As many as a million drones or quadcopters will be purchased this holiday season and if you have someone on your list asking for one of these toys/gadgets there are some things worth considering before you buy one.
Price, weight, controls, GPS and video are some of the most important considerations.
Here are a few things to ask before handing over your credit card:
How much should I spend? If you're buying someone's first quadcopter, you may want to stick to the toy versions that are typically $100-$200. These drones are found in most retail stores, are controlled by an app on your smartphone and come with low resolution video cameras. They are not recommended for shooting commercial video but are generally a good 'first drone' for your soon-to-be pilot. More expensive drones can range from $400-$2,000 and even more. DJI and Parrot are the brands professional drone pilots prefer as they were both early developers and manufacturers of the gadgets. These brands also make drones that are easier to control and are sturdy enough to hit a few tree limbs and still fly.
Most drones fall into the category the FAA requires to be licensed. According to new federal regulations any drone between .55 pounds and 55 pounds must be registered, must only be flown by someone 16 years old and older, can fly at a maximum of 400 feet, must be kept in sight at all times, must not fly over people and should only be flown during daylight. Registration costs $5 for three years and can be done online at www.registermyuas.faa.gov
If you plan to shoot video with the drone pay attention to the camera (of course). Many drones now have cameras mounted onboard that can shoot high resolution photos and video. Other drones can be outfitted with action cameras such as a GoPro. If you're going to shoot video with a GoPro you'll want to consider adding a gimble which stabilizes the camera for smoother video.
Extra batteries. Drones typically fly for 8-17 minutes on a rechargeable battery. That isn't much time for enjoyment, so consider purchasing extra batteries. Look at the cost of those batteries too. Some drones require batteries that cost around $70 each while other drones run on batteries that cost much less.
FPV or First Person View is the easiest and most fun way to pilot a drone. These gadgets come either with a headset viewer or can be linked to an app on a smartphone. Pilots are able then to see what the drone sees, these are very helpful if you plan to shoot video or take photographs from the air.
GPS is included in some drones which will help to prevent fly aways. The owner will set the location using GPS before taking off and the satellite will help keep it nearby if you want. GPS units will also command the drone to return to it's takeoff point if the battery gets low or it loses connection with the controller.
The FAA projects 2.6 million drones will be in use by the end of the year and over 7 million by 2020. Sales surged by 445% in the 2015 holiday season according to the FAA.