Are small drones harder to fly than large ones?

The drone market is full of many different types of drones. There is a drone to suit every budget and capability. There is so much choice, in fact, that sometimes it can be overwhelming to try to decide which one is best for you. The first biggest difference between a ride range of consumer drones is their size.

The size of a drone directly impacts its stability, flight time, and the number of sensors and automation features. A small drone can be packed full of advanced flying software to help you fly safely. However, cheap drones are very hard to fly as they have no sensors or stability features.

The size of the drone dictates how much technology it can fit into the body of the drone. With a larger drone, you can squeeze in many automated flight features and hardware such as a GPS, barometer, compass, and a whole range of sensors which could help the drone avoid collisions by providing a 360° view of its surroundings.

As technology improves, electronics are becoming smaller and smaller, allowing manufacturers to cram many things into a highly portable drone.

There is a distinction to be made between small drones and simple drones.

Cheap small drones are much harder to fly

Not all small drones are simple (contain no advanced positioning hardware), but many simple drones are small.

Simple vs small

The cheaper the drone, the less likely it will contain hardware to make it easier to fly. A drone that you can purchase for under $100 is going to be very hard to control. If you take your hands off the remote control with a drone at this price point, the drone will crash. That is because the drone relies on you to keep it steady, stable, and level.

The moment you take your hands away from the remote control joysticks, the drone will become a victim of any air currents and environmental wind.

Drones produce a lot of turbulence while flying, and without active and continuous monitoring of the drone, it can easily fall out of the sky.

As you start paying more for your drone, you can expect more technology to fly safely. A mid-level consumer drone contains much of the hardware of the much more expensive versions. These features include:

  • GPS sensors
  • electronic compass
  • automated flight features
  • auto-hover
  • auto altitude hold
  • sensors for the bottom, sides and top of the drone
  • and more

As these components become smaller and more affordable, they are making their way into many small drones. DJI is a manufacturer that seems to be leading the way to miniaturising these components and picking them into a small factor.

Including all of the fancy technology means that not all small drones are simple, and small drones are getting smarter every year. I believe that modern small drones offer a fantastic starting point for many new drone pilots mainly because they are inexpensive and easy to carry with you on your adventures.

However, there are some considerations you need to make before deciding on how smart, small, or large your drone should be.

Reasons small drones harder to fly

There are several reasons why small drones are harder to fly than much bigger drones. Some of the considerations you cannot get around because of the stability provided by the larger form factor of bigger drones, whilst others are completely manageable and can be overcome with little practice and planning.

1. Smaller battery life

The smaller the drone, the smaller the battery which can be carried. The small battery is partly because of the small form factor of the drone and the power of the motors that a small drone uses.

Small motors cannot provide as much a lift to a drone and there is a fine balancing act between the size of the motors (with larger motors requiring more power) and the amount of energy stored in a battery that the motors can carry.

With a smaller drone, your flight times are going to be much shorter. Most of the time, I can get what I want to be done in about 20 minutes – this is a good amount of time for a small drone. If your proposed flight missions need to be much longer, you should choose a drone with a much bigger battery and overall size.

2. Less stability

A smaller drone has less stability while flying. The lower stability is because the drone has a much smaller diagonal cross-section.

The four motors are always performing an intricate balance to keep the drone stable and in one position. If you want to know how a drone changes direction and all of the things it does to move around in 3D space, check out my other article – click here.

How does a drone change direction

Because the drone motors are closer to each other, there is less of a lever effect on the drone’s frame from each motor. The smaller distance means that the motors have to work harder to move the drone through the air, and the smaller size means they provide less stability than bigger motors.

3. Less wind resistance

Smaller drones tend to be affected by the wind much more than larger drones. The smaller the drone, the lighter it is.

Small drones are kept light because their batteries are much smaller, and the motors are less powerful. Manufacturers have been able to reduce the weight of various drones by using light polymer composite is and metallic alloys creating less dense frames.

Anything above a force seven wind which is approximately 17 to 20 m/s (38 – 45 mph), is far too high to be flying a drone. As a rule of thumb, for commercially available drones such as the DJI Mavic series and the phantom series, you shouldn’t fly in winds greater than two-thirds of the maximum flight speed of your model of drone.

Smaller drones have a slower top speed and, therefore, less wind resistance.

4. Fewer sensors

The small form factor of small drones means that there has to be a compromise on what gets included inside the drone’s body.

Space is at a premium in the small but smart drones, and incorporating sensors is less of a priority than including some automated flight features and hardware.

Including optical sensors takes up a lot of space in the extremities of the drone body. The drone manufacturers often decide to remove some of the less crucial sensors and replace them with other more crucial components.

5. Less automation

Toy drones do not have any of the automated flight features. As the drone gets more expensive, the manufacturers can include more and more automated flight features. This fact is because the hardware to keep a drone safely in the air is relatively expensive.

Even the smallest of drones can fly autonomously through waypoints and the pre-determined path because they include a GPS unit and electronic compass.

Once a drone has these fundamental components, it can also take shots like Dronies (a drone selfie), Rocket and boomerang shots.  Even the smallest of DJI drones can now collect some impressive footage and photographs at the click of a button.

6. Hard to see at a distance

Another important aspect of flying a drone is that you need to maintain a direct line of sight at all times.

The smaller the drone, the harder it is to watch it against the right backgrounds and long distances. My DJI Mavic air gets very difficult to see at a distance of approximately 300 m. A smaller drone such as the DJI Mavic mini 2 would be much harder to see.

There are many ways to increase the visibility of your drone, and I go through the eight ways in my other article – click here to find out how you can make your small drone much more visible.

How can I make my drone more visible? [8 PROVEN WAYS]

7. Camera gimble is less advanced

If you want to purchase a small drone for capturing videos and footage, the camera and Gimble will likely be less advanced than a much larger drone.

The camera technology available in many smaller drones will be much smaller and have fewer pixels and colour depth. A less capable Gimble will also accompany the less advanced camera.

A Gimble is very important in determining the stability of your shots and can reduce motion blur and any judder video effects commonly seen in drone footage. A small drone is likely to contain a two-axis Gimble rather than a three-axis Gimble required for very smooth cinematic footage.

To understand the difference between a two-axis Gimble and a three axis Gimble, check out my other article where I go through everything you need to know.

2 axis vs 3 axis gimbal

Are small drones good?

All of these downsides may make you think that small drones are not any good. That is completely the opposite of my experience as long as you are selective about the sort of small drone that you buy.

I will happily pay a premium for a drone that has all of the capabilities of a much larger drone in a small and portable form factor. Drones with foldable arms make travel drone blogging much more accessible.

Small smart drones

As long as you are purchasing a small and smart drone, there is no need to upgrade unless you want a better camera or to be able to fly for longer in stronger winds. Be particularly careful about the small drone you buy, and make sure that you have all the features and capabilities you want.

As technology improves, you’ll be able to find more of the advanced features in smaller and smaller drones.

Downsides of bigger drones

if you are tempted to buy a bigger drone, you have to consider the extra weight and size and how that will affect how you use your drone. I recently wrote an article on how a drone gets boring over time. One of the biggest factors in determining if a drone gets boring is its ability to be carried spontaneously on your adventures.

Does a drone get boring? [Insider secrets to keep it fun]

Harder to store and transport

Carrying a drone with you at all times during an outing can get a bit cumbersome. I used to take my drone everywhere with me in a backpack. The drone, controller, spare batteries and propellers fit nicely into my everyday carry.

Now that I do not use my drone as often, carrying it with me becomes more of a burden, and I am less likely to do it.

Therefore, because I do not have my drone available, I do not take as much drone footage or photos.

My current drone interests lie around capturing holidays and other bigger trips. Carrying it with me at all times is boring and less appealing than it used to be.

Heavy

I used to carry my drone in a backpack at all times. The easy portability allowed me to be very spontaneous when I would fly my drone.

Larger drones need much more logistical consideration than smaller drones. I can assure you that the amount you fly your drone will directly correlate with how much hassle it is to transport, carry, set up, and fit in your daily carry kit.

Much more expensive

Bigger drones get very expensive very quickly. The extra expense is because of the increased number of hardware features they can fit into a larger form factor and the extra material required to make the drone more sturdy.

A larger drone will land much heavier in the smallest of crashes than a small drone. So, when you crash a larger drone, it is more expensive and more damaging.

Are small drones harder to fly than large ones? Summary

Smaller drones can be harder to fly if they do not include advanced smart hardware to fly autonomously. In this article, we have gone over all of the reasons smaller drones are harder to fly than larger drones.

I love smaller drones because they often pack some of the features of a larger drone into a much smaller form factor. The drawbacks of a small drone are often not as large for hobby drone flyers and enthusiasts.

Professionals and service providers will likely find the limitations of a small drone frustrating and will therefore want to purchase a much larger drone with higher stability, capability, and camera stabilisation features.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. Andy started droneflyingpro.com to share his love and the research of all things drone! He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drone. His favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!