Should I buy a drone now or wait for the next model?

There are endless online discussions regarding rumoured drone updates, across every drone-related Facebook group. Speculation is especially prolific re DJI drones, as 70-80% of consumer drones are the DJI brand.

What is a newcomer to the drone industry supposed to think? Buy now, only to find their new purchase is the old model just a few weeks later? Or wait for weeks or months and waste time?

  • Unlike some phone companies, DJI release products at unpredictable intervals and times of the year. Preceded by months or even a year or two of speculation and real and imagined ‘leaks’. However their consumer models are of course most likely to be released in Sept, Oct or Nov – in time for Christmas buyers. Much of what DJI does is determined by what suits the US market.
  • DJI is like Miele – rarely discounted. If a model is discounted, it has always meant that it is soon to be discontinued – and usually superseded. This is the time to grab a bargain, if you don’t mind owning an older model, with a shorter battery production life.
  • Summary: buy a drone today if you need it now. If you don’t, wait until you do need it! Sometimes the next model has features that would be of use to you, sometimes the new features aren’t relevant or of negligible value, and new models will of course cost more than old.

Steps to follow when buying a drone:

  1. Determine your budget maximum (it’s pointless considering models out of your price bracket)
  2. Decide on exactly what you want your drone to do for you. Remember that a multi-purpose tool is usually a compromise, compared to buying a specialty tool for each particular task. Figure out your pecking order of priorities. Only you can do this, everyone has different circumstances and abilities.
  3. Find the drone or drones with features that match your requirements. (If your budget is low, there may only be one model that suits, so it’s a quick & easy decision.)
  4. Avoid models that are brand new or that are significant re-designs of an earlier model (as distinct from less significant improvements). For example the Mavic 3, which is a major change from the Mavic 2 Pro that preceded it. Avoid it. Following previous DJI behaviour, the M3 may well be superseded by a greatly improved “M3s” within 12 months. The Mini and Mini 2, Air 2 & Air 2s, Mavic and Mavic 2 Pro are past examples of the second mentioned DJI model being far superior to the first.
  5. Avoid buying a new drone during July-November if the model has already been out for close to a year or more, as this is when it’s most likely to be replaced by a new model.

Despite claims to the contrary, once DJI refine a model they do usually keep it in production for at least 2 years, often 4. The first new model or major redesign is often upgraded within a year but then the kinks are usually ironed out and the improved model remains current for what is a long time in the tech world. The refined, second version is often called the same name but with ‘Pro’ or ‘s’ added. When buying, it’s vital to pay attention to these model name details as there can be significant differences between models.

Below is some production information on the most popular DJI drones, all of which are below 2kg except for the Inspire and Matrice models mentioned. This historical information explains a lot about DJI’s typical development and release habits:

Inspire 2 drone – Inspire 3 in 2022?

  • Available 2016 (November), only recently discontinued – presumably an Inspire 3 is finally on the way; it’s the most obviously deserving of an updated model.
  • The first Inspire was announced in November 2014 and despite early flaws was much loved-by film makers flying drones weighing more than 2kg, worldwide.

Phantom 4 V2 drone – we’d love a P5, but sadly, unlikely

  • Available May 2018 and still in production.
  • The first Phantom drone was produced in January 2013. It didn’t come with a camera attached, users could attach their own, such as a GoPro. The Phantom 2 was released later in 2013 and DJI produced a modular camera for it. The Phantom 3 followed and after a few P4 models the P4P V2 replaced the Phantom 4 Pro which became available in November 2016. (The original Phantom 4 became available in March 2016 so it was superseded after only 7-8 months).
  • Ideally DJI would create a Phantom 5 and revisit the Phantom 2’s ability to have a modular camera.
  • Images of the Phantom drone remain the most popular to be used by the media to illustrate drone stories, particularly earlier models with either the red or gold stripes. The Phantom has remained popular with drone user stalwarts due to several features not available in other sub 2kg models. For example: it is the most affordable drone with mapping ability (mechanical shutter instead of rolling), Atti mode is preferred by drone trainers, and the fixed legs make it by far the safest for handcatching (eg when flying from a boat). The glossy white Phantom drones are the most easily visible sub 2kg drones that DJI produce, also. This increases usability.
  • Phantom drones are bulkier than Mavics and other folding drones but the reality is that most people using commercial standard drones are driving their gear to the job site – they’re not backpacking or taking a train. Commercial operators typically transport more than one drone plus a stack of batteries and other gear so it’s a completely different market to the selfie-taking traveller who wants something light and unobtrusive for their pocket or handbag.
  • The Phantom 4 RTK is also still in production, since 2018 (October). Perhaps an upgraded model of this unique mapping drone will arrive in 2022.

Mavic 2 Pro drone. Will the Mavic 3 be updated with an M3s?

  • Announced in 2018 (August), the Mavic 2 Pro drone stayed in production until late 2021 when it was replaced by the Mavic 3. The original Mavic Pro drone was announced in September 2016. The original Mavic was greeted with great zeal by everyone who wanted the basic specs of a Phantom drone but who detested the bulk. (Many demand portability although they then stick their neatly folding drone into a bulky hard case. Go figure.)
  • DJI expanded their range of folding drones as a result of the market success of the original Mavic drone – the Air, Mini and Mavic Enterprise drones followed.
  • 2021 (October) the Mavic 3 became available but it has been plagued by user complaints re the over-simplified ‘Fly’ app, missing basic pilot and photographer features and glitches due to flaws associated with the major redesign. Some of these issues have been addressed via software updates but as at the time of writing, not all. A hardware change may be required to address all the Mavic 3 problems.

Mini 2 drone. Mini 3 rumoured but not yet needed

  • 2020 (November) the greatly improved Mini 2 was a huge improvement on the original, in terms of wind resistance and connectivity. Unfortunately the world’s oceans are littered with fly-away Mini drones. The original pocket-sized Mini was released in 2019 (October) and was greeted with enthusiasm, as a better featured replacement for the cheaper but discontinued Spark (released in May 2017).
  • A Mini 3 is strongly rumoured to be released in 2022, which would be good timing if they’re going to do it as post pandemic peak travel ramps up. However the Mini 2 is already a handy unit and I’d not have thought an update would really make good business sense until 2023 at least. DJI has at times produced too many models that compete with one another.

Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced thermal drone & the Matrice series

  • Announced in 2020 (December), the M2EA is a big jump up in price due to the vastly superior thermal camera, compared to the original Mavic Enterprise Dual model (announced in Oct 2018). For infrastructure inspections, the greater detail is well worth the extra cost.
  • Something lacking from online drone discussions is how much zippier the M2EA drone is compared to the M2P. They look identical apart from the thermal lens and orange leg bands on the Enterprise drone but the improved thermal drone is a much improved beast.
  • 2022 (March) the Matrice 30T (thermal) was released. Many feature similarities with the M2EA but with some extras plus superior wind, water and extreme temperature resistance, longer flight time and more heavy duty. But as for other Matrice drones, a much higher purchase and running cost and high capacity batteries that aren’t airline friendly. The M30/30T are much larger and heavier drones than the Mavic and Phantom Enterprise drones but this new model is much smaller/more portable than earlier Matrice models. Matrice drones aren’t discussed in detail here as they’re for full time, high-value drone tasks that are sophisticated in nature; either by owner-operator service providers involved in mapping or inspections, or employees of large companies (eg mining) or government departments (eg emergency services). Weighing more than 2kg, most operators of these heavier drones also need to to be trained and licenced – have a RePL and fly under a ReOC (their own or someone else’s.)
  • DJI has at times neglected the owners of these more expensive enterprise drones, re slow software updates and glitch sorting; despite the fact that these workhorse drones are far more expensive (starting at double the price of common consumer drones, up to 10x the price, or more).

Air 2s drone

  • 2021 (April), still in production and seems unlikely to be changed for quite a while. The 2s replaced the Air 2 released just 12 months earlier. The original Mavic Air was released in January 2018 but the two later models have some significant changes for the better although changing to the gunmetal grey of other Mavic drones, rather than the glossy body choice of the original Air, was a disappointment. This is not just about looks, distinctive colours and a light-reflective surface greatly improves visibility and thus functionality. Due to a combination of features/ability, size and price the Air 2s has become the most popular consumer drone on the market, at the time of writing (March 2022).

Please note: This drone buying summary was first written in March 2022.  The above information is kept as current as possible but drone specs and federal laws governing drone operation change frequently.  CASA’s website should be checked for current licencing and operating laws before flying or purchasing a drone.  If you are on my mailing list as a book buyer, or have attended one of my drone workshops, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any specific queries.

Drone courses & workshops:

I run drone courses and workshops around Australia. When dates and details are confirmed, they are listed on the Next Events page.

If you found this post useful, you’ll really enjoy the drone workshops.  If you’d like to be notified if a drone training session is held in your area, send me a message.

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!
  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. Buy a drone now, or wait for the next model? Information on previous drone model releases. (Information on this page.)
  9. 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.

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