How we test drones


We don't want to drone on, but our flying skills are expert after this test...

How we test drones


It's hard to tell which drones are the best performers from a retailer's advertisement. How well are they designed? Are they easy to use and fly? What are their flight control systems like? Do they come with cameras so you can navigate via their camera system (first person view, or FPV)? We've done the hard yards and answered some of the hard questions.

Our expert testers

To test as many drones as possible to the extent required, we share costs and expertise with our sister consumer organisations around the world, using professional labs in Europe. Each year they test a few dozen drones, and we pick out the models you can buy in Australia, or easily import, for our reports.

Our testers have a huge range of experience, which gives us consistency not only in the quantifiable measures like function, control and safety, but also in more subjective areas of speed, photo/video quality and ease of use. For all the qualitative tests, our test labs use a panel of people and compare results against standard benchmarks (good, average and poor results) to minimise any bias.

How we choose what we test

Why do we choose one drone over another? There are a number of reasons for this, but our priority is to test what you will see in the shops. Just like CHOICE, our partners in Europe buy the drones they test from retailers to make sure they're assessing the same product the consumer buys. From the tested models, we select those that are widely available here. 

That means that sometimes we might not cover that one brand that has one model that's sold 100 units in Australia, and instead focus on the big brand models that you'll most likely see in the retailer. How do we know what's in retailers? We check current market figures to see what's selling well. We'll also include models that you've requested; if a lot of members want it, we're going to test it.

When we know what you want, our buyers go out and use your member funds to buy the drones from a variety of retailers, then bring them in as-is – this means we get what you'd get, so we can be sure the results are what you'll find, and not 'tweaked' any way. You may get other models from overseas, but there's no guarantee of support, or that all the advertised functions will actually work in Australia. We concentrate on the main brands and models suitable for serious use.

How we test

  • Flight performance includes how fast and responsive a drone is to fly
  • Ease of use includes the assembly and set-up and how easy it is to fly
  • Flight control systems assesses the control system and any sensor, camera or GPS controls in addition to the basic gyro level stabilisation 
  • Camera control and performance includes quality of footage and ease of recording with on-board cameras (if applicable)
  • Portability includes weight and whether assembly is required prior to each flight
  • Battery considers charge time and flight time
  • Safety assesses safety features, emergency override controls and tutorials
  • Build quality

Test criteria explained

Overall score

The overall score is a combination of the flight performance, camera performance, safety performance, ease of use, battery performance, build quality, flight controls and portability, weighted as follows:

  • Flight performance (30%)
  • Camera performance (25%)
  • Safety (15%)
  • Ease of use (10%)
  • Battery performance (5%)
  • Build quality (5%)
  • Flight control (5%)
  • Portability (5%)

Flight performance

Assesses initial lift-off, hover (stability), landing (stability/easiness), ability to cope with wind, slow figures of eight and return to base (operator ordering return manually).

Camera performance

Assesses the static still and video capability of the camera without the effects of flight in standard and reduced lighting conditions (earlier than darkness as drones are not suitable for flying at night). It also assesses the ability of the camera to take stills while filming video. Footage/images captured in flight are assessed as well. Image quality is compared to a colour correct monitor. Note that the 3DR Solo Drone Quadcopter does not ship with a camera (it's designed to support a GoPro which is sold separately). As such, camera performance was not assessed on this model.

Safety

Considers usefulness and effectiveness of features designed to improve safety and assist pilots in the event of an emergency, such as obstacle avoidance, auto-return to base, auto land when battery is critically low and flight speed restrictions. It also considers included tutorials and safety guides. Models with a high safety score are best for amateur and first time pilots.

Ease of use

Assesses setup, connecting to the app and flight control. Drones with higher scores are easier to set up and fly.

Battery performance

Takes into account the time the drone can last while doing a simple hover at 3m with no video record in little to no wind, as well as the time taken to recharge and power consumption of the battery charger when idling.

Flight control

Measures how well the craft flies, how sensitive it is to control inputs by the pilot, how easy/difficult it is to fly, how easy it is to maintain a constant height above ground level and how well it maintains its position. The mode chosen for flight testing will be the manufacturer's recommended mode or the mode which provides the greatest assistance to the pilot.

Portability

Assesses ease in transporting the drone to different locations (including size and weight), and whether or not assembly/disassembly is required before and after flight. Some of the drones come with good quality carrying cases but most do not. The transportability of the drones varies with some being able to be folded up with the propellers attached and others requiring disassembly, sometimes involving removing the camera, to aid portability. A potential user should ensure that whichever drone they select meets their portability needs.

Ready to buy?

See our latest drone reviews or check out our buying guide for help on what to look for.


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