As you sort through all the specs out there to find the best drone, there’s one common spec that is frequently touted among many popular, consumer-focused camera drones as a must-have. It’s not a 4K camera, or an obstacle avoidance system (though those are generally also must-haves). The hottest, must-have spec among hobby drones for this year (and likely onward) is that the drone weighs under 250 grams.
A drone that weighs under 250 grams is relevant for reasons far beyond it being easier to transport (though that’s a perk, especially for jet setters who frequently travel with their drones). Perhaps a more-important reason why drones under 250 grams are so popular: many types of federal drone regulations do not apply to drones under 250 grams.
Most notably are the following two:
- Drones under 250 grams do not need to be registered with the FAA for recreational operations.
- Drones under 250 grams do not need to be Remote ID compliant.
And in some countries, drones that weigh under 250 grams may also be able to carry out more ‘complex’ operations that larger drones cannot legally do, such as flying beyond visual line of sight or over people. Note that all drones flying for commercial purposes in the U.S. under Part 107 must be registered.
Some of the most popular drones on the market these days are Remote ID compliant, including the DJI Mini 3 Pro and the Autel Evo Nano drone.
Here’s what you need to know about those rules, and how drones under 250 grams are regulated:
You won’t need to register drones under 250 grams with the FAA
Drones flying in the U.S. that weigh 250 grams or more must be registered with the FAA. FAA registration can be done here and is a relatively simply process that requires you to make an account with the FAA, input some basic, identifying information and pay a fee ($5), good for the following three years. Upon doing that, you’ll receive a registration number, which you must affix somewhere visible on your drone (if you have multiple drones, you can use the same number for all of them).
Drones weighing under 250 grams do not need to be registered in the U.S., assuming you’re only flying them for recreational operations.
Not only does that save you $5 and on more piece of paperwork for your todo list, but it also means you avoid handing over some information to the government, which might be appealing for some pilots.
Your drone does not need to be Remote ID compliant
Perhaps more significant than the registration rules are the Remote ID rules. The FAA’s Remote ID rules went into effect in September 2022. The rules actually roll out in a few phases — and don’t worry, the drone you currently fly doesn’t have to be Remote ID compliant (yet).
As of September 2022, all new drones weighing 250 grams or more that are manufactured and used in the United States must be Remote ID compliant (though the FAA has said that it will largely delay enforcement for at least a couple more months). Most of the major manufacturers, including California-based drone maker Skydio, have already publicly committed to compliance.
Things get a little more interesting, though, next year. That’s when all drones weighing 250 grams or more that are flown in the U.S. must be Remote ID compliant. Many drone companies have already announced that the process to become Remote ID compliant will be relatively simply, requiring a simple software update.
However, there’s something far more simple than a software update, and that’s operating a drone that doesn’t have to be Remote ID compliant in the first place — because it weighs less than 250 grams.
Related read: 249 gram Mavic Mini was designed for safety, DJI says. Sure, but that’s not the whole story.
Other benefits of small drones: safety
Of course, avoiding regulation isn’t the only reason to consider a smaller drone. Most experts agree that smaller drones tend to be safer for a simple reason: the impact generated from a tiny drone is inherently so much smaller than a bigger drone, should it crash. Imagine a 3-year old punching you versus a 300-pound adult punching you; it’s just not the same.
“This sub-250g weight category was created in 2015, when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asked a committee of aviation and drone experts to quickly determine the minimum weight of a drone that recreational drone pilots should be required to register,” according to a blog post from DJI. “With personal safety the main goal, the committee employed complex formulas involving kinetic energy and terminal velocity to recommend a weight category of 250 grams and above, which the FAA then adopted.”
The best drones that weigh under 250 grams
DJI wowed the drone industry in February 2020 with the launch of the DJI Mini, which was largely considered to be the first high-quality camera drone weighing under 250 grams. But even that drone’s camera quality paled in comparison to what we have today. The DJI Mini has since evolved into the improved DJI Mini 2, and ultimately the DJI Mini 3 Pro, which is one of DJI’s newest drones (and not surprisingly one of the best drones for photographers).
DJI Mini 3 Pro
DJI Mini 3 Pro is newest camera drone. Not only is it the best drone weighing under 250 grams, but it currently tops Drone Girl’s list of overall best drones for photographers. Here are some key features on the DJI Mini 3 Pro:
- Weighs less than 249 grams
- 4K/60fps video
- 34 minute flight time
- Tri-directional obstacle sensing
- 90° gimbal rotation (that’s for shooting vertical imaging, typically for social media)
Beyond being small, other safety features in the DJI Mini 3 Pro include DJI’s GEO 2.0 geofencing system, which was designed to help prevent inadvertent flight in locations that would raise serious safety or security concerns.
Purchase the DJI Mini 3 Pro starting at just $669 (no controller) or $759 with controller now from:
Other drones in DJI’s lineup that weigh under 250 grams are older models of the DJI Mini 3 Pro, including the DJI Mavic Mini, Mini 2 and Mini SE.
Autel Evo Nano+
Autel has long created drones that feel like they replicate DJI’s lineup harkening back to the days of the Autel X-Star (which basically looked like a DJI Phantom, but orange). Unsurprisingly, Autel also offers a drone that weighs less than 250 grams called the Autel Evo Nano+.
Some of its key specs are:
- Weighs less than 249 grams
- 1/1.28-inch (0.8-inch) CMOS sensor capable of 50 MP photos
- RYYB color filter array design with a large aperture of f/1.9
- Millisecond autofocus, PDAF + CDAF
- 28 minute flight time
- Obstacle avoidance system
Order the Autel Evo Nano+ drone+ directly from Autel, here.
Can the FAA still regulate drones under 250 grams?
The answer is yes, the FAA can still regulate drones under 250 grams. You can’t, say, fly in restricted areas (such as in your own backyard near an airport without other permission) just because your drone is under 250 grams. To fly any drone in a restricted area, you’d need to seek permission from the FAA (the easiest way to do that is through LAANC). Other rules that restrict flights, such as flying drones beyond visual line of sight or flying over crowds, also apply to drones under 250 grams.
You are not exempt from FAA rules just because your drone weighs less than 250 grams. However, drones weighing under 250 grams are highly appealing because many FAA regulations simply do not apply.
Flying smaller drones is generally seen as safer than operating larger drones. And by eliminating FAA rules, the process of flying drones loses a lot of friction. With a sub-250 gram drone, you don’t need to worry about whether your drone is Remote ID compliant. You don’t need to stress about how to affix your registration identification number to your drone. And hey, you get to save the $5 registration fee while you’re at it.
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