Either you are in love with photography or you are passionate about aeronautics models, or maybe you just need a great toy for any age, a drone is the perfect fun gadget that you can get. After two months of analysis and research I can finally present you the two best drones under 300$ available on the market nowadays. After reading hundreds of articles and reviews and watching hours of videos I can tell you that the best drones under 300$ are the Parrot Bebop Drone ($$) and the Hubsan H501S X4 ($$), and in this article you will find everything you need to know about both models.
Drone comparison: Hubsan H501S X4 and The Parrot Bebop Drone – The two best drones under 300$ in 2017
My kid is turning two years soon, and he is unstoppable like road runner, so I thought that the best way to capture his joy moments together with my family is by filming the hole action with a drone. This is not my first attempt in getting my first drone. In the past I had few tryouts but all failed because of the huge prices and lack of features at that time. Today the story has changed. The drone market is growing extremely fast and thanks to that, the prices are getting decent and many people can afford such a gadget. There is no doubt that drones are quickly becoming the hottest hobby or passion for most of us.
Quick introduction in drones – categories and types
Before getting into more details, you first need to know that drones are divided in several categories according to their features, capabilities and depending on what type of activity you can execute with them. At this moment we can group them in the following categories:
- Toy drones
- Aerial video/photography drones
- Racing drones
- Telemetry / mapping / cartography drones
- Military drones
- Goods delivery drones
Having a military background, I can tell you that probably beside the purpose for what they build them, any other details and specifications about military drones are probably classified and what you can find over the internet are pure speculations. This is normal, the military advanced technology has security scope and makes the difference on the battlefield, and because of that each country protects it.
Telemetry / mapping / cartography drones
This type of drones are not so common. They are highly advanced drones created for serving exact purposes. They are used in industries like agriculture, surveying and mapping, construction, utilities and telecom or public safety. Their main features are complex data-logging software, very accurate GPS systems, high altitude flight capabilities and a very big focal optical zoom photo cameras.
Aerial video / photography drones
This drones are very common and you can find them everywhere. But that does not make them cheap. The prices vary allot from 50$ to 5000$ depending on many factors like video quality, system stabilization for camera, maneuverability, live video streaming or FPV (First Person View). Probably you have seen them at various events like weddings, many video freelancers or companies use them to take unique scenes on events. This type of drones are also used in movies industry too, most of the stunts and impossible scenes are recorded with professional aerial video drones. Medium and low budget aerial drones are mostly used by hobbyists and regular people just to capture unique moments or nice landscapes.
Some of you would say that racing drones are actually toy drones for big people but this is not entirely true. Racing drone are incredible powerful and strong, they are built using very strong materials made to be durable and resist on multiple crashes. Racing drones can fly at high speeds and they can be very agile. Racing competitions require extreme turning, cornering and also stunts like flip-over and quick rotations. Also all racing drones come with a FPV camera ready to broadcast video signal directly to the player trough 5.8Ghz radio channels. The video signal is received using video glasses called goggles which offers incredible real pilot experiences with OSD information.
Goods delivery drones
This category is struggling to break out but the flight legislation and also the hackers are stopping it. Big online eCommerce platforms like Amazon are trying to implement drones as a transportation method for shipping orders in remote areas. They are called this machines the Prime Air, and for now Amazon wants to deliver with them quick orders in flights no more than 30 minutes, but they promise that this will be the future. Big companies like Facebook and Google also are experimenting flight models like drones or balloons but because each country has different legislation for flying its almost impossible to cover all. Also hackers are a real problems because the most skilled can easily hack these machines and take control.
Off course in the end we can name them all toys, but because toys are made for kids we need to stay focused on products which are safe for children, easy to use, funny and cheap. Toy drones are less complicated, they use small remotes with low range and mostly no more than 2 to 4 control channels. Also they come with plenty protection components in order to avoid hurting and self destroying. Toys usually work with simple AA batteries and do not require complicated features like GPS systems and various sensors because accuracy is not important.
Which one fits for you?
Well, if you write down 5 reasons why you want to buy a drone, it will be very easy to know which category will match you. I, for instance, was extremely attracted by racing drone when I first saw them, the speed and strength and the way they are built ed is just amazing. But when I looked over my needs I clearly saw that this type of drone will not satisfy my needs. Despite they are very agile and strong, they are lacking many features like GPS which allows hovering at a fixed point, return home, follow me, also many of them don’t have Headless operation, which is a great feature for less experienced pilots like me. Nevertheless camera is intended only for FPV broadcasting only and not for footage, therefore the image quality is very bad. But if you are looking for extreme fun or you are a Hobby Maker, this might be your choice. Being constructed in a modular fashion, they offer the possibility to add accessories, new modules, or do fine running, which is perfect for geeks and fans.
Deciding factors – what matters?
One of the main factor that made me change my mind about which I should get is the battery and the flight time during a single charge. Most of the available drone, regardless the price have a flight time between 5 and 12 minutes, which is very short, at leas for me, and because of this you are forced to have multiple batteries.
Another factor was the distance range that the drone can be operated at, usually the budget drones can be safely operated under 200m, which is not so great when you want to take aerial footage. With range, another factor gets in and I am talking about the video signal. There is no point to have the possibility to send the drone at 1km distance, if you cannot control it there, so for that many drones offer live video broadcasting on the remote controller or via a smartphone/tablet .
Probably the hardest job for me was to find a drone with a decent minimum 1080p camera that weigh under 500g. I don’t know the U.S. laws, but in Romania everything that flies and is not a bird must have certificate and papers, and getting those papers cost you almost as getting the same papers for a Boeing plane (~150-200Euro). So finding a drone that has less than 500g with battery and camera included was a tough job. Almost all drones that offer a decent camera with stabilizers and anti-vibration adapters (gimbal) are weighing over 1kg, and for me this is not a deal. Also the size is growing with the quality, and I need a drone which can be easily transported and does not occupy allot of space in my luggage.
To be more precise this are my 5 checks that need to be achieved by the winning choice:
- Weight under 500g – meet the aerial laws, no papers needed
- Minimum 1080p camera with decent to high quality footage
- As many safe features as can get (Return to home, Get back safe zone, Smart Battery, Headless, etc.)
- At least 15 minutes flights in one full battery charge
- Less than 300$ complete package
Well, I digged and digged and after two months I come up with two of the best drones fitting my above checklist: Parrot Bebop 1, the first Bebop model made by Parrot and H501S x4 made by Hubsan. I can tell you from start that none of this meet up all the conditions, but this two models are closest that I could find. I am still not sure which one to order, but hopefully at the end of this article I will heave a more clear image.
Hubsan H501S X4 quick overview (SEE PRICE)
Hubsan is a China company with headquarters in Shenzhen, specialized in drones and accessories. They also have services and sales units in North America and the products that they manufacture are considered decent quality. They make quadcopters in different sizes and versions, having quite a large price scale. H501S X4 is a middle edge product which can be bought in two versions: Standard and High / Advanced. The Hubsan H501S X4 is a FPV brushless quadcopter with many amazing features at a very decent price.
On the official website the Standard version costs 239$ and the Advanced / High version is 289$. The price is actually amazing after you see what features has to offer. Let’s count them down below:
- 1080p HD Photo / Video camera
- GPS System on both drone and remote controller
- Headless mode
- Altitude Hold
- Automatic Return to Home
- Follow me function
- Real time FPV on remote controller
- Weight: 410g
- Brushless motors
- 2700mAh with ~20min flight
When it comes to safety, this drone provides high end features too. For example if the radio connection with the controller is lost for more than 3 seconds, it will automatically return to home and land safely. Also this drone is programmed to automatically decide what to do when the power ends: either will safely land on the spot or it will first return to home and land depending on the remaining juice.
The Hubsan H501S ($$ price on Amazon) standard version comes with a 4.3 inch screen on the controller which provide a decent video image and also many telemetry information like altitude, GPS coordinates, distance and many others. On this remote controller you can also find an SD card slot which should give you the possibility to directly record the image from the FPV screen (some people say that this feature is available but not activated). Also a miniUSB port is available for firmware updates and on the left side two 3.5mm jack ports for video out. Unfortunately the in video output you don get the OSD telemetry info, only the camera image.
The difference between the standard and high / advanced version is only in the controller. The high version come with a more advanced remote controller which beside the professional look and feel, offers a way better range because of the external antennas for both 2.4Ghz and 5.8Ghz. There are also few downsides at this version like the missing SD card slot a smaller LCD display of only 3.7 inch. The external antennas promise a control distance of about 1.8 Km compared with the standard controller which offers around 300m. Both controllers have dedicated buttons for taking photos and starting video recording, and also two way switches for activating GPS and RTH function. You can also click on each stick, the left one turns on/off headless mode and the right one activates the follow me function. Finally to arm the quadcopter (as soon as you are receiving at least 6 GPS satellites), you have to push both sticks in lower outer directions.
The PM1806 X4 brushless motors are decent, having a KV rate = 1650. For those who don’t know, in brushless motors KV means the number of revolutions per minute that the motor will turn when 1V (one Volt) is applied with no load attached to the motor, or KV = RPM / Volts.The battery is a 7.4V LiPo rated at 2300mAh weighing about 100g which offers a nice 20 minutes flight time, but needs at least 120 minutes to make a full charge. The quadcopter has 4 big LEDs indicators in the landing feet that makes different signal colors depending on what information are providing.
The FPV radio frequency can be tuned in order to pair with almost every FPV screen / glasses receiver. The weight advantage makes this quadcopter very powerful, also being able to lift an external camera with a dedicated gimbal, even though the producers are not recommending.
The Parrot Bebop Drone quick overview (SEE PRICE)
Comparing with Hubsan, Parrot has a bigger awareness in electronics world after being in top 3 car kits producers in the world. Parrot is a wireless electronics manufacturer based in Paris, France founded in 1994, with about 1000 employees. The Parrot Bebop Drone ($$ price on Amazon) is an extraordinary product which had a great success in all over the world despite the spicy price. Parrot do not have many drones, the Parrot Bebop Drone is actually the top edge, they also make Parrot AR, which is a bit weaker and cheaper, and also few minidrones like Swing, Mambo and the well known racing jumping ones.
As we speaking, Parrot is already selling Bebop 2, a improved version of Bebop 1 which costs about 550$, leaving the first version somewhere behind in the middle range. The first version can still be found on the official website, but its hidden somewhere in the back in a category called outlet. They officially still selling but the price (399$) is way to high comparing to Amazon or other retailers. You can still find this model in Amazon between 190-270$ in a new condition in both red and blue versions.
The feature that brings the Parrot Bebop Drone in this articles is the built-in camera. There is no other drone under 300$, even under 350$ to have a better camera than this little bird. Another reason is the weight, this drone weighs only 420g which is very convenient in many countries. Bebop 1 features a 14Mpx CMOS camera with a optical Fish-eye lens. It can record 1080p videos at 30fps in H264 format and capture photos with 4096x3072px.
The most amazing features that makes Parrot Bebop Drone ($$) a serious competitor against Hubsan is the 3-axle stabilization system for camera which allows you to record amazing stable videos in any weather conditions. This digital stabilization systems makes a huge difference if you are thinking to get a drone for video footage and aerials photos and Its almost comparable with professional expensive stabilization gimbals from DJI drones giving you incredible stable raw footage.
Parrot Bebop Drone 1 ($$ in Amazon) comes with 3-axle magnetometer, gyroscope and accelerometer, a ultrasonic sensor in the bottom for smooth landing experience, a barometer for altitude hold and nice hovering, and a GNSS (GPS + GLONASS) System for geopositioning. Transmission is done via aerial dipoles connected to 2.4 and 5Ghz frequency bands up to 21dBm which should offer a range up to 250m.
The standard Parrot Bebop package does not comes with a controller. Yes, this is a tremendous downside. You can opt for a controller which can be bought individually, but it costs almost as much as the drone itself. Without this controller the drone can be controlled by any Android, IOS or Windows Phone compatible smartphone or tablet. Parrot has a very nice app which gives you great features and also a real time FPV wide image. The downside is that the signal range depends of the quality of your smartphone / tablet WiFi antenna. Most of the time the signal is weak and suffers in areas with many WiFi hot-spots and can be also degraded by walls or other solid obstacles.
The standard Parrot Bebop package includes the drone, 2 proprietary batteries, charger, 8 propellers and indoor gull. The motors are brushless with a rotating cage, and they operate with a speed between 7500 – 10500rpm. An traditional kit with 4 motors can be bought with about 100$ from the official store.
Head to head comparison – pros and cons
- The Camera – While both drones have 1080p cameras with decent image quality, the Bebop Drone is definitely better at this chapter. The 3-axle stabilization system and the wide straight horizon line feature, take over the lead in this section. Also the Bebop photo quality is much better, the Hubsan’s camera having only 3-4 Mpx while the Bebop has 14Mpx.
- The GPS – While both have GPS systems, Bebop comes with the GLONASS feature and also the possibility to create a Flight Plan using satellite maps. On the other side, Hubsan H501S has a dual GPS system, both the drone and the controller being equipped with GPS modules. This option gives the drone new functions like Follow me (not available on Bebop 1) and a more accurate return to home. The Hubsan H501S ‘s controller can also display on the LCD GPS information in real time like coordinates, speed and distance.
- Flight Time – While Hubsan H501S offers a nice 20 minutes fun experience the Parrot Bebop flies only for about 11 minute with a full charge because of the only 1200mAh battery. They saw that and decided to put two batteries in the package.
- Controller – Hubsan offers two controllers, both having LCD display and GPS built-in, with a minimum range of 300m. The Bebop has no controller in the standard package, only an smartphone app. The SkyController can be individually bought for the Bebop, but the price makes the drone twice expensive.
- Safety – Although both have GPS and RTH functions, Hubsan H501S is better. Many people are complaining that they lost their Bebops during WiFi signal lost. That means that Bebop doesn’t have a safety backup plan when the signal is lost, is just hovering until the battery is lost. Hubsan covered well this chapter by programming the drone to return back to home and land if anything happens.
- Features – Both drones have nice features but also different. While H501s has Follow me function, Bebop has the Flight plan function. Both have Return to Home and Altitude hold but the accuracy may differ due to the fact that measurements are made with different sensors.
- FPV real time – Both have live video transmission but the Hubsan H501S has a better range even with the standard controller. Bebop claims 300m with a smartphone or tablet but in reality users have a maximum of 100m in clear space. With SkyController you can get above 1km or at least they claim. The advanced controller from Hubsan seems to be the best in term of range in both 2.4 and 5.8Ghz.
- Maneuverability – Clearly Hubsan H501S wins this point as it has dedicated controller in standard version. Controlling a drone from a smartphone is a pain, you cannot take your eyes from the mobile screen, and also you have no vibration feedback. Never the less you need to keep your tablet or smartphone in a vertical position, facing the drone in order to have decent signal range, which is quite uncomfortable.
- Replacements and accessories – Also a chapter won by the Hubsan H501S, clearly because this drone in manufactured in China and so the parts can be easily found many of them are nor proprietary, for example the battery which is a generic standard LiPo.
- LED and Night – Both drones have good lighting but Husban seems better again. With big LEDs in the landing spots, Hubsan H501S uses the lights to give you various information and status, by changing colors and patterns. During the night Bebop camera is not so great, it actually seem bad comparing with the Hubsan in terms of quality, the lack of light and exposure is visible and disappointing.
- Modding – None of this drones can suffer hardware changes because of lack of modular construction pattern. Hardware spare parts can be found but to replace them you need tools and skills, and off course courage. The only accessory available is an external camera support, a static gimbal for Hubsan H501s, but the quality is really poor. Although the drone cannot be modified, the Hubsan standard controller can be easily modded. With under 20$ and no effort you can install external antennas for both 2.4 and 5.8Ghz and the results are pretty awesome, people saying that they achieved over 800m after this mod. Bebop users found a way to increase a bit the range by using WiFi repeaters / extenders in order to extend the range of the signal, but the solution involves external gadgets and external power source also.
I already wrote 3800 words about those two drones and I’m still not sure which one should I’ll buy. The Hubsan H501S X4 ($$ in Amazon) is more fun than the Bebop, thanks to the dedicated controllers and much powerful motors. Besides the fact that has photo/video capabilities the H501S will also offer a very awesome playful experience thanks to the pretty good maneuverability. The advanced controller will also make happy the most exigent hobbyists, providing high quality materials and a nice design. On the other hand, the standard Parrot Bebop ($$ in Amazon) offers outstanding video capabilities for such a price. Thanks to the video stabilization system, the Bebop Drone can be easily used for semi-professional video recording and this makes it a good choice for freelancers and event hunters.
The perfect drone for me should be exactly the combination between Parrot Bebop Drone and Hubsan H501S X4. Nice controller with stabilized good camera and decent range. As this is not available under 300$ I will probably end up buying both of them and enjoy using them for various activities. I know that for that price I can get a DJI Phantom 3 but like I told you, the weight of such a model is over the amateur laws. I hope this article will support you in doing the best choice if you haven’t done already.
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