pilot.
If you don’t want to go the refurbished route, the UPAir One drone offers an 8MP camera capable of recording 2.7K video at 30 frames per second or 1080p at 60 frames person. The camera is also mounted on a stabilizing gimbal that can help keep your videos shake free. The UPAir One comes with a controller featuring a large 7-inch screen, so you’ll be ready to fly from a first-person perspective right away.
The UPAir One has GPS built in. So, if you fly it far away and don’t feel like manually bringing it back to you, one keypress can have it automatically find its way back to you. Headless mode also gives newer pilots an easy way to fly, as you don’t have to worry about which direction is forward or backward. It is also capable of automatically maintaining altitude.
If you want a good camera on a capable drone but still have some learning to do as a pilot, this isn’t a bad option. It’s more affordable than some of the other picks with good cameras, and with an 18-minute flight time, the battery will last you long enough to get your bearings up in the air.
Parrot’s Mambo drone is an affordable little device with a number of fun features, along with a quirky design that makes it a great pick for older kids and beginner pilots. Some features are enabled through add-ons, such as the FPV camera, letting you pilot with a first-person perspective. A small cannon can also be mounted on top to shoot miniature balls, or a grabber arm can be attached on the bottom to pick up and carry light cargo.
The Parrot Mambo can be piloted with a controller or a connected smartphone running the FreeFlight Mini app, which offers simple controls and easy access to tricks like flips and barrel rolls. It also has some smart features, like a cut-out system to shut down the motors in case of a crash.
The Parrot Mambo makes our list for its smart combination of price, FPV camera, cockpit glasses (which make you feel like you’re piloting from inside the drone), and a controller for flying. This version can also fly for up to 10 minutes on a charge, giving you a good bit of time to tool around while you learn.
You may want to read up on some drone safety tips before you buy.