Best Drones Reviewed in 2017 – The Ultimate Drone Buying Guide
Welcome to the ultimate Drone buying guide. In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about drones and help find the perfect match for you. In the consumer market, drones are also called quadcopters or if you want to use a more technical term, UAVs which stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
Let’s be real, who wouldn’t want to own a flying machine which you can control? Drones are not only extremely fun to pilot, but can also be very useful for aerial photography and videography.
Whether you just want to play James Bond with the latest state-of-the-art technology or you want to create professional and commercial footage, we’ll have something for you!
We’ve decided to make a list of the 10 Best drones available for purchase today. Each drone will be explained and reviewed in detail, including its purpose, features, specifications and much more!
Note that this list includes all types and classes of drones. You’ll see everything from affordable quadcopters for beginners who want to have fun and train their piloting skills, to mid-range general-purpose drones, to high-end, professional-grade UAVs with Ultra High Definition cameras. As we already stated, there’s something for everyone, so dig in!
Our top 4 picks
DJI Phantom 3 Advanced
When people are looking for a safe buy they often turn to big names in the industry. DJI is one of those names. Offering a wide range of high quality multirotors, you can’t go wrong when choosing this company.
DJI’s Phantom line consists of five different models, which are designed for different purposes. We have DJI Phantom 4K, Professional, Advanced, Standard and Phantom 4. In this article, we choose to focus on Phantom 3 Advanced as it is a good choice for both enthusiast and commercial users. You might wonder why we choose Phantom 3 Advanced over the newer Phantom 4. Well, the reason is simple. While the Phantom 4 is more versatile, the Advanced model is more perfected and comes at a significantly cheaper price tag.
The Phantom 3 line doesn’t come with a mind-blowing design, but it does have a decent build quality. It is able to record 2.7K video as well as 12 megapixel (MP) still photos. First, let’s talk about resolution. There is no 4K video, is this a big downside? Well, if you really need 4K, there is the Phantom 4K, but unless you have a concrete reason for this resolution, our advice is not to worry about it too much. I myself have used high quality drones which were able to record 4K – but I rarely had use for it. Most people, including me, don’t even have monitors or TVs which can make use of resolution that high. Additionally, 4K videos are ultra large in file size and heavily resource-hungry for post-processing. Still, it’s nice to have a more than 1080p Full HD, that’s why I find the 2.7K to be the golden middle of video recording resolution.
When shooting stills, you will get nicely detailed photos of pretty good quality. Sharp, colorful images are guaranteed with this camera. White balance is reasonably accurate, with a miss here and there which can be quite obvious in aerial photography.
If you choose the Phantom 3 Advanced, you will also get about 23 minutes of consistent flight capability while recording. The 4480 mAh battery is replacable, so you can get a spare one for extra flight time. This flight time may not sound like much, but take into consideration that you’re remotely flying a robot while recording video and taking photos. You will find other drones out there which can record for longer periods of time but might miss out on the impressive 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of downlink range. Speaking of downlink, you will get 720p HD real time video transmission to your smartphone/tablet.
Other key features include intelligent flight autopilot (return home, waypoint, follow me and other), 3-axis stabilization, a capable mobile app with interesting features such as automatic take off, visual and ultrasonic sensors for the positioning system.
The Phantom 3 Advanced is a serious candidate for the best-buy quadrocopter. If you don’t need 4K and in need of a very affordable but solid drone, DJI Phantom 3 Advanced could be the best choice for you!
Parrot BeBop 2
The Parrot BeBop 2, like its successor, aims for beginner pilots looking to buy their first drone. It features a light, compact body which could even pass as a toy. Build quality is nothing special but that is to be expected at this price range. It looks as if its been designed with safety in mind first, which makes sense for a beginner-level drone. Even though it looks very similar to the original, the folks from Parrot said they have reengineered the body and made it much more sturdy.
The biggest upgrade from its predecessor is the battery life, which has been almost doubled. It is capable of up to 23 minutes of flight thanks to it’s 2700 mAh battery. This very impressive for an entry-level quadcopter.
The BeBop 2 is primarily controlled by touch-screen on your smartphone/tablet. This is a rather fun and practical way to control a drone and the only complaint we have is a lack of sensitivity with the touch controls, though this is not a very significant problem. Depending on the control device and environmental conditions, the BipBop 2 can be controlled from up to 300 meters.
For extra money, you can also get a dedicated remote controlled called “Skycontroller”. With this, range is significantly increased and it provides more precise, physical joystick controls. This controller is rather large but still comfortable to use. However, getting the Skycontroller also contradicts BeBop 2’s main selling point – simplicity of use and mobility.
Another interesting characteristic is the lens which features fish-eye style field of view. This means you will get ultra-wide videos and images out of its camera. Specifically, we are talking about 170 degree field of view which is quite nice. While we’re talking about the sensor, it is also important to point out the BeBop 2 records very beautiful 1080p Full HD video. You can expect crisp and colorful videos, although having a wide angle lens means the camera will be more prone to lens flare. While many cameras feature physical image stabilization, Parrot’s BeBop 2 features software image stabilization, which does an excellent job of stabilizing the video, giving you very smooth video recording experience. Still images look clean and sharp with good noise handling.
The Parrot BeBop 2 has its share of issues, such as some instability with the Wi-Fi connection. It is far from perfect and is definitely not a high class drone. However, it comes with a cheap price tag and is extremely simple to use, which is both great for beginners.
Read our full review of the BeBop 2.
DJI Phantom Inspire 1
Let’s say you are an intermediate pilot who wants to do some professional aerial photography and videography, than this is definitely a drone which you should consider. That is not to say DJI Phantom Inspire 1 isn’t also good for long time professionals or just drone enthusiasts who are willing to invest serious money for a high quality quadcopter.
Phantom Inspire 1 is designed to look mean and futuristic, but also compact and easy for transport. The body is largely modular, meaning it’s parts are detachable which is great for mobility. Landing gear is made out of carbon fiber making the body highly rugged and impact-resistive while not gaining too much weight. The camera itself is also detachable which is a very welcoming feature because you will be able to switch and upgrade it in the future.
DJI is known for excellent 3-axis gimbal technology and Phantom Inspire 1 is no exception. We are absolutely amazed for its performance. Even with strong winds and fast rotation, the video remains completely stable, as if you’re operating a flying tripod. It is also important to point out the gimbal enables you to rotate the camera for a full 360 degrees and tilt it vertically for 125 degrees. This kind of versatility is unmatched in the drone industry.
This UAV is smart, and you can already see this just by looking at how its landing gear behaves. As soon as you take off and gain some minimal height, the landing gear will automatically retract. This goes hand in hand with the 360° gimbal because you will be able to record all sides without any part of the drone being visible in the shot. Thanks to the Visual Positioning system, using its camera and sonar, this drone is able to tell when you’re flying or hovering in low height over ground or some high object. During our test flight, we’ve flown it at a minimum distance over a roof, at which point the landing gear automatically deployed. These sensors are also used and work excellent for indoor flying.
The best part of our Phantom Inspire 1 flying experience has been controlling it. We have never seen such organic and precise controls. It just feels very natural to fly and control this drone. Of course, you are able to attach your smartphone to the controller and watch a live feed in HD.
We have already mentioned this quadcopter is smart. If your battery gets too low, or the drone gets out of range or if you simply call it, it will automatically return to you using its GPS guidance system. It also automatically hover in place, balance itself for stability during sudden movements either caused by the controller, wind or some other factor. It is also programmed to lift off or to land by itself. All in all, navigating and controlling this drone has been a very easy, smooth and enjoyable experience.
Finally, let’s talk about the camera. With the DJI Phantom Inspire 1, you will get excellent recording performance. The camera features 4K video recording in 24, 25 or 30 fps. If you want more frames, you can opt for the 1080p Full HD recording at 60fps. The video is compressed at 60 Mbps which is very high. Video quality is excellent, super detailed and color accuracy does not disappoint. Thanks to the f2.4 aperture, low light is also very satisfying.
Still images are captured at 12 megapixels (MP), quality of which can be compared to a high-end compact camera. You will be happy to know photos are captured not only in JPG format but also in RAW. This is very important for professional photography as it enables users to do serious post-processing.
One area where this UAV could use improvement, even though we wouldn’t call it a downside, is the flight time. You will be able to get around 15 minutes of flight time while recording. This is not bad, but for a high end drone like this, we would expect more. The only real downside of the DJI Phantom Inspire 1 is its price. We think its too much, even for a high end drone like this. Sure, you get what you paid for, and believe me, you will get a lot of out this camera. So if the price is not an issue for you, and you’re looking for a drone of this type and class, we say go for it.
Blade Chroma 4K
Blade Chroma 4K is solid mid-range drone with some interesting and unique features. Just like the name says, it offers 4K video recording. 4K is today used mostly for marketing purposes, but that’s not to say it’s a gimmick of any sort. Any camera that can record 4K is most likely a high end recording device which will have other advanced features. It’s just that most people won’t actually have much use of this resolution, it’s a cool feature but not really necessary for most people. Unless you have a 4K TV or plan on playing your video on some other huge screen, you probably don’t need it. Still, Blade Chrome has 4K which is certainly a plus. But how does it cope against rival drones with other features? Let’s see.
Every high end drone manufacturer tries to separate it’s product with one more ore more unique features. Sometimes these are ground-breaking abilities and other times it’s nothing more than a gimmick. We would definitely place Blade Chroma 4K in the former position. This quadcopter can be very smart – if you switch to “Smart” mode. Other modes include Follow me, Tracking, Return home and Adjustable boundaries.
Smart mode – intended for beginners, auto-pilot in maximum.
Follow me – The drone will follow your movement wherever you go. This is a very useful feature and it works fairly well. It’s not completely hands-free though, as you still have to watch for altitude and obstacles.
Tracking – Similarly to Follow me mode, Tracking puts your drone on auto-pilot and it follows you around, with the addition of you (the transmitter in your hands) being to focus point, meaning the camera will adjust it’s viewing angle so you are always in the shot.
Return home – this is self-explanatory. You either command it or the battery is low and the drone automatically returns “home”.
Adjustable boundaries – Another smart and interesting feature. This allows you to pre-program the drone to stay within specific altitude and distance.
Blade Chroma 4K is able to keep flying for up to 30 minutes in ideal conditions. We’ve measured total flight time of 25 minutes. If you choose so, you may place an extra battery and double the battery life.
The remote controller comes with an integrated LCD screen which runs on Android. There are extensive options and settings to choose from using this screen.
Video and audio quality is reasonably good. You will get generally accurate colors but we’ve noticed a bit too much over-sharpening and a lack of contrast. Fortunately there is also an otpion to use a flat color profile and Raw for photos, which is great for post-processing.
The Blade Chroma 4K is a great choice for beginners as well as experienced drone pilots. It offers a range of smart modes which would be useful for beginners as well as extensive calibration and detailed settings of everything from flight to camera, which is great for professionals. Our only complaint would be it’s price, if it was somewhat lower, we would recommend as best-buy. This way, although attractive, it will struggle for sale among a sea of other quadcopters in competition.
3D Robotics Solo
3DR (3D Robotics) Solo is a mixed bag of easy-to-use features and steep learning curves. By looking at its design, one would think this is the most simple and straightforward quadcopter out there. Indeed, the design is minimalistic and sleek. And it does come a with a very simple and direct set of instructions on how to power and fly it. So what’s the trouble? The first thing you should know, 3DR Solo does not come with an integrated camera, what it does have is a GoPro-ready mount. You can buy the 3DR Solo in package with a GoPro camera of your choosing, along with a gimbal.
The GoPro camera and the gimbal, which are necessary in order to fully utilize this drone, both cost additional funds. Even if you buy the whole package, the camera will still ship separately, meaning you have to mount it yourself. This is not difficult to do but it is still a step away from a good out-of-the-box experience.
Having this modular setup has its advantages. The obvious one being the GoPro camera. If you already own a GoPro, you are in luck and can save a big chunk of money. Even if you don’t have a GoPro, there is a good chance you will need one, or want one, regardless of the drone. So, you are not only buying a camera for your drone – you’re buying a separate action camera which can be used in various scenarios with or without the 3DR Solo. Finally, GoPro cameras are known to be the best in the market of action cameras. They are tried and tested for quality and performance, so at the very least you know you’re getting a good camera.
3D Robotics Solo comes with an excellent remote controller. Joysticks are very responsive and using them for flight feels completely natural. There is an integrated LCD screen which does not show a live feed from the camera but does provide other important flight information, things like altitude, speed, GPS, battery status, etc. For a live feed you can attach your Android or iOS smartphone/tablet and watch where you fly in real time. A nice touch to the software is the fact its an open source app, which enable you and the modding community to change and modify the drone in various ways.
Other noteworthy features include different smart flying modes, including the ability for automatic lift off as well as landing and a pause button to stop and hover the drone in any moment. You can also plot an A to B waypoint and let the drone auto-pilot itself from start to finish.
With a solid flight time of 20 – 25 minutes and a range of up to 8 kilometers (5 miles), the quadcopter itself is well worth the money. Because it is expandable with different gimbals and cameras, as well as other equipment, Solo is quite versatile. Add to that the open source software and modding possibilities, it becomes clear the 3DR Solo is a very attractive choice for heavy enthusiasts and professionals who are willing to put in some extra money and effort into their flying machine.
Yuneec Q500 Typhoon 4K
Yuneec Q500 Typhoon presents yet another opportunity to get a high end quadcopter at a more affordable price. It was released last year so we already have a significant price drop, while the specs still remain good enough to satisfy everyone from amateurs to professionals. The body is made out of high quality materials, feels sturdy and durable, including the legs.
To get over the main features, we have 4K video recording at 30 frames per second (fps) and still images at 16 megapixels (MP). If that is not enough, we also have the 3-axis Gimbal stabilization which adds to the value even further. The Gimbal ensures stability during recording, providing a smooth experience. Add to that lens which have a wide field of view of 115 degrees, without barrel distortion (no fish-eye effect).
The Q500 Typhoon is not only rich in specs but also smart. Ideal for beginners, there two smart modes, “Follow Me” and “Watch Me”. We’ve already seen both of these modes on the Blade Chroma 4K, but other then that, there aren’t many quadcopters with these features. Follow Me mode puts the drone into tracking mode – it follows you wherever you go. Watch Me mode not only programs the drone to follow your movement, but also makes sure you always stay in its field of view – where it literally watches your every step. Quite useful for beginners and also kind of creepy.
Where most mid to high drones require an external device, a smartphone or a tablet in order to be able to watch a live feed from your UAV camera and also to tinker with drone and camera settings, the Yuneec Q500 Typhoon provides these features out-of-the-box. This is so thanks to the 5.5 inch touch-screen which arrives with its controller. We are talking about a high quality screen which is sharp and in color. You can use the touch screen to adjust settings for everything from camera to drone flight controls. Of course, you can also watch your quadcopter fly in HD.
The controller itself features a very responsive joystick. Flying using this joystick feels very natural and beginner-friendly. Perfect for amateurs who want to hop in start creating professional grade footage from the get go.
Flight time ranges from 20 to 25 minutes depending on flying conditions, weather or not you are using one of the smart modes and so on. Luckily, Q500 Typhoon comes with an extra battery slot where you can insert another 5400 mAh battery.
Video and audio quality is superb. The folks at Yuneec have spent a lot of time perfecting things like white balance in order to provide nature looking video out-of-the-box. You will be able to record video in 4K at 30 frames per second (fps), as well as 1080p FullHD video at a whooping 120fps for really cool slow motion videos. Still photos that come out of this camera look sharp and beautiful.
To conclude, we would like to say the Yuneec’s Q500 Typhoon is the perfect choice for beginners and amateurs looking to up their game in aerial photography and videography. This UAV is very user-friendly and provides absolutely everything you need out-of-the-box. When it came out last year, we complain about the price. But that’s not the issue anymore since the price has dropped over time. The high grade performance, versatility, video and photo quality make this drone suitable for professionals as well.
Xiro Xplorer G
Xiro Xplorer G is a beautifully designed Ready To Fly (RTF) drone excellent for flight training and sport events. It does not come with an integrated camera but instead offers a GoPro Gimble setup. If you already own a GoPro this would be a perfect match, otherwise if you want to do aerial videography and photography you will have to buy a GoPro action camera separately.
The body is small and solid, and the gimble is detachable, making this drone a great choice for travel and trips. It is cleverly designed so taking the gimble on and off is simple as it gets. If you do mount a camera on this quadcopter, the 3-axis gimble will make sure you record shake-free, smooth video all the way.
The remote controller is comfortable to use, featuring two small joysticks for simple and straightforward control of the drone. Above the joysticks you will find a vertical switch which is used to choose between three different flight level modes. Level 1 is safest and slowest mode, moving through Level 2 .and up to Level 3, gradually increases maximum horizontal and vertical speed as well as maximum range.
Xplorer Xiro G quadcopter also offers several smart flight modes. These include automatic lift off/landing, Intelligent Orientation Control (IOC), Return home, Follow me, Follow snap and Waypoint navigation.
IOC is used as last resort measure in case Xiro gets too far for you to see where it is facing and you are unable control it properly. You turn on IOC if you have full GPS lock at which point the drone will flight towards you whichever direction you push on the controller.
Return home instructs the drone to immediately return to your position and land.
Follow me mode requires you to set the drone to Level 3 flight after which Xiro will follow you wherever you go, all while keeping you in focus.
Follow me snap is a truly unique and a rare feature even among more expensive drones. Using optical tracking, the quadcopter will follow and record any moving target of your choosing. It works fairly well.
Waypoint navigation means you can plot predefined course of up to 13 waypoints for Xiro to follow. Very useful in some situations.
The iOS/Android app which comes with the Xplorer Xiro G is fluid and very responsive. You have extensive settings to choose from and the drone live feed has only slight delay via WiFi.
Overall, Xiro G is an impressive RTF UAV with a lot of smart features. It is a great buy at its current price with only downside being the lack of out-of-the-box camera. It can be used by both amateurs and professionals.
Blade 180 QX HD
Blade 180 QX HD is a good Ready-To-Fly (RTF) quadcopter for beginners who want something more than a basic flying drone. Its most notable feature is the High Definition (HD) capable camera, which comes integrated in the drone. This is probably the most affordable camera quadcopter with decent performance stats.
Another important feature to mention is Blade’s famous SAFE technology. SAFE stands for Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope, featuring 3-axis gyro and an accelerometer. This means the drone is able to self-level itself in addition to altitude stabilization Blade used with the AS3X. The result is a smooth flying experience.
Image and video quality is average at best. This may not sound great but for this price, we can’t really complain. We are happy there’s even a HD camera in there at all. Add to that the 3-axis stabilization and you get solid, stable footage at a very low price. That is not bad. Also worth mentioning is impressive agility of Blade 180 QX HD. Turn, pitch, spin, whatever you do, this drone is snappy and responsive.
While the flight time is rather limited from 5 – 10 minutes, it is still enough to do some interesting aerial photography and videography. Luckily, battery recharges relatively fast, needing about one hour for full capacity. To extend the flight time, make sure you get an extra battery pack.
Included with the package is the remote controller, which is what makes this drone RTF. The controller itself won’t be turning any heads but it does its job fairly well. A part of the controller makes a smartphone mount, which is a really nice addition. You will be able attach your Android or iOS smartphone and use the official Blade app to receive a live video feed from your Blade 180 QX HD.
There are three different flight modes which are available with quadcopter. Stability Low Angle, Stability High Angle and Agility mode. Low angle mode is the safest while the Agility mode is meant for experts.
If you’re going to use this drone during night, you will be happy to know it is equipped with extremely bright LED lights, so there is no chance you could lose sight of it.
Finally, we would like to recommend this very affordable but capable quadcopter to beginners who have limited experience with flying drones. However, if you have never flown a drone before we would advise caution because you stand to lose some money. If you don’t want to take any chances, we recommend you choose some other basic training drones which don’t feature a camera and come at a lop cheaper price. All things considered, the Blade 180 QX HD is well worth the money!
UDI U818A is an entry-level quadcopter for beginners looking to get their first drone. It is a perfect little bird for flying practice. While some drones are “smart” and feature a range of automated functions for easier flying, that is not the case with U818A. This simple drone is all about manual control, which makes it perfect for pilot training. It is fast, snappy and agile. It comes packed with a controller and an on-board camera for video recording and photography. There is no possibility of smartphone pairing for a live video feed or anything else.
The body is made almost entirely out of plastic, it feels lightweight and fragile. Rotors are protected by plastic rings and there are also extra spare rotors in the package in case you damage the originals. In case you are flying it during nighttime, it has LEDs on each of the rotors which are bright and make the drone visible.
Following the same design language, the remote controller is made out of plastic too. It looks and feels unimpressive, but that is to be expected for a drone in this price range. It still quite comfortable to use. It has a pair of joysticks and buttons for some basic settings. Nothing special there but it has all you need for a basic drone. There is an LCD screen on the front of the controller, which shows some basic information such as flight time, battery status, thrust and signal strength.
Performance is actually quite impressive for a quadcopter of this price. You will get about 8 minutes of flight time with a range of up to 30 meters. It is also able to do simple tricks like the 360-degree flip just by a push of a button.
The camera records video at a resolution of 640 x 360 pixels and the quality is as good as it gets for this resolution. You will not take any award winning video or photos with this camera but it is still good enough for reviewing your flight, showing off your skills to your friends or simply having fun with it.
Considering its low price tag, the UDI U818A is highly recommended for beginners looking to purchase their first drone, or anyone who would like a fast, agile quadcopter for flying practice. Despite its basic and plastic design, this drone can survive lots of impacts and small crashes. The fact that it has a camera comes as a nice bonus.
Parrot AR.Drone 2 Elite
Parrot is a very popular drone manufacturer. It’s products have gone mainstream largely because they deliver attractive high quality drones which are suitable for an average consumer. Most importantly, their drones are always RTF (Ready To Fly) and RTR (Ready to Record) and people love having everything ready to start making awesome aerial videos without any additional hassle. Parrot’s
AR.Drone 2 Elite edition is a mid-range quadcopter with impressive features at a (now) very affordable price. It something one might describe as a big boy’s toy. This is because it’s not quite meant for creating mind-blowing ultra high definition videos but still does pack a range of respectable features which set it far apart from entry-level “for fun” drones. It comes three different styles; sand, winter and junge. The difference is only cosmetic. Body itself is plastic but feels sturdy and durable.
You will find AR.Drone 2 Elite is very user-friendly. It is operated exclusively by a dedicated smartphone application called FreeFlight. This is the official Parrot app which is available on iOS and Android. With this app, you can not only directly control the drone but you can also watch a live video stream as you fly. There are a ton of other options within the app, such as choosing between different flight modes, altitude, rotation speed and many more. The app is very straightforward and simple to use. If you want to record a video, simply push the “Rec” button which always visible during flight. There are also buttons for automatic landing as well as take off.
All photos and videos are stored directly on your smartphone, either on internal memory or a MicroSD card and immediately available for sharing. This is as simple as it gets in aerial photography and videography.
The Parrot AR.Drone 2 features two cameras, one front-facing for High Definition (HD) video and stills and an additional down-facing small-definition camera for a bird’s-eye perspective
As for the fun part of this UAV, the AR.Drone 2 is not going to disappoint. It can do all kinds of tricks, flips and twists with a simple push of a button.
It packs a 1000 mAh rechargeable battery which will provide you with about 10-12 minutes of flight. Not much, but not that bad either for this class of drones. Where it does impress is in altitude, which maxes out at 50 meters.
What to watch for when buying a drone
When buying a new drone, there are a few things you should keep an eye on:
So you’ve decided to buy your first drone and start flying. That’s wonderful as you will join millions of other people who have recently joined the drone craze and are enjoying it either as a hobby or commercial work. Add to that the fact there are many other flying vehicles in the sky, airliners, helicopters, balloons and whatnot. You see how things might get crowded up there which could lead to crashes and accidents. You should take this seriously as it wouldn’t be the first time someone got hurt or serious material damage occurred as a result of drone flying.
There are also no-fly zones in places like national parks, government buildings, military installations and other places which are sensitive for national security. After all, drones can me dangerous in the wrong hands.
This is why you must be aware of government laws and regulations regarding RC drones / quadcopters / UAVs.
For example, in United States there is a range of regulations which must be follow even if you are flying for fun. We will outline several of the major guidelines for you:
- You must not fly within 5 miles of an airport without previously getting an approval.
- Your drone must at all times be within visual sight.
- Your drone must be registered with FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) if heavier than 0.55 lbs (0,25 kg).
- Drones as unmanned aircraft vehicles must always yield the right of passage to manned aircraft.
If however, you’re flying for business or commercial needs, the regulations are more strict. Some of these rules include:
- Pilot must have an RPC (Remote Pilot Airman) certificate and be at least 16 years old.
- Must be vetted by TSA (Transportation Security Administration).
- Must be registered if over 0.55 lbs (0.25 kg)
If you are operating your quadcopter in a different country it is very important to check local regulations and laws in regard to flying unmanned aerial vehicles.
Privacy and safety of others
Generally speaking, you are within your rights to fly, snap photos and record videos as long as you are in public space. Given the fact that you are flying, and that there is no private airspace, you should be fine. Still, it is important to consider privacy of others, and you generally shouldn’t track and record a specific person, as that may be interpreted as spying or incursion of privacy. Even if you are not breaking any laws, people might be offended or feel threatened by your drone flying over their head or house. You should be aware of this and fly responsibly. It is not uncommon for random people to confront drone pilots which can lead to unwanted conflict.
As we already pointed out, drones can be dangerous. There are several ways you can lose control of a drone; it can run out of battery or range, it can hit something either on the ground or in the air and crash. Just like any technology, it can simply fail and again, crash. Imagine being hit by drone’s rotors which are rotating at an extremely high speed, you can see how this could cause serious injury and people are right to be worried. That’s why there are drones which have protective rings around rotors, so even if you hit something, rotors can’t get in direct contact with the object. This is very useful for beginners learning to fly because it not only protects building and people but also your drone.
Price is a very big factor to consider when buying a new drone. The amount of money you have to invest in a drone varies greatly. Prices move from around $20 up to $2000 and more. You can image how much difference there is between these quadcopters depending on the cost.
Entry-level drones which cost a few dozen dollars only have the most basic features. They usually don’t have a camera or any kind of automatic flight mode. These cheap drones are considered to be toys and are used purely for entertainment.
Moving up to $70 or more, you can find a drone with a camera which can record video and/or still photos.
For about $100 drones will also feature a live video feed to your smartphone, so you can watch as you are flying in first person view. If you find a good deal you can also get a colored LCD screen on a remote controller.
More expensive drones, costing several hundred dollars have more processing power and are able to perform advanced maneuvers such as 360-degree flips, automatic lift off and landing, hovering in one spot, return home, follow me and others. This is what makes higher-end drones more suitable for beginners – they are much easier to handle. Using an entry-level drone you would have to do all of this manually, which can be quite tricky.
Drone package type
When it comes to drones, there are different types of buying packages, and you need to know what type of a package you want to buy. Mostly depending on who is buying it, whether a beginner, enthusiast or a professional, these can come in several forms. Most popular packages are called Ready-to-Fly (RTF) and Bind-to-Fly (BTF). If you want a modular design which enables you to adjust, change parts and modify the drone to your preferences, than you’re probably looking for a BTF type of drone. If however, you just want a simple out-of-the-box experience, than you should go for an RTF drone which is literally ready to fly as soon as you charge its batteries.
RTF (Ready to Fly)
With the Ready to Fly package, the names speaks for itself – buying this type of a drone means you will get everything you need to start flying it immediately. This can mean you will get a drone and remote controller or it can simply be a drone-only package with a drone which has the capability to connect to your smartphone via which it is controlled. Everyone has a smartphone these days so that shouldn’t be an issue. The drone is usually connected to your smartphone or a tablet via an iOS or Android app, which means the same app can be used on a iOS or Android tablet. However, if you use a smartphone with a different OS, like Windows Phone or BlackBerry OS, beware that most drone manufacturers do not offer an app for those operating systems and you will probably be out of luck.
To conclude, RTF drones are meant for either beginners or experienced pilots who want a hassle-free flying experience. This is exactly what you’ll get with an RTF quadcopter – an out-of-the-box, flight ready drone.
BTF (Bind to Fly)
Long before drones became commercialized, mainstream and wide-spread among general population, there were people who built their own drones from ground up. These are the drone enthusiasts in the truest sense of word. Today, with the rise of the drones anyone can buy a drone and that’s why manufacturers are trying to make the whole experience as simple as possible. Still, there are a lot of people who like build their own drones, parts of drones or simply experiment and improvise upon existing commercial quadcopters.
If you are an experienced pilot who already has a remote controller from a previous drone, or you’re an DIY (Do-It-Yourself) enthusiast who wants to create a custom-built ground-control system, you might want to consider buying a BTF (Bind to Fly) drone package.
Bind to Fly package means you are buying a drone-only package. In order to fly the drone you bought, you need to bind (connect) it to a controller. This controller can be anything, from a smartphone app, a universal controller you already own, to something you custom-built yourself from scratch.
For maximum modification capability, you might also want to consider a Linux-based drone, which would enable you to alter drone programming.
Do you want your drones to be able to record videos and shoot still photos? Than you better watch if the drone you’re considering has a built-in camera. Some drones are designed only for flying and racing, and not for photography and videography. Even if a drone supports a camera, that doesn’t mean it has one integrated – some drone feature a GoPro camera mount – which you have to buy separately.
Quadcopters with built-in, or integrated cameras have an obvious advantage of having an out-of-box recording capability. Make sure you check the quality of the camera before buying, because you won’t be able to change it later.
If however you choose a drone without a camera but with a camera-ready mount, be it a GoPro mount or some sort of a universal mount, you will have to buy the camera separately or use an existing camera. This of course means additional hassle and could mean addition financial cost. But on the plus side, you will be able mount or dismount the camera whenever you want.
For example, if you decide one day you only want to fly around and not record anything, ditching the camera will reduce overall drone weight and therefore increase flight time.
Another obvious advantage is having an option to upgrade the camera in the future without having to buy a whole new drone.
If you already own a GoPro camera, we recommend you seriously consider buying a GoPro-ready drone as you could save a lot of money and still get a high quality drone as well as a professional camera.
Depending on how much money you invest, camera quality can differ a lot. If you want to do Aerial photography or videography, you should go for a 720p camera at least. However, beware of the specs, because they can be misleading. There are others factors to consider besides the resolution. How big of an aperture do the lens have is also important, wider aperture such as F2.0, means the camera will be able to collect more light and is therefore better at low light photography. Field of view is another important specification to take into consideration. If you want to capture a wide field of view, you might want to consider fish-eye type of camera.
Power and battery life (flight time)
You will find that UAVs generally do not offer long life span per battery charge. This due to the fact that drones need to be kept light and small, so space for battery is limited. Also, consider how much power is needed to keep it constantly in the air along with maintaining a continuous remote connection over the air. Entry-level drones are able to fly for about 5-12 minutes while some higher end drones are able to stay in the air for anywhere between 15-40 minutes. These numbers are not exact but are a general assumption based on average tested battery life span in popular quadcopters.
Battery life heavily depends on which features are used in the drone. For example, drones with integrated cameras will use a lot of juice just to record and save photos and videos.
Advanced flight features like hovering in one place without manual control require the continuous use of several sensors as well as computing power, which costs additional power.
Other special abilities like performing flips and 360-degree turns are known to drain considerable amount of battery life.
What do intended to use your drone for? If, for example, you want to create aerial footage, keep in mind that drones are power-hungry and their batteries generally have a hard time providing a long-lasting, interruption-free experience. Some drones will fly for only a few minutes while other are able to stay in the air for half an hour or more.
One of the features which is very popular with users is the ability to have a first person view (FPV) remote control. This allows you fly the drone out of sight, but also means the drone will have to not only record video but also send it to your screen in real time streaming mode. This undoubtedly heavily affects flight time.
Based on how you intend to use your drone, you must find the right balance between cost, flight time and features to find the drone best suited for you.
Altitude and range
Entry-level small drones are usually only able to few meters up in the air. Many of them intended for indoor flying only. High-end powerful drones are able fly several kilometers high.
Performance in terms of maximum altitude and signal range heavily differs between drones, depending on the price range and general purpose. If you need to fly up high or far, better watch for those specifications.
Means of control
Drones are often controlled by touch controls on a smartphone or tablet, but many drones come with a dedicated remote controller, while some give you an option to use both. The difference is again huge in terms of performance and simplicity, and its up to you to find the right balance.
Regardless of the controlling device, cheaper drones are usually harder to control as they offer all-manual controls, while more expensive drones are smarter and have automated flying modes which ironically is better for beginners.
Camera settings for drone cameras
There are only two basic settings for most cameras used on drones, until you get into much higher end systems with interchangeable lenses. For everyone else we only have ISO and shutter speed.
The ISO setting adjusts the sensitivity to light that the sensor has. The higher the number, the most light it will absorb in a given time. In bright light, we want this number as low as possible and in dark conditions, we may need to increase it.
The downside of increasing ISO is that you will introduce digital noise. Too much digital noise will ruin the image.
The shutter speed determines how long the sensor is exposed to the scene. The longer the shutter speed, the more light will hit the sensor.
The downside of long shutter speeds is that you will get motion blur if the copter or subject moves during the shot. Sometimes this can be used to create interesting effects.
Video versus Photos
A lot of people think that the same setting for video will work for stills, while this is generally true, there are some important differences. With a photo, a very fast shutter speed will freeze the action and provide a nice crisp image. With video, we actually need some motion blue from frame to frame or our video will look jumpy. On a very bright day, you can get away with a very fast shutter if shooting stills, but it is best to keep to a rather slow 1/50th second when shooting video.
The Video Problem
If we are already at our lowest ISO setting, and we are trying to maintain a 1/50th shutter speed, we are very likely to have a very overexposed image on a bright day. This is where the use of neutral density filters comes in. Using an ND filter will cut down the amount of light, letting us get a better shutter speed for shooting video.
To sum it all up, no one setting will get you the best results and often we need additional products like neutral density filters to help get the shot we need. Check out all of the ND filters available at Multicopter Warehouse.