Are Drones Worth It? (My Two Cents)

Peter Karanja |

Drones are some of the coolest gadgets one can own.

You may have watched videos about them, watched a friend fly one, or seen one fly at an event and thought, “should I buy a drone, too?” However, it’s not quite as simple a question as that. 

So, are drones worth it?

That depends on what you will be using the drone for. If you want a drone just for fun to fly in your backyard, you can get a fun, low-risk inexpensive one.

However, if you want a DJI or other high-ticket drone, only do so if you will use them for work, travel, or any other scenario that will enable the drone to pay for itself.

Don’t make the mistake I made of going in without analyzing my situation first. So, before I discuss whether you should get a drone, let me show you how I got to own my first drone.

How I Got My First Drone

I have a background in GIS, remote sensing, and land surveying, and we rely heavily on aerial imagery.

But we mainly use imagery from satellites and airplanes. I first encountered drones as a writer when I was paid to research and write about them in 2019.

It turns out that writing about drone use cases and using them practically are two different things. 

I ended up getting the DJI Mini 2, however, the issue was I didn’t have much of a background in photography, and the laws in my region were pretty restrictive about drone usage.

How I Turned It Around

simulation of drone doing land survey
Simulation of a drone doing a land survey. Source: Pilot Institute

Since I had already made the purchase and couldn’t find anyone to sell the drone to, I decided to get some use for it. 

I started by getting my license. It’s pretty different where I live and drone licensing costs $1200 – all the more reason I shouldn’t have rushed to get a drone without research.

During the training, I experienced firsthand how we can use drones not only for photography but also in land surveys, inspection, construction, and even agriculture.

I became one of the few licensed drone pilots in my country.

Also, with the help of Drone Launch Academy, UAV Coach, and Drone to 1K podcasts, I learned how I could use drones to make money.

Armed with that information, I started going to local picturesque areas and using my drone to film these areas and post them on social media.

Thankfully, regulations in my region started becoming more flexible (not as we’d hoped, but it’s something).

With time, I started getting the attention of local media stations, real estate companies, land survey companies, construction firms, and now I occasionally get drone gigs.

I even plan on getting the Air 2S to get better footage for clients.

Why Drones Are Worth It

With my experience with drones in the past few years, below are some reasons why I still think drones are worth it.

They Can Be an Extra Source of Income

drone spraying a field

If you spend time learning how to effectively use drones, edit the footage, and use various payloads like LIDAR and thermal sensors, you can use those skills to start a business or work for a company. 

As more technologies become miniaturized, drones can do much more than take aerial images.

For instance, in land surveying, you can take georeferenced images and use them to come up with DEMs, DTMs, orthomosaics, and even 3D maps.

There is a growing demand for this kind of output in several industries. Before, you needed airplanes to get that kind of data.

In agriculture, drones with multispectral sensors are helpful in crop health analysis and precision agriculture.

At the same time, larger drones like the DJI Agras T30 can be used to replace airplanes in spraying pesticides, surveying large tracts of land, and many other uses.

And even without getting too complex, you can use a basic drone to create videos and post them on YouTube. 

Sunsets, sunrises, and aerial footage of landmarks will get you some views and give you a sense of accomplishment.

Wedding and real estate photography are also huge and one of the easiest ways to start making money with your drone.

They Are Solving Critical Problems Worldwide

Besides being an essential data collection tool for a wide range of industries, drones are bridging a gap in delivery services.

Zipline has been using drones to deliver medical supplies and samples to rural and inaccessible areas in Rwanda, Ghana, and other parts of Africa.

solve critical problems - medical supplies delivery

The Covid-19 pandemic also showed how we could use drones to mitigate the effects of a pandemic by enhancing non-contact deliveries, collecting and transmitting real-time data, and even delivering broadcasts

Amazon and Google have joined this venture with their Prime and Wing projects.

While it takes a lot of money and resources to start such a venture, you can support this cause by investing in companies using drones to solve real-world problems or even contribute ideas.

They Can Take Your Photography to the Next Level

When attending my training for the license, most of the students there were filmmakers, photographers, and even travel vloggers. 

They already had a background in photography and videography but were now trying to improve by adding drone footage to their videos or taking aerial photographs. 

This makes sense because aerial videos are now everywhere, from movies and commercials to real estate promotional videos.

But you can’t make these videos with just a drone. You need to offer a complete package that includes handheld cameras, handheld gimbals, and other rigs that can’t be airborne.

They Can Help You Appreciate Nature

Travel bloggers and vloggers can attest to this, and I have experienced it too.

You will always encounter scenarios that need to be recorded whenever you are taking a walk, hiking, or just going about your day. But a handheld camera can only do so much.

An aerial view changes the perspective and makes it even more interesting. I never used to go out much, but now that I had a camera drone, I felt the urge to go out and use it.

Drone flying with mountains in the background

So, if you are a traveler wondering, “should I buy a drone for travel?” The answer is yes, you should. But make sure your usage adheres to the regulations of each region you visit.

You Are an Adrenaline Junkie

If you are into racing and have had some success with RC cars or FPV simulators, a drone could be worthwhile.

Drone racing is growing in popularity, and it’s now a recognized sport, with several tournaments being held yearly.

The Drone Racing League is one popular league where drone pilots race through a set of obstacles and stand a chance to win thousands of dollars and even more in sponsorships and promotions.

However, it’s pretty hard to get into, but you can always organize local competitions. 

The good thing about racing is you don’t have to travel much unless you want to. You can set up a track in your backyard, garages, or abandoned buildings and experience a whole new world of FPV. 

And if you have an electronics background, you can tap into that as you build your own drone. 

If you want to know if you’re into FPV racing, you should first try it on a simulator, like the DRL simulator, which even allows you to try out for the real thing.

This will be an inexpensive way to crash several times as you learn how to maneuver the tracks without damaging a drone.

Why Drones Are Not Worth It

Below are some of the reasons why it would not be advisable to get a drone.

Some Drones Can Be Expensive

An image of a drone surrounded by licenses and credit cards

While having a drone is a chance to make extra money or do it full-time, this venture can be expensive.

In the United States, getting Part 107 certification is not that complicated, but a decent drone still costs between $1000 and $10,000.

When you add the costs of operating the business, it gets too costly, especially when you don’t have any skills that go along well with a drone.

When you come to my part of the world, things are worse.

Every time I fly a drone, I must pay to use the airspace. Due to taxes and tax regulations, drones cost 30% more than they do in the USA, and there’s a lot of bureaucracy to owning a drone.

In such a case, having a drone hobby is not viable.

You need to get one for professional work. I have to admit, I experienced lots of financial strain just to get started, but I’m thankful it all paid off eventually.

If You Come From Areas or Are Traveling To Areas with Too Many Restrictions

If you are considering getting a drone to travel to other countries, you must be aware of the restrictions. 

In Kenya, for example, it’s very tricky for foreigners to bring their drones. And when they do, they have to get a temporary permit, which will cost them almost $20 daily. 

Not forgetting that there are areas like National Parks and military airspaces where you aren’t allowed to fly. And you may need to hire a local drone pilot, which adds to the cost.

a drone in front of a "drone restricted area" sign

We feel the strain when flying drones here, so we only get them for work, but it may not be worth it for a hobbyist traveler. 

And in countries like Morocco, Madagascar, Algeria, and Barbados, drones are prohibited.

Another issue is drones are difficult to transport. Some airlines may not want drone batteries in the cargo since they are a fire hazard.

Drones Are Risky

A handheld camera presents little to no danger unless you take pictures of prohibited areas. But launch a drone into the air, and you open a whole range of ways that things could go wrong. 

Drones have been known to fly close to planes and interfere with transport and rescue missions. In case of powerful winds, or technical or human errors, a drone could fly away or crash.

This could lead to damage to people and property. While you could learn to avoid all these issues, once you get the drone for the first time, the anxiety and fear of this happening hit the roof. 

If you feel like you could be a danger to other people, hold off buying a drone and get trained, or fly in the company of an experienced drone pilot.

Privacy Issues

A drone with a camera can be used to spy on people or even be used to hack into your home

A woman on a windowsill looking out at a drone

There are regions where if residents see you flying a drone, they’ll report you for spying, and you will have to travel to non-residential areas to use drones freely. 

There have been cases where DJI has also been accused of data leaks. If you are afraid of any of these, you shouldn’t get one.

Is It Worth Owning a Drone?

I believe owning a drone works best when you have a skill that goes along with it. Getting a drone, then finding what to do with it later will prove unfruitful and lead to frustrations. 

But it will be easier for a photographer, videographer, or land surveyor looking for a more efficient way to get aerial images and videos.

Owning a drone also helps you practice, especially when the drones you will need for work are expensive and out of reach.

For instance, I own the Mini 2, which I use to apply what I learn from podcasts and YouTube videos. 

But this hasn’t prevented me from flying the Phantom 4 RTK, Mavic 3, or Inspire 2 when working.

However, in case you got a drone and haven’t found better ways to use it, being able to lease it is another way to make money from it. 

This is a little difficult, and you could lose your drone, but with insurance and an experienced pilot, you can make something out of it.


Are Drones Worth It? – Final Words

In general, drones have more uses than drawbacks, so they are totally worth it. Nowadays, they fit into even more industries. But should you own a drone?

You can, but make sure you have more to do with it than just having fun.

Drones are like video games. You can’t keep playing the same level every day or you’ll get bored within a week.

Either get one for travel or work or always create challenges for yourself to ensure it doesn’t gather dust on your shelf.

But if you are unsure if you should get one or aren’t ready to start a new career as a drone pilot, start with a GoPro.

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Photo of author
Peter Karanja is a licensed drone pilot from Kenya, freelance writer and drone enthusiast. He has been using drones for land survey, GIS, and photography for the past three years. Being a drone user, he loves writing about drone applications, safety tips for using drones, and the best ways to get the most out of a drone.

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