He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice, he’s gonna find out if your drone is registered with the relevant authorities. That’s right folks, Christmas is right around the corner and Santa Claus is coming to town.
Which means that it’s time to think about buying some drone-related gifts for yourself or that special drone pilot in your life.
Here’s a list of Christmas suggestions from us. We’ve got everything covered, from drone-related stocking fillers to big gift ideas.
Looking for a small, drone-related gift to fill a stocking or delight a distant relative?
Your best bet is to keep it practical and go for a useful accessory. You’re looking for the drone-related gift equivalent of socks on Christmas day: dull but entirely necessary.
The most obvious thing to go for is a spare battery. No matter which aircraft the drone pilot in your life is flying, there are going to be times when the realities of physics and aviation bring their drone session to a premature end. The majority of popular models on the market have flight times between 15 and 30 minutes. So you can see why a spare battery or two would be useful.
Next up is something you can’t even wrap: a software subscription. Plenty of drone pilots use stock applications from manufacturers to edit their footage and spruce up videos for social media and sharing. But a growing number are getting to grips with more sophisticated software, such as Adobe’s Premiere Pro or Apple’s Final Cut Pro.
Providing you have a computer that can handle the workload, these software packages help pilots add a professional touch when editing videos by mixing together different shots, mastering coloring and tweaking other camera settings in retrospect.
Neutral Density Filters are another great drone pilot stocking filler. They are available for most high-end drones, either directly from manufacturers and from third-party photography companies.
Think of them as a little pair of sunglasses. They come in various shades to limit the amount of light the drone’s lens is exposed to. The result is that the pilot has more creative potential during flight and post-production. With an ND Filter in place, you can slow down the shutter speed and capture shots that emphasize motion: water, clouds, traffic, that kind of thing.
Or you can increase the aperture in bright conditions without overexposing your shots completely. Which is ideal for shooting snowy scenes or at the height of summer.
Just make sure the ND Filters you choose fit the drone model you have in mind.
For more stocking filler ideas you can go through the whole range of potential drone accessories. You can find a range of backpacks and cases that have been tailor-made for using with drones and keeping all of your aerial photography gear safe while you’re on the go.
Over the past few months we’ve been testing the Manfrotto Aviator Hover 25, a rugged backpack with plenty of space to carry your drone, spare batteries and other accessories.
It has dedicated pockets for the DJI Mavic & OSMO. Both can be accessed quickly without needing to put the bag down.
There’s plenty of nice touches that show the designers have kept delicate equipment in mind: An insulated pouch that protects batteries, along with loads of neatly packed compartments to keeps items from slipping and hold your gear steady.
There’s also a dedicated compartment for an iPad, tablet or small laptop.
For longer-term storage or packing while you’re driving or taking a flight, there are plenty of options out there. GPC (Go Professional Cases) have a bunch that are worth looking at – each is designed to fit a specific model.
Our final stocking fillers for drone pilots are the little touches that can make flights safer and more creative. The first is a landing pad. These give a drone somewhere to land and take off from. You’d be surprised how useful a rolled up piece of plastic with discernible design can be. First of all, taking off and landing when the ground is wet, muddy, snowy or some combination of all three is bound to damage the moving parts of your drone in the long run.
And, for more advanced models, a landing pad provides the drone with a recognizable point that allows computer vision systems to return to home with greater accuracy. This is particularly helpful if the terrain is uniform – the system can’t tell patches and snow and grass apart from each other, for example.
Finally, we have lights. Most drones come with lights built in, but they aren’t necessarily versatile enough to be an extra creative element or bright enough to meet the regulations regarding night flights. Earlier this year we took LumeCube’s drone lighting rig for a spin.
They have different rigs available depending on which drone you fly. The lights connect to your smartphone using Bluetooth so you can adjust them during flight to illuminate scenes from above, add a strobe effect and more.
New to Drones?
Christmas is famously the time of year when a new intake of pilots is introduced to the hobby. These usually range from photographers who want to take their skills to the sky to RC enthusiasts ready to start FPV racing and everything in between.
Either way, there are a few drones that we’d classify as entry-level and perfect for beginners.
For aerial photography, we’d recommend the DJI Spark. The tiny drone shoots full-HD video, comes in a range of colors and is relatively inexpensive considering its forward-facing obstacle detection system.
The Spark’s camera has a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor that captures 12-megapixel photos and shoots stabilized HD 1080p videos. Its 2-axis gimbal reduces shake and rolling shutter effect to capture shots that are much more cinematic than you’d expect from a drone of this size.
It’s also got a range of intelligent flight modes – including ActiveTrack – and an easy-to-use controller, meaning you don’t have to worry too much about mastering the controls to get great shots.
You can pick one up before Christmas for just $359.
If you’re more interested in capturing moments from above than actually flying and taking the controls, the recently-launched Hover 2 would be a good way to go.
Big Gift Ideas
If you know someone who’s dabbled in drones before and is ready to take the leap to a more serious model, there are plenty of options to choose from at the higher end of the market. Our Favorites are below.
The DJI Mavic 2 Pro
The most obvious is one of DJI’s latest drones. We like the new Mavic 2 Pro as an upgrade to the original Mavic Pro. It has omnidirectional collision avoidance and DJI’s new APAS (Advanced Pilot Assistance Systems) – both of which keep it safer than ever in complex environments.
But the foldable drone’s headline feature is, without doubt, its integrated Hasselblad camera: Its 1-inch CMOS sensor has a 10-bit Dlog-M color profile, 14 stops of dynamic range and captures four times as many levels of color per channel compared to the original Mavic Pro.
The Mavic 2 Pro’s camera also has adjustable aperture – from f/2.8 to f/11 – providing more control across a wide variety of lighting conditions.
Oh, it can also stay in the air for over 30 minutes on a single charge. Impressive.
The Mavic 2 Pro is available from DJI for $1,499.
The Skydio R1
There isn’t much that we can we say about the Skydio R1 that we haven’t already.
From what we’ve seen, the California startup’s first drone has been a big hit despite its hefty price tag. The R1 has probably the most sophisticated sense and avoid system on the consumer market today. And that achievement is arguably down to the fact that DJI’s focus has instead been on ease of flight and camera quality.
Skydio had a different goal in mind: Instead of attempting to create a flying camera anyone could learn to fly, they wanted to build a camera capable of flying itself no matter what.
Which makes the R1 and its range of sensors and computer vision algorithms ideal for action photography when you want to be the subject, not the pilot.
The R1 also shoots in stabilized 4K and is available for $1,999. In September Skydio released a range of new ‘skills’ – autonomous flight modes that work at the touch of a button – to give R1 users more creative options. We expect the drone to get even smarter in the coming months.
If you or the drone pilot in your life already has a top of the range drone, there are a few ways you can take the aerial photography experience to the next level.
One of those is by getting a DJI CrystalSky monitor. These ultra-bright screens ensure your live feed is way, way clearer than when using a smartphone or tablet. You can read our full review here, but it’s safe to say that we found using the CrystalSky to be an absolute pleasure.
DJI’s signature monitors fit neatly onto whichever DJI remote you are using, have their own independent power source and come fully loaded with the DJI Go application. This means you no longer have to worry about receiving calls in the middle of a flight, leaving your data open to vulnerabilities or your screen freezing up during an operation.
FPV Goggles and Smart Glasses
Moverio Smart Glasses, from Epson, and the Brother AIRScouter are both designed to provide drone pilots with greater situational awareness. Regulations state that your drone has got to be within your line of sight at all times. But that’s a tough rule to stick by to the letter, given that most pilots use their monitors and are constantly looking down at their controls during operations.
Smart glasses are particularly useful if you’re flying in congested areas, around buildings, in tough conditions or anywhere that you need to take extra care behind the controls. Plenty of pilots have flown backwards into obstacles because they are too busy looking at a sweeping scene to notice what’s coming up behind the drone, for example.
You can read about the latest updates to the Moverio AR Glasses here. But the main thing you need to know is that both overlay a live feed from the drone into a head-mounted display.
These headsets are designed to augment the drone pilot experience and, generally, support commercial applications. Others on the market are all about fun and immersion. These include DJI Goggles, the manufacturer’s own take on FPV flying. As well as drone racing industry leader FatShark.
DJI Goggles come in two editions, Racing and standard. Both came out in 2017 and work nicely with the company’s aircraft, as you’d expect. The battery life is solid and the picture clarity is awesome. The only issues are the bulkiness of both devices and the premium price tags.
The standard goggles are available for $349, while you can pick up the black racing edition pair for $449. The technology is impressive, but it’s up to you whether you will use them enough for that to represent good value.
If you’re willing to sacrifice a little on image resolution, want to save some money or find something more subtle, Fat Shark’s range of RC vision systems is the way to go.
Christmas Drone Ideas For Kids
Want to get your kids into drones this Christmas? The pilots and engineers of tomorrow have to start somewhere. Taking a drone out for a spin could be the perfect way to inspire the little person in your life.
Fat Shark’s FPV Racing Starter Pack
The aforementioned Fat Shark also have an interesting bundle that looks ideal for kids looking to get into FPV racing. The Fat Shark 101 package has everything you need to get going, right out of the box. It’s available on Amazon for $211.
Back in January, Shenzhen startup Ryze Tech launched the tiny Tello drone with some help (and technology) from Intel and DJI.
Not long ago the company launched the latest iteration of Tello.
Tello EDU has a camera, basic sense and avoid technology, and can be programmed using Scratch, an MIT Media Labs coding system that teaches kids and teens the basics of coding. The latest update includes support for additional programming languages and the ability to buy multiple models and create drone swarms.
The original Tello received plenty of acclaim for being both ideal for beginners and incredibly affordable. The Tellu EDU is building upon that legacy.
For $129, you get a package that includes the drone, 2 sets of spare propellers, 4 Mission Pads, 1 battery, and a USB charging cable. The bundle is available in the DJI store, the Apple store and in selected Apple stores around the globe. Tello EDU will retail in the UK at £139 and across Europe at €159.