But before you start browsing the specs and features list, think about what you actually want to do with the drone, or at least how much you plan to spend. Do you want to have fun with the little helicopter buzzing around the living room and garden? Or would you rather go outdoors and take unobstructed landscape photos? Once you've prioritized, you can start picking your drones.
Features to look for in a drone camera
When it comes to drones, not all cameras are created equal.
The sticker price won't give you an accurate indicator of the machine's quality, although it can provide a quick, approximate assessment of which drones are better than others. In general, more expensive drones will fly farther, take better images, and come with more bells and whistles. But to make a more informed decision, you need to be specific about the specs. let's see.
Like smartphones, drones eventually run out of battery, and even on the best models, it's hard to get more than 30 minutes of flight time between charges. You can always carry extra power, but if you think you might need to do so, make sure to include the cost of a spare battery in the total price.
While reading the list, you may come across this term. Brushless motors cost more than brushed motors, but in exchange, they offer quieter operation and longer life, meaning you don't have to replace them as often.
Camera specs should be an important consideration if you want the highest quality footage possible, so be sure to look for the resolution of your photos and videos. Most decent-sized models (excluding toy drones) now come with built-in cameras, but some allow you to install your own. If you're still a beginner when it comes to taking high-resolution photos and videos, check out our digital camera selection guide.
Getting started flying a drone can be tricky, so for starters, some models offer a headless mode. This means that when you push the controller stick in one direction, the drone will move in that direction relative to you, not relative to where the stick is pointing.
Having an integrated GPS can keep some drones hovering in place. Caleb Woods/Unsplash
In the high-end drone market, you'll find models with integrated GPS, which let machines know where they are in the world. This upgrade helps your drone find its way home with a feature aptly called Return to Home or RTH. The integrated GPS also improves the overall stability and navigation skills of the drones, for example, allowing many of them to hover easily in one place.
This feature lets your drone track you on the ground or in the ocean, so you can focus on mountain biking or kitesurfing while your air buddies keep track of your progress. Some drones do better than others, so check out user reviews to see how well this mode works in practice.
As drone prices go up, you'll notice that they're starting to have something called an integrated gimbal. This support just keeps the camera steady as it moves in high winds and high altitudes. Smaller toy drones don't have this accessory, but they don't really need it - they spend most of their time indoors or at low altitudes. If you want the best video footage and photos, make sure the drone includes a gimbal.
Obstacle avoidance, an advanced feature of some premium drones, will cost you money, but it may be the only way to protect your drone from crashing into a tree. As with follow mode, some drones do better than others, so in addition to noting whether a model has this capability, check online reviews to see if it actually works as advertised.
The range of a drone tells you how far it can move before losing control. More expensive professional-grade drones have a longer range, beyond the suburban living room or backyard. However, no matter how far your drone can stray, keep in mind that FAA regulations require you to keep an eye on your drone so it doesn't damage property, animals, or even people.