We review the best drones under £300 on the UK market at the moment.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Drones Under £300 – Reviews
- 2.1 Hubsan H501S X4
- 2.2 Snaptain SP500
- 2.3 Holy Stone HS120D
- 2.4 Holy Stone HS720
- 3 Drone Buyer’s Guide
As a keen photographer I’ve been interested in drones for some time. Aerial images of sunsets and landscapes can be stunning and being able to shoot a bird’s-eye view opens up exciting creative possibilities. I’m also interested in the idea of racing a drone, and the thought of controlling something whizzing around in the sky appeals to the kid in me!
Some initial research indicated that the DJI Mavic Pro 2 is one of the best drones for photographers. Unfortunately, it’s over a thousand pounds over my budget!
- MAVIC 2 PRO WITH HASSELBLAD CAMERA Mavic 2 Pro comes equipped with the Hasselblad L1D-20c camera helping users to capture gorgeous 20-megapixel aerial shots in stunning color detail
- HDR VIDEO With 4K 10-bit HDR support the Mavic 2 Pro can be plugged into a 4K TV with HLG and will immediately play back footage with the right color tones
- MAVIC 2 FLY MORE KIT Includes 2 Intelligent Flight Battery for Longer Flight 1 Multiple Charger 1 Car Charger Low-Noise Propellers and 1 Carrying Shoulder Bag
- TWO INTELLIGENT FLIGHT BATTERIES They have a capacity of up to 59 29 Wh with flight time of 31 minutes Battery status is monitored in real-time thanks to the Intelligent Battery Management System
- DJI Every idea every revolution that changes our world starts with a vision DJI offers creative people the tools they need to bring their ideas to life
If I get the bug for drone flying as a hobby I may look to spend more, but initially I set out to find the best drones under £300. There are certainly plenty to choose from around this price range and they aren’t just toys.
As a complete ‘newbie’ to the world of drone flying I wanted something beginner friendly that I could operate straight from the box. I certainly didn’t want to have to assemble anything or get into the technicalities of it. I was also confused about the legality of drone flying in the UK. Would I just be able to take off from my garden and fly around the local neighbourhood? Could I take a drone to local beauty spots to look for those stunning aerial sunsets?
Fortunately, there’s a lot of good information available to learn about the safe and legal use of drones. If you’re interested in this hobby, I’d encourage you to learn the rules and to get to know your aircraft well before doing anything too adventurous. I found YouTube particularly useful. Crashing your drone in the first few days would be bad enough, but you could also end up getting arrested if you fly it somewhere you shouldn’t!
Drones Under £300 – Reviews
My experience of testing drones under £300 should be really helpful to anyone who doesn’t know where to start in this hobby. The £300 budget was a fixed amount of money for me and at the start I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get a drone suitable for adults in this price range. As a photographer, the quality of images I could capture from the air was an important factor. I also liked the idea of being able to shoot some aerial video footage but didn’t know whether budget camera drones could only shoot stills.
Making a shortlist of drones under £300 to review was tricky at first because I hadn’t heard of most of the manufacturers. When reviewing new products it’s always reassuring if there are some brand names you know. I was certainly impressed with the specification levels budget drones offer. As well as having impressive onboard cameras and advanced safety features some of these aircraft look pretty cool and can reach high speeds!
Hubsan H501S X4
- Follow Me Mode: Built-in GPS module enables the drone follow yourself to capture your adventure wherever you are. Makes it easier to recording your life, just focus on your activities.
- One Key Return: make your drone return to the home point and land automatically
- Headless Mode: No more need to worry about losing control of your drone. completely solve the loss-of-orientation problems.
- 5.8G FPV Real-time Video Transmission and 1080P HD Camera: Share the videos and photos to the LCD display at anytime anywhere. Record the wonderful moment in your life.
- Fonction: Brushless Motor, 5.8G FPV Video Transmission, 1080P High Definition Camera, Automatic Return To Home, GPS Altitude Hold, Headless Mode, Follow Me, Expert mode, Flight Control Failsafe, Low Power Failsafe.
Hubsan was the one brand name I was familiar with in the budget drone camera market. My nephew was given a Hubsan toy drone last Christmas and I had some fun flying it around my brother’s garden. I think it disappeared over a local field on Boxing Day! A quick look at the Hubsan website gave some reassurance as they produce drones for adults and aerial photographers as well as toy models. Hubsan are also in the FPV and racing drone market, so appear to have experience in developing different drone technology.
Unpacking the Hubsan drone I was pleased to find a leaflet inside the box explaining the Civil Aviation Authority’s ‘Drone Code.’ This is in the form of an infographic and it sets out the UK drone rules in a very clear and easy to understand format. A lot of this is common sense, but there a couple of things I wouldn’t have realised so it’s a good idea to include this information for newbies like me. For example, an operator must always have direct sight of his aircraft when flying. This means you can’t launch a drone up and over some trees or a tall building, so you have to plan your flight paths carefully.
Key features and specifications
Unpacking the Hubsan H501S X4 I was surprised at how small and light the aircraft is. The ABS plastic feels strong enough to survive a few hard landings, and I liked the overall design. The black finish makes it look like something out of a Mission Impossible movie, but I’m not keen on the gold features. The controller also has a quality feel. I know some drones are flown with a smartphone acting as the camera screen, and I like the fact the Hubsan H501S’s controller is self-contained.
As it’s an aerial camera drone I’m keen on the quality of photographs is important to me. Modern smartphone cameras and basic bridge cameras typically capture images with eight megapixels or more, so I was disappointed the Hubsan drone was limited to less than half a megapixel. Video capture is in 1080P HD and that’s good enough for my needs, but I need at least two megapixels for stills.
Clear, detailed instructions are really important for budget drones. I suspect most people who buy one are new to drone flying so have no understanding of the basics of battery charging, how to prepare an aircraft for the first flight and what to do if something goes wrong. The Hubsan’s instructions lack the information I wanted and left me confused. I assume this is down to poor translation from the original Chinese text. Fortunately, I was able to find some good tutorials on YouTube so felt confident I knew the drone well enough to fly.
The first time you launch a drone for take-off it’s a mixture of nerves and excitement! If you play video games you’ll find it easy to get used to controlling a drone with the joysticks as it’s quite intuitive. The Hubsan’s controller is very sensitive, so it’s important not to push too hard. The secret to smooth flying is to be gentle and learn how the aircraft responds to joystick adjustments.
The Hubsan H501S X4 has some advanced functions I didn’t expect from a budget drone. For example, if the signal between the drone and the controller fails it will fly back and land at the take-off point. ‘Orbit mode’ allows you to set the drone to fly in a continuous loop on its own. By activating ‘Follow Me’ mode the Hubsan should be able to identify and follow moving objects such as a runner. In my tests I couldn’t get the drone to recognise anything, so this seems to be temperamental. Battery life on a single charge is around twenty minutes. Spare batteries are available if you need longer time in the air before going home.
This drone is well within my £300 budget but has an impressive specification. As an aircraft, it has features I would expect to find on more expensive models, but the camera quality let it down. Lack of a gimbal means the video footage can be quite jerky as vibration is picked up from the aircraft.
- Inexpensive drone to learn the basics of flying.
- Self-contained flight controller with a clear screen.
- Advanced flight features including ‘return to home’ failsafe.
- Lack of clear instructions means some research needed before flying.
- Poor camera quality.
- Video results show vibration due to lack of a gimbal.
- Controller display hard to see in direct sunlight.
- 【HD pictures & Videos and 5G WiFi Transmission】110°Wide-angle 1080P HD Camera including adjustable angle, which captures high-quality video and clear aerial photos.5G wifi 800ft transmission ensure the high-speed real-time image.
- 【GPS Auto Return and Safer Flight】GPS positioning help SP500 drone hover stably to catch clearer images, and return to home precisely whenever battery is low, signal is lost or you like to get it back.Never lose your drone.
- 【Enjoy Your Flight】It can fly at your will by using "Follow Me" mode or "Drawing a Route" on the SNAPTAIN App control page.You can even use the app to set circling around an object and plan a desired route to focus on capturing photos and videos and get outdoor fun.
- 【Gesture Control】Gesture control allows you to pose to the camera to trigger phone taking and video recording. Now you can set your hands free and pose your most charming gesture or dance with your loved one.
- 【Easy to Use & Double Flight Time】It is easier for newbies or beginners, equipped with functions like GPS sateline positioning hover, altitude hold, headless mode, one key take off/landing, emergence stop,2 modular batteries can support 30Mins flight time for you and your family,which makes your flight more exciting and interesting.
I wasn’t sure whether my exercise to review quadcopters under £300 would include folding drones, so it came as a great surprise when I found the Snaptain SP500 was within the budget. Ever since I saw the DJI Mavic I loved the idea of being able to carry a folding drone in my backpack when out on photography shoots.
Snaptain was another company I hadn’t heard of before looking into drones. Their range includes advanced, beginners and kids models, so they have a track record of designing and producing this kind of technology. The controller for this drone doesn’t have a display screen so you have to attach a smartphone to the device. I used it with an iPhone but the instructions state that it’s also compatible with Android phones.
My first impressions weren’t great. Both the drone and the controller feel cheaply made and the plastic casing looks as if it will scratch easily. The joysticks and buttons on the controller feel a little flimsy. That said I love the folding mechanism and the fact the Snaptain 500 is so compact.
Key Features and Specifications
The specification for this quadcopter mentions connection via 5G but it also works with 4G and other networks. The instructions are very clear with diagrams and explanations making it ideal as a first drone. The box contains everything you need including USB cables, spare propellers and the battery. There’s also a set of propeller guards which I think are great for anyone learning to fly. An accidental landing in a bush won’t mean new propellers if you have these fitted! The package doesn’t contain a memory card to record video and photos with this drone, so make sure you pick one up if you don’t have spares.
One of the things you must learn if you’re new to drone flying is calibrating the onboard compass. This simple process is a way of giving a drone its sense of direction. It only takes a couple of minutes and it’s good to get into the habit of doing it before every flight. On the Snaptain 500 it involves pressing a couple of buttons and turning the drone around until LEDs confirm calibration is complete. You also need to calibrate the onboard gyro, and again this only takes a minute. A high proportion of drone accidents are due to not calibrating correctly before take-off, so these are important techniques to learn.
Pre-flight work done, the Snaptain was in the air. It wasn’t as responsive as the Hubsan H501S and seemed to drift a little in light wind. A feature I really like with this drone is ‘Beginner Mode.’ This limits the distance you can fly the aircraft away from your position on the ground. It’s useful because it’s easy to get carried away and fly too far in the excitement of those early flights, and you may struggle to see the drone or bring it home safely from a distance.
The Snaptain has an impressive range of flight modes. If you’re serious about learning to fly drones you need an aircraft with so-called ‘Attitude Mode,’ also known as ‘ATTI Mode.’ Drones rely on GPS signal from satellites to maintain their position. If there isn’t access to sufficient GPS it isn’t safe to fly. Switching into ATTI mode means a drone uses sensors to maintain its altitude but must be controlled manually by the pilot. This is a great safety feature and flying in ATTI is a skill worth developing.
The Snaptain also features Point of Interest mode, Follow me and Waypoints features. These are designed to help a beginner to produce impressive video footage without the need for hours of flying experience. Unfortunately, I found these a bit hit and miss. The gesture-controlled camera was also unreliable. I found myself frantically waving at the Snaptain to activate the video and half the term it just hovered in the air without responding.
Photo resolution of 1920×1080 seems reasonable for a budget drone but the results weren’t great from the Snaptain. A lot of the photographs had a slight blur and it seems to over-expose a lot of the time. I was able to correct images in Photoshop, but a less experienced photographer might have to just accept low-quality and delete a lot of shots.
- Compact folding drone, easy to pack away and take on walks.
- Clear instructions in a detailed manual.
- Flight modes to help beginners.
- Low-quality construction.
- Struggles to maintain position in a breeze.
- Flight mode performance unpredictable.
- Poor results for a drone camera.
- Battery life issues.
Holy Stone HS120D
- 18 Min Powerful flight: Double flight time to same level drones. More pleasures and possibilities! With 300M control range, you can go farther and see broader
- 1080p Full HD camera with 120° FOV and 75° adjustable wide angle helps to capture clearly photos and more stable videos.
- GPS positioning enables the drone to automatically return to home when battery is low, signal is weak, or lost
- Quick and Easy: Headless Mode, Altitude Hold and One Key Start/Landing functions make easier access to kids or beginners
- Smart and Fun: Follow Me Mode frees your hands, while drone automatically follows wherever you move. Great for selfie! With Tap-fly, you can design the flying path
One of the most popular drones for photographers is the DJI Phantom. The current model, the Phantom 4, costs around two thousand pounds so is well outside my budget. They are used by commercial drone operators for things like aerial surveys and capturing evidence for insurance claims. Phantom drones have a different design than many of the other current models with the camera hanging underneath rather attached to the front of the aircraft. The Holy Stone HS120D copies this design so I thought it would be interesting to include one in my drone review.
The HS120D is well packed and comes with spare propellers and everything you need. My first impressions weren’t good as the drone feels light and fragile. This is to be expected of course as compared to the Phantom the price is substantially less. However, I’d still expect a budget drone like this to fly safely and be able to withstand a few hard landings.
Key Features and Specifications
A smartphone must be attached to the HS120D’s controller as part of the setup process. I found this fiddly and the arms felt like they were going to snap. Larger devices would be a struggle. The instructions are very clear with lots of good tips for new drone pilots. There are QR codes to download the required app for different smartphones.
My first problem with this Holy Stone drone was pairing the controller to the aircraft. I followed the process to the letter but the devices wouldn’t connect. After several attempts, the LED indicators confirmed the pairing was a success, but by this time the drone’s battery was down to half power and I had to put it back on charge. A couple of hours later I was ready to try again and this time it took less than a minute.
Calibrating the compass and giro were easy processes as I had some experience of preparing drones for flight by now. I was now looking forward to getting this aircraft in the sky! Unfortunately, it sat on the ground with the LED’s blinking indicating it couldn’t connect to a GPS signal. This was in the same field I’d tested the other drones in my review and there were no trees or other obstructions. I patiently calibrated the compass again and moved the drone to a different spot, but the problem continued. Frustratingly the battery was getting low, so it was time to pack up and go home.
The next day things went more smoothly but it still took a few minutes for the HS120D to pick up GPS. I used the ‘One Key Take-Off’ to launch the drone and was disappointed by its lack of stability. There was hardly any wind at the time, but the aircraft drifted and rocked, struggling to hold its position. Several times it seemed to have a mind of its own and head off at speed without any movement of the joysticks. This made me very nervous, so I brought the drone into land after ten minutes. The lack of ability to control this drone meant that I didn’t have the opportunity to test the camera. I didn’t test the different flight modes either due to concerns about losing the aircraft. Several other online drone reviews of the Holy Stone HS120D mentioned similar experiences.
- Interesting design for a budget drone.
- Attractive price for anyone wanting to experience drone flying.
- Poor quality materials, not built for regular use.
- Serious concerns about connection between aircraft and controller.
- Difficulty picking up a GPS signal.
- Expensive toy rather than adult drone.
Holy Stone HS720
- 4K UHD Camera with Image Stabilization: The optimized full HD Camera built with Shock Absorption holder ensures shooting 3840 x 2160 high resolution images and videos without camera vibration. 5GHz FPV transmission and 90°adjustable lens enables you to see the world from different angle.
- GPS Assisted Intelligent Flight: Never lose the drone. It returns automatically whenever battery is low, signal is lost or you press one key return. Also, it is so smart to fly at your will, following you automatically, flying along a path you set, or fly around a point in circles. You may focus on your photography and creation.
- Configuration Upgrade: The intelligent battery works for 26 Mins for each charge; the long-life Brushless Motors have lower power consumption and give you a quieter flight; the foldable design and well-fitted carrying case make it easy to take the drone outdoor.
- Simple Operation: Equipped with Multi Sensors guarantee hovering with great stability and high quality pics taken under different flying environment; Optical Flow Positioning makes great effect when GPS signal is lost or weak. Functions, like one key start/stop, emergency stop, altitude hold and safe flight, keep it simple to control for even beginners.
- Considerate Controller: The control range of 2.4GHz transmitter reaches to 3000 feet high range; battery level and GPS signal shown on the LED screen; a button to turn on or off the drone light is added; right hand throttle mode is available for left-hander. Remember to remove the scratch-proof film from the controller and the camera before use.
My experience with the Holy Stone HS120D made me nervous about the next test flight. I wondered if I looked to the higher end of my £300 drone budget I might find something I’d be confident flying and that would meet my needs as an aerial photographer. Looking at the Holy Stone range I thought it would be fair to include another of their models as part of my drone review exercise so picked up the Holy Stone HS720.
Unpacking the box to find a smooth grey carry case gave me a very good first impression, and the contents looked great. This is clearly a premium product, and I felt excited about drone flying again as I held the HS720 and felt its quality. Everything about this aircraft feels solid and well made. The folding design makes it look like a DJI Mavic and on paper the spec looks like this is a serious alternative.
Key Features and Specifications
Set up and preparation is quick and easy, so the HS720 would be an ideal first drone for someone without experience. My smartphone snapped into place on the controller and the arms are flexible enough to fit different sized devices. This quadcopter is powered by brushless motors and it’s very quiet as a result. One of the things I noticed over my various flight tests is now much attention drones can attract. This may seem like a small point but if you want to avoid strangers approaching you to enquire about what you’re doing or even challenge you a quiet drone is a good option.
The HS720 is a joy to fly! It hovers rock steady making it ideal for aerial photography and responds to very subtle joystick movements for precise control. It can also move at speed when you want it to. Best of all the battery life is far superior to any of the other models in my budget drone review. The specification states twenty-six minutes and although it was more like twenty to twenty-three in my tests that’s still impressive. You can carry spare batteries for a drone of course, but landing and swapping over is a pain when you’re enjoying a flight. It can also mean you miss a key moment if you’re shooting something like a sunset.
Based on the performance and price I wondered if the camera might be a compromise on the Holy Stone HS720 but that’s far from the case. Photographs are captured at 3840 x 2160 high resolution and rival those produced by my Nikon digital SLR in quality. They are pin-sharp and correctly exposed in all but a few cases. Video capture from the onboard 4K UHD camera has a cinematic appearance thanks to image stabilization. In one test flight I used the ‘Follow Me’ function to track a friend riding a mountain bike over some trails and it worked perfectly. Having confidence the drone is safe to fly allows you to concentrate on aerial photography and getting those great shots, and this is exactly what I was looking for.
If you compared many of the features of the Holy Stone HS720 alongside those of others in my drone review you might wonder if the price is worth it. However, the proof comes in the flying experience. I would go as far as to say this is the perfect foldable budget drone having spent a few hours testing and using it.
- Excellent build quality and stylish design.
- Folds neatly into carry case included in the price.
- Easy to set up, perfect for a beginner.
- Responsive control, stable flying.
- Brushless motors make operation very quiet.
- Twenty-six minute battery life.
- High-quality camera for stunning aerial photography.
- 4K video with image stabilisation.
- Performance and results of a professional drone.
- Price may be beyond some budgets.
Drone Buyer’s Guide
Increasing popularity and advances in technology are making drones more affordable. If you want to experience the thrill of flying a miniature aircraft or experiment with aerial photography it’s a great time to get into this exciting hobby. Remember that use of drones is governed by law in the UK and you have to register any unmanned aircraft weighing 250g or more with the Civil Aviation Authority.
To help you find the best drone under £300, consider the following key features.
Aircraft and Controller Design
If you want something you can carry with you at all times a folding drone is a great option. Quadcopters with the gimbal positioned underneath can be more stable for aerial photography. Drone controllers with built-in screens mean you don’t have to attach a smartphone.
Lower budget drones can only stay in the air for around ten to twelve minutes on a single charge. This time can pass very quickly. Paying a little more means you can pick up a quadcopter with twenty to thirty minutes flight time.
If aerial photography is your main reason for wanting to fly drones, check the camera specification. A gimbal between the camera and the aircraft absorbs vibration and produces better quality images and video.
A ‘Return to Home’ function is a great way to reduce the risk of losing a drone in flight. If GPS signal is weak or the battery runs low the aircraft will automatically return to the point of take-off. Sensors to prevent collisions are also a great safety feature.
‘Follow Me’ and other flight modes are useful if you’re interested in making aerial videos. ‘Waypoints’ mode allows you to program a drone to follow a set path without having to control it during flight.
Conclusion And Final Verdict
There are some impressive drones under £300, but you must accept the limitations of some models. Before flying a drone for the first time make sure you know the rules and that you know your aircraft well in case the unexpected happens.
Of the quadcopters I tested The Hubsan H501S X4 is a good first drone but the camera lets it down. The Holy Stone HS720 stands out by far as the best drone under £300 and exceeded my expectations of what I’d be able to get for this budget. As well as being easy to fly the photographs and video are superb and it’s really given me a passion for aerial photography.