Searching for the Best Beginner Drone

Is There Such a Thing As the Best Beginner Drone?

When looking for the best beginner drone, you first need to define your parameters. What is a drone? Who qualifies as a beginning flyer? And what does it mean to be the best in this category?

Let’s take a look at each of these three factors in the order the questions were asked. In the end, you should be able to decide if there truly is such a thing as the best beginner drone.

What Is a Drone?

The word drone has meanings in many contexts. It can refer to insects, music, titles in literature and the movies, and more. For our purposes here, we’ll obviously use the reference to vehicles.

When you think of a drone, you probably picture a craft that you can control from a distance on the ground. Your remote control drone most likely has a camera that let’s you see what it sees, either in real time or later during playback. Such a craft is virtually synonymous with an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV.

A drone doesn’t have to take the form of a quadcopter. While many do, others look more like a traditional airplane or helicopter. Drones are used for military, law enforcement, rescue, transport, and other purposes where they are safer or more efficient than manned vehicles. For now, we will concern ourselves just with hobby quadcopters that can carry a camera.

Many quadcopter pilots who are RC hobbyists, would rather not use the word drone to refer to their aircraft. They prefer to steer clear of the military connotation and often call them multirotors or simply quads.

Who Is a Beginning Drone Flyer?

I think there are two types of beginners when it comes to flying quadcopters. There are those who have never flown one of any kind before, and there are those who have some experience with remote control drones but haven’t been at the controls of a UAV with a camera attached to it.

If you are the former type, I recommend that you first gain some experience with quadcopters that are less expensive than those that can hold a camera. After you prove to yourself that you can handle the ups, downs, and all arounds of a cheaper quadcopter, then you’ll be ready to tackle one of the more expensive kinds with much less worry about damaging or destroying a costly piece of equipment.

There are a few quadcopters already in the market that don’t cost all that much and contain a built in camera, but those aren’t the drones we’ll be looking at here. In the future, the cost of the fancier drones will probably come down, as it usually does for electronic gadgets. For now (2015) though, my advice above still stands.

If you are of the type who already has the necessary flying experience, then you are ready for the kind of quadcopter with a camera that we’re calling a drone or UAV here. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you’ll never have problems flying one of these machines, but you’ll be much less likely to completely demolish one of these quadcopters and lose a fair chunk of your hard-earned money in the process.

What is the Best Beginner UAV?

Best is a relative term. What’s best to me may not be best to you. That’s not intended as a cop out but rather a caution about what follows. In reality, there is no best quadcopter in any category, in my opinion. Part of this is due to the fact that each quadcopter that works well is so different from all the rest that it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Another factor is that what could be called best today (in 2015) probably won’t be best tomorrow because of the rapid pace at which the industry is changing.

Now, all that said, I will still propose several answers to the question of which drone you should choose as the best beginner quadcopter for you. There are several that are currently considered the best in this class.

Here then, in no particular order, are three quadcopters for your consideration as the best beginner quad with a camera in my mini drone buying guide.

Note: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

1. DJI Phantom 2 or Phantom 3

In early 2013, DJI produced the first version of the Phantom. Later that same year, they gave us the Phantom 2. In 2014, we got the Phantom 2 Vision, Vision+, and FC40. All three of these could handle a camera such as the popular GoPro. In 2015, DJI upgraded the video capabilities with the Phantom 3 Pro and Advanced.

Phantom 2 Vision with GoPro on gimbal
Phantom 2 Vision with GoPro on gimbal

For the beginner, either version 2 or 3 is a good choice. The 3, as you might expect, costs a couple of hundred dollars more, approaching $1000. For that price, you’ll get about 25 minutes of flying time before you need to recharge or swap batteries. The Phantom is considered one of the easiest fancy drones to fly, which should appeal to you as a beginner.

2. Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

Version 2.0 of Parrot’s AR.Drone is another quadcopter that should be relatively easy for the beginner to learn how to fly. It’s considerably cheaper than the Phantom (under $300) but still has many desirable features.

In the picture – Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

 

Parrot AR.Drone
Parrot AR.Drone 2.0

You can fly it for about 20 minutes, store up to 4GB of information, and use GPS tracking and navigation. The AR.Drone comes with its own camera, but you can add the appropriate gimbal (camera mount) and camera – like a GoPro – if you’re not satisfied with the original.

3. Hubsan X4 H107C

The price tag (under $75) on the Hubsan X4 H107C is very attractive, but you might just be getting what you pay for. The camera is stationary, however that shouldn’t deter someone just beginning in this category.

Hubsan X4 H107C
Hubsan X4 H107C

An interesting sidelight here is that drone parts found in the Hubsan model may be interchangeable with those in the Traxxas QR-1 quadcopter.

Some owners have complained about the quality of this machine. That may be a problem for you or it may not. I get the impression that quality control is not always what it should be with the Hubsan aircraft. (Note: As of this writing, I have not purchased one of these for myself.) Again, for the price, this may still be the quadcopter of choice for a beginner.

Where Can You Find These Drones?

There are many places online to find these popular UAVs for sale. Individual hobby sites – like HobbyKing and HobbyTron, Amazon, and eBay are all legitimate sources.

One place you might have problems finding them is at your local hobby shop. It just depends how well-stocked the manager wants to be in this category.