Buying Your First Drone: A Guide
Youtuber Casey Neistat has a cemetery for all his broken drones, and having talked to a lot of pilots, they all say one thing—eventually, you’re going to crash one. Many say the newer DJI drones, like the Phantom 4 and Mavic, have such good gps technology and censors that they practically fly themselves. But for new pilots, investing several hundred or thousand dollars might seem daunting. So what should your first drone be? Use this list to help you decide.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
PRO: If you learn on this drone and end up flying it commercially, then once you’re certified, you can hit the ground running. It features a 4K camera, obstacle avoidance, and different flight-tracking modes. DJI offers a care plan which costs an extra $149 and covers up to two replacement units over a one-year period.
CON: It’s a big investment, but the care plan definitely helps (as long as you don’t crash it more than twice).
DJI Mavic Pro
PRO: As you can see in this review, the Mavic is very small and portable compared to the Phantom 4 Pro, meaning it could be great for a traveling commercial pilot. It has a 4K camera, obstacle avoidance, and various flight-tracking modes. DJI’s care plan is also cheaper on this drone at $99.
CON: Still a hefty investment for beginner pilots. Also, it’s very light. Some people find that a little difficult to control.
DJI Phantom 3: Standard
PRO: The Phantom 3 family has been on the market longer compared to The Phantom 4. However, the Standard model has a 2.7K camera, which still totally has a place in the commercial market. It also has the return-to-home feature, so it will come back to you if it gets too far away or if the battery is low. The DJI care plan on this one costs $129.
CON: It doesn’t feature obstacle avoidance, which could be a big deal for a new pilot. Also, once you’re certified, you may need to upgrade to one of the drones mentioned above, all depends on what you think you may being doing as a commercial pilot.
3DR Solo Drone
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
PRO: Based on my understanding, this company only makes drone software now. That said, they need to clear out their drone stock. This drone was originally $1299! Because it’s so cheap now, this could be a one great to practice with whether you put a camera on it or not.
CON: If you want to use a camera on it, then you need to have or buy a GoPro 4 (It won’t work with the GoPro 5). Also, if you need more accessories or need to get the drone serviced, then you may be out of luck since the company no longer makes drones.
Syma X5C Toy Drone
PRO: Great for taking baby steps. With these you can challenge yourself as a pilot and learn at your own pace. Once you master the toy drone, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable flying an expensive one with advanced features.
CON: These are significantly harder to fly because they rely on you as the pilot and have no special features like gps to hover in place or stabilize the drone. You have to master the controls. Very small and lightweight, they can also feel rickety. I have been flying the Syma X5C in my house. The other downside, no First Person View (FPV).
Inductrix FPV Mini drone
Level: Beginner to Advanced
PRO: Used by a lot of drone racers, this one, when bought in a kit, has a camera and FPV capability so it’ll help you get ready for a Phantom or Mavic. Also, the rotors are fully enclosed, so you can fly it inside without damaging anything. You can buy a pair of Fat Shark goggles and it will give you FPV.
CON: This particular model requires a HAM license to operate the video transmitter. You'll need a HAM license to legally fly with the Fat Shark goggle on as well. Also, if you're outside with the googles on, you'll need a spotter, just like flying any drone professionally.
DroneSim Pro: $30
RealFlight Drone Sims: $130
Some are even free!
PRO: You can practice with a variety of drones in different situations without investing all the money in a real one. Then, once you do buy a drone, you can still use the simulator to keep your flying skills fresh.
CON: As they say, there’s nothing like the real deal. (I just discovered most DJI phantoms come with a drone simulator. So stick that feather in your cap—maybe that’ll help you decide).
Final Thoughts (and what about the Inspire Series?!)
Are there other companies out there making drones? Definitely. DJI is just crushing the market on Pro-sumer drones, and so that’s where I’ve focused most of my research. I didn’t cover the Inspire series because it’s not a beginner drone. With a hefty price tag of $2-$3K, it’s better suited for experienced pilots with large budgets.
For now, I’ll stick with my toy drone and buy a simulator. If I had unlimited funds, I would buy the Phantom 4 Pro and if I went middle-of-the-road, I would pick the Phantom 3 Standard.
Thanks for reading and see you next time. For questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
(P.S. Don’t be stupid. Never drink and drone, folks … seriously. Don’t do it and don’t be a peeping Tom or fly in restricted airspace. Use common sense so we can all have some fun.)