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The Best Drones for Beginners

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates there are more than 2 million drones in the U.S. as of the end of 2019. Of those, around 1.3 million are owned for non-commercial use and considered hobby drones.

And the FAA predicts that market will keep elevating to new heights over the next four years. Clearly, drones are to the 2020s what personal computers were to the 1980s. However, much like a befuddled consumer in 1985, the rise of the drone market raises questions for the beginner:

Which drone is right for a hobbyist like me?

How can I choose the safest, simplest drone for my kid?

What if I want to transition from hobbyist to a money-making drone pilot?

Read on…

Drones for Kids

Piloting an unmanned aircraft is something that instills instant childlike wonder for all ages. Model/toy drones are perfect for gifting children with a stress-free introduction to the hobby and parents the peace of mind that the new toy will NOT come crashing through the kitchen window (probably).

Most child-friendly drones are under $100 and they’re built for durability while offering easy-to-use-controls and stability.

DROCON Ninja Drone ($69)

Our first entry makes the list because – it’s got “ninja” in its name. How cool is that? But seriously, DROCON’s Ninja is perfect for a Christmas or birthday gift and, at $69, won’t break the budget.

The Ninja offers a headless mode, which means the user doesn’t have to worry about which direction the drone faces during flight. The altitude hold mode keeps the drone hovering in place when not being controlled, allowing for a slow-paced learning curve without worrying about sudden crashes.

Specs

  • Charging time: 60 minutes,  Flight time: 13 minutes
  • 720p/30fps HD camera
  • Foldable blades
  • Easy flip/roll trick mode

DJI Tello ($99)

You’re going to be reading a lot about DJI in this article. And why not? It’s the largest drone manufacturer in the world and every model from hobbyist to large-scale commercial is regarded as being tops in the market.

The Tello is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the few drones that also offers a tech-facing, learning experience. Tello works with Scratch, a coding system developed by MIT that empowers students to learn programming skills as they explore drone flight. Advanced students can also develop new software apps with an extra development kit.

Tello can take off and land from a person’s hand and is controlled by a smartphone with app. It’s also VR compatible. Since it’s suitable for all ages, Tello is a bargain at $99 because it’s likely to become the “family drone.”

Specs

  • Charging time: 60 minutes,  Flight time: 13 minutes
  • Distance: about 300 feet
  • Functions: Throw & Go, 8D Flips, Bounce Mode and EZ Shots (user can record coordinated short videos with Circle, 360, and Up & Away perspective)
  • Camera: 5MP photo, 720p MP4 video

Altair AA108 – 720p Beginner Drone ($119)

If your child – for reasons of age or misbehavior – doesn’t have a smartphone, the Altair AA108 is a top pick since it can be flown without one (unlike the Trello and Ninja).

To help kids improve their flight skills, the Altair features three speed modes to encourage safe flying while still allowing for faster piloting later.

Like the Ninja, the AA108 features “headless mode” to avoid loss of orientation. Unlike most beginner drones, the AA108 includes a second battery so the kids won’t get bored after 10 minutes.

Specs

  • Charging time: 60 minutes,  Flight time: 13 minutes
  • Distance: about 300 feet
  • 720P HD Camera (requires SD card – not included)
  • Built-in Propeller Guards
  • One-Touch Take-Off
  • Altair’s Flyingsee App allows custom flight plan drawing on smartphone
  • Functions: Out of range alarm, emergency landing function, and low battery alarm

Drones for Hobbyists

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Perhaps you’ve just entered the world of drones and have no idea what you’re doing. Or maybe, you’ve tried out a few toy models and you’re ready for the next “big kid” model. It really doesn’t matter where you fall on the drone-novice spectrum. The following drones are easy enough for a complete newbie to start having fun in the sky ASAP but also offers a few advanced features for the more seasoned pilot.

Mavic Mini ($399)

The DJI Mavic Mini is the latest offering from the drone giant, and it has “beginner plus” written all over it.

We say “beginner plus” because the quadcopter is easy to fly out of the box but also has expanded functionality for the intermediate user.

Yes, at $399, the price point may seem steep for a beginner. However, the Mavic Mini will continue to provide entertainment and even challenges well past the novice phase.

Since the Mini weighs in at just under .55 pounds, no FAA registration is required and, chances are, that standard applies to most Western nations.

The Mini is controlled via the DJI Fly app that includes tutorials and creative video editing functionality. Did we mention the Mini is foldable? Yes, it’s foldable, reducing down in an origami-like fashion to not much larger than a smartphone. A dedicated remote controller can keep up an HD video feed for hundreds of feet.

For truly novice flyers, the Mini includes prop guards to protect the drone from the inevitable crash in the shrubbery or into the neighbor’s cat (Note: DroneGenuity does not in any sense endorse feline-centric drone mishaps).

For an extra hundred bucks, you can add the Fly More combo which includes two extra batteries, a battery charger and carrying case.

Specs

  • Charging time:  90 minutes, Flight time: 30 minutes
  • Maximum flight speed: 30 mph
  • Function: Return to Home Base
  • MicroSD card required to store photos and video
  • Camera: 12mp, 2.7K video capable at 30 fps, 1080p at 60 fps (optimized for social-media sharing)

Parrot’s ANAFI ($699)

Although almost twice as expensive as the Mavic Mini, Parrot’s ANAFI delivers on the higher price tag. Offering a 4K HDR camera (not available for the Mini), 2.8X zoom and a 180-degree gimbal, the foldable ANAFI is like the Mini’s older brother (from a different mother).

Although the flight time is 5 minutes less than the Mini, ANAFI uses AI functionality to output a truly automatic flight mode. In addition, the drone has an operating range of up to 2.48 miles (remember – always fly within visual range of sight). Beginners will enjoy ANAFI’s geo-fencing mode – the Parrot app can be used to draw out a flight plan.

ANAFI is equipped with the Parrot Skycontroller 3 folding remote control that attaches to a smart phone, providing a versatile set of options for flight planning and videography.

ANAFI packs a wallop for a drone of its size – just 10.8 x 3.5 x 3 inches, which easily fits in a compact case. It zips along up to 34 mph in sport mode. Note: Not sure what this means but the ANAFI’s Amazon page states it also “withstands bullets up to 50 km/h.” Hmm … probably means resistant to winds up to that speed.

Specs

  • Charging time:  60 minutes, Flight time: 25 minutes
  • Maximum flight speed: 34 mph
  • Camera: 21MP photos and video in 4K.
  • Functions: Find My Drone, Follow Me filming
  • Bonus: Includes a free two-month subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan or Adobe Premiere Pro CC.
  • Altair Outlaw SE ($249)

The Outlaw is a great stepping stone for young drone pilots from the AA 108, as well as being a bit cheaper than the Mavic Mini or ANAFI.

With a lower price comes a lower flight time of 15 minutes but the Outlaw makes up for it with a slew of functions that lets a beginner to move up in skill levels with FPV and other flight modes.

The Outlaw is equipped with a smart-phone attachable flight controller. Its GPS mode allows it to fix on a single point and hover if the user provides no commands.

If you’re ready to dip your toes into the warm waters of drone beginner, the Outlaw could be an affordable solution.

Specs

  • Charging time:  4 hours, Flight time: 15 minutes (although some reviews claim 20)
  • Maximum flight speed: 25 mph
  • Camera: 1080p HD 5G Wi-Fi Photo & FPV Video
  • Functions: Auto Return, Headless Mode, Follow-Me, Altitude Hold and One-Touch Take-Off and Landing.

Professional & Aspiring Drone Pilots

Drones with prop guards and autonomous “training wheels” are fine for kids and hobbyists. What about a drone for the next level – an aircraft for an experienced pilot who’s ready to use a drone for professional or commercial reasons? A videographer. A commercial scanning and inspection business. A public-safety contractor. A way to produce real income leveraging your passion for UAS.

If you have a few thousand dollars to spare, as well as the proper FAA licensure, then you may be ready to dive into the world of commercial-grade drones.

DJI Mavic 2 Pro ($1,724)

 

 

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If you’re just starting a drone videography/photography business and money’s tight, check out the Mavic 2 Pro. At just under $1,700, the quadcopter has a lot to offer. Equipped with a Hasselblad L1D-20c camera with a 20MP 1” CMOS Sensor, the Mavic Pro will capture stunning footage and high-res photographs sure to beef up a new artist’s portfolio. The drone’s transmitter delivers live video transmission out to almost five miles with 40 Mbps download speed.

Using DJI’s  ActiveTrack 2.0, the Mavic 2 deploys dual vision sensors in tandem with the primary camera to produce laser-focused image recognition in a 3D view. Special algorithms can also predict trajectory to keep shot tracking on a smooth imaging rail even when the subject view is obstructed.

While tracking a shot, the Mavic 2 Pro is capable of flightpath-planning and can analyze, recognize and avoid obstacles while shooting. Professional photographers will love the drone’s adjustable aperture (F/2.8-F/11) to adjust for various lighting factors.

Check out our Mavic 2 Pro controller overview.

Specs

  • Charging time:  90 minutes, Flight time: 31 minutes
  • Video Recording: 4K in 24/30p or 1080 in 24/30/60/120p, 20 Megapixels
  • Maximum Flight Speed: 45 mph
  • Max Distance: 11 miles
  • Weight: 2 lbs.
  • Intelligent flight modes: Point of Interest, Cinematic, Quick Shots
  • Broadcast live video to Facebook and YouTube

Yuneec H520  ($3,500-$6,000)

If you’re ready to enter the world of inspection/scanning drones, you’ll need to invest a lower four-figure price point at minimum. Once purchased, your drone bundle coupled with your piloting skills couls attract customers across several industries – agriculture, inspections, construction, mining and utilities. Scanning missions may include aerial photogrammetry or orthomosaics mapping.

A practical starter drone for commercial projects, the Yuneec H520 offers versatility, with bundles running from $3,500-$6,000 that include a variety of hi-res or thermal cameras (see Specs). Note: A stripped-down version with no camera is available for $2,700. With six rotors, the H520 can carry payloads of up to one pound. Corporate bundles feature three cameras:

  • CGO-3+: 3-axis gimbal, 4K quality, 360-degree rotation (panoramic/survey), wide-angle, video streaming up to 1,300 feet.
  • CGO-CI: 4K video quality with tighter view field, designed for long range inspection, recommended for filmmakers.
  • CGO-ET dual thermal RGB camera: 3-axis gimbal, thermal imaging lens, low-light (residual light) lens (“20 times more sensitive than the human eye”).

The H520 includes hot-swapping functionality that makes changing sensor/camera payloads a snap. An all-in-one controller boasts a 7″ touchscreen and is Android compatible.

Specs

  • Charging time:  90 minutes, Flight time: 31 minutes
  • Maximum Flight Speed: 38 mph
  • Max Distance: 1 mile
  • Weight: 3.6 lbs.
  • Functions: Retractable landing gear, Intel RealSense Technology, Return to base,  Waypoint technology, ground tethering available for longer flight time.

Freefly Alta 8 ($17,495)

If your drone business reaches the rarified skies of smashing success, you may want to trade up to a premium inspection/mapping drone like the eight-rotor Freefly Alta 8.

The octocopter can lift a maximum of 20 pounds making it ideal for multiple-sensor packages. Uniquely, the Alta 8 can carry a camera/sensor top or bottom mounted. It also folds down to half of its operating size, making it a breeze to transport.

Revolutionary quick-release payload swap mounts allow for rapid, fluid workflow. The SYNAPSE flight controller is especially useful for cinematography with precise, smooth control. The Alta 8 does not ship with a camera or sensor array since most commercial pilots prefer to build their own imaging package using professional-grade solutions such as FLIR or FLUKE.

Specs

  • Charging time:  90 minutes, Flight time: 28 minutes
  • Maximum Flight Speed: 35 mph
  • Max Distance: 2 miles
  • Weight: 13 lbs.
  • Maximum payload: 20 lbs.
  • Functions: waypoint technology for autonomous and repeatable flights, Qgroundcontol mission planner, via Mavlink protocol, FPV.

Note: Specs and drone information is up to date as of Feb. 1, 2020. Always check the manufacturer’s website before purchasing to note changes.

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About the Author

Jason Reagan

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Jason Reagan is a tech journalist and content-marketing creator. Since 2014, Jason has covered the commercial drone industry. Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content. TWITTER:@JasonPReagan | EMAIL: jasonpreagan@outlook.com