Welcome to our guide to the best drones for beginners. Drones that fly straight out of the box with zero faff. Drones that don’t suddenly fly off into the nearest tree. And drones that are easy to set up without the need for a degree in electronics.
But first a little history lesson… Launched 11 years ago, French company Parrot’s AR Drone was a game changer. This was the first remote controlled model aircraft that didn’t require constant input by the pilot. It literally took off and just hovered in one spot when you took your fingers off the phone controller.
Like helicopters, drones are simply not designed to fly without the pilot perpetually fiddling with the joysticks, but Parrot managed to defeat physics by building in a computerised flight controller that kept every facet of flight on an even keel. The result was a remote controlled flying machine that anyone could fly straight out of the box.
Fast forward a decade, and drone technology has advanced beyond all recognition. In fact, the majority of today’s best drone models pretty much fly themselves, autonomously return to their take-off point when necessary and even follow subjects on their own without any input by the pilot.
Most of today’s best drones for beginners share very similar flight characteristics, but not all of them are as easy to get up and running straight out of the box. And that’s what this guide to the best beginners’ drones is all about – drones that not only fly well but are easy to set up so you can simply take them out of the box, charge the batteries and fly. If you’re looking for very basic toy drones, you might want to consult our best kids drone guide. And if price is paramount, head to our best cheap drone ranking. If not, read on for some buying advice, followed by our top beginners’ picks…
The best drones for beginners 2021
Let’s cut straight to the chase – DJI’s Mini 2 is the best beginners’ drone you can buy. Period. At just £419, it’s the perfect price point for an impulsive pre-holiday purchase or a premium Christmas present for a loved one. The Mini 2 weighs a floaty 249g fully loaded, which is one gram shy of the CAA’s 250g regulation and that means you won’t need to jump through as many legal hoops to fly it (see our guide to UK drone regulations for more info). Size wise, the Mini 2 is so small it can be hidden under an iPhone and, when folded, it’s easily tucked into a pair of loose-fitting chinos.
The Mini 2’s sterling camera shoots 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second and even crisper 4K at up to 30fps. Its 12mp stills, meanwhile, are superbly detailed. Despite its size, this craft is amazingly stable in flight even in a stiff breeze. It’s also extremely fast and nimble when flown in Sport mode (up to 35mph). It will easily fly for up to 30 minutes on a single charge and up to six miles away (far beyond the CAA’s line-of-sight regulation). It also comes with a smorgasbord of autonomous quick-shot functions like Dronie, Rocket, Circle, Helix and Boomerang, plus 4K Hyperlapse and three types of panorama.
The Mini 2 is available in two packages. The basic bundle comprises a hand controller, flight battery, charger, spare props, 32GB Micro SD card and a bunch of different phone cables while the Fly More Combo includes a fabulous herringbone carry case, four batteries, a charger for charging four batteries at once and propellor guards for indoor flight.
If you’re looking for a high-end drone that’s a cinch to fly straight out of the box but don’t fancy splashing out a fortune, then this is the model for you. It’s remarkably stable and reliable in flight, a doddle to control in all conditions and it shoots sensational cinematic footage to boot.
Read our full review of the DJI Mini 2
Aside from being one of the best-value drones for both indoor and outdoor flying, the Tello is also a brilliant learning tool, since it can be programmed by the user to perform various movements using the Tello Edu mobile programming app (iOS and Android). This is a groundbreaking feature for youngsters who wish to learn the art of programming and robotics in an entertaining and educational way. The programming interface is very easy to get a handle on and basically involves dragging colour-coded blocks (‘take off’, ‘up’, forward’, ‘right’ etc) into a specific arrangement.
Not surprisingly, the Tello’s excellent flight characteristics and raft of features are mostly as a result of the DJI components it’s fitted with. It weighs just 80g and fits in the palm of the hand. To fly it, simply download the Tello app, connect the drone and use the virtual joystick controls – its vision positioning system is so well designed that you could take it off, go and make a cup of tea and when you get back it’ll still be in the same position.
The Tello can also be launched by throwing it into the air and it will even perform a circus of aerial tricks. But what really makes this little drone such a hit is that it comes with a 720p/5mp camera that streams digitally stabilised footage straight to a smartphone. The quality of the footage and photos it produces is pretty good for a drone of this size and perfectly acceptable for casual holiday use. Moreover, it also comes with a trio of handy pre-programmed EZ Shots (Circle, 360, Up & Away) for quick, fuss-free footage.
It’s hard to believe so much tech could be crammed into a drone of such diminutive dimensions – and all for a shade under £100. Exceptional value.
Read our full review of the Ryze Tello
If you want an easy-to-use drone that’s capable of capturing pristine 4K footage and high-resolution stills – and you can stretch your budget to a smidge under £900 – the DJI Air 2S is, pound for pound, the best choice on the market.
Like every drone in the DJI roster, it couldn’t be easier to get a handle on. Simply remove it from the box and place the drone on a table. Now fit the props, remove the camera’s gimbal cover, slot your iPhone or Android device into the hand-controller’s spring-loaded mounting, download and launch the DJI Fly app and turn on the drone. You’ll first be taken through a registration sequence after which you’ll see the default screen and a clear image of whatever the camera’s pointing at. Now go outside and fly. That’s the DJI setup experience in a nutshell. Easy peasy.
Once in the air you’ll be amazed at how smooth and responsive it is to your joystick input. It is truly confidence inspiring to fly in most weather conditions bar snow, rain and very high wind. From a cinematography and photography point of view, this drone absolutely excels because its camera is fitted with one-inch Sony sensor that’s capable of shooting 5.4K at 30 frames per second, 4K at up to 60fps and 1080p at up to 120fps. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Add four-way obstacle sensing, OcuSync 3.0 technology for rock-steady image transmission and a plethora of autonomous in-flight features, and you have the best-value camera-equipped drone currently on the market. The Air 2S is genuinely is worth every one of its 899 one pound notes.
Read our full review of the DJI Air 2S
Want to keep things really cheap while you learn the ropes of drone control? This titchy indoor drone is small and light enough to withstand a lot of crashes while you learn how to control it. And it’s so cheap that even if you do eventually destroy it, it won’t be a big financial loss.
Flying a drone indoors is an excellent way to learn how a drone behaves when you fiddle with the joysticks and this one’s an excellent starting point since the control method is exactly the same as any large outdoor drone. It comes with three sensitivity settings so we’d suggest starting on the slowest setting first while you get to grips with its flight characteristics. Thankfully, it also comes with a Headless mode that ensures the control directions (forward, backwards and sideways) remain the same no matter which way the drone is pointing. It also features a handy one-button take-off and landing function. You can expect to get a total of about 12 minutes of flying out of the two supplied batteries.
The palm-sized A20 is so light and small that it can be flown straight out of the box without the need for a CAA operator’s licence. Granted, it’s not as stable in flight as the Ryze Tello, and we wouldn’t advise using it outdoors or even a light breeze will cause it to drift away. But as an introduction to drone flying on a really tight budget, the Potensic A20 is a very worthwhile contender.
Read our full review of the Potensic A20
Unable to compete with the inexorable rise of Chinese drone giant DJI, Paris -based Parrot recently stopped the production and development of all drones bar the ANAFI. This is a great shame because its Mini Drone collection, especially, was arguably the best way to get into the fun and frolics of drone flying. Nevertheless, it’s good news that its excellent ANAFI drone is still being supported – and rightly so because this is a cracking drone for beginners, and one that comes with a unique feature set, too.
Take the 4K camera, for instance. Instead of being mounted just below the front fuselage like all DJI drones, the ANAFI’s camera is positioned right at the front with an unobstructed view both below and above. This means that the camera can be pointed 90-degrees upwards for a unique perspective that no other drone offers. It also ships with a wide range of autonomous piloting modes – Follow Me, Boomerang, Dronie, etc – including a Dolly Zoom effect that perfectly emulates Hitchcock’s famous ‘Vertigo’ camera shot whereby the subject being shot remains the same size in the frame as the background zooms in behind it. You can check out most of the ANAFI’s in-flight features in the video below.
Like the DJI Air 2S, this drone also collapses for easy transport but it’s not quite as pocketable due to its 244mm length when folded. Still, it comes in a great transport case that’ll easily fit in a small shoulder bag.
Crucially, the ANAFI’s 4K camera is capable of shooting ravishing video and excellent 21 megapixel images. It’s also fast in flight (around 33mph in Sport mode) and is so staggeringly quiet you can hardly hear a thing while it’s hovering only a few metres above your head. As you’d expect from a modern GPS-equipped drone, the ANAFI also features Geo fencing, smart return-to-home and a Find My Drone function that geolocates the drone while it emits a beep.
In the pantheon of camera-equipped drones that don’t require a degree in physics to fly, the Parrot ANAFI is reasonably priced and confidence inspiring to fly. It’s even available as an FPV option for those who wish to dabble in the burgeoning sport of First Person View flying while wearing goggles.
Read our full Parrot ANAFI drone review
Choosing a beginners’ drone
You’ll notice quite a few DJI models in our current list of drone articles, and indeed practically every other online guide to drones currently on the internet. This is because DJI is so far ahead of the curve when it comes to drone design and flight electronics that other manufacturers simply cannot keep up. Yes, there are loads of much, much cheaper drones littering the Amazon shopping mall but the brutal truth is that none of them holds a candle to DJI.
Where the average DJI drone flies straight out of the box, the majority of cheap drones require complicated pairing with a phone that rarely works the first time you try it. This makes them frustrating to use right from the off. But that’s not all. Many companies will tell you that their budget-priced drone comes with an amazing 4K camera capable of taking stunning images and professional quality video. In reality, the video quality is usually a great disappointment (ie crap), mostly because the camera is cheap and it isn’t attached to a mechanical 3-axis gimbal, the clever gizmo that ensures video footage is smooth and jitter free.
Many cheap drones also tend to misbehave once in the air and perhaps fly erratically for some bizarre reason. Indeed, erratic flight behaviour was a well-known anomaly with DJI’s earlier Phantom drones, but years of research and development have erased pretty much every hiccup in its flight systems.
What we’re saying here is that, when it comes to drone choice, there is really only one truly reliable player and that player is DJI. Its machines simply behave impeccably well, are a doddle to set up and fly and filled with a staggering amount of sci-fi tech that keeps them reliably aloft in a range of atmospheric conditions. DJI’s cameras, too, are widely considered to among the very best for their purpose. It’s quite a bizarre situation, actually, because I can’t think of another industry where one manufacturer has it so unequivocally sewn up. Imagine a round-up of washing machines where every model was a Bosch or every Best City Car was a Toyota. Yet that seems to be the case when it comes to drones. DJI simply rules the roost.
However, while DJI is clearly the market leader, there is a small handful of manufacturers that are very much worth a mention, especially when it comes to beginner drones that are easy to fly straight out of the box.
Read on for the full lowdown…