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Until recently, aerial photography was reserved for the heavily invested movie producers, who pried the skies with hired choppers and expert skydivers. Today, however, advancements in drone technology have extensively opened up the scene. Everyone, from budget-strapped amateur photojournalists to deep-pocketed professional filmmakers, can experience the thrill of shooting and filming at bird’s eye view.
We spent hours on end scouring the market for the ten best reasonably-priced photography and videography drones, based on features, quality, expert reviews, and popularity. While the models in this guide don’t offer all the bells and whistles of high-end pro-grade drones, they have all an upcoming photographer needs to develop and sharpen their aerial shooting skills.
1. MJX Bugs 3
The Bugs 3, one of the most popular entries from MJX, is arguably the best budget drone on the market. In addition to being among the cheapest brushless quadcopters you can find, its bulky body and sturdy frame make it insanely fun for beginners and enthusiasts. While the lack of a camera can be a drawback, the drone’s support for GoPro’s and virtually all other action camera models means you won’t get bound to a single shooter for the entire lifespan of your drone.
The specifications, are excellent to say the least, as you get a more than decent 19 minutes of flight time from its 1800mAh battery, 300+ meters of control distance, 3D stunts, and low voltage protection. You won’t find a movable gimbal, altitude hold or anything else that would deal with shakiness, but the drone is stable enough to counter distortions from typical aerial vibrations.
Drone shoppers that aren’t looking to spend extra for a camera may be tempted to steer away from the MJX Bugs 3, but if you already own a GoPro and would like a capable pocket-friendly drone to mount it onto, the Bugs 3 is a perfect choice.
2. Holy Stone HS300
After a successful run with the HS170 Predator Mini, Holy Stone is back with the new HS300 drone, an impressive model with a decent set of features. Incorporating automatic altitude hold, emergency stop, one-key return, adjustable speed levels and controllable LED lights, the HS300 is a great option for beginners.
What wins the prize for the HS300, however, is its mounted 5MP camera, which offers high still-image quality and up to 1080p, 30 frames-per-second video shooting. And although its bulkiness has a few downsides – most notably the battery life – it does help to keep the camera reasonably stable in the windy outdoors.
As for the flight time, the HS300’s 2000mAh can hold it in the air for about 8-12 minutes, depending on nearby interference. That, coupled with 200 meters of control distance range makes Holy Stone’s jewel an excellent purchase for the budget lovers.
3. Altair AA108
It’s hardly been more than a few months since the Altair AA108 hit the shelves, but it has already taken the drone market by storm. With a wide-angle HD camera, the aggressively priced drone can shoot decently pixelated pictures and high-quality videos. And, despite lacking hardware image stabilization, it produces remarkable imagery, with little shakiness.
Brushed motors are hardly as powerful or as durable as brushless motors, but the AA108’s motors will last quite a while if you operate them correctly, which means disarming the drone (setting throttle to 0) immediately after a crash.
The Altair AA108 is powered by a relatively small 1S LiPo battery, but because of its light weight, you get a decent 10 minutes of flight time. As for the range, the drone can barely go beyond 100 meters. On the upside, it comes with other pleasant surprises, including FPV (first person view) support, one-button take-off and landing, altitude hold and even an OOR (out of range) alarm system, all which make flying it an absolute joy.
4. AEE AP9
The AEE AP9 may not be nearly as popular as the top three drones on this list, but it offers pretty competitive quality all around along with some crucial additional features, at a decent price tag.
Like the MJX Bugs 3, the AEE AP9 doesn’t come with a camera but supports a myriad of action cameras, including GoPro’s and AEE’s S-series products. Nevertheless, if the lack of a mounted camera is a deal breaker, perhaps the detachable gimbal and GPS may tickle you enough to reconsider. The AP9 is also one of the few under-$200 drones that offer altitude hold and automatic return-to-home, in case of connectivity issues.
Inside the package is a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi transmitter, with which you can control the drone from up to 500 meters, and also incorporates a mount for FPV streams with your smartphone. To top it all, the AP9 features a high-performance 11.1V 5300mAh battery that offers a remarkable 22 minutes of flight time.
5. Force1 F100 Ghost
The Force1 F100’s specifications sheet may not seem like much, but if you’re a hobbyist photographer looking to take your exploits to the sky, it offers great value for the money.
For starters, the drone boasts brushless motors, which not only allow for precise control but also contribute to a smoother, quieter flight, improving the quality of your video and audio. Its nimble flight control also makes it an excellent beginner/intermediate drone for both still photography and aerial videography.
Arguably the Force1 F100’s most admirable traits are its 15-minute flight time and 500-meter control range, both which give it an edge over the competition when it comes to long, high-altitude filming. And if that’s not enough to seal the deal, the F100 supports a host of third-party cameras, including GoPro’s HERO series, along with useful accessories like gimbals and prop guards.
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6. UDI U818A HD
Since its release two years ago, the U818A has made its mark in the drone scene as one of the sturdiest around. Its robust, lightweight build and integrated prop guards provide enough protection against unprecedented crashes, while surprisingly doing little to affect the drone’s stability in the air.
The newly upgraded U818A now features a forward-facing camera that can capture decent 720p, 30fps video. The LCD-fitted Wi-Fi transmitter lets you see what you’re filming in real time, and you also get the choice of incorporating VR headsets for a more immersive FPV experience.
Other impressive features are custom flight mapping and headless mode, the latter which negates the need to adjust the drone’s position before flying it. And while the 10 minutes of battery life is admittedly average, the copter comes with an extra battery and power bank to quadruple your flight time.
7. Force1 U45 Blue Jay
Perfect for budding photographers, drone hobbyists, and beginner flyers, the U45 Blue Jay is pretty fun to fly. Its 6-axis gyroscope offers enough stability and wind resistance for 360-degree flips and rolls. Moreover, thanks to Altitude Hold, the drone can hover in the air to give you sufficient time to use the camera. And with Headless Mode, you won’t need to worry about setting your drone to proper orientation before lift-off.
The Blue Jay further simplifies the flying experience with automatic take-off and landing, and you can even use custom route mode to map your desired path before you fly it.
As for the camera, you get a 2MP shooter that can shoot HD images and videos from above. Filming at 30 frames per second helps to reduce shakiness, but the lack of a gimbal means the footage won’t be at all perfect. On the bright side, the camera comes with FPV support and with a high-end VR-friendly smartphone, you can enjoy seamless immersive VR FPV. The drone’s 10-minute flight time and 100-meter control range are also commendable for its price tag.
8. Hubsan X4 H502S
Coming right after Hubsan’s overwhelmingly popular H501S model, the H502S is a significantly smaller and more affordable version of its predecessor. Unsurprisingly, the H502S has traded several key punches for a cheaper price tag, most notably ditching brushless motors for brushed ones, and a lower 720p resolution camera. Nevertheless, the build quality remains impressive, as does the overall camera stabilization system.
Hubsan claims a decent 13 minutes of maximum flight time, and a 250+ meter control range, although FPV is limited to around 150 meters. You’ll probably not even be able to see it at that distance, but thanks to its inbuilt GPS, you won’t need to worry.
9. Cheerson CX-35
Cheerson may be more famous for the CX-10W – one of the smallest Wi-Fi FPV flyers on the market – but the company’s newer CX-35 seems like the obvious choice for buyers looking to buy a large, feature-packed quadcopter. The CX-35 is one of the friendliest drones to fly on this list, primarily because of 6-axis gyro, which provides excellent stability. You also have altitude hold onboard to hover the drone at a desirable height, so you can best utilize the mounted 2MP HD camera.
While many camera-fitted drones in this price range come with manually adjusted or fixed front-facing cameras, the CX-35 lets you tilt its shooter remotely for different recording angles. And with an FPV monitor mounted on the transmitter, you can see through your camera in real time.
Admittedly neither the CX-35’s 7-minute flight time nor its 100-meter control range is remarkable. Nonetheless, the flyer’s low-voltage auto-landing, one-key return, and automatic landing/take-off features make it a decent purchase for any first-time drone owner.
10. Sky Viper V2450 HD
The Viper V2400 HD may be coming in last on this list, but it’s far from being the least. This little green guy is remarkably stable, and the build quality is robust enough to handle a few first-timer crashes. Altitude hold is a nice touch, as is the one-button launch and land feature, both which make the Viper exceptionally easy to fly. The controller also adds a sensitivity adjustment button to give the hovering a manual feel when desired.
The mini-drone comes with a 2MP camera, with which you can record decent 720p HD video. Furthermore, if you attach your smartphone to the controller – via the phone clip included in the package – and download the Sky Viper app, you can stream live footage straight from the camera. To add to the immersion, the V2450 also packs a pair of comfortable, adjustable FPV VR goggles.
However, the drone is not without downsides. One of them is the fixed camera, which you can’t adjust remotely or manually. The 10-minute of flight time may also be a deal-breaker for some demanding shoppers. Thankfully, the camera has a decently wide field of view, and the drone’s LiPo batteries are cheap enough for you to get a few extra pairs at no sweat.
And there you have it! The ten best aerial photography and videography drones under $200. Unsurprisingly, budget drones come with more than a few limitations, most significantly low-resolution cameras, limited smart features, finicky stability, and short flight times. While the drones above don’t come close to competing with professional-grade market leaders like the DJI Phantom 4 Pro and the Yuneec Typhoon H Pro, they’re still ideal for anyone looking to dip their toes into aerial photography and nurture their flying skills.
So, are you thinking of getting yourself your first photography UAV? Let this list be a trusted guide to making the purchase that will perfectly suit your needs and your wallet.