When you’re just starting out piloting a drone, it’s tempting to go all-out and buy the most advanced model available.
But what if you’re on a budget, unsure whether flying is for you, or just don’t know what features to look for?
In this article, I review the best drones under $50, including the one I recommend above all others.
I've also included a buying guide to help you make the right choice for you.
Table of the Best Drones Under $50
Cheerwing Syma X5SW
Vandora Mini Quadcopter
Fly Responsibly: If you live in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration requires many drones to be registered. This includes hobby and professional drones. Visit the FAA's drone registration page for more information.
Top Drones Under $50 - Reviews
1. Cheerwing Syma X5SW - Best Overall
With its .3MP camera and headless mode, the Cheerwing Syma X5SW quadcopter is a substantial introductory drone for new pilots. Rather than requiring pilots to orient themselves with the copter’s head and tail location or nose orientation, the Syma X5SW is ready to go from the moment you turn it on.
The camera function is a desirable feature that allows pilots to watch the in-flight video and see real-time photo captures. It connects to your smartphone using Wi-Fi, and the compatible apps let you view media on both Apple and Android devices. This is a highlight many other drones at this level of affordability can’t offer; most use memory card storage instead of live feeds. Of course, you can also save your video and pictures to the smartphone app for viewing (and sharing) later.
And if you want to see the view from another angle, be sure to try out the 360-degree feature: you can seamlessly flip the quadcopter while filming. Also, no worries if you crash into a wall, or anything else: though this drone is particularly agile, it’s also durable and can withstand plenty of hits before it requires replacement parts.
If you do require replacement parts, though, they’re easy to obtain and are affordable so that you won’t be stuck on the ground for long. And, rather than juggling your smartphone and the drone’s controller, you can secure your device in the remote’s viewing holder.
- View photo & video while flying via Wi-Fi
- Save battery power by removing the camera
- .3MP camera
- Relatively short communication range
Another quadcopter with built-in Wi-Fi to live stream (and save) your camera footage is the Vandora Mini Quadcopter. There’s an optional headless mode for those times your drone leaves your line of sight, but Vandora’s also has LED lights for increased visibility.
You can also rely on the home return button to get your drone back on the ground, even if flying it home yourself seems impossible. Or, if you want a more customized flying experience, you can choose from one of four variable speed modes.
The removable camera adds a bit of bulk to the unit, and once you remove it, you’ll enjoy a bit longer flight time, too. But the camera also packs a 2MP camera, which is far superior to other drones in this range. Compatibility with smartphone apps is great for streaming via Wi-Fi, but you can also save the video to the internal memory card. The altitude hold feature is also helpful when using the camera, as the responsiveness of the drone can mean videos may turn out choppy.
And if you want to have a bit of fun flying this drone, rather than sticking with recording video only, the 360-degree flip button is helpful for that.
- Variable speed modes
- LED lights for visibility
- 2MP camera
- Limited flight length; about 8 minutes
3. Potensic A20
A mini drone with plenty of features to keep pilots flying, the Potensic A20 might be small, but it offers a big piloting experience.
From the one-button takeoff setting to the headless mode while in-flight, operation is easy for beginners. At the same time, more experienced operators will appreciate features like adjustable speed and altitude hold.
Unlike other models in this class, the Potensic A20 has low battery indicators, which also double as height warnings; when you’ve flown the drone too far from the transmitter, an alarm will sound until it’s back in range. This is helpful for avoiding the “drop” that comes when the device flies too far away.
The headless mode, activated after takeoff, helps novice pilots find their way as it orients the “nose” of the drone with the direction of the remote. Like any other miniature drone, it can be challenging to operate in windy conditions, but the size also makes it handy for flying inside.
Of course, with less experienced pilots who tend to bump into walls or other obstacles, you can expect to need a few spare parts.
Durability is a bit lower than in other drones at this level but as affordable as it is, you can stand to grab a few extra props when ordering, just in case.
- Multiple speed settings
- Quick recharge capability
- Distance alarm
- Not as durable as other models in this class
If you’re hoping to record video or take snapshots from the sky, Cheerwing’s CW4 might be the right fit.
In addition to the 2MP camera, it also features a removable micro-SD card. So instead of live-streaming via Wi-Fi, you can save videos on the unit and swap cards out for more storage.
Also ideal for video recording are the two batteries; Cheerwing includes a spare so you can get right back to flying after one battery dies. While multiple batteries are always ideal, in this case, they’re a necessity: you can expect a six- to eight-minute flight time with the CW4. Also, charging time is about an hour, according to the manufacturer.
Features like headless and hover hold modes help stabilize the unit for taking smooth videos and crisp photos. However, you won’t be able to view your videos in real-time, as there’s no Wi-Fi in this model, and therefore no compatible smartphone app.
If you’d rather practice some stunts, the 360-degree roll button can help with that! The one-key takeoff and return buttons get you in the air (or out of it) quickly, too, making this drone a good starting point for novice pilots.
- Removable micro-SD card (can expand memory)
- Comes with two batteries
- Spare propellers included
- 2MP camera
- No in-flight viewing of video
5. Syma X20
The Syma X20 drone fits in your hand but still offers many full-size copter features.
While it doesn’t have a camera, it does have the flying power you’d expect from less affordable drones. Flight is easy for novice pilots thanks to the headless mode, 360-degree roll button, altitude hold function, and one-key takeoff and home buttons. More experienced pilots can adjust the speed to suit their needs.
A USB charging port is convenient, but I’m a bit stumped by Syma’s choice of battery. An internal battery means there are no replacement or spare options, so you’ll need to wait about 50 minutes for the unit to recharge between flights.
And although flight time is relatively short for this category—only about five minutes, per the manufacturer—more experienced pilots can stretch those minutes to nearly double. If you’re not spending a whole lot of time over-correcting or bumping into things, you can expect the battery power to last a lot longer.
Stability and maneuverability are key with the X20, partly due to the small size and partly due to the absence of a camera. So if you’re not planning on capturing images or video while flying, the X20 is a solid choice for stunts and regular flying.
- LED light for visibility
- Speed adjustment
- Highly accurate navigation
- Limited range (66 feet)
Should My First Drone Be Under $50?
Although a drone that’s under $50 can seem like a bargain that’s too good to be true, there are some perks to purchasing a lower-end version to start. And although it’s not a significant investment, you can find a drone with plenty of features at this price point.
Plus, starting with an affordable model means you stand to lose less if things don’t pan out. If you crash and burn with the drone on its first run, at least you’ve only expended part of your budget. Conversely, buying a more expensive drone right out of the gate means less opportunity for upgrades later.
If you’re new to flying UAVs, starting with an entry-level model may also help you get acclimated. Learning the controls and getting comfortable with the unit goes a long way in getting the most out the features. There’s no use in buying a top-of-the-line model when you don’t have a clue how to operate it.
And you can always upgrade later if you want more of a challenge or additional features. But for first-timers, a range of adjustment options and buttons might feel more intimidating than exhilarating. Besides, you may find that a fleet of affordable drones is more fun to work with than a single high-end one—and you’ll see each one has different perks and downsides.
What Camera Quality Can I Expect?
At this low of a price point, not every camera within this range will have a camera. Because many inexpensive drones are miniature versions, there just isn’t room for a camera. In other versions, you may find you can fly longer on a single charge if you remove the camera first. Of course, depending on what you’re using the drone for, you may always want the camera attached.
If you are seeking a drone with an attached camera, you can expect quality to span a broad range. For example, some drones in this price range will have a .3MP camera, while others range all the way up to 2MP. For reference, many of the newer smartphones released within the last few years feature a 12MP camera, which means more pixels and better resolution.
But for many applications, less than 1MP is entirely satisfactory, as this produces a 4” x 6” print with acceptable resolution. Of course, some drone users will need a higher number of megapixels, especially if they’re relying on it for professional use. But at this price point, it’s a decent tradeoff for most of us.
Even a .3MP camera produces an image that’s clear, though you may not be able to see minute details in the footage or photos. 2MP, at the higher end, has a bit better clarity, but higher camera quality often also comes with a higher price tag.
Benefits of Cheaper Drones
Everyone likes to save money. But there are a handful of reasons, beyond frugality, that UAV operators choose less expensive drones.
First, the up-front investment cost is lower, meaning there’s potential for add-ons and accessories with your drone. The cost difference might allow you more funds to put toward spare batteries, spare propellers, propeller guards, memory cards for your camera, skins, chargers, and more.
Second, repairs and replacement parts often cost less for cheaper drones. While it’s possible your budget drone might be less sturdy than other models, it’s also true that you can stock up on replacement parts for far less than what it would cost for a $300 drone.
Third, if you have kids or plan to be around them a lot—or even if you’re planning to bring your drone out with friends or to public places—there’s no doubt others will want to handle it. The thing is, you’re going to be reluctant to hand over the controller of an expensive drone for someone else to operate.
On the other hand, a cheaper model can help you feel less stressed out when it comes to letting someone else take the wheel. Of course, you don’t want the drone to crash and burn, but there are fewer worries about damage and replacement parts with a less expensive model than with an elite version.
Who Are These Drones Best For?
Clearly, an entry-level drone is most appropriate for entry-level operators. Whether you’re in your teens or are a lot more mature, if you’ve never used a drone before, a cheaper one is a good choice.
While flying drones is an excellent hobby (and even career) for plenty of us, some people invest a lot in their equipment and then change their minds about flying.
That means if you’re undecided about how far you plan to go with your drone hobby, you’ll probably want to go with a less expensive and handier type at first.
A lower cost drone for adult audiences is also an excellent alternative for kids than buying-mini drones specifically for kids. While many kids’ drones focus more on fun colors and designs rather than features and quality materials, a standard or mini drone at a lower price point can meet the same needs.
A few drones in this price range are miniature, which is ideal for kids and hobbyists who like to play with their tech while on the go. Rather than using a bigger drone in an approved location, kids and grownups can fly miniature drones in their yards or even indoors and enjoy the same flight experience as a full-size drone, just on a smaller scale.
Read Also: My buying guide for the best toy drones for kids.
Another key audience for this price tier is operators who either have or want to create a collection of drones. At this price point, it’s easy to start up a collection with a range of different capabilities and features. Therefore, you can take each drone for a spin depending on what you want to accomplish or practice each flight without having to drop a ton of cash on a single model that might not check all the boxes as far as features.
When it comes to affordable drones packed with features, the Cheerwing Syma X5SW gets my vote. Not only does it have the nimble maneuverability that more experienced drone pilots expect but it also has video capture capabilities that are impressive in this category.
Though the camera is a seemingly slight .3MP, your video and still images are quality enough that you can see small details. But the fact that you can stream the video live from the ground? That’s a feature I haven’t found in another drone in this category.
I also like the durability of the Syma X5SW, but it’s helpful that there are replacement parts available online—including extra batteries. All told, the range of features with this drone make it ideal for both beginners and more experienced pilots looking for an affordable flight (and video) experience.