Drones are one of the most popular consumer purchases in 2018 and there are many varieties, sizes and models that can please the family, casual user and professional pilot alike. We look at the key points you should consider when it comes to seeking out the best drone deals this holiday season.
What is a Drone?
A drone is a multi-rotor, remote-control (RC) flying device. Professional level drones features cameras that can provide a live first-person viewing (FPV) experience which can be exhilarating but obviously comes with some restrictions. There are also smaller, quicker models designed for fast flying and aerobatics which can be exhilarating to watch and fly!
What Drone should I buy?
Ranging from sub $30 to $2000+, the best drone might not be the most expensive or packed with features. It all depends on your level of experience and what you plan to use your drone for.
Toy drones are light, small and designed to be able to fly safely indoors. Their design and technology makes them difficult to control accurately outside especially in wind. Models that come with cameras will capture lower quality images and video but they are a great way to introduce and engage with the hobby and learn the basics of drone flying without breaking the bank.
Photography drones are bigger, heavier and more expensive. They are specifically designed for aerial photography and outdoor flight. Factors to consider when buying this model of drone include the camera quality including video resolution and megapixels. It’s also important to consider if the drone has a fixed camera position or a gimbal. Some more advanced models have automated flight modes and obstacle avoidance to aid navigation. Others such as the DJI Phantom 4 and DJI Mavic Pro support 4K video and have additional image stabilization.
The Yuneec Breeze is a smaller, more affordable option for someone looking to get their first photography drone. High end drones are more expensive and aimed at professional photographers, film makers and journalists who want to add the aerial element to their arsenal. Some of these drones require two people to operate them correctly – a pilot and a camera operator but they will produce the highest quality images.
Racing drones are small quadcopters specifically designed for fast forward flight and are meant to be raced! They are quick, agile and durable with interchangeable parts that can affect acceleration, speed and control of the drone. Pilots use high performance controllers to adjust the amount of power going to the motors to allow them to speed up or slow down quickly. They can also carry cameras to stream back footage to the user or the audience.
With any popular consumer device there are a range of add-ons and accessories one can buy to enhance the experience and add value to your purchase. The most important thing to consider is the lift capacity of your drone so you know how heavy a payload it can comfortably carry.
Drones designed to support an external camera are able to carry approx. half a pound more than this additional weight and any additional weight will place extra stress on the motors and may affect flight time and in air stability.
Buying a specialized drone bag or case for your craft is a sensible precaution rather than putting it in your regular bag or backpack. They are padded, with foam interior cut outs to snugly fit and protect the drone and accessories on longer journeys.
Depending on the model the average drone battery will provide between five and 25 minutes of flight time on a single charge and can take more than an hour to recharge. Fresh batteries can be carried and quickly replaced to ensure continuity so you should always have a spare in your equipment locker.
The remote controller is another critical part of the flight deck as it controls the drone’s flight controller which turns the physical commands issued via joystick to motion. Controllers can have every layout from a simple dual joystick arrangement to a more complex arrangement to control cameras too. They can sometimes be tethered via Bluetooth with aftermarket remotes so you can find the ideal remote that you are comfortable with not just the one that comes with it. Some drones are also equipped with a wifi hotspot that allows them to be controlled via smartphone or tablet and special sunshades can be purchased for the devices if they are being used in this manner.
Depending on the size and battery the range of the drone can be a few hundred feet to over a mile away and boosters can be attached to increase these ranges accordingly, also a GPS can be fitted to the drone to lock onto a position or allow it to be traced and tracked when out of sight.
Flying is hazardous and no matter your skill level as a pilot, accidents and mishaps happen. Drones are designed to withstand crashes but are not impregnable so their most easily breakable parts such as propellers and external casings are easy to repair and cheap to replace. Many come with spare propellers but additional ones are always a wise investment. Remember that half the drone’s propellers spin clockwise and the others in the opposite direction to maintain stability so keep spares of each kind handy. If you purchase a more expensive drone then you might also want to keep spares of the higher grade equipment that you cannot do without such as landing gear, propeller guards and LED bands.
Most Drones come with software and firmware already loaded but they should be updated to the latest version as soon as possible via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Some drones even come with their own app which handles the uploading and downloading process automatically.
Can I learn more about flying drones?
The Academy of Model Aeronautics or the AMA can help you find drone and remote control flying clubs in your area. Meeting up with and connecting with other drone enthusiasts is a great way about finding out where to fly and pick up proper flying techniques and advanced tips and tricks. They will meet regularly to discuss, fly or even race drones.
The Federal Aviation Authority also has rules regarding the flight of drones that must be adhered to. You can find them here. There may also be some additional local or state requirements on drone flying in your area. Check them out too before you take off. Happy flying!