Is it cheaper to build or buy a drone?

If you are in the market for a first-person view or FPV drone it can be tempting to consider building a drone yourself. Perhaps you are handy with the soldering iron and you are good with electronics or maybe you are a beginner that is willing to learn a load of new skills to build the drone of your dreams. Unfortunately, a lot of these questions come down to economics. Is it cheaper to build or buy a drone? In this article we are going to focus on first-person view drones and if it is cheaper to build or buy one.

Generally, it is cheaper to buy a drone rather than making one. If you want to have the experience of building a drone you can purchase drone building kits online rather than sourcing the components individually.

This is because when you are buying a drone the manufacturer is able to buy all of the components in a greater number. The economy of scale means that each component is cheaper for the manufacturer which results in a overall cheaper drone for the consumer.

Check out my YouTube video for a quick run down:

Buy a drone building kit

But of course, people want to build a drone because of the skills that it imparts. They also enjoy the building and tinkering aspect of building a drone. In this case you can by a kit. Kits are really awesome for people who do not have the knowledge of which parts are compatible with other parts and just want to get into the nitty-gritty of building a drone.

The best drone building kits include:

Hobbypower DIY F550 Hexacopter Kit

  • This action is a DIY F550 Hexacopter kit, it is unassembled.
  • Come with high quality electronic accessories, only need a 3S Lipo battery and a 6CH above radio system to complete.
  • This F550 quadcopter is a very popular machine, it has a strong rack.This F550 quadcopter is a very popular machine, it has a strong rack, beautiful appearance, and a stable system for smooth flight, it is very good for fly and FPV
  • Please be note this kit does not include remote control and battery

QWinOut DIY FPV Drone Quadcopter 4-axle Aircraft Kit

  • HJ 450 Multicopter 450F nylon Fiber Frame Airframe kit Strong Smooth RC KK MK MWC DIY Quadcopter plane
  • 30A Brushless ESC Speed Controller For RC Quadcopter Hexacopter
  • Flysky FS-i6 6CH 2.4G AFHDS 2A LCD Screen Transmitter iA6 Receiver Mode 2/1 Radio Remote Control System for RC Heli Glider Quadcopter MultiRotor
  • Before Producing, The Manufacturer Have Set Up The Program, The Esc Do Not Need Additional Program.
  • This ESC Do Not Have The English Instruction

Building a drone kit isn’t for everyone and some people love the challenge of finding drone components and building it themselves. Another option is to buy a drone kit and then later upgrade the components to aftermarket components. You can find the additional components on the Internet and they can make your drone faster, more interesting to fly, and better quality.

For people that want to build a complete drone themselves here are the components that you will need to build a drone yourself.

What do you need to build a drone?

Deciding what parts you need to build a drone can be some of the most time-consuming parts of a DIY drone build. Each build is can vary from person to person but all drones essentially contain the same parts. Here are the components that you will need to consider for your drone.

The drone frame (up to $100)

the drone frame is the bit of kit that holds everything together. It’s where you mount all of your parts and is a crucial part of building a drone. They are normally made from a lightweight material such as carbon fibre and can be assembled with various mounting hardware that electronic enthusiasts will be very familiar with.

The most important thing to take note of and double check is that all of your components will fit on the body of the drone frame and that there is enough space to run wires between the components.

Power distribution board ($10)

the power distribution board takes the battery voltage and provides a pathway to connect up all of the other electronic components on your drone. This will regulate power to the different components. Without this nothing would happen.

Flight controller ($30)

the flight controller is the brain of your drone and it takes into account all of the variables to keep your drone in a stable flying condition. Flight controllers are normally built to be compatible with some hardware such as Betaflight -so choose yours based on your favourite software.

Video transmitter ($25)

the video transmitter takes the signal from your camera (if you have installed one) and sends it out through your antenna. You have to make sure that the signal quality is good enough for your requirements.

Video antennas ($20)

Video antennas is the best way to improve your video range and clarity of the image. Typically, first person drone pilots use two antennas: one to receive the video and one to send out the video.

Brushless motors ($35)

The motors are what spin around at a high number of revolutions per minute and provide the thrust for your drone. When choosing a drone brushless motor you must take into account the motor size, the thrust, the different propellers you can use with it, and the current draw.

Electronic speed controller ($30)

The electronic speed controller (ESC) is what produces the three phase current needed to drive your motors. The flight controller send signal to the electronic speed controller which then relays a message on how fast it wants to spin the motors. You will need one ESC for each motor you can either get for separate electronic speed controllers and make them on the arms of your drone or you can get them combined into one board that will sit on the main body of your drone frame.

Propellers ($15)

The propeller size will be related to your drone size and so choose wisely. You will have choices of a number of different options such as the number of blades (triblades of the most common option for FPV drone pilots), weight, stiffness, and profile (such as bullnose props, and RaceKraft props).

If you are building your drone you will almost certainly be crashing it at some point so buying extra propellers will be something that will help get you back in the air if you were to have an accident.

Lithium polymer battery ($30)

Most frames and motors recommend a certain battery size so make sure that they are compatible. You will have two choose from different batteries that each have different properties. The number of cells is the number of battery cells that are connected in series with each cell having a maximum voltage of 4.2 V. Essentially, the higher the voltage more power than drone will have. You will also have to consider capacity as well as the C rating (go for a C rating of 45 or more).

Camera ($189)

A camera is an optional accessory but having a first person view of your flight is awesome. It is also imperative to have one if you want to show off your flight to anyone. Any high definition camera will add a fair bit of weight to your drone so get the lightest drone possible that gives you the quality of video that you need. Typically people go for action cams such as those made by GoPro as they are the best combination of price and weight. They will also handle a crash relatively easily.

An RC receiver ($125)

You will also need a controller or RC receiver to control the drone these come in a range of different sizes and prices. The most popular one at the moment is the FrSky Taranis. You need to consider the gambles and grips, the number of buttons and controls you have for customisation and the batteries that it takes.

Charger ($55)

Charging your drone will become something that you do regularly and multiple times throughout a flight. You will need a dedicated charger that can charge your drone batteries quickly and efficiently. You shouldn’t leave your batteries charging alone as they can sometimes get hot and cause fires. Choosing a good quality charger will make sure that you stand the best chance of charging your drone battery safely.

Total price to build a drone (roughly and not including shipping) = $691

The above total doesn’t include shipping and there are a wide variety of prices for each component so take that number with a grain of salt. It also doesn’t take into account the amount of time that it will require to put all of this together and troubleshoot the software setup before flying.

How much time does it take to build a drone?

As an estimate to the amount of time that is going to be required for building your drone you should factor in at least 10 hours of build time and another 2 to 5 hours of troubleshooting and software setup.

Obviously, the amount of time that it takes you to build a drone will be dependent on the number of times that you have done it and you experienced in small electronic devices. Some people online have joked that if you know what you’re doing it can take as little as two hours but if you are a complete beginner it may take you about 10 days to complete the drone. If you are particularly technically adept some people think that you can finish it in less than one hour!

If you are technically good and if you have all the components (like Brushless DC motor or servo motors, frames, power distribution board, blades, etc) then it’s more than enough with the correct knowledge you can build it in less than “ 1 hour “ It all depends on how accurate you are.

Another aspect about building a drone is that you will continue to tinker with it for many years to come. If that’s the sort of thing that you like, then go for it!

However, if you much rather get your drone and focus on flying it then buying a drone will be a much better option and the temptation to tinker with the internals will be completely taken away from you.

Now, let’s take a look at how difficult it really is to build a drone and the important aspects that you need to consider if you want to make it as easy or challenging as possible.

How difficult is it to build a drone?

Building a drone can come in a varying range of difficulties, depending on how you much you want to learn, how much technical knowledge you already have, and the mechanical construction i.e. does it contain parts that you need to solder together.

If you want it to be as easy as possible, I would choose a drone kit with no soldering required.

On the other hand if you are up for a bit of a challenge and you have some extra money that you can spend I would select all of the parts separately and start practising my soldering skills. Here are all of the things that you need to consider if you want to build a drone.

Soldering

Soldering is a relatively simple process and it is where to wires or electronic components are fused together by melting a little bit of metal around the connection between the wires or electronic components. The filler metal has to have a lower melting point then the adjoining metal as you use heat via a soldering iron to fuse the two pieces together.

Drones are known for having very small components and so I would recommend that you practice a lot before soldering on your drone. You should also learn how to desolder your mistakes too. There are some great instructions online. For example, this article from makerspaces.com – click here.

Soldering is a bit of an art and so you can’t expect to be good at it straight away. Especially on micro components like those found on drones.

You can choose drone building kits that do not require any soldering and if soldering is something that intimidates you these sorts of kits would be your best option.

Kits

Choosing the parts of your drone can be one of the most time-consuming and expensive mistakes that you can make. Some parts are not compatible with other parts and it can take a load of googling and forum searching to find the perfect parts that balance the features with your budget.

The things that you should look for are the components that come with the drone. Sometimes the drones do not come with a controller or a battery. And you should also have a look to see if there is any soldering required, see above for more details.

Your experience

Your experience will be the one thing that determines how long difficult you will find the drone building process. Having a good understanding of how to solder as well as variants with small electronic items will set you in good standing for building a drone.

If you are experienced, you can almost certainly have the drone up and running within a few hours. However, it can take many days of troubleshooting if you are new to drone building and that is where guides and forums will be your lifeline for building your drone.

Guides and forums

There is no doubt that drone building can be a difficult process and it will throw up some problems that you didn’t think you would have to solve. Before deciding on your kit or building frame and process do a search to see if you can find many forum questions and importantly answers to the model of kit or drone frame and components that you are considering buying.

Forums are a fantastic place for you to understand the building process and the potential difficulties of the components that you are going to be using (as well as the compatibility issues) that each new drone build will inevitably face.

There are some fantastic forums and I recommend you check out and join as many as possible before starting your build.

Is building a drone worth it?

This question all comes down to what you mean when you say “worth it”. There are a few reasons why a drone build will be worth it to some people and not worth it to others. It all comes down to the subjective opinions of the person building a drone.

If you want to find out more information about if drones are worth it check out my other article and embedded YouTube video – Are drones worth it, 10 points to consider.

Yes, building a drone is worth it if…

These are the reasons why building a drone may be worth it for you:

You choose a drone within your budget

When you are building a drone there are loads of issues that may pop up. You may not connect a component properly and it may get damaged for example. This means that you will need to buy another component which can be incredibly frustrating and if you’ve already spent all of your budget on the first round of components you won’t have any buffer for potential errors and fixes you’ll need to make.

Choose a drone kit or drone components within your budget and add a 25 to 50% margin for any extra things you need to buy. You will be guaranteed to enjoy the process without worrying about each mistake and the economic impact it may have on your drone buying process. Nothing is more annoying than having to stop building a drone because you can’t afford to continue building it.

If you are a new drone flyer it is also advisable that you add in a buffer to your budget for extra blades and potentially a new frame if you are thinking that you will crash often – and most beginners do!

You want to learn how to build

The main reason that you should consider building a drone is if you want to learn. Learning to build a drone is one of the most rewarding experiences as it goes from a collection of random electronic parts to a thing whizzing through the air – and that is very rewarding.

A drone build is worth it if you consider the actual building part of it an important part of the journey and you learn to enjoy the process as much as flying the drone. If on the other hand you just want to get to the flying aspect and you don’t want to tinker with many small electronic parts then maybe building will not be worth it for you.

You want to tinker with your drone

I don’t know about you but I am a bit of a tinkerer. Ever since I was a small child I always was interested in what was inside electronic components and I just wanted to take things apart. As an adult I have fixed phones, I have soldered components for my audio equipment, I have repaired electric motors by buying new carbon brushes and installing new switches – and I love learning about each electronic item that I fix.

Drones can be frustrating as there are so many different working parts that you need to put together but if you enjoy the tinkering process with other electronic items you will almost certainly enjoy the process of tinkering with your drone and its parts.

Be warned: once you start tinkering it is very hard to stop and I’ve had to remind myself that getting out and flying the drone is an important part of building it – I could spend hours inside tinkering with small electronic items and never use the drone for what it is intended for.

You want to give a new hobby a go

It could be that you are just looking for a new hobby. And that’s fantastic!

If you’re looking for a new hobby and one that will get you out and about as well building a drone will be well worth it for you. I love drones because they combine many different aspects of hobbies i.e. photography, electronics, walking in nature, videography, piloting and drone skills, and much more.

Drones can also provide you with the ability to learn more about electronics and so if this varied hobby sounds like something you would love to do then building a drone will be well worth it.

No, building a drone is not worth it if

These are the reasons why building a drone would not be worth it for you:

You want to focus on camera work

You may want to get into drones because you have seen you tubers and bloggers and other drone content creators produce awesome results and creative products. Building a drone will not give you the same camera or stability as a DJI or other well-known camera drone manufacturers.

If you want to focus on the content production side of drone flying then building the drone will just be a hindrance to getting there and you will potentially rush and not enjoy the process of building a drone.

You get flustered and annoyed by mistakes

As I have mentioned above, building a drone will be full of mistakes and potential issues and problems you will have to overcome. If you get easily flustered or annoyed by mistakes then building a drone will not be for you!

Should I buy a cheap drone first?

If you are a beginner to the drone world you may want to consider buying a cheap drone before launching into building your own drone.

If you want to know whether or not you will enjoy the process of flying a drone you should purchase a relatively cheap drone – go check out my other article where I talk about the best drones for under $500 – click here.

You could also consider buying a very cheap drone kit where you build a mini drone.

Before launching into any new hobby it’s better to gradually increase the monetary commitment rather than launching into the best products and finding that it has been a waste of money.

Buying a cheap drone will tell you everything you need to know about if you will actually enjoy this hobby and if it is something that you want to spend more time doing.

Conclusion

So there we have a detailed response to is it cheaper to build or buy a drone? It is much cheaper to buy a drone than to build a drone from its components but if you want to experience and learn about drone building then it is better to build your own drone.

It comes down to what you want to achieve from buying or building a drone and where your interests in the drone community lie.

If in doubt buy yourself a cheap drone kit and use that to gauge your interest and continued commitment in your drone hobby that way you won’t spend a fortune only to realise that it is not something that you particularly enjoy or want to continue with.

Good luck on your building or buying adventure!

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!