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Best beginner drones 2021: top starter drones with cameras for new fliers

The DJI Mini 2 and FIMI X8 Mini drones
(Image credit: Future)

Looking for the best beginner drone you can buy right now? You’ve landed in the right place. From affordable flying machines to mid-range models that are easy to pilot, this buying guide covers all of the top drones with cameras for first-time flyers. We’ve tested every drone here to make sure it’s fit to fly.

Which is the best beginner drone overall? We think the best option for most novice pilots is the DJI Mini 2. It’s not the cheapest entry-level drone, but it shoots great 4K video, offers good flight time from a single charge and intuitive flight controls make it very easy to fly. Plus automated QuickShot modes mean it’s easy to capture compelling footage, even if you’re just starting out.

If you’re looking for a more affordable option to take to the air, the DJI Mavic Mini remains a fine choice for those who don’t need 4K video. It delivers solid battery life, stable footage and collapses down for easy carrying. Or for a drone that’s even cheaper, the Ryze Tello ticks the basic boxes without breaking the bank.

Whatever budget you’re working with – and whatever type of drone you’re shopping for – this buying guide features the very best flying machines you can buy right now. We keep it regularly updated with latest releases, like the Fimi X8 Mini, as well as a few slightly older options which offer even better value for beginners. 

Not sure where to start when selecting the right drone? Check out our main buying tips below, or scroll down for more info on areas like drone licensing laws.

How to pick the best beginner drone for you

Beginner drones come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, but the best ones all share a few key features. If you're just starting out, then a polished companion app will be invaluable – some of the best we've tried are from DJI, Ryze and FIMI. A drone that’s happy to hover in place will also allow you to carefully learn the controls and assess how sensitive it is to control inputs.

If you're looking for a beginner drone with a camera, then bear in mind that you'll need to spend a bit more to get genuinely usable footage. Look for a camera that has at least a 1080/30p mode – lower-resolution ones like the 720p camera found on the Ryze Tello are fine for learning the basics, but you'll need to spend at least $350 / £300 / AU$550) to get a really high-quality camera.

Think about where you're most likely to fly the drone, too. If you're happy to stay indoors or in sheltered spots near your home, then a small, toy model (like the Ryze Tello or Revell Icon) will be fine. But for more ambitious flights, you'll need a drone that can both withstand gusts of wind and a few crash landings. Look for larger models that come with prop guards.

A few of the affordable drones below, like the DJI Mini 2 and Mavic Mini, also feature preset flying tricks that allow you to capture Hollywood-style shots with minimal input, which can produce amazing results with just a little bit of practice.

The best beginner drones in 2021:

DJI Mini 2

(Image credit: Future)

1. DJI Mini 2

Ultra-compact and easy to use – the perfect beginner drone

Specifications
Recommended ages: 12+
Camera resolution: 12MP
Range: 10km
Weight: 242g
Battery size: 5200mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android smartphone and DJI Fly app
Reasons to buy
+Compact, convenient drone+Intuitive flight controls
Reasons to avoid
-No new camera hardware-No follow mode

The DJI Mavic Mini was an aerial game-changer, offering strong battery life, accessible controls and fantastic footage, all in a compact folding package. Almost identical to its predecessor, the DJI Mini 2 features a handful of upgrades that make it an even better beginner drone. 

Small enough to slip in a jacket pocket, the second-generation Mini is also even easier to fly thanks to a revamped controller. The streamlined handset is advanced yet intuitive, permitting nuanced inputs without overwhelming the pilot. It’s a joy to operate and, with a maximum range of 10km, improves the entire flying experience. The hardware itself might be familiar, but improved motors, stabilization and wind-resistance deliver rock-steady footage in all but the breeziest conditions, while battery life remains solid with a flight time of around 30 minutes. 

And though the sensor resolution is the same as before, the Mini 2 can capture buttery smooth footage in sharp 4K at 30fps. Scenes are a little underexposed for easier editing, but clarity is undeniably impressive. It’s not a total overhaul and there’s still no obstacle avoidance, but the DJI Mini 2 is nevertheless the best starter drone beginners can buy.

DJI Mavic Mini

(Image credit: Future)

2. DJI Mavic Mini

Still a fine choice if you don't need 4K video

Specifications
Recommended ages: 12+
Camera resolution: 12MP
Range: 4000m
Weight: 249g
Battery size: 2600mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and DJI Fly app
Reasons to buy
+Stable video footage+Collapsible design+Good battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No object tracking or avoidance-No 4K video capture

It may have been succeeded by the DJI Mini 2 (above), but the Mavic Mini has remained on sale – and it's still a great beginner drone option if you don't need the option of shooting 4K video. That said, it's worth keeping your eyes peeled for the DJI Mini SE, which is a rumored version of the Mavic Mini with a new controller.

Far from a toy, the Mavic Mini's rock-steady gimbal-mounted camera captures fantastic-looking 2.7K video footage and sharp 12MP stills. It also boasts 30 minutes of flight time per battery charge and a 4km range that's really only beaten in this price bracket by the Mini 2's 6km range.

On the downside, it lacks the anti-collision tech of pricier DJI drones. And while its footage is punchy and beautifully stable, it’s not 4K resolution. But if you don't need that kind of resolution or extra treats like the ability to shoot raw still photos, then the Mavic Mini currently offers better value than its pricier Mini 2 sibling.

Ryze Tello

(Image credit: Future)

3. Ryze Tello

The best beginner drone for those on a budget

Specifications
Recommended ages: 12+
Camera resolution: 5MP
Range: 100m
Weight: 80g
Battery size: 1100mAh
Controller: iOS/Android phone and Tello app
Reasons to buy
+Responsive controls+Tiny and lightweight+Decent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn’t fly well in wind-No controller included-Choppy video

Designed in partnership with DJI, Ryze’s Tello is an affordable, compact and lightweight drone that’s ideal for mastering the basics. 

Controllable via your smartphone running the Tello app and Wi-Fi (you can also use a Bluetooth gaming controller, albeit at a shorter range), it’s a responsive and lively flier that’ll teach you the ups and downs of twin-stick quadcopter flying. It even features stability sensors to minimize drifting when it’s supposed to be static, and the 13-minute battery life isn’t bad at all.

It’s not all positive. The flight range is limited (well below the 100m maximum Ryze suggests, think 30m instead) while the slightest breeze will send the drone drifting off in whatever direction it’s blowing. The 720p video camera isn’t up to much either, and with no local storage it sends all footage and photos directly to your phone – which results in choppy video if and when the Wi-Fi connection dips in and out.

Those caveats aside, the Tello is a great starter drone that does the simple things well and feels better made than other budget models.

The FIMI X8 Mini drone in flight

(Image credit: Future)

4. FIMI X8 Mini

A tiny 4K alternative to the DJI Mini 2

Specifications
Recommended ages: 8+
Camera resolution: 12MP
Range: 8000m
Weight: 260g
Battery size: 3500mAh
Controller: iOS/Android phone with app
Reasons to buy
+Slightly cheaper than DJI rivals+Lightweight and easy to fly
Reasons to avoid
-DJI Mini 2 is more polished-No front-facing collision detection

Drones of any size will always be measured up against the best that DJI has to offer. But if the DJI Mini 2 didn’t exist, Fimi’s X8 Mini could be the perfect entry-level 4K drone. It’s slightly cheaper than the Mini 2, yet offers many of the features that make its flying rival a winner. Light enough to fall within the sub-250g category, the folding quadcopter is properly portable (as is the well-designed remote, thanks to thumbsticks that unscrew and tuck into the base). 

Despite its compact size, the Fimi flies well in normal conditions and can also survive blustery weather. At 30 minutes, battery life is solid, while 4K footage captured at 30fps by the 12MP Sony CMOS sensor is sharp and stable – in large part thanks to the 3-axis mechanical gimbal which keeps things steady. The companion app is simple but effective, too. So why doesn’t it topple the DJI Mini 2? While the all-round package is compelling for the price, it’s not quite as polished as DJI’s effort. You don’t get forward-facing collision sensors, either. But if for any reason you don’t want a DJI drone, the Fimi X8 Mini comes home in a convincing, and more affordable, second place.

Eachine E520S

(Image credit: Future)

5. Eachine 520S

A more advanced starter drone

Specifications
Recommended ages: 14+
Camera resolution: 8MP
Range: 300m
Weight: 280g
Battery size: 1200mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and Eachine TEC app
Reasons to buy
+Includes GPS+Reasonable image quality+Good range and battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No gimbal for video stability-Plasticky build quality-Requires registration

Eachine’s top-of-the-range model is the spitting image of the DJI Mavic Pro, but don’t get it confused with an advanced enthusiast model. This still feels quite toy-like, much more so than the Potensic Dreamer 4K (see below). The build quality has a cheap and plasticky finish, while the flight range and camera capabilities don’t come close to matching even the DJI Mavic Mini. At 280g, you’ll also have to register it with authorities.

That said, it’s a decent performer for its price. The 15-ish minutes of battery life feels perfectly acceptable for a larger affordable drone and its control range of 200-300m is generous, while the inclusion of GPS makes flying in trickier weather conditions a less fraught experience than with GPS-free drones: it won’t simply drift off with the wind.

The camera offers '4K' resolution photos and 2K video clips. These don’t benefit from any form of stabilization, so videos are extremely shaky, as well as being distorted due to the wide angle lens (which means you can clearly see the front propellers in shot). But compared to the lower resolution cameras on most of the models here the results are more detailed and clean. A microSD also slot lets you add local storage for videos and photos.

Revell Icon

(Image credit: Future)

6. Revell Icon

A well-built little drone

Specifications
Recommended ages: 14+**
Camera resolution: 0.9MP
Range: 40m
Weight: 180g
Battery size: 1000mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and Revell Icon app
Reasons to buy
+Good build quality+Solid camera performance+Responsive and fast in flight
Reasons to avoid
-No stability sensors-Controller requires four AAA batteries

Known best for its scale models and RC vehicles, Revell has dipped its toes into the drone world with the optimistically named Icon. 

Priced roughly the same as the Ryze Tello, the Icon has similarly solid build quality – a cut above the cheap feel of the Simrex and Eachines models. Its controller is particularly impressive, with pleasingly big hand grips and a rubberized finish – it’s a shame it requires four AAA batteries instead of having its own rechargeable power source, though.

In flight, the Icon is responsive and very quick, zipping around at a pleasing clip. You can reduce speed to 30% or 60% using the app, which is handy for indoor flying. That’s something you’re likely to be doing a lot of, because like most of the models here, it’s extremely tricky to control outdoors in anything but the calmest of wind conditions. It lacks the Tello’s downward-facing stability sensors too, so even indoors you can’t take your hands off the controls for a moment.

Camera quality and battery life are decent, but the only real reason to pick the Icon over the Tello is that it comes with a physical controller.

Potensic Dreamer 4K

(Image credit: Future)

7. Potensic Dreamer 4K

A toy drone in serious drone’s clothing

Specifications
Recommended ages: 12+
Camera resolution: 8MP
Range: 800m
Weight: 765g
Battery size: 3000mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and PotensicPro app
Reasons to buy
+Sturdy build quality+Responsive controls+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-No video stabilization-Limited flight range

Don’t be fooled by the name: the Dreamer 4K doesn’t record 4K video. Its still photos might be at 4K resolution (3840 x 2160, or 8MP), but videos are restricted to 2688 x 1512, or 2.7K. It’s a cheeky little trick, but then there’s a lot to this drone that isn’t quite as it first seems.

With its excellent build quality, high capacity battery, GPS and sturdy, phone-gripping twin-stick controller, the well-packaged Dreamer 4K looks and feels like a 'serious' drone – something akin to the DJI Phantom range, perhaps. In reality, it’s just a toy-class drone wearing fancier threads, with performance sadly not quite meeting the expectations set by its outward appearance. The gimbal-less camera is shaky and unstable, while the impressive controller only works to a range of around 50m before the video feed to your phone becomes choppy.

Battery life runs to well over 25 minutes per charge, however, and the drone does fly smoothly and responsively over its Wi-Fi connection, so this isn't a complete deal-breaker. The Dreamer just isn't quite the drone its looks and build quality suggest.

Simrex X300C

(Image credit: Future)

8. Simrex X300C

A tiny pocket-sized flyer at a great price

Specifications
Recommended ages: 14+**
Camera resolution: 0.9MP
Range: 30m
Weight: 45g
Battery size: 750mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and Simrex FPV app
Reasons to buy
+Super cheap+Tiny and lightweight+Responsive Wi-Fi controller
Reasons to avoid
-Prone to drifting around-Short battery life

Low on frills but big on value, this tiny foldable drone will easily fit in a coat pocket – and its included controller requires a similarly small amount of space. Despite its bargain basement pricing, it even comes with a 720p video camera for FPV flying (when used in conjunction with the companion mobile app).

As a flyer, the X300C is fast and responsive up to its maximum range of about 30m, but with no safety features (unless you count the included prop guards) it does have a tendency to drift. If you’re flying indoors or in a confined outdoor space you’ll need to keep a close eye on its wayward movements and correct them manually, lest the drone bumps into something. As a way to master the principles of quadcopter flight, it’s effective – if not particularly relaxing.

The included battery only affords you seven or eight minutes of flying time before it requires a lengthy hour-long recharge, however – so if you’re planning on having extended aerial fun you may want to buy some extra batteries.

Potensic T25

(Image credit: Future)

9. Potensic T25

GPS smarts make it hard to lose the T25

Specifications
Recommended ages: 12+
Camera resolution: 2MP
Range: 300m
Weight: 185g
Battery size: 1000mAh
Controller: Included, works with iOS/Android phone and Potensic-G app
Reasons to buy
+GPS functionality+Hard carry case included
Reasons to avoid
-Some pairing issues-Low quality camera

One of the more advanced beginner drones at this price, the Potensic T25 comes with one feature that sets it apart from its toy contemporaries: GPS. This gives it a return-to-home feature (tap a button on the controller and it’ll come back to where it launched from) and will help you locate it should you crash it out of sight somewhere. It also comes with a hard carry case included.

Elsewhere, things aren’t quite as impressive. The battery lasts just eight minutes (thankfully two are included in the box) and the drone doesn’t fly stably in anything but the calmest conditions – so make sure to attach the included prop guards. While the app is nice and simple, we also experienced issues pairing the controller and drone: it required lots of switching both items on and off to get them communicating, which is never fun. 

The live view camera is also best treated as a pilot aid first and a camera second, due to its low resolution and lack of stabilization. Use it for the odd snap, we say, but don’t expect it to deliver aerial footage that's as good as the best beginner drones in this list.

Do I need a license to fly a drone?

Drone laws mean that taking to the sky is tightly regulated. This is to ensure that the skies remain safe for everyone, especially around sensitive locations such as airports and national parks. Drone laws also try to address privacy concerns when camera-equipped drones fly in residential areas.

In many regions, like the US, drones that weigh below 250g do not need to be registered with a civil aviation authority. You'll still need to follow all the local drone laws, such as keeping your drone within line of sight at all time, but registration commonly isn't required.

This isn't the case in all countries, though. In the UK, drones weighing less than 250g used to be exempt from registration requirements. This has now changed, so that owners of any drone with a camera will need to register their flying machine with the Civil Aviation Authority and get an Operator ID. You can do this for a fee of £9 per year, provided you’re 18 or over.

If your drone weighs more than 250g, you’ll also need a Flyer ID. To get this, you’ll need to take an online test consisting of 40 multiple-choice questions. The answers can all be found in the Drone Code and should help to ensure that you’re a safer flyer.

If your drone weighs less than 250g and does not have a camera, you won’t need either ID. But you’ll still need to check that you’re piloting your drone in line with the UK’s drone laws. According to the Drone Code, that means keeping eyes on your drone at all times, not flying higher than 120m above the ground and staying at least 150m away from built-up areas. And you’ll need to avoid restricted airspace, which is usually around airports.

How we test beginner drones

When it comes to beginner drones, their usability and flying importance is just as important as their cameras – so we place equal emphasis on both during our testing.

To test the former, we run through their stabilization in the air, overall responsiveness and their top speed. Most beginner drones lack obstacle avoidance powers, but if they do have them we fly them though an obstacle course to see how well they work. 

After checking the drone's battery life claims based on real-world flights, we then move onto their cameras. Most beginner drones have small sensors that struggle in high-contrast situations, but we fly them through a variety of lighting conditions to see where their breaking point is and in what conditions you can realistically expect usable footage.

We then evaluate their footage, taken at a range of frame-rates, on a calibrated monitor, alongside some of the drone's sample still photos. When it comes to image quality, we look at detail, sharpness across the frame, and high ISO noise handling. We then combine these results with our overall impression of the drone's design, features and value to produce our final verdict.