Published December 13, 2016
A newcomer to the world of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or “drones” can be intimidated by the number of choices available. Drones come in a wide variety of sizes, and have many different features. For those looking to buy a birthday or holiday gift for a drone enthusiast, it can be especially difficult to determine what kind of UAV to buy.
The three general categories of drones are nano drones, medium drones, and professional drones. Here is a description of each, as well as the pros/cons:
|+ Inexpensive||- Short battery life|
|+ Great for practice||- Lacks features of more pricey models|
|+ Some can perform tricks||- Many models should stay indoors|
Tiny enough to easily fit in the palm of your hand, nano drones are extremely small UAVs that can be a great entry-level vehicle for those interested in the hobby. Most nano drones are quadcopters (four propellers), though hexacopters (six propellers) are not uncommon. They are typically inexpensive, ranging from $20 to $100.
Battery life for smaller models are usually around ten minutes or less, though they are rechargeable. This makes them ideal for quick sessions, and they can be a very fun diversion. Some models are capable of doing tricks, like flips and spins. Learning these maneuvers can be a blast. It helps that their small size makes them less of a liability when doing stunts in the living room.
These UAVs are particularly good for practice. Many pilots keep a miniature UAV handy so that they can practice indoors. Most new pilots grow confident with only a few days of practice. The lack of risk with more inexpensive vehicles means that users can learn with confidence — and without fear of causing damage. Learning the basics of navigation can be a breeze with nano drones.
However, it is best that users keep these vehicles indoors. With the exception of more advanced racing models, most inexpensive nano drones are clearly designed for indoor use only. The motor power of most smaller vehicles is insufficient for outdoor use, since the wind will make it highly difficult to control.
|+ Many options||- Additional features like FPV cost extra|
|+ Good introductory drone||- Moderate learning curve|
|+ Can fly outdoors/indoors||- Strong winds can be a problem|
“Medium drones” is a label used to identify the wide range of models between smaller, inexpensive UAVs and professional-grade ones. Medium-sized models have larger propellers and airframes. They weigh a couple pounds on average. They are versatile, since they have more motor power for outdoor navigation, but are still small enough to operate comfortably in most indoor environments. Prices for these drones range from $200 to $500.
They come in all shapes and include a wide variety of features. They are mostly used for practice, or simply for fun. Given the many different varieties, there are models to suit every need. Batteries in medium-sized UAVs last about fifteen to twenty minutes, which allows users to complete more complex tasks. Those who want to explore the world of aerial photography should seek out a medium drone with a low-to-mid quality camera. Other users who want to get into drone racing should seek a model with a camera for a first-person-view (FPV) setup.
There are other features that medium drones may or may not have, depending on the model. Some UAVs have flight recorders, which can be useful for tracking flight hours and diagnosing problems. Many medium drones have propeller guards, which can minimize damage during a crash. It is important to check the specs of any particular model before buying to know precisely what you are getting.
|+ Can do complex tasks||- Expensive|
|+ Impressive feartures||- New features can have a learning curve|
|+ Good motor power||- Unsuitable for most indoor areas|
For those who want to take their flying to the next level — or even make a living off of piloting — a professional drone is the best option. The largest hobby UAVs are usually professional-grade kits. These vehicles are too wide for most indoor areas and weight three to five pounds. Their motor power makes them capable of reliable flight in even moderately windy conditions. Professional UAVs usually cost $800 to $2,000, though custom models can cost over $10,000.
Most professional drones have all the features desired by experienced pilots. With batteries lasting up to thirty minutes, these UAVs are capable of doing complicated tasks. With the introduction of collision avoidance technology, some can even perform these tasks autonomously. Many models include GPS functionality, which permit vehicles to automatically travel to selected destinations.
Highly desired features like 4k resolution footage, object tracking, and automatic object avoidance are common in high-end models.
Only experienced pilots need apply. Unless a new user is eyeing a model with beginner-friendly modes built-in, there is too much risk in piloting a professional-grade drone with no experience. Given the substantial investment in buying a high quality UAV, this would be a tragedy waiting to happen. However, these are the most exciting and fun ones to use.
When you determine what your needs are and what your experience level is, finding the right drone can be a simple process. Browse the options and find out which model is right for you.