I’ve been flying drones since 2015, and flown several different models. Since then I’ve flown drones in the middle of Atlantic Ocean, through impenetrable jungles of Indonesia, and in bitterly-cold winds of Antarctic Peninsula. With every situation presenting its own challenges – I know I need to rely on good equipment that won’t let me down half-way through the flight. Or it would get me in a lot of trouble!
Buying your first drone can be daunting. That’s why in this article I’ll talk about how to choose the right drone for YOU. And what to look for when doing so, along with my personal recommendation in every category. Please note: This article may contain affiliate links, to see full disclosure Click Here
Step 1. Buy A Popular Drone
My only advice and not a recommendation – is buy a popular drone, from a trusted drone company, such as DJI.
It makes it easier to get answers to your questions on public forums and through customer support. Popular drones will also have their stores located worldwide in case you find a problem. I once had to repair my drone whilst working in the Arctic, and luckily was able to drop it off in DJI store in Reykjavik, Iceland. A drone was later send to my location. That’s what I call good service!
Step 2. Let’s Talk About The Drone Features
When buying your first drone you need to understand what features in the drone you need and why. Weight out all the pros and cons, and consider what’s the best deal for your budget. It could take you hours and even days! However, to simplify things a little, I’ve created a list of most important features to look in any drone.
Drone has become very lightweight over the last few years. And this one factor is a dealbreaker for many. Whether you’re planning a hiking trip or heading abroad – the smaller the drone – the better. The weight of your gear can determine how far you will be able to go, as simple as that.
Another huge advantage of a smaller drone – is if it weighs under 250g – it’s most likely you don’t need to register it. You can just go out and FLY!
There are few caveats though, they often lack some professional features, like 4K, and longer fly range. And also less stable in windier conditions.
- My recommendation: DJI Mavic Mini (249g) – £360
Flight Time/Charging time
Flight time of each battery is one of the most important things to check before purchasing a drone. Some of the older models will give you up to 20min of flying time, whilst newer models can go up to 30min. It all comes down to your budget.
- My recommendation: DJI Mavic Air 2 (up to 34min of flight time) – £760
Camera resolutions in drones will vary from 1080p in models like DJI Spark, to a whooping 5.6K in their new DJI Air 2S. If budget is not an issue, opt for more resolution. With more resolution you will have the ability to for resizing and cropping the image. And also yield larger prints.
- My recommendation: DJI Mavic Air 2S – £899
The importance of your drone’s speed becomes crucial when you need to fly in a strong wind. Whenever I’m shooting in coastal areas or out at sea – I need a drone that will handle strong gusts and that I can easily retrieve when standing upwind.
If you just want to use your drone for fun, then speed is important as it’s just more exciting to fly it faster.
- My recommendation: DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 – £1589
How far you can fly without losing control can make a huge difference in the footage and fun you can get from your drone.
When Buying A DJI Drone, Almost All Of Them Fall Into 2 Categories:
Wifi – Wifi transmission is featured on budget-friendly drones like Spark, Mavic Air and Mavic Mini. This transmission type is better for taking shots on the go, and eliminates the need to connect a controller to the drone. However, it has significantly shorter flying range and signal is less reliable than other systems.
OcuSync – OcuSync transmission system can be a deal-breaker for some. It’s transmission range is up to 12km and allow for real-time video stream up to a resolution of 1080p. It’s also more resistant to signal interference so pilots should not experience signal drop outs so often.
- My recommendation: DJI Mini 2 – £420
Part 3. Getting It Right When Buying Your First Drone
Whether you already own a drone or planning to buy one, in order to get the most out of your drone – you will need to get your settings RIGHT. After years of flight experience and mistakes, I’m happy to share with you the best settings that I found work for me in 95% situations. It might be a good idea to take notes of below setting. You can always refer to it later.
Video Settings I Use:
Whenever I’m shooting video, I use Manual Mode. This will allow me the most amount of control out of my camera
As far as other setting go, use this settings whenever the light allows
- ISO 100
This will allow for cleanest image results, without introducing any grain
- Aperture – 11
Use this value whenever shooting in bright conditions. However if you’re shooting in low light – adjust this value until your photo is properly exposed
- Shutter – 1/50.
Adjust this according to 180-degree rule in order to achieve natural and smooth look. Rule says that your camera’s shutter speed should always be twice that of the frame rate when filming video. Say you’re shooting at 24fps – set your shutter to 1/50. For 30fps – set your shutter to 1/60 and so on
Pro Tip: If you don’t use ND filter – adjust shutter to a higher value until your image is properly exposed
Other Settings For Video:
- 4K 3840×2160 HQ or highest resolution available on your drone ( 4K HQ doesn’t involve any downsampling, which often presents the detail aliasing and some other digital artefacts)
- Set video format to MOV, if you’re on MAC and MP4 format if you’re on Windows computer
- Color – Dlog-M (This will allow you to get the most information out of your footage and colour correct it. However if you need a solid straight out of the camera profile – opt for a default one)
- Encoding format – H.265
- White balance (Don’t use Auto. If you’re filming, you don’t want your footage to suddenly change color. Set your white balance according to the condition you’re in).
General Photo Settings I Use:
- Always shoot RAW(Dng)
- White Balance – Auto
- Shooting Profile – Standard
- ISO – I suggest 400 or less
Pro Tip: In photo setting use AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing). One photo will be normally exposed, one under and one over exposed. This will give you wider dynamic range to later play in editing software
Part 4 – Buying Your First Drone Accessories
It’s always good to have a few essential accessories to complement your beloved drone. Some can improve the quality of your aerial shots, whilst others might have more practical use. Right drone accessories can up your skill game faster and make everything a little easier.
Drone Accessories That I Personally Love And Need When I Travel:
- Spare Battery or Two, Propellers, Car Charger – Buy only genuine batteries and chargers)
- High-capacity Memory Card – I use SanDisk Extreme MicroSD V30)
- ND/PL Filter Set – ND filters cut light coming into your lens so you can slow the shutter speed and capture vivid, crisp details.
- Garmin Glo Bluetooth GPS Receiver – Provides more reliable and faster GPS position.
- Propeller Guards – Protects propellers from striking the wall and essential for indoor flying.
- Drone Landing Pad – Gives your craft a stable surface for take-offs and landings. Especially acute when you work on rocky terrain or in the grass.
Summary Of Buying a Your First Drone:
Until few years ago, drones used to be heavy, expensive and cumbersome, but now I see how it all changed. With good understanding of the features available, you can buy very compact, high-quality and very inexpensive drones that will be a pure joy to fly. Ever since I sold my old Phantom 3 Pro and upgraded to Mavic 2 Pro, I’ve realised that size of the drone and camera sensor – were two determining factors for me.
For everybody just starting in drone photography, and professionals alike, the one drone that I see myself using both for fun, travel and client work – will be DJI Mini 2. With it’s 4K video capture, boosted range and improved controller, this drone you wouldn’t even have to register to fly. It’s a clear winner for me
Note From Nicole
Denis is an award winning photographer and filmaker who specialises in nature and wildlife. He has travelled to all 7 continents (over 60 countries) and each one them he has been fortunate enough to travel extensively around with his work.
I asked Denis to write this article for the blog, but also wanted help in deciding which drone to chose for myself. I have made silly purchases in the past when it comes to cameras of all types and learnt the expensive way.
I asked Denis about any alternatives for DJI whilst he said there are some other competitors he would trust DJI above those (based on his own experience and other professionals he has worked with).
Based on this article I have decided to go ahead and purchase another drone (after a sending back another recently that I bought of amazon, and crashing my first one that was just really hard to control). I have opted for the DJI Mavic Mini 2… Stay Tuned!