6 Best Starter Drones for 2020

Aerial photographs show us a different perspective of the world, whether it’s the stunning flora and fauna of a well-kept island or the familiar structures of your own suburban neighborhood.

With drones breaking through in both consumer and professional photography spaces, capturing from this point-of-view is now accessible to anyone.

This also means that the market is saturated with Best Starter Drones that cater to everyone. And the technology is versatile, with some features in pro versions being reproduced in starter editions. 

So, if you’re new to aerial photography or shooting with drones, you should know about these best drones for beginners before you shop.

Best Starter Drone Reviews & Buying Guide

1. DJI Mavic Mini

Best Overall

best starter drones

DJI is a leader in drone technology, specifically in the aerial imaging space. Launched only late last year, the DJI Mavic Mini is among its latest engineering wonders. A lightweight flycam – what the company calls its products – it weighs 249g, fulfilling the registration for cut-off in the United Kingdom, the United States, and China.

If it feels like holding your smartphone, it is, however, heavy with features such as the 2.7K video, this equals 1080p at 60fps, still a dependable configuration for both beginners and pros. It can transmit images from up to 4 kilometers.

Borrowing inspiration from bigger DJI flycams, this model employs QuickShots to deliver quick and shareable video effects. It can stay up for 22 minutes at a time without any weather disturbances. Make sure not to go beyond the 500-meter range limit for the controller to maintain precise image tech.

While it has a proximity sensor to allow it to land safely, it does not have collision sensors that are present in the DJI Mavic Air. Meanwhile, it uses GPS to return home and geofencing to prevent you from flying near airports. If you’re having first-time jitters, you can switch on the guided mode for a tutorial.

The DJI Mavic Mini is within the average starting price for photography drones. So it’s perfect for beginners who want to test their skills with a reasonably priced kit. In place of a warranty, DJI offers a paid replacement plan called DJI Care Refresh, which will replace your unit up to twice in a year.

DJI Mavic Mini is Suitable For:

Individuals who want a simplified yet satisfying experience can enlist this model as their starter drone. It has enough features to ensure great everyday captures. At its price, it is a reasonable choice for beginners. You can fly it in the United States and Canada without going through the registration.

Pros:

  • This device allows you to take 1080p videos at 60fps, with the footage going as far as 4km.
  • It is GPS-based and uses geofencing to prevent you from flying too close to airports.
  • It is equipped with a downward-facing proximity sensor.
  • It is lightweight and easy to fly.
  • It is within the average starting price for camera drones.

Cons:

  • It does not have collision sensors, which are present in the DJI Mavic.
  • The drone app may not work on all Android versions.
  • Instead of a warranty, it offers a replacement plan, which you may buy upon purchase.

2. Hubsan H122D X4 Storm

Best Overall Runner-Up

Did you know that drone racing exists? This game gathers the top pilot of first-person view or FPV to go head-to-head across three-dimensional courses. It requires the device to be fast and tailored to the dynamics of the game. While you are probably unaware of this feature, it may be good for you to know that racing-inspired designs are made possible by brands like Hubsan.

With the Hubsan H122D X4 Storm, you can go on a ride with its racing quad and monitor, already pre-configured for your convenience. The monitor can be connected to a head mount or a handset for the ultimate robotic racing experience. However, its tinier build may lend it for flying only in low winds or indoors.

Your flights can be transmitted and also recorded, so you can watch it in real-time and later. Maintain a 100-meter distance with the controller when you’re taking it out. You can fly it for a maximum of six minutes, which can be a make-or-break factor. Despite its misgivings, this unit can make you feel like a real racer, with an expert mode to try when you’ve mastered flying it.

The modest price is also a draw. For under $100, you can have a trusty companion whether you are taking aerial snapshots or racing other people. It’s an ideal practice drone for starters. Yet, it has many things to improve as well. Hubsan products are backed by a one-year limited warranty.

Hubsan H122D X4 Storm is Suitable For:

This unit works in racing and receiving video transmissions indoors and in low winds. Its modest price is beginner-friendly, so it’s also ideal for those who need a practice drone. Make sure to follow drone regulatory rules in your state and register your device with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).

Pros:

  • It may be little, but it can provide you with a racing drone experience.
  • It comes pre-configured, so you won’t have to tune up the monitor.
  • It can transmit up to 780p high-definition (HD) videos.
  • It can work as a practice drone at its modest price of below $100.

Cons:

  • It is more compact than the typical racing drone.
  • Though the image quality is good, it has a pretty short range.
  • Its battery is not long-lasting.
  • It doesn’t perform well outside, except in low winds.

3. Holy Stone HS100 Navigator

Best Value

Creating professional drones – catered to beginners, intermediate, and advanced users – is Holy Stone’s focus. It is known globally, just like the first two companies we’ve come across in this review guide. The Holy Stone HS100 Navigator is the FPV drone to consider if you want a simple and stable beast to pilot even in breezy conditions.

With a 500-meter control distance, this drone will deliver 2K (2048 x 1152) resolution images and videos. A 120-degree wide shot is available, together with the 90-degree adjustable angle that allows you to see different angles of the view. You can take advantage of these features while you begin your photography or videography career.

You can view your visuals and operate your device while it is in flight through an app. 

Control is another byword this unit comes with. It has wind-resistant modes for no-fuss takeoff, landing, and staying in the air. Its Follow Me mode is outstanding, keeping you in the frame all the time as you move. The battery is good for 15 minutes. And when it is low, or the signal is weak, the drone will activate its Return-to-Home function with the accurate positioning of its embedded GPS.

At around $150, the features feel high-end. It has many capabilities to write home about. The company will replace your unit within 30 days from the date of purchase, if quality-related issues with the whole unit arise. For the accessories, the warranty applies within 90 days from the date of purchase.

One downside to this drone is that it is heavy.

Holy Stone HS100 Navigator is Suitable For:

The heavyweight of this drone may intimidate new users. But once you get used to it, you will be rewarded with professional features and results for your budding photography or videography career. The price is also budget-friendly, falling under the average starting price for this product.

Pros:

  • It offers 2K resolution of photos and videos, captured at a wide, adjustable angle.
  • It has a control distance of 500 meters.
  • It is easy to operate via a smartphone app.
  • It is stable even in breezy situations.
  • It has a Return-to-Home mode that activates when the battery is low, or the signal is weak.
  • It is affordable for many consumers.

Cons:

  • It can be heavy, which can intimidate first-time users.
  • Its durability may be questionable.
  • Its warranty coverage for the whole unit lasts only for 30 days from the date of purchase.

4. DJI Spark

Best Value Runner-Up

DJI appears twice on our list, this time introducing the DJI Spark. It replaces the other DJI on our Best Drones for Beginners 2019 list, the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, which is no longer in production. This portable mini-drone adds to the manufacturer’s lineup of Best Starter Drones drones. Lightweight like the Mavic Mini, it sports signature DJI capabilities for an immersive flight. 

The camera is notable, with its 720p real-time video transmission from up to 2km away. This compact quadcopter has flight modes that make you see more. Switch to Sport Mode to satisfy your need for speed. It’s a great choice for an adventure-packed moment. Don the DJI Goggles if you’re up for some fun, innovative viewing.

It doesn’t just perform in high altitudes with its record 16-minute run, but it also does wonders in the low places and small spaces. Launch it while it recognizes your face, letting it hover for a few seconds in front of you. Take photos with its intuitive feature that allows you to control the device with hand gestures. No remote control or smartphone app needed.

The one advantage that it has over the DJI Phantom is its price. Yet, at almost $600, this model is still a more expensive option than the Mavic Mini. Not everyone can afford this price for a beginner drone. But it still has one of the best cameras for drone photography, so you can consider it an investment. 

For warranty, the manufacturer offers two replacement chances in a year through the DJI Care Refresh, which you can buy bundled with the product.

DJI Spark is Suitable For:

Ambitious photographers and videographers can explore the limits of their creativity with this portable DJI offering. Its features reach the expert level while remaining easy to use. The intuitive functions should be given due credit for this performance. But take note, this is not one of the cheap drones you can take out for practice.

Pros:

  • It offers excellent visuals from a relatively expansive range.
  • Its functions and features are intuitive, such as hand gesture detection for taking photos.
  • It is easy to use and lightweight.
  • You won’t need extra batteries as its battery life is good. Its flight time is 16 minutes.
  • It is great for indoor and outdoor use.

Cons:

  • Some people may find it too pricey.
  • It connects to an app, which tends to crash.
  • It may not be as durable as its bigger siblings.

5. Ryze Tello

Best Budget

Ryze aims to make drones accessible to both kids and adults. This startup, established in 2017, put together the Tello in light of its mission. This 80-gram quad is powered by a flight controller from DJI, so you can simply toss it in the air to get started. Landing and liftoff can also be automatic using the user-friendly Tello app.

Inside this model is an Intel processor that yields high-quality, 720p footage. Video transmission is stable because of the two antennas built into it. Get up to 5MP resolution photos, which are also clear thanks to the Electronic Image Stabilization feature. Capture all of these from up to 100 meters away. The maximum flight time is 13 minutes.

When the drone has low battery levels, it will send you an alert. When it loses connection, you can remain calm, knowing that it is going to land safely on the nearest ground.

But what really sets apart this unit is its programmability. You can code using the Scratch programming language, which was designed for kids, and upload your modes and flight functions. You can then use them to teach kids. In other words, Tello can act as an educational tool.

All of these benefits are packed into a kit that costs around $100. Not only is it a viable learning tech. This product is also a pocket-friendly beginner drone option. For more information, read up on the terms and conditions related to the warranty of your purchase.

Ryze Tello is Suitable For:

Educators who want to make learning fun and innovative for kids can use this lightweight and straightforward drone in their classes. They can program the flight modes and characteristics to customize the learning experience. The price also accommodates the requirements of beginners in aerial photography.

Pros:

  • It is lightweight and intuitive.
  • It can produce clear and sharp footage.
  • You can control it from 100 meters away.
  • It has a satisfactory flight time of 13 minutes.
  • It is programmable, making it a perfect educational tool.
  • It will land safely even when you lose connection.
  • Its price is more affordable than most drone models.

Cons:

  • It can be inconsistent in its performance.
  • It may be prone to overheating.
  • As is usually the case with drone apps, users report about the Tello app being incompatible with their OS.

6. Xiaomi Fimi A3

Best Budget Runner-Up

Upholding the beliefs and values of Xiaomi, the team behind the Fimi brand creates consumer tech products that cater to 80% of the buyers. That means if you’re looking for cheap drones camera options, this is the name to remember. But cheap does not always mean low quality. The Xiaomi Fimi A3 may surprise you with what it can do.

When you fly this unit, you can view the live feed from the LCD screen built into its controller. You don’t need to open and run an app, which can save you time and effort (some apps crash too often). This viewing function also includes a DVR capability. Packed in its body is the Amberella ISP processor and Sony CMOS sensor, which produce 1080p HD photos.

For smooth and stable videos, the unit features 2-axis mechanical and 3-axis electronic gimbal stabilization. Several flight modes give you full control when operating it, such as Follow Me, Orbit, and Dronie. But nothing beats the 1km remote control distance it supports. With 25 minutes of airtime, 21 when tested with constant speed in the breeze, you can get the most out of one flight.

The almost $280 price tag does not deter buyers from experiencing the best this drone can offer. And for its price, the buyers get a lot of value in return. The after-sales experience should also be as reliable. 

Xiaomi Fimi A3 is Suitable For:

Those who want some important features packed into an affordable drone should give this a closer look. With its controller’s built-in monitor, it provides ease of use to people who don’t want to control their drones on a mobile phone. Lastly, it is one of the best drones for taking high-quality photos and videos.

Pros:

  • It can produce 1080p HD footage through its high-quality processor and sensor.
  • It features mechanical and electronic gimbal stabilization to deliver smooth and stable videos.
  • It gives you full control of your drone.
  • It registers a maximum of 25 minutes of airtime.
  • It is one of the more affordable versions in this category.

Cons:

  • It can get lost when it goes beyond its allowable range.
  • It may become non-responsive to transmitter commands.
  • The camera lens can turn foggy.

Things You Should Know Before Buying a Drone

Register Your Drone

The first thing to know is that you need to register your drone with the Federal Aviation Authority. This is a requirement for both commercial and recreational drones. If you are using your device for commercial purposes, you will have to take a few more steps to complete registration.

Being a recreational flyer or a commercial flyer is defined by the FAA on its site. What constitutes your type and where you are allowed to fly are specified as well. So, browse this page if you are not sure about the Hows, Whys, and Wheres of your category.

Registration can be done online. So after reading and confirming your category, make sure to head to this page to complete the process.

Understand State Laws and Regulations

Before taking flight, make sure you know the rules and regulations covering commercial or recreational drones. Foremost is the federal legislation that encompasses everything. Then, there are state-specific ones, which vary. 

For instance, California has different prohibitions than Colorado. You may familiarize yourself with the laws that take effect where you live and/or practice. 

If you want to know the full details that apply to your context, you may look for them here.

Know the Basics of Flying

The FAA has some basic tips on how to use your drone. One of them is that you can fly it at a maximum of 400 feet. It should also be within your line of sight all the time. 

Your drone might feel easy to fly and you might feel like exploring, but you are responsible for operating your equipment and, as such, avoid using it near airports and other aircraft. The pilots may not be able to see your drone, making it a safety hazard.

Also, you cannot fly your drone over government facilities or national parks.

Pick a Type of Drone

Do you know what an RTF or a BNF is? These stand for names of the types of drones you can choose from. Your purpose and budget can help you determine which one to pick.

RTF or Ready-to-Fly 

These drones are delivered to you already assembled, except for the propellers, which you can easily put together yourself. Just take the parts out of the box. And don’t forget to charge the batteries fully before flying.

BNF or Bind-to-Fly

Drones of this type are already set up as well. But there are no controllers included. You need to purchase these radio transmitters individually or install an app on your mobile phone.

ARF or Almost-Ready-to-Fly

Create your own build with an ARF drone. Like the RTF, this one refers to a kit that contains different parts of your device. It is not yet assembled when it arrives, though, so it is preferred by professionals and amateurs alike because it can be DIY-ed. However, you may need to buy some components, such as controllers, receivers, transmitters, and batteries.

FPV or First-Person View

Photographers, journalists, and filmmakers are among the groups that use this type. FPV drones can capture footage, usually landscape, and transmit it to compatible devices, such as a smartphone or a virtual reality headset.

Count the Cost

The quality of flight and image taken can vary from one drone to another. You can look for these in camera drones that cost around $300 on average, which can be good for beginners. 

Decent ones may be produced by models that retail under $100. These should work if you have a tight budget. But you may have to check for the details, features, and functionalities of the product to ensure durability.

Meanwhile, the likes of DJ Mavic can reach $1,000. You may expect excellent design and performance from this kind of product.

Ensure Drone Stability

The physics of flying drones is exciting. But for those who just want to launch one into the air with remote control, knowing the basics is enough. 

You just want to be sure that the device will be flying as intended with lots of stability. It’s not ideal to get shaky footage or have your unit drop on someone else’s property. Or worse, accidentally lose it somewhere or damage it for good.

So in heavy winds, you should be able to adjust the rotors of your drones outward at a 45-degree angle. The parts should also be in harmony to keep the drone stable.

Test Image Quality

Earlier, we mentioned this factor and will elaborate on it now. You need a good image or footage quality to not waste time. Otherwise, it will defeat the purpose of using this device. Even if you aren’t an expert yet, getting good visuals is the point of using this gear.

Also, consider the features related to taking photos and videos. For instance, do you need your drone to take 4k footage? Does your process or workflow require raw or DNG format support? For the complete bells and whistles, you probably have to look into more expensive models.

Observe Proper Etiquette

Aside from the FAA requirements mentioned above, you should observe some flying etiquette, starting with respecting the privacy of people and their properties. If there are large gatherings such as in parks, open stadiums, and other public spaces, you must not fly over them.

You must also avoid filming over scenes of natural and man-made emergencies, such as fires and hurricanes, respectively. And never launch your drone under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Should I Wait to Buy a Drone?

If you need it immediately, you can choose a drone that fits your range of requirements, from features to budget. The options presented here differ in their respective prices and features. Assess the pros and cons of each product to determine which one aligns with your needs and preferences.

Now, if you have time, you can wait for around six months when the prices have dropped. By that time, the model you’re eyeing may have been replaced by the most recent edition. This version can then be sold at discounted or lower prices.

Such is the turnaround when you are dealing with consumer tech products. They tend to get old fast. But that’s because the new offerings tend to enhance the features and functionalities of the earlier model.

Which Drone is Easiest to Fly?

Lightweight drones with intuitive features can be the easiest to fly for beginners. The Spark and Ryze Tello match these criteria. Aside from their size and weight, they are here for their speed in breezy conditions. They aren’t made for drone racing, for sure, but they can be pretty stable during flights.

Of course, we should not forget the DJI Mavic Mini. This more portable version of the Mavic shows a lot of potential for starters. You can refer to the geofencing and GPS data to know if you’re flying too close to an airport or position your drone properly.

How Do I Start Flying a Drone?

You have to know some of the techniques pilots of this unmanned aircraft use. These are probably mentioned in the manual your device came with. Make a habit of consulting the fine print even if you think a YouTube tutorial is enough for instructing you on what to do. 

Speaking of tutorials, some models will take you through guided sessions, especially if it’s your first time.

Going back to the techniques, you can let the quadcopter hover right over you before launching it upward. Then, control the direction of your drone through the controls on your controller or smartphone app.

Before taking out your unit, make sure you know what the controls do, so you can enjoy your first time flying a drone.

Conclusion

The best beginner drone is no less than the DJI Mavic Mini. It has the capability to deliver 1080p videos at 60fps. It provides GPS-based positioning and geofencing to keep your drone from flying in danger zones. At the same time, it is lightweight and easy to use.

Alternatively, you can take a look at the Hubsan H122D X4 Storm. This one is a bit bulky, though, but it packs a lot of features that can make you learn more about the craft and technology by acting as a practice drone.

But if you are searching for drones best suited for beginners, the Holy Stone HS100 Navigator and the Tello may save you some money. These well-known options balance pricing and value, so you are going to experience a smooth and stable ride with them – without making a trip to the bank.

Go ahead and take your pick.

All products featured in this article are independently reviewed and recommended. To read more about camera drones, visit us on dronewatch.org.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top