What are good alternatives to DJI drones?

What are the good alternatives to DJI drones? It’s a question I get all-too-often, and has led me to detail not just what the alternatives are, but more often why there are so few alternatives.

There’s a massive group of people who want to know how DJI got so big in the first place, but there’s just as massive — or so it seems — a chunk of people who flat out don’t want to buy DJI drones. Many people specifically seek out American made drones (which does not encompass DJI, which is based in China). The quest for DJI alternatives stems from a few reasons including patriotism, anti-China sentiment, and a desire to stand out from the crowd.

However, clearly the number viable alternatives is frustratingly few, particularly for budget-conscious consumers.

DJI has a huge market share, estimated at making about 70-80% of all drones. Believe it or not, that metric is shrinking. Yes, it was higher in the past! That means there are, certainly, viable alternatives.

Drone alternatives to DJI that cost less than $500

If you’re on a budget and you’re seeking a great camera drone, good luck. I don’t believe there are any good alternatives to DJI drones under $500. That is unless you count the roughly-$100 Tello drone which is made by another company called Ryze, but still uses DJI parts.

Yep, there are plenty of great DJI drones under $500, including the Mini 2 SE and my top pick, the DJI Mini 4K. But in the way of competitors that match DJI in quality, there are none.

That said, if you’re open to a drone under $500 that doesn’t have a camera, you do have some options.For starters, I do have a nice list of cheap toy drones, which have their own place and time.

Crazyflie Nano drone

Meanwhile, teachers might be interested in the best educational drones for a STEM program. Of those, my favorite is the $399 Crazyflie Nano drone made by DroneBlocks.

This drone is ultra-small, clocking in at 27 grams (that’s lighter than a small tangerine) and tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Given that, these drones fare well indoors (yes, that includes classrooms). Given their such small size, they’re actually better indoors than outdoors, as even slight wind can make them tough to control.

So what’s so cool about this drone? That’s its integration with the educational component. Students can use this drone to learn block-coding. More advanced students might do their own Python programming to send this drone on its own autonomous drone missions.

Check out the Crazyflie Nano drone for $399.

Drone alternatives to DJI that cost less than $1,000

Even the pickings for consumer-oriented drones in the $1,000 realm are slim. Sure, Skydio once dominating the follow-me drone market, but Skydio discontinued its consumer drone line to instead focus on enterprise applications. These days, so the only way to get your hands on those is likely to buy a used Skydio drone.

The slim pickings are for a few reasons, but the overarching theme is that, while some American companies produce enterprise-level drones, the reason that consumer-level alternatives remain scarce is due to production costs and infrastructure limitations.

That said, note that while these two drone picks are not made by DJI, they are still made in China — just by other Chinese drone companies.

HoverAir X1

The HoverAir X1 is a neat little drone with a unique drone that cages in the propellers. That’s not the only way this drone distinguishes itself from DJI.

The HoverAir X1 doesn’t come with a controller. Instead, you fly it via a selection of pre-programmed paths, including Hover, Follow, Zoom Out, Orbit, and Bird’s Eye. Another standout? Its ability to record sound. While you’re flying, the Hover app captures sound from your phone.

It costs $439 and has a semi-solid camera 12 MP camera. Read my in-depth review of the HoverAir X1 here.

Purchase this drone now directly from the HoverAir website for $439

Autel EVO Nano+

https://shop.autelrobotics.com/products/drones-evo-nano-plus?ref=CqdAbt_J8n3R_

The Autel EVO Nano series is an entry-level aerial camera designed for absolute beginners. But entry-level doesn’t mean bad, as its camera is actually quite good. It features a 1/1.28″ sensor capable of capturing 50 MP photos.

The EVO Nano+ drone weighs only 249 grams, which is significant due to regulatory benefits. Plus, it’s relatively safe to fly given its three-way binocular vision sensor. That allows it to detect obstacles in front, behind, and below. It can fly for up to 28 minutes, withstand level 5 wind conditions, and transmit video from up to 10 km away.

Enterprise-grade DJI alternatives for a higher budget

There are very few drones under $1,000 that offer a worthy alternative to DJI. Luckily, that’s hardly the case when it comes to enterprise-grade drones. Alas, that also means expensive drones.

But with pricier drones comes aircraft more specific to your own flying needs. It also gives more in the way of customization, whether it’s the aircraft itself or the payloads it carries

It goes without saying, but picking the right alternative to DJI’s enterprise drones depends on your specific project.

For example, data security-focused missions might be best off with drones from Autel Robotics given their focus on encrypted data transmission. If open-source software is crucial, Freefly’s Astro with the Auterion platform offers a customizable approach. And then for folks seeking a lightweight, portable option, Parrot’s Anafi Ai might be ideal.

Here are some standout DJI alternatives:

If you want an open-source platform: Freefly

If you crave the flexibility of open-source software, look to Freefly. Their Astro drone pairs with the Auterion platform, allowing for deep customization to fit your workflow. Freefly uses Auterion Enterprise PX4 for its flight controller software, as well as Auterion Mission Control. Meanwhile, the Auterion Suite handles online fleet management. This is ideal for developers and those seeking a more tailored flight experience.

This drone is largely seen as a mapping powerhouse, and it’s somewhat affordable compared to other enterprise drones. The Freefly Astro Base Industrial drone — including mapping payload and pilot controller — comes in at less than $30,000.

Freefly is an American drone company. Aircraft is designed, assembled and supported in Woodinville, Washington. Though, note that Auterion is a European drone company with offices in Germany and Switzerland.

If you want a lightweight, portable and easy to fly drone: Parrot Anafi AI

Parrot has long stood as a competitor to DJI. In fact, French-drone maker DJI is credited with making the first consumer drone — that was the Parrot.AR drone, long before DJI made its Phantom.

These days, Parrot has largely abandoned its consumer drone arm in favor of enterprise drones. But, its drones have many of DJI’s most desirable qualities, including portability and lightweight size.

For those who value a compact drone that doesn’t compromise on image quality, Parrot’s Anafi Ai is a great option. This sub-250 gram drone folds up neatly and boasts a high-resolution AI-powered camera. It’s also considered the first 4G connected drone, meaning that it’s the first and only off-the-shelf drone to connect to Verizon’s 4G LTE network.

Now pricing for this drone is a bit odd. The base model of the Parrot Anafi AI drone starts at a relatively-affordable $4,500. But if you need one specifically that’s made in the U.S., you’ll owe a lot more.

The Parrot Anafi USA drone with thermal capabilities is nearly double that at $7,000. You’re paying a premium because this drone is manufactured in the U.S., and also has best-in-class privacy and security systems in place, making it useful for sensitive missions.  

Then, there’s an even more expensive version called the Parrot Anafi USA government edition. Coming in at $14,000, it’s also manufactured in the U.S. with the same high-end security, durability and imaging capabilities as Parrot’s Short-Range Reconnaissance (SRR) drone, which was designed for the US Army.

It’s also relevant to European pilots, as ANAFI USA’s data encryption and privacy features are compliant with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

If you want to fly Sony cameras: Airpeak or Skyfish

Sony, a titan in the camera industry, recently got into drones with the launch of its Sony Airpeak drone. For many, that’s the best option to carry Sony’s line of Alpha cameras, particularly as Sony increasingly leans into the industrial side.

Sony Airpeak S1

For drone pilots with a higher budget, the Sony Airpeak drone is the best option to carry Sony’s line of Alpha cameras.

In early 2023, Sony launched some critical updates that solved issues with the originally-launched Sony Airpeak drone. Meanwhile, the updates also unlocked new features that appealed to folks using drones for industrial applications like mapping or inspections, including a RTK GNSS system with high-precision positioning capability. It also received the all new Gremsy Gimbal PX1, which is 40% than the GBL-T3 from Gremsy that was originally built for Airpeak. That’s critical for reducing flight times).

Skyfish Osprey

The Skyfish Osprey drone. (Photo courtesy of Skyfish)

Meanwhile, drones from Montana-based Skyfish are among the best options if you want a drone that can carry Sony Alpha cameras and that is made in America. Among their premier products? The Skyfish Osprey drone, which is basically the American-made answer to the DJI M30.

Dig deeper into the discussion around DJI alternatives with Drone Launch Academy

With that, what is the possibility of emerging technologies from the commercial sector eventually making their way to consumers? Could drones parallel the evolution of computers and other tech that starts out with commercial focuses and circles back to becoming ubiquitous in the consumer market?

alternatives to DJI "Your Drone Questions. Answered." podcast

I could talk about this for hours. That’s why I joined John Dickow, host of the “Your Drone Questions. Answered.” podcast by Drone Launch Academy, to help illuminate some good alternatives to DJI drones.

Hear our full conversation by checking out the “Your Drone Questions. Answered.” podcast! You can watch it on YouTube here:

If you’d rather listen only, then the podcast can be download from Apple Podcasts (or pretty much any other podcast player).

Related read: The best camera drones made in the USA for every budget (under $1,000, for pros and more)

What is the “Your Drone Questions. Answered.” podcast?

“Your Drone Questions. Answered.” is a relatively new podcast from the team at Drone Launch Academy, which first came into the drone industry through its Part 107 online test prep course offering. As one of dozens of such courses out there, Drone Launch’s stands out because — if you fail your in-person exam — Drone Launch Academy will pay for you to retake the Part 107 test, which is an $150 value in itself, on top of a course refund (an additional $199 value).

Drone Launch Academy has since grown behind just Part 107 courses to also offer things like drone photo courses. And next month, it’s hosting an in-person, annual event called “Drone Launch Live” in Florida.

And yes, there’s now the podcast. While many episodes are beginner-focused, the podcast delves into more complex discussion topics, like why people want American made drones, as is the case in this latest episode. I was featured in an episode this spring where we discussed the best beginner drones. Thanks to the podcast’s intentionally-short run-time (most episodes are less than 20 minutes), it’s a must-have on your podcast feed for a quick filler on your commute.

Download it wherever you get your podcasts, or like it if you watch the episode on YouTube.

By the way, when you enroll in Drone Launch Academy’s Part 107 online test prep program, don’t forget to enter coupon code DRONEGIRL50. That’ll take $50 off the cost of the course and bring the usual $199 price down to just $149.

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