Travel mindfully.
Pursue creatively.
Live life with intention.

Travel mindfully.
Pursue creatively.
Live life with intention.

Ultimate Guide: 10 Best Drones Under $200

by Tom Shu

If you’re in a hurry and just want to find out what the best drone under $200 is, then I’d recommend the Holy Stone HS270 as the best one!

If you don’t want to spend some serious dollars on a drone, finding a high-quality unit is a daunting challenge.

Many budget quadcopters deliver stability akin to a stilt-walker on ice and provide images that appear as if a hyperactive three-year-old has taken them.

Luckily, I’ve found the best drones under $200, which all provide impressive results.

These are the drones under $200 that we will cover today:

Why Buy a Budget Drone

Whether you’re an intermittent user or this is your first experience of the drone world, spending your entire monthly salary on a quadcopter may not be that appealing.

That extravagance can come later.

You may believe you’re going to be performing flypasts like Maverick in Top Gun (1986) from the get-go, but your initial flights will be more like a nervous fledgling leaving the nest.

Thankfully, advances in technology enable you to take jaw-dropping images and videos without venturing into high-end equipment and many of the best budget drones are packed with functions to assist newbie pilots.

Benefits of the best wallet-friendly fliers include:

  • Simple to use.
  • You’re not so petrified of accidents.
  • Provide easy-entry into the market.
  • Allow you to see if the hobby is for you.
  • Occasional use doesn’t warrant spending your life savings.
  • Still deliver eye-catching material for Instagram and YouTube.

man flying a drone in cloudy conditions

What to Look for When Buying a Budget Drone?

I know exactly how you’re feeling.

You just want to have the drone in your hands, fire it up and get outside for some extreme aeronautical acrobatics.

I was exactly the same with my shiny new quadcopter.

Take a few minutes to look through the following essential considerations. This will ensure you’re both prepared for drone-flying and that you purchase a unit that has all the features you need.

Here’s the list for your reference:

  • FAA regulations.
  • Image stabilization.
  • FPV—first-person view.
  • RTH—return to home.
  • Battery life.
  • Drone range.
  • Camera quality.
  • Additional features.



Know the FAA Regulations

I don’t want to start with a downer, but you need to know the facts from the beginning.

Unfortunately, you can’t fly your drone anywhere you wish. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) places restrictions on where you can release your quadcopter and provides rules on safe flying.

Perhaps the first aspect you need to consider is whether you can take your machine airborne in your local area. The FAA has released an app, B4UFLY, that visually illustrates through maps and smartphone location where you’re allowed to let your drone loose.

Furthermore, it provides regulations on flying, the main points including:

  1. You need to register your drone (here), label it with your ID number and carry proof of this registration on your person whenever you fly.
  2. Keep your quadcopter below 400 feet from the ground when in uncontrolled airpsace (known as Class G airspace).
  3. Gain permission before flying in restricted airspace—classes B, C, D, and E. You can do this at LAANC and DroneZone.
  4. Always keep your machine in your line of sight.
  5. Never fly your drone while intoxicated.

Ensure you check out the FAA guidelines and the regulations of your state—or country, if outside the USA—as some areas have particular laws regarding drone use.

There is, however, a significant exemption.

Drones that weigh less than 250 grams don’t require registration!

Image Stabilization

image of a drone plus sign scale and thumbs up in the form of an equation

We’ve all taken blurry images or shaky videos.

It’s tough to keep your camera or smartphone stable in your hand while photographing your cat. If you mount a camera on a drone, the problem exacerbates.

Factors such as the weather, wind, your beginner-level piloting, and vibrations from the rotors and motor are the perfect recipe for indistinguishable clips and photos.

Luckily, most budget drone manufacturers have come up with solutions.

Some drones include features that stabilize your images. Typically, they fall into one of the three following categories.

  • Mechanical gimbal: Directed through a combination of accelerometers and gyroscopes, brushless motors adjust the camera position to compensate for the wayward motion of the drone.
  • Digital stabilization: Onboard software in the camera shifts the image from frame-to-frame, compensating for movement.
  • Altitude hold: Allows the drone to maintain its airborne height, without you having to manually control the unit.

High-end and pricey quadcopters tend to feature the gimbal, while the best quadcopters under $200 may incorporate image stabilization or altitude hold. And, you can further improve the image by post-processing your video on enhancement software.

photo of waterfall from drone view

First Person View (FPV)

illustration of two cartoon characters wearing first person view glasses for drones

Ever dreamed you could fly like Superman? An FPV feature gives you that ability.

Well, almost. The camera on the drone transmits real-time video to your monitor, FPV goggles, remote control screen or smartphone—giving you the impression you’re in the drone itself.

This leads to an exhilarating experience, and if you’re making videos, the feeling of being a movie director.

Return to Home Functionality

illustration of the drone return to home feature

While budget drones under $200 are excellent value, they’re still expensive, so you’ll want it back after your flight.

When you’re engrossed in your flying, you may fail to notice your battery levels becoming low. Alternatively, if you’re concentrating hard on your FPV screen, you may lose sight of your drone and have no idea how to bring it back to base.

An RTH feature allows the drone to return to its original starting position not necessarily your actual home through GPS, without you having to pilot it back.

Typically, this function kicks-in when:

  • You press the ‘home’ function on your controller.
  • When the drone’s battery is becoming worryingly low.
  • If the drone flies out of signal range known as a “failsafe RTH.”

Battery Life

illustration showing cartoon batteries with different expressions. Goes from happy to sad, left to right.

The longer the battery life, the more time you’ll enjoy being airborne.

While some drones can fly for a decent amount of time, you’re not going to find the longest duration in these drones. Typically, the highest quality budget machines will have a flying time between 10 and 25 minutes.

If you’re piloting your drone from your back garden, shorter battery life may not be an issue, as you can simply land and recharge.

However, if you’re venturing further when you’re getting some footage on vacation, it might be worth considering a longer lasting battery or investing in additional batteries.

Range of Your Drone

illustration of the range of a drone

The typical range of a budget drone is about 400–1,500 feet.

Naturally, the further your machine can fly, the more versatility you have for exploration and some awesome images and videos.

Bear in mind that the control range is often further than the FPV range. That is, you can still control your quadcopter at maximum distance, but will lose your video feed.



Camera Quality

illustration of different resolutions on a drone

There’s little point positioning your drone perfectly in the air for a like-worthy Instagram post only to discover that the actual images and videos aren’t as crisp and clear as you deserve.

When choosing one of the best drones with a camera under $200, consider:

  • Resolution: The larger, the better although that’s at the cost of file size. For video, consider a camera that has, at a minimum, 1,080 vertical pixels (Full HD). A 2.7k (2,704 horizontal pixels) would deliver the clearest images. For photography, usually the more megapixels you have the better.
  • Video frame rate: Typically, drones have an FPS (frames per second) of 24, 25, 30 and 60. An FPS of 24 is what you usually see in Hollywood movies and an FPS of 60 will allow you to slow your footage down slightly in post processing.
  • Field of view/vision (FOV): Lower degrees of FOV are suitable for images of single objects. A larger FOV allows you to take sweeping and panoramic videos and views of landscapes. For the latter, look for a minimum of 120 degrees.

Additional Intelligent Flight Modes

illustration of the different intelligent modes on a drone

Even though they’re budget machines, they often include some features to maximize your experience. The most useful are:

  • Follow me: GPS or recognition tech enables the drone to follow you without you having to pilot the unit. It does this by tracking your smartphone or controller.
  • Gesture control: You can pilot and take photos simply by the wave of your hand typically through an accelerometer on your wrist for these budget models.
  • Tap to fly: Instead of using a remote control to pilot, you just tap on the smartscreen the direction you want your drone to fly.

view of ocean from above

Reviews of the Best Drones Under $200

Time to get airborne!

After extensive research, including customer feedback, industry expert opinion, and my own experience and knowledge, here are what I consider to be the top drones under $200.

1.) Snaptain SP510

In addition to its follow-me and RTH features, you can also select Waypoint mode. This enables you to choose multiple locations on your smartscreen which the drone then follows automatically. Thus, leaving you free to just enjoy the ride through the FPV.

Additionally, if you’re a complete newbie, you’ll welcome the Intelligent Geofence feature. This selectable option prevents your quad from flying either too high or too far away providing beginners with peace of mind.

For cinema-like movies, the camera delivers 25 FPS and provides an impressive 2.7k resolution. And, if you want to search for that perfect photo, you will enjoy the 16 minutes of flying time provided by its 1,500 mAh battery.

Lastly, if you fancy yourself as a drone-wielding Spielberg, you may appreciate the voice-recording feature. This enables you to add narration to your videos in real-time. And, with a range exceeding 1,600 feet, you have an expansive area to explore.

PROS:

  • 5G compatible.
  • Foldable for easy transportation.
  • Auto-hover for stability.
  • FPV range of 1,000 feet.
  • 110-degree field of vision with a 90-degree adjustable camera.
  • One-key take-off and landing.
  • Three speed settings.
  • Headless function to realign head and tail.

CONS:

  • Battery recharging time is quite long.


illustration of box which links to amazon


2.) Holy Stone HS270 GPS 2.7K

If you demand crystal-clear images combined with smooth and vivid videos, this may be the best camera drone under 200.

The 2.7k HD camera should provide impressive picture quality not only on your final images but also when on FPV mode with the 5 GHz transmission delivering an interference-free live feed.

Being foldable, I’d suggest this would be an ideal quadcopter for those on the move. Furthermore, when you’ve reached your destination, you’ll welcome the 18-minute flying time.

A simple tap of a button on the controller and this drone will return-to-home, which it will also do so when losing battery power or signal.

Also, the auto-hover feature should avoid shaky pictures. Alternatively, it can circle automatically around a fixed point with the area of interest always in the middle of the frame.

PROS:

  • Control range of 1,968 feet—FPV transmission of 1,300 feet.
  • 120-degree FOV with a 90-degree downward tilt.
  • Follow-me feature.
  • Folds down to just 7.68 by 4.10 by 3.15 inches.
  • Tap-to-fly function.
  • Records audio.

CONS:

  • Battery drains rapidly in cold conditions.


illustration of box which links to amazon



3.) Holy Stone HS110D

Although this is one of the lightest drones on your wallet, it doesn’t skimp on features.

A 120-degree wide-angle lens delivers images at 1080p. Furthermore, the FPV allows you to be in the pilot seat and control the drone purely through the movements of your smartphone. Alternatively, you can signal the unit to take photos or videos by hand gestures, which is useful for those Instagram selfies!

What’s more, if your hands are busy, simply talk to the drone. It responds to voice controls, including fly, land, and directional commands.

A modular battery allows you to remove, recharge, and replace the power pack quickly. Although, bear in mind that its 1,000 mAh capacity will only provide around 10 minutes of flying time.

Beginners may welcome the altitude hold function, which not only provides stability for those crucial shots but also allows you to initially concentrate on direction, not height.

PROS:

  • It can perform flips at the touch of a button.
  • Gravity Sensor Mode enables control through the movement of your smartphone.
  • Ideal for beginners.
  • Trajectory flight—set a route on the app, and the drone will follow this path.
  • Easy on the bank balance.

CONS:

  • Lacks an RTH feature.
  • Restricted to a 328-feet control range and 196-feet FPV distance.


illustration of box which links to amazon



4.) Holy Stone HS120D

If you’re planning on using your quadcopter to record your extreme adventures, this may be one of the best drones under 200 with camera for the outdoor enthusiast.

For a feature-packed unit, it’s remarkably lightweight at just 7.8 ounces. Furthermore, the drone arrives complete with a bespoke backpack, allowing you to safely transport the machine until you’re ready to take off.

It comes with two lithium batteries, providing over 36 minutes of flying time—18 minutes per cell.

You can record your experiences with the 1080p HD camera, and switch on the follow-me function to allow for hands-free video creation. Alternatively, with a 984-foot control range, you have more than enough range to explore where you are at.

PROS:

  • Auto-hover for stability.
  • RTH, follow me and custom path features.
  • Includes backpack and cases for both batteries.
  • 120-degree FOV.
  • One-key take-off and landing.
  • Weighing less than 250 grams, there’s no requirement for FAA registration.
  • Up to 18 minutes of flying time on a single battery.

CONS:

  • Being lightweight, you may find control in windy conditions demanding.


illustration of box which links to amazon



5.) Potensic D80 RC Drone

Do you demand a long-range? If so, this might be the budget drone for you.

With a controllable range of 2,624 feet and an FPV of 984 feet, it allows you to complete some extensive exploration, which is impressive for a budget drone. What’s more, the 1,800 mAh battery provides a flying time of 20 minutes reassuring you that you’ll have enough juice to bring this quadcopter home.

If you like something away from the norm, you may welcome the white, curved, and sleek appearance, making this unit stand out against the many black and boxy versions on the market.

And, if you’re a total speed freak, you may like the powerful brushless motors that allow you to cruise at a cool 25 mph. Although, you may need to take things a little slower to appreciate the image quality provided by the 120-degree 1080p HD camera.

PROS:

  • Dual GPS and GLONASS for pinpoint accuracy.
  • FPV and RTH features.
  • 5G WiFi.
  • Brushless motors provide power with low energy consumption.
  • Follow-me capability for tracking your running, skiing, and parkour.
  • Programmable custom flight path.

CONS:

  • Being white may make it difficult to spot in some weather conditions.


illustration of box which links to amazon



6.) Altair 818 Hornet

For me, this is an excellent unit if your kids want to join in the flying fun.

Not only does this drone feature altitude hold and one-button take-off and landing, but it also has three selectable skill levels. In short, an experienced pilot can hand over the controller while the drone is in mid-air, choose a setting with more automated features, and allow less flying-savvy youngsters to continue the flight.

FPV gives your children the ability to fly through the air like their favorite superheroes. Although, keep a watchful eye as it lacks an RTH feature, so you’ll need to bring the quadcopter home manually.

Being primarily for younger users, the camera is functional, yet basic delivering a 720p resolution. But, with two batteries, each providing 15 minutes of flying time, the little ones will be able to enjoy extensive ‘play’ time.

PROS:

  • Designed for stability in the wind—even in the hands of newbie users.
  • Three ability level settings.
  • Uncomplicated and robust controller.
  • USA-based company.
  • 120-degree wide-angle lens.

CONS:

  • Not suitable for users wanting high-quality images.
  • Short flying range of 492 feet—196 feet for FPV.


illustration of box which links to amazon



7.) Altair Aerial AA300

If you like the kid-friendly aspect of the Altair 818 but demand increased functionality and camera quality then this could stoke your interest.

The Altair AA300 still includes the three skill level settings to allow younger users to fly straight-out-of-the-box, yet also gives the reassurance of RTH. And, with a follow-me mode, both you and your little ones can record your activities hands-free.

What’s more, these saved images and videos will be crisp and clear. The drone includes a 1080p HD camera—providing both memories and an exhilarating FPV experience.

Also, control is enhanced by the GPS satellite stability feature, ensuring that your quadcopter remains balanced and upright in flight.

You may want to consider purchasing an extra power pack, though. Unlike its more basic cousin, this unit only includes one battery. This will provide 15 minutes of air-time with a range of 492 feet.

PROS:

  • Barometer altitude hold for elevated stability.
  • One-touch take-off and landing.
  • Follow-me function.
  • Snap-on battery for easy replacement and recharge.

CONS:

  • Restricted range.
  • Lack of image stabilization can make videos shaky in windy conditions.


illustration of box which links to amazon



8.) Snaptain S5C

If you’re a serious technophile, this may be your drone.

Whether you’re an Android aficionado or an iPhone fanatic, simply head over to the relevant app store to allow for smartphone FPV control. Furthermore, if you love gaming, you should welcome the familiar hand controller, which makes piloting this quadcopter second-nature.

Bold styling combined with bright red and blue illumination provides this drone with an Alienware aesthetic. One-button touch delivers 360-degree rolls and flips giving others the impression you’re a flying-ace even with little experience.

This machine provides versatility, allowing you to switch to gesture or phone-motion control. However, a range of 328 feet and a flight time of 10 minutes is a bummer even though it comes with 2 batteries.

PROS:

  • Includes two batteries.
  • Voice, gesture and gravity control modes.
  • Trajectory flight and return to home functions.
  • One-touch 360-degree ‘trick’ function.
  • Futuristic styling.
  • Easy for beginners.

CONS:

  • Lacks 1080p camera—surprising on this feature-packed unit.
  • 60-degree FOV may be insufficient for many users.


illustration of box which links to amazon



9.) Snaptain SP650 1080P

If you’re looking for another drone choice that is under the 250g limit, this might be the one for you. Weighing just 4.4 ounces, you’re not required to register with the FAA.

Although lacking heft, it doesn’t fall short in features. For instance, the 120-degree 1080p HD camera should give you a pretty good image quality. Furthermore, in video mode, the 25 FPS will provide some seriously YouTube-worthy movies.

Two batteries (included) will allow you to fly for 24 minutes in total—the only downside being that your range is just 240 feet (180 feet for live FPV). That said, should you push the drone beyond its controllable distance, or it runs out of battery, the return to home feature means you haven’t lost your quadcopter.

PROS:

  • 90-degree downward camera tilt.
  • High-speed rotation and circle-fly features.
  • 360-degree flip mode.
  • Programmable custom flight paths.
  • Gesture control to activate the camera or video.
  • Voice control.

CONS:

  • Although featuring altitude hold for stability, the lightweight may make control challenging in windy conditions.


illustration of box which links to amazon



10.) Simrex X900 Drone

If you’re concerned your flying skills are too basic to take images without the wobbles, this may be the answer.

The proprietary Optical Flow Positioning, combined with ultrasonic altitude determination, keep the drone stable and safe.

It has a 110-degree 1080p HD camera so you can enjoy shake-free real-time FPV and high-res images and videos.

If you fly beyond its 393 feet range limit, the return to home feature will spring into life, and the 15-minute flight time should allow enough juice to bring your quadcopter safely back to base.

Additionally, this is a drone that will grow with you. As a beginner, I’d say you’ll enjoy the one-touch landing, novice pilot mode, and gravity sensor steering. When you gain experience, you can switch to one of the more advanced settings—reducing automated flying and giving you more freedom.

PROS:

  • Headless mode to reorientate the drone.
  • Steer with the joystick, gravity tilt or smartphone.
  • Foldable.
  • Compatible with VR glasses.
  • Includes four spare propellers.

CONS:

  • It’s easy to accidentally press the emergency shut-down button—leading to crashes.
  • The smartphone app isn’t as user-friendly as with other models.


illustration of box which links to amazon



Conclusion



The Winner – Holy Stone HS270


Drones are the ultimate machine and can give you a new perspective wherever you are.

Sure, you can spend a couple of month’s salary, and get a high-end product. But, for those on budget, or just testing the water (or air) for the first time, they can be very expensive.

Naturally, the answer is budget drones, but a budget drone is obviously not as good as its high-end counterpart.

It’s tough to find a bargain quadcopter sufficiently stacked with features. Between machines, you’re often making a trade-off—the range at the cost of battery power, and HD images at the expense of stability.

However, I believe I’ve found the drone which is a great value for and it’s under $200!

The Holy Stone HS270, for me, is the most powerful budget drone on the market.

It does fall just short of the range of the Potensic D80 and doesn’t come with additional batteries like the Altair 818 and Snaptain S5C.

However, for all-round versatility, user-friendliness, and modern-tech it’s a winner.

Videographers will appreciate the 2.7k camera which provides good video quality, especially for a budget drone. And, with auto-hover, stability isn’t going to be an issue. Plus, if you want to show the world your adventures, you can go hands-free with the follow-me mode.

All this, combined with 18 minutes of flight, and you have an impressive quadcopter.

 


illustration of box which links to amazon

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2 comments

lisa September 9, 2020 - 8:54 am

thank you for this very informative article!

Reply
Tom Shu September 10, 2020 - 1:06 am

You’re welcome and thanks for reading!

Reply

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