If you’re one of those new drone aficionados now interested in buying your own slice of hovering heaven, well, there’s no need to fret.
To help out, we’ve put together a quick list of pointers from David Newton, a UK-based photographer, videographer and drone user with the Sandisk Extreme Team. For you responsible types who value safety, don’t forget to check out our list of 9 Drone Do’s and Don’ts as well.
Now here’s a list of things to think about when buying a new drone.
- Purpose of buying the drone
As with any other item you buy, the first question you should ponder is the purpose of your purchase. The same is true when picking a drone.
“Do you want to have a hobby drone to fly around and have fun with or do you want something for filming or Photography drones” Newton said. “Depending on your choice, it leads down to a particular path.”
More thrill-seeking hobbyists could also go for something like a racing drone, which are typically very small, very fast and also very durable, which allows them to withstand more abuse.
For folks interested in shooting pictures or video, things to think about include the size of the gear you want to use and the advanced control options you would like to have.
This will determine the type and size of the drone as well as the number of rotors, which can range from the basic quadcopter to hexacopters and even octocopters. For the majority of folks, though, a quadcopter should fulfill their needs.
- Size matters
Once you’ve figured out your purpose in life as a drone user, you can start thinking about the big stuff. Or the little stuff. How big of a drone you’re going to need will be determined by a few factors, including the kind of flying experience you want and the kind of equipment you plan to use.
“As you go up in size, drones tend to be more stable and able to fly better in stronger winds,” Newton said. “Drones are small, aerial vehicles so they’re susceptible to wind and the bigger you go, the more wind you can fly in and the more equipment you can carry.”
On the small end of the scale, you’ve got drones such as the DJI Phantom, which can be paired with a selection of small cameras, and 3D Robotics Solo, which can accommodate a GoPro. One step up in size is the DJI Inspire line, which allows folks to use camera options such as the 4K-capable X3 or the even more powerful X5R or Raw cam.
For folks who want to strap some more serious gear, you can go big with drones such as the DJI Spreading Wings.
- Bells and whistles
Carrying prowess is good and all but it’s not the only feature you should think about when picking a drone. This is especially true if you plan to take video with your little flying wonder.
Many drone makers provide software for iOS and Android but not all drone software is created equal.
The 3D Robotics software, for example, offer “smart drone” options designed for shooting. These include an orbit function that lets your drone automatically fly around a target, follow an object such as a phone or even combine both.
“If you’re manually controlling a drone yourself, it can be difficult to do maneuvers like orbiting smoothly and repeat them,” Newton said. “To that as a pilot, it’s really quite complex.”
Battery life typically ranges between 10 minutes to 20 minutes so fast charging is another option worth thinking about. Combined with spare batteries, this should give you more operation time when you’re out and about. New and developing technologies such as hydrogen and high-stream fuel cells also hold promise.
Then again, there’s one key factor that limits everyone’s drone buying options.
- How much will it cost me?
For the most part, drone flying isn’t for penny pinchers. Having certain features and capabilities are certainly nice but you’re ultimately limited by your finances as well.
Yes, you’ve got budget options that retail under $100 such as the Swann Quadforce but for the most part, a drone with a solid selection of features such as the Phantom starts out around $500 to $700. A Robotic Solo, meanwhile, starts out just under $1,000 and will cost you extra for capturing media as you’ll need to buy a GoPro separately.
Then again, such high-end drones are more the exception than the rule.