Buyer’s Guide: How to Pick Your First Drone

TIME

It’s a good bet 2014 will be remembered as the year drones really took off.

I’m not talking about the controversial military kind, but rather the hobbyist-friendly quadcopters you’ve probably seen buzzing over beaches, parks, races and other open-sky areas.

Why the sudden ubiquity of these flying machines? Simple: It’s the cheapest first-class flight you can book, and the views are incredible. Companies like 3DRobotics, DJI, Parrot, and Syma have introduced a wide range of consumer-friendly quads, touting anyone-can-fly simplicity, high-resolution onboard cameras, and impulse-buy prices.

As sales soared like so many drones, YouTube overflowed with spectacular eye-in-the-sky video clips — the kind you’d normally expect to see from big-budget filmmakers with professional helicopter crews. (And when was the last time a helicopter pilot dared to venture inside a fireworks display?) These new toys afford us the freedom to go where birds go, with much of the…

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