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Take flight with a drone as a hobby

Maybe you haven’t seen them yet, but they are certainly out there. In fact, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) estimates there are one-two million recreational drones in Australia today. That’s up to one drone for every 10 Australians.

Deloitte attributes recreational drones’ moment in the sun to the vehicle’s relatively low cost [drone prices range from very affordable to very expensive] and the relatively relaxed regulatory environment consumers operate drones in. 

Recreational drone users fly drones for everything from grassroots racing competitions to joyriding to aerial photography and videography. 

So: Could recreational drone flying be your new favourite hobby?

To help you answer that question, here are some helpful things to know. 

Getting what you pay for

The price range for consumer drones varies widely. At the beginner’s end, you can expect to pick up a drone for about $30. At the professional level, expect to pay several thousands of dollars.

If you’re a first-time hobbyist, it’s a good idea to make a modest investment in the hobby up front.

That’s because you need to work a little to master the controllers for these unmanned vehicles – and some people are more receptive to this challenge than others.

Expect to go through a little trial and error to reach the point where you can confidently drive your drone forwards, clockwise/anti-clockwise, and up in altitude. If you do end up with a drone that lives its life in the broom closet, the disappointment will be greater if the drone is expensive. 

At the same time, be aware that the nature of the experiences you can have with your drone will depend on cost of the product.

There are definitely capable drones under $100 that you can have a lot of fun with. However, the more you spend, the better equipped your drone will be for maximum in-air times, manoeuvrability, camera quality, battery life, and controller quality.

If you invest modestly in a drone at the outset, you can always scale up if you see a future in the hobby.

The thrill of the race

The Drone Racing League [DRL], one of the world’s best drone racing promotions, attracts the world’s top drone pilots, and millions of fans who follow its events online. 

Maybe you’re not ready for the DRL yet, but Australia has a substantial number of grassroots drone racing competitions and clubs to choose between.

If a drone racing club appeals to you, the Australian FPV Association includes a comprehensive directory of clubs

Drone racing competition offers a lot of the adrenal exhilaration you find in other motorsports. It also attracts people who enjoy the skill interplay and adventure inherent in video games.

It could be fun to try a drone racing club if you enjoy competition. If you have a special interest in the technology, physics, and mechanics that make drones tick, expect to find many like-minded people at drone racing clubs too.

Choosing a drone for photography and videography

Industries including film and TV, news and real estate are flying drones to capture high-quality aerial photos and videos at affordable prices.

But hobbyists are indulging their penchants for aerial photography and cinematography too.

Today, casual content creators and drone influencers abound on social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram.

If you’re interested in flying drones to capture great photography and videography, keep the following in mind:

  • To shoot pristine video scenery with a lot of detail, 4K resolution is ideal. However, a 1080p camera can still capture beautiful landscapes with considerable awe-striking detail.
  • Take note of how long your drone can capture footage before the battery needs a recharge. You don’t want to try to capture great footage in a rush. 
  • If your budget allows, look for a drone that self-stabilises. This feature helps you capture smooth aerial content. 

Finding a drone that’s easy to fly

As a rule of thumb, more expensive drones are easier to fly. That’s because they are equipped with smart features including hovering stability, obstacle detection, and return-to-home automation [in a click of a button, your drone will return to its pinned location].

You’ll also find that weightier drones are easier to fly than feebler ones in difficult weather conditions, and the sturdier builds typically command bigger costs. 

Also be aware that high-end drones typically include a dedicated controller that you attach your smartphone to for a live view of what the drone’s camera sees. Expect to operate the more affordable drones out of a smartphone app with digital controllers on your smartphone screen. Dedicated physical controllers are easier to handle, which helps you land stunts and trick moves.

If you have a drone or intend to purchase one, it’s essential to know Australia’s recreational drone rules. Check out CASA’s guide here.