Drone Buying Guide

Drone Buying Guide 2017-12-29T11:26:44+00:00

What Is A Drone?

DJI Phantom P3-STANDARD Quadcopter Drone with 2.7KA drone, also known as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as well as many other names, is a device that will fly without the use of a pilot or anyone on board. These ‘aircraft’ can be controlled remotely using a remote control device by someone standing on the ground or by using computers that are onboard. UAV’s, in the beginning, were typically controlled by someone on the ground but as technology has advanced, more and more aircraft are being made with the aim of being controlled via on-board computers.

A Quick History of Drones

The idea of an unmanned aerial vehicle can be traced back to early in the twentieth century and was originally intended to be solely used for military missions but have since found a place in our everyday lives. Reginald Denny, who was a popular film star as well as an avid collector of model airplanes was said to produce the first ever remote piloted vehicle in 1935. Since this date, the aircraft have been able to adapt to new technologies and can now be found with cameras as well as other useful extras. As a result of this, UAVs are used for policing, security work and surveillance and firefighting, they are even used by many companies to check on hard to reach assets such as piping and wirework adding an extra layer of safety and security.

The rise in popularity of these devices has, however, brought some negatives as well as positives as new rules and regulations have had to be introduced to control the situation. As the UAVs were getting stronger and technologies were improving, it meant that they could fly higher and further away from the operator. This has led to some troubles with airport interference all over the world. In 2014, South Africa announced that they had to tighten security when it comes to illegal flying in South African airspace. A year later and the US announced that they were holding a meeting to discuss the requirements of registering a commercial drone.

As well as the previously mentioned uses, drones are now also used for surveying of crops, counting animals in a certain area, looking over a crowd among many others. Drones have managed to change the way that many industries are run and have also allowed many businesses to become more efficient. Drones have also helped to increase safety and also contribute when it comes to saving lives. Forest fires and natural disasters can be monitored and the drone can be used to alert the relevant authorities of anyone that is in trouble and in need of help. The exact location of these events can also be found with ease.

Drones have also become a hobby for many people around the world. In the US, recreational use of such a device is legal; however, the owner has to take some precautions when attempting to fly. The aircraft must adhere to certain guidelines that have been laid out; for example, the device cannot be more than 55 pounds. The drone should also avoid being used in a way that will interfere with airport operations and if a drone is flown within five miles of an airport, the airport’s traffic control tower must be made aware beforehand.

 

Drone Prices – How Much Should I Expect to Pay for a Drone?

With the drone market booming, it can be very easy to get completely lost in numbers, stats and prices when looking to purchase one for the first time, just know that you are not alone. It is thought that approximately one million unmanned aerial vehicles were purchased last Christmas. Luckily for you, we have a great guide detailing exactly what you need to consider as well as the prices on the market at the moment.

Firstly, you have to consider exactly what it is going to be used for.

Is this going to be your first drone that you will use every now and then?

Are you somewhat of a professional that likes to fly drones on a regular basis?

Will you be using your drone to make money with a business? (example: flying drones over golf courses for aerial views)

Deciding on how you will be using your drone will allow you to narrow down a price point you are comfortable with.

The main things that you need to consider when it comes to drones are quality, features, value and finally, ease of use. When looking at a drone, make sure that you take all four factors into consideration and decide how they apply to you. For example, if you are a beginner, you will want a product that is fairly easy to fly and keep in the air.

Once you have considered all of the above, prices will vary depending on your answers. DJI is one of the most well-known company’s when it comes to quadrotors and has a great reputation. The ‘Phantom 3’ is their most popular product and in many people’s opinion, the best. The Phantom 3 offers live HD streaming, 12-megapixel photos, a detailed app as well as 20 minutes flight time. You can currently find this particular drone at around $1200. It is notoriously easy to fly making it perfect for beginners.

Also from DJI is the ‘Inspire 1’ which offers a lot of the same features and more. This quadrotor is twice as big and twice as fast as the Phantom 3 and also includes a 360-degree camera that can be rotated completely independent from the aircraft itself. As a result of this, it is the perfect drone for professionals in photography and video. This model is also used for search and rescue and is available for just under $3000. Despite the price, this drone remains fairly easy to fly as with most DJI products.

If you wanted something away from DJI, the Yuneec Q500 4K offers something slightly different. As the name suggests, the camera shoots 4k video and is also detachable from the quadrotor so can be used as a handheld device. The company isn’t as well-known as DJI so their products aren’t as popular but they still offer a great drone and one that should be considered at around $1300.

Don’t be over-awed by the many options available to you, use it to your advantage instead. Once you have it clear it in your head what you want, you will find many options that range from less than $100 to $2000+. You can also find drones that will last around 5 minutes compared to those that will last 25 minutes. Drones come in all shapes and sizes; why not spend some time looking for the perfect one for you.

Remote Control Drone

Remote control drones have changed dramatically over the years along with the actual handheld controllers themselves. Technology has come so far that the drones have gone from a couple of minutes flying time and little added extras to nearly half an hour flying time with cameras and more while the remotes have gone from two levers (one to lift and one to steer) to a confusing looking device with an array of buttons.

Due to the availability of remote control drones and now affordable prices also, they are becoming ever more popular for recreational use with the market leader, DJI, reaching $1 billion in revenue last year. Smaller, cheaper drones are available to the beginner that plans to fly every so often while bigger and more expensive models are available to those who see it as a hobby and fly often.

Remote control drones are now also being used in many industries making them more efficient with a little investment; many oil and train companies, for example, use remote controlled drones to help fix any problems that may occur on a day-to-day basis. A train company may use a drone to find out exactly where a part of the track may be broken. An oil company may fly a drone out in the sea to find the exact cause and location of an oil spill. Such is the advancements in technology; underwater drones are now becoming more popular because of their ability to dive deeper into the sea than any human meaning that we can access never before seen areas to conduct research. All these models of drone can end up saving lives as they are completing jobs that may be unsafe for the company’s workers.

The remote controls themselves have had to adapt to the many additions that have been made to drones in recent years. Not long ago, the handset would just include to sticks but now there are buttons to control the camera, a screen to watch where you are going as you fly and even ways to control the gimbal. The gimbal is a device that can be found on your drone that will lessen and ultimately remove the effects of vibration thus creating perfect conditions for taking high-quality pictures.

Although the handheld devices have changed to an extent, the communication methods that the drone uses have changed even more. GPS is now included on many models, this allows the user to know the exact location of their aircraft as well as set out a planned route. This can come in great use as the drone will only have a certain amount of flight time so you can plan a route keeping in mind that it will have to return to you after 20 minutes, for example.

Wi-Fi can also be found on many devices which allow direct communication between the drone and the user via mobile/tablet applications. The video taken from a drone can now be live streamed to the internet as a result and was put into practice by a New Yorker who live streamed the Wall Street protests to hundreds of thousands of people watching from home live streamed also adds another layer of communication. Finally, the iOS/android apps have grown in popularity in recent times and now boast many benefits including; flying the drone (once linked up), changing certain camera settings to ensure you get the best possible picture quality as well as in-flight telemetry.

 

Drone Quadcopters

Drone helicopters are increasing in popularity every single year, mainly because of the advances in technology that makes them so appealing but also because they are hitting the market by storm so are freely available. Most drone helicopters are quadrotors, which means that they are lifted and kept up by four separate rotors although you can get some that vary from this. For this reason, many of the designs are known as ‘quadcopters’ which is an amalgamation of the two.

These devices normally use two different sets of propellers; one set of two will go clockwise with the other set going counter-clockwise. This keeps the device stable when in the air and able to quickly change direction in all conditions. Due to the success of the drones, production actually began on a larger scale version of the quadcopters but ultimately ended in failure.

At first, many people believed that a helicopter would benefit from the counteracting rotors instead of the front rotor and the rear vertical rotor (which actually produces little lift and therefore little help to the taking-off process). Many test vehicles appeared around the world in the early to mid-1900s and were, at first, a success and were many of the early vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. However, this soon came to an end after many problems including poor and inconsistent performance. An improvement was thought to have been made a few years later only to suffer again as the workload of the pilot became too heavy.

With advancements in technology in recent years, quadcopters have benefitted hugely from additions such as cameras, GPS as well as better and more efficient designs that now allow the user to use the drone inside and outside. These devices are now small and lightweight making it easier to carry around as well as fly. Quadcopters have also been used for research into unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) as a result of their efficiency.

Quadcopters are often cheaper than original remote control helicopters because of their size and their lower cost of production. They are also known for causing less damage because they have smaller blades meaning that they produce less kinetic energy. The risk of any damage can also be further diminished with the addition of rotor protection that is available that will not affect the performance of the drone.

It was at the beginning of the twentieth century in 1907 that the first product of this idea came to light when Louis Breguet designed and built a four-rotor helicopter. Though it only flew a few feet from the ground a couple of times, it is widely seen as the first product of its type. It would take over ten years for somebody else to follow up on Breguet’s hard work when a French helicopter designer built a number of different aircraft. One of which was made up of four rotors and up to eight propellers (which included many clockwise but also counter-clockwise). This device started with small flights but could stay in the air for several minutes by 1923. This was seen as a success thus being the catalyst for all future four-rotor vehicles.

 

Drones with a Camera

Many years ago, attaching a camera to a drone would have been a ludicrous idea to simply put, would not have been possible. However, dramatic advancements in technology have now meant that small yet powerful cameras are now built-in to most drones that are available on the market today. Although you can still find quadrotors without a camera, it is rare and most do include a high-quality option for both pictures and video. Because of the addition of cameras to drones, the industry is now huge and growing ever more popular every single year.

In 2014, the well-known drone manufacturer, DJI, introduced HD to their drones and the game was changed forever. The quadrotor was also equipped with a three-way gimbal which keeps the camera steady during rough weather conditions as well as the vibrations of the drone itself. As a result, drones are now being used worldwide for a number of tasks including film production and crowd control.

If you are still picturing a photograph from a drone to be from a ‘fisheye’ point of view then think again. DJI’s Phantom 3 is one of the most popular choices of drones for photographers because of its high-quality camera and 94 degree field of view (non-fisheye). The new Phantom 3 also includes features that can be found on some of Sony’s most popular camera products and the pro version even allows the user to shoot 4k video at up to 60fps. This is the same as can be found on Phantom 3’s sister product, Inspire 1; the Inspire 1 offers more extras and is, therefore, more expensive. With the Inspire 1, you will also be benefitting from the increased control with which you can fly and therefore take pictures as well as a 360-degree gimbal. The Phantom 3 gimbal can only be turned 90 degrees to 30 degrees which mean that the drone itself has to be moved in the direction that you want to shoot. A 360-degree gimbal removes this necessity and can even be controlled independently of the drone by a second remote control.

The 3D Robotic Solo (3DR) is thought to be the two aforementioned products’ biggest rival in the camera department as it allows the user to shoot in HD and stream to a chosen mobile phone or tablet. The 3DR also includes a detailed app where you can access the drone’s in-flight telemetry as well as adjust the settings to your personal preference. The 3DR does differ slightly in that it uses a GoPro camera rather than an own-brand device; this means that you will get a slightly more natural fisheye look which can be altered in editing but is something that should be noted if you are unsure of which one to buy. Despite this, the 3DR offers an array of options on the app via a segment called ‘smart shots’ that allows you to get the perfect shot that you require. This is a unique function and maybe the reason why they are starting to compete with the big boys in the industry.

So those are two of the best camera options when it comes to drones but there are many other options in-between so why not have a search and see what ones stand out for you?

 

Drone Aerial Photography

The addition of cameras to drones may have just changed the way many industries run forever. They can be used to check areas that were previously impossible to see such as piping when checking safety and security, they can be used to keep control of policing situations such as riots and protests and they are even used in movies. Look out for it next time you watch a film, normally the video will start in the air like a plane and then move across giving the viewer a wonderful aerial shot that will be remembered.

Most drones that are available nowadays come with a built-in camera and a high-quality one at that. If you own an old quadrotor and are looking to attach a camera of your own then a ‘GoPro’ camera is a good option however, you do have to consider the vibrations of the drone as this will affect the quality of the pictures that you take as well as the videos that you shoot. Built-in cameras offer a much more reliable quality consistently. Before shooting your first video you may also want to invest in a transmitter that will allow you to increase the range of connectivity when flying as well as broadcast video live from your drone.

You may look at some pictures that have been taken on a drone and compare them to yours and wonder how in earth theirs look so good yet yours barely classify as a picture. Here are some tips to remember when taking pictures or shooting videos from your drone!

Firstly, your camera is likely to get knocked around by the wind whilst in the air so make sure you are using a shorter lens to counteract this. If you couple a short lens with a fast shutter speed, you are likely to see dramatic improvements in your photography right away. A good rule of thumb to receive top quality is around 1/1000 second at 200mm and 1/500 second at 100mm. These combinations will allow you to take sharp, crisp photos no matter what conditions.

Another great tip when taking pictures from your drone is to set your camera to high contrast if haze becomes a problem (which it often does). If the problem is really bad to the point where you are getting black and white video, you may also want to shoot with a red filter. Normally, using any sort of filters such as ‘UV’ and ‘Haze’ tends to worsen the picture quality when in the air but the red filter will help to add color.

Of course, it is important to have fun when attempting photography with your drone but you also have to remain sensible at all times. Do not go out on the streets on your first day having never flown a drone before because this can actually be quite dangerous. Also, think about where you are flying your drone; avoid flying near an airport where you could be causing serious problems. It all comes down to confidence and this will come with practice. The more you practice, the more you will learn and therefore the better your pictures will get!

 

Commercial Drones

When you ask someone what they think of when you say ‘drone’ they will often head straight towards the military when in fact, the commercial drones market is more lucrative. The commercial drones industry is growing by approximately 20% every single year and the industry has expanded as a result. The introduction of high-quality cameras and efficient GPS coupled with sleek design has meant that more people use quadcopters for recreational use than ever before.

DJI, a Chinese company founded in 2006, is the market leader in recreational drones and is set to hit $1 billion in revenue next year. With a product range that includes the Phantom 3 and the Inspire 1, their products are widely used around the world in a number of different industries including farming and policing. DJI’s devices have also been associated with the solution to many natural disasters as drones can be used to hunt for hurricanes or search for the cause of a forest fire and help to keep the fire under control. Their products now offer customers high-quality photo and video recording abilities, efficient GPS systems, and application support. An app provided by DJI allows its customers to change settings on the drone to ensure the highest possible picture quality, stream 4k (60fps) video straight to an iOS or android device and access in-flight telemetry.

It is believed that by the year 2025, commercial drones could be responsible for billions of dollars in the economy. Over 100,000 jobs will be attributed to the drone market which in turn creates a significant amount of money in tax and there are no signs of this slowing down anytime soon. The industry is booming and that is exactly what a high-investment market needs. The fact that these companies are doing so well means that they are able to reinvest in bigger and better products with even more features which will, in turn, help the market to grow even more. It is a never-ending positive cycle that will not be broken while people have a healthy amount of disposable income.

Could it be long before these drones are being used without any human involvement at all?

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has predicted that in just three years, these drones or quadrotors will be able to complete jobs such as delivering parcels without any human oversight whatsoever. The drone market is constantly changing and the rules and regulations are always changing as a result. For now, drones can only be flown in a position where they can be seen by the user but many industries want this law changed so that they can use the quadcopters more efficiently. For example, a train company wants to know exactly where the rail is broken which can be a tricky procedure if the drone has to be in sight at all times. This is something that the FAA is likely to consider as it can also help to save lives by preventing workers from entering potentially dangerous situations.

With new technologies being announced every single year, who or what is going to stop this unprecedented market growth for the commercial drone market?

 

Parrot Drones

Parrot is a company based in France that has completely changed the game when it comes to remote controlled aircraft. They have produced a drone that is propelled and kept up with no fewer than four rotors (quadcopter) that is operated using the latest mobile and tablet technology. The Parrot AR. Drone allows the user to control the vehicle using an application that can be found on both android and iOS; there is also other software available for other phones/tablets.

The first version to be released by Parrot was the 1.0 in 2010. It was shown off to a large crowd at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas during a demonstration using the relevant mobile application. The device was a little over 22 inches across and was made up of mainly carbon fiber and nylon. The device included detachable hulls that could be changed according to whether you were flying inside or outside. The indoor hull provided the blades with extra protection via foam coverings reducing the likelihood of causing permanent damage. The outdoor hull was different to this in that it was made of plastic and allowed for easier movement.

Two years later, the 2.0 version was released at the same event in Las Vegas. Parrot decided that they would focus their attentions on improving their successful first version rather than building a new design from scratch. As a result, the sensors became more sensitive and therefore easier to control and the camera was upgraded to a higher quality picture. The device also became more stable in flight due to an air pressure sensor. Other parts to the drone were also upgraded such as the Wi-Fi hardware which allowed for a smoother and more controlled flight. At the consumer electronics show in 2013, Parrot unveiled an add-on to the drone which provided the user with extra storage as well as GPS navigation making it the best product to date. This added piece of technology will allow the user to mark out checkpoints on a map that the drone will follow. At the same time, Parrot also announced a new battery that was said to increase its life and therefore flight time by up to 50%.

In 2010, the Parrot AR. Drone won the award for ‘electronic gaming hardware’ at the consumer electronics show’s innovations ceremony and nearly 500,000 sales have followed to this day. Much praise also came in for the second release for its ease to learn compared to the first release which took a lot longer to become adequate at flying. Since its introduction, Parrot’s drones have been widely used including at sporting events to increase coverage as well as for streaming other events. One man even attempted to live stream the pictures from his drone of the Wall Street protests to viewers from around the globe. Directly from this, he has begun development of installing a 3G device inside the drone that will allow for connection via the internet that would mean a much wider reach rather than using a Wi-Fi point nearby.

 

How to Build a Drone

Building your very own drone has never been easier as a result of the technology that is available nowadays. Drones used to be something that you would only ever hear about on the news or something that you would read about but not now. Now, we can purchase our very own drone and even a step further, we can make our own.

The first step to building your own drone is to decide on what design you wish to emulate, this will, in turn, decided the parts that you will need. Do you want speed? If so, you need to build a fixed-wing drone. However, if you wanted precision then a multi-rotor drone is what you require. If you choose to build a multi-rotor, your options then increase again as there is many different shapes and designs to choose from. You can decide to have an ‘x’ shape, a ‘+’ shape or even a ‘y’ shape with two propellers on each arm.

The next step is to choose the base of your drone. Many years ago, sensors were not quick enough to react to the push of a button but with the advancements in technology, there is now many to choose from. Many different manufacturers offer a central, focal point to your drone that specializes in navigation as well as altitude (through the pressure sensors). You need to choose a system to your drone that best represents what you are trying to achieve, whether it is stability whilst in flight or speed. There will be a circuit board in this device that will react to your hand-held device with which you wish to fly the drone with. If you are willing to invest the money, you will also find mainframes that will allow you to pivot the camera (once installed) up and down as well as send the video down to a device on the ground via Wi-Fi or any other internet connection. As previously mentioned, if you wanted a camera on the drone, this will also need to be integrated into the system.

So now you have the heart of your drone, you have the electronics, the sensors, the camera and all the wires that are going to make this thing work but now you need to create a frame. You need to choose a material that will be resistant to damage but also hides away the main system; you want to keep all the wiring hidden from view. Carbon fiber is one of the most popular materials for drones as it is light yet extremely strong. It is also great for reducing the vibrations which will improve your drone’s ability to remain steady whilst in the air.

The final step is to attach the arms of your drone that hold the propellers. Depending on your design, it may be easier to add the arms before the body; you may also want to improve the aesthetics of your drone as well as efficiency by adding foldable arms for easier storage and mobility.

All that’s left to do now is to make sure that everything is complete. Ensure that the main system is completely wired and that the sensors will react to your remote. Ensure that your drone will actually work and is a reasonable design to stay up in the air. Ensure that your camera is linked up to a device on the ground. Once all this has been checked, it’s time to give your drone its maiden test flight!

 

Drone Kits

With the commercial drone industry booming and currently growing by nearly 20% each year, there are now an unprecedented amount of drone kits that are available to you depending on your need. Thanks to heavy levels of research and development, drones can now be purchased for an affordable price whilst still maintaining a high-quality design and a number of useful features.

If you are looking to purchase a drone, we have some things that you should keep in mind. Firstly, don’t get over-awed by some of the terms that may pop up, you may see acronyms such as ARF, RTF and BNF but once you know what they mean, you will be ready to find the right drone for you. RTF stands for ‘Ready-To-Fly’ and is a great option for beginners because it requires minimal assembly and can be used within a short period of time. RTF drones normally need charging, connecting with the controller and possibly installation of the propellers but other than that, it is ready to go. Secondly, BNF means ‘Bind-And-Fly’; this option comes without a controller. This can be useful if you already have a handheld controller for a drone and don’t want to pay extra for one included with your new drone. You do have to check whether the new drone is compatible with your old controller because some may not work even if they are on the same channel or frequency. Finally, ARF stands for ‘Almost Ready-To-Fly’. This description for a drone can actually be quite broad and may mean different things for different products so be sure to read the description before purchasing. Some ARF products will include everything bar the transmitter and receiver whereas others may not even include a battery.

As a result of the booming industry, drones can be bought from just about anywhere in the world from a number of major online retailers. The main stores of this kind are based in the US as well as China but offer to ship around the world. You may be able to find a retailer closer to you if you search a little but you can’t go wrong with a big name.

Hobby King is one of the biggest names when it comes to drones and for good reason too. They manufacture their own products, have permission to manufacture others as well as sell some of the biggest brands available. While the thousands of options are great from a consumer point of view, you also have to remember that some parts or even drones themselves may not be that good in quality so remember to check the reviews before you make a purchase. RCGroups.com also offers a wide selection of products in its ‘classified’ section. This is where people can put their drones/parts up for sale creating a market for the products.

Again, you have to be careful with this one as there may be scammers (as there is everywhere online) so be sure to talk to the seller and maybe even view the desired product for yourself. There are also many other fantastic sources for drones and drone parts including DJI, quadrocopter.com, and amazon. Just remember to stay safe when purchasing online and do not pay out money in a situation where you feel uncomfortable.