What is the best drone for me?
Whether you’re trying to get the ultimate selfie or you want to race, the type of drone you buy will largely depend on what you want to do with it. There isn’t a one size fits all drone because most models are usually built for a specific purpose. If you are trying to get a great fly-away shot of your friends at the beach; a compact selfie-drone you can fly it with your iPhone or Android is probably top of mind. Conversely, if you are interested in using drone technology as a way to start or supplement a business; a larger more durable frame with flexibly of technology add-ons are probably going to be your requirements. Luckily there are lots of drone models and platforms available for you to choose from. So start your search by thinking a little more about exactly what you want to do with your drone. And for that matter, how often you plan on doing it?
Where are you taking your drone and what are you capturing? And for that matter, how frequently do you plan on doing this?
Get familiar with where you are going to fly.
Is it windy where you’ll be flying? Will there be people around you? The environment you are going to fly in will impact what drone you should get. Small drones, while great for portability, do not perform well in windy conditions and larger drones often require a hard surface to take-off and land. They are also not the most discrete drones when it comes to flying with an audience. You may end up getting crowded by onlookers with questions or be approached by an unhappy bystander who’s not a fan of drones.
If you are planning on flying at a park, check to see if it’s a Federal or State park. While State regulations on flying drones will vary, every U.S. Federal Park bans drone flights. You may also want to check up on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) website to keep up on the ever changing regulations that cover where you can fly. People that ignore drone laws risk getting handed fines and if the violation is egregious enough, jail time is a possibility (e.g., flying near or on airport grounds). Be sure to investigate the area you plan on flying ahead of time. As a good rule of thumb, if there any airplanes flying, dense populations, or high rise buildings in the area, drone flying is probably not allowed.
Learn how to fly without assistance (e.g., manual control)
Can you fly your drone without the app?This is such an overlooked and extremely important part of owning a drone. Drone technology is not flawless and situations will come up that require you to manually take over, fly the drone back to you, and land it safely. Knowing how to manually fly a drone is super important and is a legal requirement if you plan on doing commercial work as a Part 107 Commercial Pilot. While “uncontrolled” situations are infrequent they can and will occur. What happens if something goes wrong? Can you quickly land in an emergency? It’s best to not depend solely on the app to fly your drone. Plus, as a vlogger or photographer, it’s going to be the person behind the drone that’s going to get the shot. Not the drone.
Drone technology is not flawless so don’t depend on the drone to fly itself. What happens if something goes wrong?
Expensive does not mean better.
The most expensive drone with the best camera doesn’t mean all your selfies will be amazing or that you’ll never get a bad shot again. It’s what’s behind the drone that will drive results – you. Surf YouTube and you’ll see plenty of amazing aerial videos shot with the likes of a DJI Spark ($399). Will features like longer flight times, sense-and-avoid technology, and flight distance drive the cost northward? Yes, but not as much as you’d think. A lot of the advancements in drone flight technology are starting to become standard features and this means prices are dropping. The biggest cost of a drone now days is going to be based on the video and image sensors (e.g., 4k video, 20Megapixel image sizes). The higher resolution images and video, typically the higher the cost.
A lot of the advancements in drone flight technology are starting to become standard features and this means drone prices are dropping.
For drone racers and commercial pilots:
When it comes to hobby or commercial drones the cost is often driven by what types of customization you make. For the drone racing hobbyist, video streaming and signal latency & clarity are important. Signal latency is the amount of time between the instant a frame is captured and the instant that frame is displayed. Which is critical when you have to make split-second racing decisions with a drone going 60+mph. All of this being viewed through your FPV goggles. When it comes to commercial or business drones almost all bets are off in terms of what forces costs to go up. From a general consumer point-of-view, almost everything is expensive with commercial drones. From the frame of a DJI Agras T16, a KDE Heavy-Lift Electric motor, to the FLIR Duo® Pro R costs easily reach $12,000+ But as I stated, just because you spend a lot of money on a drone doesn’t mean it’ll perform any better than the person behind the controls.
Get excited and have fun.
Getting a drone is an exciting and enjoyable experience. Take time to think about what you want to do. Maybe write it all down in a list and let it sit overnight before you make any decisions. Being a little cost conscious can’t hurt either because your first drone will not likely not be your last. The more you get into them the more you’ll learn about what you really want to get out of a drone experience. And the more you get out of your drone experience the happier you’ll be knowing you took some time to think about picking the right one.