21 Things To Know Before Buying A Hobby Drone [FULL 2021 BUYERS GUIDE]

21 Things To Know Before Buying A Hobby Drone [FULL 2021 BUYERS GUIDE] Blog

01. Join A Drone Community To Cut The Learning Curve

There are a ton of things to learn when first starting this hobby. There’s the different country, state, and county drone laws, there are a million different drone features you need to consider, and then we have some basic unspoken drone rules.

A quick way to get a quick summary of ALL THAT STUFF is to read this article, and then join a local drone community.

Local drone pilots will know your area inside and out. They’ll know exactly where you can fly, and they’ll give you some quick tips on which drone features to rely on. It will be so much less overwhelming just getting a summary of what you need to know.

Join Facebook drone groups. I recommend you start out by looking for a Facebook drone group in your area. Drones are extremely popular nowadays so I’ll be very surprised if you can’t find any.

Online forums. If you really can’t find anything then online forums are the next best thing. Here are a few of the more popular ones. Just make sure you still hunt out drone pilots that live in your area. They’ll have better advice than anyone else online.

  • phantompilots.com
  • mavicpilots.com
  • droneflyers.com

02. Drones Are Noisy

If you have those neighbors that get annoyed by everything you do, chances are they aren’t going to let you fly a drone near their home. Hobby drones can be VERY loud which is why the sound of drones makes up 99% of drone complaints.

So what exactly do they sound like? They make a high pitched buzzing sound of around 80 decibels which sounds like a loud vacuum cleaner next to your ear.

Here’s a graph that you can use to compare the sound of a drone to every day household items.

21 Things To Know Before Buying A Hobby Drone [FULL 2021 BUYERS GUIDE]

We wrote a full article describing how loud drones can get, along with a list of some quieter drones if you need more information on this topic.

03. Drones Can Be Dangerous, Especially For Kids

Those tiny little blades may be small, but boy can they cause some damage. Because they spin at such a high speed, most can drone propellers can slice into your skin which could cause severe lacerations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgeRchTHxVkVideo can’t be loaded because JavaScript is disabled: Can a home drone kill you? This test with a chicken says maybe! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgeRchTHxVk)

In this article, the popular T.V show Mythbusters showed how the blades of a drone could cause a fatal wound.

That being said, the hobby drones I’m talking about here are bigger drones such as the DJI Mavic and Phantom, on the other hand, smaller “toy” drones can’t cause nearly as much damage. Unless you happen to fly it into someone’s face or eyes.

That being said, drones can be dangerous, so if you going to buy a drone for children, make sure you stick to entry-level toy drones instead of the bigger more expensive models.

If you would like more information on how badly a drone can hurt you, and which drones are the safest for kids, make sure you read this article.

04. Drones Are Easy To Crash, And Difficult To Fly

You will crash a drone sooner or later, it’s out of your hands. The only thing you can control is if you’ll crash a $20 drone or a $1000 drone.

If you’re a new drone pilot then flying a drone might be difficult as discussed in this article, depending on how clued up you are with technology. For example, if you’ve been playing Playstation your whole life, and you’ve owned a few remote control cars, then you might learn in a few hours. However, if you’re a bit of a technophobe, then it might take you a few weeks. Either way, you don’t want to learn with an expensive drone.

Here’s the best way to learn how to fly a drone as a newbie.

  1. Train with a remote control car first. Buy a cheap one from amazon here.
  2. Buy a cheap toy drone for around $20, and get comfortable flying it first. Toy drones are more difficult to fly, which will make the next step A LOT easier. Here’s an example of a cheap drone.
  3. Get a more expensive drone, but choose your training grounds wisely. Avoid areas with lots of water, trees, and people.

I wrote a full article that will give you more tips on learning how to fly a drone as a newbie. Make sure you check it out especially if you’re a bit of a technophobe.

05. Drone Insurance Exists, And You Should Seriously Consider It

The truth is that it’s just a matter of time before you either crash your drone on land or in the water. Either way, the manufacturer won’t cover “pilot error” in the warranty. So make sure you take out drone insurance when you do decide to get an expensive drone. It only costs a few dollars per month, and it can save you a ton of money.

06. Know These 3 Random,(but important,) Acronyms

You’ll see these acronyms pop-up during your research all the time, but make sure you know what they mean. It’s the difference between getting a drone fully intact ready to fly, and a drone that’s in pieces. It will be pretty awkward if you receive the latter. Here’s what these acronyms mean.

  • RTF stands for “ready-to-fly.” This basically means you have all the necessary components when you receive the drone to get it in the air as soon as possible. Some examples would include any of the DJI and Hubsan drones.
  • BNF is short for “bind-to-fly.” This means that the actual drone comes fully intact and ready to fly, however, it doesn’t come with a controller. You’ll either need to buy it separately, or you’ll have to download an app on your smartphone and use your phone as a controller.
  • ARF stands for “almost-ready-to-fly.” Don’t let the name fool you, these aren’t almost ready to fly, they are drone kits that come with different drone parts that you’ll have to assemble yourself. If you don’t have any technical knowledge then you’ll want to stay away from these.

DRONE FEATURES

When searching for a drone you’ll notice that they’ll have a TON of features. At first, it can be confusing to decide which features are most important to you, but I’ll try to make it as clear as possible below.

06. Camera Quality

If you’re a photographer, or if you simply want to use your drone to capture some amazing footage, then you’ll want to focus on the camera the drone comes with. But keep in mind that image quality is probably the biggest factor that determines a drone’s price. So if you want a drone that’s capable of shooting great quality videos and pictures, you’ll have to pay up.

In this section, we are going to discuss picture quality, video quality, video frame rates, and gimbals. You must know these things before buying a drone.

21 Things To Know Before Buying A Hobby Drone [FULL 2021 BUYERS GUIDE]

Picture quality.

Something to keep in mind is that the drone shoots video and pictures at different qualities. For example, the DJI Mavic will shoot video at HD 1080p, and takes pictures at 20-megapixels.

While comparing drone camera stats, you’ll notice the word MP will get used a lot. For example; 12MP.

MP stands for megapixels which in a nutshell is used to describe the picture quality of the camera. In more technical terms, MP means how many pixels the camera can produce in millions. So a 20-megapixel camera can produce 20 million pixels. The more pixels a camera can produce, the better quality a picture will be.

So how many megapixels should you settle for? Well in short it depends. If you’re not too bothered about camera quality then anything under 5MP should be fine. However if you want crisp high quality pictures then get a drone that’s over 12MP.

Video quality.

While shopping for a drone you’ll also notice that the camera will show different video quality stats as laid out below. Here’s what they mean:

  • 4K is all about video. It’s used to describe the video quality of a drone camera. This is the top of the spectrum of video quality. If you want the best of the best, find a drone that’s capable of shooting 4K video.
  • 1080p video quality is one down from 4K. It’s full HD and is seen a lot more today in drones, and is extremely common in cameras. This quality is still considered to be above the norm for a drone.
  • High definition 720p camera quality is probably the most common video footage quality you’ll find in drones today. Even the smaller “toy” drones that you can pick up for below $100 will have these cameras.
  • 480p standard definition is right at the bottom when it comes to camera quality. I wouldn’t recommend getting a drone with this camere quality because you’ll find that its so bad, you won’t end up using it at all. You’re better off getting a drone without a camera in my opinion.

Video frame rate or fps, (frames per second.)

You’ll notice that when a website discusses the video quality above, they’ll have “FPS” next to it with a number. This is extremely important if you want to use your drone for video, so pay attention!

FPS stands for “frames per second.” In english it simply means how many pictures your camera can take in a given second to create a video.

So for example, if the camera can shoot video at 1080p HD at 30 fps, it means that it can take 30 pictures with a quality of 1080p HD in a second to create a video.

The more pictures a camera can take in a given second, the smoother the video will be, and the more you can slow down an image. For example, to see a bullet cut through the air in slow-motion, you’ll need a camera capable of shooting at around 6000 frames per second.

Now only high-end cameras can do that, so how many frames per second is good? Well, around 30 fps is the most common in decent drone today, and I wouldn’t settle for anything less. Some drones have started coming out with frame rates of 60 fps, so if you want something better they do exist.

Camera gimbals.

The last thing you’re going to want to consider is your drone’s gimbal. A gimbal is what you’re camera is mounted on. Some cameras are mounted in a fixed position on a gimbal, while others give you the freedom of actually scrolling the camera position while flying. For example, a 3-axis gimbal will give you a lot more control over your camera compared to a 110-degree gimbal.

FPV. Which simply stands for “first-person-video.”

You’ll notice a lot of drones mention that they are capable of flying in FPV mode. These drones are simply capable of transmitting video in realtime back to a headset to provide a “pretty unique first-person-view experience.” But there’s nothing that unique about it. It’s become the latest craze and marketing angle, but the truth is that any drone that is capable of transmitting video back to the controller with decent quality is capable of this.

Here’s a table showing how camera quality can affect price.

Drone Type: Video Quality: Picture Quality: Price: Purchase Link:
DJI Inspire 2 5.2k at 24fps 20.8MP $3,299 VIEW
DJI Mavic 2 Pro 4K HDR at 30fps 20MP $1599 VIEW
DJI Mavic Pro 4K at 30 fps 12MP $950 VIEW
DJI Mavic Mini 2.7K at 30 fps 12MP $399 VIEW
Holy Stone HS110D 1080 HD at 30 fps 1MP $130 VIEW
Eachine Viswhoop 720p HD at 30 fps 1MP $250 VIEW

07. Drone Range And Flight Time

When shopping for drones, flight time, and range is another important factor to consider. Some entry-level toy drones might be able to fly for only a few minutes and cover a distance of a few hundred feet, while your more expensive drone types such as the DJI Mavic series will be able to stay in the air for up to 30 minutes and fly out for as far as 4 miles.

That being said, when buying a drone you need to consider how far you want to be able to fly your drone. The further out you want to fly, the more it’s going to cost you.

When comparing ranges and flight times, keep in mind that the figures they give you heavily depend on how you fly the drone, and the weather conditions you’re flying in.

Table showing how flight time and range might affect price.

Drone Type: Range: Flight Time: Price: Purchase Link:
DJI Inpspire 2 4.3 miles 27 min $3,500 VIEW
DJI Ma​​​​​vic 2 Pro 11 miles 31 min $1599 VIEW
DJI Mavic Pro 4.3 miles 27 min $950 VIEW
Yuneec Mantis G 1,2 miles 33 min $700 VIEW
Hubsan H501S 0.19 miles 8 min $250 VIEW

08. Know These Smart flight Features

You’ll want to know which smart flying features you should be paying attention to, and which ones to ignore. I’ll explain all the different flying features so you’ll know whats marketing jargon, and what you’ll actually want to pay attention to.

  • RTC or also know as the “return to home” function. This allows the drone to automatically return to its launch point with the push of a button. It can be extremely useful especially if you’re flying over long distances.
  • Autonomous following. This means that the drone is designed to follow you while you’re cycling, running, or doing some kind of extreme sport. which can be useful if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • Precision hover ability is a feature that uses a combination of drone features, such as GPS and a number of sensors. It’s designed to keep the drone however in one place without drifting even if there is wind. This is very useful especially for beginner drone pilots who struggle to control the drone as it is.
  • Obstacle avoidance. This means that your drone is fitted with sensors that can detect if it’s about to crash in an object. If the drone senses a scenario where it’s likely to crash, it will take over control of the drone and perform evasive actions to avoid it from crashing.
  • Gesture control. This means that your drones’ software is capable of being controlled with hand gestures. For example, you could get it to take a picture with a wave of the hand. This m

09. Know Where To Buy A Drone, And What To Pay

You probably have no idea how much you should be paying for a drone. Now it obviously depends on a ton of things, such as features, manufacturing quality, and the purpose of the drone, however, you’ll still need some guidelines.

Here’s a table that breaks down drones into different groups so that you have an idea of what you should be paying.

Drone Type: Drone: Range: Camera Quality: Price: Store Link:
Toy drone DROCON Drone X708W 262 feet HD camera 720P $55 VIEW
Toy drone Hubsan X4 328 feet 720p HD camera $25 VIEW
Toy drone GoolRC T36 Drone 89 feet No camera $21 VIEW
Hobby drone DJI Mavic Mini 2.5 miles 4K 30 fps $399 VIEW
Hobby drone DJI Mavic 2 Pro 5 miles 2.7K at 60 fps $1499 VIEW
Hobby drone Parrot Anafi FPV 2.4 miles 4K video at 30 fps $799  VIEW
Hobby drone Autel robotics Evo 4.3 miles 4K video at 60 fps $1000 VIEW
Hobby drone Hubsan Zino 2 3.7 miles 4K video at 60 fps $549 VIEW
Commercial Drone DJI Inspire 2 4.3 miles 4K Video at 60 fps $3,299 VIEW
Commercial Drone DJI Matrice 600 Pro 3 miles 1080p video at 60 fps $5,699 VIEW
Graph showing the price and features expected from different drone types.

Toy or entry-level drones.

These should cost under $100. These are drones that are designed to be entry-level. They usually have no camera,(or a low-quality camera.) They will lack smart flying features such as autonomous flying, return to home functions, etc, and they won’t have GPS. Flight time is usually around 3 to 10 minutes, and you’ll probably only be able to fly it a few hundred feet. These drones are usually best suited for children and beginner drone pilots as training wheels.

The best place to buy these drones is on amazon.com. See table above for example.

Mid-level hobby or recreational drones.

Then you get your standard hobby drones that are a lot more advanced than toy drones. They will cost you around $400 to $1500. Features will be a lot more advanced, they’ll almost always be equipped with autonomous flying features, GPS, and high-quality 4k or HD cameras. Flying time will range from around 10 minutes to over 30 minutes. And, some might be able to fly as far as 5 miles. These drones are best suited for hobby drone pilots who have experience with drones.

The best place to buy these drones is in store, or from the manufacturer’s online store. Some of the most popular hobby drone official online stores in the USA are;

  • DJI
  • Autel Robotics
  • Parrot
  • Hubsan

Commercial and enterprise-level domains.

Finally, you get your commercial or enterprise level drones. These are generally used by professionals such as surveyors, videographers, photographers, and farmers for agricultural reasons, etc. These drones are a lot more expensive at a minimum of around $2,500. It’s not uncommon for some of them to cost as much as $25,000. As you can imagine, these drones are a lot more advanced, and since you’re reading this, you’re probably not ready to get started with any of these yet.

These drone types are generally provided by specialized manufacturers, however, DJI does provide solutions. You can find out more on their website here.

WHERE CAN YOU FLY?

Area: Can you fly?
National Park No
State Park Maybe
Public Park Yes
Residential Area Yes
Table showing places that you’re allowed to fly your drone.

10. Know Where You Can Fly Your Drone

You can know exactly where to fly your drone by asking yourself these four very simple questions.

  1. Am I following the FAA drone laws mentioned here?
  2. Do I have permission from the property owner or tenant to take off and land here?
  3. Have I checked airmap.com, (free online tool,) to see if there are any restrictions in this airspace?
  4. Are there any local drone laws that are stopping me? Such as county or city level drone laws.

If you’ve done the research and you’re happy with your answer for each of those questions, then you’ll be free to take off. If not, below are some more guidelines.

11. You Can’t Fly A Drone In A National Park

If you’re thinking of taking a drone with you on vacation to national parks to get some glamorous footage, then think again. Drones were banned in all national parks across the US since June 2014. The law states that you can’t take off or land your drone within national park borders.

That being said flying your drone OVER national parks is actually legal. It was even confirmed by the National Park Service themselves on their website here. So if you can find a legal place to take off and land on the park borders, then you’re good to go.

I wrote a full article covering more information on flying your drone over a national park. Make sure you check it out if you’re interested.

12. You Can Fly Your Drone In Residential Areas

It’s perfectly legal to fly your drone in a residential area over your property and over any other property as long as you have prior permission from the owners or tenants.

There are just a few things you need to look out for.

  • Make sure that your property isn’t within a 5-mile radius of an airport. You can check if you live within a 5-mile radius of an airport by airmap.com. If it is, then you’ll have to notify the airport before flying. Check out this article to see how you can notify an airport of your drone flight. (It’s done online and its actually very easy.)
  • Make sure that there aren’t any government buildings in your area.
  • Keep your neighbors happy by flying safe, during the day and communicate with them as much as possible. Top tip, a few 6 packs of beer as a gift always helps.

I wrote a full article on flying your drone in a residential area here if you want more information on this.

13. You Can Fly A Drone In A Public Park

Public parks are actually the best places to fly a drone in my opinion. If you time it right there are hardly any people there, (like in the mornings,) and there’s a lot of space.

Before you attempt to fly there though, make sure there aren’t any local drone laws that might stop you. Some questions to ask yourself are; is the park with a 5-mile radius of an airport? Are there any government building close to the park? Are there any events happening right now? If you answered no to all of those questions, then chances are you won’t have any problems flying your drone there.

A quick way to check on any limitations is to go to airmap.com, type the park address in the search area, then check for any flight restrictions.

Before you do though, make sure you read this article that covers things you should know before flying in a public park in more depth.

14. You Might Be Able To Fly In State Parks

State parks is a bit of a tricky one. Some will let you fly on their property, others won’t like it at all. Generally, it all depends on the park managers themselves, if they don’t mind it then they’ll let you fly. Just make sure you ask before taking to the skies.

Here’s a quick way to check if you can fly a drone in the state park that you’re visiting:

  • Call the park’s offices or speak to one of the park rangers.
  • Look on the park’s website. If they’ve updated it there should be information on drones.

INSIDER TIP: Don’t rely on those big old park signs. They’re usually outdated and most won’t have any information on drones.

It’s worth mentioning that just like National Parks, its perfectly legal to fly over State Parks without permission from the park. So if you can find grounds outside of the park that will allow you to take off and land your drone, then that is also a valid option.

I wrote a full article on flying your drone in a state park here, make sure you check it out.

TRAVELING WITH A DRONE

15. Some Countries Ban Drones—Like Mexico

When traveling always make sure that you do your research first. You’re going to want to make sure that the country you’re traveling, and any other countries you’re stopping in in-between, don’t have any ban on drones. This might sound like a bit of a pain but its crucial to avoid getting your drone confiscated.

INSIDER TIP: Most drone communities will talk about their experiences while traveling with their drones, so I recommend diving into them and seeing if someone has traveled to the location you’re planning to visit.

16. When Traveling Through The Airport With Drones

Taking your drone through an airport can be a bit tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing. But don’t worry, here’s a summary of what you need to know.

  • How many batteries you can travel with. You’re allowed to fly with a maximum of 3 LiPo batteries with less than 100Wh, (don’t worry, this includes almost all hobby drones. See more info here.) From those batteries, you’re only allowed to have 1 in your checked-in luggage, the rest have to be in your carry on.
  • Don’t gift wrap your drone. Unless you would like a TSA agent to unwrap it for you.
  • Don’t travel through a country that has a ban on drones. They might confiscate it, even if that’s not your final stop.
  • Print out the TSA’s regulation sheet. You can view it and print it from here. Most TSA agents don’t know their own policies on drones so you’re going to want a firm reminder in your back pocket if they try to give you trouble.
  • Pack drones and batteries properly in a travel case. Don’t have your batteries and drone packed loosely. When anyone inspects a well organized and packed drone, it will give them confidence that you’re taking all the necessary precautions and they’ll be more likely to not give you any trouble.
  • Check with the airline just in case. Drone rules change daily, and airlines have the right to ban drones at any moment. So it’s always good practice double-checking with the airline you’re planning on traveling with.

17. Most Cruise Lines And Ports Ban Drones

If you’re buying a drone to take on a cruise with you, stop and do some research first. Some cruise lines won’t let you take drones on-board. And even if they do allow it, you definitely won’t be able to fly it on the ship, and most ports completely ban the use of drones. Now as always, there are a few exceptions. Here are some cruise lines that allow you to bring drones on-board.

  • Caribbean cruise
  • Carnival Cruise

Remember, you can’t fly your drone on the ship.

Here are some drone-friendly ports that will let you fly your drone: (that I know of.)

  • Aruba
  • Roatan in Honduras
  • Cozumel in Mexico

If you’re unsure then the best thing you can do is call the cruise line and ask them.

DRONE LAWS

18. Even Hobby Drones Need To Be Registered With The FAA—If They Weigh Over 250 grams or 0.55 pounds

Before I scare you off, the registration process is actually pretty simple. It can be done online at the FAA website here, it takes 5 minutes, and only costs $5. Which is nothing! It’s so simple that you can even get it done before getting a drone.

I made a list of drones that will need to be registered if you want to get an idea of whether or not you’ll need to register your drone.

And If you’re adamant that you want a drone that you don’t need to register, don’t worry! I’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of 17 popular drones that weigh under 250 grams that don’t need to be registered at all.

19. Know That There Are Different Levels Of Drone Laws

This is what confused me when I first started flying drones. Before you can fly anywhere you need to know;

  • FAA drone laws.
  • Each state has its own drone laws, so you need to do some research into your state’s laws.
  • Then you also get your more local city and county drone laws. Which can usually be found on your city’s website.

This can seem extremely overwhelming especially as a new drone pilot, however, I found that by just asking seasoned drone pilots in my area to give me a summary of what I need to know has helped a ton! So I’d heavily advise that you do the same.

20. Know These Basic FAA Drone Laws To Stay Out Of Trouble

In most cases, as long as you stick to these laws then you should have no problems flying your drone.

  • Fly your drone below 400 feet above ground level at all times.
  • Don’t fly within a 5-mile radius of an airport.
  • Don’t fly over or close to any people, buildings, or vehicles.
  • Don’t fly at night unless you have enough light to make your drone fully visible at all times.
  • Keep your drone in a line of sight at all times.
  • Stay out of the way of emergency services.
  • Don’t harass people or spy on them with your drone.
  • Don’t fly recklessly.
  • Don’t be under the influence of alcohol and drugs while flying your drone.
  • Don’t land or take off on private property.

Here’s a full list of FAA drone laws you need to stick to.

21. You Can Get Fined And Arrested For Breaking Drone Laws

Now, this is only IF you completely ignore all drone laws and policies. Most people that get fined or arrested really go out of their way to break the law. If you make a few mistakes here and there or break the law by accident, chances are all you’ll get is a slap on the wrist by officials.

I covered how much you can get fined for breaking drone laws in this article, so if its something that worries you, make sure you check it out.

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