The beginner's guide to buying a drone: everything you need to know

Price, flight time, charge time, camera quality, controls, usage and more considered

If you've decided it's time to get involved in the drone revolution but you're not sure where to start then we're here to help - here's everything you need to know about the drones currently on the market and how you can spend your money wisely.

New models are appearing all the time as the technology is refined and hardware prices come down, but there are some general rules you can follow no matter what the exact specifications of the drones on sale when it's time to start doing your shopping.

Retail price

Drone price

You can spend several hundred or several thousand pounds on a drone and one way of picking a model is to simply choose a budget and then find a drone to match. The quality of the materials, the range and power of the drone, and the specifications of the accessories (primarily the camera) are the main factors that affect a drone's price.

The drones towards the higher end of the market come with extra tricks, like the ability to hover in mid-air without you constantly fiddling with the controls, and a live video stream back to your phone (or remote). A quick review of the specs listed with each drone on your shortlist should be enough to work out where the differences in price come from.

Camera quality

Drone camera

Most people buy a drone to take sweeping aerial shots and as far as cameras go you'll find the output resolutions ranging from paltry VGA to the highest-quality 4K. If you don't need footage that's going to be broadcast on television then you can save yourself some money, but try looking for sample drone footage online before you decide to part with your cash.

If you want to avoid shaky and blurred footage then a gimbal is a must - this mount uses a gyroscope to keep the camera steady as it's buffeted by the wind or swoops down through the air on your command. For the best and most reliable results, you want a drone that records video footage straight to a memory card or USB stick on the drone itself.

Flight time

Drone flight

One of the key specifications for any drone is how long it can actually stay in the air for - it could make the difference between you catching breathtaking footage of a forest canopy or having to pick up your device from the forest floor instead, so ideally you want to get the greatest flight time and range possible within the constraints of your budget.

Even the best drones on the market can't stay in the air for more than 30 minutes and in the case of budget models it will be much less than that, so don't expect to be operating your flying machine for hours at a time. If you're away from home then spare batteries are an option, but make sure these are available before you buy your drone of choice.

Charging time

Drone charging

Charging time may or may not be important depending on what you're planning to do with your drone (epic expeditions or short jaunts?) but you're typically looking at an hour or more for a full recharge. Look for details when you're drawing up your drone shortlist and remember to get your drone fully charged before you head off into the outdoors.

We've mentioned spare batteries but it's worth thinking about replacement parts too, should your drone come to harm - remember if you're forking out for a top-end model then the spares are likely to cost more too (as with the car on your drive), and if you're letting the kids loose on your drone then a budget option might be preferable.

Extra features

Drone features

You'll find a host of extra bells and whistles if you look around the drone market: drones that can automatically follow you around, drones that can swerve away from obstacles in their path, drones that will return to their take-off spot if the remote connection is lost... if you've got the money to spend then you can get some seriously smart extra features.

Thanks to the advanced stabilisation technology, more expensive drones are usually easier to fly, and you should aim for a model that matches your flying skills (or be prepared to put in a lot of practice in your garden). Reviews from experts and users on the web can be enlightening if you want to know what a particular drone is actually like to fly.

Intended use

Drone use

The best drone for you really depends on what you want from it: high speeds or excellent video? Simple, automatic operation or the ability to tinker and perform a few tricks? Are you happy using your phone as the controller or do you want a fully featured remote? There's a lot to weigh up besides the nitty gritty of each drone's specifications list.

The major manufacturers include DJI, Parrot, Syma and 3DR, and it's worth shopping around for a good price. There's nothing wrong with going for a smaller name or indeed a Kickstarter project but bear in mind that you might not have the same customer support safety nets in place. Finally, before you start flying, make sure you know the rules.