There's a lot to consider when buying your first drone, in this article we'll guide you through the most important points. Before we dive into the main discussion, let's remember that camera drones are basically just remote-controlled flying devices equipped with a camera. You can think of them as glorified RC toys that fly and has the ability to take photographs and record videos.
That being said, not all drones are created equal, so here are some things to consider before buying one.
First things first, you want to buy a camera drone because it has photography functionality. This is an over simplification as everything depends on how the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is meant to be used. Some drones are categorized as toys; while they may have a camera and flight stabilization (gyro), toy drones do not have high quality imaging or even reliable data transmission systems.
High-end camera drones come with more capable technology including a larger sensor, 4K video quality, higher ISO range, and various kinds of options commonly found in DSLR cameras.
There's also big differences in the stabilization functionality. Currently you have the option to go with either 2-axis or 3-axis gimbals. The latter, as the name suggests, rotate around 3-axis to give better stability when capturing an image. To get good quality photography, a 3-axis gimbal is indispensable.
To get good quality photography, a 3-axis gimbal is indispensable.
Another consideration is transmission technology and range. Camera drones are equipped with advanced connectivity comprised of 2.4 GHz and 5.2 GHz frequency bands for greater transmission range.
Some of the most expensive units can transmit live HD video to the transmitter from hundreds (if not thousands) of feet away. The distance may not be much of a concern for everyday usage, but better transmission technology also gives higher resistance to interference.
All drones have limited flight times. Since they are powered by battery it's a good idea to land them near your position before they run out of juice. Do not expect hours of flight time; even the top-of-the-range model can only stay in the air for about 25 – 30 minutes (unless we're talking about military-grade units).
Battery capacity is also affected by the stabilization function in the sense that 3-axis gimbals require more power to work.
A camera drone with a lot of technologies and intelligent functions requires a complex controller as well. First time buyers may find that a sophisticated drone is overwhelmingly difficult to control, but this is not always the case. Intelligent functions such as a obstacle avoidance system, auto-return, and autopilot can make flying the drone easier.
This is not to say that spending thousands of dollars on a drone will instantly make you a great pilot. It takes training to master the vehicle, so be smart with your investment.
A $100 camera drone won't perform as well as one that costs ten times more; any drone priced at less than $200 may not have the technology you need (for example the 3-axis gimbal and a collision avoidance system), so they're quite prone to crashing.
Spending thousands of dollars on a drone won't instantly make you a great pilot.
When it comes to photography features, think of the price of a DSLR camera and expect to spend around the same amount of money. Assuming an entry-level DSLR costs around $400, a camera drone with reasonable quality and performance should cost a little more than that.
At the end of the day – and like with any other piece of technology available out there – you get what you pay for. However, getting the most expensive model isn't always the best thing to do, especially if you have never flown a camera drone before. It can be good idea to go for the mid-range model at around $500 as a start; after your expertise has out-grown the unit’s features and functionality, consider getting a more advanced model.