What is a great starter drone?

Q: I am interested in getting a drone. Where should I begin?

A:  There are lots of choices out there. Often times the first place people look is to large online retailers like Amazon. You’ll be guessing what kind of drone is best for you and you’ll be reading lots of online reviews. Buying from large online retailers has its disadvantages.

Buying a cheapie drone ($50 -$300) can be a mistake. These drones usually don’t have stabilization features.  Flying one is similar to balancing a marble on a plate. People often crash them into walls, trees or unsuspecting friends. They are also prone to “fly aways”.  The cameras on these inexpensive models are usually poor quality, the range is only a few hundred feet and they are a real handful to fly. 

Who will you to turn for questions and support? If you’re reading this you’ve discovered that there are dealers like me who specialize in drones and drone training. Recent pricing rules from the big manufacturers like DJI and Autel have leveled the playing field for smaller retailers like me.  You will find the pricing to be consistent wherever you go. If you like the idea of supporting a small business you’ve come to the right place.  I am a retired police officer and in 2015 I started Titletown Drones.  I serve recreational, commercial and public safety drone market with high quality equipment that I have tested myself.  I am available to answer your questions and provide support. Now, let’s talk about the reason you’re here.

If you want to start out with a professional drone like the Mavic 2 Pro, consider booking a training session with me. I’ll get you through the high risk period and build your skills so you don’t ruin that expensive equipment. I’ll teach you to fly safely and legally.

Id’d like to make some recommendations for some starter drones that are great quality, fly well and won’t break the bank. I’ll break this down into two price categories: 

Price range $449 to $599

If you are serious about taking photos and video and want something with more features, I highly recommend the DJI Mini 2.  The Mini 2 is available in 2 configurations.  The Mini 2 is probably the most popular sub $500 drone right now, and for good reason! DJI managed to pack a lot of features in a drone that weighs just 249 grams.  

The Mini 2 is GPS stabilized with a full HD interface and many of the features normally found in much more expensive drones.  The camera is on a 3 axis gimbal which results in buttery smooth video and the photo quality is excellent.  The basic package is $449 and it includes 1 battery, the remote and a few accessories. Most people opt for the Mini 2 + Fly More kit at $599.  The Fly More kit includes a total of 3 batteries, a 3 port bank charger, AC adapter, propeller guards and a decent carry case.  This is a good value. If you purchased these extra accessories separately it would add up to about $170.00.  

Both of these kits are available in my online store

The Mini 2 is rated at a range of up to 10 KM and advertises a flight time 31 minutes.  Range is always dependent on conditions and the environment. The law requires you to fly within line of sight but these specs are not exaggerations.  My tests confirmed the 30 minute flight time is possible. My very first test flight on a very windy day (which included time on the workbench for updates) still yielded 23 minutes of air time.  Not bad for a drone that weighs less than 2 sticks of butter.  Even more surprising was how this little drone handled the wind. The day of my first test flight winds were a steady 12mph with gusts to 16mph.  The Mini 2 had no troubles operating in these conditions. I launched off my deck and climbed over the tree line in my wooded neighborhood with ease.  In no time I was a quarter mile down the road visiting the neighbors.

The DJI Mini 2 is capable of capturing video in 4K. 

I found the video quality to be clear and smooth with excellent color rendition and good dynamic range. Photos will be captured at 12MP which, for a drone the size of your cell phone, are amazing.  The Mini can also shoot photos in the RAW format. If you want to see more examples, there are no shortage of demo videos all over YouTube. I am serious, the camera is very good.  I know I sound like a fan boy here but I’ve owned a lot of drones and have never have found one this small with such capabilities.  

The Mini 2 also includes features found on some of the more expensive drones like return to home and QuickShot modes, which include Dronie, Circle, Helix, and Rocket.

Under $800

The newly released Mavic Air 2 is a powerful little drone with capabilities of some of the more expensive models.  Weighing just over 20 ounces the Mavic Air 2 performs extremely well.  Flight times exceed 30 minutes and the 12 megapixel camera is capable of shooting 4K video.  The Mavic Air 2 is equipped with DJI’s signature Ocu Synch 2.0 which provides superior video transmission capabilities.  This is where DJI drones excel.  The drone has a range of over 11 miles! Please understand FAA regulations require you to keep the aircraft in your line-of-sight but the superior video transmission system ensures that you will not experience brown-outs and signal interruptions.  

The Mavic Air 2 is also equipped with Air Sense, a feature that alerts you to the presence of manned aircraft. Most manned aircraft are equipped with a transponder that broadcasts their location. Air Sense will display the location of a manned aircraft in your area, allowing you to avoid coming too close. 

The Mavic Air 2 is loaded with sensors for obstacle avoidance. No amount of safety features make a drone dummy-proof but these features definitely make it dummy resistant!  

Like the Mini 2, the Mavic Air 2 comes in 2 packages. For $799.00 you get the drone, remote, charger 1, battery, 1 extra pair of propellers and 1 extra set of control sticks.  For $999 the fly-more kit provides some valuable extras including a total of 3 batteries, bank charger, ND filters and a carry case.  Most people opt for the Mavic Air 2 fly-more kit as adding these accessories later would cost more than the bundle price.


You can often find used drones for sale in Facebook marketplace and eBay.  Please use caution when buying a used drone.  For more information about buying used drones, see my Tips for Buying Used Drones“.  Stay away from the Phantom 3 Standard!  DJI is known for making great drones but this one is a stinker.  You get what looks like a Phantom 3 but its got a legacy WiFi uplink left over from the defunct Phantom 2 series. If the camera is damaged in flight or gets borked during a firmware update, you may as well sell it or junk it. A new camera will cost you nearly $300. This is the Bic lighter of drones.


If you’re looking for something to play around and learn how to fly, the Tello might be the best choice.  If you’re thinking of graduating to a more sophisticated drone in the future, the Mavic Mini will deliver an experience more like the big boys.  Whatever you decide, you can’t go wrong with either one. They are both a blast to fly!

Where to buy

Thanks for taking the time to find me and read this article. If you are considering buying one of these drones, I’d appreciate your business. Please consider purchasing your drone from my online store, Titletown Drones. I am a Wisconsin based small business and an authorized DJI Dealer.  I am always here to answer your questions and provide great customer service. 

Please visit my online store here.

About Bill Bongle

Bill Bongle is a 29-year police veteran and technology consultant, rising to the rank of Captain before retiring from the Green Bay Police Department in 2015. In 2015 Bill started Titletown Drones LLC, a company which provides drone related training and equipment. He specializes in assisting public safety agencies establish their drone programs. Bill has developed several drone related training courses including part 107 test prep and flight training. Bill has trained hundreds of commercial drone pilots, police officers, firefighters and government officials across the nation.