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An Overview of Drones: What You Need to Know

In just a few short years, drones have absolutely exploded in popularity — in terms of both their professional and personal applications. According to one recent study conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration, drone use is expected to grow by a factor of 10 over the next five years alone. By as soon as 2021, there will be approximately 3.5 million hobbyist drones in the skies all over the country — a massive leap from the 1.1 million reported at the end of 2016.

But it's also important for you to understand that not all drones are created equally. If you're fascinated by this technology and are even thinking of buying one for yourself, you're certainly going to have an incredible amount of fun and you will in no way regret your purchase. You do, however, have to keep a number of critical things in mind to help make sure you walk away with the right model.

What to Look For in a Drone

Perhaps the most important thing for you to understand when buying a drone is that there are a few different types for you to choose from depending on exactly what you want to accomplish. Don’t forget that a drone is more than just a remote-controlled, flying device with a camera on it – the construction of the drone itself will play a big role in what you’re able to do with it, so this is one decision you need to make before you head off to the store and place your order.

Beginner drones tend to be used for amateur flying more than anything else. While many do come with cameras (and if they don’t, they can be easily outfitted with one), they’re not really intended to be used for capturing stunning video and photos of your surroundings. They’re designed for you to have as much fun as possible on a clear afternoon. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but if you did have your heart set on capturing incredible footage, you’re going to have to go a bit deeper.

Drones built with photography and videography in mind look very similar, but they tend to have a number of advanced features that make them ideal for this particular task. Oftentimes the built-in cameras feature very high resolutions (at least 1080p HD, although many modern day models are also capable of shooting video in 4K and still photographs at 13 megapixels or more). They’re not only easy to fly, but they often come with both flight controller and gyro stabilization technology to help battle things like wind resistance and other issues that could ruin the footage you’re working so hard to attain in the first place.

It’s also worth nothing that if flight time is a concern, you should absolutely purchase a model with fast charging capabilities. On average, your typical videography drone can go from a dead battery to a full charge in about 20 minutes or so. However, more advanced models can charge the same battery in a fraction of the time – sometimes in as few as five minutes or less. You may not actually need that fast charging option, but in the event that you are looking for an opportunity to take your photography skills to the next level, this is absolutely something worth looking into. The final main type of drone that you’ll want to concern yourself with has to do with those that are built explicitly with racing in mind. Once again, these often come with cameras built right in, but that isn’t necessarily the primary focus of such a model. They’re designed in a way that allows them to be as aerodynamic as possible, making them ideal for incredible stunts and having a whole lot of fun in a short amount of time.

As is true with so many other things, nobody can tell you which type of drone is the right one for you to buy. Only by thinking about what you actually want to do with it and working your way backwards to a particular category will you be able to find the one that is the best fit for your needs.

Important Drone Features to Invest In

For the sake of discussion, let's say that you have your heart set on a videography and photography drone – either because you’re an amateur videographer or you’re a professional looking for another valuable tool to add to your arsenal. In that case, there are absolutely a few key features you’re going to want to look into.

As stated, the primary feature you’ll want to concern yourself with in this situation is one of resolution – both in terms of photographs and videos. To make sure that your purchase is as “future proof” as possible, don’t settle for anything less than a drone with a camera capable of recording true HD videos, 4K videos (should the need arise) and at least still photographs at 13 megapixels or higher. There’s nothing worse than getting a drone up in the air, spending an afternoon shooting your surroundings and getting home … only to find that you can’t really do anything with the footage because the video resolution was too low (and thus the captured images are grainy) and the photos are too small.

Along the same lines, you’ll definitely want to buy a drone that features the biggest storage capacity possible. In a lot of cases, drones will give you two options in terms of storage – using an onboard hard drive (similar to the one in your computer) that you can also expand by way of an optional SD or MicroSD card. To make sure that your drone can capture as much footage as it can for as long as it can, look for storage options that are at least 16 gigabytes in size, if not more. Sixteen gigabytes can hold a lot of still images, even at maximum resolution – but both 1080p HD video and 4K video take up a lot of space in a short amount of time. One minute of uncompressed HD footage averages out to be about one gigabyte in size – obviously a minute of true 4K footage is going to be even larger. Keep that in mind when making your final selections.

Finally, there are a number of worthwhile features you’ll want to watch out for that all relate to what happens when the drone is actually in the air. More advanced models don’t just let you shoot footage – they can actually track people and objects for extended periods of time using the onboard navigational system. So if there was a particular person on the ground who you wanted to be able to track from the air, you could designate that subject on the remote control and have the camera more or less fly itself for as long as possible.

Likewise, any drone hobbyist can tell you that this is one of those situations where Murphy’s Law absolutely applies – so make sure that your model has the safety features necessary to allow it to protect itself, too. Any drone you purchase should have a one-touch “Home” button, for example – meaning that bringing the unit in for a safe landing is literally as simple as pressing a button. Likewise, if the battery gets critically low while you weren’t paying attention or if it loses the necessary WiFi signal, it should automatically return to you and land itself. This is by far the absolute best way to make sure that the several hundred dollar investment you just made doesn’t come crashing out of the sky when you least expect it.