A common question that most potential drone pilots have is about the price, which makes sense, we need to know the drone prices so we can budget for our new flying machines. While it is important to learn how much drones cost, it’s just as important to understand that the best drone for you may cost less than you think.
Let’s explore what you get for your money, this is the reality of drone prices today. Exploring the market in mid 2021.
How much should drones cost?
As you explore a drone purchase, please first ask yourself what you need out of your flying machine. Don’t assume that a higher price tag makes for a better drone, I mean, it usually does, but only within a specific drone type. That is my goal for today, to ensure you buy the right drone type for your needs.
First time pilots and practice drones – Under $100
To start things off, we always recommend you buy a very low-cost drone. It does not matter what your long-term drone goals are, we think everyone should fly a $20 – $30 toy aircraft as their first drone. Learn how things work, get a feel for how the controls operate, and get your first few crashes under your belt with minimal financial loss.
Your second drone and beginner racing drones – Under $250
If you’d like to progress your general piloting skills, or start to get into the sport of drone racing, we recommend a drone in the $100 – $250 price bracket. For the racers, these will be capable racing drones, just not as fast, feature packed, nor reliable as the more expensive racing drones. For the general pilot, you’ll get your first taste of GPS enabled flight, and step up to a camera for fpv flights.
Entry-level camera drones and full racing drones – Under $500
For the aerial photography enthusiast, this is where you start in order to take good photos from the sky. Drones in the $250 – $500 price bracket will offer a decent smartphone-caliber camera experience. The camera sensor may be decently capable, but the real value will be in the camera gimbal. Drones are inherently violent in how they operate, a non-stabilized camera will suffer from jitters, blurring, and that crazy jello effect in videos. A high shutter speed will still capture decent photos, but a video from a non-stabilized camera is a disheartening thing to watch.
Camera drones in this bracket will be 1080p, maybe up to 2.7K video resolution, and rarely better than a 12MP, 1/2.3-inch camera sensor with a fixed lens.
In the racing department, you should expect to get a full flight kit in the $500 range. Make no mistake, there are always higher-end racing drones, FPV headsets, and controllers that can each exceed $500, but a $500 kit will be a good enough setup to win any regional competitions. Prepare to spend more when you are ready to go to big international races.
Mid-tier consumer camera drones – Under $1,000
We respect the offerings in the $500 and under range, but when you increase your budget a little you begin to see a dramatic improvement in your aerial captures. First, almost all of these more expensive drones will have a 3-axis stabilized camera gimbal. Older drones in this range will still be using the 1/2.3-inch camera sensor, but newer machines offer a 48MP 1/2-inch sensor. Using pixel binning, these sensors capture 12MP images and 4K video that is far superior to the smaller sensor. Optics are one thing, you’ll also find higher computing capacity, and maybe higher-end software, to do more processing on your images. For example, enjoy HDR captures, which provide far better white-balanced images.
In addition to the improved camera, you should expect more automated flight features, better image capture modes, and improved flight safety. Drones in the $500 – $1,000 range will offer at least forward obstacle avoidance sensors. Many will have downward sensors as well, if not more.
High-end consumer camera drones – Under $1,800
When you are ready to enjoy the best of the best in consumer camera drones, you’ll be looking at spending upwards of $1,800. In this range you will find drones with 21MP, full 1-inch camera sensors, more obstacle avoidance sensors, and better internal processing to get even more out of your shots. While most drones in this segment still offer 4K video capture, newer machines are starting to offer 6K and even 8K video recording.
Drones in this range may also be much larger machines, which is inconvenient for transportation, but means you can use them to carry larger cameras and even other items, such as fishing lures or life-saving medical equipment.
Professional camera drones – $1,800 and up
Do you work for a professional video team? This is where you’ll be shopping for your next drone. There are some drones in this segment that offer built-in cameras, but most of these machines will simply be flying platforms for your professional camera rigs. These will mostly be very large and expensive drones, made to not only carry large and heavy cameras, but to haul all the remote controls for those cameras as well.
Commercial drones – $2,000 and up
There is a fine line between professional drones and commercial drones, as many machines can handle both purposes, the difference being the payloads. When we talk about commercial drones, we’re thinking of drones that are made for inspection services, mapping, product deliveries and even passenger flight. What you’ll find on many commercial drones is an infrared camera. Thermal imaging is a valuable tool in site inspections and search and rescue operations.
With the extended safety requirements in mind for many job sites, most commercial drones need to be larger machines, able to carry the necessary payloads, as well as safety gear like parachutes and extra lights.
Drone legal and safety
What drone is right for you?
We hope the above information helped you identify the right category of drone for your needs, but we totally understand if you are still on the fence about your purchase. We’ve got resources that might help you dive deeper into your research:
Honestly, if you are looking to get into the hobby, and you desire an easy to fly drone with a quality camera, we recommend the DJI Air 2S today. It’s priced at close to $1,000, but the camera quality, enhanced flight and safety features, superb range and compact size make it an excellent drone for most hobby pilots. Check it out:
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a license to fly any of these drones?
Yes, in the United States, pilot licensing for drones is based on your flight operations, not your drone. Hobby pilots must acquire their TRUST certificate before they fly, and if you will be compensated for your flight in any way, including direct payment, or selling your photos on the internet, you will need to be Part 107 certified and operate under those guidelines.
Should I buy a used drone?
There is nothing wrong with buying used drones, as long as you shop intelligently. Most drones have warranty that is limited from the time of original purchase, and some are non-transferable between owners, so you likely will not get warranty coverage on a used drone. From there, it is crucial that you fully inspect the machine before purchase, we’re hoping that a seller will disclose any damage or defects, but it is ultimately your responsibility to insure before you buy.
Also consider the modern value of the drone before you jump on a “great deal!” For example, the original DJI Mavic Pro sold for $999 and up. You can find it today for $700 or less, which is worth it for the airframe, but the camera is on par with a modern $400 drone. If you just want photos from the sky for $700, you can do better, but the Mavic Pro has OcuSync with support for multiple video stream devices, and it can carry a decent payload, so it has value for other purposes.