With the rise of Instagram culture and selfies, amateur photography has never been more prevalent. And if you’ve been outdoors recently or visited a tourist site, you might have even seen small robots with mounted cameras hovering above in the sky.
These drones are taking aerial photographs and videos that were once only available to professional photographers and Hollywood directors who had access to cranes or helicopters. Advancements in GPS technology, battery systems, Wi-Fi, and cameras have made drones cheap enough to purchase for everyday people. And now amateurs can take their own beautiful, sweeping shots of cities, the great outdoors, and themselves.
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles made of lightweight materials and piloted with a remote control system. Once used exclusively by the military, drones now serve such commercial functions as delivering packages, monitoring crops, and assisting in search and rescue operations. Some of the most advanced drones can even fly themselves while still taking selfies of you.
With an estimated 10 million shipped in 2017, drones have never been more popular. In fact, they’ve become so ubiquitous that they’ve been banned from some U.S. national landmarks. Whether it’s a waterfall, volcano, or mountain top, drones have allowed amateur photographers to capture in pictures places they never previously could. Imagine how easy it is now to take that group photo and get you and all your friends in the picture.
These days, people are also using drones for more than photography and video purposes. Piloting a drone can be its own pleasure, and it takes practice and skill to manoeuvre a drone and do tricks. For those with a need for speed, there are even drone races and a competitive league. Some hobbyists are using drones to fish and make maps. Even Lady Gaga used special light-emitting drones to put on her Super Bowl halftime show.
When thinking about purchasing your very own drone, you might hear about the brand, DJI.
With 70% of the global market share, no one sells more consumer drones than this China-based manufacturer. The company offers high-end drones with 4K cameras, high max speeds, long battery lives, obstacle avoidance capabilities, and a host of other features. Their main lines, Mavic and Phantom, have retail prices of approximately $1,500 USD.
For the beginner, however, these price tags should not be ignored. Remember that as a new pilot you can and will crash your drone as you learn to fly it. You don’t want to lose more than a thousand dollars due to a piloting error or a particularly windy day. Although the high-end brands have more stabilising features, their heavier weight can result in more damage when they crash. And spare parts aren’t cheap.
Budget lines are smaller and lighter so they can often take a tumble without any harm. And because of their low prices, typically $180 USD or less, you won’t break the bank if you demolish your drone. Here are four cheap drones for beginners.
This highly-reviewed quadcopter drone offers a sizeable bundle of features and extras, especially for its budget-friendly price of $89.99 USD. It has an HD camera, 6-axis gyro (which allows for better stabilisation and smoother filming), and a remote control with LCD screen. When you open up the box, you’ll notice that the drone comes fully assembled with bonus supplies like an extra battery, spare blades, and a micro SD card. The UDI U818A Discovery is incredible value and packs enough features and perks to make it an outstanding drone that will grow with you as you become more experienced. Pro tip: Use high speed mode to handle strong winds.
For the drone enthusiast who wants to zoom by everyone else, the Hubson X4 Quadcopter offers high speeds and very accurate controls. The camera is set on the front, so you’ll be able to experience flight through live HD video that is streamed directly to the remote control. This first person view also helps new pilots navigate the skies more easily and land. Although the camera quality could be better, with a 6-axis gyro and $69.99 USD price tag (the cheapest on our list), we think the Hubson X4 Quadcopter is a solid buy.
The Parrot Mambo has some very advanced features for the price of $118.13 USD. It has autonomous hovering, which means that it’ll stay in place in the air when you let go of the controller and it will adjust for wind. With a push of a button, you can also take advantage of autonomous takeoffs and landings, which means you won’t have to worry about accidental crashes when you’re just starting off or nearly finished.
Other bonus features include a small cannon that shoots small pellets for target practice and a grabber that allows you to pick up items and carry them mid-flight. The Parrot Mambo does not come with a controller and is controlled from your smartphone or tablet. Using the company’s app, you can pilot the drone with an on-screen joystick or turn your entire device into the controller, tilting it to guide the drone. Unfortunately, the camera is only meant to assist in landing, so don’t expect to take any prize-winning photographs. But with everything else the Parrot Mambo has going for it, we think it’s still a great buy for a beginner.
The Ryze Tello offers exceptional quality for just $99 USD. Its components are made by DJI, which as we stated earlier, is the market leader in consumer drones. High capacity batteries mean longer flight times, and two antennae provide extra stable video transmission. With its HD camera and compatibility with virtual reality headsets, pilots can experience beautiful first person views. Be sure to note, however, that controllers are sold separately. It is recommended that you purchase the GameSir T1d Controller, made by DJI, for $29USD.