33 UAV Experts Reveal Their Favorite Drone Accessory
BY Alan Perlman13 April 2015
I think we can all agree:
The right drone accessories can make or break your flights.
But there are tons of products to choose from. How do you decide which parts to buy?
To get to the bottom of this, we asked 33 UAV and drone experts one question:
“If you could only choose one drone accessory, which one would you choose and why?”
We wanted to discover what some of the top industry professionals, drone bloggers, news sites, companies, and pilots would use to enhance their flights if they only had one option.
Our goal was to get to the best of the best in drone parts, technology, and add-ons.
And guess what?
That’s what happened.
We found out the accessory each of these experts could not live without, whether they’re flying recreationally or it’s a crucial part of their business.
Here are the top 5:
Favorite Drone Accessories (as voted by 33 experts):
1) FPV System (5 votes)
2) Camera (4 votes)
5) All others (1 vote each)
Keep reading to discover why each expert considers these mods crucial to their flying arsenal.
You can also use the following links to navigate to industry professionals, drone bloggers, companies, or pilots (and to each expert).
We’re sure you’ll find some hidden treasures to add to your own collection :).
So grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy!
Type of Expert:
UAV Industry Professionals
Chris Anderson (3D Robotics & DIY Drones) – GoPro Hero 4
Thanks for the nice note! I wish my answer were less predictable, but it’s the truth: GoPro Hero 4. From mapping to video, nothing does more jobs better. -c
Expert Bio: Chris Anderson is the founder of DIY Drones, a community for amateur UAV enthusiasts, and the CEO of 3D Robotics, the “premiere advanced drone, UAV, multicopter, autopilot, and autonomous vehicle control company in the world.”
John Githens (Aerial Whidbey) – 3-Axis Gimbal
If you want the highest quality videos or images with the most flexibility for different operating conditions, a good choice would be a 3-axis gimbal designed and tuned by the manufacturer to work with your specific UAV and high-quality camera. A step further would be to buy a product that includes two remote control units, so one operator pays attention to flight while the other operates the gimbal/camera subsystem. For GPS-enabled modes of operation, you may want to use this link to check for times with maximum satellite visibility at your flight location.
Expert Bio: John Githens is the owner and editor of Aerial Whidbey, an aerial media company that provides real estate videography and aerial property inspections on Whidbey or Camano Island.
Follow John: LinkedIn
Charlotte Ziems (Drone Analyst) – A Buddy (Spotter/Camera Operator)
While there are many accessories that Colin Snow and I think are nice to have—like prop guards, monitor shades, and travel cases—we believe the most essential accessory is a buddy. Having someone else with us, either as spotter or camera operator—always delivers a better result. With solo filming, it’s virtually impossible to have your eyes on the craft at all times, and it’s those extra set of eyes that can help prevent mishaps. And, of course, having a buddy there just makes the experience a lot more enjoyable.
Expert Bio: Charlotte Ziems is the Chief Content Officer of Drone Analyst — Market Analysis for Commercial Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). They provide participants in the commercial drone ecosystem – including end-users, technology vendors, and service providers – with research-based insights needed to make critical investment decisions with confidence.
Drone Bloggers and News Sites
Craig Issod (Drone Flyers) – Improved Landing Skids/Gear
I’d have to say that improved landing skids/gear are my favorite accessory due to their protection of the drone and cameras. Ideal landing skids have a certain amount of give in order to reduce the shock to the electronics and body of the quadcopter. They are also wider and provide for more ground clearance.
Expert Bio: Craig Issod runs Drone Flyers, one of the top quadcopter, multicopter, and drones resources. “This site is all about helping beginners with buying and flying quadcopters and other multirotors.”
Oscar Liang (OscarLiang.net) – 1) Props 2) Batteries
If I can only choose one drone/multirotor accessory, it depends on my flying style:
It’s one of the cheapest drone accessories and also the most vulnerable.
I am crazy about flying fast proximity in the wood, I must break 5 to 10 pairs of props in a day flying there. But no matter where you fly, a damaged prop is inevitable and having lots of spare props ensure you are in the air.
On a good day, I like to go flying somewhere remote and explore nature.
Having a good number of battery packs is just as important as having enough props to keep you going.
Have fun flying.
Expert Bio: Oscar Liang runs OscarLiang.net, his personal blog where he shares projects related to “electronics, robotics, multicopters, website building etc, things that I have learned and done.” He also has a really cool homepage/portfolio.
Drew Prindle (Digital Trends) – 3-Axis Gimbal
If I could only get one accessory for my drone, it’d definitely be a gimbal—preferably a 3-axis one with some sort of vibration dampening built in. There’s just something so majestic and sexy about super-smooth aerial video, and you can’t get that effect without gimbal stabilization.
Expert Bio: Drew Prindle is a writer for Digital Trends, a technology news and review site with a mission to “help readers easily understand how tech affects the way they live.” Drew’s fascination with technology began at an early age – shortly after he licked a 9-volt battery for the first time. It was this first taste of technology that sparked his interest in how electronics work, and he’s been obsessed ever since.
Les Shu (Digital Trends) – Propeller Guards
Nothing freaks me out more than those propellers. I would get some propeller guards to make sure I don’t end up hurting myself or someone else. Also, drones tend to have short battery lives; I’d look into some sort of extended battery.
Expert Bio: Les Shu is the photography editor for Digital Trends, a technology news and review site with a mission to “help readers easily understand how tech affects the way they live.” Les Shu’s approach to tech is simple: Highlighting the best products that are easy to use with the most bang for your buck.
David Vanderhoof (The UAV Digest Podcast) – Common Sense
I am far from being a drone pilot. For Christmas, I received an Estes Syncro. It has spent more time bouncing into walls than flying straight and level. With that being said, the single most important accessory that I have derived from my UAV Digest experiences is to use common sense. Be smart! Think before you fly. Over the long run, it will save you time, money, and possibly your business.
Expert Bio: David Vanderhoof and Max Flight host The UAV Digest, a weekly audio podcast devoted to unmanned aerial vehicles. “We look at military applications, commercial applications, and even homebuilt applications.” (The podcast has been running since June 2008!)
Crashpilot (FPVblog) – A Zaggometry
The Zaggometry is a must have drone accessory for everybody flying with a Taranis and a Naza flight controller. It tells you the actual GPS position of your drone, which is very useful to find crashed drones and log your flights for later visualization. Crashpilot from FPVblog equipped his TBS Discovery Pro with this little 30$ add-on. The tiny Zaggometry adds a missing link by connecting the NAZA GPS signal with the live telemetry display and logging system of the Taranis remote controller.
Expert Bio: Crashpilot runs FPVblog, which discusses “stories about quadcopters, aerial photography & filming, RC tech and first-person-view piloting.” Crashpilot is a software engineer with EE background who also worked as a videographer in the past.
Vali Ciobanu (Droneblog) – Life Preserver
If doing a lot of flying near water, the one drone accessory we would choose would be the one from Project Ryptide. This is a life preserver that automatically inflates on contact with water, and can be dropped to rescue a swimmer in distress, but can also save your drone if it makes an unplanned water landing!
Daniel (QuadHangar) – Extra Batteries
The drone’s accessory market is very exciting and I see new cool gadgets coming up every week!
But if I had to choose only one (what a pity!) I would go straight to the extra batteries.
Most quads only fly 15 to 25 minutes with the default battery pack, so unless you want to stay next to a power plug and wait for the battery to recharge (boooring!) you wanna have extra battery packs for a nice afternoon of fun.
Some manufacturers sell more powerful versions of the default battery pack, otherwise, check the aftermarket that offers good alternatives for a cheaper price.
And now two important advises about batteries.
First, never ever buy used batteries! Reason being that you have no idea if the previous owner dropped it, over-charged it, or anything.
Second, remember that LiPo batteries can explode! That’s not too scary to you, but just don’t leave them charging while you’re not around and don’t charge them next to objects/materials that can catch fire.
Ready to fly longer?
Expert Bio: Daniel runs QuadHangar, a site dedicated to in-depth quadcopter reviews — to help people decide which drone best meets their needs before purchasing.
Ben Coxworth (Gizmag) – Manipulator Arm (future)
Although I’m fascinated by drones, I also wish that there was more I could do with mine. After flying it up and down, back and forth for a while, it all gets a bit samey. If it had an ROV-like manipulator arm, however, I could actually perform tasks with it. I’m not sure what those tasks would be – perhaps retrieving Frisbees from roofs, delivering items to friends’ apartment balconies, or things like that. I don’t know of any commercially-available aftermarket drone arms, although DARPA is developing them for the military.
Expert Bio: Ben Coxworth is a writer for Gizmag, an online magazine covering new and emerging technology news (read by more than 5 million people per month). Ben is an experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer. His interest in “all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that’s designed to go underwater.”
Gary Mortimer (sUAS News) – Countdown Timer
Should I become a fairy godmother and bestow a single thing for all drone users then it would be a countdown timer on everyone’s transmitters. Battery mismanagement is a big cause of incidents.
Expert Bio: Gary Mortimer is the editor of sUAS News, the first drone news resource live on the web. He has been flying RPAS in support of conservation efforts in Africa since 2006.
Nick Lavars (Gizmag) – Spare Battery
In my experience, time spent flying a drone isn’t cut short by boredom or tired fingers, but by that red flashing battery icon. Having a spare battery in your bag ready to be swapped in is a sure way to ease the anxiety. It’s great that we are seeing newer drones come with a spare battery out of the box, but if I could choose one accessory only, it’s still going to be the one that lets me fly for longer.
Expert Bio: Nick Lavars is a writer for Gizmag, an online magazine covering new and emerging technology news (read by more than 5 million people per month). “Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. Having worked for publications such as The Santiago Times and The Conversation, he now writes for Gizmag from Melbourne, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, the city’s bizarre weather, and curried egg sandwiches.”
Companies and Manufacturers
Fabrice Kunzi (Panoptes UAV) – eBumper
I, of course, would say that you should choose the eBumper, but then you wouldn’t have the option to carry a camera or something else nice that would actually make the drone flight worth it… Alternatively, one could argue that a system like the Panoptes eBumper should not be an optional accessory but instead be an integral part of the drone to begin with. So in that case, the one accessory to add to the (eBumper-equipped) drone would, of course, be a camera! ‘Cuz now you can go film things without hitting stuff!
Expert Bio: Fabrice Kunzi is the Chief Technology Officer at Panoptes UAV, a company focused on “giving small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) “all-seeing” awareness of their flight environment, enabling their safe and efficient operation for any application.” They are the creators of the eBumper — a sonar-based obstacle avoidance system for drones.
Thomas Jespersen (TKJ Electronics) – FatShark FPV Goggles
As an experienced drone user and developer one of the things that I enjoy the most is when I just happen to stop up for a second, put the development on hold and play with my drones together with a pair of FPV goggles.
When you have managed to get a good hold of the controls and maneuvers of your quadcopter or hexacopter I highly recommend to get yourself a pair of FatShark FPV video goggles together with a proper camera. Or if you have already mounted a GoPro on your drone you could easily buy an adapter cable to use the video output from that.
Being able to see what the quad sees at real-time, all from above and to fly over the environment that you are used to sseeing only from below, is a completely surrealistic experience. And FatShark makes the difference.
A “must have” for all drone enthusiasts!
Expert Bio: Thomas Jespersen is the CEO of TKJ Electronics, an electronics consultancy and production company. Before TKJ Electronics was founded, Thomas had spent a lot of money on development boards, but never really found a development board which suited his finance and needs. Then he got the idea to create a company whose main interest would be to demonstrate and create a wide spectre of electronic development boards, at reasonable costs. “We hope that our boards will help students, hobbyists, universities and other people interested in electronics getting started with electronics development themselves!”
James Carroll (Vision Systems Design) – Multispectral Camera
A multispectral camera would be a particularly useful accessory for a UAV. It can be used to capture images of different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, for a number of different applications, including agriculture, surveillance, environmental monitoring, and other remote sensing needs.
Expert Bio: James Carroll is the Senior Web Editor at Vision Systems Design, a worldwide company providing vision and automation solutions for engineers and integrators. Click here to subscribe to their E-Newsletter.
Professional Aerial Videography & Photography Pilots
Parker Gyokeres (Propellerheads) – Wide Neckstrap
A good wide neckstrap attached to a properly balanced transmitter bracket has totally changed my flying experience. I’m a fan of the blue detachable Turnigy strap and give them to all of my build clients. I mount my monitor and receiver to my transmitter, and I find my IQ drops thirty points if my wrists start cramping up from the weight. It also helps that your controller doesn’t do a gainer on you when you dangle it off the strap while adjusting something on your vehicle. Nothing looks quite as professional as your monitor falling off in front of a client.
Expert Bio: Parker Gyokeres is the owner, pilot and pointy-head-in-charge at Propellerheads, a New York-based business providing professional aerial photography, cinematography, and UAV building services for pilots of all types. Parker was also an award winning U.S. Air Force Photojournalist and Chief of Public Affairs who recently retired from 22 years of distinguished service to dedicate his life to changing the way we see our world.
Tim Trott (Southern Helicam) – Landing Pad/Li-Po Battery Storage
My favorite UAV accessory is the “Landing Pad” from UAVBITS.net. Here’s my demonstration video (first time use). The UAVBITS helipad allows me to avoid grass, sand, and debris on take offs and landings – (avoiding damage to props and motors); the perforations in the platform appear to minimize ground effect, particularly on landings; and the target zone is excellent for improving landing skills (depth perception, etc.). It also makes an excellent tool for training new operators.
On the recommendation of something I read online or in a Tweet somewhere about Li-Po battery storage safety, I bought a military surplus ammunition case. Specifically: “200 cartridges- 7.62 mm M13”. With the addition of a few pieces of shipping foam, it fits my 5 – DJI Phantom 2 batteries perfectly. In the field, I place the charged batteries in one direction and put the discharged batteries the other way. I also found a “Battery charging safety bag” online on eBay to complete the “Battery Safe Handling” package.
Here are a few images, provided by Tim:
Expert Bio: Tim Trott is the owner of Southern Helicam, a low altitude aerial photography service specializing in real estate. Tim is also the author of “The Droner’s Guide“, a book that provides the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle/Systems operator (“Droner”) with extensive resources and guidance from mastering flying skills to meeting current and future FAA requirements.
Follow Southern Helicam: Twitter
Follow The Droner’s Guide: Twitter
John (Aerial Affair) – A Weather App
I have flown hundreds of jobs over the years and grew up across the street from the largest (now gone) RC Plane Airstrip in Orange County, Ca.
When I was a kid, I was taping video camera’s on my gas powered RC planes and capturing aerial video 35 years ago. From this point on, you need to have a weather App. Weather is the most important aspect of flying. Become a weatherman. Do your research, know the area’s weather patterns, the winds and the tricks of the wind currents. Also, fly when the sky is blue. Your camera sees what the weather IS. A cruddy day produces cruddy pictures and video’s. Wind crashes drones, and trust me I know (Multiple Crashes). Also know the capabilities of your drone. Know what type of wind you can fly in.
All a drone is, is a piece of metal to lift the magic, and the magic is the camera. Doesn’t matter the size, shape, number of props, of your drone. All that matters is that it is capable to lift a camera that captures the essence of what your trying to film. If you cheapen out anywhere, don’t do it for the sake of the camera.
Know your weather, know your bird, use a great camera.
Expert Bio: John is the President of Aerial Affair, an aerial photography and cinematography company based in Orange County, California. “By using the most sophisticated and efficient radio controlled aerial video drones, we capture images from eye level to 400 feet. Viewing the finished aerial video can only be described as a one-of-a-kind awesome experience.”
Paul Charbonnet (Atmosphere Aerial) – An FPV System
I would definitely say an FPV system. Over the years we have tried every type of FPV system with varying results. Since we are doing cinematic video, being able to see what we are shooting is key. Directors aren’t usually as knowledgeable as us with UAV and the equipment. That being said, we’ve always come back with stunning footage and happy clients.
Expert Bio: Paul Charbonnet is a UAV pilot and the Head of Aerial Video Development at Atmosphere Aerial, an aerial cinematography and photography company based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “Atmosphere Aerial was started from the passion and love of flying and camera work. We then took those loves and combined them to get the best aerial photography and video solution you have ever seen.”
Petr Hejl (NotADrone.com) – Camera Gimbal
To me, the most important part of any photography/video drone is the camera gimbal. The copters may be fun to fly, but they just provide an easy to control platform to get our camera in the air. It is the gimbal that gives us the ability to get the “silky smooth” shots we expect of our machines, which is perhaps the main reason for the popularity of the drones that we are currently experiencing. Without it, the copters would just be another RC with a very few niche uses.
Expert Bio: Petr Hejl runs NotADrone.com, the central hub for his aerial videography services. Petr is also a contributor, editor, and “chief test pilot” of the first UAV magazine in the US, the Multirotor Pilot. “My network of industry experts and artists enables me to find the right custom-tailored and hassle free aerial videography solution for wide variety of clients, from production companies, through event managers, to real estate and building business, and anyone in between.”
Christian Loran (Cinemaflight) – Telemetry System
If I could only choose 1 accessory for my custom built aerial video multirotor it would have to be a telemetry system. Telemetry allows me to monitor the status of my craft and its power consumption in real time. This is extremely useful and can prevent crashes due to low power. There are independent systems you can buy, or some transmitters & receivers come with convenient telemetry features. Here at Cinemaflight we utilize Frsky – taranis x9d radios in conjunction with their telemetry enabled receivers.
Expert Bio: Christian Loran is the President and CEO of Cinemaflight, a marketing service specializing in real estate that offers professional aerial photography, video tours, promotional videos, and much more. “We cater to numerous industries and real estate is one of our specialties.”
Follow Christian: LinkedIn
Chad Black (Arid Productions) – Camera
If we could only choose one drone accessory, it would be the camera. It’s the foundation for which all of our other accessories are based off of. Simply put, without a camera, we’d be out of business.
Expert Bio: Chad Black is the Chief Cinematographer and General Manager of Arid Productions, a media company providing professional photo, video, and services to maintain an effective internet presence. “Since 2006, Arid Productions has been used by every major broadcast television network in the United States, and many others worldwide.”
Graeme (Above Barbados) – FPV & iOSD
Can’t live without FPV and iOSD. Simple. You couldn’t get the shots, the angles, the information or fly anything of worth without a decent, high-definition FPV.
What I’d like invented? Simple – reliable, long-life, long-flight time batteries!
Expert Bio: Graeme is an aerial media expert with Above Barbados, a company offering aerial video and photo on the island of Barbados. “Above Barbados offers an exciting new perspective on our beautiful island – rise up in the sky to take exciting aerial footage in high-definition.”
Terrice McClain (Sky Pros) – 3-Axis Gimbal
If I could only choose one accessory, aside from the obvious choice of a camera. I would have to say a 3 axis gimbal. Aerial video is a very compelling art form, which simply attracts viewers. When you add the stability and versatility or a 3 axis gimbal. The operator is able to create very unique shots, shots that are smooth and pleasing to watch at any altitude. Adding the extra dimension unlocks a new avenue of creativity.
Expert Bio: Terrice McClain is the Owner of Sky Pros, a visual marketing and cinematography company specializing in capturing and editing aerial video for marketing and special events, such as real estate properties. “Here at Sky Pros we believe that aerial cinematography is more than connecting a camera to a UAV. We believe that it’s a professional combination of both art and science.”
Orlando Masis (Aerial51UAV) – Telemetry System
If I could only choose one drone accessory I would choose a Telemetry system, nothing extraordinary just something simple that plugs to your Lipo battery and has good range. The main concern here is safety, not only for your expensive rig but anything you’re flying over. Knowing how much time you have left on your batteries is critical for bringing your rig back home and landing it safely.
Expert Bio: Orlando Masis is a UAV pilot and Managing Partner of Aerial51UAV, an aerial videography and photography company specializing in low altitude aerials. “Aerial51UAV was founded by professional photographers and UAV pilots to provide astonishing low-altitude aerial video imagery.”
Monterey Drone – FPV Goggles (w/ clover leaf antennas) & iOSD
…there are two add-on products we would highly recommend:
2. iOSD – On Screen Display.
We found that these two items allow a drone/UAS pilot to be most aware of his surroundings and provide the highest level of safety to the public, and over all public safety.
Have a great day, and happy flying.
Expert Bio: Monterey Drone is an aerial video and photography firm located on the central coast of California. “Our Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) are equipped with the latest electronics, including HD video cameras, gyro-stabilized gimbal camera mounting systems, and progressive software applications to get the shots and footage that were previously only available from full size aircraft.”
Follow Monterey Drone: Facebook
Scott Snell (XFactor Aerial) – Avoidance System w/ Live Measurements (future)
The one thing I would love to have would be a detect and avoid system – But an avoidance system that would give me live measurements / telemetry readings to objects that were in my flight path would be a HUGE plus! I know there are some systems and even some UAV’s that are being developed to do just that – I just think would be an incredible step helping this technology grow and to help the safety of operation.
Expert Bio: Scott Snell is a UAV pilot and VP of Operations at XFactor Aerial, a full-service production company specializing in aerial video and photography. As a 25-year veteran of the television broadcast industry, Scott has covered high-profile entertainment and sporting events across the country and around the world, including the Olympics, NFL Football, NASCAR and the Indy 500.
Rob Haller (St Louis Drones) – A Wide Brimmed Hat
Funny, but an important tool when flying our setup is a wide brimmed hat! LOL, seriously, in the summer I have an extended ball cap and in the winter I wear a wide brimmed fedora. The hat helps keep the sun exposure to a minimum in order to see the monitor more clearly and with less sun glare.
Expert Bio: Rob Haller is an aerial photographer, director, and navigator with St Louis Drones, an aerial cinematography company offering professional photography and video for the St Louis and Midwest region. “We offer cost efficient drone packages that enable our clients to obtain aerial footage where it once would have been too expensive.”
Mike Haller (Saint Louis Aerial Video) – DIY Landing Pad
I like my $12 landing pad we bought at the hardware store. We take-off and land from the un-rolled carpet with a rubber backing. It’s great when there is mud or small gravel to prevent our unit from clinging in the mud or whipping small pea gravel around us.
Expert Bio: Mike Haller is a UAV pilot at Saint Louis Aerial Video, an aerial video and photography production company based in St Louis, Missouri. “St Louis Aerial Video and Photography provide an overall picture not possible from the ground.”
Follow Saint Louis Aerial Video: Google+
Mike Pruett (MLT Group) – A Camera
Our favorite drone accessory is the camera, of course! Aerial videography adds a bit of flair to the industries that we work with, including the transportation, agriculture, and government sectors. A “bird’s eye view” of the business adds something special to any marketing plan.
Expert Bio: Mike Pruett is Owner and Head of the Video Production Team at MLT Group, a full-service marketing agency that offers aerial video production services to their clients. “If you can dream it, we can do it with our drone aerial videography capabilities.”
JJ Trinidad (Skyecam) – HD Video Goggles
An accessory I would definitely get would be HD Video Goggles to have an immersive feel of actually being in the cockpit of the aircraft.
The main reason why I prefer them over having a monitor is so the pilot is truly focused on capturing the shot and feeling like you are virtually flying at the same time.
Expert Bio: JJ Trinidad is a Drone Operator, Camera Operator, and Engineer at Skyecam, a Los Angeles based Aerial Drone Video and Photography service in the heart of Hollywood. “Their advanced piloting skills, extensive knowledge in radio control aviation and the ability to capture the moment brings Skyecam to the professional world of aerial cinematography.”
A HUGE thank you to everyone who contributed to this article! We couldn’t have published it without you.
And hopefully you were able to dig through the clutter and find some new parts to try out :).
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To recap, here are the results:
Favorite Drone Accessories (as voted by 32 experts):
1) FPV System (5 votes)
2) Camera (4 votes)
5) All others (1 vote each)
Now it’s your turn:
If you could only choose one drone accessory, which one would you choose and why?
Join the discussion on our community forum.