Drones come in various forms and are packed with some of the latest technology like RealSense, which was demonstrated at the recent CES run by the Consumer Electronics Association. The Association said the drone market should be valued at around $120 million USD in 2015, which is roughly 50% higher than in 2014. Based on these projected numbers it will be interesting to see where the market goes in 2016 through to 2018.
Now knowing this market data, I thought it would be fitting to put together the ULTIMATE DRONE GUIDE to help educate you and the potential buyer. So, to start of this guide, let me explain some of the drone types.
There are many types of drones on the market these day and they all have varied names.
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
- Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA)
All these ‘drones’ are the most common names you’ll hear, although I’d like to go a step further and explain the main ones in some more detail as there are some major differences between them.
Quadcopters or UAV’s
These flying crafts are typically constructed of a lightweight polycarbonate or carbon fibre which maintains a solid build. Four arms house four propellers which are all mounted on four vertical struts. The center core of the craft will hold all the gadgetry which typically includes GPS for current position and return home features, a fixed or removable camera with optional gimbal, rechargeable batteries, compass and Wi-Fi connectivity.
The payload, or the amount of weight a drone can carry will be quite limited. Most Quadcopters are only able to carry the onboard camera for flight times ranging from 15-25 minutes.
The price of these drones varies depending on the type of build supplied with it. For example one of the popular brands, DJI has quite a few entry level models that all vary in specifications.
Out of the box there’s no need for calibration or self builds as the majority of Quadcopters are Ready To Fly (RTF).
Octocopter or Flying Platforms
This type of drone is aimed more at the professional photographer or videographer who uses a digital SLR or heavier camera. These systems typically will have 8 propellers and either have retractable or fixed arms.
The advantage of these systems is the amount of weight you can carry. A disadvantage in these drones is the flight times are shorter due to the weight – typically flight times will vary from 10-20 minutes of flying time.
The gimbal systems on these drones are much more sophisticated as they allow the user to have fine control, resulting in a much more fluid pan or tilt. These systems are mostly self built or require some knowledge of the mechanical and technical parts. Custom builds are common, however many larger brands support the purchase of a base system to start with.
There are many on board features that are crucial to the flight of any drone. In this section I want to explain some of these.
On Board Features
One of the best things about drones is the fact that not only they are a miraculous piece of engineering and they can fly without a problem according to your guidance, but at the same time they can also host a wide range of on-board features that you will enjoy for sure.
An on-board feature that can be encountered in many high quality drones nowadays is surely the GPS. With it, you will be able to constantly locate the drone on a map and access it with ease. At the same time, you can also guide the drone towards the destination you want a lot faster, which makes the drone technology not only very impressive, but also very efficient and reliable, something you will thoroughly enjoy when using a drone, specifically if you’re talking about the ready to fly models.
For many drone buyers, one of the most appealing features definitely comes in the form of cameras. Some models have a dedicated camera already mounted, with other drones having a dedicated place for mounting a camera. Some drones come with a action camera such as the GoPro, which is versatile or very durable, while others come with a smaller and lower resolution camera. Depending on your budget, you can also opt for a camera that comes with low latency streaming and photo taking capabilities, it all depends on your budget and the expectations that you have from the drone.
Phone control / Joystick
Depending on the drone model, you can have the capability to control the drone from your phone, via WI-FI or Bluetooth connectivity. If you won’t receive such a feature, then you will most likely find a joystick controller in your package that will allow you to control the drone seamlessly.
Rotor and motor
Having a reliable rotor and a good motor is very important for any drone. Many drones, especially the high quality ones are coming with multiple motors, especially if they have a larger size, because more power will be needed to lift the device off the ground. The rotor of any drone is also important, because this dictates the speed and manoeuvrability that the drone will have, so you need to be certain that you get the highest quality rotor out there according to your budget.
As you can see, each drone comes with a different set of features, but most of the time the on-board features are the ones that incline you towards making a purchase or not. It’s imperative to ensure that you choose the features based on your needs and budget, because the more features the drone has, the more expensive it can get. Rest assured though that investing in high features will be well worth as you will have a better, more resilient and reliable drone!
It’s fun to have a drone and fly it around, but when you do want to get one, it’s a different process entirely. You need to determine budget for purchasing your drone, and see what features you need. These things will tell you exactly what model suits your needs, and rest assured that there are a variety of models that you can choose, which are suitable for any budget.
How much does a good drone cost? This depends a lot, based on the options, country and vendor, but in the US you can find drones as low as $479 and as expensive as $4000. It all comes down to determining your needs and ensuring that the drone has exactly the features you want.
If you opt for a dual copter, you can find prices of around $20, and they can go as high as $400 if you want a larger model, but these are inefficient and don’t really manage to provide you with a lot of flight time and most don’t even hold a decent camera.
Micro sized quads are also another option and these are usually less than $100, but a little more than the dual models. Quads this small are a delight to watch flying, especially since they actually seem to be small insects, which is very cool. It’s crucial to note that these smaller models might not come with some accessories, such as propguards or cameras.
Medium sized quadcopters will range between $500-$1000 and up to $2000-$3000 for the higher end units. What makes the medium sized units some of the best choices in regards to drone types is, of course, the added features. Most of these quadcopters have stabilization systems, a HD camera and a longer flight time, which definitely makes them a lot more appealing, especially for those that want do fly the drones for a very long time and capture exceptional footage. Some drones have a good payload capacity, others focus on better handling, while others bring cameras that can take stills. It’s up to you to choose the drone type you want, but you can rest assured that the results are well worth it!
The large, heavy drones can usually be found at a price between $2000 and up to $3000. Here you can find the highest quality drones on the market, and while they might be quite expensive, purchasing them is well worth it to say the least. Such a drone offers all the added features you might want, it’s much easier to manoeuvre but yes, it can be quite expensive.
In the end, it all comes down to your budget as this will allow you to determine the drone you can afford.
Drones are fun to manoeuvre and handle but there are restrictions that we need to know at all times when using them. One of these restrictions relates specifically to weight, stating that there are many drones in the US as well as other countries that are way too heavy in order to be accepted.
As we stated earlier, it all depends on the city you live in, but the drones usually have to weigh less than 5 lbs (or 2.25 kilograms), especially if we are talking about those that are suitable for commercial use. If you do not want to use drones for commercial use, then you don’t have to be scared about these weight restrictions, but you do need to comply nevertheless.
But why are these weight restrictions?
We can think of many things that would make governments impose them. The main concern that people have with drones is their privacy, and the heavy drones might have a high definition, heavier camera that will record in complete detail everything happening in a certain location, and thus obstructing privacy. This is a bad thing to say the least, and because of that you need to focus on removing extras in order to comply with the weight. Of course, do try and see the regulations in our country, because the maximum weight can differ, although most countries do bring a weight restriction that has to be taken into account.
Another understandable reason behind this would come in the form of the dangers that a heavier drone will bring. A heavy drone is prone to bring injuries if it falls or if it malfunctions, and this is something that we all have to avoid.
Of course, the heavier drones are harder to maneuver most of the time, which also hampers the experience, and because of that we need to try and get a smaller drone, especially if we want one of those ready to fly models.
The drone framework and its engine are usually those things that come with the weight restrictions, and it’s important to note that a framework that’s not of solid metal might lower the weight significantly. Of course, as long as the drone is under the weight restrictions it should not be a problem, but don’t go and opt for a drone of around 4.4 pounds as this is at the regulation limits. Instead, you have to focus on having a smaller drone as this brings in a better flight experience overall.
In conclusion, there are a variety of weight restrictions and these differ based on the country you are located in. Usually, you will need to acquire a drone that has under 4.5-5 pounds, and if it’s nearing this weight, then a good idea is to strip down extras such as cameras, because you do need to comply with the drone regulations if you want to fly it!
Having a drone is very fun, and flying it can be a very fun experience to go through. There are downsides however, and the major ones come in the form of flight times. Even if we would like to have a very long flight time of maybe 30 minutes or more, the reality is that, in order for the drones to have a lightweight device, the battery is smaller.
Yes, the battery is the main tool that impacts a drone’s flight time, so you need to get a drone that has a lot of mAV power in order for you to obtain a lot of flight time.
What is the general flight time for any drone? We have to say that this depends based on the drone of course, but usually flight times can be as low as a few minutes (2-3 minutes), which does happen in the case of smaller drones, or the longer flight times that can reach sometimes more than 10 minutes. In the latter category you can usually find the quad copters that do come with more power and other interesting benefits.
Flight times are also affected on the climate conditions as well. Some drones do take more time than others, which is to be expected, because they are wind resistant. If there is a lot of wind, your drone will require more battery power to counteract the currents, and thus it will fly for less time. As we said earlier, this does happen, and thus we recommend you to fly your drone only you get clear skies, as this will allow you to experience more fun rather than having to deal with problems such as wind for example.
The flight times are considerably lower than the charging times however, with most drone batteries taking up to 50 minutes to be fully charged.
There are a few engineers currently working on drone batteries that will provide around 1 hour of flight time, but those things are experimental, so you cannot focus on them for the moment. Thankfully, popular models produced by DJI will only cost around $100-$200 for a replacement battery.
So yes, despite the fact that flying times do differ based on the model you choose, there are a wide range of models that you can choose from. They mostly range between 10-15 and sometimes over 20 minutes, but in the case of those ready to fly models, the flight time can be a lot less, which is to be expected to be honest. Sure, the flight time provided with the drone can usually be seen in the price, with the more expensive drones bringing in a better time. This is why you need to focus on getting a drone with a decent flight time and a good set of features that will fit your budget!
Propellers are one of the most important part of any drone. Crashes are common and typically the first thing a new user will break is the propeller. Over the years the design has been perfected to increase uplift, torque and drag. There’s quite an in depth – rule of thumb paper on propeller efficiency, written by David F. Rogers, PhD, ATD if you’re mathematically minded it’s an interesting read.
As a guide it’s recommend you use the manufactures supplied propellers otherwise you could encounter problems when flying. Replacement propellers don’t tend to cost too much as they are a readily available part.
It’s all good having a drone to fly, but what’s really important is actually filming the point of view from a mounted camera. The camera can either be fixed to the drone or attached to a remote gimbal that a pilot can control from a remote.
Some of the types of cameras used on drones range from medium format, digital SLR’s, mirrorless, action cameras like GoPro’s and infrared cameras.
Quality of Recording
While most of us purchase a drone for amusement, the reality is that a large population of drone pilots are acquiring them specifically for photography and filming. Drones are amazing because they can reach locations you never thought as being achievable, so it’s a very good idea to get as close to them as possible in order to obtain the results you seek. Of course, the filming quality depends on a variety of factors, that we are going to showcase in this article.
Depending on the drone size, you will be able to install only a specific type of camera and, as you would expect, the smaller cameras do not manage to bring you a high quality, something that you should expect in the end. If you want a good camera quality, opt for a larger camera, otherwise what you see is literally what you get in such a case. The idea choice for resolution would be HD, but depending on the budget that you have, these solutions might be quite expensive, so take that into account before you purchase a new camera.
As stated earlier, the camera size does matter quite a lot, and in many situations it will reflect on the price. We recommend you to select a camera that has a good price and which comes with a multitude of features, but do try to get a small camera if possible, because it’s just a better fit overall, especially when it comes to the ready to fly models. It makes the drone easy to manoeuvre and it just brings a more pleasant experience overall, something that does matter.
Card size and quality
One of the things that definitely dictate the recording quality for a drone camera is the card size and its quality. It is very important to work with a card manufacturer that brings high speed cards, so that the recording quality does not suffer and, at the same time, choose enough storage power. When recording full HD video it’s recommended you use a Class 10 memory card.
Lens and camera type
In the early days drone camera lens were not always the highest quality, however these days drones like the DJI Inspire 1 have fantastic lenses. It’s a very good idea to opt for a high quality lenses when purchasing a drone, as this will increase the overall quality of the final product and just provide you with a much better experience overall.
The joysticks you use also play a role in the recording quality, because if the movements are not controlled professionally, then you might end up having a bad recording due to inexplicable movement and other stuff.
All of these things need to be taken into account if you want to get the highest quality when you record videos with drones. The better the camera you use and its lens, the higher the output quality, but do try to get a good memory card with a high speed too, as this will come in handy as well.
When you own a drone, one of the most important things is definitely the battery type that you use, because based on that you might get more or less flight time. The quality and durability of the battery should be one of the main criteria that you can use when you purchase a drone, because you do get such a device in order to have fun, so the faster it is, the better!
Lithium Polymer batteries
These are most of the time the preferred power source for most drone manufacturers, because they are inexpensive and they come in multiple sizes, so they pertain to a wide range of models. This allows the manufacturers to work with ease on the design they want, without having to deal with a very restrictive battery type.
Another benefit that comes with the lithium batteries is the fact that they are easy to charge, and also very reliable, something that all drone users want to have at all times.
The addition of Ion makes these batteries very useful and versatile, something that users do need to take into account at all times when using a drone. The best part about these batteries is the fact that they are lightweight and very easy to manoeuvre, so they can work even on the tiny drones without a problem. They do have a small charger that is very easy to use and customize to your specific drone mode. Just like the Li-Poly model, this one also has a circuit protection module.
These are the two main categories of batteries that you can find in a drone. When it comes to which is the one that suits your done, you will have to make the decision based mostly on size, budget and flight time. Most drone battery buyers need to focus mostly on the flight duration of the battery, because this can vary exponentially most of the time. As a drone owner, you need to get the best one, but do expect the longer lasting batteries to be more expensive.
The battery capacity is offered in mAH, and usually a value around 1300 is ok, but if you find batteries with more than 1500 or 1800 mAH, then you should try and purchase them, because they provide you with the high quality that you always wanted!
All in all, these are the most important things that you have to take into account when it comes to drone batteries. Keep in mind that each drone supports only a certain type of batteries, so ensure that you check the supported types first before purchasing the battery. It’s a very good idea and a thorough investment to get a better battery, so follow the instructions in this article to get the best possible batteries for your drone!
Having a drone is a great experience, but there are a few issues that you encounter as a drone owner. Let’s face it, no drone is perfect and you simply cannot expect them to always bring astounding results. There are inconveniences that you have to face when you own and fly a drone, some of which might not be that pleasant. But, as expected, these problems can be solved if you either get new components or just head to a field designated specifically for drones.
Noise is the major issue that comes with drones. Noise usually disturbs people and this is why using drones in towns isn’t ok at all, mainly because no one likes to listen to the drone noise at all. The person controlling the drone might not sense it or feel it because he is far away, but the ones located right near the drone will have a hard time because of that.
Noise is usually created by the engine and the wins of your drone. In order to prevent such an issue for happening, you need to document before purchasing the drone, and get one that will bring you better value. Some drones are bringing a lower noise, but they might not be as powerful, so something has to give in this regard. Do remember that drones are very powerful most of the time so you can’t find that many without such a problem, especially in the case of our ready to fly models.
Another issue that most drones seem to have is, of course, weight. Drones with larger engines are usually heavier, and thus they need more fins and they are larger. The heavier models also generate more noise, due to the engine. Weight is also stated on the website you buy the drone from or on its package, so check that with attention. You don’t want a heavy drone, especially if you want a ready to fly model, instead you need to focus on a drone that is very easy to manoeuvre.
Many people consider drone a privacy concern, especially because these devices can be equipped with a video camera and they can even stream video. This is what makes drones a major privacy disturbance and many people have actually thought about asking the government to create laws that prevents drone use or abuse. Even if at its core the drone manoeuvring is created for fun and with fun in mind, there are many people that use these in order to spy on others or get confidential data. This is abuse and of course, has to be prevented!
All in all, while there are a few problems with drones, this doesn’t mean that they are fun to use. You need to document properly in order to find a lightweight drone, and use it in a place where there aren’t that many people, in order to avoid causing any noise problems. As for privacy, just use drones for fun, surveillance is not permitted and it will most likely bring some unfortunate consequences that you would better avoid.
The Laws, Guidelines and Current Bans
There are many laws these days and considering drones are still fairly new in the eyes of many, the laws don’t tend to be that clear. Over the recent few years there have been quite a few accidents that have included a drone crashing near the White House and various incidents involving near misses with commercial airlines.
Below is a guide to some of the latest laws in the USA, Europe and Australia.
Please note I must stress these laws may change and certainly don’t treat this as black and white, rather treat it more as a guide…
The US laws surrounding sUAV’s are quite straight forward. They have a great website to help new users understand all the laws surrounding their latest drone purchase. The website is called: “Know Before You Fly“. Below is a brief summary obtained from the website…
Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Academy of Model Aeronautics, Small UAV Coalition in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) state the following:
Recreational use of sUAS
The recreational use of sUAS is the operation of an unmanned aircraft for personal interests and enjoyment. For example, using a sUAS to take photographs for your own personal use would be considered recreational; using the same device to take photographs or videos for compensation or sale to another individual would be considered a commercial operation. You should check with the FAA for further determination as to what constitutes commercial or other non-hobby, non-recreational sUAS operations.
What are the safety guidelines for sUAS recreational users?
- Follow community-based safety guidelines, as developed by organizations such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
- Fly no higher than 400 feet and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible.
- Keep your sUAS in eyesight at all times, and use an observer to assist if needed.
- Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations, and you must see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles at all times.
- Do not intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles, and remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.
- Contact the airport or control tower before flying within five miles of an airport.
- Do not fly in adverse weather conditions such as in high winds or reduced visibility.
- Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Ensure the operating environment is safe and that the operator is competent and proficient in the operation of the sUAS.
- Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
- Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
It’s recommended you educate yourself before flying your drone in your location.
There’s some great resources from the site Know Before You Fly, just click on the infographic to learn more:
What’s quite interesting is the FAA can’t make laws it can only offer ‘regulations and guidelines’. Here’s a short video that explains some of the key points in order for you to ‘stay off the naughty list.’
In summary if you stick with the Do’s and avoid the Don’ts then you’ll have a great flying experience:
Do fly a model aircraft/UAS at the local model aircraft club
Do take lessons and learn to fly safely
Do contact the airport or control tower when flying within 5 miles of the airport
Do fly a model aircraft for personal enjoyment
Don’t fly near manned aircraft
Don’t fly beyond line of sight of the operator
Don’t fly an aircraft weighing more than 55 lbs unless it’s certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization
Don’t fly contrary to your aeromodeling community-based safety guidelines
Don’t fly model aircraft for payment or commercial purposes
Unlike other regions in the world, Europe has a wide range of drone laws, which aren’t that restrictive when compared to other countries such as Australia for example.
All drones in Europe that are used for commercial purposes need to be certified by the government of that particular country and, at the same time, the pilot needs to obtain a certification as well. At the same time, drones can also be found in military facilities, and are also admitted for journalism, agriculture, advertisement, surveillance, scientific research and law enforcement surveillance. However, in Europe the drones do raise numerous privacy concerns and because of that you need to contact the authorities first, to ensure that you respect the current laws.
Each country tends to have its own regulations when it comes to the drone laws, so we will take some of the countries to see how they fare in this regard.
French drone pilots that use these devices at home do not need any certification, but the usual distance from people and noise regulations still apply here as well.
Germany is a little restrictive when compared to other countries and its drone laws do require your multicopter to be lighter than 25 kilograms. You will need a special permit if that happens. The normal rules such as no flights over street or people apply here as well, of course.
In Italy, you are obliged by the law to certify the UAV drone and also obtain a certification for you as a pilot too.
There are many laws that restrict RC aircraft use in parks and for competitive use. You need to avoid flying them over people, of course, as this type of activity is considered dangerous and very bad for the population. Multirotors are permitted.
Here you need to get a permit if you want to perform aerial photography as well as obtain a license for professional use. You also need to read and learn a whole 72 page manual if you want to get the RPAS license which will allow you to fly the drone here.
The only restriction for drones in Poland is to fly below 500 meters, that’s it.
You can fly under a 1KG or less multicopter without attaching a camera, if you do attach a camera you will need certification.
As a pilot in the UK you will need to get a certification that costs around 1800 pounds. Other than that, the normal use restrictions apply.
Spain does not allow you to fly such a device, unless there is a designated area to do such a thing. This law has been created mainly because there were numerous incidents happening due to improper drone use.
As you can see, most countries in Europe have a common goal when it comes to the drone laws, but at the same time there are some major differences, so you need to read the drone regulations before entering each European country, just to stay on the safe side.
When you buy your first drone, you do need to make sure that you find the perfect product that suits your budget, but at the same time you also need to think about what you use it for. The Australian law is quite restrictive when it comes to the things you can do with a drone, depending on what you want to use it for.
If you want a drone for commercial use, you will need to get an operator certificate, otherwise you will not be allowed to pilot it. The certificate shows that you can operate the drone safely. At the same time, you need to read all the regulations and rules that relate to flying a drone in Australia.
Even after that, you need to get explicit approval, otherwise you can’t get the drone off the ground.
You will need to file some documents with a regulator and you also have to state the purpose of drone use, what you carry, where you carry and so on. Infringement notices and criminal charges are some of the few things that you will have to undergo if you do not respect the drone laws.
As you can see, when it comes to the commercial use, you do need quite a lot of permits and there are many laws that you have to respect, which make the drone use for commercial purposes very restrictive.
Hobbyists do not have to undergo so many regulations when it comes to the drone use in Australia. You do not need CASA approval if you want to fly your drone, all you have to do is to take a few rules into account.
You need to stay at least 30 meters away from buildings, keep it under 400 feet and also keep the drone as far as possible from large groups of people, as it can easily cause damage to other people and that’s something you want to avoid.
Moreover, you have to maintain your drone in sight at all times, so you can see exactly where it goes and what you can do in order to avoid injuries to both you or other persons. Another restriction for drone users is that you need to avoid operating a drone close to an airport, specifically the landing area of an airport.
If any of these rules are not followed, the CASA will take action against you and bring in infringement notices that can add up to $8500. Of course, if you injure a person, then the penalties can be a lot more series, but these depend based on the case.
These are the things you need to take into account when it comes to the drone laws in Australia, so do try and follow them, as this will help you stay safe and also ensure the safety of people near you!
With the growing population of drone users it seems there’s plenty of places on earth that the presence of a drone isn’t permitted. Some of these places include airports, stadiums, hospitals, racetracks, monuments and national parks. Recently there’s been some great interactive maps shared that will show you where you can fly your drone, and more importantly where you can’t.
Two of the main resources used by drone users are:
AirMap is an interactive visual map that identifies locations where drone users can and can’t fly. Users have the ability to select from either Recreational use or Commercial use, as well as dial in potential cautions that include; temporary flight restrictions, prohibited special use airspace, restricted special use airspace and national parks.
Visually you are able to turn on layers that will show you private properties that have registered on noflyzone.org to request that drones fly over their property, other layers include; hospitals, schools and heliports. Image via Petapixel
Again this map is very similar to the AirMap, but without the in depth layer functionality of AirMap. On this map you will be able to visually see no fly zones that include major airports, U.S. military bases, U.S national parks and temporary fly restrictions. My own personal recommendation would be to use AirMap as it seems to provide better results.
There are thousands of insurance policies out there that will protect your home, car or even pet, but when it comes insuring your drone, many insurance companies lack the policies. I’ve managed to track down one company in the US that actually handles drone insurance. They’re called Lumbermens Insurance and the person I would recommend you speak to is Brandon Packman.
There’s some important things to note here, for instance when you’re searching for drone insurance in your area make sure you ask if the company will insure your equipment when it’s on the ground and also when it leaves the ground. They’ll also want to know how you’re using the drone, whether it’s commercial or for recreation and what type of weather conditions you plan on using it in. All of these factors will determine the type of policy you may require.
Another thing to note for the self builders out there. If you are building your own drone it’s recommended that you go to a company that’s certified to construct the drone you’ve purchased. This will minimise the chances of being sued when you fly or crash into people or objects.
Now when it comes to the very important recommendation, I would highly recommend you check out DJI drones.
Since 2006, DJI have certainly put in the research and development into their high end and consumer products. Many of their current platforms include state of the art camera stabilisation systems that produce incredible photo and video quality that rivals many of it’s competitors.
My advice if you’re starting out would be to go with the DJI Phantom 4 or if you’re looking at something that’s the best then I wouldn’t go past the DJI Inspire 1 – it’s the best you can get.