What an exciting time to be alive! It seems like technology in every sector is advancing so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to keep up. This is especially true in our world - the world of drones! We have been asked by many friends and clients what we would recommend for them to get started with drones. How should they choose just the right drone
as a wonderful holiday gift for someone special - even themselves?
With so many different, new, and incredible options, it is not an easy question to answer.
We decided it would be a better idea to equip YOU with knowledge to become a discerning buyer as the technology evolves.
The first two things you need to consider...
There are over 600 different drone manufacturers worldwide, many offering outstanding aircraft from which to choose. The least expensive little quadcopters go for as low as $25, and the most expensive ultra-high tech and specialized machines may set you back over $200,000! The dominant market leader is clearly DJI, but there are many other great companies creating machines that offer a great flying and photography experience.
2.) LEARNING CURVE
One key factor to remember is that almost every beginner will inevitably crash at some point in the near future. No matter what the advertisement says, there is still a learning curve involved in flying these machines, and practice is paramount to become a good pilot and take advantage of the fantastic features offered by all Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
In this guide, I am going to focus on the beginner to intermediate copters, which I would consider to be available from $25 to $1,400.
That said, let’s discuss these drones!
The most affordable category contains too many examples to go through all of them. The great news is that because of the rapid advances in these flying machines, their flight controls and sensors, most of these are going to fly decently right out of the box. I recommend indoor flying for these rather delicate and lightweight craft. Most are very small and cannot handle wind gusts before being carried away onto your neighbor’s roof, or worse. As one might expect, drones $30 or less will likely be difficult to fly, will be less durable, almost unrepairable, will not have swappable batteries, and will have an operating range of less than 30 feet.
Drones in the $30 to $100 are going to fly better out of the box, will be fantastic for learning the basics, will take swappable rechargeable batteries, will usually have some kind of prop guard, will be more durable, and have greater range of 50 to 100 feet. Generally, expect better performance with higher price. At this economical price point, one should not expect excellent camera or flight performance. Surprisingly, though, SYMA has a copter with a reasonably nice camera for $89.
I, personally, think the Blade Nano QX for around $89, with prop guards, is the best choice for those learning to fly. Another popular choice is made by Hubsan, is in my view a good copter, but it is tricky to hover, requiring the pilot to “chase the throttle”, which can add difficulty to learning. Again, I emphasize that there is a “learning curve” and mishaps are inevitable, so this is a great price point to learn the basics before moving up to a more expensive machine.
$100 to $200
Another extremely competitive market segment, where claims tend to be exaggerated somewhat by sellers and manufacturers (wise consumers expect this, of course, in many areas of the economy). Many suggest that their copters with HD cameras are supposedly able to compete with the more expensive platforms. Be mindful of the limitations inherent in this price range, and adjust your expectations accordingly. If you notice that the camera is hard mounted to the frame of the drone without a gimbal, this means that the camera footage, regardless of camera resolution, will be quite shaky and not of “commercial” quality. This, however, does not mean that it won’t be fun and interesting to fly the drone and capture some footage.
This is an excellent price point for beginners who want to start with a better-performing aircraft than those under $100. These are generally going to fly well, have the swappable batteries, will be fairly easy to master, and will have a greater range. You should not expect GPS technology or superior flight characteristics in windy conditions, but you will own a fun and challenging craft that will allow you to build your flying experience wisely.
$200 to $800
The main attributes of aircrafts in this territory, including RTF (ready to fly) or DIY copters, introduces a new range of sensors and features when compared to lower priced models. Options such as GPS with return-home functions, FPV (first-person view) cameras, and longer radio control range are typical. FPV racers become accessible in this price range, such as Mach 25 FPV Racer ($430), or TBS Gemini- FPV Racer ($600). It's important to know that a high-performance camera gimbal will be difficult to come across without going over this budget.
The benefits of this price range will immerse you into the world of aviation, and provide a great stepping stone for those interested in eventually exploring the world of commercial unmanned aircraft aviation.
$800 to $1,400
This is the price range with some wonderful machines that have all the hot features (autonomous flight) and exciting innovations (remote controllers wirelessly connecting to your phone through an app) that allow you to capture video images you can be proud of. The drones fly very well and predictably, can handle a surprising amount of wind, and embody safety and navigation features commensurate with their high price. Although not quite classified as “commercial” or “professional” machines, the drones in this price range should properly be regarded as high-quality aircraft that will allow you to be creative and confident in your flying and your photography. The new gimbal systems are so remarkable in even extreme conditions, that you would swear the camera was on a rail or tripod. The flight times, as well as the flight and camera ranges are greatly increased, and the UAVs come equipped with higher-end cameras and gimbals. In this range, I suggest looking at 3DR Solo 1, DJI Phantom Advanced, DJI Phantom Pro, and Parrot Bebop and Parrot Bebop 2.
Be sure to check back here very soon for suggestions and pointers about actually flying a new drone.
It is important that you be aware of basic techniques of flying, rules, regulations, safety, maintenance and other concepts to ensure your full enjoyment of your aircraft.
I hope that this brief blog has been informative and helpful for you. Have fun researching drones on the internet and checking them out at retail stores. You will certainly be able to find an aircraft that will make the holiday a memorable and enjoyable adventure in aviation!
If you have any specific questions, feel free to join our community and contact us directly. As you may have guessed, I am always excited to talk about drones!
By Matt Ragan - UAV Pilot and Instructor, Birds Eye of Big Sky Founder