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The Best Drones for Any Budget and Pilot

Personal drones are more capable and more affordable than ever, and they can be a great investment whether you’re looking to expand your current, ground-based video or photography toolkit or just wanting to take up a new hobby. It’s now possible to dip your toes in for as little as $100 (or even less) and get a drone that you can have fun flying around. Spend a few hundred to a thousand, and you can expect pro-level drones packing better cameras, longer flying times and distances, and more advanced flight capabilities.

Read on for our reviews of the best, plus advice as you navigate the purchasing process.

What To Consider

For better or worse, there’s one company that stands pretty far apart from the others when it comes to consumer-level drones: DJI. And that’s true whether you’re shopping for something on the affordable side of things or a higher-end model. There’s a bit more competition when it comes to higher-end commercial drones, but that’s not of much benefit to most average pilots.

The most important consideration when buying a personal drone, however, is to choose the one that best fits your needs—ergo the one that you’re most likely to use. An expensive, high-end model could be great for pro-level video, but you might not get as much use out of it as a more affordable, portable drone that you can easily bring along on trips. On the flip side, you don’t want a drone that’s too limited in capabilities if you’re regularly making long flights or piloting it in more difficult conditions.

For most average users not looking to shoot professional-level video, that will mean a drone somewhere in the area of $400 to $1,500. Most have a flight time in the neighborhood of 30 minutes so you aren’t constantly worrying about your battery running dry, and they’re able to range at least a couple of miles (some many more). As you move up through that price (and beyond), you’ll get more advanced flight capabilities and better cameras. Pricier drones are often simply bigger, too, which can mean steadier flying in turbulence and the ability to carry bigger and better cameras.

Regulations

Even an inexpensive drone is a serious tool, not a toy, and you’ll want to make sure that you’re following all the local regulations when flying one. In the United States and Canada, that starts with registering your drone for a nominal fee if it’s above a certain weight (250 grams, or 8.8 ounces, in both countries). Other guidelines are also similar in both countries, and include things like:

  • Always keeping your drone within your line of sight.
  • Not flying near airports or other restricted areas, including near emergency response efforts.
  • Not flying above 400 feet.
  • Not flying over people or moving vehicles.
  • Not operating your drone while you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

There can be hefty fines for violating the rules, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with them. You can find the full guidelines for the U.S. and Canada from the FAA and Transport Canada, respectively, and PCMag also has a good overview of the basics of drone flying.

How We Selected

To pick the best drones, we relied on our own previous knowledge and coverage, researched a range of trusted sources including Wired, CNET, and Wirecutter, and thousands of consumer reviews. Our Consumer Score represents the percentage of people who bought these drones and rated them at least four out of five stars on retail and review sites like Amazon, Best Buy, and the manufacturers’ web pages.