Many operators I talk to ran into one particular issue: They needed to buy a new drone within the first six months of starting their business.
Their first drone wasn’t providing enough performance and they quickly grew out of it. Or they simply made a choice that was too expensive for the features they were getting.
I’m going to break down ten tips for buying your first professional camera drone. Hopefully, by the end you will know how to avoid the mistakes many new pilots make when entering the industry.
Know The Price Ranges Available
Professional drones are typically broken up into these price ranges:
- $300 to $500
- $500 to $1,000
- $1,000 to $5,000
- $5,000 to $10,000
- $10,000 and above
This breakdown is debatable, but it will work for our purposes.
$300 to $500 will get you a lower-end drone with an adequate camera, flight time, range, and possibly some autonomous flight modes. But these are usually models that are many years old and have been supplanted by much more advanced drones (that aren’t much more expensive).
$500 to $1,000 is usually the range I recommend to most budding pilots. You will get a nice balance of features/specs without investing too much initially.
Know Your Budget
What can you afford right now? If, no matter what, you can’t afford anything more than $500, then that’s the range you need to stick to.
However, you should also consider how much you will potentially earn in the first three to six months. Would this pay for the investment? When thinking in these terms, you can sometimes justify spending a little more to get higher quality.
Choose a Well-Established Model
Choose a tried and tested drone rather than one that just came out. Brand new drones, even sold by the top manufacturers, sometimes come out with glaring issues.
As a new professional pilot, you don’t want to deal with things like this right when you’ve just got started. Grab a model that’s been out for at least six months to a year.
Autonomous Fight Modes Are Your Best Friend
Even the most experienced pilots use autonomous flight modes to help them get crispy clean shots. Put your ego aside and take advantage of them.
Many drones that go for $300 to $500 come with at least a couple flight modes. I’d suggest looking for these:
- Follow Me
- Point of Interest
With just these flight modes, you can get a versatile range of shots.
Buy A Drone With Long Enough Range
Range is much more important for professional pilots than recreational ones. 500m is probably the bare minimum you want to shoot for.
Why is range so important? Professional pilots often fly much higher and farther to get the shots they need. Losing signal mid-flight can completely ruin an otherwise perfect shot.
Portability shouldn’t be a top priority. Professional drones are typically bigger and harder to transport, no matter what model you get.
But you will most likely be traveling with your drone quite a bit. One of the best drones that’s extremely portable is the DJI Mavic Pro. If portability is important to you, you might want to consider a quadcopter like that.
Otherwise, make sure to purchase a carrying case to carry your rig and all of its parts/accessories.
Buy A Drone With a Minimum Flight Time of 18 Minutes
Most pro drones come with a flight time that hits this minimum or more, but it’s still something to pay attention to in your research.
I would aim for at least 20-25 minutes. You want to minimize how often you need to land and switch batteries.
Make Sure The Camera Comes With High Enough Image and Video Quality
Your shots will only be as good as the camera that’s shooting them. Look for a minimum of 20MP stills and 1080p video. These days, you can find 25MP and 4K video for a fraction of what it was a few years ago.
Do You Want to Attach Your Own Camera Now Or In The Future?
Not all drones allow you to change the camera. And many pro pilots prefer to use their own equipment.
If you anticipate using your own equipment at some point, and buy a drone that allows you to do so, so you won’t need to buy a brand new rig in the future.
Is Speed Important For The Shots You’re Trying to Get?
Finally, are you going to be shooting chase scenes or extremely fast pans? If so, buy a drone with enough speed and power to get these shots.
My Favorite Professional Drones for New Pilots
But don’t just take my advice blindly. Do your own research, take note of the options out there, and choose the best drone for you.
About The Author
Mark Sheehan has flown over 100 RC aircraft models over the last 10 years. He started My Drone Authority to share his knowledge and help people get the most out of this amazing hobby and profession.