DJI Mavic Mini

The best DJI drones under $500: DJI Mini 2 SE vs DJI Mini 3

So you’re looking to buy a drone, and your budget is less than $500. You don’t want a cheap toy drone — you want a quality camera drone that’s reliable, easy to use, safe, and still has share-worthy image quality. When it comes to drones in that price range, really only one drone maker delivers DJI. Of the DJI drones under $500 on the market now, your two options are the DJI Mini 2 SE versus DJI Mini 3.

Here’s a breakdown of all three DJI drones under $500, and a comparison to help you find the best drone for you:

What DJI drones under $500 are out there?

DJI has created a handful of drones under $500. Those in production and available new from the factory now are the DJI Mini 2 SE and the DJI Mini 3.

You might be able to find others that have since gone out of production, such as the DJI Mini or Mini 2, but it’ll likely be either used or from a third-party reseller. There’s also the now out-of-production, and very short-lived DJI Spark, which debuted at just $499.

DJI is also affiliated with another less-than-$160 drone called the Tello, which is made by a partner company called Ryze using DJI parts, but rumor has it Tello was discontinued.

And sure, you might also be able to buy one of DJI’s fancier, usually $1,000 drones used for under $500, but understand the risks of buying used drones.

Both DJI drones in this guide (the DJI Mini 3 and the DJI Mini 2 SE) weigh less than 250 grams. Drones under 250 grams are a big deal because many types of federal drone regulations do not apply to drones of that size (in the U.S., drones under 250 grams do not need to be registered with the FAA for recreational operations and do not need to be Remote ID compliant). That makes drone flying more convenient for international travelers who are more likely free to fly in a foreign country, without having to get registered or licensed in a place they might be visiting for just a few days.

Of course, it also means these drones are just small and light, making it far more convenient to take out on a hike or anywhere else where portability is important.

Here’s a history of some of the DJI drones under $500, both past and present:

DJI Mini 2 SE

DJI Mini 2 SE: the cheapest DJI drone in production today

In February 2023, DJI announced the DJI Mini 2 SE. However, it didn’t go on sale until a month later in March. At $339, it’s essentially a stripped-down version of the DJI Mini 2 which launched in November 2020 but has since been discontinued.

Basically, DJI stopped Mini 2 production to focus on newer models, the Mini 3 and the latest version, the Mini 4 Pro (which came out in September 2023 and costs about $750). But, it has kept churning out the DJI Mini 2 SE purely to offer an ultra-affordable drone.

The biggest downgrade in the SE versus the original DJI Mini 2 (and all newer models of the Mini line) is lower video quality. It delivers 2.7K video, which is a pretty serious downgrade from 4K video. But for stills, it’s mostly the same — and the drone still has that same 1/2.3-inch CMOS with 12MP of effective pixels.

Consider it the perfect balance between ease of use, reliability, and affordability.

Purchase the DJI Mini 2 starting at just $339 now from:

DJI Mini 3 Pro
Sally French, The Drone Girl, reviews the DJI Mini 3 Pro in May 2022.

DJI Mini 3: the best DJI drone under $500

Thanks to the release of the DJI Mini 4 Pro, the Mini 3 has entered the below $500 drone category, coming in at $469.  It’s everything you want in a drone: excellent image quality, incredibly small and light, super simple to set up and get in the air — and best of all, it’s safe and stress-free to fly.

With a 1/1.3-inch CMOS and 12 MP of effective pixels, this has the highest-quality camera of the bunch. There’s also a downward vision system and the DJI O2 transmission system. That’s not as good as the Mini 3’s big sibling, the Mini 3 Pro (that one offers a forward, backward, and downward vision system alongside DJI O3 transmission), but it’s pretty impressive for the price point.

Read more: DJI Mini 3 vs. Mini 3 Pro: which drone is better?

If you don’t need a remote controller (maybe you already have one from a past drone purchase) then you’re looking at an even cheaper option. The Mini 3 sans controller costs just $379.

Purchase the DJI Mini 3 starting at just $379 (no controller) or $469 with controller now from:

Comparing the DJI drones under $500

Now that you’ve gotten an overview of both DJI drones under $500, let’s put them side by side to better understand their differences:

DJI Mini 2 SEDJI Mini 3
Starting price (price includes lowest-price controller)$339$469 (or $379 sans controller)
Takeoff Weight246 g< 249 g
Folded (without propellers)

138×81×58 mm

148×90×62 mm
Max Flight Time31 minutes38 minutes (with Intelligent Flight Battery)
51 minutes (with Intelligent Flight Battery Plus*)
Max Horizontal Speed (at sea level, no wind)16 m/s16 m/s
Max Ascent Speed5 m/s5 m/s
Max Descent Speed3.5 m/s3.5 m/s
Max Takeoff Altitude4000m4000m (or just 3000m with Intelligent Flight Battery Plus)
Max Wind Speed Resistance10.7 m/s (Level 5)10.7 m/s (Level 5)
Image Sensor1/2.3-inch CMOS1/1.3-inch CMOS
Effective Pixels12 MP12 MP
Video2.7K HD4K HDR
Video Transmission SystemDJI O2DJI O2

The DJI Mini 3 is clearly better if you don’t factor in the cost. But for folks who prioritize saving money, then it might not necessarily be the best.

How to pick the best DJI drone on a budget

If you’re a videographer, it’s definitely worth going for the DJI Mini 3 over the Mini 2 SE. The Mini 2 SE’s 2.7K video is a pretty serious downgrade from the 4K video on the Mini 3. If you can afford it, go for the DJI Mini 3. There, you’ll find the larger sensor to provide even higher image quality. (If you’re fine going over budget, you might even consider the DJI Mini 3 Pro versus the Mini 3, as it offers even better image quality, including 48 MP versus 12, and 150 Mbps Max video bitrate versus just 100).

Then again, if you only care about aerial photos and don’t take videos, you might as well save the $100+ and just get the DJI Mini 2 SE versus the DJI Mini 3.

If you’re simply looking for the cheapest possible drone, then the DJI Mini 2 SE can work for you. The DJI Mini 2 SE is good if you fit into one of the following molds:

  • You’re brand new to drones and don’t want to commit to something you’re not certain about.
  • You’re flying in very simple environments like open fields over relatively short distances (well within your line of sight).
  • You take photos, not videos. Or if you do take videos, image quality is not a priority (e.g. you’re filming for small phone screens, rather than large TV screens).

Which DJI drone under $500 do you recommend? Are there other factors folks should consider when choosing an entry-level DJI drone? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

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