Drone Buyer’s Guide
|October 21, 2016||Posted by Tracy Knutsen under DIY, Try Something New!|
Drone Buyer’s Guide
(If you’re ready to start shopping around, here are some quick drone reviews to get you started.)
There are many reasons why people buy drones. Some buy them because they want them for personal endeavors. They use them to get great aerial shots of unique landscape or unique vacations – or simply want a bird’s eye view and the freedom to fly their own RC vehicle.
Others buy and use drones in a professional capacity. They might use them for if they’re in the business of taking aerial wedding, reunion or other type personal interest photos and video, for example.
Whatever the reason, there are varying degrees of knowledge when it comes to drones. By starting out knowing all you can about drones, you’ll be able to gain the most from your purchase.
Drone users can be divided into four classifications: beginners, hobbyists, advanced users and professionals. You need answers to the most commonly asked questions, as well as tips and buying advice for accessories.
The Basics of Being a Drone Owner
You might not necessarily need to know a lot about flying a drone to get started, but you’ll definitely appreciate and enjoy it more when you understand better how they work.
Drones have a multitude of uses for you to be able to enjoy them. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why you waited so long. Drones can be unmanned – which means they have the ability to self-navigate in case of user error.
That kind of technology makes the learning curve easy for those who’ve never used one. What makes these unmanned aircraft devices so popular is that not only are they fun to fly and observe, but you can use them to take great videos and photographs.
How hard is operating a drone? It won’t be difficult at all if you practice. That’s the key to gaining the most enjoyment from your purchase. There are features in many drones that allow you to practice in a small area.
Before you attempt to do anything extra with your drone such as taking photos, you need to know how it operates. That means that you need to practice low flying excursions with the device so that you can learn how the buttons operate.
You don’t want to jump right into trying to do something you don’t really understand and end up destroying your drone by damaging it. Make sure you do several low flying practice runs with the drone before you attempt a longer flight – or one where the goal is to take photos or video.
When you get ready to fly your drone, always check what the flying conditions are like. If there’s a lot of wind and the weather isn’t good, it’s going to make operating the device more of a challenge.
A hard gust of wind can easily throw the drone off course or cause you to lose control and end up crashing. Start your flying on days when the weather is better for flying the drone.
Along with making sure you practice and choosing optimal weather conditions, make sure you start your flights where you have enough space. That space needs to be an area where nothing can be damaged if you end up accidentally making the drone do a nosedive to the ground.
What Can I Do With a Drone?
The list of what you can do with a drone, even as a beginner, is quite extensive. Not only can you take photos, but you can also take video. This will allow you to record any event where drones are allowed.
You can also use your drone when you want to take photos of or record anything where it might not be as safe for you to get closer to the event. Something like this would be things like monitoring a weather event such as a wildfire or a tornado.
Your drone can safely capture images from a distance. You can also use a drone to experience wildlife up close and personal without having to get so close that you’re at risk. You’ll be able to get great images of deer, bears and other animals that you normally can’t get near. Drones can also be used to monitor areas around your house outside. This is handy especially if you have a lot of acreage to your property. If something is going on, by the time you get there or get the police there, you could miss the opportunity to record someone who might be trying to steal or damage your property.
These devices can also come in handy when you’re not flying them for fun. They can be used to do routine checks or damage checks for things like the roof or your home, garage, sheds or other buildings where a ladder would normally be required.
What Kind of Drone Is Best for Beginners?
There are many different types of drones that you can purchase. If you’re just getting started, it’s best to get a drone that’s ready to go right out of the box as soon as you get it.
This way, the setup has been prepared for you and all you have to do is learn how to operate it. You should know that some drones are a lot easier to operate than others.
You want to get one that’s easy for beginners to use. To do that, you’ll want to pay attention to the flight controller. This is basically the brain of your drone. The better your flight controller, the easier your drone will be to operate.
You’ll want to make sure that the drone you choose has at least the following capabilities:
Your drone should be compatible with the operating device such as iOS compatible. The command control of the drone shouldn’t take you several moves.
Look for drones that offer one click command ability. For night flying, you need to have the ability to see, not only if you take photographs at night, but the ability to be able to keep track of the drone.
It can be harder than you think to do this at night. That’s one of the reasons that you want to look for a drone that comes with LED lights. Buying one that comes with a quick charge battery is a must.
You don’t want to have to wait several hours for your battery to charge before you can fly the device more than once. Many drones come with cameras. You want to make sure that the drone you buy has a decent camera.
If you choose cheap over quality, then you’ll end up with a camera that doesn’t take decent shots. Beginners fare well with drones that are marked as RTF, which means that the drone comes ready-to-fly.
Without needing to put anything together, you can just open the box and get started. Don’t make the mistake of buying drones that you have to find a controller for or a receiver. Save that for when you’re more experienced.
What Laws Govern What I Can Do With My Drone?
There are laws that do govern the use of drones. If your drone, which the government labels as small, unmanned aircraft, falls within certain weight restrictions, it must be registered.
The guidelines are drones over 0.55 lbs but under 55 lbs have to be registered before you use them. Not doing so could cost you fines and even jail time. Though there are some exceptions, you can register most drones online here: http://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/.
Anyone who is at least 13 must register their drone – but the cost of this registration process is minimal. There are restrictions on how high you can fly your drone.
Federal law dictates that you can’t go above 400 feet. You’re required to keep an eye on your drone and it must not be allowed to disrupt airplanes or aircraft that are being physically operated.
You can’t allow your drone to come in contact with an aircraft or you could be held responsible. Flying a drone means you have to respect the privacy of others.
In certain instances, you can’t film or photograph people. You can’t use the drone to annoy or harass others. The law also dictates that people operating drones can’t fly them in ways that will interfere with the safe operation of vehicles.
If you live close to an airport or you’re flying your drone in an area where an airport is nearby, you must maintain a five mile distance so you won’t interfere with the safe operation of aircraft.
Some drones are built to automatically shut down when and if you accidentally enter these perimeters. This is for the safety of passengers on aircraft. You must respect certain areas that are off limits for drones such as those that are restricted by the government.
This would be locations like the White House, other federal or local government buildings, power or electrical substations, jails, prisons, and juvenile detention buildings.
Each state may have certain laws that govern the use of drones. You can’t operate a drone over someone else’s property in a way that violates their right to privacy.
What Hobbyists Need to Know About Flight Modes
When you buy a drone that you plan to use for photography, you want to make sure that yours has either the auto-flight mode or standard mode. These modes give the user the sense that you’re the one in the cockpit.
When your drone is set in auto-flight, this mode can easily direct your drone over any course to take great photography shots. This method of flying is enabled due to GPS technology.
While most beginners do like the auto-flight mode since there’s less of a chance of making a mistake and running the drone into objects, many hobbyists enjoy the ability to pilot the drone without the help of the automatic pilot feature.
If you use this method, however, you’re going to need a remote controller that has an easy to maneuver joystick so that you can make quick flight path changes if you need to.
There are some more expensive drones that have a flight mode known as the First Person View or FPV. These drones come with cameras that focus on the forward flight path of the drone.
What this does is it gives the person the illusion that you’re actually inside the drone flying it. If you want to be able to use this mode, your drone must specifically state that it has this capability because it’s not a standard feature among some of the models.
You also have to make sure that you have a Wi-Fi connection if you want to use the FPV flight mode. Many drones also have a flight mode known as the hold mode.
This mode works to keep your drone at a consistent altitude – regardless of actions such as rolling or pitching. One important flight mode you’ll want to consider for your drone is the one called auto-return.
In this mode, the drone will retrace the flight path to you in case you experience a problem such as your battery suddenly begins to go dead. This helps keep you from losing your drone. If the drone does not specifically state that it carries this feature, then odds are that it doesn’t.
The Best Drone Accessories to Buy
The accessories that you’ll need for your drone are going to depend on what features you received when you bought it. If you started out with a drone that didn’t have a lot of features, you can change that by adding accessories.
For example, if your drone didn’t come with a camera or came with one you’re not that thrilled with, you can easily switch out the camera as long as you have one that’s compatible with your drone.
When you’re having fun with your drone, it can be easy to get so caught up in what you’re doing that you forget that there is a limit on how long your battery can last. You can usually get close to half an hour on your battery charge. Depending on the weather conditions and other factors, you might only get about 15 minutes of flying time before you have to recharge.
Since you don’t want to have to call it a day after a few minutes, you should also make sure that you have plenty of battery packs along for the flight. That way, you can simply switch them out and keep right on going.
While the body of most of the drones are so sturdy that they can handle repeated crashes and still keep right on going, that’s not always the case with the propellers.
In fact, it’s usually one of the first items to get damaged on a drone. When you have damaged propellers, your drone can’t fly correctly – if at all. Thankfully, though, propellers are simple to switch out if you do damage them. Always keep a supply of propellers on hand in case you do need them. What some people do is purchase propeller guards for their drone. This keeps the propellers from breaking and also protects the drone.
The guards can also help keep delicate skin from getting nicked by a fast moving propeller. The one thing you do have to be cautious about is making sure the prop guards that you buy are the ones for your specific drone.
Not every set of propeller guards are compatible. There are also some fun accessories that you might not necessarily need but you might want. One of these is an LED light kit. You can add these lights to your drone and they look pretty cool against the backdrop of a night sky. You can buy decal sets or skins for your drone to personalize it if you want to.
These come in styles like the American flag, camouflage, or stripes in a variety of colors. Some hobbyists also buy a landing pad for their drone. These allow your drone to land on a dry, flat surface which reduces bounce. Landing pads also protect your camera from getting dirty on the ground and help put a stop to compass mistakes.
Learning About Gimbals
If your drone didn’t come with a camera, you can add one. But regardless of how much knowledge you have about flying drones, adding a camera without a way to stabilize it won’t give you the precision shots you’re looking for.
As long as you have a camera that’s drone capable, what you can do is use a gimbal to get the photos and video that you want to grab. Without a gimbal, your images will be shaky because you get vibrations from the propellers.
If you look at a video taken using a drone that doesn’t have a gimbal, the video looks like it’s wavy. The quality is poor and you won’t be able to use the video for anything.
Gimbals work to stabilize the camera. Even if the body of your drone drops, or dips or turns or even flips upside down, your camera will remain steady in place. Gimbals work to combat vibration through the use of motors and sensors.
So you end up with a steady, smooth video or photo. When you shop for a gimbal, you can choose between a 2 or 3 axis. There is a wide variety of cost when it comes to buying one.
If all you can afford is the least expensive one, then it’s better than not having one at all. A 2 axis does have one con to it that might make you hesitate when considering it.
While it does work to keep the camera steady, it won’t give you that wave free, vibration free shooting that you’re looking for on certain movements. While a 2 axis can handle pitches and rolls, that’s pretty much about it.
You will end up with shakier images than you get with a 3 axis. That’s because the 3 axis does have the ability to provide better stability. The reason that it can do this is thanks to the third motor.
This prevents your camera from being subject to those surprise effects when there are unplanned horizontal or other moves. If you’re planning on using the drone for anything serious such as for photography that’s meaningful to you, or business related shots (and not simply for your own use), then buying a 3 axis is imperative.
Like the 2 axis, it does have one downside to it. Because it weighs more, it requires more energy than the 2 axis – so you’ll have to either adjust the usage time for shorter excursions or keep a healthy supply of batteries on hand.
Of the two gimbals, you’re going to pay more for the 3 axis because you’re getting a better quality piece. When you’re checking out gimbals, you’ll want to consider the range of motion that you want to have.
Not all gimbals will allow the camera to have a 360 degree view. The features will vary from gimbal to gimbal. You need to make sure that your drone is gimbal capable because not all of the models are.
You also want to make sure that you buy a gimbal that will fit your drone because not all of them will. You also have to consider what kind of camera you have. Some gimbals have a wide range of cameras that they can be used with.
Other gimbals will not support certain cameras. If you’re familiar with gimbals and how they work, then you can buy the one that fits your drone and camera and you’re ready to go.
But if you’re someone who has never worked with a gimbal before, make sure you get one that’s pre-calibrated. You can do it yourself but you’ll have to learn how if you haven’t done it before.
What Can I Do to Improve Flight?
By the time you reach the stage of an advanced drone user, you pretty much know how to handle the device. At this point, you already understand that weather conditions can impact your flight performance.
You know that if it starts raining, even if it’s only a light drizzle that you need to protect your drone even if that means you have to call it a day. However, weather conditions like rain can impede the speed at which you’re able to fly the drone.
If there are abrupt gusts of wind, that can cause your drone to have a little more difficulty if it’s flying against the wind. You’re probably already getting maximum output with each flight and can time your flight trips down the last drop of battery usage, but maybe you’re not sure what’s causing some of the lag time you’re experiencing.
Adding certain features to your drone can slow down both the performance and the flight times. Any feature that you add to your drone that puts more weight on the device, such as a gimbal or camera, will cause the flight time to lag.
This is why it’s important that any additional extras such as propeller guards or gimbals are compatible. Not only can incompatible extras slow down your drone, but they can cause the balance to be off, too.
Some users think that the type of drone you buy can also play a part in how well the drone performs during flight. It’s true that some drones do perform better than others when it comes to speed and maintaining stability.
Should I Invest in a Drone Tracking Device?
If you’re someone who uses a drone professionally, then odds are good that you’ve invested more money than someone who flies a drone recreationally. Someone who uses a drone for professional purposes can easily invest several hundred if not thousands of dollars in a drone.
You certainly don’t want all the money you’ve spent to suddenly disappear. If you use a drone as part of a business endeavor taking video or photography, losing your drone during a gig can cost you more than the price of the drone. It can ruin your reputation!
It’s always better to be safe than sorry. No matter how good you get at flying your drone, things outside of your control can happen – especially if you’re flying by using your First Person View mode.
Mistakes can happen during any flight and you can lose sight of where your device is – especially if there are objects in your line of vision that prevent you from seeing everywhere the drone goes.
There are different methods that you can use to find your drone if that happens, but you can only do that if you already have the tracker. You can use a drone tracker that’s pretty inexpensive if you get the kind that you can place directly onto your device.
These trackers are small and unobtrusive. They won’t interfere with flight speed or the function of the drone. These trackers usually have batteries that last for quite awhile.
These trackers work in tandem with your phone. As you search for the drone, your phone will get an alert both through message and sound when you get close to your drone.
There are GPS trackers, but these are usually the most expensive ones you can get. You can expect to pay three to four times what you will for a simple small sized tracker.
However, GPS trackers, because they’re top of the line, do offer features you can’t get in the inexpensive trackers. With GPS devices, you get things like real time tracking as well as last location of the drone – which makes it easier to pinpoint the exact location of your device.
Another method that users put in place to keep track of a drone is to label the tracking device and offer a reward for anyone that finds it and gives it back. What you want to look for when you’re considering using a drone tracker is whether or not there are any additional fees for tracking the device because some of them do charge fees.
What Type of Drone Is Best for Filming?
There are plenty of models of drones to choose from and while some of them are perfectly suited for photography, not all of them work as well if you want to do a lot of filming.
This is why many professionals start out with one type of drone but eventually upgrade. Many people don’t realize that drones are heavily used in the film industry.
When you see aerial shots that capture action on the ground, in the sky, scale tall buildings, monuments or other large objects in the movies, much of that film is captured by drones because it’s cheaper than using alternatives.
Plus, you often get better quality than you do using anything else. You can use drones to capture the slightest movement from overhead or to zoom in for a close shot.
Because of the technology found in drones, you’ll have excellent control for your skill level. When you get into the professional level, you’ll spend more on a drone.
What you want to think about is the cost of the drone versus the kind of product you want to have. Professional images require drones like multi-rotor ones. When you have multi-rotor drones, you can use specialized cameras or video with the drone.
You’ll want to look at quadcopters, hexacopters or octocopters. Whichever one you choose should be sleek and more aerodynamic. You’ll want the stronger motor along with bigger propellers.
This will allow the device to move faster and easier. Look for one that offers a 360 movement ability with 1080p that can capture film or stills. Most of these are already set with a good camera and gimbal included.
These top of the line drones come with an app that you’ll access using your phone. This app is how you’ll be able to maneuver as well as set the camera.
The drones that you can buy for professional use have longer flight times, better Wi-Fi range and better GHz.
They usually have brains or computer centers that can help you make sure your shots are right on the mark every time. The features in drones such as quadcopter drones will allow you to set whatever you’re trying to shoot while the device follows a pre-determined path. You end up with the footage that you want every time you run a flight.
Additional Tips for All Drone Users
Protect your investment whether you’re a beginner or a pro. When you’re moving your drone from one location to another, you want to make sure that it’s well protected.
You can’t do that if the device is moving around in your vehicle every time you change lanes or come to an abrupt stop. You need a carrying case for the drone and all of the extra pieces that fit snugly around the drone and keeps it from bouncing around during transit.
Make sure that the carrying case you purchase is waterproof to protect your device as well. Not only will you be out sometimes when the weather isn’t so great, but on days when the sun is beating down on you, that can affect how well you can see how to operate the drone.
The sun will glint off of your control system. You can buy a hood to keep your devices safe from the heat and glare. If you’re going to be using your drone for professional purposes, make sure you don’t fall short on having micro SD cards to use.
The higher the GB, the better. Any time that you plan take your drone to a new area, you need to make sure you’re not in a restricted area and that there are no rules limiting your ability to be there.
If you know you’re going to be in an area where water is around, and if you think your drone might be subject to spray from the water, then you might want to invest in hydrophobic coating.
Make sure that you’re not in a situation where the drone could smack into someone. Not only will you not be happy, but neither would the person you hit and you could open yourself up to a potential lawsuit.
Though it can be tempting to get in a little more fun while flying the drone to capture just a little bit more film, never push your drone to the last ounce of battery life.
Once the batteries are gone, the drone will come crashing down. You don’t want that happening – especially around power lines or bodies of water. When you’re taking photos or filming, get a lot of different shots.
Use the skills you would normally use if you were taking photos with a regular camera. Pay attention to how the light is going to reflect on the subject. Also pay attention to the focus of the camera as you’re flying.
After every time you use your drone, you should follow the same shut down routine so you avoid mistakes like battery drain. When you bring your drone in for the day, disconnect everything that uses batteries.
Look over the body of the drone as well as other parts of it for damage. This way, you can take care of it and be prepared before you need it for another flight. Upload all of the footage that you took so you start with a clean slate on the next trip.
Check your camera and make sure it’s off. Make sure you follow any maintenance plans that are required for your drone. Owning a drone can be both fun and lucrative, so it’s smart to educate yourself about ownership right off the bat.
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