For hobby photographers, videographers, or even those making a career of their craft, drones can be awesome tools. Once only for professionals, small-time YouTubers and art photographers alike have been utilizing drones for their camera needs.
This has made them appealing to the average person seeing the awesome content that these machines can produce.
In 2020, though, there are so many different options on the market all being touted as the best possible drone. How can you know which one to choose for your specific needs?
Purchasing a drone is a big investment. These tech gadgets aren’t cheap. Once you make your purchase, you want to know that it’s the right decision. Do you even know where to start?
If not, don’t worry. There’s a lot to consider but we can go over a few of the most common things that you might want to keep in mind when you’re looking for your next photography drone.
- Consider Your Set-Up Time
If you’re a busy photo or video creator on the go, you need to figure out the set-up time that you can devote to your new techy traveling companion.
Some drones are easier than others to just “turn on and go”. Others require a bit of work to get them started.
If you’re the kind of creator that’s trying to capture things that are always on the move, like animals or any kind of journalism subject, you might not be well-suited to the kind of drone that’s going to drag you down when you’re trying to get everything started. You need to get those shots as soon as they happen, and if you’re wasting time by setting up a drone, you might be missing valuable footage!
On the other hand, if you’re more worried about vast landscapes and pre-planned photos or videos, you likely are more than used to the long set-up required from your photo sessions anyway. In this case, you might favor one of the more labor-intensive drone bodies that could have other features that suit your needs.
Consider your ideal photo situation and weigh it against the kinds of drones that are available to you.
- Figure Out Your Proper Size and Weight
Drones aren’t a one-size-fits-all kind of machine. There are plenty of options that can suit all different kinds of needs, but be careful that you’re planning ahead of time.
There may be regulations on drone sizes in your city, or even in your country as a whole. If this is an issue, you need to know it before you go buying a drone that you previously thought was perfect (we’ll discuss more about drone regulations later).
Is this going to be something that carries a larger camera body? Do you want it to be more subtle when you’re flying around town trying to get all of the best shots? Does it need to fit in your camera bag when you’re traveling, or are you willing to carry a larger pack for the convenience?
Does size really not matter to you at all as long as all of your other boxes are being checked off?
You have options to choose from (see the comparison guide on Dr Drone for one popular brand’s sizes as an example) to figure out what will best suit your needs.
- Know the Types of Drones
This might seem silly, but if you’re a newcomer to the world of drones, you might not know what you’re looking for yet. There are so many options that getting into the nitty-gritty details can be overwhelming. You could end up buying the wrong thing altogether.
Not all drones support the use of cameras…at least not natively. While you could likely affix a device to your drone to allow you to use it for your intended purpose, buying one that’s made for use with cameras is going to make your life far easier.
Among the types of drones are:
- RTF: Ready to fly. These drones are (mostly) ready right out of the box with very little work on the part of the operator.
- BTF: Bind to Fly. These are completely assembled inside the box. They don’t, however, come with controllers. There are apps made to control drones for many smartphones, or you can buy one separately.
- ARF: Almost ready to fly. These are kind of the bare bones of the drone. You have the base, but you’re missing a lot of components. This makes the process more tedious, but it also means that you have a lot of flexibility with what you want your drone to do for you.
- FPV: First-person video. This drone might cross paths with some of the other drone types. This just means that the drone is made specifically for the purpose of taking photos or videos. If a drone has the FPV label, you know you’re in the right place.
- Keep Your Budget in Mind
Let’s be real: purchasing a drone isn’t cheap.
The average cost of a drone is roughly $280 when it comes to the ones that are commonly used for photography and videography for the average consumer. This isn’t that much money in the grand scheme of things, but an average is just the middle ground.
Some drones can be more expensive (with more features) and others can be much cheaper (though these are generally the models that require more start-up work and building time).
It’s easy to get swept up in all of the shiny new gadgets and forget about your budget. Remember: if you’re using this for photography, you have other budgetary concerns as well. Factor the drone in wisely.
- Consider Your Ideal Flight Time
It would be inconvenient and awkward if you were in the middle of getting an awesome shot when suddenly, your drone begins to run out of steam.
Worse still, it might fall out of the sky and come crashing down.
If you’re the kind of creator that’s going to need a lot of time to set up a shot and get everything just right, make sure that you’re getting a drone that suits those needs.
Sometimes a longer flight time will require a higher budget. Weigh out what’s important to you when you’re considering your needs for this drone.
- Know The Drone Laws
Did you know that there are laws and regulations regarding drones? They vary depending on your country or city, but they’re important to know (especially if part of your photography or videography includes travel to other countries or cities). You may also have to register your drone.
Sometimes the laws depend on whether or not you’re using the drones for commercial use. Other times they don’t discriminate. Always check ahead of time to avoid getting into any legal trouble.
Flying a drone is generally legal if you’re on public property, but this isn’t always the case.
- Plan for Safety Features
Many current drone models come equipped with handy safety features that will help make your life just a little bit easier. Some of these features will come with an elevated price tag.
Some drones are made to avoid conflict. This is a collision avoidance feature, and it can be handy for people using drones in unique conditions (or for the new flyer). Drones with collision avoidance won’t have it in all directions unless otherwise stated though, so make sure you read your labels and directions.
Other drones have a “return home” feature. This means that if your GPS loses signal, or if your battery starts to wane, your drone will return back to you without your direct guidance.
As drones are so costly, this can be a crucial feature.
- Learn Drone Etiquette
Even if you’re following the laws, you might not be following the proper etiquette of owning a drone.
Some people who don’t use these machines are still made very uncomfortable by them, and being impolite will not help with this.
You always want to ask permission if you’re going to be filming with a drone around people. Again, not everyone is comfortable with drone usage. Some people find them frightening. Warning them ahead of time lets them know that they’re not being watched or spied upon, they’re just observing someone else creating video or photo art.
You also want to be tactful if you’re filming any sensitive content. This means that if there’s an emergency or disaster happening, that might not be the time to bring out your camera without permission.
Most drone etiquette is largely common sense, but common wisdom is “ask first”. You don’t want to have to apologize later.
- Check for Stability
If you’re used to operating a camera, you know how crucial stability can be to getting that perfect shot.
Not all drones have the same stability features. If you’re going to be using this as a photography aid, you might want the stability features to come front and center.
You want a drone that can keep still while it hovers. This will allow the capture of clear and focused photographs.
- Drone Camera Quality
Some people affix small cameras to their drones after the fact (like GoPros). Many current drones come with cameras pre-attached that can stream their content to your smartphone.
If you’re going to be picking a drone with a camera attached to it, camera quality matters. As a creator, you already know how important quality can be under the best of conditions. Drones don’t work under the best of conditions.
On top of all of the other drone-specific features that you’re going to be looking into, you’re also going to need to look for camera-specific features.
How many frames per second does the drone shoot in? What format does it use? How is the optical zoom? Does it shoot in 4k?
The better the camera, the more expensive the drone. Factor this into your budgeting concerns.
Before Purchasing a Drone, Where Should I Research?
Drones are a hot topic right now, and there are plenty of people all over the web reviewing them for your benefit (and theirs). If you’ve found a drone that you like, there’s almost definitely someone who’s talked about it in-depth and likely even shown photo and video results from their experiments.
Whether you’re looking into drone YouTube Channels, reviews on popular tech websites where drones can be purchased, forums like Reddit (or photography and videography specific forums) or bloggers, you’ll be able to find the information you need when you’re comparison shopping.
It’s great to look at specs and company descriptions of their drone products when you’re just trying to get a basic idea of the drone and what they have to offer, but every company just wants to make their product look like the best choice.
If you’re new to the drone-buying game (or you’re returning to it after some time away; things change quickly in this tech gadget world), you want to get some tips from people who aren’t selling you something directly.
Just keep in mind all of the things that you should be looking out for and noting in the back of your head when you’re shopping for your drone. Pay attention to them in reviews so you can quickly find the information that’s valuable for you.
Are You Ready to Start Your Drone Journey?
Using drones to help boost your photography and videography skills to the next level can be fun. You’ll get shots that you never could have gotten from the ground. The photos and videos can look completely professional even if you’re an amateur.
When you’re purchasing a drone, try to keep in mind the different features that you need it to have. You’re going to be balancing that with the regulations in your area, as well as the budget that you’re working with.
Starting drone photography is fun, but it’s a bit of a process. Researching laws, etiquette, technology, and specs ahead of time will help you make the right decisions for you.
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Author | Emily Forbes
An Entrepreneur, Mother & A passionate tech writer in the technology industry!