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Buying the Right Drone

Buying the Right Drone

Buying the Right Drone

Summary

The popularity of drones has skyrocketed in recent years. Drones are commonplace for hobby pilots and amateur racers, to survey crews and photographers. With drones ranging in size from pocket units to delivery-sized drones, it can be hard to choose. To help the first-time drone buyer navigate the world of drones, we will compare the cost, quality, and use to help buy a suitable drone. While there are several different body designs for drones, this article will focus on the quadcopter style. The quadcopter with its four rotors is the most coped design allowing drone shoppers to find a drone within their price point with similar controls regardless of model. 

Overall
4.5

Pros

  • Powerful tool for a very good price
  • Video and photo are richly
  • DJI Fly has good usability
  • Can be flown without phone/app
  • Manual shutter speed / ISO available
  • Four stylish Quickshots

Cons

  • 2.7K resolution is lower than many phones
  • No collision sensors
  • Lacks pilot-assist follow functions
  • Photos are JPEG only; no Raw.
  • Struggles in high winds
  • Range could be better

The popularity of drones has skyrocketed in recent years. Drones are commonplace for hobby pilots and amateur racers, to survey crews and photographers. With drones ranging in size from pocket units to delivery-sized drones, it can be hard to choose. To help the first-time drone buyer navigate the world of drones, we will compare the cost, quality, and use to help buy a suitable drone. While there are several different body designs for drones, this article will focus on the quadcopter style. The quadcopter with its four rotors is the most coped design allowing drone shoppers to find a drone within their price point with similar controls regardless of model.

 

A large section of the drone market is dominated by DJI, a company that makes a wide variety of quadcopter drones. DJI’s prices range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. They aren’t the only company out there, but they are an easy company to reference to highlight the features available. 

Purpose

Most people have a reason they want a drone. Yes, it’s perfectly fine to want a drone so you can have a drone too. However, most drone buyers know what they want to do with a drone. Business owners like survey crews, roofers, and even insurance adjusters use drones to inspect damage or job sights without hiking all over the property. Photographers use drones to get wide or high-altitude shots without disturbing wildlife or climbing on a ladder. Wedding and sports photographers can capture dynamic shots without sprinting alongside the action. Drones don’t have to be used to make money and save your feet; hobby pilots enjoy putting their drones through obstacle courses and racing each other to put their skills to the test. In some cases, drone pilots have combined multiple hobbies like fishing and used their drones to drop baits much farther than they could cast them.  

Size

Drones come In sizes from portable pocket units to multi-pound units requiring a large landing area to set down. The larger the drone, the more area it will need to land. Large drones require an open area to land, whereas midsize units weighing less than two pounds can be caught and launched from your hand. For travelers, a smaller unit drone like the DJI Air 2S down to fit in a small carrying case. The folding drones allow for better space management at home and reduce the risk of damage while traveling.

Cost

For most buyers, the cost is a major factor. Drones range from cheap novelty drones for $50 to multi-thousand dollar units. The general rule of thumb is to skip the cheap internet purchases when buying a drone. These inexpensive drones with oddball names are fragile, low power, and devoid of many features that higher-end drones have. That being said, if you want to test the waters for yourself or a child with an inexpensive drone, a $40 drone crashing into the garage door will hurt the wallet less than a $400 one. 

Battery Life/ Flight Time

The longer the battery life, the longer the flight time. Running a drone at high speed will diminish the battery life faster than a drone operated at a leisurely pace. Racing drones that can top out at 60 miles per hour have a flight time of about ten minutes max. Luckily drone races are not endurance events. Most midsized drones have a battery life of between thirty and forty minutes. This battery life is usually enough for an area to be surveyed, video to be recorded, or an object to be found. Some larger drones have flight times nearing one hour. Long flight times can be beneficial for those surveying large areas or attempting to view and photograph items that are a distance away. Wildlife photographers and wildfire survey crews can use long flight times as they keep a distance from the blaze or critter. 

Camera Quality

Camera quality is critical when flying a drone outside of eye view or using it as your eyes. For the average pilot looking to snap some pictures now and again, the DJI Mini 3 Pro Is a small drone capable of capturing 4k video. Hobby drones like the mini 3 run about $300 and fit the role of a hobby drone well. A higher-end unit with adjustable zoom, a pivoting camera, and longer flight time will be needed for professional video and camera work. The DJI Mavic 3 sports twice the flight time and a camera capable of anything a high-end DSLR is. While costing more than $3000, the camera and onboard storage are worth the cost for a professional photographer that may already be coming to a shoot with a host of cameras and a second cameraman.  

Range

Understanding the maximum range is crucial to operate a drone. Toy drones typically have a range of 1-300 feet before the signal is lost, and well, we know what can happen then. Midrange drones have a range between a quarter mile and two miles. Larger high-end drones can have a max range of up to seven miles. As we mentioned earlier, the average hobby pilot won’t need the extreme range of the high-end drones for playing around in a local setting, but losing connection at 100 feet is a tremendous drag. Photographers and folks who want to look at their house from a bird’s eye view would do well with a drone with a maximum range of at least half a mile. Drones used for scouting campsites, looking at property lines, or surveying damage from a natural disaster prioritize the distance from the controller. Monitoring an active wildfire with an unmanned drone has made them an asset in many forest fire fighting units across the globe.  

Controls

Drone controllers can be placed into two separate categories. Phone Apps and controllers. Phone apps are common for toy drones. Your touch screen works to control the speed, elevation, and camera on the small drone. A camera app is a fun choice to enjoy minimal equipment and have instant access to photos. Phones do have their shortcomings, and they are not as reliable or sensitive as a stand-alone controller. 

Controllers for drones have an array of buttons, two joysticks to control pitch, throttle, and roll, and a display screen. Stand-alone controllers give pilots a bigger screen to see what the drone sees and, depending on the unit, will allow the pilot to zoom in on the picture like a regular camera. Displays will also give the user all of the diagnostic data like speed, range, and battery life. On racing drones like the DJI FPV Drone, the display is in the form of a pair of goggles. Having the goggles won’t allow the pilot to do anything but operate the drone. For racing or highly sensitive work like electric line work, that’s just fine.   

Extra Features 

Many higher-end drones have an object avoidance system like new cars. Being able to have the drone dodge tree branches, houses, and telephone wires is ideal, especially when the units can cost several thousand dollars. 

Return To Base 

When a drone runs low on battery, some units have a safety feature called “return to base”, the drone automatically returns to the controller to avoid crashing into the ocean or field when t’s power runs out. Using common sense about wind and speed can help avoid this need anyway. If it takes half a battery to get to a position, it’s time for the drone to head back. Otherwise, you may have a search and rescue on your hands. 

Summary

Drones are awesome. Having a drone allows a pilot to enjoy the landscapes from a birds-eye view, race around obstacles at highway speeds, or give their business an edge over the competition. Because of the vast array of drone uses, the market has countless models for pilots to choose from. Understanding your wants and needs will allow you to choose the best drone for you. 

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