by Lucía Caldas
As you may have noticed, drones are becoming extremely popular mainly due to the advances in technology that have made them much more affordable for the general public. As a result, the variety of drones on offer can become somewhat overwhelming. I have wanted my own drone for quite some time, but... which one should I get?
These quadcopters can be quite pricey and some of them require substantial knowledge to get the most out of them, so it’s important to have as much information as possible before spending a lot of money on a device that might not be right for you. With this in mind, there are some key aspects you should carefully consider before buying your first drone.
1. What is the law regarding drones where you live/plan on flying?
It would be very frustrating to find out that you are not allowed to fly where you wanted to after spending a considerable amount of money on your drone, so do your research (as easy as typing “where can I fly my drone” on a browser) and find out what the legislation is in your area of interest.
As for virtually anything these days, there are apps1 that display maps with safe-fly and no-fly areas so you can avoid getting in trouble for flying where you shouldn’t. There are three categories (Open, Specific and Certified) that apply to different types of drones, some of which require a certification to be allowed to fly, so it is important to bear that in mind when choosing your drone. Be sure to always check your local laws - the UK Drone Code2 can be found on the CAA website, the European regulations3 can be found on the EASA website.
It is very important to comply with the local regulations to avoid getting a fine or your drone taken away from you. I actually know of someone whose drone got shot down because they were flying close to a military base!
2. What do you want it for? What is its purpose?
There are many different applications for which you can use your drone, from building a career in photography or film making to being able to use it for scientific research; or even just to have fun and make videos of people and places you love – FPV (First-person view) drones4 are a great choice if you want to have heaps of fun racing or doing acrobatic stunts while seeing what your drone does through goggles!
There are other important considerations, like the size, portability and lens options that may be key when choosing the right drone for you. Different drones will be a better fit for different purposes, and the range of options is ever growing!
In my case, the main purpose of my drone is to film wildlife and be able to collect data for research. The ability of the drone to be folded up taking up little space was key, as I want to take it with me on my trips (whenever that’s allowed again!), so characteristics like the footage quality, reduced noise and portability of the drone were very high on my priority list.
As you can see, all these considerations are important to make the right decision and neither spend unnecessarily on a drone that is too much, nor find out that you need an upgrade too soon because the drone is not good enough for its purpose.
3. What is your budget?
This brings us to the budget! How much can you afford to spend on a drone? How necessary is this piece of technology in your situation? Could you just rent one instead of purchasing one? Retail prices for camera drones range from £200/$300 to thousands (£10,000 for the DJI Inspire 2 pack), but typical prices for first-time flyers usually don’t go higher than £1000/$1000 (FPV drones tend to be more expensive). However, if you need a drone for a particular study at a specific moment in time (or with certain specifications like thermal imaging capabilities) it may be better to rent one.
Another key aspect to keep in mind is how fast this technology is advancing and how affordable drones are becoming, so it is important to keep up with the latest developments before prematurely deciding on a device. Nowadays firmware updates are released quite often (I now have a zoom option in my drone that came in one of these updates), so chances are you will be able to do more things with your drone as time goes by. A final particularly important consideration that will affect your total spending is insurance. You may or may not need or want it depending on what your answer to the previous questions were, but it is something to keep in mind for your total cost calculation.
These are the three main questions I asked myself when looking for the right drone for me. They do not need to be answered in this order, as your limiting factor may be the budget and once you know what your top price is you can start looking for the best fit within that range. However, it is recommended that you decide the type of drone that suits your needs and then think about how much you can afford to invest in it. A great resource I found and that may interest you is The Drones Book
There are also YouTube videos on reviews of all kinds of drones, and different groups on social media that you can easily join to get advice on specific drones and feedback from owners of all sorts of drones, so make sure you check these out too!
Last but not least, there are many retail options for where to get your drone. Whether you decide to buy your drone from a local retailer near you or online, make sure you check the returns policy and warranty that each offer. In my case, I decided to buy directly from the manufacturer, but there are many different places you can get your drone from.
Whatever way you decide to go about it, I hope you find this helpful, and I wish you great fun and safe flights!