19 December 2016


    The low-down on drones

    Drones can be great fun to fly and will be happily received as a gift by the hobbyist or aspiring pilot in your family. But what kind should you get, and what are the rules?

    Drones becoming more and more popular with aerial enthusiasts and hobbyists who fly them for fun - you can use them to take awesome aerial photos, or even to compete in drone racing.  

    You may be thinking of buying one to treat yourself and boost your photography cred, or as a gift for the aspiring pilot in your life. But where would you even start?

    Here, we bring you a simple guide to buying and using a drone in your leisure time.

    Why would I buy a drone?

    To the real enthusiast, they're also called unmanned aerial vehicles (AEVs), quadcopters, and remote piloted aerial systems (RPASs).

    Most people buy hobby drones for photography. Many have a built-in camera, and allow you to take panoramic stills and to record amazing video journeys.

    But remember that cameras add weight - so if you don't intend to take many photos, and want a drone to fly for fun, simply as an upgrade on a traditional remote-control plane or kite, you might want to look for one that doesn't come with an on-board camera. 

    Which drone to buy

    It depends what you (or the person you're buying for) want to do with the drone. They vary from mini-drones that only give you a few minutes of flight time before having to charge the battery, like this one, to highly sophisticated vehicles that can fly with gesture control.

    Mini-drones are the cheapest version (usually between R1 000 and R3 000) and tend to be used by kids - like this one. They're small and light, and would be the perfect gift for someone who has got bored of their remote control plane but who would also like to use their quadcopter for photography.

    The big daddies of drones are the ones that come with loads of built-in safety features (such as obstacle avoidance), a large flight range (of, say, 7km instead of 100m, as mini-drones have), around half an hour of flight time before the battery dies, and 4K cameras. You can get this one for a mere R19 999.

    Where to buy

    There are a number of online shops in SA that sell drones - we particularly like actiongear.co.za. They stock quadcopters of varying price, from as little as R1 000 to as much as R50 000. And they've even got a Christmas gift guide.

    Know the rules

    When flying a drone for fun (that is, not commercially), you don't need a licence. But you must adhere to these restrictions:

    • No flying within 10km of an airport.
    • No flying within 50m of a building or road.
    • No flying higher than 122m.
    • Your hobby drone must be flown in line of sight - in other words, not in the dark, not over people's heads, and so on.

    For more on the rules of flying hobby drones, see this htxt.africa story.

    What about a licence?

    As it stands, you don't need a licence for your drone unless you're using it commercially. Technically, if you're, say, a wedding photographer who uses a drone, or the owner of a YouTube channel that is bankrolled by YouTube and use drone footage on it, you should get a licence.

    In South Africa, drone licences are basically the duplication of aviation or pilots' licences - which means they're expensive, difficult to obtain and require a lot of medical tests. Read more here.

    However, if you're using your drone only for fun, and aren't making any money from your remote aviation adventures, then you're in the clear.

    Got a more traditional tech gift in mind for your loved one? Shop our Summer Deals at Vodacom Online today »