Here are the basics of buying your first flights of fancy

By Maan D’Asis Pamaran | Photos by Mike Dee

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They are currently the hottest toys for the big boys. We have to admit there’s a certain thrill of launching something in the air and being able to control what they do, a level up from those paper airplanes of our youth.

To get geeky about it, drones are defined as an unpiloted aircraft or spacecraft in aviation and in space. Another term for it is an “unmanned aerial vehicle” or UAV RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems). Technically, what we call drones in the toy store and hobby shops are quadcopters, a subset of the flying machine, which are always controlled remotely instead of being controlled by a pre-programmed, onboard computer. It uses four rotors each consisting of a motor and a propeller, and they balance themselves by the movement of the blades and not by the use of a tail rotor.

Some hobbyists buy them just as they would an RC car, for the thrill of being able to control something mechanical. They are also being increasingly used by amateur and professional photographers to get that perfect aerial shot.

For those who are looking into getting hooked, we asked photographer and drone enthusiast Mike Dee for his tips on buying your first drone. He starts off by advocating research. “For me, the first thing you should look at when buying a drone is the credibility of the brand. This is a piece of equipment that needs to be safe not only for the operator, but also for the people around you. Buying cheap drones just for the sake of having one and not practicing safety precautions might lead to a lot of problems. Read up on reviews!” he enthused.

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There are a lot of different models out there from beginner and advanced to pro. They are not all equal, he adds. “They mostly differ on the technical specs. They all fly the same way, but internally are all different.”

Price matters, too. He says that while beginners can spring for cheaper pieces, a good quality one would still set you back by P25,000 to P30,000. If that isn’t enough to make your jaw drop, professional ones cost around P70,000 to P100,000. That’s not the end of it, too. At the very least you’ll want to buy a couple of extra batteries, some spare propellers and prop guards, and maybe a quick charger so you won’t  have to wait for hours before another flight. A reliable supplier for all these would be Henry’s Professional, Dee says. “They carry most kinds of drones at a good price point. You can also buy them on online stores and on Facebook.”

While there are much cheaper versions that are on the shelves, he says that for safety issues and more hours of enjoyment, investing in a pricier set (purchases should include the drone, charger, and controller once you buy it), is the way to go. “I think they do perform better than the cheaper ones. The more expensive ones have better resolutions for both photo and video. They also have extra sensors that let your drones avoid collisions.”  Some are more stable than others, he advises, as some of the drones even fly away from the operator. Toy store varieties also have short battery lives, which can be a big downer (yes, we went there) especially if you are using them for photography purposes.

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Travel photography has become more breathtaking with the use of drones, but they come with a setback: They are not that easy to transport. “I think this would depend if you are willing to lug that extra load on your back, unless you have the DJI Mavic, which you can almost fit in your pocket,” Dee suggests.

He also recommends reading up on safety procedures and aerial etiquette, which can be found at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) website in Australia. “You always have to know the rules and regulations. Before you fly your drone, you should read up, check the internet, and know where the no-fly zones are located. Also, not all countries are drone-friendly so you’d better check their rules and regulations.” In the Philippines, he says you usually have to go to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to get a license. “But now as times are changing, there are amendments to the rules and if your drone is small enough, you don’t need to register them.”