You don’t need to break the bank to buy a fun, reliable drone.

If you’re looking to buy your first drone, whether for racing or just for the fun of it, searching for the top-rated drones might result in sticker shock. Sure, the DJI Inspire 1 looks AMAZING, but at nearly $3,000, it’s not worth the investment if you’re a novice hobbyist.

If you’re a beginner, you’ll want a drone that’s easy enough to fly to get a handle on everything but also tough enough to survive a crash caused by human error or technical malfunction. Fortunately, there are a number of great drone options out there for under $300. They may include cameras (of lesser-quality, of course) and first-person view (FPV) flying options, as well as bumpers to protect the blades and hardware while you’re still learning the basics. Then, once you’re confident in your skills as a drone pilot, you can decide whether to upgrade to a more expensive, professional drone.

Three of these drones fall below both the FAA requirements for registration which only costs $5 per aircraft and will save you from dealing with fines (or worse) if the authorities catch you flying an unregistered drone. The same three are also light enough to avoid falling under Canada’s new restrictive drone laws, so you’ll be able to fly them in your local park without setting yourself up to be fined.

Tokky MJX Bugs 3 Brushless Drone set

Recommended by mvierling in the comments, the Tokky MJX Bugs 3 offers great value to those who have practiced flying with cheaper drones and are ready to move onto something a bit more substantial but still affordable.

This drone has both beginner and advanced flight modes, but even the beginner mode is pretty fast. The base kit includes the drone, wireless transmitter, one 1800mAh LiPo battery, and eight spare blades. While this drone doesn’t have a built-in camera, it does include a camera mount for a GoPro or other similar sized action cameras.

You’ll get about 15-19 minutes of flight time on a fully-charged battery. You can get a two-pack of extra batteries for under $30 as well as extra sets of blades for under $15 — and you’ll probably need those extra blades.

For $160, you can get a kit that includes a waterproof backpack for storing and transporting your drone, or just buy the drone itself and save $30.

See at Amazon

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 16.4″ x 16.4″ x 6.5″
  • Weight: 4 lbs
  • Camera: GoPro mount included.
  • Average flight time: 15-19 minutes
  • FAA registration required?: Yes

Aukey Black Sparrow

The Aukey Black Sparrow offers a great value for anyone looking to take control of a full-sized drone for under $100. Some assembly is required out of the box, as you’ll need to install the landing gear and blade guards with the included screwdriver. You’ll also need to charge the built-in battery for a few hours before it’s ready to fly.

Once it is, you’ll get an average of 10 minutes of flight time. The included 2.4 GHz controller all plastic, but capable with switches for calibrating the drone and switching to headless mode for easier controls. It allows for over 1000 ft of range, and the bright LEDs on the bottom also make night flying an option. You definitely need to take this drone out to a wide open field and fly it far away from buildings, people and power lines. That’s sound advice for flying any drone, but especially for the Black Sparrow — due to its combined power and lightweight, you don’t want to lose control of it and cause damage or injury. The onboard 6-axis gyro helps to keep the drone stable in flight — a must-have feature for novice flyers — but can be difficult to control in windy conditions.

While the Black Sparrow doesn’t come with a camera, you’ll notice a video port and threads for mounting a camera attachment in the bottom. A camera accessory is not currently available, but is featured in the user manual as an optional upgrade.

See at Amazon

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 21.3″ x 21.3″ x 6″
  • Weight: 1.5 lbs
  • Camera: No
  • Average flight time: 10 minutes
  • FAA registration required?: Yes

Microdrone 3.0

Microdrone 3.0

The MicroDrone 3.0 raised over $3 million on IndieGoGo and, like the name suggests, is the smallest drone on this list, but don’t let its small size fool you. This is a fully-capable drone with a ton of features jam-packed into a small, minimalist package.

Included in the full set combo, now available from Amazon, you get the drone, a 2.4 GHz handset, propeller guards, four replacement blades, four blades for inverted flying, the Wi-Fi Camera module, a smartphone holder that attaches to the handset, as well as a VR headset that holds most smartphones for FPV flying. Basically, it’s everything you need to get started.

It’s a capable flyer with three control modes (slow, fast, and insane), as well as a toggle switch for stunt mode, which lets you perform impressive flips and rolls. The camera literally snaps on in a second thanks to proprietary magnets that also deliver power to the camera. Connect your phone to the camera’s Wi-Fi and control and record video through the Microdrone app.

Note that the folks behind the Microdrone are still working to fulfill their crowdfunding backers first, so you’ll probably end up having to wait some time before it arrives.

See at Amazon

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 5.7″ x 5.7″ x 1.9″
  • Weight: .12 lbs (56 g) without camera, .16 lbs (71 g) with camera
  • Camera: Yes — removable, shoots 720 x 1080 HD at 30 FPS
  • Average flight time: 10 minutes (without camera)
  • FAA registration required?: No

Syma X8G

Syma X8G

This is another great option for beginners. It flies well right out of the box with a gradual learning curve and a build that’s reportedly strong enough to survive multiple crashes into trees. It’s also the biggest drone on the list and comes with the best camera with the ability to swap in a GoPro.

You’ll get up to eight minutes of flight time on a full battery charge, but you’ll want to invest in multiple batteries because it takes up to 3 hours to charge the 2000mAh battery, which is by far the biggest drawback for this drone. Otherwise, given the build, size, and price, this is a fantastic option for a novice drone pilot or someone looking to get sweet aerial shots on the cheap.

See at Amazon

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 19.7″ x 19.7″ x 7.5″
  • Weight: 3.4 lbs
  • Camera: Yes — removable, 8 MP, 120p and 1080p video quality. Also compatible with GoPro cameras
  • Average flight time: 5-8 minutes
  • FAA registration required?: Yes

Walkera Runner 250

Walkera Runner 250

If you’re interested in the emerging world of drone racing, this would be the drone to start with — but it’s not recommended for beginners. Made from lightweight carbon fiber, it’s built to take a licking and keep on ticking. It doesn’t look as pretty as the other drones on this list, but again, this one is built for speed over style and sure delivers on that front.

The Runner 250 is capable of going extremely fast — up to 24 miles per hour — while still offering good control with up to 1000 meters of range. Flying at those speeds, you’ll want to make sure the battery is well secured, as it’s been reported to come loose and cut power to the camera after major crashes. Everything comes assembled in the box, along with a tool set for making repairs as needed. Happy racing!

See at Amazon

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 18.5″ x 11.3″ x 5.2″
  • Weight: 1.1 lbs
  • Camera: Yes (800TVL built-in)
  • Average flight time: 12-15 minutes
  • FAA registration required?: Yes

Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition

Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition

Parrot is a trusted name in drones, and the AR 2.0 is a fantastic entry point for someone interested in the hobby.

Unlike other drones on this list, this one is controlled strictly via a Wi-Fi connection with your smartphone; no handset is included. Simply download the Parrot control app to your phone and you’re able to control and record video in 720p. There’s also an optional Director Mode available for purchase within the app that allows you to set up cinematic shots if you fancy yourself an amateur filmmaker. There’s even a USB plug in the base of the drone so you can record video straight to a removable drive.

The built-in sensors and navigation system allow the AR 2.0 to maintain stability, even in winds gusting up to 15 miles per hour, so you shouldn’t lose control of your drone on a windy day. Even if you do, simply attach the foam blade protectors to help take the brunt of any crashes. Oh, and the Elite Edition means it comes styled in your choice of camo: jungle, desert, or snow.

See at Amazon

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 23″ x 23″ x 5″
  • Weight: 4 lbs
  • Camera: Yes — 720p HD video
  • Average flight time: 11 minutes
  • FAA registration required?: Yes

LaTrax Alias Quadcopter

LaTrax Alias Quadcopter

This one is a fine option for beginners and experts alike. Built with a solid, molded composite frame, this thing is both rugged and extremely lightweight.

Including a 2.4 GHz handset for controls, this thing is built for speed and stunting. There’s no camera or options, so if that’s an important feature for you, you’ll have to look elsewhere. It does come with multiple flying modes, from an easy mode that keeps the speed in check to a full manual mode that puts you in full control of stabilization and everything.

While the LaTrax Alias lacks features found in other options on this list, the build design and price make this a great option for someone looking for something fast, cheap, and fun to fly.

See at Amazon

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 12″ x 12″ x 1.6″
  • Weight: .22 lbs (100g)
  • Camera: No
  • Average flight time: 10 minutes
  • FAA registration required?: No

Holy Stone Predator

Holy Stone Predator

If you’re brand-spanking new to drones and need a cheap drone to practice that avoids FAA registration or Canada’s new drone laws, the Holy Stone Predator is a great option. It comes with its own controller that simple enough for beginners to pick up and fly, and is capable of pulling off stunts and withstanding light winds for outdoor flights. But the real bonus here is the size. It’s small enough to allow for practice indoors if you’ve got the space. A fully-charged battery supplies six minutes of flight time; with replacement batteries really cheap and easy to swap in and out, this is a cheap drone with affordable accessories.

See at Amazon

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 5.3″ x 1.6″ x 5.3″
  • Weight: 1.42 ounces (42g)
  • Camera: No
  • Average flight time: 6 minutes
  • FAA registration required?: No

What did we miss?

Are you a drone enthusiast? Got any experience with the drones we’ve listed here? Got a suggestion for one that we missed? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Updated July 21: Added the Tokky MJX Bugs 3 Brushless Drone set.



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