If you’ve been looking for a drone to buy, you probably keep seeing the term “Position Hold Mode” or “Altitude Hold Mode” being thrown around as an “awesome feature” or a “must have!”
But most manufacturers, when selling their drone to you, tell you that their altitude or position hold drones have the feature, but not what altitude or position mode does.
That’s exactly what I’m here to explain. So let’s get right into it!
Position Hold Drones Explained
Position hold mode is one of those concepts that is difficult to understand at first. People like to use all sorts of complex terms and mumbo jumbo to make it seem more complicated when it really is.
I’m going to try to make this as simple as possible.
Position hold mode that keeps your drone in place in the air without any inputs on the sticks.
That’s it! It’s really that simple! The mechanisms that allow this to happen are very impressive and complicated but are transparent to you, the pilot. They include barometers for altitude, optical sensors for horizontal position lock, and even GPS functionality for further refinement.
You’re probably wondering, “but if it just hovers, then how do I control it?”.
Here’s the thing…
Position hold quadcopters don’t function like traditional quadcopters.
In a traditional quadcopter, you’d need to bring the throttle stick from 0 (all the way down) up until it begins to hover, and then maintain it’s positioning by giving it tiny little adjustments, either up or down, as the quadcopter begins to rise and fall. In addition, you’ll need to utilize the second stick to maintain forward/backward and left/right position for a true hover in place.
Position hold drones already do this work for you.
The throttle stick snaps to the center. Then, any input up on the throttle above the center point will make the quadcopter climb, and any input down will cause it to descend; the same goes for directional stick movement. In addition, downward firing low-resolution cameras and gyroscopes give the drone feedback as to whether or not they are drifting off course due to wind or trim deviations.back to menu ↑
What Are Some Good Position Hold Drones?
Like most features in drones and technology, the popular ones keep getting improved and added to new models constantly.
Which position hold drone is right for you?
There really is a wide range of options at various prices, functionality, and sizes. Ranging from the relatively small and inexpensive Parrot Mambo to some of the most expensive photography drones such as the DJI Phantom 4.
It really depends on what you plan on doing with position hold mode and how you think it will be useful for you. Professional photographers or anybody who uses drones for a commercial use will need a drone that not only has position hold mode and GPS lock, but also a high-quality camera. The DJI Phantom drones aren’t necessarily the only option (not anymore, at least) for a top of the line prosumer camera drone, but they are definitely a good starting point to begin your search. If you’re looking at drones for kids then you should consider drones with position hold or altitude hold (more on that in a minute) because they’re easier to fly.back to menu ↑
Position Hold Mode is NOT Auto-Pilot Mode
Now that we know what position hold mode is, I’d like to clear up a somewhat common misconception.
Some people seem to think that if your quadcopter has position hold mode, that it can simply “fly itself” on auto-pilot. This Isn’t the case.
Just because position hold mode can keep your drone in one place without any user feedback on the sticks, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it can withstand extreme gusts of wind, or automatically return itself to you if it begins to run out of battery, etc.
That is unless your quadcopter has GPS…back to menu ↑
GPS vs Position Hold Mode
Another common misconception about Position Hold Mode is that it is often compared to GPS lock in a high-end drone such as the DJI Phantom.
Position hold is quite different from GPS mode.
First of all, most cheap drones won’t have GPS mode. If they advertise it as GPS mode, make sure it actually communicates with GPS satellites to get its position data and use it to keep it in one place.
Typically, GPS mode is used used in conjunction with the sensors that give position hold to keep up absolute control over the drone, and give a redundant system should you lose GPS lock. In addition, many drones that feature GPS lock can also be programmed to fly a pre-set path by themselves. The Parrot Bebop, Bebop 2, and Disco have these features, as does the entire lineup of current generation DJI drones.back to menu ↑
Position Hold vs Altitude Hold
Position hold will keep your drone in one place, not only its altitude but its position, keeping it from drifting front to back or left to right. There are several sensors involved in this and makes the drone more expensive. But Altitude hold drones are cheaper and are still very viable options for the beginner. As a quadcopter or drone flies forward, it has to change its angle, which reduces life. This means that the drone will start to descent absent and correction on the throttle. So as you fly forward, you not only need to maintain your pitch, but you must use the throttle to keep it flying at the same altitude. Drones with altitude hold will handle the throttle control for you, making the drone act more like a race car that is kept level by the ground on which it’s moving.
But, drones that have altitude hold only lack the other key features of a true position hold drone.
This means your quadcopter can still get pushed around left to right, or front and back, depending on external factors like motor strength or the wind. If a gust of wind comes and pushes your quadcopter while flying in altitude hold mode, it will likely get pushed along with it. You will need to manually fight the wind on the directional stick yourself.
Here are some altitude hold drones that we think are excellent value and great for beginners:
Who is Altitude Hold Good For?
Position hold is a neat feature with a few uses.
You can definitely get creative with it, but I’ve found it’s mainly for beginners, who are overwhelmed with all of a quadcopter’s controls. Having position hold mode means you don’t need to worry about constantly managing your throttle, or correcting drift if you let go of the sticks, and for a beginner, that can be helpful. I suggest you don’t get too used to position or altitude hold mode, however, even as a beginner. Learning how to fly with or without it will be extremely helpful for you in the long run, and going too long without it can make either a crutch.
The other common use for position hold mode is recording video.
This is why many camera quadcopters have it; it’s much easier to record a perfectly stable shot. The better it works, the more stable the video footage (generally).
If the position hold mode works well, you can also take nice and smooth panoramic video footage even without a gimbal, which is a neat feature.back to menu ↑
I hope this was helpful in not only learning what position hold is but also its uses and why it’s been gaining so much popularity over the past year or so. Enjoy your new-found knowledge and hopefully, your new altitude hold mode quadcopter if you plan on picking one up in the near future! 🙂