Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have become increasingly popular in Australia, both for recreational and commercial use. They offer a unique perspective on the world, allowing users to capture stunning aerial photos and videos only possible before if you had a crane or a helicopter.
Data from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) estimates that 1.8 million people use drones recreationally in Australia. That number is climbing, as the technology increases in availability and affordability. This guide looks at what you need to understand before buying drones in Australia.
A drone is an aircraft that does not have a pilot onboard. This guide will examine the most common consumer drone, the Multirotor drone.
A Multirotor dronehas multiple rotors (usually four) that provide lift and fly like a helicopter. They are affordable, and they are highly manoeuvrable. The price of a consumer drone increases with the payload, and time it can stay in the air.
Consumer drones are flown via a handheld remote control, which may or may not have a video display screen. Some models will use your smartphone as that screen.
The most common consumer use of drones is for photography, with some hobbyists also enjoying the art of flying or racing them.
Commercial drones are also used for agriculture, military, delivery, and search and rescue.
Where can I fly a drone in Australia?
It is important to fly your drone safely and responsibly. The use of drones has become a regulated activity due to air traffic concerns and privacy. Your first destination to understand the rules should be the CASA website. There you can find helpful videos and summaries of the rules you need to know before purchasing and flying a drone.
Summary of rules for flying drones in Australia:
Altitude: Fly no more than 120 metres above ground level.
Distance: Stay at least 30 metres away from people.
Visibility: The drone must always be visible to the operator
Number: Only one drone can be piloted at a time.
Location: Not over or near areas affecting public safety or emergency operations (without prior approval).
Airports: Fly at least 5.5 km away from controlled and 3.5 km from uncontrolled airports.
Helicopter landing sites: Fly at least 5.5 km away.
National parks and other sensitive areas: Refer to specific regulations for each area.
CASA recently launched a campaign aimed at reinforcing important drone information, where you can take a quiz to test your knowledge. The ‘Know Your Drone‘ site has everything you need to know in one handy location. Based on the thousands of responses so far, recreational drone flyers average eight out of 11 correct answers. It’s a good start but it shows that not everyone knows all the rules around using drones in Australia.
How do I choose which drone is right for me?
The consumer drone has now been selling for more than 10 years. It has advanced significantly in its features and simplicity over that time. Many different types of drones are available, each with unique features and capabilities. Some of the most popular types include toy drones, consumer drones, and professional photography drones.
Toy drones are economical devices designed for beginners to have some fun. They are a typical children’s toy purchase and start around $50. These products have limited functionality, limited range, and low flight times. If they include a camera, the quality will be low.
Consumer drones are larger and prioritise capturing stunning photos and video footage. Their powerful motors support advanced stabilisation features like gimbals, eliminating camera shake and ensuring smooth, cinematic shots. Additionally, the ability to pivot the camera unlocks unique perspectives, offering a fresh view of your subject matter. Expect to pay between $250 to $3,000.
You would only consider a professional photography drone if you are serious about photography and have deep pockets. They carry a heavier, higher-quality camera, can stay in the air longer, and can deal with high winds. Prices start at $3,000 and quickly go to $20,000 or more.
Which features should I consider when buying a drone?
There are many factors to consider when buying a drone, such as:
Flight aids: These functions help with take-off, landing, hover stability, tracking objects, e.g. a moving car, return to home and low battery preservation maneuvers.
Obstacle avoidance: Built-in sensors that stop your drone from flying into an object and complete a safe route.
Camera quality: If you plan to use your drone to take photos and videos, you will need a drone with a high-quality camera. Also consider gimbal stabilisation, zoom ability, poor light shooting, RAW format (professional photo manipulation) and portrait versus landscape capture.
Battery life: You will want a drone with a long battery life so that you can fly for extended periods.
Range: The range of a drone determines how far it can fly from the controller.
Flight speed: The flight speed of a drone determines how fast it can fly.
Flight time: The flight time of a drone determines how long it can fly before it needs to be recharged.
Weight: A heavier drone will normally have a longer flight time and deal with stronger winds. Consider your drone’s ability in the wind, as this might limit its use.
Price: Drones can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. It is important to set a budget and find a drone that fits your needs and your budget.
Drones also support various accessories that add more features, longevity, and peace of mind. Some popular drone accessories include:
Extra batteries: This will allow you to fly for longer periods.
A carrying case: This will protect your drone when it is unused.
A propeller guard: This will help to protect your propellers from damage.
Spare propellers: Enable damaged propellors to be replaced.
Camera Filters: Improve photography in bright light.
A landing pad: This will provide a safe place for your drone to land.
Drone insurance: Peace of mind if you destroy or lose your expensive purchase.
Recommended drones in Australia
Many different retailers now sell drones in Australia, including online stores, hobby shops, and major electronics retailers. It is important to do your research and find a reputable retailer that sells high-quality drones.
Popular brands locally include DJI, Ryze, Swellpro, Zero X, Autel, and ZL RC. In Australia, DJI produces many of the best-selling and most recognisable drones on the market.
We’ve tested various drones and recommend the DJI range because of its wide range, quality, and reliability. Every year, they bring to market new models that improve the video camera results from an aircraft that is simple to fly.
For beginners, the DJI Mini drones are a good starting point. Weighing less than 249g, they’re highly portable, easy to use, and have impressive video quality for their size. The next step up is the DJI Air series designed for enthusiasts and casual content creators. Maintaining a balance of portability, performance, and features, they typically offer good flight time, high-resolution cameras, and obstacle avoidance sensors.
At the more advanced end of the scale, the DJI Mavic drones cater to professionals and advanced hobbyists. They offer powerful cameras, long flight times, advanced features like ActiveTrack and MasterShots, and a foldable design for easy portability. Models like the DJI Mavic 3 Pro can even be kitted out with more professional features for film and TV production.
If you want a fully immersive drone-flying experience, the DJI Avata supports a wearable headset that gives you a first-person view of the action.
If you are interested in toy drones, we recommend looking at the range from Zero-X, available from large electrical retailers.
For professional users, the DJI Matrice series are industrial-grade drones built for heavy-duty applications like aerial photography, surveying, and inspections. They offer robust construction, powerful motors, long flight times, and specialised payloads like LiDAR and Zenmuse cameras.
Made for high-end film and television productions, the DJI Inspire drones are another top-of-the-line option. They offer cinema-quality cameras, long-range transmission, and advanced features like Waypoints and FocusTrack.
Drones can be a lot of fun, but using them safely and responsibly is important. By following the tips in this guide, you can help to ensure that you buy a drone that meets your needs while having a safe and enjoyable experience.