As drone ownership has grown in popularity, so has the number of rules and restrictions involving drone flight. The FAA has a set of guidelines for recreational flying, which include staying away from manned aircraft, keeping the drone in sight and not charging people money for your flights. You’ll also want to keep your flying under about 500 feet, since any higher than that can bring you into airspace shared with manned helicopters and other aircraft.
On this Article
- Top 10 Best Drones of 2015
- 1. Parrot Bebop – Best New Drone
- 2. Phantom 2 Vision+ – Best Drone for Experts
- 4. Hubsan H107L X4 Mini RTF RC Quadcopter – Best Drone for Beginners
- 5. DJI Phantom FC40 Quadcopter – Best Drone for Aerial Photography
- 6. Nano QX RTF with SAFE – Best Quadcopter Under $100
- 7. Parrot Rolling Spider – Coolest Drone Design
What to Look When You Buy Drone
Drone – Battery Life
Most modern drones have an average battery life of between 10 to 12 minutes That’s plenty of time for short-flight missions, but operators may soon find themselves longing for more in-flight time. One way to circumvent this limit is to purchase a drone with a removable battery, then stock up on fully charged batteries.
Higher-end drones boast up to 25 minutes of flight time, which should be more than enough for the average flier. Many of these drones also have a special feature that overrides your controller and flies the drone back to you once the battery reaches critical levels. With multiple fully charged batteries, these drones can easily run for hours, requiring only a few stops home for new batteries.
Drone – Camera
Getting a drone in the air is only the first step for most fliers — it’s the view from those great heights that really puts the world in perspective. A large number of today’s drones feature either built-in or attachable cameras, beaming down images of all the in-flight action.
Some drones work directly with a separately purchased GoPro camera, which captures some of the highest-quality footage currently available. High-end drones also include image stabilization, eliminating choppy segments that can sometimes overpower peaceful flight footage.
Other drones have built-in cameras, which often record directly to an SD Card. While this footage isn’t nearly as nice as any captured by a GoPro, it’s a great way to dip your toes into aerial photography.
If you want to view the flight footage in real time, some drones offer first-person-view transmitting, sending live video directly to the aircraft’s controller or to a linked iPhone or Android device. This works great when you want to quickly turn on the live feed, but it will drain your battery fast if you use it for the entire flight.
Top 10 Best Drones of 2015
This mid-tier drone from French drone maker Parrot earned its name for the way its chassis sways as it flies. But its juking and jiving don’t prevent the Bebop from taking excellent aerial video: built-in stabilizers keep the 14 megapixel fisheye camera remarkably steady. Users can take 180 degree photos with impressively low distortion, or 16:9 video from a portion of the lens’ range. To protect it from bumps and crashes, the Bebop also comes with foamlike bumpers that snap on around its four propellers.
The Phantom 2 Vision+ is the drone that has it all. It’s good for beginners and experts alike, thanks to preprogrammed flight controls that help keep the aircraft from crashing and burning in the hands of a novice. This drone benefits from a large 5,200-mAh battery, allowing for up to 25 minutes of flight — nearly double the category average. Photographers will also love the camera, which takes excellent, image-stabilized pictures and video, which can even be previewed on your smartphone from 2,000 feet away.
The Phantom 2 Vision+ is definitely the most expensive drone on this list, but it’s well worth the money. The Vision+ comes ready to fly (RTF), but even if you bought comparable components and built the drone yourself, you wouldn’t save much money. For those serious about drones, the Phantom 2 Vision+ is the best overall drone you can buy.
There are definitely cheaper drones, but the Hubsan H107D FPV X4 Mini RTF quadcopter is an unmanned aircraft that offers many of the same features as planes that are more than double the price. This drone’s biggest premium feature is that it transmits first-person-view (FPV) video, which can be viewed directly on the controller. This video can also be captured directly to an SD Card.
The battery lasts about 8 to 10 minutes, and that number is significantly reduced if you’re viewing the live FPV video the entire time. The Hubsan is roughly palm-size, so it’s much smaller than some of the more expensive drones and might be harder to spot at farther distances. You won’t find such fancy features as Return to Home, but there’s a six-axis gyro stabilization function to keep the plane level.
You don’t need to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars when you’re just getting started with drones. The inexpensive Hubsan H107L X4 Mini RTF RC quadcopter is a fun way to dip a toe into the world of drones without fronting a huge investment on an untested hobby.
The H107L comes ready to fly and includes a precision six-axis gyro to help keep the drone stabilized, but you can still expect a bit of a learning curve if this is your first time flying. You can use this quadcopter both indoors and outdoors, and the cheap price tag will make beginners feel less worried about the financial ramifications of crashing and burning.
Flying time is about 5 minutes, and the battery isn’t removable, so an afternoon of fun will involve short spurts of flying sandwiched between lengthy periods of USB charging.
If you want a drone that takes high-quality pictures and videos, but you’re not quite ready to spend a thousand dollars on an unmanned aircraft and accompanying camera, the DJI Phantom FC40 quadcopter is your best option. The quadcopter includes a 720p HD video recorder that records straight to an SD Card, and it includes Wi-Fi streaming directly to a free iOS and Android app.
The FC40 can fly for about 11 minutes per charge, about average for the category, and users can add advanced GPS features such as Return to Home via software downloads made available by DJI.
Like the more advanced models, the FC40 also includes advanced flight controls that help keep the aircraft stabilized and in flight regardless of the pilot’s experience level.
The Nano QX RTF with SAFE is the perfect practice drone for new flyers who want something a little nicer than the Hubsan H107L X4 Mini, yet still don’t want to cross the $100 barrier. Unlike the H107L, the Nano QX includes Sensor Assisted Flight Envelope (SAFE) technology, which limits the ability of the drone’s controller in order to provide both stability and agility modes to this tiny aircraft.
Like the Hubsan H107L X4 Mini, the battery on the Nano QX can’t be removed and lasts about 5 minutes per charge. It’s a great drone for practicing your quadcopter flying skills, but don’t let the aircraft get too far away unless you want to go hunting.
If you’re looking for a drone with a sleek design, tight controls and a lot of pep, the Parrot Rolling Spider is for you. This $99 drone comes with an embedded camera and can perform quick flips and turns with its four propellers, but its most distinct feature is the one for which it gets its name: its two detachable wheels. With these, the Rolling Spider can roll around on the floor or seem to roll up walls. Because the wheels are larger than the drone’s body and are made of flexible plastic, they also serve as bumpers to keep the drone from getting battered and damaged. The one downside is the Rolling Spider’s short battery life: just 8 minutes of flight.
The GoPro Hero 3 camera captures beautiful photos and videos, so it only makes sense to attach one to a drone and take it for a flight. The Walkera QR X350 Pro includes a decent camera of its own, but the real draw is the ability to attach your own high-quality GoPro to the X350 Pro’s gimbal right out of the box.
Like the Phantom 2 Vision+, the Walkera QR X350 Pro can fly for about 25 minutes on a single battery, and includes GPS position holding and other preprogrammed flight controls that make flying a little easier. There’s even a Failsafe function that will return and land your plane when needed.
If around $600 is too steep, check out the Storm Drone 4 Flying Platform ($359), which offers significantly less flying time than the Walkera QR X350 (about 6 to 7 minutes), but lets you mount a GoPro with a 3M adhesive mount.
Flying a drone is a little like playing a video game, which is why some kids can pick up the necessary skills long before their adult supervisors. But you’ll still want to make sure the aircraft is durable and easy to repair if you’re giving it to a kid, just in case there’s an unexpected gust of wind and a nearby tree branch.
The UDI U818A has a modular design that makes it easy to repair in case of an unsuccessful emergency landing. It also has built-in flight stability, which makes the craft easier to control, and even a first-person camera to capture all the action to a microSD Card. The included battery charges in about 2 hours, which supports 6 to 9 minutes of flight, so it might be a good idea to stock up on extras to swap out as needed.
10. EHANG Ghost
The Ghost drone zoomed onto Indiegogo in November and then stretched its propellers at CES 2015. This drone doesn’t come with a built-in camera; rather, for $599 you get a drone with a gimbal for attaching a GoPro camera ($375 without a gimbal). But the Ghost’s star feature is its tilt controls: the drone is controlled via a mobile app, and you can steer the drone just by tilting the mobile app back and forth.