There’s something exhilarating about flying the best drones. Even after hundreds of flights under my belt, the adrenaline of flying one to capture epic shots of landscapes and memorable locales never gets old. I’ve flown models that cover the gamut, ranging from toy models that can pull off some neat aerial tricks, to professional-grade models packed with rich features that pilots and photographers crave.
What I’ve realized, though, is that small drones are always the most fun to fly. The average consumer would probably steer away from flying a drone when they read about how some commercial drones — like those that Amazon intends to use for delivering packages to customers — tend to be bulky in size and challenging to fly. There’s also the fear of these drones potentially crashing, given their weight, not to mention the elevated price tags.
However, there’s a very good reason most recreational flyers prefer small drones — these devices can be flown without FAA registration. (Of course, you must still adhere to all rules about drone flying, whether for personal or commercial use.)
As the SPY Tech Editor, I’ve seen small drones grow in popularity recently, from micro follow-me drones to Snap’s new Pixy drone. These drones may be small, but they’re mighty.
Why are mini drones suddenly so popular? I’ve outlined the top reasons below, as well as some of my favorite small drones for recreational flying.
What Are Small Drones?
Depending on who you ask, the definition of a small drone will differ. I think of small drones as under a pound and can be folded over to make them more compact and easier to carry around.
I prefer small drones because there aren’t as many roadblocks to flying them. For example, small drones that weigh less than 250 grams don’t require FAA registration when flown recreationally. Meaning you can buy one and instantly fly them the moment they’re done charging. Whereas drones flown commercially, or those weighing more than 250 grams, would need FAA registration.
Most small drones also tend to follow the same design, which typically are quadcopters. However, you may find some unique options, like the V-Coptr Falcon, which is classified as a bi-copter because it has two rotors instead of the traditional four.
Small Drones Are Great for Beginners
You never forget that first time flying a real drone. You know, the kind that costs hundreds of dollars and comes with a remote controller that’s more than just your smartphone connecting to the drone through Wi-Fi. Unless you’re just looking to play with your pets, don’t bother with getting one of those novel drones from mall kiosks that are selling other toys. Just don’t, especially when they can cost upwards of $100. Seriously, save your money for something better!
Read More: The Best Drones for Beginners
Many of them have automatic flying modes that let them capture stunning videos complete with pans and zooms — so you only need to choose your subject, and it’ll do the rest. The DJI Mini SE is one of my favorite small drones because of this very reason, with its QuickShot mode. Circling a person/landscape/object usually requires precise manual drone control to pull off, but DJI has made it nearly dummy-proof.
Another reason why the DJI Mini SE is a great beginner drone is that it has the option to fly in C-Mode (cinesmooth), which slows down the movement of the drone. The small drone won’t abruptly move or accelerate fast if you happen to push hard or way down on the controls.
Affordably Priced to Fit Any Budget
Small drones are also much more affordable that pro models, so you won’t be spending a couple thousand dollars on one. For first-time drone flyers, they’re easier on the budget and still offer incredible features.
Despite the low cost, you can still capture unbelievable photos using relatively affordable drones.
Take the DJI Mini 2, which, at around $449, offers that balance between performance, features and price. Sure, the Mini SE still undercuts it at less than $300, but the Mini 2 bumps up the video recording to 4K at 30 frames per second, a farther video transmission rate and a better 100 Mbps max video bitrate.
The latter’s important to note because it gives the Mini 2 extra wiggle room to draw out more details in its video captures than the 40 Mbps video bitrate of the Mini SE. Video editors would be able to tweak and extract details otherwise lost in the shadows and highlights. Affordably priced can vary depending on who you talk to, but compared to the “pro” grad drones that sell for over $2,000, these small drones offer a lot at under $500.
Pros Like Me Love Them Too
Speaking of pros, or perhaps influencers who love sharing their adventures, small drones are equipped with features that once only came in high-end models. Take subject tracking, for example, a feature that intelligently follows a subject (also called “follow-me drones”).
Check it out:
I’ve used the Autel Robotics Evo Nano+ and DJI Mini 3 Pro, and they’re small drones packed with pro-level features like the ability to track. You can see from the example above how the DJI Mini 3 Pro could follow me on its own, including getting around the swing set in its path. Both drones are on the pricier end of the spectrum, but the price is warranted given their dynamic tracking, which pulls off some slick video that can follow a person, vehicle or animal.
Read More: DJI Mini 3 Pro Review
Another tool content creators will enjoy with the Nano+ is the option to capture in RAW with its 50-megapixel camera, which again gives users additional leeway to tweak photos in post to draw out details standard jpegs lose out on. The shots below are great examples of what you can do to enhance the quality.
On top of that, the Autel Robotics Evo Nano+ also features forward, rear and downward sensors that help it avoid collisions. This is critical, especially for first-time flyers who may be nervous about crashing the drone. You’ll pay a bit more for these particular small drones, but the pro features you get make them valuable.
Small Drones Let You Travel Without the Extra Bulk
Because they’re already lightweight, small drones are also more compact and travel-friendly. I’m not sure about you, but I prefer traveling with just my backpack — so wherever possible, I try to save on space and weight.
While most of the small drones I’ve spent talking about hover around that 250-gram threshold, there are even lighter options to consider.
Read More: Snap Pixy Review
The Snap Pixy is an example of the kind of advancements small drones are receiving. Most notably, it flies autonomously on its own to act as your own personal photographer. Sure, its camera quality may be a drawback for some, but you gain the convenience of capturing snapshots from unique perspectives that you can’t get with your smartphone.
Best of all, it undercuts many other drones with its 101-gram weight. By comparison, the iPhone 13 Pro Max tips the scales at 240 grams. You won’t feel the Snap Pixy in your bag if you intend to travel with it.
The Verdict: Don’t Underestimate Small Drones
I’ve been flying drones since 2017, and in that span, I’ve been able to fly nearly everything under the sun. What I’ve learned most is that small drones have enough of the features to please a wide range of users. You could spend a little or a lot depending on your needs, but whichever route you take, there’s no denying their ability to instantly fly in the air with minimal roadblocks.
After spending so much time flying a small drone, you’ll see new horizons you’ve never seen before.