The Ultimate Guide To Buying A Drone
In the last decade, the exciting world of drones has boomed, leading to mass use and drone photography becoming one of the most popular ways to capture stunning visual images. What was once thought of as high-tech and only available to a select few is now widely available to anyone, no matter the skill set. This guide will talk you through everything you could need to know about drones and additionally provide you with five of the best drone options out there. If you’re ready to take flight, keep reading!
What is a drone?
Before we venture into the wonderful world of drones, it’s important to first understand exactly what a drone is. In technological terms, it’s an unmanned aircraft. Known as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle), a drone is basically a flying robot that can either fly autonomously or via a remote control. In the recent past, drones were mainly only seen and used within the military, but now they’re used more commonly by civilians and the general public for things such as videography and even delivery services. Filmmakers and journalists now use drones regularly for fast-paced action shots that are sometimes difficult to capture without the maneuverability of a drone.
To put it simply - a drone is an aircraft that doesn’t have anyone on board, meaning they can come in many different forms and styles. All you need is a large, spacious outside area, your drone and its remote control, and you’re all set and ready to go.
How to fly a drone
So, drones sound cool, right? But how do they work? Well, as complicated as you may think drones are, they serve two basic functions: flight and navigation.
To achieve flight, drones have a power source which is usually a battery, fuel, or some sort of propeller. The frame is made of lightweight materials that reduce weight and increase how maneuverable the drone can be during flight. For navigation, a controller is required that is used by a skilled operator to launch, navigate and land the drone. This controller cleverly communicates with the drone via radio waves - including Wi-Fi.
One of the most important things to remember while flying a drone is your line of sight. This refers to the view you’ll have of your drone during the flight. It’s important that nothing restricts your view - trees, buildings and electricity lines are all things to look out for. Flying your drone in built-up areas could be dangerous and as soon as you lose sight of the drone, you’ll lose all control.
Different drone styles
Now we’re clear on what exactly a drone is and what it does, it’s crucial we outline the varying types of drones so that you know which type will be suitable for you. Some drones are more suited to heavy-duty, professional use while others can be piloted by virtually anyone with the space to fly it! So, without further ado, here are the four different drone styles:
- Multi-rotor drones: the most common and widely used drone for professionals and hobbyists. If you want a drone to carry out some aerial photography or video surveillance from the sky, then this is the type of drone you want. Multi-rotor drones can be priced anywhere within a large price range due to their varying range of features, but they’re the easiest to manufacture and, compared to the other drone types, are often the cheapest option too. The only downside here is they have limited flying time and endurance, and aren’t suitable for large-scale projects.
- Fixed-wing drones: entirely different in their design and build to multi-rotor drones, fixed-wing drones use a wing just like an airplane would do. Fixed-wing drones don’t utilise energy to stay afloat in the air, instead moving forward on the path that has been set until their energy source runs out. Their flying time is good - usually a couple of hours - meaning they’re ideal for any operation that spans a larger distance. It's worth noting, however, that they can’t be used for aerial photography and come at a higher cost. Also, you need to be highly skilled to fly a fixed-wing drone, plus you’ll require some sort of runway or catapult launcher!
- Single rotor drones: these drones look extremely similar to helicopters both in design and structure. Unlike the multi-rotor drones, this model has one large rotor plus a smaller one on the tail to aid control. Single rotor drones are much more efficient than multi-rotor versions, with a more extensive flying time and the additional possibility of being powered by gas engines. Despite all this, these drones do come with some risks and the cost is on the higher side. The large blades can be dangerous and special training is needed to fly them in the correct way.
- Fixed-wing hybrid VTOL: these hybrid versions combine the benefits of fixed-wing models with rotor-based models. This concept has been tested since the 1960’s (with little success), however, new generation sensors have given new life to the idea. These hybrids implement a mixture of automation and manual gliding. A vertical lift gets the drone into the air and gyros and accelerometers work to keep the drone stabilised in the air. Unfortunately, not too many of these are seen on the market to purchase. Instead, they're mainly used for trialing new delivery services.
Ready for lift off
Now we’ve dissected the different drone types available and outlined each of their strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to get shopping! In this guide, we’ll look at a range of available options out there and, with a bit of luck, you’ll see one that’s right for you. Let’s go!
Pros: Brilliant camera for capturing stunning video, four-axis structure, remote control
Cons: Short flying time, smaller than many other drones
Size: H19 x W50 x L50cm
This flexible, lightweight camera drone from Goplus is perfect for conducting short-haul drone expeditions and exploring areas from on high. The premium 1280P HD camera that’s conveniently attached to the drone will capture stunning visuals and allow you to take amazing pictures and film videos from above. The built in six-axis gyroscope will keep your drone under control, giving you precise hovering in the sky so you won’t have to worry about any crash landings! Amazingly lightweight with its four-axis structure, this drone is rapid and, with the added LCD screen, you’ll have full control - even when it’s mid-flight. The only downside is the short amount of time you’ll be able to keep it up in the air, but for the brilliantly low price, this is a no-brainer for anyone making their first foray into the exciting world of drones.
Pros: Can be flown indoors or outdoors, wind resistant, four-axis structure gives the drone speed and flexibility
Cons: Smaller drone means shorter flying times, camera is not the best you can get
Size: H19 x W50 x L50 cm
If you’re searching for a versatile first-person view (FPV) drone that’s flexible and incredibly speedy, then the X8HG RC Gyro from Goplus is a fantastic option. Wind resistant, this camera drone is small yet mighty, with the four-axis structure providing premium durability and flexibility for a smooth flight.
This quadcopter is unique - unlike many of its competitors, it can be flown both inside and outside - perfect for those dark rainy days in the house wondering what to do. The super cool Wi-Fi FPV system allows real-time image transmission between the quadcopter and your phone, meaning you’ll be able to ride on board with your drone and ensure a safe flight path. An LED screen and 2.4G remote control are also included - everything you need and want to pilot your drone.
The 8MP camera attached to the drone won’t capture stunning pictures in the same way a 4K camera would, but you’ll still get great images that are clear. For any casual drone enthusiast, this is more than enough to get you hooked. The only disadvantage with this drone is the short amount of time you’ll be able to keep it up in the air at a time but, unless you’re planning on conducting long-haul operations, this won’t be an issue and you’ll have hours of endless enjoyment with this drone.
Pros: Six-axis gyro system provides controlled maneuverability, guiding lights allow it to be flown at night
Cons: Only suitable for shorter flights, 0.3MP camera is pretty poor
Size: H27 x W31 x L31
This Annihilator drone from JSF is perfect for any drone piloting beginners. The six-axis gyro system allows for fluid movement while in the air, so you can be the talk of your friends while showing off your skills and completing cool tricks. Its lightweight, flexible construction has been carefully designed for increased crash resistance, so even if you have to make a sudden crash landing, your drone should stay in pristine condition.
The real shining light of this drone is the inclusion of guiding lights, allowing flight even after dark. The bright lights allow you to easily see where your drone is in the sky, so you’ll be able to track your flight path with ease. What's more, this also allows for some super cool night shots that you can capture with the built-in camera.
The only slight downside here, however, is the quality of that camera. 0.3MP is meek compared to other cameras attached to drones seen both in this guide and elsewhere on the market. You won’t be getting any pictures worthy of being a competition winner, but if you’re looking for a drone that’s on the lower end of the price range to get you started, this is a top choice.
Pros: DJI goggles provide an immersive experience like no other, 4K/60FPS camera provides the highest video quality, wide field of view
Cons: Higher cost - may not be suitable for more casual users, complex design means you must be highly skilled
Size: H25.5 x W31.2 L12.7cm
For a high-end, top-of-the-range drone experience, look no further than this FPV drone from DJI. Suited to those looking for a drone to carry out more professional and large-scale operations - this FPV drone can do it all. The stunning camera will provide you with outstanding visuals and, for those wanting to shoot content for films and other operations with premium production, this drone is the one. The DJI goggles allow you to see in real-time the shots your drone is capturing, giving you the highest amount of control and providing an immersive experience like no other.
Want beautiful panoramic shots? Look no further. The camera includes a 150-degree field of view, ensuring everything you want to be in shot will be seen. With this drone, you’ll be able to see the world from a totally new point of view - all while in stunning 4K HD, of course.
There’s not too many drawbacks with this drone, however the cost is obviously a huge factor. Priced at over a grand, many casual users will struggle to justify the hefty price tag. Of course, a drone such as this is aimed for professionals and to be used by those working on large-scale projects. If you’re a budding drone enthusiast looking to get started, this drone probably isn’t for you, but it is an example of the very best when it comes to unmanned automated aircraft.
Pros: 1” CMOS sensors shoots 4K videos and 20MP photos, remote controller with built-in screen gives you precision during flight
Cons: Highly expensive, low max flight time
Size: 35cm (diagonal without propellers)
Designed for the professional creator, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 from DJI is one of the best drone options available on the market. This beast arrives with a 20MP camera and 4K video capacity, by far one of the highest-quality cameras on a drone that’s available and perfect for filmmakers. The Ocusync 2.0 HD transmission system is the best of the best - ensuring stable connectivity and fantastic reliability, so you’ll never have to go again for a second take.
As amazing as this sounds, it’s lucky you’ll only need one take, as this camera drone unfortunately has a short amount of time it can be up in the air - around 30 minutes in total. This, of course, is down to the fact it is a quadcopter in design and the huge amount of battery power and energy that they have to use just to stay in the air and fight gravity. Also, the price will potentially knock many of you off your chairs in shock - but this is a drone designed for professional filmmakers and, for that purpose, it’s magnificent.
Primed for flight
There we have it, a selection of drones ranging from those that are perfect for beginners all the way to the very best around. Hopefully you’re now aware of the super interesting world of drones and you’re eager to bag yourself one and start to see the world from a totally different viewpoint! To discover even more options, check out our extensive selection of drones here.
If you’re not able to afford the hefty price tag of a top-of-the-range drone but you want a camera of better quality than those on the more budget models, why not bag yourself a GoPro? These miniature cameras can be attached to your drone, allowing you to capture simply stunning HD shots without forking out on a premium gadget. What’s more, they can be used for a whole host of different things. Grab yourself a waterproof GoPro and take it out on all your adventures, whether that be drone flying, hiking, or even scuba diving - the possibilities are endless!
As with any aircraft, there are laws and regulations about where you can and can’t fly your drone. You must be aware of how to fly your drone safely and be in full control of it at all times, and make sure it’s always in your line of sight. For more information, have a look over the full list of UK rules and regulations here.
The information in this buyers guide is correct at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.