If you’re considering getting into the world of drones, it’s a great question to ask – is this purchase going to be worth it, or will it end up being a waste of money? In order to answer this question, you’ll do well to spend a bit of time thinking through the reasons behind your impulse to buy a drone. How you answer those questions to yourself will be the best determiner of whether buying a drone is likely to be worth it.
Buying a drone is absolutely worth it if you are looking for a fun new hobby. A cheap starter drone is the best choice if you just want to experience the thrill of flying. Buying a drone is also worth it for avid photographers and videographers who want a new edge, even if it means springing for a more expensive camera drone.
In order for a drone to be worth the money you spend on it, you need to know how you plan to use it. Having a good idea of what you want the drone to do for you will help you buy the right drone, and thereby get the most for your money, ie, not waste your money on a drone that won’t do what you need it to, or else end up being way more than you are able to take advantage of.
Is it worth it to get a drone? (Reasons to get a drone)
Drones continue to increase in popularity, but I don’t think it’s just a passing fad. Drones are great for hobbyists, but they’re not just recreational toys, either. There are some really good reasons to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to drones. Here are some of the reasons it might be worth it to buy a drone.
1. You love gadgets and technology
If you’ve ever been into RC cars, boats, or even planes, you will absolutely also love the experience of controlling a remote control aircraft. Flying a drone is just FUN! Seeing it whizzing through the air following your commands, being able to perform stunts and flips is a thrill for all kinds of tech nerds.
For those looking for the fun of the flying hobby and the technology side of things, a good starter drone well worth the money is something like the Tello, which is also programmable. It flies well, performs tricks, and allows room for those who like to tinker.
2. You have a need for speed
For some, the attraction of drones comes in the form of FPV racing. There’s no denying that the thrill of zooming your quad around, narrowly missing obstacles, and trying to outpace the competition are addictive. If you’re drawn to this type of adrenaline thrill, buying a racing drone could very well be money well spent.
Before you go and spend the money though, you can get a pretty good sense of what FPV racing is all about by trying out a flight simulator. It can give you a feel for the controls and the experience, without having to buy a drone first, and more importantly, without the risk of crashing a new drone. It’s not quite as thrilling as the real thing, but if you like the feel of the simulator experience, it can help you decide if FPV racing is going to be your next hobby.
If you need some ideas of where to get started, we’ve written an article about some great drone flight simulators »
3. You’re into photography or videography
For photography or videography enthusiasts, whether as a hobby or for a profession, a drone makes a lot of sense as an investment. Most consumer drones worth their salt these days are equipped with high-quality cameras, and indeed, the biggest draw of drones is their ability to take aerial imagery. But to get the most out of a camera drone, you really have to know your way around a camera.
Even if you are able to snap some decent shots with your drone as a beginner to photography, there’s still the question of editing and post-production. In order to really get the best from your pictures and videos, you need to know your way around the editing software. If you’re not into that kind of thing, you’re really leaving a lot on the table when it comes to making the most of your expensive camera drone.
4. You love to travel
Travel photography is another great reason to invest in a drone. The exotic and stunning places you visit can be enjoyed to the fullest with a unique set of photos and videos to bring home documenting your travels. You wouldn’t leave home without your camera, and many travelers feel the same about their drone.
The caveat to keep in mind here is that it’s a tad more complicated to travel with your drone than it is with your camera, and some places won’t even let you bring one into the country, let alone fly one. Before you buy an expensive drone for your trip to Dubai or Mexico, read up to find out whether drones are allowed (spoiler: they’re not allowed in either of those places!).
For more tips on how to travel with your drone, read our ultimate guide to traveling with a drone »
5. You want to give your business an edge
There’s no question about it that drones are much more than a hobby, and are working their way into all kinds of industries. A drone can be a huge asset for businesses of all kinds, limited only by your own ingenuity.
The industries where drones have proven their usefulness include real estate, inspections, agriculture, surveying, and many more. If you’re in one of these industries, a drone is definitely worth the investment, and will quickly pay for itself in short order.
Is buying a drone a waste of money? (Reasons not to get a drone)
Buying a drone is not always a good use of your money. Especially if you’re on a tight budget, that impulsive buy of an expensive drone might turn out to be a waste of money.
If these scenarios fit you, buying a drone might not be the way to go.
1. You just think it’s the cool thing to do
Many people just want to get in on the latest tech craze, and for some of these things it really does turn out to be the gadget you couldn’t live without (iPhone, anyone?). But when it comes to drones, if you don’t know why you want one or what exactly you’d do with it, it might end up being a waste of money.
Just because they’re big in the news, and it seems like everyone’s got one, you have to actually have a plan for how to use it for it to end up being useful. It could be you’ve got lots of free time on your hands and you need a new hobby for those weekend hours, or you love photography and think a new angle would-be killer.
The bottom line is, if you have a purpose for the drone you’re planning to buy, chances are it’s not going to be a waste of money, and you’ll use it. If it’s just the itch to get in on the newest tech fad, you’ll most likely do better to spend your money somewhere else, instead of buying a drone that’s going to end up sitting in your garage, forgotten about.
2. You think you might want to get into photography
I mentioned this above, but it’s worth saying again. Drones are awesome for taking aerial photos and videos. The cameras they are equipped with easily outdo whatever you can find on a typical smartphone. But if you’re not already into photography, drones are probably not the place to start.
For those looking to get into photography as a serious hobby, the place to start is with a DSLR camera. Learn the ropes there, and then move on to aerial photography. Starting with a drone with photography as the goal is like learning to ride a bike by starting out with a unicycle. Much trickier!
With drones, despite the awesome camera quality, and even despite all of the intelligent flight features that can help achieve fantastic angles and smooth shots, there’s still the question of post-production (read: editing). If you don’t know how to use photo or video editing software, the shots will end up being underwhelming at best, and disappointing at worst.
With such a steep learning curve when it comes to learning to fly a drone, getting good shots, and then making the most of those pictures with editing software, chances are you’ll get discouraged and give up, in which case that expensive camera drone you bought will end up being a waste of money.
3. You don’t really have the money for it
When it comes to deciding where to spend your money, of course the decision is up to you. But if you’re on a really tight budget, and splurge for an expensive drone, you’re probably wasting money.
But, if you really have your heart set on buying a drone, there are plenty of options available that are actually affordable. You don’t have to have the best camera drone out there to have fun flying a drone, and even get some good quality imagery. If budget is a limiting factor, be prudent, and don’t waste your money on something you really can’t afford. Go for one that fits in the budget, and upgrade later when you’ve proven to yourself that this is actually something you’re going to stick with.
4. The place you live (or are planning to travel to) doesn’t allow drones
Most places in the US are quite drone friendly, but there are some exceptions. For example, there aren’t many places around NYC that allow the use of drones. Also, you can’t fly a drone in National Parks, and in many state parks as well (depending on the state). So if you live in an area that doesn’t allow drones, or you had planned to use your drone to document the National Parks of the US, for example, you’ll be wasting your money to buy a drone you won’t be able to fly.
Additionally, if you’re planning to buy a drone to film your overseas travel adventures, be aware that there are many countries that have very limited restrictions on the use of drones, or ban them altogether. For instance, buying a drone to film your trip to Morocco would end up being a waste of money.
How much does a decent drone cost?
If you’re looking into buying a drone, and you’re concerned about not wasting money, of course you want to know what you should expect to spend on a drone to get the best experience possible. As with most gadgets and hobbies, there’s always going to be quite a range in terms of price and quality. But let’s narrow it down for you a bit.
In general, you can expect to spend around $100-$250 on a decent beginner level hobby drone with mediocre camera quality, while a decent amateur level camera drone will range from $500-$800. For serious photographers, expect to pay in the $900-$1,500 range for a drone with a high quality camera.
If you’re more in the market for a drone that’s easy on the wallet, we’ve got some suggestions for you in that department as well: 9 Best Budget-friendly Beginner Drones »
Can you really make money with a drone?
If your view to getting a drone is aimed at making it pay for itself by the money you can make with it, the obvious question is whether you can actually make money with a drone. Before you buy the drone for money making purposes, you want to know if it will be worth it, and bring you the return on investment that you’re hoping for.
You can absolutely make money with a drone, whether it’s as a side-gig type of arrangement, or as a full-time business. The question of whether the drone you buy is worth the money you spend on it as a business investment depends on how much you spend on the drone, and how much time and effort you’re willing to put into developing your drone flying pursuit into a business.
In order to pursue a professional drone business, whether it’s photography, real-estate, or inspections, the reality is that you’re going to have to invest in a fairly high-quality drone. We’re talking about the $800-$2,000 range here. And don’t forget that there will be the added cost of paying for your Part 107 license (required to fly a drone for profit), and any additional training you need specific to your business.
But the payoff for the relatively modest investment in equipment, certification and education, can be huge, considering that a full-time professional drone pilot can easily make $50,000-$75,000 per year. But that’s assuming that you’ve put in the time and hard work to develop your skills and your business.
If you’re just looking at this money-making thing as a little add-on bonus, it might be harder to make the drone you just bought pay for itself.
For some great ideas on how to develop a career as a drone pilot, or simply how to make a little extra cash with your drone, check out our article on how to make money with a drone »
Is it worth getting a drone license?
A drone license is required for anyone wanting to fly a drone for profit. This means that if your drone flying is going to benefit you or your business in any way, directly or indirectly, the FAA requires that you have a Remote Pilot Certificate, popularly known as a Part 107 license.
It costs about $170 to take the test, and about $100-$250 more if you take a training course to help you pass the test. So before you go through the time and expense to get certified, you of course want to know if it’s going to be worth it.
Getting a drone license is worth the time and expense, but more than that is non-negotiable if you’re planning to use your drone to make money. Aside from being required, it gets you up to speed on all the safety requirements of being a drone pilot, and offers you a few advantages in terms of where and how you are able to fly. Having a license allows you to legally profit from flying a drone.
If you’re considering getting a drone license just as a backup plan, or to get a few of those perks of being a drone pilot, like being able to apply for waivers to fly in restricted airspaces, it may end up being a waste of time and money. The benefits of having a commercial license, if you’re not actually using your drone to earn money or advance your business, are in reality rather limited, and a recreational flier can do almost all the things that a commercial pilot can do (except earn money).
To learn more about reasons to get a Part 107 license, read our article: What Can You do with a Part 107 License »
Should I buy a drone or a camera?
The drones that are available today make for excellent, high-quality flying cameras. They can get angles and perspectives that you can’t get with a handheld camera. And many camera drones rival a decent DSLR camera in terms of the picture quality that you can get with them. So if you’re on the fence as to whether to get a drone or to go for a traditional DSLR camera, how to decide?
A DSLR camera is probably your best bet if you’re just getting into photography as a hobby. It has the advantage of not needing to also learn how to fly it, and offers the flexibility to learn true photography skills that are much harder to master on a drone camera.
For travelers or hobbyists who want some cool shots from unique perspectives, and the art of photography is secondary, a drone is the way to go. They provide flight assistance and smart features to help you get some great shots that you would never be able to get with a standard point-and-shoot consumer camera.
For more specifics on what to look for in a decent camera drone check out our article on the top 13 camera drones »
Should I buy a drone now or wait?
The best time to buy a drone is when you need it or plan to use it. If you need one now, buy one now. In general, the prices of drones hold fairly steady throughout the year, and even over the course of several years, especially in the case of higher-end drones such as DJI.
You might get lucky enough to find some special deals on all kinds of drones, including some DJI drone models around hot sales dates like Black Friday, so definitely keep your eyes open for those before purchasing.
But if you’re thinking that waiting a year or two will see a big price drop on a drone model you’ve got your eye on, it doesn’t seem to work out that way for the most part. And then you run the risk of that model being discontinued or becoming obsolete, in which case you’d have to opt for a more expensive version anyway.
If you need or want a drone now, the best plan is to shop around for deals, compare different brands and models, and find the best deal that you can get, without getting stuck on one particular type of drone.
Read our article here for some ideas on where to do your comparison shopping when looking to buy a drone: Best Places to Buy a Drone (Online and In-Store) »
There’s also the option of buying second-hand or refurbished drones. They might not be brand new, but they’re much nicer on the budget, and can generally still give many years of great flying.