While the holiday seasons bring cold weather for so many of us, drones are HOT right now.
Racking your brain about what drone to buy this holiday season?
Everyone from gadget geeks to photography enthusiasts to business owners are having fun learning to fly, and some are even choosing to get certified by the FAA to make some money as a professional drone pilot.
Below are our top drone picks for every gift-giving price range.
It goes without saying that this list is not all-encompassing. There are dozens of quality drone manufacturers and dozens more model variations to consider.
This list is loosely organized by price, with cheaper models at the top, and the more expensive, professional drone models toward the bottom. In case you’d like to see the full list here without having to scroll down, here it is:
Some things to keep in mind when you’re buying a drone for under $50 just to set your expectations:
Why is the UFO 3000 LED quadcopter our top pick in the under $50 price range?
Because the retailer, Force1 RC, includes an extra battery with this model, doubling your flight time! They’re also U.S. based and from personal experience provide great customer support.
This model in particular comes with precision steering that allows for tight, controlled flying. And the lights are pretty fun too. 🙂
It’s really kind of amazing how much smarter the flight software is in models like this than it was this time last year, and so much smarter than just two years back.
The U45 Raven is another awesome Force1 drone, with a great value at $59.99.
This drone also comes with an HD camera for 720p high def aerial photos and videos with 2MP. It comes with headless mode, and you can fly it right out of the box without needing to adjust the drone’s position or orientation prior to flying.
Another features to note for the Raven is one touch take off and landing, which means the drone automatically hovers at a set altitude after take off and before landing, which makes it easy to control and maneuver, especially for beginners who are not yet skilled. It also has an altitude hold function, which makes it super easy for beginners to fly since this allows for stability in the air, and also comes in very handy when you’re taking photographs.
The Hubsan X4 107L is an upgraded version of the model I learned to fly on back in 2014. This particular package comes with propeller guards and an easy USB charger.
Hubsan is a tried-and-true Chinese manufacturer. I’ve flown the vast majority of their cheaper models, and I’ve been impressed with how they’ve slowly been improving the X4 over the last year.
This blue 107L model comes with LED lights, fits in the palm of your hand, and is a great trainer for someone looking to get into small unmanned aerial systems as either a hobbyist or aspiring professional. Also a great drone for kids.
I’ve been teaching my dad how to fly on this drone. One of the big upgrades here is “Altitude Hold,” or the ability to take your left thumb off the throttle and to have the drone hover at the same altitude.
This makes controlling the drone a LOT easier for beginners and those looking to truly master multirotor orientation. You’re also going to get a one-touch take off and landing, and a custom route mode that allows you to trace your desired flight path on your phone or tablet screen. These features were typically reserved for higher end RC drones, but now we’re starting to see them in the $50 to $150 range.
The U49C Red Heron quadcopterl looks sleek and is a great gift for the newbie drone pilot.
Like the Blue Jay above and the Discovery below, the retailer Force1 RC includes an extra battery in this model, which doubles your flight time and is great for folks logging those first few hours of flight. The Red Heron also comes with spare motors, which is a great value add, especially for beginner drone pilots.
Finally, to round out this price range is the UDI Discovery. I also learned to fly on an earlier version of the Discovery back in 2014. It’s bigger than the other two models in this section but has similar features like VR headset compatibility and an extra battery, and actually comes with a free VR headset (although there’s no video function on the transmitter, so you’ll need to use the app on your phone or tablet to capture video).
The Spark is a selfie drone that takes off from the operator’s hand and automatically enters “Gesture Mode”, which lets users send it into the air and shoot a video with pre-defined flight paths, like circling, following, or filming from straight up.
With it’s gesture recognition and obstacle avoidance technology, it’s not an exaggeration to say that DJI’s Spark is probably the most user-friendly drone on the market.
If you want to fly longer distances with the Spark you have the option of using a smartphone app for flights over 100 yards away, or you can use a remote control (the Spark can fly a distance of 1.2 miles). The Intelligent Flight Modes available with more professional DJI drones—such as TapFly and ActiveTrack—can also be found on the Spark.
It’s pretty wild that you can get a DJI Phantom 3 for less than $500. There are a few different variations of Phantom 3, and while the “Standard” model is technically their version with comparably less features than their 4K, Advanced, or Professional models, don’t let that hold you back from taking a serious look at the Standard.
25 minutes of battery life and an 8GB micro SD card lets the beginner aerial photographer or videographer take advantage of a camera that shoots HD video up to 2.7K at 30 FPS, or still photos at 12 MP.
For a serious hobbyist or aspiring commercial pilot who’s looking to dip his or her toes into the waters with a professional system that won’t break the bank, the DJI Phantom 3 Standard is a great choice.
The Bugs GPS drone comes with a 1080p camera and an 8gb memory card and reader, so it’s a solid option for taking high quality video and photography at an affordable price.
The Bugs comes with headless mode, altitude hold, and three different return home functions, allow of which make this a good, high quality drone for newer pilots.
The Bugs also comes with an extra 7.4V 1800mAh LIPO battery, which is a great value add and effectively doubles your possible flight time before having to recharge.
One of the most awesome aspects of the F100 drone is its incredibly long battery life.
Without a camera attached, you can fly the F100 for up to 15 minutes, and with a camera it will last for about 12 minutes.
The F100 is a solid choice for videography, since it comes with a mount that’s compatible with the GoPro Hero 3 or 4.
You can also use the F100 for tricks and stunts, since it allows for 360° flips, and is easy to maneuver. All this, and it flies quietly due to its brushless motor, which makes it not only quiet but also helps it fly for longer (as noted above).
The DJI Mavic is a game-changer for aerial photographers and filmmakers.
Launched in the fall of 2016 and marketed as a professional (and portable) aerial media system, it’s small size actually hides a pretty high degree of complexity and sophistication.
The DJI Mavic also boasts obstacle avoidance, sensor redundancy, and runs vision positioning paired with GPS and GLONASS to ensure precise positioning during both indoor AND outdoor flights.
The DJI Phantom 4 is one of the top drones on the market right now.
It’s the fastest Phantom so far, capable of reaching top speeds of 45 miles per hour. It also gets an excellent flight time of 28 minutes — great for pro pilots to get the shots they need and minimize downtime.
The Phantom 4 also has a built-in camera that can record video at 4K, 2.7K, 1080p and 720p. But one of it’s most notable features is the obstacle avoidance system. The drone can intelligently position and maneuver itself around obstacles mid-flight.
Couple all of this with a Tap to Fly system, DJI’s reliability, and robust software, and you’ve got a tough drone to beat.
These extra parts are available for the DJI Phantom 4:
DJI recently released the Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian, which comes with a magnesium shell and anti-fingerprint coating, not to mention the super cool-looking matte-grey obsidian coloring.
Check it out:
You can buy the Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian now on the DJI website.
If you haven’t heard of Yuneec, you’re missing out on some high-quality aerial camera platforms that may very well be the perfect fit for your recreational (or business) needs.
The H520 is equipped with six rotors, a 360-degree gimbal camera and retractable landing gear with Yuneec’s standard of being ready out of the box, easy and safe to fly, with stunning Ultra HD 4K video and stills.
The H520 was built for both industrial use and ambitious professionals. It comes with a long focal-length lenses that allows the drone to fly at a greater distance from an object and data storage that may be shared instantly from the ST16S Ground Station or delivered directly in 4K/2K/HD video or 20Mp still images.