A Guide to Buying Your First Drone in 2021

Photo by @alexlostak on Instagram

Flying drones is one of the newer additions to my photography repertoire. While I’ve flown them since the DJI Phantom 3 Pro back in 2015, it wasn’t until 2018 that I got my own and started to fly on a regular basis.

Since getting my first drone, I’ve used it to capture some of my favorite images. The image for my first print sale was shot on a drone, the print I have above my bed is a drone shot I took in Norway, and the next photo project I’m working on will largely be shot on drones. Thus, I thought it was fitting to put together a quick guide for anyone considering jumping into the drone flying space.

The Mindset

Photo by @alexlostak on Instagram

Much like buying your first camera, the task of figuring out what your first drone should be can be a bit daunting. The thing to keep in mind when making the decision is what you intend to use the drone for. Like buying any piece of photo equipment, this can inform what you need to buy.

The main things to keep in mind when shopping for a drone are price, image quality, and size. Knowing what you need in these three areas can help you make the best decision. Imagine the situations you see yourself using the drone, and that can help answer these questions. If you want to carry it with you everywhere everyday to casually fly at your local park, that’s going to change your needs compared to if you’ll only be using it when you’re packing all the camera gear you own into your car to drive out to a professional shoot.

The Perfect Introduction

Image from dji.com

DJI Mavic Mini 2

DJI’s Mavic Mini 2 has become my go-to recommendation for people interested in dipping their toes into the drone waters. Not only is it astonishingly inexpensive at only $449, it blows me away in terms of how compact and light it is.

The Mavic Mini 2 only weighs about 248 grams. This weight is not unintentional, it sits right underneath the FAA regulations that limit flight of unmanned aircraft in certain areas and require you to register your drone with the FAA. What this means in practice is you get to fly in more places, and you have less to worry about as you learn to fly.

In terms of size, the entire combo kit for the Mini 2 is small enough to keep in the bottom of your backpack, making it easy to pack with you on any trip. The first time I saw the Mini 2 in person I was floored at how easy it would be to take with you anywhere.

A small size and weight are great, but naturally one would assume that a drone that sits this far below the others in terms of price would come with a list of drawbacks in terms of performance, but it doesn’t. The image that comes out of this small package looks better than it has any right being. The friends I’ve recommended this drone to have quickly started pushing out images and videos that are impressive almost out of the gate.

To me, Mavic Mini 2 democratizes drone flying. For $599 you can get a combo kit that comes with everything you’ll need from spare batteries to a carrying case. This price makes it accessible to as many people as possible, but still delivers images that stack up well against more expensive drones.

The Enthusiast’s Choice

Image from dji.com

DJI Mavic Air 2S

My first and so far only drone is the original Mavic Air. To me, the Mavic Air line is the perfect middle ground between wanting pro-grade image quality, while simultaneously being cognizant of price and size. Each iteration of the Mavic Air has leaned into that philosophy, continuing to get lighter and delivering better images. If your budget allows for it ($999), the Mavic Air 2S positions itself well for newcomers to the space.

The main advantages you get over the Mavic Mini 2 are image quality, video quality, and sensors that assist in flying and obstacle avoidance. The new Air 2S has a one inch sensor, which means it can pull in more light and capture more information, yielding higher quality images.

Additionally, while bigger than the Mavic Mini 2, the Mavic Air 2S is still incredibly compact, light, and easy to travel with.

If you have aspirations of doing professional work, the Mavic Air 2S is most likely your entry point. At $999 for just the drone and $1299 for the fly more combo, you’re getting a drone with incredible capabilities in terms of flying and the camera. For context, the existing Mavic Pro 2 is $1599, and the Mavic Air 2S has most of the features that made the Mavic Pro 2 worth the upgrade.

The Hole in the Lineup

Photo by @alexlostak on Instagram

If I had written this guide a month ago, the pricing and recommendations for this article would have been easy. It would have gone fairly similar to how it is here, Mini to Air, Air to Pro. Now, things aren’t that simple.

With the release of the Mavic Air 2S, the Mavic 2 Pro is now irrelevant. The features that set it apart from the previous Air now live in the Air 2S. For example, the one inch sensor that made the Pro be able to capture larger images, now sits in the Air 2S.

If you’re a beginner, the other options aside from the Mavic Pro at this price point and higher don’t make sense. So if you’re wanting to buy a Mavic Pro, I’d suggest waiting until the Mavic Pro 3 is released later this year.

Closing Thoughts

If flying drones to capture photo and video is something you’ve considered, even as a fun casual hobby, there has never been a better time to get started. The level of innovation drones have experienced in just the last five years is exponential, and they are easier to fly than ever. These tools allow you to see the world from a unique perspective previously reserved for only 30,000 ft up, and as a result the creative possibilities are endless. You’ve just got to get flying.

I hope this article helps you in your ventures ahead! If you’re interested in the drones I talked about today and some accessories I use in my drone adventures, I’ve provided some links below. Full disclosure, the links below are affiliate links.

If you want more content from me, follow me on Instagram, checkout my website and subscribe to Vagabond Cove (my weekly mailing list on photography and adventure)!

Instagram: @alexlostak
Website: lostakphotography.com
Vagabond Cove: lostakphotography.com/cove

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