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A Comprehensive guide to choosing a Quadcopter for 2017

So you are thinking of buying a Quadcopter, well this drone buying guide will help you out tt doesn’t matter if you want those fantastic aerial photographs, to survey a vast amount of land without having to hire an actual helicopter, or you want to map a site for future construction, there are many things that you can do with it. Just because you saw a few viral videos on the Internet, where people use their flying skills for generally silly videos, does not mean that it has to end there. Did you know you can also make money by flying one?

Suggested Read: Best Beginner Quadcopters guide

dji flying

Having your own drone is entertaining in itself because you have so many things that you can do with it in your free time. Let us not forget, they started as remote controlled (RC) aircraft toys that people would just fly around for fun. You can do this too, if you wish to. Before you plan ahead, we present you with this comprehensive drone buying guide which will walk you through the different things that you have to know before you make your first drone purchase.

Ask yourself what do you need it for?

First ask yourself two questions, what do you want to use your hobby drone for and how much are you prepared to spend? They have many uses for example, flying for fun, racing, photography, geocaching games, delivering items and scientific research just to name a few.

Prices can vary depending on factors such as quality, size and added accessories. YouTube is a great place to check out some videos of what they capable and if you have an idea of what you’re looking for you can check out prices on Amazon.

Top 5 Best Selling Quadcopters

SYMA X5

Syma X5 Exploerer

5GB of Storage

  • Durable
  • Ok Indoors
  • Low Battery Life
  • Low Cam resolution

UDI U

Holy Stone Mini RC

5GB of Storage

  • Strong Body
  • Bullet Point 2
  • Sensitive to Wind
  • Good value

Holy Stone

UDI Axis Gyro

5GB of Storage

  • Good for beginners
  • 360° Flips
  • Manual Instructions poor
  • Can Appear Flimsy

DJI Phantom

DJI Phantom 3 Pro

5GB of Storage

  • Powerfull App
  • Beginner Mode
  • Customer service

Horizon Blade

5GB of Storage

  • Lightweight
  • Tough
  • Weak Motor
  • Low Flight time

 >> Top 5 Long Range Drones <<


Things to consider before buying

Local laws:

Drones have become increasingly popular in recent times which in turn has meant in increase in done incidents. Events such as a near miss involving someone’s quadcopter and a jet at UK’s Heathrow Airport and a security scare when a man flew one onto the grounds of the White House in the USA have prompted authorities all over the world to implement laws to protect the public. After all how would you like to be walking along, minding your own business when an object comes flying out of nowhere and whacks you over the head?

Depending on which country you live in and the size of your drone, it may be necessary to register your aircraft. There may also be restrictions on where you can and cannot fly your drone as well as whether or not you can fly at night.

Price:

Prices can vary a lot in the drone market.  So it’s no wonder that there are so many reviews online and blogs trying to help people decide. When selecting a drone you’re really only limited by how much you want to spend.
When deciding how much to spend on it you really need to consider the following Pro’s and Con’s;

Drones for Beginners to Advanced

Low price vs. High price

Cheap Model

Higher Priced / Expensive Model

Pro's

Less expensive to buy

Lots of tutorials online

Con's

Damages easily and will need replacing sooner

Doesn’t come with many accessories

Hard to get spare parts

Less agile handling

Not very good for outdoors

Shorter battery life

Less online forums

Pro's

More durable, last longer

Better manufacturers warranty

Comes with more accessories

Better handling and control

Can fly outdoors

Can fly longer and further

Spare parts easily available

Online support groups and forums

Con's

Costly initial outlay

Limited tutorials online


Drone Related Questions

Why Are You Considering a Drone?

What will you be using your drone for? Is it just for a bit of fun and for you to get the hang of flying? Or do you want something that will last a bit longer and with a camera attached to it?
If it’s just for a bit of fun then a cheaper version might be all you need, or are you looking at something more expensive and higher in quality that will be able to do more and last longer?

The 3 types of Quadcopter's


1. For beginners

The beginner models are good to get you started initially and get a feel for it. It’s not too much to spend to see if you really like it, but they are not that good for flying outdoors as their weight and size make it hard to manoeuvre them outdoors especially if it’s windy.

2. Intermediate Level

On the next level they tend to be usually bigger and a bit heavier than a cheaper model. They have better handling and better flight stability when hovering. Most drones in this price bracket come equipped with a on board camera and sometimes depending on the model it has High Definition recording capabilities, some other models come with an attachment where you can put your own action camera one such as a GoPro.

3. Advanced level

The next step is the advanced level. What you get for paying top dollar is a high quality piece of high tech flying machinery. Most noticeably they fly higher with much greater stability. The recording quality of the on board start from 1080HD and go all the way up to 4K resolution which are often used in commercial applications such as advertisements or movies to achieve amazing shots.

As well as features such as pre mapping a flight path, automatic landing and being able to program them to auto-follow you there are some other great physical features available such as water-proof models. Now obviously they are not for everybody but they are definitely popular for business applications like aerial wedding photography and several famous YouTube channels such as PrankvsPrank and Casey Neistat make use of these top-end models.

Suggested Read: Top 10 Drones for Photography

Other things to know for optimal performance

Weather conditions matter

Sunny clear days are the best times to fly, avoid rainy and windy days, which can cause damage your device and it can crash from the wind plus they are not all water proof. If you plan on using your drone near water such as water-sport photography or storm chasing then you should consider investing in a top end waterproof model.
Bad weather will also cause your machine to work harder to compensate and that will eat up the battery meaning less flying time.

Propeller size matters

Have a go at experimenting with propeller size, if you are planning on using an action camera on your drone then you probably need bigger sized propellers. If your camera is removable and you don’t plan on using it you will get a better battery life, then you can also you use smaller propellers which can save you a little bit of extra battery life. Check first with your manufacturer’s minimum size propellers and go from there. Ones you know how big or small you can go you can experiment with different propellers made from various lightweight materials and don’t forget to write down the flight time after each experiment to see what works best.

Time to charge

When you are preparing to go out and have a fly with your new expensive toy, the best way to get the full potential of your battery is to actually just charge it a few hours before you go out. If you have the batteries charged and waiting in the draw for days to be used then they will lose charge with each day that goes by and not be fully charged when you go to use them.

A quad’s battery can last up to 10–30 minutes of flight time on one charge and usually it takes up to an hour or more to recharge them up to 100% again. We recommend that you have a second battery fully charged up and ready to swap.

Top 10 Entry Quadcopters


This is a fantastic little package with everything you need to get you started. What I really love about it is the Bonus Battery and Power Bank. This allows you to spend four times longer flying it before having to head home to recharge you batteries.

UDI 818A

This model is equipped with a 2MP HD Camera and a 4GB micro SD that allows you to take high resolution images and video whilst flying. It takes quality pictures, even in low light situations. One downside is the camera will stop recording if it loses signal from the transmitter, so you need to be aware of that. As long as you have a clear line of site with your drone, you shouldn’t have a problem.

The inbuilt return home function means you’ll never lose it, one button and she’s on her way back to you. The controller has an easy to read display panel and is comfortable in your hand.

The Quadcopter itself is quite hardy and can sustain a few accidental crash landings while you’re still getting the hang of flying. Overall it’s a great gadget for beginners or intermediates. If you’re looking to get your kids started in a new hobby then the UDI 818A could be just what you’ve been looking for.


2. Hubsan 4X

The Hubsan is another great little quadopters for kids or beginners just getting into the sport. Its flight range is around 165 – 328 feet (50 to 110 meters). The easy to use transmitter has an FPV (First Person View) display panel for real time images. An inbuilt camera allows you to record your flight video to an SD Card. If you decide to upgrade at any time you can also link up to FPV googles for a more immersive experience.

It comes with one 3.7v LiPO battery included. The transmitter takes AA batteries which are not included, so be sure to include some when you are wrapping it, if you’re giving this as a gift. If you’re purchasing it for yourself I would recommend stocking up on AA’s as the transmitter will chew through a few of them.

For beginners learning how to handle 6 axis Gyro flight control system this is a great aircraft to start with. The lightweight air frame is small enough to be used inside, just be careful of knocking anything fragile off shelves. Although light in weight, the frame is also quite durable. Try not to crash it on purpose however as the propellers do not have a guard, so you’ll want to avoid bending or break them. Being as small as it is, you will probably want to avoid taking it outside especially on windy days.

The little propellers and motors aren’t equipped to battle with Mother Nature. On calmer days you’ll be fine outside but I also recommend open areas without too many trees. Again due to the miniature size it’s easy to lose sight of it and can end up stuck in a tree somewhere.


3. Holy Stone F181

This is a great little gadget for learning the basics. It has a fairly slow yaw so beginners won’t have a problem with losing control from trying to change directions too quickly. It’s approximately 12” x 12” (31 x 31 cm) and is predominantly black, which helps you to not lose sight of it whilst flying. It also comes with one key return to prevent you from losing it if it goes out of direct line of sight.

The Holy Stone F181 comes with two bonus batteries which is great for longer lasting fun. You will get seven to ten minutes of flying time out of each battery. It is advised to let it cool down for ten minutes in between flights to prevent the circuit board from overheating. When you’ve used up both of the batteries they will take around an hour and a half to fully recharge again.

Flight range is between 165-328 feet (50-100meters) which isn’t bad. It has a 2 mega pixel camera which can take still shots or record video feed. It also comes with a 2GB microSD and a microSD to USB adapter to be able to play back your videos. There has been some feedback about the quality of the camera and issues with downloading footage, however Holy Stone is a great company to deal with. If you have any problems with it just contact the manufacturer and they should be able to help you sort it out.


4. DJI Phantom 3 Pro

This is a fantastic RTF quadcopter that can be linked up with compatible iOS and Android phones or tablets. Check DII’s website to see if your device is compatible and download the DJI Pilot app. Once you’ve downloaded the app and synced up your devices you’ll be able to view live video feed whilst recording to the internal microSD Card at the same time. The video feed is exceptional quality with up to 30fps.

There are some great in-built features that you will love experimenting with and playing around with. One of my favourite features is the ‘Point of Interest’ mode which allows you to target a specific location that you want to film and then you can zoom out and change angle whilst still focusing on that point. Flight time is around 20 to 30 minutes per battery. Investing in an extra battery pack or two is a must as you won’t want to stop once you’ve started.

Aside from the camera it is a sleek and speedy flying machine. She can cruise up to 40 mph (64 kph) on a clear day and has enough powered to be controllable on breezy days to. With a range of up to 3 miles (5km) you’ll be able to film over a fair distance too. (A word of caution, this device has inbuilt programing that will restrict its operation if you live within close proximity to secure areas such as the White House.)


5. UDI U8187

This ready to fly Quadcopter  comes with a 2MP HD Camera that can be synced with a compatible iPhone or Android Smart mobile device allowing you to view live feed directly from your phone. You can also sync to a VR Headset controller for first person view that will make you feel like you are actually flying. Taking still images or video feed is as easy as a press of a button to start and stop recording. A removable Micro SD makes it easy to record and upload your recorded images in AVI or JPEG format.

This pack also comes with a bonus battery and power bank which increases you flying time greatly. It comes with a USB charger and charging bank so you can recharge faster and get back in the air sooner. It has gravity induction mode as well as headless mode making it great for beginners that are getting the hang of flying. The UDI U818A is durable enough to take few knocks and rough landings as you are learning to control it. The propellers are protected with a safety guard that protects them from damage, however 4 spare propellers are also included in this package.

This compact device measuring up to a little 16 x 14 inches (41 x 36 cm) also has LED running lights for night flying (check your local regulations before flying at night). If you should lose sight of it or it starts to run low on battery it has a convenient one key return home function that will bring it back at the push of a button


6. Holy Stone X 400C

This Quad is equipped with a modern 6-axis control system for greater stability however the motors are quite powerful so it takes a gentle hand not to over steer a cause a crash. Once you get the hang of it, it has great manoeuvrability and speed. It’s very light-weight  and doesn’t fair well on windy days.

Fully charged you will get about 8 or 9 minutes of flying time, if you are using multiple batteries for longer flight time, make sure you let it cool down for at least 10 minutes in between battery changes.

It has the capability to be linked with iOS and Android Smart phones for First Person View real time transmission. There have been mixed reviews about this feature and the overall quality of the camera. If the quality of the camera doesn’t bother you and you are after a quad with guts and manoeuvrability then this is your bird.

The X400C has an optimal flight range of around 98-164 feet (30-50 meters) although can go further in calm, clear conditions and is equipped with LED lights for night flying (subject to local regulations). The controls can be switched from left hand to right hand throttle mode and you can also limit the throttle for beginners to help minimise full-impact collisions.


7. Syma X5C-1

The Syma is quite miniature and light weight and it’s suitable for indoor use or outdoors in clear calm weather. Although it’s marketed as a toy and is reasonable durable, it still has a few fragile parts, so avoid heavy crash landings. It’s quite a small as 12.5 x 12.5 inches (32 cm x 32 cm) and made mostly of flexible plastic. You do get 4 extra propellers so you are able to replace them if they are damaged.

It has cool LED lights that make flying in the dark fun. If you are going to fly inside with the lights off, ensure you don’t smash your mum’s precious knick-knacks. If you plan on flying outside at night make sure you check local laws and regulations first.

You’ll get about 7 minutes flight time out of the battery which will then need about an hour and a half to recharge. It’s definitely worth picking up a couple of extra batteries so you can get back in the air sooner. A 2 MP camera allows you to record video image onto the inbuilt micro SD card. Unlike some other camera quadcopters this one does not offer first person viewing.

But it can be appealing to beginners just starting out because of its affordable price however it tends to be a little trickier to fly than some of its slightly higher priced counterparts. If you are going to learn with this aircraft it is recommended you start indoors or on a very calm day if you head outside.


8. Blade Nano QX RTF

Quad meets Wasp. These miniature models have the look and sound of an electronic insect. The striking design is attractive to the eye and the versatility will give you plenty of entertainment. Equipped with SAFE flight control, this tiny model will hover effortlessly once in the air. Because the Blade Nano is so tiny, you can fly it anywhere.

Considering its size, it is remarkably tough. You get a couple of replacement blades in case repairs are needed. A compact Li-Po Battery is also included which can be charged by USB cable. The RTF model comes with a transmitter so all you need to do is make sure it’s charged.

The instructions are easy and you will get the hang of flying in no time at all. Using the ‘smart’ technology allows beginners to operate it with the aid of stabilizers. More advanced users may want to switch off the ‘smart’ mode to experiment with more acrobatic techniques.

it is not equipped with a camera. Due to its size, the Blade Nano isn’t capable of carrying the extra weight. But if you’re just looking for some fun flight time and to practice stunts then this is a great little device.


9. Parrot Elite 2.0 Edition

Link this model with your smart phone or tablet for live streaming from the quality 720p HD camera. ‘Director’ mode offers the ultimate variability in camera angles to film your target in style. Record to USB or directly to your tablet via Wi-Fi signal generated by it. Fly and record images from 100 feet away (30 meters). Whilst it can travel much further, up to 980 feet (300 meters) you may find the Wi-Fi signal gets weaker at greater distances.

The military style, camouflage design give this quadcopter a serious, no-nonsense look. It comes in a choice of 3 different camouflage colours; traditional Jungle, monochrome Snow and Desert Sand. The carbon fibre body is light weight and durable. I does have water resistance (however not fully water-proof) meaning it can withstand a little moisture in the air but do not crash land into a swimming pool or river. Replacement parts are readily available from the maker Parrot who are great to deal with.

The 1000mAh battery when fully charged will give you between 7 to 15 minutes of flight and recording time depending on flying conditions. The motors are powerful enough to allow you remain in control in moderate wind conditions. The embedded sensors and navigation system offers a more stable flight and hover mode. An acrobatic mode can also be enabled to perform some impressive flips and stunts. It’s quite big at almost 2 feet wide (60 cm) so I wouldn’t recommend it to be used indoors.

The propeller motors are brushless which gives you a quieter flying experience which is great if you are recording wild animals and don’t want to scare them. But unfortunately is not equipped for night flight as it relies on visual processing to regulate its altitude.


10. DJI Phantom 3 Advanced

The DJI Phantom 3 is an exceptional aircraft, Ready to fly straight out of the box. Fully charged, the 600 mAh LiPo battery will give you up to 25 minutes of flight time. With a clear line of sight you can fly this new model for up to 3 miles (5 kilometres). As you may have come to expect from DJI, it definitely does not disappoint in quality or style.

The Phantom 3 has a sleek design and is robust to handle a few bumpy landings. The video feed is also top quality. View live streaming of the 30 fps video feed directly to your tablet device mounted on the hand held controls. The video feed will be recorded on to the internal SD card at the same time. Clear still images can also be captured with the 2.7k/ 12 Megapixel camera. Downloading the DJI + Discover App has great features such as video editing, Live Map, Radar and you can even record your achievements.

The beginner mode allows you to set a flying perimeter which will give you the confidence to fly it without fear of losing the aircraft. The Auto-return home feature will bring it back at the touch of a button. Fail safe will automatically bring the quadcopter home when the battery is getting low or if it should lose signal with the transmitter. Stabilising technology makes it easy for beginners to get the hang of flying techniques.

If you’re going to invest in a quadcopter of this calibre I highly recommend spending a few extra dollars and getting the Hard Case and extra battery. The extra battery will allow you to enjoy more air time. The hard case will protect your equipment and has room for the additional battery packs. 


Maximizing your battery life


Charging the right way

If you have a lithium-ion battery it is a good practice to keep a balance while charging and use cycle this means not to let your battery be completely drained during flight time and not to over-charge as both of these practices can have a negative effect of your battery’s life. As a general rule of thumb fill it up to 80% and don’t let it drain to 0%, if it’s down to 25-30% it’s time to swap the battery.

Remove the on board camera

The on board camera has weight and it also drains the battery life of your quadcopter, so by removing it you can get a little bit more life out of it and stay a bit longer in the air, just make sure your quad is within eyesight since you don’t have the camera anymore to look thru it.

Higher mAh

Battery charge capacity is measured in mAh or milliampere-hour. By selecting batteries with a higher mAh rating you will get longer battery life when operating your drone. Make sure the battery is compatible with your device and also see that the new battery isn’t a great deal heavier otherwise that in itself will be a cause for power to drain faster as it compensates for carrying the extra weight.

Not all Quadcopters come ready to fly

You need to know the acronyms before you go to by a quadcopter, like BNF, RTF and ARF. Now you might be thinking what are those?

Let me explain what they mean and why you should look out for them on the description before you make any purchase;

BNF means “bind and fly”. A BNF quadcopter will come ready to fly without you having to do any assembly but it does not come with a controller, you will have to have one already in your possession or you have to buy one, hence the term bind, which means you have to connected it with a controller.
But you have to make sure that they have the same manufacture protocol in order for them to be able to bind and communicate. It is always best to contact the seller and tell them what quadcopter you have and any relevant information underneath the device, also you could contact your quadcopter manufacturer and tell them what controller you are about to buy with its specifications, this way you can’t go wrong.

RTF: Ready to Fly. These come with everything you need to take flight including a controller. These are the way to go for beginners.

ARF: Almost ready to fly. This option should only be considered by Do-it-yourself enthusiast. You’ll get most of the things you need in a box but it just won’t be assembled. You may need to get some additional items like glue, batteries and perhaps even a controller.

You can also check out our handy acronym guide for other common terminology

So there you have it folks a nice quick and simple guide for getting started with your new hobby.

 

Conclusion

We hope you were able to find a quadcopter from this list. If not, we hope that you use all of the information that you just read about, with this drone buying guide, on your next purchase. Good luck on your future endeavors!

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