There are a handful of good drones out there in the $200 to $500 price range. Which one should you get? Let’s look at some of the top competitors to help you make an informed decision. We are comparing an affordable lineup of drones with HD or better cameras including the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, 3DR Solo, Xiro Xplorer V, UPair One, Parrot Bebop 2 and the original Parrot Bebop.
We have also done a full review of compact drones under $500. If you are looking for a high-quality drone that can take good pictures and is portable you’ll have to check out our comparison of the DJI Spark, Yuneec Breeze, Zerotech Dobby, Wingland S6 and XCraft PhoneDrone. Click here to read see how these drones measure up.
There are full reviews on each one of these quadcopters on Half Chrome Drones, just click on their name above. We will highlight what makes each of these drones unique so that you can decide which is the best for you. We will look at four general categories: Specifications, Camera, Flight Modes and Overall Value. We’ve built these tables and comparisons from our flight tests, reviews, and research. So what is the best drone under $500? Let’s find out.
Before we get started, DJI just released the new Spark, while it checks in under $500, we’d recommend the Fly More Package that brings the price up to $699. It is a heck of a drone. It is ultra portable, shoots full HD video and was designed to be the easy to fly. Learn more about the Spark here.
Which drone looks best on paper?
The two most important specs for most pilots are range and flight time. When we look at flight time, the Phantom, Xplorer and Bebop 2 all top the charts at 25 minutes. The Solo isn’t far behind at 20 minutes and the UPair and the original Bebop fall behind at 18 and 11 minutes respectively. For flight range, the Phantom again is at the top, this time tied for first with the Solo at 1000 meters. This is no small difference, the range of the Phantom 3 and the Solo is considered on the short side by many pilots, so you will want to think carefully about buying a drone with significantly less range. The Xplorer and UPair only fly half of that range topping out at 500 meters. The pair of Bebops will leave you wanting more with a flight range of 250-300 meters. The Bebops perform poorly in this category because of their reliance on WiFi from the smartphone that controls them. Their range, however, can be greatly improved to almost 2000 meters with the optional Skycontroller 2. That’s double the Phantom and the Solo and gets you a range of over a mile. The other notables are the impressive 55 mph top speed of the Solo and the lightweight portability of the Bebops.
We gave the Phantom 3 Standard top marks for the well-rounded specs including long flight time and range. If you spend the extra for Parrot’s latest FPV (first person view) bundle it comes in second place due to the included FPV goggles and the longer range.
Who has the best camera?
The number one reason people buy drones like these is to capture breathtaking aerial video and photographs. So which one of these drones takes the best pictures and video? The specs can sometimes be a little deceiving. The Phantom takes crisp pictures and video, and the 3 axis gimbal does a great job of stabilizing the camera. The field of view isn’t nearly as wide as the others, but that also helps it avoid the fisheye distortion that plagues a lot of these other drones. The Solo doesn’t actually come with a camera, but it was designed to be flown with a GoPro. The specs you see listed are if you add a GoPro Hero4. It is compatible with both a GoPro Hero3 and Hero4. The UPair has a 4K camera, but has serious distortion and is stabilized by a 2 axis gimbal, not a 3 axis gimbal. The Xplorer is the only gimbaled camera in this review that doesn’t have at least 2.7K resolution. The Xplorer also suffers from distortion and the props come into view more than the Phantom 3.
Both of the Bebops have an impressive field of view on paper but only a small fraction of that field of view is used at any given time. Using a novel approach, the pilot gets an undistorted image that they can digitally pan around the camera’s full field of view. The Bebop 2 does a massive amount of distortion correction. It also relies on electronic image stabilization to get rid of the effects of drone shake, rather than using a gimbal like the other drones. All that image stretching and processing results in an image that has much lower quality than the camera specifications might suggest. In practice, the Bebop 2 has a more narrow field of view than a GoPro.
The Phantom 3 Camera is simply the best camera on the list. The GoPro is actually a sharper image but the distortion turns off many people. For a comparison of image quality check out our camera quality comparison page where we show more image comparison shots like the one below.
Who has the best flight modes?
Flying your drone is the fun part. You want to know what your drone is capable of, right? All of these drones have the Return to Home feature, so we didn’t include it in the chart, but what about some of the other fancy modes? Follow Me mode is one of the fun features that some of these drones have. The Phantom will follow the controller. The Solo will follow your phone, which is a more useful function than following the remote. The Xplorer and the Bebop 2 can use object tracking to follow an object in the image that you select using the app. The UPair struggles in the flight mode category, as it really doesn’t have any advanced modes. All of the other drones can fly via waypoints, but the Bebop requires an extra paid app to do so. Orbit mode, or circling an object, can be done by the Phantom, Solo, Xplorer and Bebop 2. In the Cable Cam mode, the drone will follow a set path and you operate the camera. You set the path for the drone to fly and then can focus your attention on the camera. The Solo has this fun cinematic mode. You can plan out the entire flight even up to the camera movements. The Phantom has a mode called Course Lock. It is similar, but not as automated as the full Cable Cam mode that the Solo has. With Course Lock you still have to control the speed and altitude of the Phantom.
Which drone is the best value?
The actual cost of the drone typically isn’t just what you pay for it. There are sometimes extra costs. Do you want another battery? A carrying case? The Bebop drones do not come with remotes and the Solo doesn’t come with a camera.
How reliable is the drone? We built our customer satisfaction rating by combining our experience, research, and even Amazon reviews. The algorithm we came up with is complicated and boring so we will simplify it. Ten is awesome and one is terrible.
When it is all said and done the Phantom doesn’t have any hidden costs, but extra batteries aren’t cheap. The Solo is a decent deal if you have a GoPro already, but you will still need to purchase a gimbal. The extra batteries for the Xplorer and UPair are rather expensive. If you are interested in the Bebop 2, we would recommend buying it with the with the FPV bundle. The bundle generally costs around $499 and much better deal than buying them separately. The original Bebop at $220 is the most inexpensive, but we recommend the Skycontroller and that pushes it right into the same range as the other drones.
The Half Chrome Drones Pick: Phantom 3 Standard
The Phantom 3 Standard really is heads and shoulders above the competition. It ranks at the top of all but one of our categories and is one of the best values out there. The Phantom 3 Standard was a great deal when it cost twice its current price, now it’s a deal you can’t afford to pass up. It may not be the most inexpensive drone on our list, but it is worth the investment. DJI is the industry leader and continues to innovate and push the boundaries of what’s possible. Half Chrome Drones recommends the DJI Phantom 3 Standard as the best drone to buy under $500. You can read more about the Phantom 3 Standard here.
If you want a more portable drone then the Bebop 2 is the best choice, but you may be dissatisfied with the image quality and you may find that FPV goggles are not for you. If you have a need for speed or if you are a GoPro fanatic then the original GoPro Drone, the 3DR Solo may be the best choice. The Solo price has dropped significantly over the last several months.
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If you want to learn more about taking great pictures or flying FPV then check out our comprehensive guides on those topics. Also take a look at our articles on how to choose the right drone for great aerial photos or for getting started flying race drones. Learn more about drones and how to get the most out of them in our Drone Academy. In the Academy we also detail some of the advanced testing we do, including our recent addition, drone thrust testing.
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