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There’s absolutely no doubt that photography and travel go hand in hand. Things have come a long way from grainy pictures on old iPhones to today’s crazy shots on GoPros, intricate photos on DSLRs and of course now, drones. I have to admit that I was reluctant to get one when Tom suggested it, but I’m a complete convert and we regularly travel out of our way to fly somewhere special. It’s enabled a whole new angle to be added to our photos and also on my YouTube channel which is incredibly exciting. A drone was a big investment for us as it may well be for you, so I’ve put together this guide to help you choose the best drone for travelling and the things to consider before you hit the shops.
As with buying any piece of tech, there are a number of factors to consider and much of it comes down to personal preference. After much deliberation, we opted for a DJI Spark and it’s been perfect for us and the way we are travelling. There are so many drones to choose from and every year the choice is growing so it’s important to decide what is right for you. The Spark is great for us but it’s important to take some time to have a look around and compare drones to make sure you get the perfect one.
Take a look at the drone footage used in my Blue Mountains video
How much do you want to spend?
The cost of drones ranges from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. The first thing to decide on is a budget that is right for you and to stick to it. Having a drone is lots of fun but there’s really no point spending loads on the best drone money can buy, if you then can’t afford to go anywhere and make the most of it. I would recommend buying the best drone you can afford, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the newest ones available. One positive thing to come from the increase in drones being made is that as new models come out, the slightly older ones get cheaper. We decided to buy the Spark because it was the best affordable travel drone for us. Since the new models have come out from DJI, the cost of ours has come down a lot, but I would still highly recommend it!
As well as the overall cost, be sure to research what you are actually getting for your money. You’re going to want a few batteries as flight time is generally pretty short, a decent memory card to hold your footage and one that is quick enough to process it, a case to carry it all and perhaps even camera filters to add another aspect to your photos. Some of this might be included in the price and other parts, not. Know what you’re getting and know what you’ll need to still buy afterwards.
It’s also important to bear in mind that flying a drone can also be risky. You have to fly it knowing that there’s a chance you might lose it and not be able to get it back. Similarly, things can be lost or stolen whilst travelling, so it’s important to think about the value of your drone and whether you’re going to be comfortable travelling with that.
What type of travelling are you doing?
To find the best drone for travelling for you, you need to think about what type of trips you like to go on. Backpacking around the world requires a whole different type of set up compared to, say, going on a trip specifically to shoot pictures and make videos. You have to take remember that your drone is an additional item of luggage and the type of luggage you will be carrying needs to be suitable to where you’re going and what you’re doing.
If you’re looking to backpack on a budget and stay in large dorm rooms with a load of strangers, then having the biggest and most expensive drone is probably not ideal. Similarly, if you’re going on a hiking trip, having a big bulky drone in its own backpack probably isn’t going to be the best idea. However, if you’re travelling solely for photography and to fly your drone, the size of it might not be an issue.
All I can say from a personal perspective is that less is pretty much always better, which is why the Spark is great for us. It fits in a backpack and is easy to store subtly. The DJI Spark, Mavic Pro and Mavic Air can all be carried in a fairly small case that can easily fit in a day bag but drones from the Phantom series are pretty big and come in their own bag the size of a backpack. You need to be super practical and think about where you will be staying, how you will be travelling around and whether you can cope with carrying it for long amounts of time.
The camera quality
I feel like drones are mirroring phones when it comes to their camera quality – every new model seems to have a better camera than before and new exciting features to entice you in. I’m going to be honest here though as, for me, I can hardly notice the difference when it comes to camera quality unless I’m being shown a direct comparison side by side.
All of the decent drones out there have a gimbal mechanism to stabilize the camera during flight which is 100000% needed. You’re just going to get awful images and video if you buy a drone that doesn’t have this and a whole lot of disappointment.
To go into a few more specs though, some drones have the ability to shoot 4K video and to take pictures in RAW which in an ideal world is what you want. However, in the same breath, I really don’t think it’s essential. The Spark doesn’t have the option to shoot in RAW and the video is 1080p and I think it’s still awesome! The Mavic Air and Pro do shoot in 4K and RAW but like I said before, I wouldn’t be able to tell. RAW images are great when it comes to editing later on as the images haven’t been processed like they have with jpg images but that doesn’t mean you can’t edit them still. Similarly, 1080p vs 4K video makes only a little bit of difference. Ultimately, taking good photos or creating a good video comes down to more than how good the camera is. Again, I would buy the best that is affordable for you but not to get too hung up on the finer details.
How easy is it to fly?
Ok, so I have a confession to make here- I’ve never actually flown a drone. The Spark is Tom’s gadget and quite frankly, no amount of safety features and clever settings will stop the fear of me crashing it and the disappointment that will ensue from Tom afterwards. But, what I do know is that it takes a while to get used to flying it and Tom looked at a whole heap of tutorials on YouTube before buying the drone.
What I do know about photography though is that things around you change quickly and you have to be able to act fast if you want to get that shot. Similarly, flight time generally ranges between 15-30 minutes per battery so you don’t want to waste the precious power just trying to get started. Having a drone that is quick to set up and get off the ground is pretty important not only for these fleeting moments you want to capture but also for determining the amount you will use it full stop. If carrying and setting up your drone is a huge pain and it’s also difficult to fly, you’re probably not going to get the use from it you were hoping for.
What about the extras?
Just like a normal camera, drones can come with some great extra features. All DJI drones have modes to help you fly the drone smoothly and safely. They have object avoidance sensors to help stop it crash into things and a return to home mode so it will automatically come back to you when you activate it or when the battery is running low. It also has some awesome self-flight type modes such as ‘active track’ where you can set it to follow you, ‘circle’ where it will literally circle around you and ‘rocket’ mode where it sweeps away from you into the distance. They’re great to have as the drone moves so smoothly and there’s no need to keep adjusting the camera and gimbal angle.
In terms of the actual equipment, many of the smaller drones can be flown from your phone but also have the option of a controller. This is usually sold as an extra but it’s so worth it. With the Spark, it also allows you to fly further away, too.
The practical stuff
I’ve said above that flying and travelling with a drone comes with some risks and I would definitely recommend looking into adding some gadget insurance to cover your drone if something were to happen to it. Tom and I have both the drone and our camera covered on our travel insurance with World Nomads because it was easy to add on and they have a good reputation. You could also look into getting separate gadget insurance instead.
If you decided to go with one of the DJI drones, they offer the chance to purchase DJI Refresh. This service plan is valid for 12 months and allows you to claim up to 2 replacement drones within this period for an additional cost, if you were to crash your drone or if there was a fault with it that caused it to crash. As long as you can retrieve the device and send it off to them, you stand a chance at getting a replacement. I think that’s a pretty darn good thing to have as a backup!
The practical stuff around owning a drone is far less exciting than the drone itself, but it’s important not to forget about this extra cost when deciding on the most affordable and best travel drone for you.
The legal stuff
As more and more drones hit the skies, more and more rules and regulations are coming into play. Firstly, it’s important to realise that each country and even region within a country will have its own laws around where and when you can fly a drone. There are some rules that seem to be pretty consistent all over, such as not flying within 5 miles of airports or hospitals, but there can be a whole heap of other rules on top of that and it’s super important to do your research around this beforehand. There can be pretty hefty fines in place if you break the rules and get caught, so don’t risk it!
As Tom and I are currently based in Australia, we not only have to fly within the CASA drone safety rules but also need to be aware of the local rules too, such as not flying in national parks in some states. CASA does have a handy phone app which shows where you can and cannot fly but you still have to be aware of your surroundings and fly responsibly. You can check out the CASA website here to get an idea about the rules in place. Additionally, we are going on a cruise later on this year and the ship will only consider permitting the drone onto the ship if we have permission from the countries we are going to via the relevant embassies.
This may all sound a bit on the serious side, and while it is important to follow the rules, at least in Australia they are fairly clear. We’re yet to fly anywhere other than Australia so I would love to hear from you about your experience of flying a drone elsewhere.