This article will cover the basics of choosing your first drone. Many drone enthusiasts that come to me asking me if I could help them repair their drones. Only to find out that, its not a drone that they should have flown or bought. In this article, I am going to summarise as much as possible to quickly assist you on your journey.
STEP 1: Understand the purpose.
Drones have various applications. There are hundreds of drones across a market and clearly, there are only a few reasons why you would want a drone. In this article, we will specifically discuss the multi-copter options. Multicopters are able to do vertical takeoff and landing. The multi-copter may consist of 3 to 8 arms fitted with motors that rotate in synchronous at the same time. Some motors spin in the opposite direction to compensate the torque applied on the drone body.
- Photography & Videography
- Research & Development (Data Collection)
- Hobby & Recreation
STEP 2: Type of Drone you need
Beginner Type 1 – Scratch Builders: Scratch builders wish to learn everything that makes a drone. Some would start off from raw materials. Some would prefer 3D printing or laser cutting the body sections. Others resort to buying kits. The most common kits include of those that are laser cut carbon sheets which range from about 3-5mm thickness depending on how big the drone is, or what its intended purpose is.
Beginner Type 2 – The Content Creators The second type of beginner would prefer to purely use the drone for the designed purpose. Most commonly photography and videography. This group would explore flying methods, camera payloads, filters and environmental lighting. Commonly you would find such videos with influencers, vloggers. Such users prefer having a stable, easy to control a drone. Ideally, it should be easy to make replacements if something goes wrong. We will discuss this further as we look at a few drone options later in the article. At a professional level, we are looking at larger drones that carry expensive camera equipment that include DSLR cameras.
Beginner Type 3 – The Scientist Using a drone for development purposes. Depending on what kind of functional requirement is set forth. These include the use of sensors, or flying in a particular pattern, flying through obstacles or even modifying a drone to be tethered to a power source.
STEP 3: Preparing a budget
Commercial drone packages can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands. Finding the right budget is key. Drones require replacements and maintenance. People who take their chances end up spending much more than they initially expected. It’s either that or the drone ends up deep inside some store broken, or worse, broken and stuck high up in the tree.
Some toy-like drones or knockoffs cost half the amount and promise similar functions as the expensive ones.
It is always important to get a drone that has the following,
- Good Warranty (At least 1 Year)
- Good Supply of Spare Parts
- Software update options
- No-FLY zone updates
- Return home functions
In this article, I would recommend DJI Drones for your use. Disclaimer: DJI Did not pay me for this article. I recommend them because of their popularity and ease of use. Their drones programming is also well managed through updates. The popularity also means, there’s plenty of spares on the market along with modifications like lighted propellers and prop-guards.
Starter Pack DJI RYZE TELLO (USD ~$115-139) – The DJI Tello is ideal for “Young” Beginners, educators and students. Tello has two types, the first one with standard functions and the second one known as DJI TELLO EDU has programmable functions and uses well-known programming language such as scratch and python. I have to remind you again to get the boost combo, and additional batteries to enhance the experience of owning this drone. Stick very strictly to the flight times. The Tello costs about $139 USD for the EDU version.
The Occasional Enthusiast DJI MAVIC Mini ( USD $375) – In Singapore, you need to register your drone if it weighs more than 250 grams. Check out the regulations here. 249grams. It comes with a 30min flight time. The Mavic mini supports 12MP aerial photos and 2.7K Quad HD videos. A 3-axis motorized gimbal provides superior camera stability and ensures clear ultra-smooth footage. A dedicated remote controller maintains an HD video feed at a distance of up to 4 km. This is a great option if you’re not doing anything at a professional level. The drone would be sufficient for content creators. Once again, get plenty of spare batteries.
The Expert Wannabe DJI Mavic 2 Pro (USD $1599) If you’re planning on getting some return of investment, you should consider what gives you the most for the buck, Mavics always have been good to perform up to standards in several conditions. Yes, it requires you to register your drone. But it’s worth it. I have two mavics at hand, and they never fail to disappoint me. I think Mavic Pros generally are well-thought drones that suit most drone enthusiasts. I flew far, high and in the worst weathers. Take the effort to understand how the sensors respond to indoor and outdoors. Attitude Modes (Drone holds altitude but not position) helps to film objects on the move. It does take some practice before you can handle well indoors. But nothing is impossible with DJI. The Mavic 2s come with DJI Goggles option. I think goggles are overrated unless you ‘re really into FPV. End of the day is about how well you use the tools already given to you. That being your drone itself.
The Crazy Scientist Matrice 600 Pro ( ~USD $5,349), If you have adequate flying experience and consider serious payloads for R&D or B2B operations, the matrice comes in handy as a stable platform. Though I would say its on a pricey end, its a study built drone. I normally recommend people to build drones whenever they are using it for R&D. Because R&D is tricky. Sometimes you are expected to live with tight budgets. You probably can pull off a kit similar to the matrice for a fraction of the price. But truly it’s not meant for the faint-hearted. The other reason is implementing payloads. You may need to modify the system to carry your payloads and also power them. Off the shelf, drones have their limitations. But I think the flight controller makes the biggest difference. The matrice clearly should never be the first drone you fly unless you have a very strong insurance/damage coverage.
STEP 4: Learning the science and specifications behind drones.
Buying a drone that you don’t understand, is a bad move. Why because every drone offers a different level of control and stability. You need to learn how to properly react when something goes wrong. From calibration to proper charging of batteries.
Here’s a basic introduction to how a drone flies.
This picture simply demonstrates that thrust is what helps you take off into the air. The four forces of flight include thrust, drag, lift, and weight. In the case of multi-copters, lift is not applicable as there are no aerodynamic surfaces such as a wing. In replacement, thrust allows the drone to take off. As long as the drone overcomes the weight component, it will be able to take off. The amount of weight, actually co-relates with how high the drone can fly. Less weight simply means you can fly higher. The rotation of the motors in terms of speed and direction determines the dynamic stability of the drone. The three movements of the drone include the roll, pitch and yaw movement.
Though we expect things to take off perfectly. The elements of nature work against you. The flight computer helps you solve this problem.
The flight computer – Now a good flight computer would help you fight such issues allowing you an accurate performance based on your input. A good flight computer is expensive. Before you fly, always make sure you have done all the necessary settings with the flight computer. This includes IMU calibration and GPS calibration.
The radio system – It also works together with a radio system that allows you to transmit and receive information from your controller. Such information will ensure you don’t fly out of the range or into restricted areas. It’s important to note that there are multiple modes. Ideally, you should only work with mode 1/2. The mode simply refers to the throttle control being on the left or right. With DJI systems, they come in set at mode 2 option. So before you take up flying any drone. Identify the mode you’re working on.
The Battery – The battery is one of the most important components for the drone and it requires ample attention and care. This ensures you maximise the lifespan of the battery to ensure good flight times. The more you abuse your battery the less chance of getting the value for the buck. Simply your batteries are rated capacity at XXXX mAh, and at a particular voltage. Ensure that if you are storing your batteries, do not do so at full charge. Always charge till about 3 / 4 capacity before you store or choose storage mode on your lithium polymer chargers. You may also observe that if you left full charge at storage, the DJI batteries generate heat to lose its capacity. Other batteries will just bloat up with hydrogen buildup and lose capacity over time. It also becomes dangerous to handle such batteries. Managing batteries is a balancing act. The only time it should be fully charged is before the flight. DJI drones never run the batteries till they reach the red zone on your controller or beyond the calculated flight time. I usually land when it reaches the yellow warning(on DJI) or 5minutes before calculated time. Pushing it to red zone (on DJI) will just force your drone to go into return home function which sometimes may not be the current location you’re in. For other drones that are not DJI or with neither of these safety functions, you may suffer a serious consequence of losing your drone, or permanent damage to your battery. Most importantly, never overcharge lithium batteries! Charge your lithium packs at 1C charging rate. In which case for a 5000mAh, you would be doing a 5A charge rate max. I normally do a -10-20% from the 5A.
Adhere to local drone rules!
- Drones may not be flown in Class A, B, C or G airspace; within an aerodrome traffic zone; or more than 400 feet above the ground.
- You cannot fly higher than 400 feet (122 meters)
- You cannot fly within 50 meters of any person, vehicle or structure not associated with flying the drone
- Do not fly over crowds or densely populated area
Getting your Drone Registered with CAAS.
- A registration fee of $15 will be collected at the point of purchase of each registration label. .
- If you are caught flying an unregistered drone, you will be fined. …
- Pilots under 13 years of age must have a parent or guardian complete registration for them.
- All Drones/UAS heavier than 250 grams need to be registered.
- Use your Singpass, CorpPass or UAPass account to register your drone.
- Ensure you have necessary permits if you are flying commercially. Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) will be migrating to a new online application portal. More Details soon.