Drones are the hottest tech must-have since the smartphone. They’re (generally) easy to learn and operate. Some drones for sale start at less than $100. What’s not to love?
Not much. But that doesn’t mean you buy your first drone without doing your fair share of due diligence. Before you pull the trigger on your very own quadcopter, get these five things straight.
What’s Your Drone For?
First things first: figure out how you’ll use your airborne. Indulging your photography hobby or hoping to sell flyover vids? Get a drone with a camera that’s got the quality you need. Planning precision surveys or monitoring? Get an easy-to-handle flyer. Planning to fly far or for extended periods of time? Make sure your drone has adequate battery life. Then, once you’ve determined what you’ll use your drone for, you can figure out how much you can afford to spend on it.
Know the Rules of the Air
The Federal Aviation Administration regulates drones in American skies, but it actually holds users to three different sets of rules. If you’re planning to use your quadcopter as a private hobbyist, you need to follow one set. If you’re using your drone for commercial purposes, you’re held to another (stricter) set. The third set, for governmental uses, doesn’t apply to private drone pilots.
DIY or Ready to Fly?
Not all drones come ready to fly. In fact, you can save a boatload by purchasing an out-of-the-box drone that requires some assembly, or even by building one on your own from scratch. If you’re a handy type, consider the DIY option — provided you’ve got plenty of time and ample reserves of patience. If you’re itching to get in the air, go the ready to fly route instead.
Controller or Smartphone?
Like remote-controlled cars and planes, drones originally came with handheld controllers to be used solely with quadcopters. Controllers’ capabilities (and cost) vary widely, with some high-end models selling for hundreds of dollars. If you’re planning to use your drone commercially, or simply want a controller that’ll last for years on end, it may be worthwhile to spend more upfront. Also, controller transmitters are usually removable, so they’re portable if and when you choose to buy a new controller.
If an equipment-light, future-proof drone hobby appeals to you, look for a smartphone-controlled drone instead. These remain less common than controller drones, but they can be cheaper, and they’re rapidly gaining traction.
Virtually every commercial drone user, and most serious hobbyists, belong to drone flyer groups. If you plan on taking out your remote-controlled beauty more than a few times per year, you should join one. To be clear, not all drone groups are traditional dues-based organizations. Many are simply online forums where hobbyists bounce ideas off one another, swap stories, and find troubleshooting advice. Others are what you’d properly call “drone clubs” — local organizations with meetings, agendas and the like. Both are great for meeting people who share your passion (or business) and learning the ropes faster than you can teach yourself.
Are you thinking about buying your first drone? How do you plan to use it?