If you’re looking for information about the different types of drone and what the best drone is for your needs, this buyers guide will help you.
- The drone flyer’s guide
- What is a drone?
- What are drones used for?
- How to choose the right drone
People are often asking me what the best drones for sale are, whether it’s to buy one as a present for their child or for photographing landscapes from a perspective that was not possible before. I noticed most other guides out there don’t give that much reliable information so I created this blog as a way of sharing my knowledge. I’ll do my best to explain the pros and cons of different drones and give my own recommendations to make sure you can get the best drone for your needs.
A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), an aircraft without a pilot on board. The majority of recreational and commercial drones for sale now are four rotor drones. This is due to their simple design, the control they allow the pilot, and a decrease in price because of advancements in electric motors. The specific name for these type of drones is multi-rotor or quadcopter, but throughout the guide I will tend to just refer to them as drones.
Drones have finally become a gadget that everyone can enjoy. Nowadays I see people buying drones and flying them for fun, for photography, for filming, for racing or as a toy for their children. They are also starting to reach their potential in the commercial world. Amazon have been testing drone deliveries, real estate agents are using them for photography, and they are being trialed to assist in emergency medical aid and in rescue searches.
Want to get started with buying a drone but you’re wondering what the main differences are between them? I’ll explain some of the main factors to consider to help you make the right purchase.
One of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is how large you want your drone to be. Different sized drones have different strengths so you want one that matches your needs. Quadcopters are measured diagonally across the furthest distance (motor to motor) and are measured in millimeters. So a 350-class done will have a 350mm diagonal width. It’s worth noting that some drone classes are rounded to the nearest 50mm so don’t be surprised if you find the measurement is marginally different to expected.
The smallest drones are Mini Drones, Nano Drones and Micro Drones. These are all under 200mm and are usually in the 50-100mm range. Their small size means that they usually have to be thrown into the air and then flown. Most of these mini quadcopter models do not include a camera or have the power to carry one. There are a few that have cameras but these are of inferior quality and are not capable of capturing images from long distances. These small drones are cheaper than other drones and are usually bought as toys and for beginners. You can them fly indoors and outside, but be careful as they will not withstand strong winds.
These are sized between 250mm and 450mm. These are the the most popularly purchased drones and have a number of strengths whilst still being affordable. Many of these drones have a built in camera. At the smaller end, drones in the 250-class tend to be racing drones due to their low weight. Some of these are also able to carry a gopro but from my experience I find that if you’re looking to carry a gopro then you’re better choosing a 450-class because this will enable you to add a gimbal and the flight will be gentler and more stable against the wind. The 350-class is the middle ground, they tend to be slower that 250s but most have the power to lift a gopro without a gimbal.
The largest drones start around the 550-class and range up to the 900-class. These are good for carrying weight such as a heavier camera for filming and a DSLR lifting rig. Other larger drones are mainly in use for military purposes. The main downside of these drones is that they are much more expensive.
One of the main differences between drones is their camera capabilities. Some drones come ready to fly complete with a camera, some allow FPV (first person view) and others allow you to attach a GoPro with 360 degrees view.
FPV (First person view) drones
Some drones have FPV cameras built into their design. With these you are able to view a real time video feed of what the camera can see. To view the video feed you can either have an LCD monitor attached to the controller, you can wear an FPV headset, or link the drone to your smartphone or tablet via an app.
RTF Camera Drones
Many drones have a built in camera that is fully functioning when you purchase it. These drones do limit your camera choices, however, for most amateurs and semi-pro photographers these will still be fine. The output resolution ranges from a VGA to a high quality HD/4k. If you’re looking to record videos I recommend at least 720p.
Add-on Camera Drones
For professional film makers it’s usually better to have a drone that is compatible with the camera of your choice. Bear in mind that whatever quality your camera is, you will only get a really high quality image if you have a gimbal. A gimbal will ensure that the camera stays stable in windy conditions. This also lets you detach the camera and to use it for other things. Many drones without a camera will still include a gimbal, however, if you’re buying your own gimbal make sure it’s compatible with both your camera and your drone. These drones are often designed to be compatible for GoPro cameras and is definitely worth considering if you own a GoPro.
Make sure that you check the flight time of your drone. If you’re planning on filming a piece of footage for more than 10 minutes you will need to have a strong enough battery to ensure this is possible. It’s hard to predict an exact flight time as they will vary with the flying style, but you can maximize the time by flying slowly. Also consider whether your drone contains a removable battery that you can change between flights or if you will have to wait to charge the drone.
Non removable batteries
Most of the smaller and cheaper drones do not have removable batteries and you will need to charge the drone between each flight. Often these will have around 5-10 minutes flight time for around 20-30 minutes charging.
Larger drones generally have a removable battery. These batteries will be LiPo batteries which can store a large amount of power. Most quadcopters with removable batteries will fly for approximately 5-25 minutes with the best drones for sale reaching around 30 minutes (DJI phantom 4 offers a flight time of 28 minutes). If you don’t want long waits between short flights I recommend choosing a drone with a removable battery, that way you can have extra rechargeable batteries that you can change when one runs out. If you are doing this make sure you read the instructions of your drone. This is because some drones recommend a cool down period of a few minutes between flights to ensure that it doesn’t overheat.
It’s also worth buying a spare set of batteries for your controller. Most controllers take four AA batteries and can use them up quickly, especially if you’re using first person view.
Do you require a drone that can travel long distances? For consumer drones the maximum transmission distance is approximately 5km under ideal conditions, however most medium sized drones have approximately a 1km range. Small drones usually have a 50-300m range
For most people the range is not that important as drones aren’t frequently flown more than 1km or out of the pilot’s sight (the law states that drones must stay within operating line of sight). Also the battery life usually isn’t long enough to support longer distances.
It’s also worth considering the height your drone can travel. If you are flying your drone high in the sky make sure you stay within legal limits, in US anything above 400ft is not permitted.
At the low end, micro quads cost as little as $20, but you won’t get a drone with a camera unless you pay around $100+. As prices increase there will usually be a variety of different features such as higher speeds, increased range, better processing etc.
At the entry level, drones usually cost around $50-$200. Their small frame and basic technology can make them difficult to control outside but they are fun to fly. Some models include a camera but these won’t capture high quality images or video. These are great if you’re new to the hobby if you’re buying a drone as a birthday or Christmas present.
Ranging from around $250 – $1000 these drones have a larger body and are more stable. These drones usually either include a quality integrated camera or are capable of being equipped with a separate camera. Most of these have higher speeds and the best drones have special features such as return home, orbit and collision avoidance.
If you’re spending more than $1000 drones will often have more rotors such as the DJI Inspire 1 (one of the best drones for photography). These extra rotors add serious stability and are for the highest standard professional photography. Until recently you would have needed a helicopter to photograph the epic cinematic shots that these produce.
There are a number of laws you need to follow when flying your drone. Make sure you check all the legal requirements for your country. If you’re in the US and have a drone that weighs between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds you will need to register your drone before you can fly it. This costs just $5 and you can do this online. This will cover you for three years. After you’ve done this you will need to have your certificate of registration or a copy present when you’re flying your drone. You also are not allowed to fly a drone over people or private property or within 5 miles of an airport, helipad or restricted airspace. Make sure you check on the FAA website for a full list of rules and regulations.
It’s important that you maintain visual contact with your drone and that you can only fly a drone safely when weather conditions are relatively mild and windless. You won’t be able to properly control your drone in winds of 15mph or more. I also want to warn you that propellers can be dangerous! It’s worth having the propeller shields on, but even with these attached they can still cause bleeding if the drone hits you. Keep them away from pets at all times and definitely think about wearing eye protection, especially if you’re inexperienced.