Be warned: if you’re planning on getting your first drone, spend some time doing the proper research. The range of options these days can be harrowing and your final choice should hinge on several factors including planned use cases, desired flying time, skill level required for operations, and more.
Fortunately, there are drones for almost every occasion these days. The following are 10 tips that can serve as guidelines for choosing your first drone.
10. Start your drone pilot training without relying on GPS assistance.
Many drone models these days come with GPS features that enable the UAV to return home automatically and fly unassisted. However, GPS has its limitations in the presence of blocking objects (e.g., mountains, canyons, trees), so it’s important to develop your manual piloting skills before relying on GPS.
9. Join a drone community to fast-track your pilot training.
Whether you plan on flying alone or in the company of other pilots, getting off to a good start with the help of other experienced drone enthusiasts is the way to go. Here are some prominent online drone communities for doing just that:
8. Invest in a good controller and battery charger.
These are the two components of your drone setup that get outdated the slowest, so feel free to splurge a little bit on them. Controllers and battery chargers can last for years and usually outlive most other drone parts.
7. Determine what type of drone activity you plan on engaging in.
Are you an aspiring drone racer or aerial photographer? Maybe you’re looking for the best first-person view (FPV) experience. Different classes of drone exist for each activity, so figure out what your intended use cases are first.
6. Want a drone that’s easier to fly? Prepare to spend more.
Typically, most drones priced above $500 are a breeze to fly because of advanced features like in-built sensors, GPS, and other sophisticated components that may improve stability and/or control.
5. Figure out how much you want to spend on your drone.
Drones can cost as little as $20 or as much as $50,000. If you’re considering investing in a more expensive class of drone, it might make sense to pick up a second-hand unit first that you won’t mind crashing a few times.
4. Select a drone that suits your preferred length of flying time.
Drone flight times vary—some fly for as little as 15 minutes while others can stay airborne for as long as an hour.
3. Select your drone based on where you want to fly.
If you reside in a high-density urban area where space is at a premium, smaller drones are clearly more appropriate for your setting.
2. Check your local laws before plopping down the cash.
Your country or municipality may forbid operating a drone within its confines. Check any local and federal legislation regarding legal drone operations before handing over your hard-earned cash.
1. Buy the right type of drone—know the acronyms.
Drone shops and online stores will use the following acronyms frequently—they’re a key part of drone lingo:
- RTF stands for ready-to-fly. These don’t require any assembly or setup, but you’ll need to perform the basics like charging the battery, installing the propellers, or binding the controller to the quadcopter.
- BNF stands for bind-And-fly. A BNF quadcopter usually comes completely assembled with everything included except the controller—so you’ll need to source one yourself. Remember to make sure that your controller will work with your drone before buying it, as sharing the same frequency doesn’t guarantee interoperability these days.
- ARF stands for almost-ready-to-fly and usually consist of DIY quadcopter kits. They usually don’t come with a transmitter or receiver and may require partial assembly. ARF kits may also leave out components like motors, ESCs, or even flight controllers and batteries. Included components may vary depending on the vendor or shop, so be sure to read the fine print.
Not all drone pilots are created equal—and neither are drones. The above guidelines can help greatly in identifying the right drone for your needs, so keep them in mind when browsing the online catalog of your favorite drone retailer.