Over the past few years, drones have gone from niche and expensive to mainstream and affordable -- thanks, in part, to companies such as DJI. And along with the increase in popularity of drones, there's been a corresponding increase in the number of accessories you can buy for your drone.
Having spent a lot of time using and testing drone accessories, I'm here to tell you that most of them are pointless and unnecessary.
Everything from mounts for GoPro cameras to floats that supposedly allow you to take off and land from water (yeah, right, your drone will get soaked from the spray) to parachutes.
You'll buy them, lug them around with you, and ultimately never use them (or, worse still, you'll use them once, and they'll result in drone damage).
In my experience, there are only three accessories that make a real difference for the drone pilot, whether recreational or commercial. These are the things that I use all the time and contribute to making my flying more enjoyable if I'm flying recreationally, or productive if I'm flying commercially.
You'd think that a big buzzing thing with lights on each corner and spinning props would be easy to see, but every drone I own turns into a hazy blur when in the sky. And those LEDs on the corners do little to help.
The solution -- attach a strobe to the top.
This helps you maintain VLOS (Visual Line Of Sight) with your drone, which is a requirement in many countries. It's also a handy safety feature because making something that has four spinning blades easier to see is never a bad thing.
There are a lot out there and I tend to use the Ulanzi DR-01 strobe for larger drones such as the DJI Air 2S, and the smaller and lighter Ulanzi DR-02 strobe for drones such as the DJI Mini 2. In fact, my Mini 2 with the DR-02 attached comes in at a whisker under 249g, which is good news because going over that weight changes the regulations in many countries.
Look at your phone when outdoors
You're going to be flying your drone outdoors. Think about how tricky it can be to look at your phone when you're outdoors.
Now imagine flying something worth hundreds of dollars, and you're relying on information from your screen to make decisions.
It took me ages of squinting at my iPhone to come to the conclusion that I'd benefit from a sunshade when flying. And since then, I've not looked back. Most are lightweight fold-flat assemblies that are held together with magnets, but even the cheapest does a good job.
For the newer DJI drones, I've been using the Skyreat sunshade, and it works great.
Good quality microSD card
Reliably store your 4K video
I've seen people spend hundreds of dollars on drones and then kit them out with some cheap, nasty microSD card from a dollar store and wonder why their 4K video is corrupted.
After years of testing in smartphones, cameras, and drones, I now only use SanDisk Extreme, SanDisk Extreme Plus, or SanDisk Extreme Pro cards, in sizes no bigger than 128GB (that forces me to take the footage off the card!). They're cheap, reliable, and temperature proof, waterproof, and shockproof.
I've never had a problem with these cards.
If you're confused by the jargon on microSD cards, here's everything you need to know.
DJI Fly More Combo
Just for DJI users
If you are buying a new DJI drone, then I strongly recommend that you get the Fly More Combo pack.
This kit comes with spare batteries (these things are expensive when you try to buy them separately -- and don't think about buying third-party batteries), a carry case man-bag thing that's good but not great, and some spare props and stuff like ND filters (handy if you want to capture cinematic video). If you're serious about drones, then those extra batteries alone will make the Fly More Combo a worthwhile purchase.
What are drone accessories?
Simply put: You can buy additional tools to level up your drone-flying experience. That's why ZDNet put together this guide of the essentials, so you can get the most out of that fancy unmanned aerial vehicle.
How did we choose these drone accessories?
These are tried and tested accessories. They're all useful and 100% recommended. Think I've missed out on a must-have accessory? Let me know!
What is the best drone to buy?
ZDNet has compared the best drones for photography and even for surveillance:
Looking for more drone buying advice?
Here's my take on which consumer drones are worth a look. I also recently shared my first impressions of the Autel EVO Nano Plus. But the very best drone for 2022 in my book is the DJI Mavic 3.