Updated December 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for best drones

A drone is one of those wonderfully versatile devices that you can use however you'd like. It can be a toy, part of a hobby, or a tool for professional photographers and cinematographers. How you plan on using it and what you're able to spend become the main focus points when looking for a drone you'd like to own.

The best drones for any purpose have a decent range, intuitive controls that make them simple to pilot, and additional blades that are easy to replace because, at some point in the early stages of learning to fly, you will likely crash. A gimbal is essential for photos and footage, and a protective travel case is highly desirable.

Common uses for drones

Recreational flight

The first retail multi-rotor drones were little more than flying toys with limited range and battery power. Their small motors were charged via battery pack, and a basic RF controller moved their rotors to achieve loops, dives, and hovers. But technology has grown in recent years, and today, many people use these types of drones to perform aerobatic stunts and aerial races.

An important factor to consider before purchase is a drone's indoor/outdoor rating. Some smaller models are not designed to fly in outdoor conditions, while others could be too large to fly safely indoors.

Aerial photography

Because some drones can carry small payloads, such as still and video cameras, many photographers have added them to their equipment arsenal. For example, a wedding photographer can capture a panoramic or overhead shot by flying a camera-equipped drone over the wedding location. An amateur filmmaker can create pro-like crane shots and close-ups by using a drone with a stabilizer.

When shopping for this kind of drone, consider adding on special camera mounts for even more impressive results.

Surveillance and security

Drones equipped with live HD cameras can also be used to inspect remote locations such as the last row of a farmer's field or the display on a distant storage tank. Instead of risking a worker's safety, drones can also be directed to hazardous sites for visual inspection.

When shopping for a surveillance drone, look for models with flexible camera mounts, increased stability, and extended battery life.

Know thyself

We spoke with Brandon Allen, a mechanical engineer and FAA-licensed commercial drone pilot in Denver. Brandon commented that one of your top priorities as a drone buyer is identifying your main intended uses for the drone, as well as your budget.

So what do you want to do with your drone? Will you be flying it just for fun? Working on your aerial photography skills? Joining a fast-paced racing league?

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Did you know?
In some states, users are not required to keep it in visual range if the drone has a real-time video camera.
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Testing drones
We spent over 40 hours researching drones, then we tested the top three to find out their full capabilities and battery life.

Drone range

A drone’s range is largely determined by its battery life. Naturally, you don’t want to send your drone to a remote location without the ability to fly it back to home base. Some drone models indicate when they’ve reached a low level of power, but this feature isn’t universal.

Communication between a drone’s remote control and its onboard transceiver also makes a difference when it comes to range. Many drones create their own WiFi hotspots, which connect to a smartphone piloting app or a hand-held remote control.

Ease of use

An important consideration for first-time users in particular is ease of use. Many drones sold for recreational flying require some calibration before the owner can take it out for a spin. These drones are usually labeled “Ready To Fly,” or “RTF.”

One of the most challenging maneuvers with multi-rotor aircraft is hovering. Fortunately, many RTF manufacturers employ sensors and software that allow the drone to achieve a stable position automatically. The pilot simply chooses a preferred direction and the smartphone app or remote control responds accordingly.

Other drones are not designed with beginners in mind. These models may require some advanced calibration and assembly before they’re flight-ready. The controls are not quite as intuitive as those found on RTF models, so pilots should plan on receiving additional instruction and certification before taking the controls.

Features and accessories

First-time drone owners often start out with a basic model that suits their budget and recreational needs. However, many get the hankering to upgrade their drone with advanced features and accessories. Here are some additions you may wish to consider if it's time to upgrade.

Remote controller

Using a standard smartphone piloting app is certainly exciting when you’re flying your drone recreationally. But some drone users yearn for the thrill of competitive drone racing and aerobatics. A specialized remote control system enhances your maneuverability and makes these adventurous activities even more fun.

Replacement propeller blades

Accidents happen, especially during the early “learning” phase of drone flying. A single crash could damage a rotor and bring your entire day to a halt. Fortunately, most drone manufacturers include additional rotor blades in the original kit and/or sell them as separate items.

Action camera

While many mid-range and high-end drones include HD cameras in their housing, the images aren’t always clear or stable. You may want to consider upgrading to an action camera like a GoPro. These cameras are designed to counteract the effects of wind and vibration, providing a much more stable video image.


Many manufacturers mount cameras inside the body of the drone. This is acceptable for casual photography, but if you want more professional results, consider adding an external camera mount, or gimbal. Gimbals allow you to place your video or still camera in front of the drone body, away from the vibrating motor and rotors. Gimbals can swivel and pivot, providing you with additional control over your imagery.

Storage case or backpack

Transporting a delicate drone to and from a flying site can be a daunting process. Some drones come with a basic storage case, but you might consider purchasing a sturdier packing case or customized backpack for safer portability. These special storage systems can carry additional rotor blades, batteries, chargers, binoculars, and other essentials.

Safety and restrictions

One common concern about consumer-level drones is public safety. When choosing a recreational drone aircraft, you should carefully inspect the blade guards and other safety measures provided by the manufacturer. For example:

  • The edges of all rotor blades should not be exposed.
  • The body of the drone should be smooth with no sharp corners.
  • Camera mounts and other accessories should feel securely attached.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. Indeed, new owners have an obligation to learn all of the rules and regulation of drone use before launching one into the air.

Because drones have the capability to enter the same airspace as small planes and helicopters, they are often banned within a certain distance from airports and military bases. There may also be local ordinances against the use of drones in designated neighborhoods. This information is important to know well in advance of buying a drone.

And, of course, drone contact with a power line or moving vehicle should be rigorously avoided. Before launching any kind of drone, users are obligated to find a safe location.

"Ideally, a pilot should be in control of the drone at all times. But the ability to shut off the drone's power remotely is also a good thing."

Drone tips for beginners

Our professional drone consultant, Brandon, offers these tips to newbie drone owners.

Start small. You will crash.

Even if you buy a high-end drone with obstacle avoidance and flight automation, you're prone to crashes when you're a newbie. Starting with an entry-level indoor drone with prop guards is a great way to hone your skills while minimizing costly mistakes.

Spare parts are worth their weight in gold.

As mentioned above, you will crash, and you certainly don't want to go home empty-handed. Having back-up propellers can make or break your day. Extra batteries are also a must. Current battery chemistry limits flight times to somewhere between 5 and 25 minutes for most amateur drones. Having plenty of charged spares means you can fly longer — though flying for more than 30 minutes straight can be fatiguing.

You get what you pay for.

The adage is true. If you invest in a quality product, you'll enjoy better quality, performance, reliability, features, and tech support.

Always do a weather check before taking your drone out for the day. High winds or rain can not only wash out any chances of photography, but can also damage the drone.


Q. Do I really need to register my drone with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)?

A. It depends on the size of the drone. Small toy drones flown exclusively indoors do not require official registration. However, heavier drones capable of outdoor flight must be registered with the FAA before they can be flown legally. This information should be included in the drone’s original packaging or instruction manual.

Q. I am a realtor, and I want to take aerial photos of my properties with a drone. Is this legal?

A. The commercial use of images taken by a drone is illegal under current FAA guidelines. Because these aerial photos would benefit your business, they’re considered to be commercial. Recreational users are allowed to sell or publish photographs taken during recreational flights — but they shouldn’t make it a regular practice. FAA regulations are in flux and may change, so if you’re in doubt, please check first.

Q. Do I have to maintain visual contact with a small drone at all times?

A. FAA guidelines state that a pilot must maintain visual contact with the drone at all times. There is also a maximum height restriction of 400 feet. If a drone flies out of controller range, it should have the ability to return to a programmed home location. Some advanced drones can send back real-time video data to the controller, but most consumer-level models don’t have that capability.

Q. Are there locations where drone flights are never permitted?

A. Drones may never fly within five miles of an airport or military base. National parks are also off-limits, as is the White House. As tempting as it might be, drones cannot be flown over sports stadiums or outdoor concert venues, either. Drone operators should also avoid flying directly over public roadways and crowds of people.

The best part of any flying session should be taking your completely undamaged drone back home for another day.

Final thoughts

Drones are definitely fun to fly, but there is still a learning curve to consider. We urge drone owners to read and acknowledge all of the instructional material included in the original package and do some additional research as well. One-on-one instruction from an experienced drone pilot could prove highly valuable for the new drone owner.

Some users may be tempted to push a drone beyond its natural limits, but that’s an expensive and dangerous proposition. We at BestReviews say that the best part of any flying session should be taking your completely undamaged drone back home for another day.

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