I’ve long believed there to be just 2 main classifications (or grades) of drones: hobby grade models, and professional photography drones. Recently, someone pointed out that there’s also a third category of drone—toy grade models. I pondered this for a second or two and thought it sounded correct, so today we’re going to explore these 3 grades of drones to flesh out some useful definitions and try to see where the lines should be drawn among them. As we go, we’ll take a look at one drone from each of the 3 categories and try to understand which of its features makes it a toy, a hobby piece, or a professional quality drone. Read on to see how all of this shakes out, and be sure to pitch in your own opinion on drone classifications and where to draw the distinctions in the comments section below. With any luck, we’ll uncover a new drone classification paradigm that could make drone shopping easier for all of us in the future. Let’s get started.
Note: There’s bound to be some overlap among the features that define a given classification of drones, so let’s not get too hung up on one or two overlapping features. Instead we want to build broader categories that generally distinguish drone types.
Toy Grade Drones
What constitutes a toy grade drone? In my opinion, the difference is certainly not their price point. With professional photography drones coming further and further down in price all the time, and many of what I would call toy drones overlapping photography drones in cost, this is one area that we may have to throw out.
The presence of a camera is another, as most drones these days are equipped with one. However, the quality of the included camera may constitute a useful distinction. While photography grade drones possess high quality cameras with super steady gimbals, toy grade drones often include a built in camera, but it’s generally not a camera of very high quality, and there may be a basic gimbal included, or there may be none at all.
Other qualities of toy grade drones include a very limited flying range (generally within 200-300 metres), the ability to perform flying stunts (flips and rolls), the use of lightweight build materials that hold up well in a crash (because the drone isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to fly or control, and may suffer a large number of crash landings), and the inclusion of bright colours or far out and funky designs.
A perfect example of what I would consider to be a toy grade drone is the LiteHawk BURST Quadcopter Drone with Camera. This drone features bright colours, a fun and unique design, automatic stunt flying, 3 extra sets of blades in case you break a few in crashes, and a 2.4GHz radio frequency controller. It also has a built in camera that saves your images to a 512 MB Micro SD card, but there’s no gimbal to steady your images, so the camera with this one is mostly just for fun. One set of features that this model has that I would tend to only look for in the next level of drones (hobby grade models) is auto take-off and landing, along with auto altitude hold. These features somewhat elevate the LiteHawk BURST to a point slightly above basic toy grade, but they’re not quite enough to bump it all the way into the hobby class in my opinion. Still, with its respectable price and a quality brand name behind it (LiteHawk seems to make fairly good drones), I’d have to consider this to be a great drone for anyone looking to just have some backyard flying fun.
Hobby Grade Drones
In the realm of the hobby grade drone, what I tend to be looking for is a number of more advanced feature than the typical toy grade model would have. Features like auto take-off and landing are not just a nice bonus, they’re an absolute must at this level. A decent quality camera is also nice to have, but it doesn’t have to be super high end, and the drone itself should be extremely easy to fly. In fact, it should practically fly itself. Hobby grade drones are also expected to be more expensive than toy grade drones (though not necessarily), and they don’t have to offer built in stunt flying, but it’s certainly nice when they do.
Other features I expect to see in a hobby grade drone can be found in the Parrot Mambo FPV Quadcopter Drone with Camera. To me, characteristics such as the Mambo FPV Quadcopter’s stable flight feature (thanks to having a 3-axis accelerometer, a 3-axis gyroscope, a pressure sensor, and an ultrasound sensor, all of which contribute to its greater horizontal and vertical stability in flight) help to elevate it well above the territory of a basic toy grade drone.
Similarly, a variety of different flight modes make the Mambo perfect for anyone from beginners to pros, thus adding to its credibility as a hobby grade model. Moreover, features like app based control (via the FreeFlight Mini App) and the ability for users to see what the drone’s camera sees by using the specially included FPV (First Person Viewer) glasses really catapult the Mambo into the stratosphere of hobby grade drones. In other words, this drone offers much more than just basic backyard flying—there’s a whole heap of awesomeness going on here, and it definitely makes the Mambo something truly special among drones.
I would similarly have to include the very cool Propel Star Wars themed drones among the hobby grade models. This is because they offer numerous fun features and also have appeal among collectors that aren’t strictly drone enthusiasts (i.e., Star Wars fans/collectors really enjoy them). If you’re looking for a drone that’s more than just a drone, then any of these Propel models is sure to scratch that itch. These things not only fly super well and have a ton of great features, but they even come with a free app that allows you to fly a virtual version of them when the weather outside is dreary.
Professional Photography Grade Drones
When it comes to professional photography grade drones, you’re looking to get all of the major drone features and then some. You’re especially looking to get first rate photography and videography capabilities.
Take for example the DJI Spark Quadcopter Drone with Camera. Don’t let the Spark’s small size fool you—this drone has pretty much everything! In addition to a top notch camera featuring HD video capabilities and 12 MP stills, the Spark has a built in 2-axis mechanical gimbal featuring UltraSmooth technology for silky smooth movement of the camera during flight, real-time video transmission via built in Wi-Fi technology that transmits 720p video for up to 2 Kms, plus the Spark practically flies itself. That is, it’s got useful features such as TapFly, Return to Home, ActiveTrack, and many others that make piloting it a breeze. It’s even got a powerful enough battery to give you up to 16 minutes of total flying time on a single battery charge. If you’re interested in getting a high quality photography drone, these are the kinds of features you should be looking for!
The key to getting the ideal drone for your needs or wants is to know what you intend to use the drone for. If you’re a real estate agent looking to get ahead making virtual video tours or taking arial photographs of the homes you’re trying to sell, a professional photography drone is probably what you need. If you merely want a drone for some fun backyard flying, a toy grade model might be enough—unless you want to take things up a notch or two and lock in some additional fun features with a hobby grade model. Either way, the choice is all yours.
That’s all for today’s discussion. Did you agree with my premise? In any case, hopefully it’ll help you to think about drones in a way that’s a bit more organized than just having one big jumbled up category of products. And hopefully that makes drones somewhat easier for you to shop for.
Explore Best Buy’s complete selection of drones by following this link, and then let us know which type of drone you prefer down below?