Drones have almost appeared on the market and blown up to such an extent that there is virtually no way of knowing which one is best for you. There are so many drones available now that it can seem like a minefield trying to find the best one for you. Here at The Punder, we believe that knowledge is everything. That is why we have created this drone buying guide.
Drones are available in an extensive range of shapes, sizes, abilities, and also price. If the price is something that you are seriously bothered about, then take a look at our best budget drones article. However, make sure that you do so after you have read this article to see what sort of drone you want.
Table of Contents
Types Of Drones
First of all, in this drone buying guide, we are going to take a look at what kinds of drones that are available. There are cheap drones, hugely expensive drones, and everything in-between. Here are the main categories that we place drones into:
- Toy Drones
- Basic Camera Drones
- Amateur Camera Drones
- Advanced Camera Drones
- Racing and Stunt Drones
- Professional Use Drones
Although you may look at that list and think that there is already too much to choose from, I have bad news. Within those categories, there are still more breakdowns of type of drones that you can purchase. We will go into those in separate articles, but for now, let’s see if we can find the perfect type of drone for you.
Drones have, without doubt, come a long way in advancement in technology over the last ten years. However, they have also become more available to the general public. No longer are drones a thing of films, military, and intelligence. You can now buy them for your children for Christmas and birthdays.
Toy drones are what you think they are: Inexpensive, plastic drones with cheap parts. They are an excellent way to get your children, or you, into the idea of flying drones without spending a lot of money at all. Although you need to remember that they are toys, they will not be anywhere near as advanced as any of the other types of drones.
That fact will make them more challenging to fly, a lot less battery life, and no extras such as sensors and cameras. If you want to get into flying without spending a lot of money, a toy drone may be ok for you. But bear in mind that they are nowhere near as stable, nor do they have the flight time of a decent one. Do not buy one of these and then let them put you off from spending some more cash on one that you will enjoy using.
Basic Camera Drones
Basic camera drones are the gateway into the realities of drone flying. Moving away from the toy aspect, you begin to get a lot more stability, maneuverability, and ease of control. They are still not as advanced as many of the other, more expensive drones, but you will certainly start to get a feel for what it is like to fly.
Basic camera drones offer low-resolution cameras as standard, which, if you haven’t used a camera drone before, will still blow your mind. Being able to see what you could see if you were in the drone yourself for the first time is undoubtedly going to give you the bug. However, a lot of the most basic camera drones will only be able to take photographs and not video recording.
Although they all come with low-res cameras, they are certainly going to give you more of a feel for drone flying than the toy equivalent.
Amateur Camera Drones
Amateur camera drones are only slightly more expensive than the basic camera version, and you will certainly get more bang for your buck. If you do your research correctly, you can get some pretty high-end parts and accessories on an amateur camera drone. Some of them have a lot more power than you would expect, and some also feature other technologies such as moveable cameras and crash avoidance.
It is in this category that you can expect to see video recording as standard, although it may not be very high resolution. With drone photography and video recording becoming more popular than ever, it is within this bracket that you see a massive jump in brands competing for the top spot. It is the most common type of drone that is in use as it is right in the middle of cheap and expensive. Expect to pay a little bit more cash on them, but you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Advanced Camera Drones
Used by a lot of small companies that need visual access to hard to reach places, advanced camera drones is where the real magic begins. You will start to see an increase in weight with the developed models, which brings its own advantages and drawbacks. The main advantages of a heavier design is that they are a lot more stable, even in breezy conditions. However, the benefits of the increase in money is seen there, and not flight time.
Flight time will be extended more often than not, but only by a few minutes at the most. However, most of the increase in weight is because of the other benefits that you gain. Those other weighty benefits come in the form of better cameras up to 4K, crash protection systems, and return to home technology.
If you are looking for a business capable camera drone that is not going into the trickiest spots, and will not break the bank, this is the one for you.
Racing and Stunt Drones
Next on the drone buying guide, we are getting into a whole different world of drones. Although they may look similar, they have been build for something completely different. If you have owned a basic camera drone and want something more without any business requirements, racing drones are for you.
Drone racing has become more popular than ever over the last few years. So much so that it is set to take over other hobbies such as remote-controlled car and boat racing. Drone competing has had so much coverage that there is now a TV featured Drone Racing League. If you have not seen that site, click the link, and have a look after you finish this article. It will open in a new tab. The DRL is so big that they even have sponsors like Sky Sports, BMW, and the US Air Force.
Although official drone racing often uses custom-built drones, we have added them onto the drone buying guide because you can still buy some pretty great ones premade. There is a vast range of racing drones available, depending on your budget. However, be careful which you choose. A lot of companies will sell you a racing drone that is nothing more than a basic camera drone, without the camera.
That said, it is doubtful that you will be able to buy an “off the shelf” drone that is capable of reaching the 90mph that some highly modified DRL drones can.
Professional Use Drones
Professional use drones are amazing. However, the price tag usually reflects that. We have still added them into the drone buying guide because there may be some people out there willing to spend the money on them. When you watch older TV shows and see videos of high vantage point recording, you are more than likely looking at a video that used a helicopter. That video would have taken weeks of planning and a LOT of money.
Now, with the introduction of professional use drones, you can bet that in the newer TV shows, they are using a drone. They are the best of the best. You will often get around half an hour of recording and flight time, which may not seem like a lot when you are paying the price that they cost. However, when you see the results that you can achieve in almost any situation, you will forget that you only have 30 minutes.
Of course, if you want to get into film making, marketing, or any other professional niche that requires a drone, these are the best bet. They will, almost guaranteed, have all of the safety and assistance features that you will find on any drone.
Considerations For Buying A Drone
Now that you have been through the categories, what else do you have to consider? While each of the different groups of drones have their considerations, there are general issues with all of them. They include:
- Battery life
- Safety Features
- Specific Requirements
- Replacement Parts
I have listed the essential factors above. However, there is no real order that you need to look for these in, as they are all equally important. You may find the best battery life that you can get, but if you can not buy spares, or it will not do what you want it to, then what is the point? Likewise, you find the best camera drone available, but only 5 minutes flying time, it is also useless.
So, let’s have a look through what you can expect:
Batteries in drone manufacturing is a big balancing act. Everyone wants a drone that can last for hours. However, to do that, you need a large battery. Large batteries weigh a lot more than smaller ones, therefore, they require bigger motors to lift them, but they also weigh more. When you are lifting more substantial things with a battery, it will not last very long.
Most available drones are equipped with batteries and motors that will give you around ten to twenty minutes of flying time. If you look around, you may find some with a minute or two over thirty. Although, when you are looking at the toy drones, you may only get five minutes or less flight time. If you have anything other than a toy, you may be lucky and have an extra battery with it too. But even then, you have to return it to you so that you can replace the battery before continuing to fly.
Some of the more expensive and autonomous drones can get back to you themselves before they crash. That is not something that you are going to get in a cheaper hobby drone, though.
Be aware of your flight time, and perhaps set a timer for 2 or 3 minutes less so that you know when to bring it back.
Another critical feature that you have to think about while looking through the drone buying guide is the speed of the drone. There are drones available that can reach immense speeds of up to 60MPH without modification. Although that sounds very appealing, would you ride a motorbike without being able to ride a pushbike without stabilizers? I doubt it.
Some drones do let you limit the speed of them for training, and that maybe something that you should consider. There are drones available that will outperform a lot of other drones and still utilize the restrictions so that you can get accustomed to them first. If you are not confident or interested in higher speed flying, then you may get more features on one that is a bit slower.
The range of a drone is another consideration that you must think about. If you buy a toy drone, then you are likely to only get about 20 meters out of it. If you spend some more money, you may get 150 meters. If you want a long-range drone, you may get 1.2 miles. But, before you go rushing for a long-range drone, be aware that they will cost you more money. Ask yourself if you need to fly one that far.
Most new drones work on 2.4GHz or 5GHz radio frequencies, which is the same as your home wifi networks. That is part good and part bad. It is good because we know that the frequency works and transmitters and receivers are relatively cheap. However, it is bad because you may have a lot of interference due to the amount of radio waves on the same frequency.
It is not just how far a drone will fly that you have to think about here. You also need to know what is going to happen to the drone if you exceed the limit. That is all going to depend on the manufacturer. Cheap toys are likely to continue in the direction that they were going until they hit something or run out of power.
The majority of more advanced drones will have one of two features. Either they stop where they are at radio loss, or try to return to where they lost the signal. That is another critical decision as if you are flying it over a large body of water while you are on the land; you do not want it just to stop still if you have no way of getting closer to it.
Flying drones is a fun hobby, sort, or even job. However, it does come with its risks. Therefore, you need to ensure that you have the right safety features for where you intend to use it. There are different features that all depend on how you use them. They range from guards around the blades to parachutes that deploy when they fail completely. DJI have even started to incorporate no-fly zones into their software that disable the drone from flying over borders and airports.
Of course, safety is the priority when you are considering a drone, and you should take your time to decide what you need.
Of course, the specific requirements is one of the most significant aspects of this drone buying guide. You need to know what you want to do with the drone, and then buy an appropriately adequate drone. If you are a budding photographer, then you do not wish to purchase a racing or stunt drone. If you have little interest in photography, then perhaps a stunt drone is better. That all depends on you as an individual and your location.
Now we are really in the nooks of the drone buying guide. Something that you will often overlook is spare parts when you are buying something. If you buy a washing machine, you do not consider how much the belts cost, or if it comes with a spare. However, in the world of drones, it is certainly something that you need to research.
No matter how much we try to avoid breaking a rotor blade, there will be a time that one or more will break. A lot of drones come with a full set of rotors, but on the quadcopters, two blades spin clockwise, and two anti-clockwise. So if you crash the left side of your drone into your house on more than one occasion, you are going to be stuck with two useless blades. Worse still, if spare blades are not available, you are left with a useless drone.
The more prominent companies do sell spare parts for the drones, and they are pretty easy to get hold of when you need them. But some of the companies may not. Manufacturers such as DJI even number their parts so that you can look for or request a “DJI Phantom 3 battery – Part 12,” for example. I think that is a lovely touch, especially if you are looking for something that you do not know the name of, like a Flexible Gimbal Flat Cable (Part 85).
Therefore, do some research on the drone that you want, and the company that makes it to ensure you will be able to get spare parts if you ever need them. Which you probably will.
Now that you have read through our drone buying guide, I hope that you have a better idea of what sort of drone you are looking to buy. There are quite a few considerations in this article, but each of them is valid and required to make the most appropriate purchase for you. Do not just rush into buying a drone, and do not rush into flying it as fast and far as you can.
A couple of final points to note:
Please make sure that you check your local flying laws to ensure that you are permitted to fly in your area. Also, check your home insurance to see if they cover drones. More and more home insurance companies are excluding drones. Therefore, you may need to purchase specific drone insurance.