How to buy the best drone
By Martin Pratt
You can spend thousands on a drone, but do you really need one with all the bells and whistles? This guide will help you choose the right drone for you.
There’s something undeniably cool about drones. Whether you’re a budding filmmaker with a Palme d’Or in your sights, an outdoors enthusiast interested in seeing your landscape from a new perspective with a drone that captures 4K video and hi-res images, or you’re just after a fun toy to fly around, there’s an exciting, easy-to-use drone to suit you.
The vast range in price between drones from brands, such as DJI and Parrot, means it’s vital you choose a top-rated model and make sure you aren’t paying for expensive extras you don’t need.
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about buying a drone.
Best Buy drones – spend your money wisely on a drone that’s a pleasure to pilot
What do you need from your drone?
All drones have one thing in common - they fly. Other than that, they can be equipped with different cameras and have features that make them easier to fly and less likely to get damaged by trees.
Most drones come fitted with a camera of some sort. These range from state-of-the-art, 4K action cameras mounted on rotating gimbals that should keep the image stable regardless of how much wind is buffeting the drone, to Full HD ones that shoot whatever direction the drone is facing.
A 4K, image-stabilising action camera accompanied by expert pictures of snow-capped peaks and serene lakes might be a tempting extra on a website, but if your own interest in photography extends no further than a blurry family shot on Christmas Day, then it’s probably not worth the extra cost.
If you’re buying a drone to experience the fun of controlling a device hundreds of feet in the air, then don’t fork out for units fitted with expensive cameras. We test how easy drones are to control, whether that’s with a smartphone app or a physical controller, so you can choose a drone that is a breeze to pilot.
Some drones also work with VR headsets so you can fly with a drone’s eye view. Unfortunately, the drone you're flying needs to be in your line of sight at all times - so you can't wear the VR goggles at the same time as piloting. But it does mean a companion could get some enjoyment while you’re having all the fun piloting the drone.
Where will you be flying it?
We’re not all lucky enough to have the Yorkshire Dales or Snowdonia on our doorstep, so you need to think about where you’ll be flying your drone. There are regulations as to where you can safely fly, but it will also have a bearing on the sort of drone you need.
You can find out more about where you can fly your new toy in our guide to drone safety.
How much will you need to spend?
The price range of drones is broad. Minidrones that can fit in the palm of your hand can make great stocking fillers, but don’t expect them to hold their own against the elements. These toy drones aren’t really designed to be taken outside.
At the other end of the spectrum are super-expensive professional drones, the kind used to film blockbuster movies. These drones are out of most people's price range and expertise. There’s no point spending a fortune on a drone that takes cinema quality footage if you’re only going to film your dog running across the Norfolk Broads.
Our tests focus on mid-range drones that are accomplished enough when it comes to flight and filming to appeal to enthusiasts and anyone who wants a new piece of tech that’s not just a simple toy. Mid-range encompasses drones costing £250 to those that cost more than £1,000. The rest of this advice guide will tell you what kind of drone you need, but in most cases, if you pay less than £250 then you’re likely buying a toy.
Do you need any extras?
Some drones can be controlled with an app on your phone, while others require a separate controller. Some drones include a controller in the purchase price and bought separately they can be an expensive extra. We’ve tested drones with physical controllers and smartphone controls, so you can see which is best.
Drones are not renowned for their battery life, with manufacturers claiming anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour - hardly a lengthy flight time. In our tests, we've found some drones that fail to even hit the ten-minute mark before the critical low-battery warning kicks in.
Most manufacturers offer additional batteries, but they aren’t cheap. Parrot charges £70 for its batteries, and extra batteries for some of DJI’s drones can cost more than £100.
Which brand should you go for?
Drones are relatively new to most people and so are the companies that make them. DJI and Parrot are two of the most popular. DJI focuses on the upper limits of what we consider mid-range to expensive drones that have 4K cameras and the latest tech, such as preset routes and follow features.
Parrot is known for its headphones, sat navs and smart flower pots, but drones are fast becoming its most recognisable product. Unlike DJI, Parrot has a range of drones to suit most budgets. These include minidrones and full-sized models that appeal to enthusiasts, with prices starting at less than £300.
Different manufacturers are springing up to capitalise on the popularity of drones and the quality of the models and the company that makes them is a relative unknown, which is why our drone reviews are so important. We put each drone through the same rigorous tests to identify hidden gems and see whether the big players are creating excellent drones.