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If you’re thinking about buying a drone, this is a great place to start. In this article, I’m going to go over everything you should know before buying a drone for the first time. Throughout this page, I’ll be mostly referring to camera drones, but there will be some good advice for toy drones as well as DIY drones.
If you’re looking for the best camera drones, toy drones, or even hobby-grade racing drones, check out our new Drones For Sale page. There you will find all off the best drones for sale listed in order based on our MyFirstDrone rating system. For each drone, there are also individual ratings, videos specs, pricing, and a summary of what our thoughts and opinions are.
If you don’t know where to buy a drone, don’t worry. There are tons of online stores for drones that will ship to just about any major country. If you’re buying toy drones, the best place to go is Amazon.
If you buy a DJI drone from Best Buy, Amazon or any other retailer, you aren’t guaranteed to get the newest version of that drone. DJI makes small changes to their drones every few weeks. Sometimes it’s hardware and other times it’s software. These changes usually improve safety and reliability, and if it’s a hardware change, the first place that gets the new hardware is the DJI Store. You can also get DJI Care at the checkout (DJI’s accidental damage protection program) which helps if you happen to crash your drone on the fist day (that learning period). DJI also has free shipping.
If you're buying a camera drone that isn't made, by DJI, your best bet probably going to be the drone section of Amazon. The best part about buying drones from Amazon is that they have a great return policy and free shipping to Prime members.
Hobby King is like the Walmart of radio control. They have tens of thousands of products for sale. Some products are things that they’ve designed themselves, some are things that they’ve gotten permission to manufacture and other things they just sell like any other retailer.
Some of the drone parts sold at Hobby King are great, but some are terrible, so you really have to read the reviews of whatever the part is that you’re looking at. That way, you can see all the problems that other people are having and determine if it’s a good product or not.
Another place to look for DIY parts and even full drone setups is the classifieds section of RCGroups.com. The classifieds section of RCGroups is like the Craigslist of radio control stuff. You can find amazing deals, but you can also get scammed and ripped off. So be careful who you buy from on there. I would say about 95% of the people on there are ok to buy from, just watch out for the other 5% and you’ll be fine.
Don’t be that guy who appears on the news for hitting a plane, or crashing into the White House! As a new drone pilot you should educate yourself on the airspace regulations of your country, and the general rules of safe flying, but for now, if you want to stay out of trouble, here are the best practices that will apply to most countries including the US.
When you buy your camera drone, you should also get it registered with the FAA. Technically, you don’t have to register your drone if you are flying under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, but it’s not always possible to fit the criteria of that rule, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. To register your drone, you will need to go to registermyuas.faa.gov. Don’t worry, it’s an inexpensive and easy process. If you’re buying a toy drone, you shouldn’t need to register it because it will be less than the limit of 0.5lb.
When you’re looking at drones to buy, you’ll see a few common acronyms that pop up, RTF, BNF and ARF. If you’re looking at camera drones, almost all of them will come ready to fly. Most toy drones are ready to fly as well, but racing drones usually require some additional setup.
RTF stands for Ready-To-Fly. Usually an RTF quadcopter doesn’t require any assembly or setup, but you may have to do some simple things like charge up the battery, install the propellers or bind the controller to the quadcopter (get them talking to each other).
BNF stands for Bind-And-Fly. A BNF quadcopter usually comes completely assembled, but without a controller. With BNF models, you’ll have to use the controller that you already have (if it’s compatible) or find a controller sold separately. One thing you should know is that just because a transmitter and receiver are on the same frequency that doesn’t mean that they’ll work together.
In the analog days, if you had a transmitter and receiver both running on the same frequency, they were almost guaranteed to work together. Now with digital communication that’s all changed. Even if your transmitter and receiver are on the same channel, they must use the same manufacture protocol in order to talk to each other. So check to make sure that your controller will work with your drone before buying it.
ARF stands for Almost-ready-to-fly. ARF Drones are usually like quadcopter kits. They usually don’t come with a transmitter or receiver and might require partial assembly. An ARF drone kit might also leave out components like motors, ESCs, or even the flight controller and battery. The definition of an ARF drone kit is very broad, so whenever you see ARF in the title, you should read the description thoroughly.
A lot of people think that drones are hard to fly, but the truth is, they’re really not. Anyone capable of using an iPhone or Android device is more than capable of flying a drone. However, this does not mean that drones are fool proof. Even the most advanced drones from DJI require some general knowledge if you want to avoid crashing or worse, losing your drone forever. But don’t let this worry you. As long as you understand these basic concepts, you should be able to stay out of trouble.
The first thing that you need to know is that all drones with cameras are more than just some motors, batteries and a radio. There are many different sensors inside of a drone that make it work, and some of these sensors can be affected by your environment.
One common sensor that is prone to interference is the GPS receiver. The GPS is what tells your drone where it is, and without a good signal, bad things can happen. There are a few things that affect GPS signals, but the main cause is not having line-of-sight with enough satellites. This happens when you fly in tall cities, mountain ranges, under large forest trees, and especially indoors.
The other sensor that can sometimes have a mind of its own is the compass. This is one of the most important sensors, because it tells the drone what direction it’s facing so it can use the GPS to navigate properly. When there is compass interference, the drone will usually fly in a circular pattern that progressively gets worse as time goes on. This is called the toilet bowl effect! Eventually, if your drone is doing this, it will crash. If you ever see your drone drifting in a circular motion, land it immediately, then try recalibrating it.
Compass interference is one of the biggest causes of drone crashes because it isn’t something the average person is thinking about. So what causes this interference? Anything made of metal. Things like large metal structures, park benches, cars power lines, and even metal in the ground can effect your drone.
Usually if there’s a large amount of interference, DJI drones will warn you and ask if you want to recalibrate the sensors. When you do recalibrate your drone, make sure you never do it near metal objects or the calibration data will be offset.
All drones from DJI have dual sensor redundancy, so they are less prone to interference than other drones. Plus, DJIs newest drones use the obstacle avoidance sensors and the main camera to better understand their position. This is why it’s safe to fly drones like the Spark indoors.
Control range specs don’t take into account radio interference. If you look at the specs for most drones, numbers like “1 mile” seems like a lot of range, but this number can be deceiving. Most people don’t live in a place free of radio interference, so that one mile number can can be significantly affected depending on where you are. If you’re in a medium sized city, you might get half of the advertised range. If you fly near radio towers, you might not get more than a few feet of range. Flying in-between walls, mountains, trees and anything else you can think of will also affect how far you can go.
One thing that long distance pilots have to worry about is how high they have to fly to maintain line-of-sight with the drone. If you were to fly out over 1 mile away, the drone would be getting a signal that’s more than 5 times less powerful than if you were 1000 feet away. This means that even small things like trees that are in-between you and the drone can cause major interference or even a dropout.
Most camera drones with a GPS will return home when they lose signal, and DJI drones will even avoid obstacles on the way back, but that doesn’t mean you should trust the drone to come back. It’s better to avoid losing signal and be safe, than have the drone get a compass error while coming back and decide to fly away into the sunset.
You can learn the basic stick movements for a drone here. After you learn what each stick does, there’s really not much else you need to worry about when flying. The general controls for a camera drone are the same as a toy drone, but more stable. Toy drones and racing drones need continuous input to keep them flying, but camera drones will hover in one spot until the battery dies, then go home and land. Flying a camera drone is really not like flying anything else. It’s like you have a camera mounted on a giant crane, and you get to control where it goes.
Personally, I think that everyone who owns a drone (or wants to buy one) should be part of an online (or physical) community of some kind. There are tons of online drone forums out there. Some are for general purpose and some or for very specific subjects, like a certain product line or part. You don’t have to join every drone forum you find, but I recommend finding at least one or two and seeing how you like them.
Drone forums can be great, but you have to know what it is that you’re trying to ask, where to ask and how to ask it. If you don’t, your questions will go unanswered. Sometimes people will even look down on you, just because you asked a stupid question. If you’ve never been part of an online forum before, just join one and look at how other people are asking questions.
Here’s a list of the top drone forums out there. If you didn’t already know, I actually started a community myself called the My First Drone Beginners Group. The nice thing about this group is that it’s for everyone (no drone question is too stupid!) and since there isn’t any subcategories, you don’t have to worry about if you’re posting in the right place.
My First Drone Beginners Group: Anything drone related.
RCGroups.com: Anything radio control related.
DIYDrones.com: Geared more towards robotics.
PhantomPilots.com: Anything Phantom related.
forum.FliteTest.com: Mostly foam airplanes with some drone stuff too.
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