Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about finding a drone under $500 that’s also made in America. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.
I am a nature photographer interested in the drone hobby. I’m looking for a decent drone under $500 if possible, and it has to be made in the USA.
A lot of readers come seeking drones made in the USA, and it’s not a surprise why. “Buy American” has always been a popular idea, but it’s accelerated in reason years thanks to anti-trust issues between the U.S. and China, accelerated by government agencies banning the use of foreign-made drones in their departments.
Your question is certainly an interesting one. It’s also an easy one to answer (even though the answer is probably not one you’re going to like), so here goes:
A good-quality drone for under $500 that’s made in the USA doesn’t exist. Sorry.
There are already few American drone companies to begin with. Many American companies tried to make high-quality camera drones but failed. Here are two high-profile examples:
3D Robotics had two major drone launches, the Solo and the Iris. Iris launched to largely negative reviews, and was called intimidating and awkward. Its younger sibling, the Solo, suffered from missed product deadlines and buggy components. 3D Robotics has since ceased production of consumer drones.
GoPro tried to expand from action cameras to entire drones, but failed. Besides major delayed, their Karma drone experienced a major recall because they were falling from the sky. Like 3DR, GoPro has ceased production of its Karma drone.
Even still, both drones cost more than your $500 threshold.
If you’re willing to increase your budget, but still want to buy American…
There are a few American drone companies out there, but they’re going to far exceed your $500 threshold.
The Skydio 2 drone, which starts at $999, has received rave reviews for its “crash-proof,” follow-me technology. It’s an incredible piece of tech and well worth it for the price. But still, the price is outside of your budget.
Other American dronemakers include UAVAmerica and VantageRobotics, though they’re largely focused on commercial and military-grade drones. If you’re willing to increase your budget, but still want to buy American, I’d recommend the Skydio 2.
If you want a drone under $500 to stick to your budget…
You’re going to have to accept that you won’t be able to buy an American-made drone.
By far, my favorite drone under $500 is the DJI Mavic Mini. This drone is super easy to fly and has a 2.7K camera with a a 1/2.3” CMOS, 12 MP sensor. Features like CineSmooth make your video quality look even better by lengthening the drone’s breaking time, which creates smoother shots (thus a more cinematic look). Pre-programmed flight maneuvers make it easy to get a precise shot, such as a camera flying up then pointing down, or camera pointing in and outward circle.
There’s also the newly launched DJI Mini 2 which is slightly more expensive ($449 for the DJI Mini 2 vs. $399 for the Mavic Mini). It just launched this month, so I haven’t gotten a chance to personally review it yet — but I’m certainly excited about it!
The tl;dr. You can have a drone made in the USA. You can have a great camera drone for less than $500. But you can’t have both.
I’d recommend either the $1,000 Skydio 2 drone (made by California-based Skydio) or the $400 DJI Mavic Mini (made by China-based DJI).