Buyer’s Guide: some of the best drones for under $1,000

Buyer's Guide best drones

We realized we haven’t done a recent roundup of recommended drones. We also realize that many drone buyers want to get in under the $1,000 price point. So we figured: Let’s highlight what are, in our opinion, the best standard drones for under $1,000 in this Buyer’s Guide.

There are a lot of drones out there vying for your attention. In this post, we’re going to focus on non-FPV drones – though we’re going to follow up with a similar post from that realm in future. Today, however, we’re going to keep it simple and look at what offerings are out there that might be a good fit for both your budget and needs. We’re also, for the most part, going to avoid precise price tags, since they can vary from country to country (we have readers all over the world).

Under $100

Sure, this is “toy” drone territory – and normally we don’t pay much attention to this market segment.

But the reality is, a lot of people don’t have the coin for a DJI or Skydio drone, and simply want to test the waters to see if this hobby is a fit. The other truth is that the less expensive drones have been getting much better, often boasting features found in more expensive models.

So we thought: Let’s scour the internet, check out customer and influencer reviews, and come up with some recommendations in this space.

Sanrock U61W – for kids and beginners

This model (and we’ve been spinning through Amazon a lot) offers a 720p camera, prop protection, three speed settings and even an altitude hold mode. It’s called the SANROCK U61W. And while it’s marketed for kids, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be a reasonable choice for any beginner. Flight time is up to 14 minutes and it comes with two batteries. You can safely fly it indoors, thanks to the quasi-ducted props, and of course you can fly it outdoors as well.

We found a review video from a first-time drone buyer; he thinks it’s pretty good, and very durable:

Plus, it’s inexpensive. You can check out details on the Sanrock U61W here.

There are a zillion drones out there

Well, maybe not that many. But wow – plowing through Amazon and scrolling through forums can make your head spin. Recently, Electrek writer and e-bike reviewer Micah Toll asked what I’d recommend for his 9-year-old nephew. I came up with another sub-$100 model made by Drocon.

The bad news: That particular model is no longer available. The good? Micah said it was fantastic:

So he’s now graduated to my 4+ year-old DJI Spark, but he spent a few months on that drone first and I think it was great because it taught him good flying skills. The DJI drones are obviously super easy to fly, but almost too easy – which can be a problem in terms of teaching someone to fly. It’d be like learning to drive with Tesla Autopilot on all the time. So starting on that drone was great for him to learn drone control, and now he’s flying the GPS stablized DJI drone and filming me riding bikes for reviews.

Micah also said it was super durable. So, given that it’s no longer available, we went hunting for other Drocons.

$100-$200

Now, we haven’t actually flown the Drocon DC-08, and are basing this recommendation on both the reviews and the experience of Micah’s nephew with a lower-priced drone made by the same manufacturer. This model retails for $134.90 on Amazon in the US. It has a Phantom-style frame, features a 1080p camera, and has an overall four-star rating.

We popped onto YouTube to check out videos, and found this one. If you’re strapped for time, spin ahead to the 7:15 mark for the verdict:

It actually appears to be a pretty good drone for the money. If you want more details and specs, you’ll find them here.

Stepping up resolution

Competition in the drone world has a large number of Chinese companies chasing consumers. And many consumers face a dilemma: They want better video quality than the least expensive drones, but still don’t want to spend a fortune. A good option here, and just a step below getting into DJI territory, is the Ruko F11 Pro.

The foldable drone is based on the Mavic style, and features 2.9K video, 30 minutes of flight time, and a range of between 300–500 meters, which is plenty for someone starting out. The product ranks 4.5/5 based on more than 5,800 ratings, so clearly people like this product. It has GPS, Follow Me mode, and other features usually found on pricier products. Reviewers seem to like it:

One thing worth noting: The image shown on Amazon appears to show a single-axis gimbal, whereas the F11 Pro seen in the video has a two-axis gimbal. Could be that the Amazon image is out of date, but we just wanted to flag that. The reviews, though, are awesome – so it qualifies as one of the best drones under $1,000.

Moving up the scale

At this point, you’re getting into DJI territory. But before we get there, it’s worth checking out a new challenger in this space: The Hubsan Zino Mini Pro. The product has been delayed due to the global chip shortage, but – as colleague Ishveena Singh pointed out – has recently hit the FCC Database, signaling that release is imminent.

Look familiar? It’s a direct competitor for the DJI Mavic MINI and the MINI 2

The entry-level model, with 64GB built-in memory, is priced at $459. For that, you get an incredible 40-minute flight time and three-directional obstacle avoidance. The remote control can communicate with the drone up to 10 kilometers away, which is the same range as you’ll get with the Mini 2. It features a 48MP camera, 6X digital zoom, writes video in H.265 compression at an impressive bitrate of 200Mbps – along with much more:

The product isn’t yet listed on Amazon, but is available for order on the Hubsan website. There’s already a lot of buzz about this drone.

DJI territory

You’re now already (well, actually above) the entry-level to DJI territory. And here, we are very familiar with the products.

Mini SE

Depending on where you live, the Mini SE might be available. This is essentially the original Mavic Mini in shell of the MINI 2 – sort of a sheep in wolf’s clothing, lol. Already on the market in Southeast Asia and South America, the Mini SE is very competitively priced. We won’t hop into all the specs, because Ishveena did a nice little update right here.

We’re not going to get into specifics on price, as they may vary depending on your country. But if you’re in the United States, you’re out of luck. DJI has no plans, so we’re told, to sell this product in the US or Europe (with the exception of Russia). Here’s a statement the company recently sent to DroneDJ:

The DJI Mini SE is a specialized product tailored for entry-level drone pilots in markets where consumer drone use is emerging. It uses the internal components of the Mavic Mini in the shell of the Mini 2, which generates slightly higher wind resistance but provides much of the performance of the original Mavic Mini at a very attractive price. There are currently no plans to sell this product in the US or Europe (apart from Russia). DJI Mini 2 remains our flagship entry-level drone, with its superior 4K/30fps resolution and up to 10km image transmission (subject to local rules and regulations).

The original Mavic Mini (and really, that’s what this is), was an incredible product for the price when first released. And it’s still an excellent drone, now with a lower price point. This is a super reliable product with a lot of proven features. And if you can get one, you can’t go wrong at the price.

DJI MINI 2

What can we say? This is a fantastic product. It’s more powerful than the original Mini, has a better camera featuring 4K, 30 fps video, and can stream back to your phone or tablet (connected to the controller) from up to 10 kilometers. The Hubsan Zino Mini Pro has the edge in wind resistance (Level 7 vs Level 5), but the Mini 2 is a really awesome drone.

And while hitting that 249-gram sweet spot means you don’t need to register the drone, you do need to have a Part 107 license if you’re using this product for commercial purposes (something we weren’t aware of when we made the video).

And the quality of the 4K? Have a look for yourself:

Mavic Mini?

Now, some of you might be wondering: What about the Mavic Mini? It’s still being sold by DJI, right? Doesn’t it belong in the Buyer’s Guide to some of the best drones under $1,000? Well, kinda. It’s still a great drone. But we honestly feel that the extra power and improved resolution and range of the Mini 2 make it worth the extra money. That’s without mentioning the upgraded controller, which we find a lot nicer to handle than the Mavic Mini controller:

Detail of Mavic Air 2 Controller – Scott Simmie Photo

Yes, by all means, buy the Mini SE if you’re in one of the countries where it’s sold. But if you’re not, scrape together the extra cash to buy the Mini 2. As we reported when it was released, it’s an awesome drone.

Mavic Air 2

OK, we’re taking a bit of a jump, to midway between the Mini 2 and the $1,000 ceiling we’ve put on this roundup. The Air 2 – despite the improvements of the Air 2S – is still a great drone. It’s nimble, has great flight time, and has a number of automated flight patterns (as does the Mini 2) that will make you look like a pro in no time.

In fact, when I first got a chance to fly this drone a little more than a year ago, I was blown away. It was fantastic, and just so much more agile than my original Mavic Pro. I’m in Canada, and DJI is showing a retail price of $799 for the basic drone, controller, and battery. Despite using a VPN with a US-based server, sometimes the prices don’t line up with what US customers will see – but it’s in the range. If you’re willing to opt for a DJI refurbished model, you can get it even cheaper.

AIR 2S

And, finally, we approach the end of our Buyer’s Guide for the some of the best drones under $1,000. The Air 2S is, simply put, better than the Air 2 in a couple of key ways: It has a better camera sensor, despite its lower stated resolution (20 megapixels vs. 48 megapixels). The basic explanation here is that the Air 2 uses a Quad-Bayer sensor and a technique called “pixel binning” to get that 48 MP figure. But it doesn’t actually translate into better images. The Air 2S, by contrast, features a 1″-type CMOS sensor, and captures details much better than the Air 2.

We’re not going to go into all the details here, but – trust us on this – the imaging quality for both stills and video on the Air 2S is superior to the Air 2.

This is our current favourite sub-$1000 drone

Will the Air 2 do the job? Yes, it will.

Will the Air 2S do the job better? Beyond a doubt.

Wait, there’s more!

Up until recently, the Skydio 2 would have qualified in this price slot at $999. But it’s now priced at $1,349. So we’ll save that drone – which has a lot of things going for it – until next time.

In the meantime, we’re not perfect. We did our best on the lower-end drones, based on reputation, customer reviews, and what influencers had to say. But it’s quite possible we’ve missed some diamond in the rough. If you think there’s another worthy entrant into this field, let us know in the comments and we’ll check it out.

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