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Got a drone? Lizzie James has tips and advice for you

Drones can elevate your photography to a whole new level; from sweeping shots of landscapes to action videos of you exploring the world. Drones today are becoming a more accessible and increasingly more affordable genre of photography starting from as little as £99 for the Ryze Tech Tello Drone powered by best-selling drone brand DJI.

Ryze Tello Drone, Powered by DJI

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And anyone can use them – as long as they follow the rules. Whether you want to buy a drone to use commercially or you just want to capture amazing shots of your holidays, there is a model that’s perfect for you. With so many types of drones available and new safety regulations to take into consideration, purchasing one may seem a daunting task.  

Here is Lizzie James’ quick guide to drones, including the dos and don’ts and tips on using your drone:

What exactly is a drone and who can fly one?

‘Drone’ is the common term used to describe a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) which is anything that can be remotely operated to fly. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and weights; with fixed wings (like a remote-controlled aircraft) or multi-rotor (like quadcopter or hexa-copter). The most common drones used by consumers are quadcopters.

Do I need a license to fly a drone?

If you are buying a drone for recreational use such as capturing holiday moments or family days out, videos and photos for personal use, then you do not need an official pilot certificate. It is good practice however to register your drone with a third party body such as the Drone Safety Register to demonstrate that you adhere to safe use of your drone in publish spaces.

If you want to use your drone professionally, such as for wedding photography, aerial shots of an estate or for film production, this would be classed as a commercial gain and you would need relevant training (on a CAA-approved course which is typically 2 days long) plus the relevant permissions in place from the local aviation authority where you’ll be flying. In the case of the UK this would come from the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority).

For both uses you need to follow the CAA drone code.

Are there any new rules amateur drone users should be aware of?

Yes, from November 2019 flying any drone weighing over 250g (which is most drones) will require you to register as an operator which means taking an online course first. More information on this will be released soon by the CAA. Consumers buying from Jessops can rest assured that our trained store staff will advise you on any new rules at the point of purchase. We would strongly recommend you keep yourself familiar with all the rules on flying drones, the latest Drone Code information can be found via this link: https://dronesafe.uk/

Does it come with a camera attached?

Entry level drones generally come complete with camera gimbal attached. For more professional models, the camera gimbals are sold separately. This allows you to create a bespoke drone package to suit your photography needs.

How much do they weigh?

This can vary. From 80g to 3.4kg and up.

How long does the battery last?

Battery life depends on the model, wind speed and type of use. The average time you can expect to get is around 20 minutes per charge. Battery life is usually displayed on your smartphone or monitor, so it’s easy to keep track of.

How do I control it/see what I am filming?

Most drones are controlled via a remote controller that links to your smartphone; this allows you to connect to the drone via Wi-Fi and view on your smartphone screen the image and controls for the drone.  Because of this not all drones come with a joystick remote control as standard. Some drones also allow you to ‘tap fly’, which essentially means you can just tap on an area of your smartphone screen and the drone will fly in that direction.

What’s the max height I can fly?

120m or 400ft. On the display you’ll always be able to see how high or far you’re flying your drone. This is usually displayed on the bottom of your screen. If you’re worried about getting too carried away and flying higher than 400ft, you can go into your settings and set a maximum height. Once this height is set, no matter how hard you push on the controls, once it’s reached its ‘max’ height, it won’t fly any higher. It is strongly recommended that you do this to make sure you’re always flying safe and legal.

How do you stop it colliding with obstacles like trees or overhead wires?

This takes a bit of common sense and care for your drone when out flying. If you’re following the rules of the Drone Code then the drone should never be out of your sight which allows for more control by you, in being able to avoid flying into any obstacles. As a safety measure most drones come with an ‘obstacle avoidance’ system – this is made up of a variety of obstacle sensing and obstacle avoidance sensors located on the drone. The number of sensors varies model to model. The obstacle avoidance will either detect an obstruction and stop moving or detect an obstruction and fly around it safely. All of this will be displayed on your smartphone. 

Can I use my drone on holiday?

If you plan on using a drone on holiday it’s essential that you check the local laws first. If you’re having a staycation then familiarize yourself with the Drone Code (dronesafe.uk), remembering to stay under 400ft and within line of sight. Wherever you are in the world though, the rules should be simple to find by searching.

Locking onto subjects – how important is this?

Locking onto your subject can be helpful if they are moving, so that you can keep them in the frame. It’s a great feature to use if you’re just getting to grips with using a drone for the first time.

Can a gust of wind blow my drone away?

Drones use GPS to fly and are very good at keeping in the same location when the wind blows. All manufacturers will have a recommended maximum wind speed where they can guarantee the drone will still operate as it should – it’s advised to check this and the wind speed and strength before you take off.

How fast do they fly – and why is this useful?

Speed varies depending on model type. Varying usually within 30mph – 45mph for your hobbyist drones and then up to 60mph for some professional ones. Speed is useful for being able to make it to the location you want to film or shoot to maximise the length of time in the air shooting. For best results, slow and steady makes for a more cinematic styled shot.

What if I run out of battery when it is too far to return to base?

Fortunately, this shouldn’t be a question you have to ask! Drones will have a pre-set battery warning level where the drone will kick itself into ‘Return to Home’, usually it’s set at 30% so it will be able to return home safely. You can change the battery warning to be higher than 30% to give you more of a comfort zone, this is done in the settings option.

When might you want to fly indoors?

If you have a small drone like the Ryze Tech Tello drone, then flying indoors is something you can do easily. The other times you’d want to look at flying indoors would be for commercial work – so maybe you’re filming a scene for a film by flying through a window or carrying out an indoor survey of a property etc. It takes good skill, training and control to be able to do this safely and it’s advised that prop guards are used to limit the risk of damage to the drone, property or yourself.

What do the professionals use VS what does a normal hobbyist who wants decent quality videos/stills use?

Kit used by professionals can vary depending on the type of work being carried out. For a lot of professional filmmakers, they’d use custom built drones or FreeFly – Drones designed to carry heavier cameras like RED or Arri. Some professionals will also use the DJI Inspire 2. Mavic 2 drones can be used for commercial projects but are also very popular with Hobbyists who want to capture high quality video and stills. If this is what you are looking for then the DJI Mavic 2 Pro is the drone to look at, with a 20mp 1” Sensor Hasselblad camera included. Mavic 2 Pro – £1,349.00

Lizzie’s Drone Jargon Buster – the language that’s good to know when talking drones:

  • 3D Sensing System: A combination of sensors used to detect obstacles and the environment around the drone
  • 4K Video: A quality of video recording. A 4k display is exactly 4 1080p displays in a 2×2 array from a size standpoint. The name “4k” is derived from the fact the horizontal resolution is roughly 4000 pixels. 
  • 10-bit HDR: HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. This is essentially the amount of detail you can see in the shadows and the highlights of an image. 10 bit relates to the amount of information and data gathered by the sensor. With more information gathered you will have far better detail.
  • Active Track: A pre-programmed mode available on more sophisticated models allowing you to automatically follow your subject and capture footage at the same time.
  • CMOS Sensor: This stands for Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor. This is an electronic chip inside the camera which converts protons into electrons for digital processing – essentially this is what captures your image.
  • FPV Goggles: First Person View Goggles, used to display the footage coming from a camera (usually mounted to a drone).
  • Gimbal: Commonly used to keep a camera stabilised with no vibration from the person holding it. A 3-axis gimbal ensures that the motion of the camera mounted on it is stabilized even if the person holding it is moving up and down or turning left and right. This is usually referred to as the pan, tilt and roll stabilization.
  • UAV: Unmanned Ariel Vehicle
  • UHD: Ultra high definition

Self confessed gadget lover who has a day job at Verastar Ltd and a hobby of writing and filming reviews that are published on YouTube and Reviewify.co.uk.