Ultimate Drone & Quadcopter Buying Guide for 2017

How do you pick the best quadcopter drone?

Drones also referred to as quadcopters or multi-rotor helicopters are becoming increasingly popular for a variety of reasons. There are so many brands, models, and price ranges that it can be hard to decide how to pick the one that will suit you the best. Here we will cover everything you might need to make an informed buy when choosing your perfect quadcopter, as well as a round-up of the best drones on the market right now.

Quadcopter (Drone) Buying Guide:

Drones aka; quad-copters, mini-quads, multi-rotor craft and more. Most commonly they have four rotors but vary in their size, price, and features. Let’s get to it and round up the details that matter so you can make an informed choice! You will be taking some amazing aerial photography and enjoy flying your drones with first-person viewing.

How much does a Drone or Quadcopter cost?

The entry level quadcopters more commonly mini-quads are relatively cheap compared to some of the professional models available on the market. You can expect these to cost around $20 but don’t expect to have a built in camera unless you increase your budget to around $60.  Of course, if you want a live video feed on your smartphone (first-person view) or perhaps a color screen on the remote controller then you would need to look for models that are likely over $100. A great entry level quadcopter with a camera and live video is the DBPOWER MJX X400W  it has live video, compatible with VR headsets and as a bonus it’s under $100.

gimbal photo

Now while that is a great deal, at higher prices you do get a lot more bang for your buck! Longer flight times can make all the different as well as on-board processor units that can assist in controlled flying. Both the Parrot AR Drone and the DJI Phantom 2 are able to hover in the same spot, you will find that cheaper drones need constant tweaking of the remote in order to maintain a stable position.

What sort of camera spec should you expect?

As you may realize not all drones have built-in cameras.  A camera is not a necessity as you should always keep your drone in sight while flying.  Furthermore, just because a drone might have a camera this doesn’t mean that it has FPV (first-person viewing or a real-time video stream) which is what you need to fly without physically seeing your drone.

The lower budget drone models will at the most have VGA video, but honestly, it’s worth going for a minimum of 720p (1280×720) if you want to use your quadcopter for aerial video.  Remember, that most cameras are now moving away from FullHD (1080p) and onwards to 4K and up so it’s really a case of trying to get the best camera to stick with the times.

Pro tip: Don’t trust the resolution of the camera alone. The quality of the lens will make a world of difference too.

If you really want the very best recording and still images from your drone then one essential piece of kit is a gimbal. A gimbal is a gyro-stabilised mount which holds your camera steady at all times.  Image stabilization is already a big improvement for a camera you hold in your hand, image how important it becomes in a flying drone! If you have the budget it’s highly recommended, they don’t come cheap, though.

Another aspect to consider is how the video and images captured are then stored.  They might be stored directly on the drone, via an SD or MicroSD card (or USB drive) or some models will transmit directly to your phone.  Needless to say that recording directly to storage in your quadcopter drone is the most reliable option.

Drone Flight Time vs Charge Time:

The average drones will have a flight time between 5 and 15 minutes.  Charge time typically takes around an hour.  Most quadcopters do not come with extra battery packs but it’s very advisable to get at least 1 or even 2 extra drone batteries so you can enjoy more fly time. It is also important to remember to buy several packs of AA batteries as most of the remote controllers use these, and you will be surprised at how quickly they will use up the power; especially those with video screens.

Where can I fly my Drone (Quadcopter)?

When it comes to flying your drone in public then it’s best to check with your local laws as these will change from state to state and country to country.  In general though when its comes to the tech specs, some manufacturers will claim an impressive range of over 300ft, in reality, most drones will get closer to the 160ft-200ft range. In most cases, the law states you must keep your ‘unmanned aircraft’ in your line of sight at all times.

Flying a large quadcopter in your homes is probably not a wise idea. Your rooms will be too small and the fast spinning rotor blades are a danger to people as well as pets; even plants! If you do want to fly a drone indoor then look for the tiniest models available.

Your garden might be a better choice, however, space will be very limited here.  You also don’t want to accidentally lose your quadcopter in someone else’s garden! Just in case, stick a label with your name and email or even physical address on the body of the drone.

The best place to fly your quadcopter is in an open space such as a park or field. Ideally a space with limited trees so you don’t have too many obstacles to avoid.  You should also think about the weather conditions; if its too windy this will through your drone off-course – it may be that the wind levels on the ground are low but higher up it could be another story.

Is it worth buying replacement / spare parts?

Most drones are quite fragile which means some parts will at some point break. Usually, this is the propellers or rotors. Often, quadcopters will come with a full set of replacement blades. Keep in mind though that these parts will need replacing so you will use your spares and will need to get some extras.  Because of this, it is recommended to pick a drone that has spare parts readily available.  As an extension of this, a cheaper drone might be attractive at first but ultimately might mean you spend more having to replace parts that break. The high-end more expensive models are also built to be more robust and resilient.

You will find plenty of offers to get extra parts along with your initial purchase and this is a must if you plan on using your drone regularly.

A great thing to look for is brushless motors (which you don’t find on cheap quadcopters). Brushed motors usually have a shorter more limited lifespan; which is ok if you can buy the spare parts as they are also quite cheap, but then you will still need the skill set to remove your burned-out motor and solder in a new one.

Top of the line drones such as the DJI Phantom or the Parrot AR Drone both have brushless motors making them much more durable and these types of motors do not require maintenance.

Drone Privacy and Laws Surrounding Quadcopters

It is best to check with your local laws are these can change, however generally speaking the rules for flying ‘recreational’ drones are fairly straight forward. In most cases, it is not legal to fly in busy areas; keep in mind that you will be held responsible for any collisions or damage. There are also several rules surrounding the use of your recorded and captured content. and you should make sure that you do not breach privacy laws.  Needless to say, don’t fly your drone into private property

Best Quadcopters for 2017 (updated)

Here you will find our top selection for quadcopters. Not all of them come with built-in cameras. The WLToys V303 and Flying 3D X8 are both able to attach a GoPro-style camera but this will be an extra expense as if you want stable video then you would also need a gimbal attachment.From our findings, only the DJI Phantom models really record great video

From our findings, only the DJI Phantom models really record great video while the rest were either so-so or just terrible.  Of course, if you just want video so that you can fly your drone with FPV then the quality is less important, its when you want to use your captured video on YouTube or use for your personal movies that the quality will really matter. For the more advanced and higher quality cameras then you should be prepared to spend more than $300.

1. DJI Phantom 4

DJI Phantom 4 photo

This beauty tops our list. It is certainly the best drone made by DJI yet! The DJI Phantom 4 shoots stunning 4K video and has an abundance of features allowing for greater control than any previous model. The batteries are quite expensive, and you will find that the smart fly functions are not quite up to par with other competing models (such as the 3DR Solo). Given that the 3DR Solo is considerably more expensive, and that doesn’t include a camera either; then the DJI Phantom 4 is a top choice if you have the budget.  Remember; the Phantom 3 is also able to shoot 4K video too and is now a reduced price too! (more on that later)

2. 3DR Solo

3DR Solo

The 3DR Solo is the perfect drone to capture beautiful birds-eye shots which will dwarf many other quadcopters by comparison. Be warned though this model doesn’t come cheap, and you will need to invest in a camera as well as a separate gimbal in order to get those super still videos. But, if you can afford it with all the bells and whistles; this drone will make you proud! If you are keen for a lower budget alternative the DJI Phantom 4 or Phantom 3 both come with a great camera as well as a built-in gimbal. If you want a top of the line quadcopter, with stunning video capture and advanced control then the 3DR Solo will be your perfect ally. if you would rather spend less new is out that DJI is bringing follow and orbit functions in a soon to be released update meaning you will be able to gather similar imagery on a lower budget.

3. DJI Phantom 3 Professional

DJI Phantom 3 Professional photo

DJI is well ahead of the curve when its comes to their Phantom range. The Phantom 3 is still the best selling and highest rated drone we have reviewed. It flys very stable, and shoots amazing video.  The best part is everything is included (perfect for a beginner), all you need to add is your smartphone (Android or iOS device) to link up with the controller and you are good to go! There are some nice features such as automatic safe landing when the battery is low. This Pro model is slightly on the expensive side, however, if you don’t need or care for 4K video resolution then you can save and still be totally satisfied with the Advanced model.

4. DJI Phantom 3 Standard

dji phantom 3 standard photo

The Phantom 2 comes with intelligent flight functions, they are not perfected just yet – but they do let you get extra balance and smoothness in your shots that would be very hard with the Phantom 2. The App is also an upgrade – but the best improvements are in the video and still photo qualities.  The price is lower than ever before making this a bargain – and if you can’t reach for the Phantom 3 Pro just yet this will be the perfect choice for you.

5. DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus V3.0

DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus photo

The price on this brilliant drone is now reduced and offers amazing value delivering 1080p aerial shots.

 

6. WLtoys V303

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If you have a limited budget then the WLToys V303 is a solid purchase for you. With a combined gimbal as well as a high definition camera (sold separately) it is almost a 3rd of the price of the Phantom models.  Spares and Replacement parts can be found on GearBest for a very reasonable price too.

7. Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition

Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition

If you are just getting into quadcopters the Parrot AR Drone is a solid option. It has a very high build quality and has the ability to hover which makes controlling a breeze.

11. WLtoys V666 FPV quadcopter

WLtoys V666 FPV quadcopter

If you are just starting out and want to learn the basics of flying a drone then the V666 is a good option for you. It brings everything you need to fly for under $150. It is also very easy to find replacement parts that are relatively inexpensive.