A drone is basically an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Before the rise in consumer interest in UAVs, the word “drone” was primarily used to refer to the UAVs used by the military.
Now, though, intelligent quadcopters that have UAV-like features are more popular among consumers than ever before. And while they technically aren’t as advanced as military drones, we refer to them as “drones” because they are similar in nature (both allow you to operate an aerial vehicle in order to perform a particular task, which, in the case of consumer drones, is typically to shoot video or capture still images).
2. What is the best drone?
Determining the best drone available will depend on a lot of different factors and it will really all come down to your own personal opinion. However, at the time of writing this, we believe the DJI’s Inspire 1 is the best consumer-level drone available on the market, followed closely by it’s cousin drones, the Phantom 3 series.
Still, though, there are a few drones out there that give DJI a run for their money and if you have a specific need, there may be a drone out there that serves you better. For a full list of the highest rated drones on the market, check out this post.
3. I've never flown a drone before, which drone should I buy?
Like the question above, the best drone for beginners is somewhat subjective. Many drone enthusiasts recommend that you get a cheaper quadcopter first and learn the basics of flying with it before you move up and purchase one of the higher-end drones on the market.
While we do agree with this approach, it should be noted that the higher-end drones are typically easier to fly than the smaller and cheaper options. This is because the more expensive drones come with more sensors, GPS, better transmitters, and better software. And, it’s not uncommon for someone with no flying experience to start out with a high-end drone like a DJI Phantom 3 or a 3DR Solo and never crash it simply because they are cautious and because the Phantom 3 is so easy to fly.
But, the logic behind getting a cheap drone first and practicing with it is sound, because if you take your brand new $1,000 drone out and crash it because you don’t know how to fly it, you’re going to be pretty upset…
4. Is it difficult to fly a drone?
Again, it really all depends on what drone you choose. Different drones range from being fairly easy to fly, to fairly difficult to fly. It really all depends on what kind of drone you get and how much you are willing to spend.
A lot of the higher-end drones on the market have many features that will assist you in flying your drone. For instance, some drones have automatic take-off and landing features, where with the click of a button (or in some cases, swiping on your mobile device) will get your drone off the ground or have it land in the open space beneath it.)
Perhaps the most helpful feature on some higher-end drones is their ability to hover in mid air when you let go of the controls. Basically, this means that if you are flying and don’t like the direction you are headed or have become confused on the orientation of your drone, you can let go of the control sticks and the drone will simply float in mid-air and remain in place until you take the controls over again.
Also, many higher-end drones will allow you to select automatic waypoints and the drone will use GPS to navigate to those waypoints and you don’t have to control it at all.
On the other hand, though, some of the cheaper “drones” on the market are more difficult to fly, as they have less features. And, even the higher-end drones aren’t prone to getting a little squirrely on you… Simply Google “drone crash” or search for the same term on YouTube and you will see many videos of drone flights gone wrong.
Ultimately, though, whether you purchase a high-end drone that is easier to fly, or a cheaper drone that requires some skill, you definitely need to understand what it means to fly safely before you head out to fly for the first time and you should always err on the side of caution when flying.
5. What kind of regulations are there to fly a drone?
Recently the FAA ruled that if you own a drone that weighs between 0.55lbs and 55lbs, you must register it through them. Registering with the FAA entitles giving them your name, address, and phone number as well as paying a $5 fee. The registration will last for 3 years. This regulation was put in place in attempt to crack down on irresponsible flying.
Aside from the registration requiremtn, the FAA also has these basic rules in place for non-commerical users:
Don’t fly near manned aircraft
Fly below 400 feet
Don’t fly your drone out of your sight
You cannot fly a drone that weighs over 55lbs unless it is certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization
You cannot fly your drone for commerical purposes (unless you have an exemption)
Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport
You cannot fly your drone over stadiums or events
Don’t fly your drone over people or crowds of people
Don’t fly recklessly or in anyway that endangers others
These regulations are put in place to ensure safety to yourself, to others, and to manned aircrafts in the sky.
6. Wait, I have to register my drone and provide my physical address and information?
Yes, you must give the FAA this information if you want to legally fly your drone. Furthermore, the FAA has stated that they are planning on making your information accessible to the public through a public database of registered UAV owners.
7. How long can drones fly for?
Currently, consumer level drones have limited flight times. Of the higher end drones on the market, the max flight time is between 25-30 minutes and even that is pushing it. In reality, the best drones can fly for about 20-25 minutes max.
Smaller and cheaper quadcopters can fly for about 10-15 minutes or less.
8. Where is the best place to fly drones?
While there is no “best place” to fly your drone, you should always look for an area that is open and where there are as few people around as possible.
You should definitely avoid flying in populated areas, residential areas (for privacy reasons), commercial areas, schools, events, and especially airports. Flying drones in national parks is also illegal.
The FAA also requires that you keep your drone under 400 feet.
Basically, don’t fly your drone anywhere where if you crash it, it can endanger someone else. It’s always a good idea to use common sense when searching for a place to fly.
9. Is there anywhere where I'm not allowed to fly my drone?
You cannot fly your drone above 400 feet, in national parks, at public events, over stadiums, within 5 miles of airports, near the White House, over people, or anywhere else that will endanger you or someone else.
10. What are the different uses for drones?
Right now consumer and commercial drones are primarily used for aerial photography and videography. Commericial drones, however, are expanding in terms of usage and in the future you will see drones being used for things like, monitoring crops, delivering packages, dropping off life vests to swimmers in need of help, mail delivery, finding missing people, etc.
Drones will likely change the way our society operates in the coming years, but for now, consumers are mostly limited to being able to take cool pictures and videos.
11. I have an idea for a business where I will use a drone. Do I need to do anything other than register the drone?
Unfortunately, if you want to operate a drone for commercial reasons, simply registering your drone through the FAA will not be enough. Before you can operate a drone for commercial purposes, you need approval with an FAA 333 Exemption.
Not only that, but you need to be a licensed pilot in order to fly a commercial drone. You, could, of course, get the FAA 333 Exemption and hire a licensed pilot to fly your commercial drone, but in order for you to be able to personally fly a commercial drone, you need both the exemption and be a licensed pilot.
12. Can I put a camera on my drone?
In my opinion, there are three types of drones…
Drones that come with a camera setup pre-installed
Drones that are made for cameras but leave it up to you what camera setup to install
Drones that don’t have cameras
The first type is pretty self-explanatory. If there’s a camera on it, there’s a camera on it. However, just because a drone comes with a camera pre-installed, that doesn’t mean it’s a good camera. On the one hand, you have a drone like the Phantom 3 Professional (~$1,200) that comes with a nice camera capable of shooting 4K video and a gimbal to keep the camera stabilized during flight.
On the other hand you have a drone like the Syma X5C (~$50) that comes with a camera capable of shooting video in 720p resolution, but doesn’t have a gimbal, and so the video quality isn’t too great.
Then there are drones like the 3DR Solo that don’t come with a camera and gimbal system but sell a gimbal that is compatible with a GoPro Hero camera separately. This gives you a little more control over what goes on your drone.
And, finally, there are drones that don’t have a camera at all (like the Blade Nano QX. Typically, these drones are cheap and not powerful enough to hold any kind of payload anyways.
13. How long does it take to charge a drone's battery?
The time it takes to charge your drones batter varies from drone to drone and on the type of charger that comes with your drone. Higher end drones can take anywhere from one to two hours. And, that’s just for the drone… you also have to charge the controller as well.
And, even small drones like the UDI U818A and the Syma X5C can about 100 minutes to charge.
14. Should I get an extra battery and/or battery charger for my drone?
It’s always a good idea to purchase an extra battery (or batteries) and either an extra charger, or a charge that has the capacity to charge multiple batteries at once.
The reason for this is to give you the ability to fly longer than the 20-25 minutes that even the higher-end drones max out at. Having extra batteries allows you to swap out your dead battery for a fully charged one so that you can fly longer.
And, having an extra battery charge will allow you to charge multiple batteries at once so you don’t have to wait as long before having all of your batteries recharged.
15. What's the best way to transport my drone?
If you’re looking at a high-end drone that is fairly expensive you don’t want to break it. And, you especially don’t want to break it when you’re not even flying it.
Fortunately, there are a lot of good carrying cases out there that will house your drone, controller, batteries, and everything else you need. I recommend getting a hard case in most scenarios for added protection, but a backpack might be a better option if you plan on taking your drone off the beaten path and you need to hike to get there.
16. Can I fly my drone over lakes, rivers, or the ocean?
Sure, why not? Many drone-enthusiasts love to fly over water. However, if you crash your drone into a body of water you may not be able to retrieve it and even if you do, the water may have damaged it permanently. But then again, a crash on land could destroy your drone as well… so, the simple answer is, yes, you can fly your drone over water… just don’t crash it into that water.
17. What happens if I crash my drone?
Crashing your drone can result in consequences ranging from it being a little banged up, to it being completely destroyed, and everything in between. Crashes do happen. Most of the time crashes are due to user error… but sometimes the drone can crash on it’s own or even fly away.
Ultimately, what happens after a crash depends on a couple of things… namely, whether or not the crash was due to user error, or the machine, and what kind of warranty you have. If you crashed your drone and it was your fault, in most cases you will have to pay to have it fixed. If it wasn’t your fault and you are still under warranty the drone manufacturer should fix it. Note that should is in italics. In most cases the drone manufacturer will inspect the drone to determine the cause of the crash and if they determine that it was your fault, then you will be stuck with the repair costs.
18. Can I build my own drone?
Yes, there are many DIY drone kits out there that come with all the parts you need to build your own drone. Building your own drone is a great way to learn all of the components of a drone and how they work together.
19. If I buy a drone will it be ready to go right out of the box?
With the rise in consumer drones, most popular drones on the market today are RTF (Ready-To-Fly). Simply put, an RTF drone contains everything you need in the box and can be up and flying within a short period of time (software updates notwithstanding.)
Note that a drone being RTF doesn’t mean that it is ready to shoot video. Some drones don’t come with a camera setup right out of the box and must be added.
Also, some drones don’t come with a controller and you need to purchase a compatible controller separately. These are called BNF (Bind-And-Fly).
And, finally, there are DIY kits, in which case you would assemble the drone and ARF (Almost-Ready-To-Fly) drones where partial assembly may be required.
20. How much do I need to spend in order to get a high-quality drone?
Right now, to get a top-tier experience from your drone, you would want to look to spend at least $500-$600. And, assuming you want a high-quality camera and an easy-to-fly machine, you’ll probably want to spend at least $1,000.
Ultimately, if you want a high-end drone, you will either be looking to get one of the DJI Phantom 3s (the Phantom 2 series is still good as well), a DJI Inspire 1 (most expensive), a 3DR Solo, a Yuneec Q500 4K, a Blade Chroma, a 3DR Iris+, or a 3DR X8+.
21. Where should I buy my drone from?
There are plenty of authorized retailers where you can buy a drone from. And, of course, in most cases you can buy your drone directly from the manufacturer.
And, perhaps the best place to get your drone is from Amazon. The two reasons why I like to buy from Amazon is that 1) the free two-day shipping I get from being a Prime member means I get my drone (or accessories/spare parts) a lot faster, and 2) Amazon has a pretty lenient 30-day return policy, which means if something goes wrong in the first 30 days, you don’t have have to deal with the manufacturer. This is nice, because on average, the more established Amazon handles returns and exchanges much faster than drone manufacturers who are fairly new to the world of retail.
22. What are the best drone forums and/or communities?
Part of the fun of being a drone owner is being a part of the drone community. Fortunately, there are a few different forums and communities out there where you can discuss your drone hobby as well as get help with any questions or issues you may have.
Here’s a list of a few of the more popular drone forums and communities:
Of course, there are definitely more drone-related communities out there, but these have the biggest user base.
23. What is FPV?
FPV stands for First Person View. Basically, what this means is that there are certain drones that will allow you to pilot your drone via FPV.
So, essentially, instead of looking up in the sky and flying your drone based off of how you see it from the ground, you fly the drone based off of what you see through a live broadcast of what’s being filmed through the camera on the drone.
There are many benefits of flying in FPV mode as you can get a better orientation of your drone, including smoother flying, easier time finding good shots for your camera, and just the feeling of flying.
24. Do I need insurance or liability coverage before I buy a drone?
Unless you are planning on flying your drone for commercial purposes, you probably don’t need to get drone-specific insurance.
In fact, if you have home owner’s insurance you are probably already covered.
25. In addition to the drone, are there other things I should buy to go along with it?
In addition to the drone it’s always a good idea to get an extra battery (or two), an extra charger (for the extra battery), extra props, and a carrying case (either hardshell or a backpack.)
26. Is it hard to land and take off?
It really depends on what kind of drone you have. A lot of the higher-end drones (like the DJI Phantom series, the DJI Inspire, the 3DR Solo, etc.) have automatic landing and takeoff features. With automatic landing, you just need to get your drone to hover over a clear area, hit the automatic landing feature (or swipe it), and the drone will land itself. The takeoff feature works the same way (just put it on level ground and hit the button).
For cheaper drones that don’t have the auto takeoff and landing features, you will need to use more care as a lot of crashes tend to happen during these two phases of flying.
27. How far and how high can I fly my drone?
Depending on what drone you get, you can technically fly as far as a few miles and as high as a few thousand feet in perfect conditions.
However, the FAA requires that you keep your drone below 400 feet in order to not interfere with any manned aircraft, and as far as distance goes, it’s always best to maintain a clear line of sight. So, while the upper limits of range and altitude on consumer drones are quite high (assuming you have a high end drone), it is technically against the FAA’s regulations to push your drone to those limits.
28. I have a GoPro camera, can I use that on a drone?
Drones like the 3DR Solo are designed to carry a GoPro camera. So, if you have a GoPro camera already, then you’ll definitely want to look for a drone that can accommodate it.
29. Do you need to have a pilot's license to fly a drone legally?
The short answer is, no, you do not need to have a pilot’s license in order to fly a drone legally. All you need is an FAA registration. However, if you plan on flying drones for commercial purposes, then you do need to have a pilot’s license.
30. What happens if you fly your drone out of range of your transmitter?
A lot of drones on the market have features where if it travels out of range, it will either automatically land, or automatically return to home (which means it will come back to the controller.) So, if you plan on pushing your drone to the limits, you may want one that has one of these features.
31. Can a drone fly in all weather?
Typically, flying your drone in mild weather is ideal and you really shouldn’t fly a drone in the rain or when it’s snowing (snow on the ground, while typically advised against by most manufacturers, is usually fine.)
It’s also a good idea to fly when winds are calm and you have good visibility. However, some higher end drones using GPS can fly in moderate winds and be okay.
32. Are drones just a fad that will soon go away?
Drones have many potential uses and as such are not likely to go away anytime soon, even with all of the new regulations coming out limiting their use as a consumer product. In fact, the FAA’s new regulations suggests that they expect consumer drones to be around for awhile as well.
And, many are expecting the market for consumer drones to continue growing in the coming years. One report from the Consumer Electronics Association has estimated that the global market for drones will reach at least $1 billion by 2018. In contrast, the forecast for drone sales for the year of 2015 going into it was expected to be around $130 million. So, that’s quite an expected jump in the coming three years.
Ultimately, all signs point towards consumer drones being around for a long time.
33. How big are drones?
Consumer-level drones range in size from a few ounces to a bit under 10 lbs. Many of the sub $100 drones on the market come in well under 0.55lbs, which is the minimum weight needed in order to have to register your drone.