What is headless mode on a drone?
Headless mode represents a specialized flying mode that is present on virtually all entry-level drones available on the market. It eliminates the need for focusing on drone’s orientation and enables a much easier Line of Sight flying experience.
This is even more true for beginners whose main problem is getting their control inputs to align with their drone’s current orientation. Being unable to tell which part of the drone is the front and which is the back is how most beginners’ crashes happen.
But, thanks to headless mode, beginners can easily control their UAV in all directions since this feature tracks the drone’s orientation with its transmitter and not its general in-space orientation. In layman terms, no matter where your drone’s front side is pointing, pressing left on the transmitter will always make the drone go left in your current point of view… In other words, the headless mode takes commands in relation to your current orientation and not its own. This would, of course, not be the case with normal mode when your drone’s front side points towards you – if you press left, it will go right.
Here’s a quick illustration showing what happens when you press your right control stick in a certain direction depending on whether or not you have headless mode turn on:
I hope that now you have the right answer to your “What is headless mode” question?
How to activate headless mode?
Now when we know what does headless mode means, let’s find out how to activate it! Unfortunately, for this question there isn’t a “one answer fits all” scenario. Instead, all drones use different methods for activating the headless mode. Still, they’re all fairly simple and include just one push of a button in order to get it to work.
However, there are some models that have headless mode hidden away. So, if you cannot find it anywhere and you’ve already pressed all of its keys… then it might be activated with a long press. For that, I suggest you go ahead and get informed by reading the manual. I’m sure you will find an illustration of your controller as well as the explanation on how to activate the headless mode.
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Let’s face it, headless mode is the ideal feature for kids and beginners. It allows people who’ve never operated with a drone before to get a grasp on the control in a simple manner without too many obstacles. You point left, it goes left. You point right, it goes right. So, if you’re on the lookout for children’s drones featuring headless mode, then the following three models are the perfect match!
Table: Kids headless mode drones
|Image||Name||Range||Flight Time||Best Offer|
|3. Syma X5C-1||30m||6min||See best offer|
|2. Snaptain S5C||80m||7min||See best offer|
|1. Altair AA108||100m||10min||See best offer|
3. Syma X5C-1
Syma X5C-1 is a drone that comes in 2 different versions. One will set you back for slightly over $20 but comes as a BNF model without a camera or charging cable. The second version will set you back by double the money but sports a controller, 2GB SD card, charging cable and a miniature camera.
A Higher price is justified as it would cost you much more than that if you went on and purchased all that accessories separately. But, generally speaking, is Syma X5C-1 a good entry-level drone? Well, let’s just say it can surprise you with everything it has to offer…
Camera and features
Starting off with the features, Syma X5C-1 obviously sports headless mode. On top of that, it also features 360 eversions (continuous flips) which can be considered as icing on the cake. Camera-wise, Syma X5C-1 has received an upgrade in the form of an HD-ready sensor. More precisely, this miniature camera can record videos in 720p which it saves on the provided 2GB MicroSD card.
But, when it comes to flight stability, that’s where this birdie shines the most. Thanks to a great transmitter and fast flight controller, maneuvering with Syma X5C-1 is a breeze. Controls are responsive and specialized flying mode for beginners makes things a lot easier for first-time flyers.
Specifications are not a downside either. Syma X5C-1 runs on a 1S 500mAh LiPo battery. It takes around 1 and a half hours to charge it up and it can provide approximately 6 minutes of flight time. Not a lot, I know… but getting 5 replacement batteries and a 5 in 1 charger could do you a world of good.
Operating range goes somewhere around 30 meters which is by no means bad for a drone costing as little as this. All in all, if you’re looking for a responsive and highly stable drone with a good camera, Syma X5C-1 should definitely be your go-to option!
2. Snaptain S5C
After checking out the age-old Syma X5C, it’s time to explore a similarly named model, S5C. It’s not made by Syma, though. We’re talking about Snaptain S5C here, a cheap entry-level model that serves as a great introduction to the drone world.
Camera and Features
Snaptain S5C is one of those affordable camera drones primarily targeting children. The onboard camera isn’t exactly good, featuring shaky 720p footage and mediocre stills. But, for roughly $80 (you can get it for even cheaper than that when it’s on sale), it’s not supposed to feature a potent camera. The same goes for virtually all other drones at this price point.
On the bright side, Snaptain S5C does have a bunch of features to its tally. We’re mainly talking about basic stuff like one key takeoff/landing, VR headset compatibility, gesture/voice control, as well as the focal feature of this guide, headless mode. For under $100, Snaptain S5C delivers across all fronts, and does so with a fine package that comes with an extra battery,
Talking about batteries, Snaptain S5C’s 3.7v battery can handle around 6-7 minutes of flight time. It might seem like short flight time, but that’s about what you can expect at this price point. The same goes for the range, which extends to around 50 to 80 meters. Obviously, Snaptain S5C is one of those backyard flyers for kids, and with more than 3,300 positive reviews on Amazon, it’s surely one of the best ones currently available.
1. Altair AA108
The third spot on Best Headless Drones list goes to the one and only Altair AA108. Many of you haven’t even heard about this drone and I cannot start to explain just how awesome it is.
Of course, we are talking about another toy grade model… but this one can actually provide a great range, solid flight time, impressive stability and best of all – unparalleled (at least at this price point) aerial videos thanks to its camera…
Camera and features
While we are already talking about the camera, I should tell you right off the bat that it’s basically a 2MPX sensor, very similar to the 2 above. However, thanks to spectacular flight stability and the perfect camera angle, Altair AA108’s camera performs way better than others.
There’s not a lot of jello in aerial videos (in 720 @30fps) plus selfies are pretty clean as well. So, if you’re looking for an entry-level drone that will boost your selfie game, I reckon you should give Altair AA108 a go.
You will also get an extra battery as well as a spare set of props to help you save money after your first couple of crashes. Additionally, I should also mention that Altair AA108 sports FPV, headless mode (obviously), 3-speed modes, altitude hold and even out of range/low battery alarm to help you find your drone if you happen to lose it.
Specifications-wise, Altair AA108 is looking like a proper beast. Thanks to a powerful LiPo battery and lightweight design, its flight time can go up to 10 minutes with normal use. The operating range doesn’t fall too much behind more expensive models – roughly 100 meters. FPV range, on the other hand, is roughly half of that… which is still not bad considering the price tag Altair AA108 sells for.
Let’s up the price a bit. All three following drones possess beginner-friendly characteristics, including headless mode. However, in contrast to drones for kids, these models sport much better cameras as well as extra layers of safety and stability. They feature onboard GPS and pose as much better flyers, no matter the weather conditions.
Table: Enthusiasts headless mode drones
|Image||Name||Camera||Range||Flight Time||Best Offer|
|3. MJX Bugs 5W||4K||1km||18min||See best offer|
|2. Ruko F11||4K||0.5km||25min||See best offer|
|1. Hubsan Zino||4K||4km||22min||See best offer|
3. MJX Bugs 5W
MJX might not be as popular as it was a few years ago, but it’s still among the highest quality drone brands out there. Their Bugs 3 and 2W are iconic, and their 5W, a much newer model, seems to be on the right path too. Let’s see why…
Camera and Features
The camera is miles ahead of all three aforementioned drones for kids. It boasts with a solid 4K camera (there’s also a 1080p version), a motorized gimbal that allows for 180-degree movement, and does a pretty good job of stabilizing the footage. The only downside of 5W’s camera is the wide-angle lens. It gives that nasty fish eye effect. Some people can live with it, I can’t. It’s as simple as that.
Bugs 5W will set you back for around $200, depending on which package you go for. There is a full HD version too, which cost slightly below the $200 mark. If, however, you’d like to get the package that includes extra batteries, you’ll have to spend upwards of $200. On the bright side, Bugs 5W does a good job of justifying the price tag. The drone features GPS, brushless motors, and precise altitude hold, all of which drastically improve the overall flying experience. Not to mention the addition of stuff like follow me, return to home, and point of interest…
MJX Bugs 5W won’t disappoint you with its performance either, and by the performance, I’m mainly referring to battery life and operating range, as usual. The provided battery is good for roughly 18ish minutes, which brings forth great value for money. On top of that, it can handle approximately 1 kilometer. That goes for both FPV and control range.
2. Ruko F11
Next up, we have Ruko F11. This is an interesting little bugger featuring a stellar camera, foldable design and potent brushless motors. It’s a bit pricier than MJX Bugs 5W, but has several improvements that justify the extra cost. Let’s check it out real fast!
Camera and Features
Let’s start off with the camera. Ruko F11 sports a superb 4K UHD sensor. The image quality is great, the sharpness is there, and color accuracy is pretty good. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the onboard stabilization. As is the case with most drones at this price point, Ruko F11’s camera suffers from extreme vibration and jello effect. Still images are fine, for the most part, but the vibration is more than noticeable when it comes to the footage.
In terms of features, Ruko F11 doesn’t fail to deliver. Thanks to a top-notch GPS module, this birdie is both precise and sports a bunch of safety features that make it ideal for both beginners and enthusiasts. On top of that, it also features FPV, as well as standard stuff like altitude hold, and return to home.
Specs-wise, Ruko F11 has excellent stats that are way beyond the usual numbers at this price point. We’re talking roughly a kilometer of operating range and 500ish meters of FPV. Both are superb, and make this bugger much more than just your typical backyard flyer. As for the battery duration, you’re looking at roughly 25 minutes. Best of all, there’s an extra battery in the package meaning you’ll be getting close to an hour of flying straight out of the box.
1. Hubsan Zino
Hubsan Zino is an absolute beast. We’re talking about a $400 drone here, which is roughly $100 more than what you’d have to pay for Ruko F11. However, Hubsan Zino delivers a much better overall performance, especially in the camera department. Let’s learn more about the king of budget drones!
Camera and Features
As hinted above, the camera is by far the best thing about Hubsan Zino. The camera is what separates it from cheaper models. And it’s not all about the resolution. Mind you, Hubsan Zino features a hefty 4K sensor that brings forth exceptional sharpness and image quality. But that’s not what brings forth the wow factor.
The wow factor is brought to life by the onboard 3-axis gimbal that stabilizes the footage and makes it looks outstanding. It’s miles better than what MJX Bugs 5W and Ruko F11 have to offer. Hubsan Zino’s footage isn’t just viable for enthusiasts and casual uses, but for commercial/industrial scenarios too. Combine all that with GPS, return to home, altitude hold and a bunch of additional features and you’ll understand why it’s $100 pricier than Ruko F11.
You can expect around 20 to 22 minutes of flight time per battery with this little bugger. It’s a bit shorter than that of Ruko F11, but it’s nothing surprising considering the fact Zino is much smaller, more portable, and has more powerful hardware that draws much more power. On top of that, ZIno will sweep you off your feet with its 4 kilometers of operating range. FPV range is a bit shorter than that, but all things considered, the king of value/money ratio lives on in Hubsan Zino!
Now, let’s talk about the big boys. These drones don’t just possess headless mode but a vast number of additional features that make them viable for all sorts of commercial/industrial uses. In other words, if you’re looking for state-of-the-art drones that can get the job done, this trio ought to sweep you off your feet!
TABLE: Professional headless mode drones
|Image||Name||Camera||Range||Flight Time||Best Offer|
|3. DJI Mavic Mini||2.7K||4km||30min||See best offer|
|2. Parrot Anafi||4K||4km||25min||See best offer|
|1. Autel EVO||4K||7km||30min||See best offer|
3. DJI Mavic Mini
Even though it doesn’t have headless mode, DJI Mavic Mini’s flight is so precise and intuitive that it deserves a spot on this list. Let’s face it, high-end models such as Mavic Mini, Anafi and EVO don’t usually don’t feature headless mode. But that doesn’t make them any worse. The point of having headless mode is to make flying easier for beginners. That said, all three of these drones are so smooth, precise and intuitive that they don’t even need it…
Camera and Features
Unfortunately, DJI Mavic Mini doesn’t feature a hefty 4K camera. Instead, it boasts a 2.7K sensor. The sharpness and image quality are still there, just like the smoothness ensured by the onboard gimbal. In all honesty, even if you do own a 4K TV, chances are you wouldn’t even notice the difference between 2.7K and 4K.
As for the features, DJI Mavic Mini has a ton of stuff underneath its sleeves… except for obstacle avoidance, that is. Still, there’s GPS, altitude hold, return to home, and a whole lot of smart aerial camera mode that’ll up your selfie game and make you the king of Instagram!
DJI Mavic Mini is somewhere in between DJI Mavic Air and Pro (2 Pro as well). With approximately 4 kilometers of flight range, which is sort of the standard at this price point, you won’t have to worry about your DJI Mavic Mini going out of range. Furthermore, thanks to its small size, low weight, and optimized battery, DJI Mavic Mini manages to fly around for up to 30 minutes. Pretty good for a drone that doesn’t even require FAA registration, right?
2. Parrot Anafi
If you’re looking for a unique little bugger, then Parrot Anafi is a no-brainer. The newest model by Parrot brings forth a great set of features nicely poised with exceptional hardware and specifications. And don’t even get me started on the camera…
Camera and Features
The special thing about Parrot Anafi’s camera is its ability to rotate vertically. And it’s not just your typical rotation – Parrot Anafi can shoot straight up and straight down, and at the moment, it’s the only mainstream drone capable of doing that.
As for the camera itself, we’re talking about a massive sensor featuring 4K HDR footage. Needless to say, 3-axis stabilization is present, making all Anafi aerial footage as smooth as that seen on top-tier Hollywood movies. Considering the fact we’re talking about Parrot here, it’s no surprise to see a plethora of smart features available through the provided Skycontroller 3. Point of interest, waypoints, GPS, altitude hold, and return to home, just to name a few.
Parrot Anafi is pretty good numbers-wise too. This foldable bugger can fly around for 25ish minutes and reach 4 kilometers away from its paired Skycontroller 3 without losing connection. Thanks to its camera and open-end design in the front that allows recording straight up, Anafi is often used for commercial work such as wiring and bridge inspections. On top of that, extreme adventurers love it too, as it brings forth a completely different perspective to drone photography/cinematography.
1. Autel Robotics EVO
This is it, guys! Autel Robotics EVO is the bread and butter of beginner-friendly drones. As stated above, even though it doesn’t feature headless mode, it’s among the most intuitive models out there, making it easy to use for beginners and professionals alike.
Camera and Features
First of all, I have to compliment EVO’s appearance. The folk over at Autel Robotics have stayed true to their orange color scheme, making EVO even brighter than its predecessor, the X-Star Premium. EVO’s camera solution brings state of the art performance, with a massive 4K sensor that shoots buttery smooth footage thanks to a dedicated 3-axis gimbal. This bugger is capable of providing professional-grade aerial footage no matter the weather conditions. It possesses great value for money and its popularity is a direct result of exactly that.
Features-wise, Autel Robotics EVO has everything you’ll ever need. Starting with GPS and GLONASS for extra flight precision and accuracy, obstacle avoidance sensors, and a ton of flight modes that make the best out of its 4K camera. EVO is a proper beast, and this year’s CES unveiled three new EVO models that will undoubtedly take the market by storm…
Specs-wise, Autel Robotics EVO is on point with more expensive models such as DJI Mavic 2 Pro. In other words, it can reach up to 7 kilometers and fly for around half an hour. That allows EVO not just to be an exceptional selfie drone but a viable business solution too.
How reliable is the headless mode?
Now when we know what is headless mode on a drone, let’s talk about its reliability. Believe it or not, headless mode actually has no issues with reliability. It is not affected by range, motors, power, battery or anything else of such nature. Instead, it is basically a controlling protocol just like standard flying is. With that being said, you can expect the same controlling accuracy without any degradation by any means.
What are the benefits of flying in headless mode vs normal?
As it has already been stated above, drone headless mode has several benefits over flying in normal mode. However, they are all primarily targeted at beginners and generally to people who can’t properly control a drone in the normal mode. As a matter of fact, if you already know how to do an S-curve with your drone when it’s not pointing directly towards you, then I suggest you avoid using headless mode.
On the other hand, if you are a beginner who is struggling with controlling your UAV, then here are a few traits from the headless mode that could help you out:
1. EASIER LEARNING CURVE
By using the headless mode you will have a much easier time getting the grasp on how controlling drones works. Without the need for focusing on its front side, you will be able to do all sorts of flips like never before.
2. LESS CRASHES
Of course, since headless mode provides an easier learning curve, it comes as no surprise that there will be a lot fewer crashes going on. Less spare parts to purchase as well, and we can all agree that’s a big plus.
3. INTUITIVE CONTROLS
Just like I mentioned above, headless mode eliminates the need to focus on drone’s current orientation which might be a more intuitive control scheme for beginners. But, don’t get too attached to it…
Should beginners fly their drones in headless mode?
Well, if you ask me… I suppose headless mode is a great way for complete beginners (read first-time flyers) to practice flying their newly purchased (or gifted, I guess) drones. It enables a much smoother learning curve without constant crashing that could result in premature drone defects. But first, take a look at our photo illustration of “what is headless mode” on the top of this guide.
Driven by those thoughts, I should also say that there are many people (my colleagues too) who are highly against headless mode. Their main argument is: It learns people wrong controlling method and makes it more difficult to learn flying in normal mode.
To be honest, their argument stands true… but despite it, I still believe beginners should use headless mode. Many of them won’t become FPV racers or professional drone operators and they’re just looking for some fun. With that said, if headless mode provides them with an easier solution to that, why shouldn’t they use it?
Headless mode relies on a tiny sensor found inside of drones. It’s known as a magnetometer and enables drones to tell which direction it’s supposed to be flying. Magnetometers, in practice, are highly accurate… but have one major flaw – if they find themselves near powerful electromagnetic fields, their accuracy goes downhill and makes the drone mess up its orientation. This usually happens when you fly with the headless mode on near powerlines or similar areas with strong electromagnetic fields going on.
Long-term forming bad habits
It was stated at the very start that headless mode gathers the majority of entry-level drones. Slide the bar to mid-end and you’ll still have a majority of drones featuring headless mode. However, some high-end models, as well as all commercial ones, usually don’t invest in headless mode. So, if you ever decide to fly a more expensive birdie, chances are high you’ll have to give up headless mode… And my oh my, getting your brain muscles to reset to default after years of headless mode controlling can be a tough break.
Can you use headless mode while flying FPV?
Unfortunately, headless mode will simply not work while you’re flying in FPV. The reason is rather obvious too – in FPV mode you will be viewing the scene from your drones from perspective. With that being said, there’s no real reason to turn on headless mode as you will be looking at your drone’s camera perspective at all times. Turning it on would result in an unimaginably terrible experience… and crashes… lots and lots of crashes!
Is headless mode considered as “cheating”?
Well, it kind of is. Using headless mode gives you direct control of your drone without the need to constantly pay attention to its orientation. It’s much easier than normal mode, that’s for sure… so I guess it can be considered as cheating. But looking at the grand scheme of things, it is exactly the opposite of that. How? Well, if you ever decide to fly a more expensive drone (for example, a drone for industrial use) you would have a terrible time since most of them don’t support headless mode… and your brain muscles have gotten used to it. Check out Limitations of headless mode if you haven’t already, it will shed some more light on this topic.
Headless mode drones – Conclusion
There’s been a whole lot of things said about headless mode and what it represents. In fact, I guess everything that needed to be said has been said. So, there’s no point in going any further…
That’s why I’d like to conclude by thanking you for reading this with the hope that it shed some light on the topic. The term Headless Mode can seem somewhat confusing to first-time flyers so this sort of article could do a great deal of help.
Anyways, I hope you enjoyed the list.
Until next time… Happy flying!
4. UDI U818A
Just by looking at the design of this birdie, you can immediately assume that safety is its number one concern. And it’s true – thanks to a rigid body and thick prop guards stretching across the entire build, UDI U818A (DBPOWER edition) can survive quite the beating.
But, can it perform as much as it can survive? Well, that’s exactly what you will be able to find out if you read the next couple of paragraphs!
Camera and features
First things first – UDI U818A sports a tiny camera on the bottom. From the looks of it, it seems to be a 2MPX sensor capable of recording in solid 720p and do so at steady 30 frames per second (fps from now on). There is no stabilization (hardware nor software) onboard so you will have to manually keep it steady if you want smooth shots.
Features-wise, besides headless mode this birdie can brag with FPV, 360 flips and low power alarm. Finally, there’s even a special surprise in the box – an extra battery. But, how much flight time can it provide you with? Well, here goes…
We are talking about 1S 700mAh LiPo batteries, each of which can produce anywhere from 6 to 9 minutes of airtime. So, with 2 batteries in 1 flight session, you will be flying for roughly 15 minutes give or take. Operating range is outright awesome. It stretches all the way to 80 meters in clear and unobstructed areas.
However, if you’re flying it in an area filled with trees and tall buildings, you will be getting only around 50m. As far as FPV range is concerned, it keeps steady until the 30-meter mark.
2. UDI U818Plus
There’s no doubt that DROCON did a great job with UDI U818Plus model. It’s surely among the best toy-grade quadcopters currently available on the market. With solid performance, great camera and, of course, headless mode… this birdie is a safe haven for all first-time flyers.
But still, it falls short of MJX Bugs 2W who is able to offer plenty more than just a safe flying environment for beginners. But, more on that one at the top spot below. For now, we will be focusing on DROCON UDI U818Plus and why is it such a good toy-grade headless mode drone option!
Camera and features
First of all, I would like to say a couple of good words about this birdie’s controller. It fits nicely into hands and sports a sleek rounded finish that feels just great. It’s quite responsive as well… but is, unfortunately, made out of cheap materials. However, it serves the purpose great, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters the most.
Features-wise, UDI U818Plus incorporates altitude hold, headless mode and one key landing/takeoff which could provide a great deal of help to first-time flyers. The camera is not half bad either. As a matter of fact, it’s one of those 2MPX sensors capable of recording in 720p… just like the ones we’ve already seen above.
Last but not least – specifications. DROCON actually did a pretty good job of upgrading the basic specs of this little fella. So, in terms of flight duration you are looking at 10 to 15 minutes… roughly 12 minutes on average and with normal use (not going full speed forward all the time). The operating range is nothing short of brilliant. Believe it or not, DROCON UDI U818Plus can reach up to 150 meters away from you. Pretty sick coming from such a cheap drone, don’t you agree?
1. MJX Bugs 2W
I already gave you the assumption that MJX Bugs 2W is by far the best option in this entire list. And it’s true… But it does come at a slightly higher price than other models as well… Still, if we were to look at the best value for money ratio, it would be hard to get this birdie off the throne.
Why? Well, there are just so many great things about it that I don’t know where to start off… Hmm, perhaps the camera would be a good entry point.
Camera and features
For those of you who did not notice, all 4 models above sport roughly the same 2MPX sensor capable of recording at 720p. However, MJX Bugs 2W takes its photography game up a notch by featuring what seems to be a 5MPX sensor that records in full HD. The stability is second to none. Generally speaking, I firmly believe you will love what MJX Bugs 2W has to offer in terms of aerial photography.
Moving onto the features and it’s safe to say they are nothing short of brilliant. First of all, this is the only drone from this list that features a GPS module that provides access to features such as return to home and altitude hold. These are both great, especially the latter which will do you a world of good when capturing aerial photos and videos. FPV is present as well, and it works up to 200 meters which is good news coming from an entry-level model.
We already started talking about numbers so we might as well continue. The operating range of MJX Bugs 2W is not shy of high-end drones, coming in at up to 800 meters. That’s quite an increase over its spiritual predecessor MJX Bugs 3 which could achieve only 300m. As far as battery duration is concerned, you can expect somewhere around 15 to 18 minutes. Not bad… Not bad at all!