Best Beginner Drones
Buying a Beginner Drone
If you’re reading this it’s probably because you’re a novice in the drone world and you’re looking for the best beginner drones. Or perhaps you’re gifting someone with that new tech the world keeps raving about. You do a bit of scrolling around the internet searching different units and find yourself overwhelmed with all the options and opinions out there.
The reality is drones disrupted the market with impressive speed. Whereas a few years ago there were only one or two companies that held notable credibility within the market, now there are hundreds. This phenomenon floods the market with new products and while it’s fantastic for the industry’s growth, it makes the technology seem vaster for the newcomer.
But worry not! We’re here to give you a nice set of guidelines that’ll pave the way to your first ever drone. Listen to us, we’ve been doing this for a while.
What should I expect from a beginner drone?
You probably know what to expect from a drone, as you’ve seen a few products already. To summarize–they’re most commonly known for being quadcopters, carrying integrated cameras (which is what sets them aside from RC helicopters), and having some form of autonomous capability.
While we could explain to you the ins and outs of drone technology and reference multiple different models here, since you’re a beginner we’re going to keep it simple: all you need is a small machine that is easy to use and crash-resistant.
We don’t advocate spending lots of money on your first drone nor buying that professional unit that claims it’s smart enough ‘even newbie pilots can fly it.’ First off, you’re going to crash. Hopefully not a lot, but it’ll definitely happen. There’s a huge difference between crashing a drone that cost you $100 and one that cost you 1k. Secondly, the whole point in the beginning of any new skill is to learn as fluidly as possible.
If you purchase a drone that is hyper-intelligent, intuitive, and professional, chances are you’re going to be able to get away with pressing a few buttons and seamlessly putting the bird in air. Thing is, when it comes to manually navigating your drone (something every great pilot can do with their eyes closed… well not really, but you get it), you’ll be at a loss. That’s why it’s advised you start with a smaller drone that relies solely on your direction to fly. As you begin your pilot experience, you’ll come to understand the physics and dynamic of the vehicle itself without any of that helpful intelligence. If you knew that your car could parallel park itself, isn’t there more value in knowing how to do it on your own regardless?
That’s why it’s recommended that you purchase a beginner unit which has a low-quality camera, a durable build, and very few autonomous components. We recommend that this drone comes ready-to-fly right out of the box and from a credible company. And we also recommend that it comes with prop guards (protective material around the propellers so they don’t break if you crash—which are usually the first thing to go).
So how much are we talking here?
Honestly, that’s up to you. The line between beginner and mid-grade drones is a subjective one. The opinions vary. Generally when people think mid-grade drones they’re envisioning a drone that has autonomous components, can take footage in 1080p, and live-stream the first person view. But others don’t.
If you’re planning for the future and you want to buy a drone that has the capacity to provide more as you improve your skills, then at the most I’d spend $250. If you’re buying a drone because you’re curious about these little robot birds and you want to see what the flight dynamic is like (and learn to fly), I’d recommend spending $100 at the most. The latter is the more popular recommendation.
Do you have any drones you recommend?
As we stated before, what you want as a beginner is a durable drone that’s easy to use, preferably ready to fly right out of the box, and that does everything at the bare minimum. When you’re buying a drone of this caliber, you’re going to see a lot of companies make a lot of promises. The bigger companies aren’t really striving to produce the best ‘beginner drone’ now that professional consumer drones are in such demand.
However, we’ve compiled a list for you here full of drones that are perfect to learn on, won’t break your heart if you fly them into a brick wall, and are relatively easy to use. Hopefully one of these peaks your interest.
These are the best beginner drones in the $100 price range. We don’t recommend spending more on your first drone.
UDI U818A HD
DBpower MJX X400W
Holy Stone F181
Now that I know what the best beginner drones are, what else should I know?
All the elaborate tech explanations can come afterwards. Your little drone isn’t going to be complex, and it’s one of those things where you’ll figure it out as you go. As a basis, know that you should purchase a quadcopter (to familiarize with the build as it’s what’s most common). In an overly-simplified explanation, basically they’re composed of four rotors that each control a propeller. The rotors work independently of each other to produce thrust, pitch, yaw, and roll. Flight is stabilized with a flight-board that balances your drone. Every drone has a flight board.
Your transmitter (controller) will send a signal on either a 2.4ghz or 5.7ghz frequency, which will be intercepted by the receiver onboard the drone, which then delivers a signal to the actuators on the drone which will tell each rotor what to do independently. With these beginner drones, expect a flight time of around 7~ minutes and 45 minutes to charge each flight. Don’t expect to have a machine that can fare in windy or outdoor conditions, nor should you expect one that can live-stream the first-person-view. To that point, if it can live stream (or take photography in general), it’s probably going to be in very low quality and with latency.
As for the tech’s jargon, here are some key terms to be aware of.
- FPV: First Person View
- RTF: Ready to fly
- Headless Mode: A mode that allows you to fly without orientation, meaning you don’t need to know which is the ‘front’ or ‘back’ of your drone. This greatly assists novice pilots, as it’s easy to lose orientation via line of slight.
- Follow Me: also known as Active Track (coined by DJI), it’s a feature which allows the drone to track a subject autonomously.
- Return Home: also known as one key return, this feature allows you to press a single button and the drone will return to a rendezvous point your set for it. It can also achieve this autonomously with some units, as the software will trigger the mode if the drone flies out of range or if the battery is EOL.
- Hover: also known as ‘position lock’ and ‘altitude lock’ this feature allows your drone to autonomously hover in place once you let go of the controls. This is incredibly beneficial for both novice pilots and aerial photographers alike, as you can step away from your controls and not have to worry about your drone crashing.
- Gimbal: this is the device that holds the camera on most drones, which greatly stabilizes the picture. For more professional drones they’re usually 3-axis systems, while in beginner drones they’re usually absent.
- Multirotor: a vehicle with multiple rotors used in flight.
- Quadctoper: a vehicle with four rotors used in flight.
- Hexacopter: a vehicle with six rotors used in flight.
- Payload: how much your vehicle can lift, including its own onboard battery and systems.
- UAV: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, AKA Drones.
I want to know a bit more other than just jumping in headfirst and buying a drone that’s durable and easy to use.
Great! There is tons of information about drones on the web, and a few hours of research will set you well ahead of where you were prior. But since we’re still talking beginner drones here, let’s keep it specific to that. We’ll give you a few pointers here before you check out the five beginner drones we recommend below.
- If it has a camera, expect shitty footage: unfortunately we’re not at a place in the market yet where we can guarantee a quality aerial photography machine for under $100. Most of these drones—if they’re fit with integrated cameras—will take pixelated, low quality footage. Even if they say the camera can shoot in 720p and you know a bit about photography and you’re like ‘well, that’s not so bad!’ Truth be told it is. Reason being is that aerial photography machines thrive when their cameras are fit to gimbals, which minimize the interference of the vehicle’s movement and stabilize the footage. It’s incredibly rare to see a beginner drone fit with a gimbal. Their versions of gimbals are usually shock absorption mounts, which often do close to nothing. Even the best camera in the world strapped to a drone without a stabilization system will produce low-quality footage.
- These drones don’t fly long, which can be frustrating. The beginner drones, as stated before, usually don’t fly very long. This can be the source of frustration when you’re trying to learn to pilot, but can only fly for five minutes and then have to wait another hour before doing so. That’s why you should look for packages that include extra batteries, or drones that have removable batteries with an option to purchase additional ones. Maximizing your flight time will greatly improve your skills as pilot, and your experience flying. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, however, as many of these smaller units need the downtime between flights or else their rotors will overheat and burnout. Do you research beforehand.
- How bad will the crash be? Ahh! Such an important question. This is actually best answered by scouring through user reviews. Every beginner drone is going to promise they’re ‘crash-resistant’ and that they ‘can take a beating’ but truth is they break. Nothing is more frustrating than opening up that new quadcopter, sending it in air, then driving it into the ground only to end up with a stationary bird. If there’s a drone that you’re contemplating purchasing, make sure to check out the user reviews and see what they said about their experience (most novice pilots will report their accidents and damage). There are some that will immediately pose red flags, whereas others will have headlines in the review that tell you all need to know: ‘crashed it ten times, not a scratch.’
Lastly, make sure you read up on drone safety and the rules and regulations put in place by the FAA to keep you, the pilot, safe and out of trouble. Now, try one of these beginner drones and get flying!