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Building A Drone Vs. Buying One: Find Out Which Is More Efficient and for Who

Buidling or buying the drones
Jack Brown
Written by Jack Brown

What’s your choice? Building a drone vs. buying one is quite an issue in the drone community and you’ll find people on both sides. However, regardless of preferences, it all adds up to how you’re going to use the drone, but we’ll discuss this a bit later.

First, a bit of knowledge on the most popular types of drones: they can be broadly categorized into three types – camera drones, racing drones, and toy drones.

  • DJI Phantom 4 and DJI Inspire 1 qualify for the popular camera drones, but they are only delivered as an RTF model – you can’t build these using a kit.
  • Racing drones come in both RTF and ATF or as a kit. The fun fact with these drones is that you can customize them and create a unique model that covers your needs (more speed, improved maneuverability, and so on).
  • Toy Drones like Hubsan X4 can be procured at $34 while Syma X5c for almost $44. These are usually RTF but they can be built using a kit or simply putting pieces together. However, they are very small and break easily.

Now the question is, which way should you go for? Should you build a drone or buy it readymade? Well, we’re going to answer this question in the following rows so continue reading!

Which One Should You Choose – Buying or Building?

If it is your hobby to shoot eye-catching videos or just spend some time with flying devices, then buying a drone is a great option. It will be much cheaper to purchase an already built drone while, for building it takes probably more than a week to assemble and start constructing the ready-to-fly model.

It is also no guarantee that you will be able to get the same level of smoothness in flight with a DIY model.

Buying a drone

To build a quadcopter, you need to assemble the drone frame, mount the motors and speed controllers, balance and mount the propellers and finally host the electronics comprising of the flight controllers, ESC plus the receiver. Lastly, you have to solder all the parts together by and you also need to solder the ESCs to the power distribution board.

Building a drone

Besides, you will have to find all the necessary items and compare prices and quality which is a time-consuming activity. Think of all the fine details you need to know starting with a motor that offers better bearings for lesser vibrations to fixing your drones with high-performance props. Surely, you do need some expertise and technical insight.

Since you are building on your own, the frame selection will be your first step. Based on the number of motors plus propellers, each frame is named after the type of drone. Thus we have quadcopter, octocopter, tricopter and hexacopter frames. If you’re already lost, it’s time to leave drone building to professionals and consider your very own RTF model.

The Logic behind Building Your Own Drone

If you are an individual who loves to experiment with every random fixture, screws and settings then building a multirotor is advisable.

Logic behind Building Your Own Drone

You have the advantage to modify every part or replace it with something of better quality or performance. It’s also a fantastic way to learn exactly how your drone works and how to control it for the best results.

Pros of Making Your Own Drone

  • A sense of self-achievement: If you want to feel like a designer and watch the drone take off the ground, then building a drone will give you a revered feeling of achievement.
  • Upgrading: If you build your own drone, each part can be replaced or changed with an improved one. Whereas, a purchased drone cannot be upgraded or replaced with something better.
  • Enriches learning: Making your own drone certainly would enrich your learning experience as you watch how things work and coordinate. You will gain tons of knowledge on assembling the parts, fixing them when damaged and then how to fly it.

Cons Of Making Your Own Drone

  • It costs more: Building a drone turns out to be costlier than buying one. The reason being, that you have to purchase all the accessories yourself and sometimes, these are more expensive separately. To make a sturdy drone, you need high-quality parts and these are always more expensive.
  • Time and patience consuming: A lot of time has to be dedicated before your self-built drone can take off. It’s definitely not something one can finish in a single day and is a test of the hours you put in and your patience too.
  • No guarantees: building a drone does not guarantee it will fly which can be very disheartening. Besides, if there is any defect you have to find and debug it, you can’t call customer support.
  • Technical know-how is a must: To build a drone you need technical expertise as you will be making and calibrating it on your own. There are online tutorials and YouTube videos to guide you, but there are some things that you’ll have to learn on your own.

Things to Consider Prior To Purchasing A Drone

The way a drone flies depends on its flight controller setup. Certain flight controllers are tuned for more agile flying, while others gear towards stability. However, regardless of your preferences, you should always invest in a good controller.

Controllers last long because the “transmitter” portion is detachable, so that it can be upgraded to operate with the different or latest communication technologies.

You should also know that not all drones that come as a whole are RTF.  However, the ones that are RTF, do not need any assembly. You just have to charge up the battery and install the propellers.

Purchasing A Drone

Another type of drones you’ll find on the market is the Bind- and- Fly (BNF) model. These come completely assembled minus but don’t have a controller.

With digital communication systems, even if your transmitter plus receiver are on the same frequency, they have to use the same manufacturer protocol for communicating with each other. Hence, always check that the controller functions with your drone prior to purchasing it.

And finally, the Almost-ready-to-fly (ARF) quadcopters lack a transmitter or receiver and even need partial assembly. An ARF drone gear might also leave out components like motors, ESCs, or even flight controllers and battery. Go through the descriptions accurately upon seeing ARF on the label.

Pros Of Purchasing A Drone

  • Cheaper: It is more economically efficient to buy a drone than making it.
  • Ready to fly: A purchased drone can be put into flight almost immediately. The Ready-to-Fly quadcopters only require a camera, battery, and propellers attachment to take to the skies.
  • Assistance: If you find any snags in your drone, you can complain instantly to the manufacturer and seek support. Moreover, if your drone suffers breakage while under the warranty, you can dispatch it to the manufacturer to be fixed or replaced. But, if your drone is self-made then it’s yourself who has to fix or alter it.
  • Nil technical know-how required: You need no technical knowledge for purchasing a drone. However, if you construct your own drone technical know-how is a must.
  • Better performance: unless you are an engineering professional who completely understands the principles of flying a device controlled from the ground, your drone won’t fly as smooth. That’s why, if you want to take pictures and videos with your drone, you should consider buying a model that it’s already assembled.

Cons Of Purchasing A Drone:

  • Cannot be updated: A purchased drone cannot be modified to adjust to your choice. Whereas, a drone that is self-built can be calibrated, altered and upgraded the way you desire.

Things To Make A Note Of While Investing On A Drone

Whether you buy a drone or build it yourself, you have to be aware of maintaining it in great shape and repairing it after a crash. You should also know the proper way to charge it. Many people are not aware of the fact that the drone should be rested for ten minutes prior to plugging a different battery after the first one runs out of power.

The purpose of the drone

While owning a drone­ you should know its main purpose like whether you require it for aerial photography or videography or for independent flying or FPV drone racing.

FPV drone racing

This will be great in helping your purchase.

Your expenses on a drone

Your money worth determines the price of the drone. Drones being an investment, you should be aware of its durability and the superiority of the used material. You should also estimate how much it will cost you in the near future and this means considering spare parts, accessories, a quality charger, extra battery sets, and extra propellers and prop guards.

Pricing and cost value

When we compare the difference between the building and purchasing price of the same drone you will notice the differences are quite big. For example, if we consider the Phantom 2 model – it can be bought as an RTF at $680. But when you want to make it a DIY project, the price of building it can go up to $683.

Also, if you want to use a Go Pro Hero 3 Gimbal on Phantom 2, this will cost you $960 on an RTF model but on a self-built drone would get up to $1033. The Go Pro Camera Hero 4 Gimbal would cost $1000 for a bought Phantom 2, whereas it is $1053 regarding DIY drone.

By using cheaper parts this means that the quality would be inferior, however you can build a drone below the $1000 price.

The build vs. buy choice

Flying quadcopters can be a costly hobby as flight controllers, motors and frames are not low-priced. In spite of whether you build or purchase, the starting expenses might overcome $300, and another $100 or more would be spent toward upgrades or alteration of damaged or worn-out items.

Drone building or buying

You might as well be thinking, whether to purchase a kit with the inclusion of all parts in a single package or assemble a quadcopter employing inbuilt parts or buy them separately?  A DIY build is the most suited alternative in such cases.

Kits

Kits are handy for people who do not have the time to know which parts will coordinate well with each other. The items in a kit are generally perfectly matched and pre-soldered that makes it convenient to build. It also appears cheaper as when similar configurations of components purchased independently are collected. In fact, the kit holds items that are solely developed by the manufacturer.

In reverse, when you build from an assortment of parts that is separately purchased, it might appear to be more time consuming and costly. But in the long term, it will be much cheaper to upgrade or change parts as you have more choices as you don’t have to buy from the same manufacturer.

Besides, you can purchase and configure any flight control board with the type of features that is needed. You have greater leverage in deciding the features of your choice.

The Frame

Good frames are available at cheap rates but they may break or require replacement due to wear and tear. For instance, the DJI F450 and Q450 frames are cheap, but durable and constitute great starter frames. However, keep in mind that, to build a frame you need the exact measurements, a drill, a hacksaw and screws, center plates plus arms made of carbon fiber or aluminum.

DJI F450 frame

As a conclusion, people have different available budgets and time. So, if you have money but limited time, kits are the best choice. But for persons with a limited budget and unlimited building thrill DIY is the way out!

A Bird’s Eye View On Drones

Drones have endless uses from photography to commercial applications and it’s important to know your requirements before being a proud drone-owner. If you are a beginner, the lightweight drones are ideal as they don’t registration.

As a beginner you will need stable drones, under the $100 price tag like Syma X51 with a flight time of 6 min. or the mini drone Nextech or the Cheerson CX-10W with a flying time of 4 mins. If you’re an experienced drone pilot, and you want to have some fun with a camera drone, you should consider one in the below $500 threshold like the Chroma ™ or Yuneec Q500.

Yuneec Q500.

If you are on the lookout for the best commercial drones with camera then DJI Phantom 3 Professional with a live HD level view or the DJI Inspire 1 with 18 mins flight time will be a great deal. Not to leave behind the bestseller drones of 2016 Syma X5C with a 100m range and the multifunctional Barbit Uplay that provides a Wi-Fi real-time transmission for recording and shooting which can be monitored from your mobile device.

List of best buys under $500

  • TBS Gemini: The mini racer quadcopter that is equipped with an FPV (First Person View) camera.
  • Walkera Runner 250: The ready- to- fly a racing drone with a basic kit that costs exactly $226.
  • Parrot AR 2.0 Elite: Parrot’s Bebop drone being slightly pricey, but the older AR 2.0 is priced at $300 and sends live shoot to your mobile device. It has a ten minute flight time.

The below $100 price tag

These are starter drones and are great fun flyers and include:

  • BLADE Nano QX RTF Quadcopter: It is priced at $90 and is a micro-drone, less than an ounce but flies quickly in restricted spaces.
  • UDI 6- Axis Gyro RC Quadcopter: Priced at $90 can fly at 30 meters above your standing point with a flight time of 9 minutes.
  • Syma X5 and X5 SW: Available $74.90, it is supplemented with a basic 720p camera for video streaming on your mobile. A perfect beginners drone, its standard model can be procured for $30 with a controller and it extends you a stabilized flight without camera or GPS that can cause battery drainage.
  • Air Hogs Helix X4: Procurable at $60 it’s a great learner quad with ducted fans and the finest protected propellers offered by any quadcopters.
  • Millennium Falcon Quadcopter: priced at $100, it reaches an astonishing 200-feet remote flying level and has a 6 minute flight time. It is equipped with an onboard gyro-stabilization and a 6 AA battery power.

As you can see, each situation (buying or building) has its own pros and cons. You need to weigh each of them corresponding to your requirements and see what fits best for you.

Air Hogs Helix X4

What are your views on this? Let us know in comments.

About the author
Jack Brown
Jack Brown

Jack is the Chief Pilot at MyDroneLab.com bringing experience, expertise and knowledge in this quite new industry. He is a graduate of the Drone/UAV Pilot Training Certificate program and member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Besides having all the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to drones, Jack and his team love to spend the time outside by the ocean, working on new features and teaching others how to pilot these amazing and exciting new robots.

  • Stuart Adams

    Thank you for this article. I love drones. But all I have are some RTFs. Though I’m looking forward to try to DIY at least once just to challenge myself. And if I could make a thing fly, that would be achievement unlocked.

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