What is the best drone for beginners?

I’m often asked two slightly different questions by drone buyers:

  1. What is the best drone for beginners to learn to fly?
  2. What is the best drone for a particular purpose? (Commercial or recreational  – eg common farming uses, mapping, photography or travel recording.)
  • If you want to upgrade or buy just one drone to suit a specific task, then read the very detailed What is the best drone to buy blog post.
  • If you simply want to know what is the best beginner drone for an adult to learn to fly outdoors with, then this blog post spells it all out.

Vital points to consider when buying your first drone:

  • You generally get what you pay for. What is your budget?
  • Whenever I’m asked ‘what is the best drone to learn to fly with’, it suggests some confidence-building is in order.  You need to know that drones are not cars. Smaller does not = easier to fly.
  • What is best to learn on may or may not be the best for your end purpose. Only you can decide what is best for you.  Many drone owners begin with a smaller, cheaper drone and quickly decide to upgrade, and this wastes time and money. Only you know whether this is a critical consideration for you.

Here’s the summary: all things being equal, the best drone model for adults to learn to fly on – to build confidence and skills: DJI’s Phantom 4 drones.  The Phantom 4 Pro V 2 is the latest DJI Phantom model used for photography purposes.

  • And the best thing? The Phantom 4 Pro V2 is also a drone that is used by professional photographers, so you’re not likely to feel the need to upgrade unless you want to spend thousands of dollars more on a >2kg drone.
  • DJI stopped making the consumer-level Phantom drone models in 2019 but started selling the Phantom 4 Pro V2 again in early 2020. There’s also many for sale secondhand, or refurbished.  Details of why Phantom 4s are the best beginner drones, are explained below.

Some other points to consider when buying your first drone:

  • If you buy well and look after your purchase, you can resell secondhand drones for a similar price within a few months.  But care needs to be taken when purchasing (I run through buying secondhand, during drone workshops)
  • Unless you need a back-up drone for work purposes (as I do), or you spend a much larger than usual time flying, I don’t recommend owning more than one drone at a time. Primarily because battery maintenance is tedious, particularly if you have a large number of batteries. Also because drones are relatively new tech they depreciate relatively rapidly.
  • Online, many people are recommending brand new Mavic Pro drones to beginners. Often they’ve only owned one drone – a Mavic. That’s like someone recommending a VW Beetle when all they’ve ever driven is a VW Beetle.  A one-model-only owner is not the best person to ask to ask for advice because they have no comparison experience.

The DJI Phantom’s higher undercarriage helps protect it when landing on the ground, and longer legs enable catch-landing, with care. Catch-landing safely is one of the technical skills that is covered in hands-on drone training sessions. (Image thanks to Townsville photographer Cheryl Robertson.)

Why DJI’s Phantom 4 drones are still the best drones for pilots to learn to fly on (explained mainly in comparison with Mavic 2 Pro drones):

  • Atti mode – in this optional mode the drone is flown without using GPS, so it drifts with the breeze. This is the best mode for pilots to practice their real flying skills so they know exactly how to fly the drone if it loses GPS signal.  For this reason Phantoms are still used by many drone trainers. (‘Atti’ is short for ‘attitude’.)  Atti mode isn’t available on Mavic 2 drones except via a non-manufacturer specified work-around – that would void warranty and insurance coverage (& it’s not simple either).
  • Solid legs and good undercarriage clearance – so the camera and gimbal are much less likely to be damaged in a bumpy landing or on uneven ground. The long legs also allow catch-landing, a handy skill for pilots to practice (though using the right technique is essential, to avoid injury). Catch-landing Phantoms can be done safely. People do catch-land Mavic drones but it cannot be considered safe and there are many images online of pilots who have cut their hands or arms.
  • Less fiddling. There’s no folding & unfolding of legs required (nor a need to continually remove & refit props, if you use a good hard case), the screen connection cord is quick to fit as it’s a standard USB cord (the MP cord connection is very fiddly & prone to wear/breakage), and the SD card is very quick and easy to remove (unlike Mavic drones). If you have big hands, it’s likely that you’ll find Mavic drones hard to love.
  • Still images and videos from the Phantom 4 Pro are the same quality as the Mavic 2 Pro (many people have done comparative tests).

And a number of features that really help to build drone pilot confidence:

  • Most tablets fit straight into the standard Phantom screen holder on the controller, without the need to purchase an add-on device to hold a larger screen (as for Mavics & smaller drones). Screens are hard to read in bright outdoor light but a larger size helps, thus assisting beginner drone pilots keep an eye on vital information such as battery charge levels.  It’s also much easier to tap instructions into larger touch screens accurately, particularly if the drone pilot has large fingers.
  • Phantoms handle strong winds and wind gusts better than smaller drones and the steadiness of the GPS hover builds user confidence.
  • Phantom controllers hold their charge much better than Mavic 2 Pro controllers. The latter also drains even more quickly by recharging Android phones far too vigorously and this feature cannot be turned off. This is a flaw that DJI will hopefully fix with a future firmware update; the best work-around is to buy a tablet holder and connect the tablet to the controller via a USB cord (but this means more expense, more gear to carry and more fiddling about).
  • Larger drones are easier to see; another confidence-building feature, as new pilots get used to constantly swapping between viewing the screen and looking up at the drone.
  • Phantom 4s and Mavic 2 Pros have a more reliable drone-to-controller signal transmission system than smaller drones – which helps reduce ‘lost transmission’ scares. Which although all pilots need to learn how to deal with operational glitches, too much too early just puts some people completely off flying.

Downloading images from the Mavic Pro 2 is tedious via a USB cord, but arguably less tedious than having to prise out the SD card each time as it requires very solid fingernails. The SD card on the Phantom drones is spring-loaded & easily removed in a second. Connecting to a computer, removing props and the gimbal guard and starting it up is also the only way to access the inbuilt data storage.

A note on smaller drones:

  • Very small drones don’t use GPS at all. This actually makes them great for kids to learn to fly on because they learn better hands-on flight skills. But small drones are not usable outdoors in anything other than a very slight breeze as they don’t have enough grunt – lower powered motors, less accurate navigational system (VPS not GPS) & weaker drone-to-controller signal (WIFI).
  • Small drones are great for indoor drone flight practice with prop guards fitted, if in a region where there’s often rain or strong wind; and/or a high population density or if living in a no fly zone (NFZ).  This also makes it much easier for parents to supervise.
  • Buying a small drone to start with then upgrading is an option many people take, but it means you’ve spent more overall. And sometimes the difficulty of flying tiny drones erodes confidence rather than builds it. If unsure whether you’ll like drone flying, I recommend flying with a friend or attending training before heading off to purchase a drone. Flying a tiny, cheap drone isn’t necessarily a good representation of what flying a larger drone is like.

Smaller drones such as the Tello are much easier to fly with a game controller, rather than swiping fingers across a phone screen.

If portability is a primary concern then obviously a smaller drone should be considered. But as explained above, the aim of this blog post is simply to explain what is the best drone to learn to fly on – in isolation, IE without considering a myriad of other factors, such as job requirements, portability or budget.

Ultimately it all boils down to personal preference and despite all the questions, many people ultimately choose to follow the advice of a friend who has only ever flown one kind of drone, follow the crowd, spend as little as possible or fall for the marketing department’s hype and just buy the latest model in the news. Buying what a friend has is not always just due to the strength of hearing a personal recommendation, but also because they then have someone they trust to seek problem-solving advice from. The flaw in this reasoning? It’s common for drone pilots to experience unique issues, that can only be solved by persistent solution-seeking or the advice of the masses in drone Facebook groups. As explained above, there are sound reasons why it’s a good idea to remain open minded regarding what you purchase. Right now, the Phantom 4 drones remain a better drone to learn to fly on, but Mavics are the most commonly recommended.

I’ve owned a number of drones, including a Parrot Mambo & Anafi, DJI (Ryze) Tello, Air, Mavic 2 Pro and Phantoms 4, 4 Pro & 4 Pro Version 2. So, I’m well placed to compare features between these drones.  Very few drone sales staff drones actually fly drones themselves and based on experience, they’re the last people to ask for objective information!  They’ll either sell you the most expensive drone they think you’ll go for, or what they sell most of, or what their friends have.

Drone information blog posts

  • I’ve written a number of posts containing information I wish I could have found at the outset. The drone topics below are either not covered by anyone else at all, incompletely or inaccurately.
  • All the information in these posts is included in Rural Drone Academy training, to some degree, but with the addition of many other useful topics, entertaining examples, participant Q & A’s and networking.
  1. Rural Drone Academy workshops & training – want to lift your flying up to another level, solve some drone issues, or you need a hand to gets started? These workshops are useful for all skill levels, ages and backgrounds.
  2. Next workshops plus previous events – upcoming events you can attend. Previous events are also listed, which will give you an idea of the regions covered, themes and the diversity organisations hosting them.
  3. Comments from participants – forthright opinions from people who have attended drone sessions held in four states.
  4. The principles of drone safety & laws – essential reading for every drone pilot. Accompanied by impressive ‘fail’ stories, during Rural Drone Academy training.
  5. How to set up a drone business – how to steam ahead – use time, energy & money to maximum effect – and avoid pitfalls. Included in drone workshops in detail, if applicable to participant interests.
  6. What is the best drone to buy for a beginner?  Objective information to help you decide. The internet is full of drones that have hardly been flown because they didn’t suit the buyer’s purpose. Don’t join them! (Information on this page.)
  7. What is the best drone to buy? Comprehensive information on the most common consumer models to help drone pilots upgrading or seeking a drone for a specific task.
  8. Is a Crystal Sky screen worth buying?  The pros and cons compared to using phones and tablets as screens, from an objective point of view.

If you are interested in attending Rural Drone Academy training don’t hesitate to contact me by email or ring the business-hours phone number listed below.

PLEASE NOTE: As applies to the rest of this website – the content on this page is protected by copyright.  This post was originally written in 2019 and last updated June 2020.

Tags: , ,