Best Quadcopter Reviews: 5 Best Camera Drones 

If you are interested in unbiased and objective quadcopter reviews, you are on the right page :-) A quadcopter is essentially a helicopter that has four rotors for lifting and propulsion. Quadcopters have become very popular as UAVs recently, and that is hardly surprising if you think about how good these really are.

Drones - and there are so many kinds of them - are getting massively popular. So much so that the plethora of choice makes it pretty hard to know what to buy. Here, we explain what you need to know about buying a drone, no matter what your budget is.

There are several kinds of drones - quadcopters, minis, multi rotors and so on. Typically, they have 4 propellers, but this is not a rule. Helicopters have 2 rotors, tri copters 3, quadcopters 4, penta copters 5, hexacopters 6, and octocopters have 8 rotors.

While octocopters are the most stable and reliable, quadcopters are the most popular of all multi rotors because they are so easy to build and there is a lot of support available.

A lot many people – more than one would imagine, want to know which would be the best drone for them. That’s not an easy question to answer as the best quadcopter that would be right for you depends essentially on four main factors:

  • Your skill level

Unless you are really skilled, you should not buy an expensive drone. Not unless you are so rich that you are willing to crash a $2500 drone without batting an eyelid.

Slick advertising seems to have created the impression that quadcopters are a breeze to fly and just about anyone can handle any kind of drone without lots and lots of prior training. That simply is not true. Think back to the time when you were learning to ride a bike or drive a car. This can be just as complicated and hard to learn. Learning to handle an expensive six or eight channel quadcopter will require hours and hours of training with simpler models and perhaps even with a simulator. There simply is not shortcut to this.

You simply cannot learn to fly a complicated drone right after reading the quick start guide. Before you buy a drone, it would be good to know if it's suitable for beginners - if you are indeed just getting started. 

  • Why you want a drone

Are you trying to learn how to fly? Or are you and experienced pilot who is trying to get into aerial imaging? If you are a beginner, you will want to buy something real cheap and easy to fly, preferably less than $100. But on the other hand, if you belong to the latter group, you would want to buy a top of the line quadcopter with an excellent fpv system.

  • How serious you are about the hobby?

Do you see yourself flying drones a few years down the line? Or are you just trying to see whether you will develop a lasting interest in the hobby after flying a drone for a few hours? Not asking this question can lead you to make the mistake of buying something expensive that will never be used again after a few days. This hobby is certainly not for everyone.

You will be required to spend hours and hours learning quite a lot of stuff. You will need to get yourself a basic, working understanding of meteorology, aeronautics, and mechanics. Just like those folks who train to become regular pilots.

You will also need to invest countless hours figuring out how to work the controls, put things together and take them apart and more. Unless all of this fills you with joyous anticipation, you would perhaps be better off buying one of those cheaper drones that are only good for indoor flying.

And here’s another, seldom discussed factor …

  • How much money are you willing to invest in the hobby?

This really does not matter much if you are an experienced pilot and are really serious about the hobby and are certain you are in this for the long run. But if you are someone who is just starting out, then it would be good for you to ask yourself this question. If you are inexperienced and are not really sure whether you will be flying multi-copters a year or two down the line, you would not want to spend too much just testing the waters, so to speak.

Even if you have a lot of money to throw around, the thought of crashing a $2500+ drone will most certainly not cause you to leap with unadulterated joy. Like everything else in life, you would want to prepare a budget and stick to it.

So the best choice for you really depends on your personal preferences and skill level. 

Price

nano quadcopter

The cheapest quadcopters - nanos, micros and minis - start at around $15, but they do not come with cameras and some of these cheaper models surprisingly hard to fly. Camera drones typically cost $50 or more. And models with FPV can cost at least $100 - and with these, you can see the live feed on your iPhone or any android smartphone. And some have radios with OSDs (on-screen displays) as well.

As you pay more, you can expect to buy models with more features and better quality. And these can stay airborne longer - between 10 to 15 minutes while the cheaper quads usually fly no longer than 7 to 8 minutes.

Higher priced drones also have a lot more sophisticated electronics that make them more stable, increase the reliability and are a lot easier and more fun to fly. The extra electronics - like better flight controllers, sensors and electronic speed controllers - do make a lot of difference because quadcopters are inherently unstable.

For instance, high priced drones like the DJI Phantom hover with hardly any effort or skill on the part of the pilot, while low-cost quadcopters need a lot of skill on your part if you want them to hover. This is so because these expensive quadcopters have electronics that make them a lot more stable than cheaper models.

Cameras

GoPro quadcopter camera

Only the more expensive drones have cameras. If you are a beginner, you do not need a camera. Plus the regulations require you to always have the drone in your sight while flying it. But once you have become more skilled at flying quads, you would want to buy a model that comes with a camera.

You would want to note that although a drone might have a camera, it may or may not offer FPV (a real-time video stream). FPV cameras allow you to fly a quadcopter even when it is out of sight and you cannot see it. But you would not want a drone to be out of sight as that would be against the law.

Not all cameras are made the same. And the better ones cost more.

At the cheaper end of the price range, you will be lucky to get even VGA video. If you want to shoot video that's half decent, you would want to select at least 720p (1280 × 720). Keep in mind that - as always - you can not rely on specs alone. Not all 720p cameras are made alike - one 720p camera may shoot really impressive photos while another may be totally unsatisfactory.

Another thing you would want to note is even the best action camera may shoot video that's wobbly and far from professional - unless you also invest in gyro-stabilized mounts. These mounts can insulate your camera from all of the vibrations that cause wobbly pictures and videos. They do not come cheap, though.

You could also use FPV goggles instead of OSDs on your radio

Storage

microSD card

Some cameras record video directly to a microSD card (or USB drive), and some others record from the remote control, or even directly to a smartphone. Direct recording is usually more reliable and of better quality.

Flight time and charging time

quadcopter flight

Typically you can expect between 5 and 15 minutes flight time between charges, and charging the batteries takes about an hour. It's a shame more companies do not deliver spare batteries. You would want to have at least 2 sets of spare batteries if you are keen on minimizing downtime.

You should also budget for a few sets of rechargeable AA batteries as most controllers require four of them. More so if your radio has an on-screen display which can burn through a set of alkaline batteries in under an hour.

Range

By law in most countries including the US and Britain, you should always have your quadcopter within your sight. So by law, the range is limited to around 100 meters. Most smaller models - nanos and minis - have a range between 10 meters and 50 meters. But some of the bigger models can have a range well over 100 meters - but you are required by law to keep your drone within 100 meters.

While you can easily fly a nano in your apartment, you most certainly cannot fly a bigger quadcopter inside an apartment. And it sometimes can be a challenge to find a place to fly a larger drone. Parks and playgrounds are not really ideal as you could crash your drone and end up causing injury to someone.

Ideally, you would want to fly larger drones in a place without tall trees and with hardly any people or animals around. A busy street is not where you would want to fly a quadcopter.

And you would want to avoid flying in windy conditions unless you are highly skilled. Even for the best pilots, flying in strong winds can be a really hard thing to do.

Simulators

multi rotor simulator

Too many people who are really serious about the hobby make the mistake of not learning the ropes on a simulator first. A quadcopter simulator can shorten the learning curve significantly - and save you a lot of money and frustrating downtime by helping you avoid those initial crashes. Ever crash can mean expensive repairs and downtime - and a lot of frustration.

It is not for nothing that pilots who fly "real" aircraft train for hundreds of hours on simulators before they try their hands at the real thing.

You would want to take a cue from them if you are just getting started and get yourself a simulator. And train for at least 50 hours on it before you fly any quadcopter. Especially if you are planning to start with a more expensive drone.

Replacement parts

Drones are fragile contraptions. And crashes are inevitable when you are getting started. Even experienced pilots crash sometimes. And crashes mean broken parts. Which means you will always want to have at least a few spares of the parts that are most likely to get damaged.

At the very least, you will want a couple of spare sets of propellers.

You would also want to choose models that come with propeller guards if you want to minimize downtime.

It also makes sense to buy models for which replacement are readily available. In general, the more popular the model is, the easier it is to buy spares for it.

Some manufacturers offer steep discounts but do check if spares are easily available. Else you might be wasting money if you crash and can't fix the quad. And always buy spares along with the quadcopter as you might get a discount.

Motors too might get damaged in a crash. Which is why you would want to have at least a spare set of motors. You would want to note that most of the very low-cost models use brushed motors which have a shorter life. The more expensive models have brushless motors which are easier to maintain and last longer.

Privacy and aerial photography

quadcopter drone aerial photography

Aerial photography can sure be exciting and tons of fun, but you would want to go the extra mile to make sure you do not intrude upon anyone's privacy. You certainly would not want to shoot videos of other people and their property and publish them online without their consent.

In most countries, it is illegal to fly anywhere near airports and other restricted areas. In some countries, you cannot fly a quadcopter over densely populated areas. And if you end up crashing and damaging property, you will be liable for the damages caused.

While this is certainly a very exciting hobby, you would want to learn all you can about the relevant laws and ensure you do not break any laws or cause any damage.

Depending on your interest in the hobby, once you are fairly confident of your piloting skills, the next thing you would want to do would be to build your own quadcopter instead of buying a ready to fly model.

Now, you would not want to get into building your own quadcopter before you can fly one very easily. Doing this can get expensive pretty fast, and unless you are really committed you may lose interest and give up on the hobby altogether.

Quadcopter motor buying guide

brushless DC motor for quadcopter

The motor is perhaps the most important part of the quadcopter. You don’t have to worry about choosing the right one if you are buying a ready to fly (RTF) quadcopter. But if you are going to be assembling one yourself or building one according to a blueprint, then you would definitely want to know how to choose the right set of motors.

Quadcopter motors 101

quadcopter motors

A quadcopter needs four motors, one at the end of each of the four arms of the frame. For the sake of increased stability, you would want two motors that rotate clockwise while the other two go counter clockwise. Now, you could have all of the motors rotating either clockwise or anti-clockwise – but choose this design only if you are an expert as it takes more skill to fly such a model.

While you would want to buy one pair of clockwise motors and anti-clockwise motors, you could also buy four motors that can rotate clockwise or anti-clockwise – which would make the choice easier.

Electric motors vs combustion motors

Electric motors are far more popular than combustion motors for model aircraft because they are easier to operate and you do not have to clean them regularly. Keeping combustion motors is a messy business.

While glow engines – a type of combustion motor – can typically provide more power and flight time than a similar sized electric motor, most people who are just starting out prefer electric motors because they are a lot easier to handle, have no emissions and the batteries can be recharged.

With electric motors, you do not have to make engine adjustments, do not have to spend money on fuel and get your hands and clothes dirty trying to clean up all of the mess that goes with using a glow engine.

glow engine for RC aircraft

And glow engines are a lot noisier as well.

Also, the electrical systems used most commonly have all been built to control electric motors.

If you were to build a quadcopter with glow engines, you will have to do a lot of the engineering yourself to make the craft stable. Combustion engines aren’t as quick to respond as electric engines – and with a quadcopter, this can be a very major issue because these are inherently far less stable than a regular helicopter. To even have a shot at succeeding at this, you will need to figure out a way to control the pitch of the blades using some kind of servo mechanisms.

And you will have to make the RPM of the glow engines lesser to increase thrust – glow engines have really high RPMs and this can reduce thrust. And you will have to figure out how to control or change the RPM, at least, a few hundred times a second – like 400 or so times a second.

Which essentially means electric is the only real option when it comes to quadcopters.

But here’s something that should settle the debate once and for all – quadcopters are notoriously hard to control as they are inherently a lot less stable. Which means they crash – a lot. Even the best-designed quadcopters can crash very easily if you do not handle it right.

And if it is powered by 4 glow engines, you can have an explosion – something that’s not possible with electric motors. So glow engine powered quadcopters could be very, very dangerous. But on the flip side, most hobby aircraft using electric engines tend to be relatively small and fragile.

The rest of this discussion will focus on electric motors.

Brushed vs Brushless DC Electric Motors

It’s important to know the vital differences between brushed and brushless motors.

Brushless motors operate at a high efficiency at any of the rated speeds and require very little maintenance. But these are more expensive both to construct and operate as it needs an electric controller for continued operation.

Brushed motors, on the other hand, are a lot cheaper relatively – but they require more maintenance and performance is inferior to brushless motors.

You would want to use brushless motors on a quadcopter because they are a lot more responsive – and, as a result, the craft will be much more stable and easier to control.

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