9 Steps to Find the Best Drone for You
In the last decade, we have seen the rise of a whole industry that is literally flying in terms of growth. Drones have taken the world and are changing the way we perceive, explore and even interact with each other.
Countless industries are seeing benefit from the use of drones, be it at construction, mining, extreme sports, ocean exploration, filmography, landscaping, cattle care, pipes inspection, search and rescue, and many more.
This is why drones have become so popular these days, and statistics say this is just the beginning.
The other side of this growth is supported by the millions of enthusiasts around the globe, that everyday start with drones as a hobby, to eventually become professional pilots, racers, or even builders.
In fact, hobby enthusiasts are the strongest sales segment, especially when a huge variety of cheap drones for beginners are available in the market right now. Lots of people are ordering online and visiting retail hobby stores to get theirs.
But a huge portion of this market segment is complaining about their drones not being what they expected to be, or manufacturers not disclosing information that they would like to know up front before making the decision to buy a drone.
I have to be honest, Iíve been there as well. And I know the feeling of thinking youíve been cheated on. However, after a while, I learned that the problem was not the bad manufacturers or poor quality products. Actually, the problem was me! Yes, me!
Not knowing what to look for and how to select a good drone when I first started to be interested in these gadgets was the problem. It was then that I started to develop a checklist for picking good drones.
At the beginning I started with 20 or so different things to look for, but with time, I developed a good skill and concluded that fewer things were important in order to make a good selection.
Then the last thing I did was to look for other expertsí advice and ended up creating a 9-step process that Iíve followed for the last two years to select the best drone for me.
During the same period of time, Iíve seen that other beginners struggle to find the best drone for themselves as well, and that is why I have decided to put together the exact step-by-step process I follow every time I want to get a new drone.
That is not all, I have summarized this process and put these steps together in a very friendly infographic you can print and follow every time you want to get a new drone for yourself. Hope you enjoy going through it as much as I do!
The Step by Step process nobody has revealed yet
It doesnít really matter if you want to start with drones just as a hobby, or if you plan to build your own business around these devices. This guide will be of use for you either way.
1. Start with a round number for an initial budget
During the time Iíve been buying drones for myself, one thing has always remained constant: the budget.
As a beginner, it is very easy to go with all the marketing hype that says that you need to buy a super expensive drone, and sure, most of these fancy devices have a lot to offer, but for a beginner pilot these may not be the ideal selection.
In order to do a proper selection, you have to start with predefining a budget. This will define as well your scope for picking a good drone for you.
For a beginner pilot, especially if you have no previous experience at all, $100 USD is a great number for a budget. †
2. What is your intended purpose for the drone?
80% of your drone selection needs to be based on what you want it for. Most beginners will say that just for developing flight skills, in which case I think almost any model will make it. However, make sure you follow the other steps to do the right call.
Now, it may be that you want to start with drones for escalating the hobby to ocean exploration activities, or your interest could be in the aerial photography. Whatever the case is, it is very important that you define what you want to do with the drone.
For instance, if you just want to develop some piloting skills, then you may not need a drone with a camera, so your budget can be lower. On the other hand, if you are interested in having a flying camera, then you want to define what type of camera you need.
Just make sure you take enough time to think about the intended use you want this drone for.
3. Are there any government regulations applicable in you country?
A crucial step in your drone selection is to identify if there are any government regulations that apply to it. In the US, for instance, there are different regulations for different drone models.
If you live outside the US, it is important that you consider any existing regulations so that you pick the most convenient model for your intended purpose. Also, size and weight can have a huge impact on what regulation applies to your model.
Before deciding what drone you want to get, read about any existing regulations on your Country and make sure you follow them, this will help you avoid fines and other legal sanctions.
If you are interested in learning more about the regulations in the US, then I recommend you to check this link here.
4. The camera is a huge step and needs to be considered carefully
At this point you already know if your intended purpose requires a drone with a camera or not. If so, then you need to pay close attention to the different types of cameras available.
Most basic drones already come with a built-in HD (720p) camera, which serves the purpose of having a flying camera for the beginner level. However, you have to know that there are some very cool options available in the market, with a variety of definitions for each application.
In the case of racing for instance, cameras can be swapped to improve the visibility of the pilot when flying through the obstacles.
If you want to examine the soil to determine the most fertile areas to grow grass for your cattle, on a big land, then your camera needs to be super high definition.
Another piece of equipment that you may want to consider when evaluating the camera of your drone is a gimbal, which is essentially a camera holder that goes attached to the drone. The intention of the gimbal is to provide freedom of movement to the camera and at the same time work as a shock absorber for the drone vibrations, providing a higher quality footage for those applications that require high-quality video.
If you are in the filming industry, aerial photography, or non-professional but high quality video shooting, a gimbal is a must, so make sure you consider this in your budget when defining the details of it.
5. Do you know anything about your drone flight time?
One of the things that most people completely ignore about drones is their flight and charging times. And in fact, it is not the drone’s flight time, it is more about the battery duration.
Like I said, most people do not know that right, and with most beginners’ models, we have access to 6 – 9 minutes of flight time with a single battery pack, versus between 60 – 120 minutes of charging time.
If you do the math, flight time represents approximately 15% of charging time, in the best scenario. When most people learn about this, it is very easy to get discouraged about buying a drone, because the numbers are very cold and the perception is that it makes no sense in terms of efficiency to fly a drone.
However, you should notice I made clear this flight time is for a single battery pack, and youíll be happy to know that additional battery packs can be purchased to swap batteries while charging others. Also, the batteries are not that expensive, and thus it makes sense to play this way to enjoy your drone the most.
This is why it makes perfect sense to start with a round number in your budget so that when you come up to this level of detail you know exactly how to fine tune the amount you are willing to spend. This as well is one of the things I learned the hard way, but if you are taking the time to read this post there is nothing to worry about.
The pro tip here is to buy extra batteries when getting your drone, and counting these in your initial budget as well.
6. The whole point of a crash is to give you a lesson
Another big mistake most beginners make is to buy a drone without checking spare parts availability. The importance of this is that some manufacturers donít sell but complete units, and if during a crash a propeller was damaged, youíll have to buy a the whole unit again to have fun with the drone.
This is why it is crucial to check for spare parts availability right from the start. If you are leaning towards a specific model, make sure the manufacturer has spare parts available for that model.
But donít stop here, I totally recommend you to buy those spare parts, especially if you identify that they sell them as a separate kit. If this is the case, it means the supplier has made a good engineering work and theyíve identified the parts that get the most damage during crashes.
This is a clear indicator that you are in front of a good model and should be another checkmark for your final call.
Needless to say that you have to consider the cost of spare parts in your budget as well.
7. RTF or ARF or BNF??? What does these mean?
When talking about drones, these can be classified in three different types, and the industry uses some acronyms to classify them.
As a beginner, you may not know what each of these acronyms mean, but I can assure you that depending on the drone classification, some parts will come or not inside the box, so it is crucial to know a bit about this before making the final decision.
Ready To Fly – These are drones that come with everything you need to start flying, inside the box, and also have all the parts assembled. If much, the only thing youíll need to do is charge the battery, but thatís it.
Ready to fly devices are the most recommended ones for beginners since no assembly abilities are required. Also, these models are the best for enthusiasts of the hobby who want to have a smooth introduction to the world of RC aviation gadgets.
Almost Ready to Fly – These drones require a bit of assembly by the end user before operation. You must think that it makes no sense to buy a drone that is not fully assembled, but one thing you discover with time is that part of the beauty of this hobby is in being able to assemble your aircraft.
In fact, there are some great drone assembly kits that are very popular among drone enthusiasts, and people enjoy both the assembly process as well as flying something they previously built.
Bind aNd Fly – These are the trickiest ones of all and the most common in the world of drones. Bind and fly refers to drones that will not come with a transmitter (remote control) inside the box. These devices can be operated binding (pairing) them with a transmitter you already have.
In most cases, these can be operated using your smartphone or tablet. It is just a matter of downloading the correct app to control them and you should be able to fly using WiFi or Bluetooth in some cases.
However, there are other drone lovers who actually own a transmitter that can be paired with drones, so you should not think that only because the box is labeled with the BNF letters, youíll be able to fly with an app.
Make sure to check which type of drone youíre getting and if it is a BNF, confirm that it can be operated using an app, and also, that it is compatible with your type of mobile device, since some drones only work with iOS or Android.
In case you have to get a transmitter, make sure to count this into your budget as well.
8. Read lots of Reviews from REAL customers
This step is crucial and canít be skipped. At this point, you may already have a few models selected as your top drones. However, nothing replaces experience, and for the beginners case the closest you can get is other peopleís experience.
Reading reviews and comments from REAL customers is not for negotiation. You can make it or break it here. These comments will give you the insight of what other people are experiencing with the models you have selected.
My recommendation is to go with those models with at least 80% of acceptance rate, and (this is key) from at least 20 different and verified customers.
This is just my experience, but you can decide your own criteria, however, I’ve seen that 20 different reviews from verified customers are enough to have a good opinion about the product.
If you find a drone that has hundreds or even thousands of verified reviews with at least 80% acceptance rate, youíve got a winner.
9. Time to make the Call – Fine tune your Budget and Get your Drone!
So here we are, after some 2000+ words in the final step. At this stage what we want to do is just to compare prices of the different models (in case you have more than one) that you are considering.
It is important to consider all the costs mentioned before in this post, as well as any shipping fee if applicable. If possible, call the customer service number of the seller to check if they offer any warranty in case you get a damaged device, and if they can actually refund your money if that would be your preference. This will also give you a good idea of how the customer support is for this seller.
Once youíve checked all this and have selected the very best drone for you, fine tune your budget and make the call: Hit the buy now button, include the spare parts, the batteries, the gimbal if required and any other carrying case or additament you consider important.
Final thoughts from the author
There is not much left I can describe for this process, but only that I expect it to serve you as much as it serves me every time I decide to get a new drone.
I actually think that even when this process was created considering the experience of other industry leaders as well as mine, it can be improved, so if you think there is something Iíve missed, feel free to comment and add to the conversation here.
Last but not least, I want to invite you to share this knowledge with other of your fellow drone enthusiasts, by hitting the social buttons on this page.
Have fun with every part of this process, and enjoy your drone once you get it!