Drones in the $500 to $1,000 range are an excellent group of drones for for both recreational or commercial pilots.
They can be used as high-end hobby drones or entry-level professional drones.
In the United States, the FAA requires all drones to be registered, except those that weigh less than 200 grams. All of the drones in this guide weigh under 55 lbs, so they can be registered online for a small fee by filling out the application on the FAA Drone Zone website.
Hobbyists, who fly these drones for non-commercial purposes, do not need an FAA license as long as they register the drone and fly it according to the rules for recreational fliers. Anyone flying a drone for a commercial purpose needs to get an FAA remote-pilot certificate.
If you live outside the U.S., I strongly suggest checking with your local aviation authority to make sure you're flying legally and safely.
This article reviews the best drones under $1,000 for sale right now. It also contains a buying guide to help you make the best decision possible.
Let's get started:
Table of the Best Drones Under $1000
DJI Mavic Pro
12MP / 4K
DJI Mavic Air
12MP / 4K
DJI Phantom 3 Standard
12MP / 2.7K
12MP / FHD: 1920×1080
DJI Phantom 3 Professional
12MP / 4K
21MP / 4K
Features of Drones Under $1000
The type of camera and video-recording technology used for a drone has a big impact on the price. Drone flyers who just want to fly and do not have the need to capture such high-definition images can save money. The drones with a lower video quality are the ones in the lower part of the price range for modestly-priced drones.
The higher-priced drones do capture high-definition images so there is no reason to spend more for a drone than the ones found in this category if you are a hobbyist. In some cases, you can buy two or three of these cheaper drones for the same price as you would pay for just one high-priced drone.
I like to fly my drones in air races with friends, so having an extra one is very nice, especially when inviting someone to fly for the first time with you. For recreational purposes, you are allowed to teach someone to fly as long as you do not charge them for the lessons.
Making Money With Drones
Getting paid to fly a drone requires an FAA license. If you get an FAA remote-pilot certificate you can charge for flying lessons or drone services to make some extra money.
If you get really good at flying, you may want to advance to racing drones. There are some interesting opportunities, such as races in Dubai, which started in 2016, paying $1 million dollars to the winner. You can start your drone-racing career by practicing with these modestly-priced drones.
Key Specifications of These Drones
If you are new to drone flying, one key consideration is its sturdiness and the ability of the drone to help you fly it well. Some have automatic processes to take off and land safely. Moreover, collision-avoidance features can help prevent accidents, which is very helpful for newbies.
Consider the drone’s flying time and range. Drone range is the unobstructed, line-of-sight distance that a drone can fly without losing the communication connection with the controller. Communication, using a WIFI connection, limits flights to areas that are nearby. Some drones can be controlled using a smartphone.
Flying a drone for a long distance from the controller requires using a mobile telephone signal. It is a good idea to check the area before flying to make sure there is adequate signal strength for the mobile phone connections. Some drones have a GPS guidance system and an automatic return-home feature, if the connection to the controller is lost.
How to Choose a Drone Under $1000
Everybody has their favorite drone. They choose them for different reasons. Here are the considerations to think about when deciding which drone to buy:
Type of Flying
Thinking about how you will fly helps make the decision of which drone to buy. For example, there are drones that are made to go really fast and are better choices if you want to race them. Some are made to take clear panoramic photos and make aerial videos. Others may be designed for indoor flight.
Rather than trying to fly a drone that does everything, most remote pilots choose a drone for one purpose and then buy a different drone to use for another purpose.
For this modestly-priced category, all drones are under $1,000. When comparing one drone to another one, be sure to add in the cost of all the accessories needed. To make a fair evaluation, create an equipment list that is as similar as possible between the different models that you are considering. Sometimes you can save money by buying a drone in a bundle with popular accessories.
Computer-aided flying and autonomous flying can help an inexperienced pilot to control a drone more easily. Take-off and landing can be done by hand and then the drone can be commanded to fly a pre-set flight path. There may be some special features that make a drone easier to use such as the “follow-me” mode or an automatic return-home capability that some drones have.
Drones in this category have similar flying times on a single battery charge. They can fly between 20 to 30 minutes. Having extra batteries for drones that have shorter flying times helps keep those drones in the air longer.
Will you be flying your drone in bad weather? Are there any temperature conditions to worry about? How about high winds? Wind is often overlooked. Some drones have stabilizers to help them hold their position in high winds. Others use a location from a GPS system to stay on track. If the area where you will fly is subject to high winds, this is a serious consideration because the wind can blow a drone out of range and you can lose it that way.
Safety and Durability
If you are just a beginner, you will want to pay attention to durability because you will make mistakes and crash your drone. Safety is a big concern if you are trying to learn how to fly a drone indoors or near fragile stuff. Guards for propellers help to reduce damage to things that a drone hits by accident. These guards also protect the propellers from breaking. Check what items are included with the drone. Some drones come with propeller guards. For others, they are sold separately as an accessory.
One of the most interesting accessories for drones is a virtual reality (VR) headset and the equipment that allows first-person view (FPV) flying. FPV flying while wearing a VR headset is like being the pilot of a stunt plane doing aerobatics. Crazy flying is possible, including rolls, loops, and spins. Make cool videos by using a video camera with a gimbal mount that can smoothly rotate while flying. Expert FPV flyers create impressive video footage.
I think FPV flying is awesome; although, you have to get used to some strange feelings when learning how to do it. There is a possibility of becoming slightly disoriented. You will also need to master serious remote-flying skills to do this well.
FPV flying, using a VR headset, can make a pilot dizzy because your brain cannot tell the difference between a VR experience and a real one. Plan to take some breaks between sessions to find your normal balance when first learning how to fly this way.
The way I decide about these expenses is that I look up the price for the spare parts that may be needed before I make the decision to buy the drone. Find out what it costs to replace a motor, a broken propeller, or a malfunctioning controller.
A warranty is good to have. However, a warranty is only good if it works when needed. Some manufacturers offer warranties online that they do not stand behind. This is a common complaint about manufacturers from China.
Some drone flyers prefer to buy the same drone model in a retail physical store instead of making the purchase online. This helps them feel more secure about warranty support and after-purchase service. Another option is to purchase warranty insurance from a major online retail system. This insurance provides coverage for all of the products sold by the major retailer, rather than having to rely only on a manufacturer’s warranty.
Here is a checklist to use for all the important considerations:
- Type of Flying
- Flying Time
- Safety and Durability
- Maintenance Expenses
By comparing one model to another you can choose the features you prefer and then decide which model is the better deal for your needs.
Who Are These Drones Best For?
These modestly-priced drones are good for recreational flying by remote-pilots who take their hobby seriously. These are playful things; however, they are not toys. I have to warn you about something. If you never tried this sport before; it can be very addictive. If you want to have a really cool experience, get a drone that comes with a virtual reality (VR) system or one that allows it as an add-on. This capability makes it possible to see a first-person view (FPV) of what the drone can see. It feels like you are flying like an eagle.
Experienced pilots make it look easy to fly a drone. However, to get good at flying one, it takes some practice. That’s the fun of it, as long as you avoid crashing.
If you are new to drone flying, it is best to have the help of an experienced pilot when you first start out. If that is not possible then, I recommend you first fly in an area that is away from any hazards, there are no other people there, and there is plenty of open space.
Check with any local restrictions at public parks and learn if you are allowed to fly in a designated area. Most cities have a public park with a zone that is reserved for drone flying. A great place to practice drone flying is a football or baseball field when it is not being used as long as you do not break any rules. For a popular drone-flying area, get up early and go there before it becomes crowded with others.
It is really fun to fly in rural areas far away from anyone that you can bother or that can bother you. In cities, it may be possible to find a large open parking lot for a big-box store that is not operating or is closed on the days you want to fly.
My favorite place for racing is inside a large, abandoned warehouse. Ask permission first, if you are going to fly over any private land or inside buildings owned by others.
Some people have a big enough backyard where they can fly. If you fly in your own yard, be sure not to appear to be spying with your drone on your neighbors because that is a crime in most places. Be aware that many people find the constant buzzing of a drone very annoying if it is within earshot. You may make people upset, without intending to, if you are not careful about this noise pollution. You should ask anyone who can hear your drone fly if it bothers them.
Just because modestly-priced drones are usually flown for recreational purposes, this does not prevent you from making a business out of this. One seasoned, licensed, remote-pilot who I know got permission to use the parking lot outside of a racetrack on days that the track does not have races. Out of this initial hobby use, he developed a successful remote-flight training school. He got lots of students by getting attention for what he was doing at the racetrack.
Top Drones Under $1000 - Reviews
1. DJI Mavic Pro - Best Overall
The reason why this model makes it into the under $1,000 category is because the DJI Mavic Pro 2 came out. The DJI Mavic Pro used to retail for around $1,900. Buying this high-quality drone now, for a less than half the original price, is a real bargain.
All the drones in the DJI Mavic series fold down to the size of a sports bottle. This drone can fly fast — up to 40 mph. It has an extended range of 4.3 miles. Flying time is 27 minutes.
Its obstacle-avoidance system makes it extremely safe when flying. The 4k video footage is very clear. It uses vision-positioning and GPS coordinates (GLONASS in Europe). It can be flown by using either a WIFI or a mobile phone connection. Even a beginner should be able to pick up this drone and learn to fly it.
- Fast setup and it flies within minutes out of the box.
- Gets positioning information from both US (GPS) and Russian (GLONASS) satellites, which mean it works sell in Europe.
- Excellent collision-avoidance capabilities.
- Losing the connection signal may cause an unexpected fly-away when flying at a distance.
The DJI Mavic Air has the ability to create 32 megapixel quality 180-degree panoramic shots. It does this by taking 25 photos in a sequence of 8 seconds. Like all the Mavic series, the arms of this drone fold up to make it very compact and easy to take just about anywhere.
People who love taking landscape shots will really appreciate this drone. It has 4k video quality and shoots at 30 frames per second. The camera rotates on a three-axis gimbal that is stabilized.
This allows it to take 12-megapixel still photos that are crystal clear. It has a maximum communication range of just over one mile without interference. The flight time is up to 21 minutes.
- Takes amazing panoramic shots.
- Easy-to-use video editing software is included.
- Flies by using the included remote controller or by an app using a smartphone.
- Radio interference in urban areas can reduce its range.
I love the price-to-features ratio for this drone. You get plenty of value for the price, which is at the low end of our modestly-priced drones.
It is a good choice for recreational photographers and aerial videographers, It also work wells for new professional pilots, who are just starting out.
When using the free DJI Go mobile phone app, live-streamed video can be viewed on a smartphone from up to half a mile away. The 12-megapixel camera has a three-axis stabilization system to help take clear still shots. It records 2.7k quality video. The flight time is up to 25 minutes.
It uses GPS coordinates for flight assistance. It has the special features of points-of-interest shooting, follow-me tracking, and can follow waypoint guide-markers from programmed flying.
- Low price.
- Easy to fly.
- Suitable for first-time drone pilots and as a backup drone for professionals.
- Lower GPS accuracy than more expensive models.
4. DJI Spark
The DJI Spark is a great budget drone in this price that offers a ton of high-end features, making it great for beginner pilots.
It is tiny and fits in the palm of your hand. With the propeller guards on, you can release this drone to take-off from your hand. The camera is gimbal-mounted and two-axis stabilized to produce shake-free shots.
This camera uses FaceAware software to recognize you. It is possible to automatically take selfie-photos using hand gestures to frame your face. It takes a 12-megapixel photo. This drone’s normal flight is also controllable by using hand gestures. It creates cinematic aerial videos at 1080p resolution that can be shared on social media. The free DJI Go App video-editing software is easy to use.
The TapFly feature allows tapping a location on a smartphone image and the drone will fly towards it while automatically avoiding obstacles. With ActiveTrack it recognizes objects or people that you select for it to follow.
- Fun, useful features.
- Using hand gestures to fly is unique, or you can use the remote controller or a smartphone.
- Very tiny and yet powerful.
- Video quality is low at 1020p.
5. Xiaomi Mi
This model captures high-definition video with a 4k camera at 30 frames per second. The Xiaomi Mi is able to be use WIFI for real-time video transmission to allow FPV flying for a range of up to about 2 miles depending on the signal strength.
This drone has a special feature of tap-to-fly. By tapping a location on the smartphone app, it flies to that location. It has a Surrounded Flight feature that works by selecting an object or person to record and instructing the drone to automatically fly around it.
Route planning allows you to pre-set the flight path and then it flies exactly as programmed in a smooth way to create nice, stable, video footage.
- Produces very high-quality video.
- Has an automatic take-off and landing feature.
- Nice range for FPV flying.
- May need to download an English version of the manual.
The Phantom 3 Pro has a visual-positioning system that makes it fly stably way when used indoors.
It records ultra-high-definition (UHD) 4k video. It can send a live stream at 720p resolution of images. These live images are also recorded at the full 4k resolution in real-time to be stored on an internal microSD memory card.
This drone comes ready-to-fly upon box arrival. The DJI pilot smartphone application for both iOS and Android phones, allow viewing of the live-video stream and permits operation of the camera controls.
The camera is gimbal-mounted with 3-axis stabilization for steady shots.
- Has a very accurate GPS guidance system.
- Can fly well in wind of up to 20 mph.
- Live-streaming video for controls along with simultaneous full-resolution UHD-4k video recording.
- Firmware updates can sometimes be problematic.
7. Parrot ANAFI
The Parrot ANAFI is designed for amateur and professional filmmakers who want to produce high-quality videos.
It is very well-priced at around the middle of the range of the modestly-priced drones. It is easy to fly and suitable for beginners as well as seasoned pilots.
This drone has many special effects for high-definition 4k video capture that include low-angle, automatic framing of the subject, aerial-selfies, compensated traveling, and follow-me tracking. The camera takes excellent quality 21-megapixel photos.
It has a special burst mode that shoots at ten frames per second to make sure you capture the still photo you want. It has a wide-angle lens with 2.8x loss-free digital zooming capability. This allows you to fly a drone at a safe distance from the shot you want to capture. This zoom is very helpful when filming wildlife.
- One-button, automatic landing and take-off.
- Automatic return-home if the controller communication is lost.
- Very useful digital zoom
- Compact and lightweight.
- No obstacle avoidance capability.
My favorite in this group drones under $1000 is the DJI Mavic Pro because it has the features of a drone that costs twice its price. Buying last year’s model of a high-quality, professional drone for half the price it was offered a year ago is a smart move, especially for new drone flyers.