2018 Beginner Drone Buying Guide
If you are new to the world of drones and you are looking to buy a drone for yourself or your child it can be very easy to get overwhelmed. This is why I created this site. To offer drone reviews, tips, videos, etc. that will help you buy your first drone. I love flying my drones and I’m sure you will too.
Drones/quadcopters with cameras are a great way of reaching video and photo shots you would never have been able to reach before. Using a drone or quadcopter with a camera, you can get video from the skies, and you’d be surprised how affordable drones have become.
Included in this Guide
- 5 Tips to Buying a Drone
- Buying a Drone – Start with Research
- Learning about all the Different Drone Options
- Recommended Drone Options
- More Expensive the Drone = Better Drone?
- What does it Cost to Buy a Good Drone?
- Flying Recommendations
- My Top Drones for Beginners
- Best Drones for Under $500
- Drone Terminology
- FAA Guidelines
5 Tips That Will Make Buying a Drone Easier
- Think About the Reasons You Want to Buy a Drone (Photography, Racing, New Business, Relaxation)
- Get a Comfortable Budget in Mind (Drones around $500 usually fly for 20-25 mins. and Drones less than $200 normally fly for 6-10 mins.) A more professional, but usually easier to fly models, usually cost around $1000.
- Use Amazon to See What Drones are Most Popular. Note What Others Like or Don’t Like About a Drone they Bought.
- Before you buy Research Different Kinds and Brands of Drones (Know Exactly What You are Buying and What Accessories come with the Drone)
- Use YouTube to Further Your Research (Learn What Features are Important to Users – Return home button, auto take off and land buttons, FPV, altitude hold, hover, prop guards, safety features, low battery indicator, and how the controller feels and looks)
These are just some tips to get you started. If you continue to read we will go over each tip in greater detail.
A Drone Buyer’s Guide…learn more about how to research, choose, and buy your first drone.
First off, not all camera drones are equal. For instance, you can buy a small drone without a camera just to see if you like flying a drone. Some quadcopters are RTF (ready to fly), 4K, GPS guided, prosumer models that will cost you hundreds of dollars.
Others are just toys. Something you take to the backyard and mess around with. The first drone I used was a toy like this. I turned it on, it flew up in the air and it kept on going until it landed on my neighbor’s roof. I had absolutely no control over the thing!
I was like, “ I guess flying drones isn’t for me” So, I didn’t buy anything for years.
When I got back into wanting a drone I was faced with a big question.
Should I buy a cheap drone to learn to fly on or buy something that costs more but has many more features to help me fly it more successfully?
This is the question I kept asking myself during my research phase.
There are numerous benefits of buying a lower priced drone for your first drone. It will allow you to learn how to fly, shoot video, and see what features you like or don’t like, without worrying about crashing something you just spent a month’s wages on.
I would recommend a starting with a drone under $200. This will get a drone with a few more options and a little bit more durability. Then, after you’ve spent some time with that drone (and crashed a few times), you can then upgrade to a model somewhere in the $500-$700 range. My first drone was a Holy Stone HS 200.
That being said, I’ve talked to many users who spent $500 or more on their first drone and did just fine. Higher priced drones usually have technology in place that will make it easier than ever for the first-time flyer. Such as GPS lock, beginner modes, hover technology, etc. A friend of mine bought a DJI Mavic as his first drone and has been doing great with it. (You can see the review here)
Of course, there are the drones that cost over $2000 with high-end DSLR cameras that are using for serious video and image capturing. You can always step up to this type of model whenever you are ready. Especially, if you plan on using a high-end drone like this for a commercial business. Side note: If you plan on using your drone for a commercial business, I highly recommend drone insurance which will protect your drone and any damage it may cause during flight.
Interested in Buying a Drone – Start with Research
If you have read this far you are interested in getting your hands on a new drone and giving this hobby a try. If you are like me, you will ask yourself; I know I need to research, but where do I start and how can I trust all the different sources available online?
The first thing I did was go to YouTube and start watching videos/reviews of drones. I didn’t want to watch videos of exciting drone footage, but I really wanted to see a drone from unboxing to its first flight.
Researching to buy a drone: Tips to get started
YouTube is your BEST friend.
Good search terms to help you get started.
— “best drones for beginners”, “how to fly a drone”, “best drone under $xxx”, “tips on buying a drone”, “Tips for drone beginners”
Then, when you think you’ve found a few drones you may be interested start using YouTube to look at them specifically. This really helped me narrow down my choices as I was able to see someone actually using the drone.
-Use Websites like this to read reviews and suggestions
-Check out Drone Forums
Drone Options – Don’t Get Overwhelmed
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, and how much you want to spend, it will become easier to narrow down your choices.
I recommend coming up with a budget you are comfortable with very early in your buying process. Drones come in all shapes and sizes; a quick rule of thumb is that the more expensive a drone, the easier it will be to fly due to it’s better technology.
After spending many, many hours researching a drone for myself, many experienced drone users recommend a drone less than $200 that you can really use to learn the basics of flying a drone. Then, when you upgrade to a more expensive drone with more technology you can really enjoy all the options.
When you get interested in a new hobby, there are often numerous terms that can really be confusing. Using a drone is no different. Becoming familiar with some of the terminology and features below will really help you when you start to compare drone features side by side.
Drone Flight Time – Most drones over $400 come with about 20-25 minutes of flight time per battery, while drones under that price point tend to have around 8-15 minutes. If you plan on going with a drone under $100 you can expect 6-8 mins.
The Remote Controller (Specs/etc.) Phone attachment, built in screen, backlit screen, size, etc.
Flight distance – How far and how high do you want to fly your drone. The FAA says you are not supposed to have the drone out of your visual eyesight, but most drones under $200 go about 100 meters, but if you go with a drone around the $200+ mark you can reach about 500 meters. Some drones on the more expensive end can go up to 4 miles like the DJI Mavic Pro.
Drone Camera – Some things to think about are camera mount and gimbal, 4K, image stabilization, etc.
Flight Modes – FPV (First person view), live feed, etc., auto-flight mode to fly via GPS (orbit, follow me, return home and others), hover, headless mode, & manual modes. From researching, most users tend to like when drones have a hover feature that will make the drone hover when you take your hands off the controller.
Features – Return home button, auto take off and land buttons, tricks, and flips, FPV, altitude hold, hover, prop guards (safety feature), low battery indicator.
Highly Recommended Drone Features:
Return Home: automatically return the drone back to launch location, using a single button.
Emergency Landing: if problems are detected by the drone such as low battery life, automatically attempt a safe, controlled landing or execute the return home mode.
Auto-Hover: sometimes called a “Panic Button”, hover mode immediately stops all forward motion and hovers in place. Important when wind or weather conditions temporarily ruin a shot; or, if you lose sight of the drone and no longer have video stream or telemetry data to confirm its position.
Headless Mode: A very good flight mode for a beginner. Watch this video to learn more about Headless mode and what it means.
Changing a Battery – How easy is it? Some of the lower priced drones don’t have batteries that slide in and out. They can be a little tricky when you want to change a battery.
Drone Weight – If your drone is too light you will have a very difficult time flying it outside. With the drone I have, (Holy Stone HS200), if I try to fly in any wind over 5mph it becomes very hard.
Other things to keep in mind when buying a drone.
Warranties for most drones like the Autel X-Star generally last 1 year and cover all parts including the camera and gimbal.
If your drone stops responding, breaks, crashes for no reason you want a drone manufacturer that will help you out. A company with great customer service is Autel Robotics. In addition, Holy Stone has very good comments regarding their customer service.
I should Buy an Expensive Drone First Becuase it Won’t let me Crash it….WRONG!
Due to the advancement of today’s cell phones drones have become even more popular. (and even easier to fly) Most drones over $100 have the option to either control the drone with just your cell phone or have the option to attach your cell phone to the controller. If you attach your cell phone to the controller you will have the option of using “live-feed”, which allows you to see exactly what your drone is seeing.
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.
Even though drone and cell phone technology are constantly improving, you still have to know what you are doing because drones can be dangerous and you need to follow every safety precaution when flying a drone. Something will go wrong and you need to know what you are doing.
It takes practice to learn how to fly your drone safely and effectively. Don’t be reckless.
When you get your first drone practice doing the simple things as much as possible. (Practice Figure 8 flying at different height levels) Fly to a corner, turn it left, go to the left corner…rinse and repeat. You may have to fight your urges (as I did) to take it up super high and start flying over trees. Don’t.
This is why I love the Autel X-Star Premium because it offers a beginner mode which won’t let me get too high in the air or too far away. Also, when you take it out of beginner modes you can still set up parameters for height, distance and drone speed which allows you to go a little further without fully taking off the training wheels.
The video below offers great advice when starting to fly a drone. (Plus, I think the guys is pretty funny!)
How Much Does it Cost to Buy a Good Drone with a Camera?
Once you have considered all of the above, prices will vary depending on your answers.
Of course, you can go out and spend $100 on a drone with a little camera and be just fine. That being said, if you are interested in some higher-end models with more options the prices can increase very fast. If you are like me, after you fly your first drone you will be hooked. It won’t be long before you are staring lovingly at a model just under $1000.
DJI is one of the most well-known companies when it comes to quadrotors/drones 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 less than $500. It is notoriously easy to fly making it perfect for beginners. (See our review here) On the other hand, there are some real horror stories related to their customer service. Just search “DJI and customer service” and you will read some real customers service horror stories.
A drone manufacturer with a great customer service track record, and that’s American based is the Autel Robotics. They have a great website with great video tutorials, common questions, tips, etc. This is why, after a ton of research I decided to buy the Autel X-Star Premium for myself.
Another option, If you wanted something away from DJI, is the Yuneec Q500 4K which 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 $700.
If you’ve just purchased a drone here are some recommendations before you fly.
- Go to a park, field or big empty area with no buildings or wires.
- Early morning flying is usually better due to less wind.
- Don’t fly your drone with other distractions…focus on what you are doing.
- Stay away from people, animals, power lines, and water.
- Know your limits, take it slow. Most drones come with a beginner mode. I recommend you use it.
- Read the Manual….Then, read the manual again.
- Watch videos on YouTube of others using the drone you have.
**You took your drone outside and got it stuck in a tree…What do you do now?
The first time I took my little Holy Stone outside I got it stuck in a tree. I went to a soccer field by the local high school. I was flying just fine and was starting to push the battery life limit (6-9 mins.) and I thought I would take it up one more time. Unfortunately, I got a little too high, caught some wind and it took the drone across the street and into a subdivision. It came to rest on the top of a 23-foot tree. It showed me just how fast you can lose control of your drone so be careful. If you do get stuck in a tree here is a site that has some good tips on getting it down.
Are You Ready to buy a Drone Now?
When thinking of buying a drone you need to first consider exactly what it is going to be used for along with a few other items to think about.
- Is this going to be your first drone? (cheaper model – less than $200 vs. expensive model – less than $500)
- Do you have areas near you that are safe to fly a drone?
- Will you be using your drone to make money with a business? (example: flying drones over golf courses for aerial views)
- What features are important to you – flight time, ease of use, FPV, etc.
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, and customer service. 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.
Below is a video on the 4 Things you should know before buying a drone.
Top Drones under $150 (Best Drones for Kids and Beginners)
- HD FPV CAMERA: First Person View 720P HD REAL TIME Video Camera (2MP, 1280×720 Pixel) enable you to take aerial videos and photos with your iPhone or Android phone device.
- ALTITUDE HOLD: Powerful air pressure altitude hold function allow you to release the throttle stick and the drone will keep hover at it's current height. Easy for you to shoot quality images or videos.
- MOBILE CONTROL: Control the drone with a smart phone App to activate multiple functions such as Gravity SENSOR Mode which allows the user to control the flight by holding and moving the smart phone accordingly. Operate the drone on the App interface.
- HEADLESS MODE AND ONE KEY RETURN HOME FUNCTION: Orientation of the drone in relation to the pilot. Great function when the drone is out of sight. The function is dependent on the direction of the user when paired; One Key Return Home Function: Avoid...
- 2.4G 4CHANEL 6-AXIS GYRO TECHNOLOGY: 2.4G technology makes it possible for several models being played at the same time without interference; 6 AXIS GYRO STABILITY: The multi-axis gyro offers extra stability for easy handling and 360° flips.
- HEADLESS SECURITY SYSTEM Enables players of any level to fly the drone easily
- 2.4GHz Technology Adopted for Anti-Interference
- More Stable and Flexible with 6-Axis Gyro Stabilization System
- Good Performance of Wind-Resistant Control Range: About 30-50 Meters
- Flight Time: About 6-8 minutes Charging Time: About 45-60 minutes (Under currents input 0.5A-1A)
- HD Camera: Capture pristine HD aerial footage and photos - 720p HD / 30 fps.
- Headless Mode: Makes easier flight and better control, no need to worry about drone's direction when flying.
- 6 Axis Gyro Stability: The multi-axis gyro offers extra stability for easy handling and 360° flips.
- Easy Safe and Fun to Fly: The headless mode, low voltage alarm and 360° flips function ensur safe and fun flight, no worry about the quad copter fly away.
- Bonus Battery : 2PCS LiPo batteries to double your flying time; more interesting when you are flying outdoor. （Need more batteries? Check the Special Offers and Product Promotions below)
Last update on 2018-02-23 / Affiliate links / Amazon Affiliate Disclosure
My Top 3 Picks for Drones Under $500
Last update on 2018-02-23 / Affiliate links / Amazon Affiliate Disclosure
My Top 3 Drones of 2018
- Fly for miles. From your pocket. Inside the Mavic's pocket-sized remote controller is DJI's brand new OcuSync transmission technology, with a range of 4.3mi (7km) and Full HD 1080p video streaming.
- No bumps and scrapes When you know what's in front of you, you won't bump into it. The same is true of the Mavic. Using Flight Autonomy it can see obstacles as far away as 49ft (15m) in front.
- Absolute Precision Flight Autonomy technology means the Mavic can hover precisely in more environments, and automatically land almost exactly where you took off.
- Stay flying longerWhy fly for 10 or 15 minutes when you can fly for up to 27? With the Mavic you can. Finely tuned control
- Use every single pixel The Mavic is the only drone of its size to carry an integrated high-precision 3-axis mechanical camera stabilization system.
- 2.7K video and 12MP stills from the 3-axis stabilized integrated camera makes the Phantom 3 Standard a strong value.Enjoy the view: A live video feed gives you a 720p HD real-time view of what your camera sees right on your mobile device
- View a live image streamed from the drone up to a half mile away on the free DJI Go app using your mobile phone or tablet
- GPS assisted flight features let you concentrate on getting great images while the drone helps you fly safely. You can achieve advanced camera perspectives with the Point of Interest, Follow Me and Waypoints modes (pending app feature availability)
- Fly up to 25 minutes with the included intelligent battery
- A range of accessories is included:1 battery and charger, 2 full sets of propellers, radio controller, 8GB micro SD card
- 4K Ultra HD video camera with quick-release 3-axis gimbal stabilizer
- HD Live View up to 1.2 miles away and autonomous flight modes via the free Starlink app for iOS or Android (mobile device sold separately)
- Dual GPS/GLONASS outdoor navigation, SecureFlyTM magnetic interference protection, and the Starpoint Positioning SystemTM
- Intuitive remote controller with LCD display and one-touch action buttons
- Included accessories: Premium hard case, 64-GB MicroSD card, intelligent battery, 1-hour fast charger, spare propellers and small parts
Last update on 2018-02-23 / Affiliate links / Amazon Affiliate Disclosure
Drone Terms You Should Know
Drone terminology and definitions
Line of sight – The pilot can see their quadcopter during flight.
FPV (First Person View) — The pilot can see where they’re flying through the UAVs camera.
Transmitter/Remote Control – The hand-held device that allows you to maneuver the quadcopter and adjust its settings.
Propellers – They spin according to the manual controls of the pilot. The intensity of the spin correlates to the intensity of the quadcopter movement.
Camera – Many quadcopters either come with a camera or allow the pilot to attach a camera to them. This is how pilots practice aerial videography and photography. (A camera came in second place when we interviewed UAV experts about their favorite drone accessory.)
(Note: For simplicity’s sake, this article assumes that the left stick controls yaw and throttle, and the right stick controls roll and pitch. Some transmitters allow the pilot to switch these controls based on what’s most comfortable.)
Roll – Done by pushing the right stick to the left or right. Literally rolls the quadcopter, which maneuvers the quadcopter left or right.
Pitch – Done by pushing the right stick forwards or backwards. Tilts the quadcopter, which maneuvers the quadcopter forwards or backwards.
Yaw – Done by pushing the left stick to the left or to the right. Rotates the quadcopter left or right. Points the front of the copter different directions and helps with changing directions while flying.
Throttle – To increase, push the left stick forwards. To decrease, pull the left stick backwards. This adjusts the altitude, or height, of the quadcopter.
Trim – Buttons on the remote control that help you adjust roll, pitch, yaw, and throttle if they are off balance.
Bank turn – A consistent circular turn in either the clockwise or counterclockwise direction.
Hovering – Staying in the same position while airborne. Done by controlling the throttle.
Figure 8 – Flying in a “figure 8” pattern.
Manual – Similar to flying a helicopter. Once you tilt the quadcopter (roll) it will not auto-level itself back to its original position. Even if you let go of the stick and it returns to the middle, the quadcopter will stay tilted.
Attitude (Auto-level) – Once the sticks are centered, the copter will level itself out.
GPS Hold – Returns the quadcopter position once the sticks have been centered. The same as attitude mode (auto-level) but using a GPS.
Follow – The drone will follow you
Orbit – The drone will fly around a specific point at a specific height.
Since drones are so fun to fly it’s not difficult to see why drones have become so popular.
Drones have even become a larger part of our work force too.
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.
FAA Safety Guidelines
- Fly at or below 400 feet
- Be aware of airspace requirements and restrictions
- Stay away from surrounding obstacles
- Keep your UAS within sight
- Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
- Never fly over groups of people
- Never fly over stadiums or sports events
- Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
- Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
To get the drone that suits your exact needs, be sure to consider your budget, flight time requirements and the other facts mentioned above.
Drones with Cameras for 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!
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?
Extra Drone Information (Apps and Tips)
FAA – where can I fly app?