Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years, you've seen or heard of drones. These radio controlled helicopters use muliple propellers (often referred to as multirotors) to lift and maneuver the aircraft. There are a wide range of applications including photography, videography, racing, and just plain fun.
This article talks about drones in reference to radio controlled helicopters with multiple rotors. Most commonly this means 4 motor craft - quadcopters. We aren't covering special high altitude or military flying drones. The names for these RC crafts vary, we will primarily refer to them as multirotors, drones, or quadcopters.
Keep reading as we introduce you to the various types based on the application, the quality of the products. We are then going to help you identify the right approach for your needs and point you in the right direction to get started.
Understanding the main types of flying styles is the first and most important step in choosing the right direction. Note that different products might fall strictly into one category, or have elements of multiple. The important thing is any craft you end up with should have one main application.
This is the most basic type of radio controlled drone you will find. The term line-of-sight simply means you're flying the craft by viewing it with your eyes. There is no on-board camera or GPS systems to help you pilot the craft. This means you will be flying in close proximity to yourself since flying high up or far away will make it hard to maintain control.
It is a great way to learn the basic throttle, pitch, roll, and yaw controls. It is also a challenge to maintain a heading and control as you fly. By design these products are often equipped with some freestyle capabilities that allow them to perform flips or rolls. Flying an inexpensive LOS is our recommended way to start learning to pilot any drone.
This flying style is not to be taken lightly. Some of the most impressive flying in the world is done line-of-sight. Just have a look at Quadmovr on YouTube. He has many videos that will blow your mind - all done while flying LOS.
You should look into line-of-sight drones if:
This flying style is for those who are looking to use their craft to capture still images or video using a flying camera. A quadcopter with a camera attached allows you to capture images from perspectives that were previously a film maker's dream. The small size also allows for shots that helicopters could never achieve.
This type of craft is generally not designed to be flown aggressively or perform acrobatics. In order to get great footage, you're looking for a camera drone to act as a platform in the sky. With that being said, moving quickly is a feature that helps these multirotors get great shots. You'll often fly this type of drone using a combination of line-of-sight, first person via a live video feed, and GPS mapping.
These products often contain some of the most advanced hardware available. A pilot will often want to fly long distances, hold position, maintain level, capture stunning footage, and use guided flying features. To meet those needs, you'll find things like GPS systems, camera gimbals, and even retractable landing gear. Higher end models feature gimbals used to stabilize and level the camera as you fly.
When looking to invest, you'll find that this group contains the widest range of options. You'll find camera drones for under $100 up into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on your level of commitment.
You should look into camera drones if:
Though first person flying can be found in camera copters, when we talk about FPV we are referencing fully immersive flight experiences. What this means is flying a nimble and fast drone via an on-board camera. This camera transmits live video back to a screen or goggles. This live video feed allows you to pilot your drone as if you're sitting in the cockpit.
This discipline can share many features with photography and videography drones. The biggest difference is they are primarily used for acrobatic, racing, and long range flight from a first person perspective. They are mostly about the experience of piloting your multirotor. They can share some aspects with camera drones in that they can also capture amazing images through an external camera.
Most commonly FPV refers to custom or pre-built racing / acrobatic quadcopters. In this breed, you'll find high power to weight ratios and restriction free controls. This enables this class to move fast and perform mind-bending acrobatics. Generally these aircraft are meant to be flown in close proximity to the pilot.
You should look into FPV drones if:
The technology driving multirotors is being applied in creative and interesting ways all around the world. You'll find everything from serious applications like Amazon delivering packages, to hoverboards, to crazy stunts like the human carrying drone. There are even some amazing feats happening where multiple aircraft are working in unison to create stunning visuals or perform tasks.
The custom application of this technology is often obscure, but almost always very interesting.
You should look into custom drones if:
The second step in the process of choosing the right product is understanding the various grades of products available. The quadcopter industry can be notoriously cheap which makes it great to find affordable drones, but easy to end up with crummy products. After you understand the options, consider your budget and level of commitment. You'll want to balance the two to find the right solution for your needs.
These drones are often aimed at the beginner or younger pilots. They are often branded with all kinds of flashy features and attractive graphics. They run from micro to medium large in size and are often designed to be flown indoors. This is the most affordable of all the grades, so you need to be careful not to waste money on inferior products. Lots of products are going to be shipped from overseas and Chinese knockoffs are commonplace.
There are some toy-grade products on the market that are fantastic, and many more that are not worth your time. A great example is the Blade Inductrix - a sub-$100 offering that has spawned the Tiny Whoop craze. This is a toy grade copter that beginners and professionals share a love for. Hobbyists have also gone on to customize and create custom builds around this platform.
You will primarily find toy grade products in the line-of-sight, camera, and FPV categories.
Stepping up a grade, consumer drones are going to be the most popular on the market. The most important thing that separates toy from consumer products are the brand name. For example, DJI is the largest drone manufacturer in the world. Their products range from consumer to professional quality. You'll pay more, but the quality will be well worth the time.
Most of the parts in custom built FPV quadcopters fall into this range. Though the quality of these parts varies, generally they are consumer grade.
Products in this group can still be packed with features and overpriced, so its important to choose wisely. You won't need to have your guard up as much as in the toy grade range. There are amazing products in this category, and you will pay a mid-range price for them.
You will primarily find consumer grade products in the line-of-sight, camera, and FPV categories.
This class is actually quite a narrow one. The prosumer market is aimed at small production groups (when talking about camera quads) or individuals who are serious about their products. You'll find that prosumer drones are feature packed, provide near professional quality results, and cost a pretty penny. If you're new, its better to start at the consumer level and move up into this category if you find yourself as a power user.
You will primarily find prosumer grade products in the camera category.
Industry professionals are using an entirely different type of product. These drones often require special permits, special setup and advanced knowledge in order to operate. You're not going to find these products sold in stores like consumer grade. Often professional drones are custom built for special applications.
You will primarily find professional grade products in the camera and custom design category.
The insutry is split into two main groups. Those that build and tinker with their quadcopters, and those who don't. Lets dive into both.
Want to buy a product, charge the battery and fly right away? Stick to the consumer approach. The barrier to entry here is low. Simply spend your money and have a fun time flying.
Approaching drones as a hobby usually means your not just here to fly, you are also interested in the technology and want to build your own copter. Often times more time is spent building than flying. This isn't a bad thing though, for hobbyists, building is half the fun.
The most important thing for an aspiring pilot to know is that the level of entry into the hobby side is much higher. If you've never picked up a soldering iron or know about electronics, it can take days to months to get your build together depending on the complexity. This process can either be a joy or complete frustration.
Take inventory of your personal desires. If you love tinkering, building, and fixing things - the hobby approach might just be for you. If you just want to charge some batteries and get in the air, head back to the consumer end.
We are going to imagine you're looking for your first quadcopter. You'll commonly run across various acronyms and definitions based on the contents of the kit you're investigating. We are going to define each of these categories here, so you make the right decision.
This one is straight forward. A ready to fly drone kit is going to include everything you need to fly, period. There are many accessories you might find you need with your drone. A RTF kit removes the need to find out which extras you need. By simply purchasing an all-in-one kit, you'll be off to the races without a second though.
Products in this group will not include a radio controller. You'll need to buy one separately or use one you already have. By binding your transmitter, you can then control the craft. This group isn't as beginner friendly as the RTF style, but has its benefits and can save you money. Radio transmitters can often connect to multiple drones, so it makes sense to only purchase it once.
This is the least common type of setup of those listed here. Most often ARF kits are aimed at hobbyists and might be missing a key component or two. These components will be missing for good reason though. Common reasons include allowing the pilot to choose the right radio receiver or battery for their craft. Be sure to investigate any almost-ready-to-fly setup before making a purchase. There will likely be an accessory or two you need to get started.
If you're interested in building your own multirotor, then custom is for you. You can buy individual pieces and put them together yourself. This is the true hobby approach to radio controlled quadcopters. You'll need to understand the anatomy and components of the craft and have the skills to assemble it yourself.
They are often named based on the number of motors the craft has. By far he most common configuration are 4 motor drones are called quadcopters. Here is the basic breakdown starting at 2 motors and expanding up to 8:
Last updated on January 31, 2017