Dear Lifehacker, I'm no photographer by any means but I'd like to know what the best drones around are for beginners. I'd prefer something with a flight time of around 10 mins that's able to be smartphone controlled. What drone should I buy? Thanks, Nicholas
As you've probably noticed if you've started looking at drones to buy, there are hundreds of models available -- at all different price ranges, with a bunch of different features. You have a couple of main options -- pricewise you're looking at either budget drones (let's say under $200 though there's no definite way to split them up) or premium drones that range from around $500 to thousands of dollars. Some drones hover around the middle, though for the most part you're better to look at the smaller, cheaper drones to help you learn, or more expensive ones packed with tech that'll assist beginner pilots.
Starting at the bottom end, you could look at some of the tiny, cheap quadcopters that are suitable for flying indoors as well as calmer conditions outside. Aerix, manufacturers of the world's smallest FPV drone, are bringing out an HD version of their Vidius drone, a tiny $US75 drone that's less than 5cm on its longest side. This $US75 price also includes a pair of FPV VR goggles if you pre-order. While smaller drones can be a little fiddly to fly due to their light weight, the stakes are also pretty low -- such a small drone is far less likely to cause damage to anything you might crash into. The Vidius is also able to stream and record HD video and stills, making it a great first pick for a budding drone photographer.
If you're after something a bit bigger, check out the Syma X5C -- a larger, cheaper camera drone that is potentially the best value for money of any drone in this lower price range. It retails at around $US50, though with no official Australian stockists you might have to pay a little bit more to get it locally. The camera quality obviously isn't going to rival anything you'll get at higher price ranges, but it's a great beginner's camera drone. Both of these cheaper drones only have around 7 minutes of flight time, however.
If you've got a bit more money to spend, then you can also look at drones with autopilot and crash avoidance functions that'll make up for the learning curve of drone piloting. While the DJI Phantom series has always had some of the best drones in this area, they can also be anywhere from $1000 to $3000. However DJI is also bringing out the Mavic: a much smaller, foldable drone that's also pretty powerful and records 4K Ultra HD video. It also has obstacle avoidance, meaning you should be able to fly it mostly worry free. If you want to get some seriously good drone footage or photos, the Mavic will be the one to save up for. It's around $1000 for the Mavic without a controller, if you just want to use your smartphone to control it.
If any of our readers have any recommendations for beginner drones, put them in the comments, and remember to check Australia's drone rules so you don't go flying where you shouldn't be!
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