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Before you buy a drone, test cheap

Hobby 2000, in Chateauguay, sells a variety of drones including this 110 mm one made by Dromida. (Jessica Deer, The Eastern Door)

It’s a bird!

It’s a plane!

Nope, it’s a drone!

Remote-controlled drones are one of the most popular items asked for this Christmas by people looking for a new hobby.

Jeremiah Johnson has been flying drones as a pastime for nearly four years.

“If you’re just getting into it for the first time, I’d recommend starting off with a cheaper model like an ‘AR DRONE’ to learn the basics, before spending on a high-priced, complicated machine,” said Johnson. “It’s much less devastating to crash and wreck a $60 drone then it is to wreck a $3,000 drone.”

That’s what he did.

“I started off with a cheap toy, one to learn how to fly them, before buying a professional unit. I got into in because I like photography and was bored with the usual photos from ground level and wanted to get a different perspective for my shots,” said Johnson.

Jeremiah Johnson’s DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter Drone.

He saved up for a DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter Drone. His hobby has also landed him jobs, from photography for building inspections, land surveying, and real estate, to film companies and even APTN.

“Some of them are NOT toys to be given to children,” said Johnson. “Crashes DO happen, which is why safety protocols must be followed to avoid hurting anyone or yourself.”

He said safety is also important –whether using for a hobby, photography or other commercial uses.

“Drones can be very dangerous and have cause serious injury to people who have been hit by them or the spinning blades,” said Johnson.

He’s has a few close calls – with birds.

“Seagulls can be very territorial and I’ve had occasions where I’ve had to land and fly somewhere else cause an angry seagull doesn’t want me violating his airspace,” he laughed.

This is the kind of stuff you can do with a drone like Jeremiah Johnson’s.

Hugues-André Meloche, the owner of Hobby 2000 in Chateauguay, recommends Dromida’s Verso 110 mm drone for kids over the age of 10 or beginners. The $60 item is for strictly flying, without an attached camera.

“This one could go 200 feet high, and maybe 300-400 feet from you,” said Meloche. “The biggest one we sell here is between $500 and $1,000, those can go approximately one kilometre.”

Meloche’s hobby shop specializes in remote-controlled cars and trucks, but also sells a number of beginner and intermediate drones. One of the popular models they sell most is Dromida’s larger model Vista 251 mm Performance Drone, which uses first-person view (FPV.) Those cost more around $200.

“The difference between just registering the video – this one you see it live on a cell phone. You can actually fly it from what you see on the screen,” said Meloche.

“This brand is one of the best brands for beginner and intermediate-level drones,” said Meloche about Dromida.

So how much practice does it take to be able to fly one of these bad boys?

Not much, according to Meloche.

“They’re quite easy. They’re very, very stable,” he said.

Whether the camera-less Verso, or larger drones which sell for around $1,000 – they all use the same four functions.

“You have the throttle – the higher you go – pivot, right/left, and forward/backward. These four functions are the same on all drones – high quality drones or lower-entry level drones. Even remote-controlled helicopters are the same basic functions,” said Meloche.

They’re also durable.

“The small one, the good thing is that they’re so light. When you have an accident, if there’s no big impact, it’s not that bad,” said Meloche.

“Obviously, if you free-fall from 50 feet, it will damage. The one important thing about everything we sell here – it’s always repairable. It’s not a toy that you buy, pay $50, and it might run two-weeks. Even this one, we have parts like the motor, even the board in the centre.”

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Jessica Deer was a staff reporter from 2015-2018 who started out in 2008 as a summer student.