Drone Accessories Guide
All gadgets crave accessories. Drones are no exception to this phenomenon. In fact, they are one of those gadgets that not only greatly benefits from add-ons, but becomes a whole lot more exciting with them. With the evolution of drone technology and the new found versatility of the modern consumer drone, drones are beautifully engineered for accessories.
The accessories range from separate gimbals designed for designated cameras, additional intelligent flight systems, transmission optimization components, all the way to practical utilities like a carrying case or a sling for your transmitter, and everything in between. There is no shortage of accessories in the drone space. With the rise of successful models like the Phantom 4, Inspire 2, the X-Star Premium, and many more, third party manufacturers have begun producing numerous products that complement these drones aimed to supplement and improve the flight experience, and succeeding in their aim.
So what exactly constitutes a drone accessory, and how many different ones are out there? In this guide, we’ll list the different accessories you can buy for your drone, and segregate them into two categories: the optimal and the fun and convenient.
Accessories found in this category aim specifically to optimize your experience flying your drone. They’re not necessarily the snazzy, fun accessories, but the ones that many experts deem necessary.
Extra Batteries – since most drones come with one designated battery, and mostly flying times of less than half an hour, you will want to have more than one. Not only that, but the wear and tear of these Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries can often be heavy and they lose their capacity to hold juice rather quickly. Although we’ve added this as an accessory, more than one battery is really a staple. The higher the grade of drone you own, the higher the possibility that your battery is removable and your machine can sustain back-to-back flights. A single extra battery could be the difference between 30 minutes hour of flight and an hour. Add even another and you can fly for longer.
The practicality of having extra batteries centers on the fact that despite how well-engineered a battery can be it is not impervious to failure. Really, no tech is. Imagine going out to shoot footage only to find that your battery has failed, and you have no backup? Now what if there was a certain event that day you wanted to shoot that wouldn’t happen again? You see the point. Backup batteries are absolutely necessary, even for just failsafe reasons. Along with extra batteries you might want to pick up a couple extra chargers, too (depending on how much downtime you anticipate between flights).
Gimbal – let’s be frank about this. You could have the absolute alpha of a camera, the beast of beasts. Maybe a Zenmuse that can shoot in 5.2k CinemaDNG, or support Apple Pro Res, and if that things isn’t attached to a sturdy, professional gimbal, you’re going to sacrifice a lot of footage quality. If your drone can support a gimbal or a better gimbal, then upgrade or buy it.
The integrated gimbal is a game changer. At lower grades it’s doubtful you’ll find a 3-axis gimbal (the name of the game for professional drones), but even the most basic platforms are a huge upgrade from nothing. However, now that so many third party manufacturers are producing drone accessories, it’s important to note that with something like a gimbal, you need to do the proper research before purchasing. Simply because there are gimbals made to fit your drone doesn’t mean that they always work, nor do they work for every camera (especially when taking into consideration payload-capacity and FPV systems).
Camera – we won’t spend too much time on this one because it’s not really an accessory, but an so you ’re probably not going to need to purchase a separate one unless you are going for an industrial drone or one tailored to carry a specific camera, like a GoPro. In general, it’s hard to see cameras as accessories, since even the term ‘drone’ more often distinguishes a naked remote control aircraft from a camera fitted RC aircraft with various autonomous components. If your drone can support a camera, having one will greatly optimize your flight experience, especially with an FPV transmission system.
Prop Guards & Extra Blades – depending on what kind of machine you are flying, propeller guards and extra blades could either seriously optimize your flight experience or won’t really matter. Crashes happen. That’s the nature of drone piloting. Even the most skilled of pilots are not impervious to flight mishaps, especially those due to hardware/software failure. Although many drones come with an extra set of blades, having a second set of extra is still important. The smallest nick (which often happens by just transporting the drone) can unbalance the blade and necessitate a replacement. This is especially true with lower-grade drones as they are a lot more susceptible to damage during flight – they are smaller and made from weaker materials. Extra sets of blades are again, something we deem ‘the optimal’ because if you break one and you don’t have a replacement, your drone down for the count.
Prop guards work to prevent the damage to the props. Generally, if you have the guards, use them. The effect of prop guards on payload capacity depends on the size of the drone. Sometimes prop guards can significantly reduce the speed and agility of the drone. If your drone is ‘open-topped’, and third party manufacturers or the drone manufacturer itself offers prop guards, having prop guards will optimize your flight performance, give you a bit more peace of mind, and protect your drone somewhat if you fly it into a wall (which is rarely soft).
Landing Gear – if landing gear is available for your drone, buy it. Landing a drone can be a tedious, difficult maneuver and often requires a fair amount of skill (especially if your drone lacks the autonomy to land itself – something more often reserved for mid-grade and professional drones). Landing gear or ‘legs’ can greatly reduce your risk of crashing on your descent. They also allow for your drone to take off and land in areas that would otherwise not be possible.
Micro SD (Secure Digital) Cards – there’s nothing like going out to take some footage, only to come up empty-handed because your card was full and you didn’t have a replacement. Of course, the type of card you need is dependent on the type of machine you own, but as a rule of thumb, double up on whatever came with the system (especially if you have multiple batteries and plan to fly a lot). As with any type of recorder: the more storage the better. Plain and simple. Make sure you don’t fall victim to problems that can be easily managed in flight prep.
GPS Tracker – these days, you can put a GPS unit on basically anything. If we’re talking about mid-grade or professional drones, then there’s probably already a unit integrated into the core build of the system, but there are some drones that don’t have one. Those are often smaller, lower-grade drones. Without a GPS tracker, your drone is a lot easier to lose. Don’t let ‘I’d never lose this thing’ be the last words you ever say to your drone.
With a simple GPS to Bluetooth or GPS to application device you’ll always be able to keep track of your drone and ensure that it doesn’t get too far away from you. Make sure it’s not too heavy, so it won’t detract from your payload capacity. That same tracker can be used for other things, too, as the cheaper ones are not drone specific.
Carrying Case – this is a big one with third party manufacturers, as engineering a case is rather simple once the drone is in-hand. This is the last accessory on the list, but it’s extremely important. More often than not, a drone is built more for intelligence, capability, and payload-capacity than durability. Drone companies try and take into consideration that crashes do happen; they don’t tend to spend a lot of money on the crash performance of the drone. Would you spend 150k on an old Honda Civic if the seller guaranteed it’d be more crash resistant? Probably not. It’s still an old Honda Civic.
It’s the same thing with drones. No one really wants to pay double the price to ensure their drone will be ‘less hurt’ in a crash without the full insurance that it’s indestructible. We don’t buy these things with the intent to crash them, and we are reliant on their autonomy to help us avoid that event. Even professional drones are vulnerable to damage, and it’s surprising just how many pilots damage their drones while headed for a shoot. When you think about it, drones aren’t really the most portable design. They’re often lopsided, don’t collapse (unless there are foldable arms), and take up a fair amount of awkward space. Buying a case tailored specifically for your drone is a great way to ensure safe travels.
There it is. Extra batteries, a gimbal, a camera (or an upgraded one), prop guards & extra blades, micro SD cards, and a carrying case – these accessories are what will optimize the performance of your drone, and are accessories that are deemed absolutely necessary by the professionals.
THE FUN AND CONVENIENT
The following accessories are added more for their convenience factor and additional fun, than to optimize the flight performance. Who doesn’t want to have more fun, convenience, and style?
LED Lights – if you want to make your drone sexier, invest in some additional lights. There’s a whole range of LED lights available for drones, and while an argument can be made that they optimize flight performance (help direct orientation), they’re really just there for style and night-flying. You can even buy some that flash and change colors at the touch of a button. LED lights are definitely something to look into if you want to enjoy putting your drone up in the dark or if you think your drone needs a bit more character.
Transmitter/Tablet Sunshade – oh how this makes things easier and more convenient on a sunny day. Ever tried to look at your phone while the punishing sun is beating down on it? Not very easy to see the screen, is it? Well if you have any experience trying to pilot a drone via the FPV in the same weather, then you know it’s nearly impossible not to squint, burn your eyes, and obtain a clear view of the feed.
A sunshade is a godsend. It’s the most affordable luxury that does wonders when the situation presents itself. A lot of them are adjustable, one-size fits all sized, so you won’t have to worry about anything too specific. Note here, it’s the ones that use duvetyne (a high opacity fabric, also known as ‘commando cloth’ in the eastern US) that’ll be best at blocking the sun.
Transmitter Lanyard – both Autel Robotics and DJI make lanyards, and a whole string of other companies manufacture them as well. You know how it’s really nice to have position lock on your drone so you can leave the controller alone and the drone will just hover in place? Well a lanyard allows you to have position lock on your controller, so it’ll just hang from your neck when you’re not using it.
Stepping away won’t be a problem anymore, nor will finding a place to set your controller with a tablet-attached. Buy one of these and experience an entirely new type of luxury when you’re out on the field flying your drone. Never worry about setting your transmitter on the ground, or putting it somewhere it can fall over and toggle a ‘crash the drone into that tree’ button.
Helipad – the rule of cool really applies here. Although there’s no real benefit of having one of these, except for the fact that you’ll be able to takeoff from areas you otherwise wouldn’t, the fluff is awesome. It’s like flying an actual little helicopter, with an actual little home base, and you can practice precision landings that’ll feel – oh so rewarding when you drop the legs perfectly on that tiny surface. This is definitely not a necessity, but it would add a new element to drone piloting.
Hard-shell Backpack – although a carrying case is more often thought of as a better option, there are hard-shell backpacks available on the market, too. They are basically soft carrying cases fit into the body of backpacks, not usually as reliable, but certainly more convenient than a bulky hard case (think: hiking to some area to shoot footage – a backpack is a lot easier to carry). Be careful, though, as reviews online often tear apart manufacturers which guarantee durability only for the backpack to crumble structurally.
Camera filters – ND (Neutral Density) or PolarPro (polarizing) filters can be added to the camera, to mitigate certain weather conditions, create the capacity to shoot in other weather conditions, or add different stops/color spectra to the footage. We don’t add this in the optimal list because these filters can be hit or miss and are often a lot more fun than optimal.
Decals – there’s really nothing stopping you from putting flames on the bottom of your drone, giving it that Harley Davidson feel. There are a bunch of different companies that sell decals for RC aircraft. Style your machine exactly how you want, or make it even more visible in the sky by adding rich, bright colors. These are especially effective since a lot of drones come with flat colored chassis which take decals well.
As you can see, there’s a whole assortment of accessories available for drones – everything from parts deemed integral and necessary for flight operations, to little perks and style choices that’ll make your drone prettier. Similar to the original purchase of the drone, it’s important to thoroughly research the product you’re buying and the company that manufactures it. This is especially important when buying accessories, because there are a lot of third party companies that haven’t been properly vetted, and a lot more room for cheap products.
Make sure too that the accessory can pair with your drone. Often the company that manufacturers a given drone will also manufacture the accessories that pair with the drone. You’ll probably want to give them the first look since they are you are guaranteed the accessory will fit your drone. These accessories may also be the most expensive.
We hope this guide points you in the right direction, and that you come to accessorize your drone with important integral components, as well as stuff that just makes the whole experience more fun.