Originally developed for military applications, drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), are becoming an increasingly popular pastime. Most drones on the market are quadcopters, with four rotor blades, though hexacopter and octocopter configurations exist. Drones are great for photography and recreational flying, and racing circuits are popping up across the world. More than anything, flying them is a lot of fun!
Types of drones
Consumer drones can be broadly broken down into four categories. The type for you depends on what you want to use it for and how much you are willing to spend.
Toy. If you’re unsure about the hobby and want to dip your toes in without a hefty commitment, consider a toy drone. The basic principle is the same as serious models, they’re just smaller, lighter and significantly cheaper. The downside is toy drones aren’t the easiest to fly because they lack advanced features like auto-takeoff, auto-landing and various stabilisation measures. Being lighter means they get buffeted around in the wind more, too. Battery life is generally in the 5-10 minute range.
Recreational. At this level, you’ll find a serious drone, but one that’s balanced towards ease of use. They require very little assembly and are generally ready to fly (RTF) out of the box. You’ll be able to take good photos and fly for significantly longer than toy drones. This is the best option for casual hobbyists.
Advanced. At the advanced end, components and features (and pricing) are geared towards professionals. They require more practice, or even coaching, to fly properly. They’re faster, equipped with better cameras – some are capable of recording 4K video – and have professional-grade gimbals to help images stay focussed during less than ideal conditions. If you’re using a drone for real estate photography, TV, cinema or mapping and surveying, you’ll want something in this tier.
Racing. Racing drones are lighter, faster, more manoeuvrable and, at the top end, are custom built and require a lot of assembly. The cameras are used exclusively for first-person-view flying and, as such, don’t take quality photos or video.
Drones and the law
Flying a drone or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) is legal in Hong Kong, however there are regulations set by the Civil Aviation Department of Hong Kong (CAD). These regulations include (but are not limited to):
Using drones for commercial purposes requires a permit from the CAD.
Drones weighing more than 7kg must be approved by the CAD.
A drone operator cannot recklessly or negligently cause an aircraft to endanger any person or property.
Drones cannot be flown in the vicinity of aircraft approach and take-off paths.
Drones cannot fly over populated and congested areas.
The altitude of UAS shall not exceed 300 feet (90 metres) above ground level.
The drone operator must keep the drone within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) during the period of the flight.
For the most up-to-date information on drone regulations check the CAD website.
Keep in mind, laws differ across the world. Make sure you know the local laws when travelling with your drone.
How to compare drones
When choosing a drone, consider the following factors:
Flight time (battery)
Flight time on a single charge ranges from 5 minutes to around 30. Manufacturer estimates are always on the generous side, so expect less in real-world flying conditions. You also need to allow time for the drone to return to you to change batteries, so effective flying time is shorter still.
If your drone is for professional use, don’t skimp here. When you consider that it can take more than two hours to charge a battery, you’ll want to have a few spare batteries in your pack. If you can afford it, always go for the larger battery.
Do you want a drone that comes with a dedicated controller – typically a box with two flight sticks – or do you want to fly using an app and the touchscreen on your phone? The former provides greater control and tactile feedback, but the latter is more portable. Professionals tend to prefer dedicated controllers because there’s a slight response lag when using a phone, but mobile is still a viable approach for most purposes except racing.
Drones come with either a fixed camera or the ability to attach different ones. If you opt for a fixed model, make sure it’s a quality camera because you won’t be able to upgrade it later. Fixed camera models go up to 4K resolution. Some come with optical zooms, but they cost more.
If photography and filming is a serious hobby, or you’re intending to gather footage for commercial purposes, you’ll want a drone with a decent gimbal. These stabilise the camera across multiple axes, allowing for smoother video and sharper photos in windy conditions.
If you’re new to the hobby, you should get a drone with advanced safety features like mandatory tutorials, auto-takeoff, auto-landing and object-avoidance technology so you don’t crash into trees. If you’re losing control, being able to initiate an automatic return using the onboard GPS can be the difference between landing and losing your expensive new toy.
Some toy drones only have a range of 20-30 metres, more than enough to have fun at home or the park. Advanced drones have an effective range of a few kilometres (top-end models currently max out at around seven kilometres). Remember, though, this can be a moot point because of the law – if you can’t see it, you can’t fly it.
Let’s be realistic: if you’re starting out, you’re going to crash – quite a bit. Rotor blades are the part most likely to need replacing, so make sure you pick up some spares.
Four things to consider
Headless mode. Some pilots find “headless mode” helpful. This is an alternative control scheme that ignores the drone’s orientation and instead moves it in relation to the pilot. In headless mode, it doesn’t matter which way the drone is facing; if you push left on the controller, it will move left. Look out for this feature if you think it will be helpful.
You don’t need the latest model. DJI is the dominant manufacturer in the field. If you’re opting for one of its drones, know that DJI releases new models regularly with iterative upgrades. So, unless the newest feature feels essential to you, you can probably save some money by not buying the latest model.
People can be wary of drones. Not only will you make strangers in the vicinity nervous, but you’ll also probably get asked what you’re doing. This is perfectly reasonable – it’s new tech that is infamously used for military and espionage purposes, so some scepticism is to be expected. Just be polite and explain what you’re doing. You never know, you might end up with new hobbyists to fly with!
Be respectful. Drones, at their noisiest, sound like a swarm of angry bees. Always be respectful of other people sharing public space. It’s best to fly somewhere as far from other people as possible.
David Milner is an award-winning games journalist, former editor of Game Informer magazine, and regular contributor to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Embarrassingly, he only completed The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the first time in 2019. Bloodborne is his favourite game ever.
How likely would you be to recommend finder to a friend or colleague?
Very UnlikelyExtremely Likely
Thank you for your feedback.
Our goal is to create the best possible product, and your thoughts, ideas and suggestions play a major role in helping us identify opportunities to improve.
finder.com.au is one of Australia's leading comparison websites. We compare from a wide set of banks, insurers and product issuers. We value our editorial independence and follow editorial guidelines.
finder has access to track details from the product issuers listed on our sites. Although we provide information on the products offered by a wide range of issuers, we don't cover every available product or service.
Please note that the information published on our site should not be construed as personal advice and does not consider your personal needs and circumstances. While our site will provide you with factual information and general advice to help you make better decisions, it isn't a substitute for professional advice. You should consider whether the products or services featured on our site are appropriate for your needs. If you're unsure about anything, seek professional advice before you apply for any product or commit to any plan.
Products marked as 'Promoted' or 'Advertisement' are prominently displayed either as a result of a commercial advertising arrangement or to highlight a particular product, provider or feature. Finder may receive remuneration from the Provider if you click on the related link, purchase or enquire about the product. Finder's decision to show a 'promoted' product is neither a recommendation that the product is appropriate for you nor an indication that the product is the best in its category. We encourage you to use the tools and information we provide to compare your options.
Where our site links to particular products or displays 'Go to site' buttons, we may receive a commission, referral fee or payment when you click on those buttons or apply for a product.
When products are grouped in a table or list, the order in which they are initially sorted may be influenced by a range of factors including price, fees and discounts; commercial partnerships; product features; and brand popularity. We provide tools so you can sort and filter these lists to highlight features that matter to you.
We try to take an open and transparent approach and provide a broad-based comparison service. However, you should be aware that while we are an independently owned service, our comparison service does not include all providers or all products available in the market.
Some product issuers may provide products or offer services through multiple brands, associated companies or different labelling arrangements. This can make it difficult for consumers to compare alternatives or identify the companies behind the products. However, we aim to provide information to enable consumers to understand these issues.
Providing or obtaining an estimated insurance quote through us does not guarantee you can get the insurance. Acceptance by insurance companies is based on things like occupation, health and lifestyle. By providing you with the ability to apply for a credit card or loan, we are not guaranteeing that your application will be approved. Your application for credit products is subject to the Provider's terms and conditions as well as their application and lending criteria.