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Cry less when you crash: The best drones under $500

Generally speaking, consumer UAVs are divided into two main camps right now. There’s the toy-ish, sub-$100 group that fly for about five minutes on a full charge, and then there’s the $700+ group that come fully stocked with HD cameras, GPS, and long range radio controllers. Unfortunately, there’s not much in the middle right now. You’ll be hard pressed to find a decent ready-to-fly quadcopter for under 500 bucks — but lucky for you, we already hunted down the best ones and put together a list. Below you’ll find the five best drones you can get your paws on for $500 or less. Enjoy!

DJI Phantom 3, standard ($499)

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Typically, DJI’s quadcopters sell for a lot more than $500, but with the company now focusing on the Phantom 4, the cheapest Phantom 3 models have fallen into the sub-$500 category. This allows you to grab a UAV with features not normally found at this price point. The Phantom 3 Standard has a built-in, 2.7K camera capable of capturing video at 30 frames per second, along with 3-axis gimbal stabilization and the ability to live stream 720p video straight to your mobile device. It also touts 25 minutes of flight time, and an automatic return-to-home feature.

Another cool feature is that you can fly the Standard on a number of preset flight patterns. One is designed to continuously fly in a circle facing a set point of interest, one will track behind you, and the third allows you to map a series of waypoints, allowing you focus on your camera work while the drone flies in a preset pattern. Watch our DJI Phantom 3 Pro review here.

Buy one now from:

Amazon B&H Best Buy Target

Traxxas Aton Plus ($400)

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If you have an action cam that isn’t a GoPro, the Traxxas Aton Plus might be a good solution. The drone’s camera mount is universal, so non-GoPro cameras will work just fine. The device also includes a two-axis gimbal for stabilization, and a 5,000mAh battery that should provide at least 20 minutes of flight time. Moreover, the Aton Plus includes three different flight modes: a film mode for capturing video, a sport mode which unlocks some of the built-in safety protocols for beginners, and an expert mode that allows for manual control of the drone’s flying functions through an accompanying mobile app.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Parrot Bebop 2 ($450)

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Parrot’s original Bebop made it to our initial list, which our own Drew Prindle reviewed last year. The Bebop 2 — its successor — has been out since November, but only recently fell below $500 at some major retailers. Like the original Bebop, it excels in simplicity, durability, and a really enjoyable flying experience. Instead of using a traditional joystick controller, the Bebop takes commands from your smartphone or tablet — which is a bit limiting at first, but also pretty fun and approachable for beginners. A wireless connection provides you with a first-person view of what the drone sees, and you simply tilt your phone to steer it around. The second-gen Bebop extends the flight time from 22 to 25 minutes, and adds a fish-eye lens and a flashing LED on the rear to increase visibility in darker scenarios. Read more here.

Buy one now from:

Amazon

Xiro Xplorer G ($400)

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XIRO’s Xplorer is yet another quadcopter designed for aerial photography and videography, and for under $400 it’s yet another option for GoPro owners. Step up to the “G” version of this to gain a 3-axis gimbal to stabilize your video (it’s worth it if you want good video. The nice thing about Xiro’s Xplorer is that it is modular, so you’ll be able to pick up attachments and expansions for your own particular needs, but still stay under $500. And the design is way more cool looking than pretty much every other drone you’ll see in the sky.

Buy it now from:

Amazon B&H

Lumenier G10 QAV250 ($90)

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If you’re not scared of doing a little bit of construction, and aren’t looking for a drone for video purposes, then we’d recommend going with the QAV250. The drone excels in what drone enthusiasts call FPV flying, which is short for “first person view.” Since the camera is fixed and isn’t stabilized, with the right equipment — say a VR headset — you can get a virtual idea of what it’s like to fly. And if you have a 3D printer, you can save a good deal of money by printing out your own frame and putting together a DIY clone of this beast for well under $200.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Lumenier

Horizon Hobby Chroma BLH8670 for GoPro Hero ($350)

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Blade recently dropped the price by almost half on the more equipped models of its outstanding Chroma quadcopter, so you’ll be able to get everything you need to fly for less than $500 (excluding a GoPro). This includes a 6,300mAh battery and a controller with a built-in touchscreen, the latter of which will help you fly your drone and view video footage directly from you GoPro. The quadcopter also has GPS and an altimeter to hold its position, a gimbal for ultra-smooth video, and even a smart orientation feature that makes the drone easy to fly while filming. There’s also a neat return-to-home feature you can activate at the flip of a switch, as well as adjustable flight boundaries that help you better confine your drone to a certain area. We highly recommend this one for GoPro owners — after all, why not get more use out of that camera anyway? Read our full review of the Horizon Hobby Chroma 4K here.

Buy one now from:

Amazon B&H

Walkera Runner 250 (R) ($359)

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Much like the QAV250, the Walkera Runner 250 (R) is designed for FPV flying. Get yourself a compatible headset, and you’ll be able to see exactly what the drone sees in real time while you fly. This particular model is actually designed for FPV racing, so it’s got a built-in camera, intelligent directional warning lights (for when you get too close to something), and a loud buzzer that goes off if your drone ever crashes or goes out of range (making it easier to find). It’s also modular, and allows you to modify and upgrade its components. Unlike the Lumenier QAV250, this one comes with an included controller and camera, so you can start flying straight out of the box without any extra assembly.

Buy it now from:

Walkera