More and more people are joining the drone craze. And it’s no mystery why – drones are really fun to fly and the images you can get are mind-blowingly cool. In this blog, I am focusing mostly on the hobbyist – which just means someone using a drone for personal entertainment rather than commercial purposes. These are some tips I have learned (a few the hard way) over the years.
- What to buy
Generally speaking, buying your first drone is a little like buying your first mountain bike. If you buy too cheaply, then you end up with something that you don’t enjoy using meaning you have wasted money because you either don’t use it or you immediately go replace it with a better one. On the other hand, if you buy the most expensive option available, it likely will be more difficult to operate and you will have still wasted money because will be paying for capabilities and technology that you won’t know how to use.
The very first question someone considering a drone purchase should ask themselves is what they want to do with it, because what drone you should buy depends heavily on what you want to use it for. For instance, if you want to shoot 4k video of auto racing you are going to want a very different drone than if you want to shoot video of your kids playing at the beach to post on Facebook. But most people’s first drone is not for a specific type of task and should, therefore, be a rig that will do most things well enough.
Here are some things to look for when deciding which drone to buy:
- Manufacturer – Buy one made by a quality manufacturer. I am a fan of DJI, but other manufactures also make very capable drones. Choose a company that makes a good reliable product but will be around to help with any problems, tech support, or upgrades.
- Easy to fly – Your first drone should be easy to fly. What might be counterintuitive is the fact that the more expensive does not necessarily equal the easiest to fly. Drones are similar to cameras in this way. Professional grade drones, like professional grade cameras, are intended to be used by professionals – who already know how to use them. But again, like cameras, there is a sweet spot where you can get professional grade equipment that is point and click easy to use. Luckily, there are many options at many different price points that fit this criterion. You want a drone that connects to satellites to ensure it remains stable in the air. Drones that are hard to fly are easy to crash.
- Gimble – You want a drone that uses a gimble to hold the camera. A gimble is just a device that holds the camera and physically connects it to the drone. Some of them allow you to move or redirect the camera in flight, but all will help smooth out the rapid movements of the drone from showing up on your video.
- Live video feed – You want a rig that lets you see what the camera sees in real time. This will greatly help you in taking better photographs and video, but it also helps give you reference info to keep track of where you are in space.
- Where to buy
Where to buy has become an easier question now that drones are available from so many places. I suggest buying your drone from a place that you trust to take care of you if something goes wrong. Whether you buy direct from a manufacturer or a retail store, you should check out the warranty and repair options. Some provide crash replacement/repair and some do not.
Also, remember that drones like cell phones are constantly being replaced by newer, better versions, and it is not always easy to tell the versions apart. Before buying a drone you need to make sure that you are buying the latest version, or at least make sure you are paying a price that reflects the version you are buying.
- How to stay out of trouble
All too often, drone pilots are making the news by flying where they shouldn’t. Near misses with a planes, interfering with rescue aircraft, crash landing at the White House, and the list goes on and on. Below are some general rules from the FAA. But you also need to look into your local and state laws to make sure you do not get yourself into trouble.
- Register your drone with the FAA;
- Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport;
- Don’t fly more than 400 feet above the ground;
- Don’t fly at night;
- Keep your drone within visual line of sight;
- Don’t fly over or near people without permission;
- Don’t fly over private property without permission;
- Don’t fly over stadiums or sporting events;
- Don’t fly in national parks;
- Don’t fly over government buildings; and
- Don’t fly over disaster areas where rescue aircraft may be used.
Before you fly, just look into what is around you.
The only way to get good at using your drone is to get out and use it. Fly it. Put in the hours so that the drone operation becomes natural and instinctual. Go online and look at how many videos there are for drone fails. And know that at some point you will almost certainly find yourself in a troubling situation. Practice is the best way to keep yourself from being one of those fails.
- Connect with other drone pilots
One of the best resources out there are other drone pilots. Look online and find a group of people that share your enthusiasm for drones. There are many forums out there and they are a good place to ask questions and get information. You may even find a local group that meets up to fly and discuss all things drone.