So you’ve decided to buy a drone. And why wouldn’t you? These petite flying machines let you survey your surroundings from on high, and they take magnificent aerial photos and videos. One of the most exciting and innovative bits of tech to emerge in recent years, a decent drone now costs relatively little—so it’s never been a better time to take to the skies.
Whether you’re upgrading your existing drone or buying your very first model, then you need to know where to start. We’ll outline the different types of drone to choose between, the features to consider, and the range of prices you can expect to pay.
Types of drones
When it comes to buying drones, you don’t have to consider as many makes and models as you do when you pick up a new smartphone or fitness tracker. In fact, you can put most drones into two broad categories: large camera-bearing fliers and smaller, lighter camera-free ones.
For some consumers, a drone isn’t a drone unless it can capture jaw-dropping footage from the skies; other shoppers just want to control a cool airborne machine and don’t mind sacrificing the digital view in exchange for a lower price tag. As well as having lower costs, the more compact so-called toy drones can fly around indoors, so you won’t have to go outside to play with them.
Features to look for
The sticker price won’t give you an exact indicator of a machine’s quality, although it does provide a quick, and approximate, assessment of which drones are better than others. In general, more expensive drones will fly longer and farther, take better movies and photos, and come with more bells and whistles. But to make a more informed decision, you’ll need to get specific about specs. Here are the features you should know about.
Battery life: Just like a smartphone, a drone will eventually run out of juice. Even on the best models, flight times between charges struggle to surpass 30 minutes. Of course, you can always carry an extra battery—but if you think you might be doing this, make sure to include the cost of spare batteries in the total price of the option that you’re considering.
Brushless motors: When perusing a listing, you may come across this term. Brushless motors cost more than brushed ones, but in exchange, they offer quieter operation and possess a longer lifespan, which means you won’t have to replace them as often.
Camera: If you want the best-quality footage possible, the camera specs should be a big consideration. So make sure to look for the photo and video resolution of the drone’s integrated camera. Most decent-size models—not including toy drones—now come with a built-in camera, but some leave you the option of attaching your own. For more information about the features that let you capture high-res photos and videos, check out our guide to choosing a digital camera.
Follow-me mode: Some drones equipped with GPS also offer this option: Follow-me mode lets your drone track you across the ground or ocean, so you can concentrate on your mountain biking or kite surfing while your aerial pal tags along recording your progress. Certain drones do this better than others, so check in with user reviews to see how well the mode works in practice.
Range: A drone’s range tells you how far from you it can move before you lose control of it. More expensive professional-level drones have greater ranges. No matter how far your drone can stray, bear in mind that you should be keeping your drone in sight at all times anyway.
We’re not going to provide an exhaustive list of all consumer drones in this article, but we will show you a selection of appealing options for potential shoppers, and quote the prices (at the time of writing) so you can get an idea of what’s available. If you care to browse through any drone manufacturer’s website, you’ll find plenty of other models there.
Blade Nano QX
DJI Mavic Pro
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
Finally, when you first launch your new toy, start off slowly and carefully. This will not only keep the people around you safe, but also protect your new gadget.