Six factors to consider before buying a drone
There are a lot of things to consider before buying a RC quadcopter, especially if you are going for a more expensive model. In this post, we take a look at some of the popular types of drones and the key factors to consider when buying one.
What type of drone do you need?
This is the first question you will need to answer.
If social media is to be believed, drone photography is getting more popular than ever - and if this is something you may want to get involved in, then you will be looking at a photography drone. A photography drone will, in most cases, come equipped with an onboard camera or with the option to attach a small action camera onto its body.
Another popular choice is a racing drone. As the name suggests, what matters with these types of drones is speed. Thanks to a large DIY component in the drone racing game, you will have the choice of RTF (ready-to-fly), BNF (bind-and-fly), your drone kit will come with everything needed except for the transmitter - you will need to connect the drone with the controller of your choice), PNP (plug-and-play), the drone comes with everything but a transmitter, receiver battery and charger), ARF (almost-ready-to-fly, it will need some additional assembly work) and KIT (you will get all the necessary components, but will be in charge of the assembly).
What key features to look for?
Depending on whether you are looking for a quadcopter for aerial photography or a racing drone, you will, of course, be looking for different features. In this post, we take a look at some of the basics that, we believe, the average user should take into account.
First and foremost, if you are taking off to capture beautiful views, you will need reliable camera onboard - or the ability to attach one to your drone. Now, if you look at most of the latest offerings from DJI, you will see that most of their fleet come with onboard camera capable of 4K shooting. This includes Phantom 4, Inspire 2, Mavic, etc. Then, you have Spark, often referred to as the "selfie drone" - the only recent DJI model with a 1080p camera. Basically, it all comes down to this: will you be using your quadcopter to make high-resolution shots and videos or do you simply need a camera in the sky to take pictures of you running on the beach. If you think you may get serious about drone photography, then the 4K option will give you much more creative power.
Other camera features to consider are whether the onboard cam comes with quality FPV (first person view) - letting you see what the quadcopter sees on your phone or tablet and thus increasing your chances of capturing great shots; stabilizing gimbal for stable performance in the air.
Alternatively, you may want to get a drone without an onboard camera at all - but with the option of attaching an action cam like GoPro. Depending on your requirements for the camera and the drone itself, this may prove to be either cheaper or significantly more expensive. You will also need to take into account the purchase of additional equipment like stabilizing gimbals, camera mounts, etc.
Even if you have a top notch camera onboard, it won't do you much good if your quadcopter comes with a very limited flight time. How long your drone's battery will depend on its weight and onboard equipment. Currently, most quadcopters come with the maximum flight time of about 25-30 minutes. For instance, Phantom 4 Pro offers 30 minute of flight time, Mavic will give you 27 minutes and the mini drone Spark about half of that - 16 minutes. You should also note that the actual flight time will depend on a variety of factors like weather conditions, speed, camera use and more. If you are a first time pilot, you could start with a drone with a smaller battery, as you will probably need some time to master the controls and will not feel confident staying in the air for longer. For experienced aerial photographers, a longer flight time is, of course, more opportunities in the sky.
Controller / Transmitter
A controller is what you will use to command your quadcopter in the sky and it is important that you feel confident and safe when directing your mini-plane. It is generally recommended to go for a drone with a physical controller rather than the one that uses a smartphone app for digital control. Some controllers will also comes with extra functionality, like, for example, the Hubsan 4X controller featuring an LCD display for convenient FPV viewing. Most controllers will come with two analog sticks and use 2.4GHz frequency.
Depending on your skill level and the intended use of the quadcopter, you may want to spend a bit more for some extra functionality. Follow Me, for instance, is one of the most in-demand "extras" for new quadcopter models: the feature allows the drone to follow you (naturally, you will need to be holding the controller or your smartphone with the connected app) and take photos or videos from the sky. Obstacle avoidance is also one of the key add-ons necessary for a good time in the sky: it means that your drone comes equipped with sensors that won't let it smash into a tree as it's trying to get a great shot of that sunset.
Your skill level and price range
Finally, we have the most important factor of all. Your skill level will primarily determine what type of quadcopter you should be looking for: a professional model with top-notch specs or something much simpler to practice agility in the sky. Venturing into the pro field, you have the Phantom 4 Pro with all the trimmings, which, like most professional quadcopters, will cost you upwards of $1,000. With that said, you can easily find an entry-level mini drone for under $100.
Most big quadcopter brands will have an entry-level option as well as upgraded pro models. DJI's Mavic, for instance, is a very strong contender standing right in the middle niche between pro and beginner, while Spark is a mini drone that you can even practice flying inside. When shopping on GearBest, note that all the quadcopters are divided into categories: Professional, Advanced, Intermediate and Beginner.
Wrapping it up, there is a wide choice of quadcopters out there. And you choice will be guided by a number of factors: make sure to decide in advance what type of camera you are looking for, how familiar you are with piloting a drone and how much time you want to spend in the air without a recharge.
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