So you’ve decided to buy a drone. And why not? These UAV’s, Drone Flying Machines let you survey your surroundings from all new heights, and they take stupendous aerial photos and videos. These autonomous vehicles in the air are one of the most exciting and innovative bits of tech to emerge in recent years, AND the cost to buy a quality drone is becoming more affordable for the everyday consumer. There has never been a better time to ask Santa for a little help from 1UP to see what drone options you should add to your wish list this holiday season.
Where do you start? Whether you’re upgrading an existing drone or shopping for your very first model, Santa (and 1UP) can help you get started. We’ve outlined the different types of drones 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, your selection is more limited than it is when buying other technologies like computers and smartphones. In fact, you can put most drones into two broad categories: large camera-bearing fliers (think pretty pictures) and smaller and lighter camera-free drones (think Drone Racing League and FAST FUN).
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. Along with lower costs, the more compact so-called toy drones can be flown indoors, so taking flight is a bit more accessible for all.
While some of these tiny indoor drones do come with simple cameras attached—which messes up our categorizations a bit—these cameras can only capture low-quality footage and will not make good contributions to your next movie project.
In addition to size and camera quality, these categories often come with different controllers. If you opt for a larger drone equipped with a camera capable of shooting video at 4K, then it will typically have a separate controller that may use your phone, iPad, or tablet. On the other hand, you typically steer toy drones through a game controller or your phone.
Before you start thumbing through spec and feature lists, consider what you’d like to do with a drone, or perhaps how much money you plan to spend. Do you want to have some fun buzzing a little copter around the living room and garden? Or would you prefer to head to the great outdoors and nab sweeping landscape photographs? Once you’ve decided on a priority, you’re ready to pick your drone.
Features to look for in your drone
The sticker price is not 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 battery juice. Even on the best models, flight times between charges struggle to surpass 30 minutes. Of course, you can always carry extra batteries—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. Most of our customers start out with at least 3 batteries and are sometimes viewed as “razor blades” because they can be costly.
- Camera: If you want the best-quality footage, the camera specs should be a top consideration. Make sure to look for the photo and video resolution of the drone’s integrated camera. Most mid-sized models—not including toy drones—now come with a built-in camera, but some leave you the option of attaching your own through a gimbal. For more information about the features that let you capture high-res photos and videos, check out our Blog on shooting great drone photography.
- Follow-me mode & “”Other”” Advanced Features: Some drones equipped with GPS also offer more advanced options like Tripod, Point of Interest, Wave, Active Tracking and Follow Me (i.e. 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 buddy tracks along recording your beautiful moves). Certain drones do this better than others, so give us a call/email at 720 476 4101 or Info@1UPDrones.com to talk about how well this mode works in practice.
- Integrated GPS: At the premium end of the drone market, you’ll find models with integrated GPS, which lets the machines know where they are in the world. This upgrade helps your drone find its way back home—a feature called, return-to-home or RTH—and improves its general stability and navigational skills. These drones are easy to fly and many drones with GPS can easily hover in one place even in 20 to 25 MPH wind gusts.
- 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 the FAA requires you to keep your drone in sight at all times.
- Gimbal: As drones go up in price, you’ll notice they begin to include something called an integrated gimbal. The gimbal keeps the camera steady while it’s moving around in high winds and elevated altitudes. If you want the best video footage and photos, make sure the drone includes a gimbal. The Inspire 2, for example, has almost a 360-degree view while the drone stays steady.
- Obstacle avoidance: A premium feature on some drones is obstacle avoidance.
Having this level of safety will cost Santa an extra coin but might just protect your drone from crashing into a tree.
A few top drone picks
Because we’re vying for the label of Sant’s top helper this year, we’ve provided links to the specs and prices of some of this year’s top pics. You can also find most of the models below on our online store.
- DJI TELLO – An entry-level drone for the STEM student or coder in you.
- DJI Spark – Just above entry-level, about the size of a cell phone.
- DJI Mavic Air – Now we’re starting to get more professional! Compact size, long flight times, incredible ease of operations, and stupendous pictures.
- DJI Mavic Pro – Multiple models offering longer flights and increased quality of photos/videos.
- DJI Phantom 4 – If you have the budget, this is the one to buy! Maximum Flight Time of 30 mins with an Operating Range of 4.3 mi. 1-inch 20MP CMOS Sensor, 20MP Photo Resolution / DCI 4K Video Resolution, Mechanical Shutter with Maximum Speed of 1/2000-second. Includes Activetrack, TapFly, and Gesture Mode, and Obstacle Avoidance.
- Yuneec H520 Bundle – The all in one, whole kitchen sink bundle. H520 Bundle E90; Extra Battery; Lumecube; Hoodman Sunshade and even the Pelican Case.