Are drones a waste of money? 15 little-known reasons they could…

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When looking to purchase a drone it can be easy to get swept up in the excitement of a new purchase. Particularly if you have been saving up for a new gadget for a while! The fact of the matter is that drones are not for everyone. There’s a huge range of drones which means that there’s a type of drone to suit nearly everyone’s budget and requirement but sometimes people do not make the right choice – leading to their drone becoming a waste of money. Let’s take a look at the reasons why you risk making your drone purchase a waste of money…

You risk making your drone purchase a waste of money if you haven’t considered these 15 points of drone ownership:

  1. You don’t think about WHY you want a drone
  2. You do not have time to fly
  3. Your countries laws are restrictive
  4. You buy a drone outside of your budget
  5. You buy a drone that doesn’t have the features you want!
  6. You only want one because you think it is cool technology
  7. Learning quickly puts you off
  8. You don’t have a good smartphone
  9. You need accessories but don’t budget for them
  10. You don’t want to learn to edit photos or footage
  11. You don’t follow the laws and regulations
  12. You don’t want to have a couple of awkward interactions
  13. You aren’t good at maintenance
  14. You have nowhere for the footage or photos to go
  15. You are buying a drone due to performance at the edge of its official specs

I remember when I was looking at purchasing a new drone. The though process would have landed me with a drone that would have been a complete waste of my money! Let me tell you why…

At the time I was recording a daily LinkedIn vlog to track my progress as a business owner and, ultimately, to raise awareness of my services. Everything was going really well and I loved making the daily video. Some of my best videos got over 18,000 views – towards the golden age of video for LinkedIn I’d regularly have 2,000 views on my vlog. After about a year I wanted a drone to make my videos and vlogs more dynamic. After a load of research I found that the DJI Mavic air was the best for my use case (note that it was MY use case – not what a blogger told me to buy) – you can read about my purchase here.

However, there was something pulling me to a much more expensive product…the DJI Mavic Pro. The issue was that my brain wanted the “better” product. Maybe it was the fancy advertising, maybe it was the consumer in me…I don;t know. But I came close to buying a drone that would have been a complete waste of my money!

I managed to fight the urge and found a great secondhand DJI Mavic Air. I’ve really loved the drone and it did exactly what I needed it to do. These are the most important 15 points that I think you should consider before buying a drone…the plan here is to help you escape buyers remorse!

1. You don’t think about WHY you want a drone

Every drone purchase is different – even when someone is buying a second drone. A drone is a tool to achieve an outcome. The question you need to ask yourself is – what is the outcome (or value) that a drone provides me.

Imagine you are a photographer that want’s to offer drone shots and footage to your clients. Your outcome is a take shots that clients would pay for. That is now a very different drone than “I want to take photos” – nearly every drone can take some form of footage. In this case a DJI Mavic Air may not give the quality of photos that you need to sell to clients.

So, you’ll need to list some of the important reasons that you are buying a drone (the non-negotiables) and some of the features that are good to have. Some examples from my use care are: must be easy to carry every day, record in HD. Nice to have – affordable extra battery, carry case, controller.

Make a list and stick with it – avoid emotional purchases at all costs!

2. You do not have time to fly

There’s no doubt in my mind that a drone is only worth it if you are willing to actually fly it!

Unless you can fly at your house (which I can’t, unfortunately) and have an awesome backyard – flying your drone will involve going out somewhere to fly it. For me, a 20-minute ride to a beach is the best place for me. But for some of you, that may not be possible. Factor in the amount of time it will take you to get to the place where you will fly the drone, setting it up, flying it, pack down, and then the journey home. I like to use the drone as an excuse to go somewhere new and interesting on the weekends.

Can you incorporate flying a drone in to a hobby or activity that you regulatory do – like bush walking or off-rad driving. Using a drone to capture something you are already doing is a brilliant way to make sure you will use your drone.

Be wary if you are buying your drone as a launchpad into a new hobby. If you want to take up photography for example – there are cheaper and more time-efficient ways to do so. Just take the time to think about if you have the time to fly the drone as much as you’d want to.

3. Your countries laws are restrictive

For some of you reading this article, you may not even be able to fly your drone in the places that you actually want to.

As drones become commonplace more countries are taking the steps to create laws to protect the public. Laws typically include:

  • Being a certain distance from people and cars (30 m in Australia)
  • Flying under a certain height (200 m in Australia at the time of writing)
  • Staying clear of airports
  • Staying away from national parks
  • Not flying above people
  • Not taking photographs of people without their permission
  • Paying attention to no-fly zones
  • Doing training or flying lessons
  • Obtaining permits for certain drone activities.

There is a load of different regulations that a country can choose to create laws around. One of the most annoying aspects is all of these laws and regulations can change at any time without warning. Similar laws and regulations are popping up around the world – so make sure that you understand your obligations before you buy a drone.

4. You buy a drone outside of your budget

There’s no doubt that drones can be an expensive gadget to buy. Drones can get pretty expensive and you shouldn’t put yourself under any financial strain for the sake of a new gadget – no matter how cool it is!

Related post: Why are drones so expensive?

There are plenty of hobbies that don’t immediately require the outlay of a load of cash or assets. When you first get a drone it is a very exciting bit of kit but the novelty can very quickly wear off. That novelty can wear off in a much more sinister way if then you have put yourself in a precarious financial situation for it.

Check out my list of beginner drones and you’ll see that you don’t need to break the bank to afford this new hobby. You can also pick up second-hand drones – I did and I do not regret it! There are also some companies that rent out drones. You could see how well you like the experience and try out a couple of models before you launch into a purchase. It may just be the thing that you need to stop yourself spending those hard-earned dollars!

5. You buy a drone that doesn’t have the features you want

The drone ecosystem is massive and forever growing! Drones come in all shapes and sizes with different feature sets. Camera, gimbals, motors, size, portability – all different on different drones!

Perhaps you want a simple semi-automated drone shot – look for features in the software that run the drone too! There re plenty of walkthrough videos on YouTube. It’ll make sure you are happy with the control system as well. This is one of the most important aspects of piloting a drone. Then the drone is away in the distance the only thing you can see is the controller and app – dues it do the stuff you want it to?

The common features that you should look for and work out if they are important for your use case are:

  • The camera (resolution, video quality at low frame rates etc.)
  • The flight time
  • The cost of new propellers
  • Accessories that you’ll need for your use (ND filters, goggles)
  • Gimbal reach and range
  • Weight of drone (will you need to be registered?)
  • Type of controller and app used to control the drone

The level of importance that each of these has for your use case is up to you!

6. You only want one because you think it is cool technology

Ask your self if you are buying a drone to show off to your friends or because it’s a cool new tech.

Like most things after the initial purchase, the coolness of an object can quickly wear off. After all, the drone is a collection of expensive parts that looks cool but that’s all it really is. A collection of electronics, metal and plastic. What will make your drone absolutely worth the money is how you will use it!

Don’t just buy it because you think having a drone is cool!

7. Learning quickly puts you off things

If you are a beginner drone flyer then you will have a lot of learning to do. For some people the act of learning all the ins and outs of learning to fly a drone can be too much. A drone will not be worth the money if you do not enjoy learning new things.

The new commercial drones are such a pleasure to fly. They have GPS sensors that keep them in one spot. They have object avoidance. They have automatic cool drone shots that are perfect for social media. You’ll just have to learn what to do when things go wrong with each of them. An airline pilot of mine said “flying a plane is extreme boredom highlighted with a moment of extreme terror”. In other words, drones that fly themselves are great until something goes wrong.

Learning is all part of the fun and if it something that puts you off flying – the drone will not be worth the money.

8. You don’t have a “good” smartphone

Most commercial photography drones require you to use a smartphone or tablet to act as the controller interface. This means that you need to download an app. Most of the time the app developers assume that your phone is less than three years old and can run modern (resource intensive) apps easily.

Double check that you have a modern phone that can handle the requirements of the drone app. The last thing you need is to buy an expensive drone and them realize you need to spend an extra $300 to $1,000 on a smart device just to fly it. Buying a drone certainly will not be worth it if you need to buy another item that is just as expensive!

9. You need accessories but don’t budget for them

Buying a drone may be only the first thing that you need. For most users and purchasers of drones, you’ll not have to go too crazy with the accessories for the drone. But you may need a heap. Here are some common drone accessories:

  • A landing pad for sandy or dusty places
  • Cables
  • Bags, cases, and backpacks
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra SD cards
  • Safety vests and signs
  • Goggles and headsets
  • Alternative controllers
  • Safety bag for batteries
  • Drone range extender

A drone can quickly become a massive purchase if you allow yourself to be sucked into buying loads of accessories! Take a moment to work out which ones are important for you and budget that in to your purchase!

10. You don’t want to learn to edit photos or footage

Collecting loads of awesome footage is only half of the story when it comes to drone photos and footage. Check out my other article for the best editing software: Drone photography editing software – 7 FREE and PAID options.

This editing comes with its own huge learning curve. There re plenty of great online resources and loads of free options for editing your photos and video. But you’ll still have to lean a little bit about what makes drone footage look awesome. If this sounds like something that you don’t want to do – you could look into drone racing as there is no video component that you need to worry about – you can just focus on the flying aspect.

11. You don’t follow the laws and regulations

Nothing will make or drone experience more expensive than a massive fine! Buying a drone comes with the responsibility of flying that drone within local regulations. If you take your drone on holiday, you are responsible for obeying the laws of that country. No two countries are the same.

Your drone flying will not be worth the money if you cannot abide by the rules and end up with a massive fine. The current fines can be approximately $10,500 and include possible jail time!

You have been warned!

12. You don’t want to have a couple of awkward interactions

There are some people that just don’t like drones flying in their area. I get it. For people, without a drone, it can feel like an invasion of privacy. After all, you can peer into their property with ease, I’ve also had a couple of people approach me and tell me that I’m not allowed to fly in a particular area. Most of the time I just apologize and land as quickly as possible – I don’t want to give myself or other drone flyers a bad name.

This is the reality of flying a drone – some people just don’t like it – and will tell you about how much they don’t like it.

It can be awkward but being humble is way better than being in an argument. If you feel like these sorts of interactions will put you off flying your drone, and it’ll be hard to avoid flying near people, then maybe buying a drone won’t be worth it.

13. You aren’t good at maintenance

These are the things I’ve had to do to my drone in one year of ownership:

  • Replace some of the propellers
  • Clear dust of the gimbal
  • Clean bee parts off of the body with a cotton bud
  • Blow dust out of the motors
  • Clean the remote
  • Charge up the remote and batteies after every flight.

Drone do require a bit of upkeep to keep them flying safely. There isn’t much you have to do do but regular maintenance can still be a bit of a pain.

14. You have nowhere for the footage or photos to go

One of the most important motivators of using a drone is having a place for the images and photographs to go. I used my drone every day for six months because it formed an interesting part of my daily vlog.

Now. It doesn’t matter if that place is on the wall of your own house or if you only show it to a few friends. The drone is a tool for you to collect interesting and amazing pictures and video. A way to provide a unique perspective on the world. Use a drone to create art and show it to the world.

I can’t think of a better motivation to use a drone and make it 100 percent worth the money!

15. You are buying a drone due to performance at the edge of its official specs

If you are buying a drone you’ve almost certainly looked at the best on the market and you’ve sent hours pouring over the specs of each – or is that just me?

I’ve read blogs, opinions, reviews, and everything related to that drone – but the spec documents are what I have used to compare between drones. The problem with the spec documents is that a lot of the numbers are quoted in “ideal conditions”. These can be pretty misleading as flight times are often quoted with no wind or movement – just a hover. Now, there has never been a flight where I have just hovered for 30 minutes in ideal conditions.

I can’t blame the manufacturers for quoting these numbers – they are in an arms race of features and performance with other manufacturers. However, if you are looking at drones and you find that what you want (like flight times) are on the edge of the specs…think again. Buy a drone that can comfortably deal with a capability you want i.e. it’s in the middle of its specs.

Final word

Are Drones a waste of money? Well, there are plenty of reasons why a drone could be come a waste of money. They tend to be pretty expensive and can easily be a burden if you don;t select the right drone for you. Take a moment to address these 15 points and you should be in a good position when it somes to buying your drone!

Let’s avoid buyer remorse at all costs – even if that means not buying a drone, right?

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a Drone pilot, Writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV (ABC Documentary) and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones.