If you’ve been wondering since Y2K where all the flying cars and robo-maids are, you’re not alone. Fortunately, all those high-tech gadgets that we all somehow expected to appear when the NYC ball dropped for 2000 are finally in real development. Between the Internet of Things and the increasing popularity and complexity of personal drones, the life of a tech-savvy consumer will soon begin to resemble our ideas for what the new millennium should be like. If you’re like us, you have been waiting on bated breath for drones to become smart, practical, sturdy, and affordable enough for real commercial use and, my friends, the time is now! Inventors and drone mechanics ranging from garage hobbyists to huge corporation R&D teams have come together to bring us a fantastic selection of personal drones equipped with HD cameras so we can finally soar the skies taking birds-eye-view video and finally find out what happened to that baseball you lost on the roof ages ago.
Getting Started as a Drone Pilot
While there have been enthusiasts in the drone industry with experimental and early-model personal drones for nearly a decade, most people shopping on the drone market are doing so as beginners, seeking their first or maybe second drone. Of course, with so little experience across the globe, how do you know which drone to purchase? Because there are so many independent manufacturers, quality stats for drones with cameras varies wildly from truly spectacular AI assisted and near-perfectly steady drones that can perform increasingly more intelligent tasks to lightweight toys that more closely resemble a children’s remote control helicopter. So how do you know which model of a camera-equipped drone is right for you? Just like you would any other piece of technology you buy online: check the stats and ratings.
Choosing Your Camera Drone
The best drone and camera combination for you will depend on what you’re looking for. Before you get started shopping, put together a list of the qualities you’d like to see in an ‘ideal drone’, then compare the real models to see how close they can get in a well-balanced package of lifespan, weight, lifting capacity, camera angle, and picture quality. Ask yourself a few basic questions like how you will want to play with the drone once you have it and what kind of pictures or video you’d like to shoot with it. You might be surprised to learn that there’s a big difference between a lightweight camera security drone and a heavy-duty cargo drone. There are even EMT drones equipped with built-in defibrillator kits. For personal use, here are a few points you’ll want to compare:
- Flight Time
- Control Method & Precision
- Flight Speed
- Signal Range
- Cargo Capacity
- Camera Quality
- Return Home Feature
- Flight Time
Drones are battery powered, meaning that no matter how nice the battery may be, their flight times will be limited to that supply. While it would be nice to have drones with infinite air time, that would require either very efficient solar power which is not yet available or a very silly power cord tether which would mostly defeat the purpose of a remote-controlled drone. Therefore, when looking for a new drone, the feature with the biggest impact on your experience will be the battery life. This controls how long it can fly without needing a recharge or change. Fortunately, you can also load up your drone with extra batteries for extended flights up to the drone’s capacity. Average flight times range from 5 to 30 minutes depending on the size and quality of the drone.
Control Method & Precision
There are drones currently in production that are equipped with intelligent AI directed flight, but these are incredibly pricey and mostly being developed for industrial use as construction survey drones, inventory management assistants, and automated security guards for big companies. However, beginner personal drones rely primarily on user controls. To tailor your experience with a new drone, you’ll want to choose a model with a control method you enjoy. Some drones come with a physical remote control but most work with with a helpful phone or tablet app. From there, you’ll want to check the ratings on the control system and choose a drone with a good reputation for responsiveness at range and easy to use controllers.
The bigger they are, the faster they fly. This is because a drone with a wider frame can also have longer quad-copter rotors which push more air and therefore can achieve greater velocity. Speed may not matter much for your very first drone as you will spend much of the time teaching yourself not to run into power lines, but eventually, you may want a truly zippy model. Speed is especially important if you’re going to be running experiments or testing drone based business models with your personal unit. Mini drones average at about 8mph, small drones tend to fly at 10-15mph and larger semi-professional drones with true flight capabilities average at 35-50mph. That said, industry drones like the EMT example have been known to achieve up to 100mph.
While you may normally think of range as a combination of speed and flight time, a drone’s true range is the distance at which the receiver can hear and respond to the controller. Because this statistic has very little to do with the rest of the drone design, relying on the combined power of your controller signal and the receiving antenna, drone models vary quite wildly in their effective signal range. Personal and mini drones tend to range between 90ft and 300ft, with most hovering around 100-150. Professional drones, on the other hand, are equipped with much higher end antennas and can range out from 1,000ft to an astounding 16,000ft depending on the model.
One of the most popular commercial uses for drones has become novelty food delivery. Drones are delightful for carrying small objects and packages around, but not all models are prepared to lift extra weight. When choosing your drone, remember to consider what you might want to do with it. Each model is designed for a few intended purposes in mind. Even if you’re not currently planning to use your drones for deliveries or decorative hovering potted plants, look into cargo capacity and carry weight anyway before making your final decision.
Finding the best drone with camera capabilities is a complex process. Because it’s assumed that you want to see where your drone is going, a large percentage of available drones come already equipped with cameras and those that don’t usually have mounting points for a personal camera to be added. This means that choosing a drone is more than just comparing rotor power, sturdiness, and flight capabilities. You also need to determine the quality of the image you’ll be getting or if you want to fit your drone with a unique camera. An important thing to remember when deciding is that drones with included cameras are usually already set up to stream their images, while a separate camera will need to be configured to offer you the same benefit.
Return Home Function
While most personal drones are not ‘smart’, that is self-flying and able to handle tasks independently, many are equipped with a GPS function and basic self-handling capabilities that can get you out of sticky situations without a great deal of flying skill. If your chosen drone has a return-home function, you can summon it back to you quickly and conveniently.
The number of drones commercially available has skyrocketed in the last couple of years, leaving you the lucky drone-enthusiast consumer the freedom to choose from dozens of brands and models. With this helpful guide and your own knowledge of all things awesome and flying, you will soon be selecting the perfect beginner drones with cameras for your personal collection. Happy flying!