When I started big mountain snowboarding 16 years ago, the last thing I imagined I’d have to multiply my experience would be a flying camera. Now, thanks to drone footage, I can take my backside 180s to levels I never thought possible and I want to share all of my experiences with you which is why I penned this drone buying guide.
Drones have completely changed the game for me and you are probably seeking a drone solution that can change the game for you too. The good thing about drones is that they can be useful for almost anyone. You might not be interested in mapping corkscrews like me; it doesn’t matter – there’s a drone for almost anything you want to throw at it.
But I’ll tell you now: the sheer volume drones available today are starting to look like a Walmart shelf packed with different brands of toothpaste – so many types, colors, shapes uses and capabilities is starting to paralyze consumers as they try and find the “best drone” for their needs and that is why I put together this drone buying guide. This guide was written to sort things out so that your choice is made easier.
Before I lay out the case for each of the top 7 drones I’ve selected, I want to lay the groundwork for drones themselves. Believe it or not, many would-be buyers just see drones as flying objects; toys that they should have without having a moderate understanding of what they are. This sort of approach can be bad. And when it gets really bad, drones are not the must-have toys we see advertised with cool footage on YouTube. More on that below, but for now let’s get into the main types of drones.
Drones go by many different names. They are sometimes called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems or sometimes Unmanned Air Systems. All have one thing common: they are aircrafts without a manned pilot aboard.
Some drones are controlled autonomously with an onboard computer system. Those are the sort the US military use to take out the bad guys so we won’t concern ourselves with them here.
For our purposes we are looking at those drones that are controlled remotely by a pilot on the ground – or in the air if you choose to control your drone from say, a helicopter.
There are three basic types:
Fixed Wing Drone
These drones come with a rigid wing which acts as the main generator of lift for the UAV. Fixed wing drones have natural gliding capabilities and don’t crash as easily when things go wrong either technically or through pilot errors. Fixed wing drones are also sturdier, can carry more weight and have longer flight times while consuming less power. There’s one major drawback to find wings, though. They don’t hover, which can be a nightmare when you need to carry out tasks that require precision flying. The inability to hover means that they are unstable and don’t position well – not good when you fit a camera and want to capture stable footage. For long missions, this drone is perfect.
Rotary Wing Drones
These have a solitary rotor, much like a helicopter. Like helicopters, rotary winged drones can take off and land vertically. This capability makes them handy for operating in small spaces. They also hover very well and because they can hang in the air and perform maneuvering, they are excellent for carrying out aerial inspections. The downside to rotary winged drones is that they are more mechanically complex and require greater maintenance and repair. They also suffer from a lower operational threshold and won’t go as far as fixed wing drones.
These types are the most common, and as the name suggests, multiple rotors are fitted to these UAVs. There are several setups for multiple rotor drones: 3 rotors, commonly called tricopters; 4 rotors, commonly called quadcopters; 6 rotors, commonly called hexacopters, and 8 rotors, commonly called octocopters. As you can imagine, drone makers are constantly innovating these types of drone. Many have fitted as many as 16 rotors. The overall benefit of multipole rotors is of course greater stability and ease of control. And like single-rotor drones, multiple rotor UAVs are able to take off and land vertically, hover and are excellent at air maneuvering. More rotors also mean lower speeds unfortunately. This translates into the disadvantage of shorter flights
A question I get often is why my guide doesn’t differentiate drones by elements such as cameras, GPS and so on. My reason is simple: these are really drone add-ons; spending time to include add-ons as differentiators only serves to confuse buyers. And we don’t want that!
Of course, I recognize that you might be interested in buying drone with multiple rotors, a camera and GPS, in which case the next section is perfect for that discussion. This is where I cover my top eight drones.
There could be any number of reasons you are looking to buy a drone. These days, drones are used commercially for delivery services, security and law enforcement, search and rescue operations, agricultural and even in film and TV. The possibilities are endless and the top eight drones I’ve selected below can be adopted for most purposes – even recreational flying and action sports film-making.