What is FPV drone?
FPV stands for First Person View.
An FPV drone is a type of drone that is equipped with a camera that streams live video to a set of goggles worn by the pilot, giving the pilot a real-time “first-person” view of the drone’s as if they were sitting in the cockpit of the aircraft while controlling it on the ground.
FPV drones are commonly used for racing and freestyle flying, as the pilot can navigate through obstacles and perform aerial manoeuvres with greater precision and control than with a line-of-sight view. They are also popular for aerial photography and videography for capturing unique and cinematic footage from perspectives that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with other types of cameras. The pilot can see exactly what the camera sees in real time and adjust the camera’s angle and settings accordingly.
To fly an FPV drone, the pilot wears a set of goggles to view the live video feed from the drone’s camera. The pilot then controls the drone’s flight using a remote controller with joysticks. It’s almost like playing a video game, but if you crash in the game, your PlayStation isn’t going to hit your lounge wall at 100MPH! Believe it when we say, replacing a top tier FPV drone can be just as expensive as a new PlayStation (if not more).
The level of focus required while flying FPV is intense, and the speed and manoeuvrability of an FPV drone make it a truly sensational experience.
More and more FPV drone pilots are now flying on a professional level (racing, videography, etc), but the majority of us just fly them on our days off as a hobby. The FPV drone hobby has a strong and friendly community. The hobby provides a great opportunity for liked minded people to connect together and share knowledge and experience.
With the help of this guide, you will learn how to build a drone, how to choose components and repair it. You will also learn how to fly your FPV drone and tune it to perform exactly the way you want it to. Building and tuning an FPV drone can be a challenging and rewarding technical experience, as it requires knowledge of electronics, mechanics, and software. The hobby can provide a great opportunity to learn new skills and problem-solving.
How Much Does FPV Drone Cost?
Getting into FPV drones is cost-comparable to DJI camera drones. Here are some estimated costs for building a basic FPV drone and getting all the needed equipment:
- Radio controller + Simulator: $100-$300
- FPV Goggles: $100-$700
- FPV Drone: $100-$400
- Batteries, charger & other accessories = from $100 to $400
So the total cost of building an FPV drone can range from around $400 to $1800 depending on the quality and performance of the components you choose.
If building a drone from scratch is too much to swallow, there are also complete ready-to-fly bundles you can buy. They include all the components you will need to start flying, might be lower quality and fewer features, but for a much more affordable price. I will talk about this in a bit more detail later in this article.
Practice in Simulators
Learning to fly an FPV drone in a simulator is a safe and cost-effective way to get started and improve your skills without damaging your real drone or injuring anyone. I strongly recommend getting some flight time in a simulator (ideally 10+ hours) before buying/building your first drone.
Simulators can teach you the basic controls of a FPV drone and build up muscle memory your hands require. The physics of modern FPV simulators are exceptionally realistic, the transition from a simulator to a real FPV drone is relatively indistinguishable. Additionally, simulators allow you to practice advanced manoeuvres and techniques, such as flips, rolls, and acrobatics, without the risk of crashing your drone.
FPV sims are all excellent in their own ways. If you have a decent gaming PC I’d probably recommend Liftoff and DRL, and if you have a low spec PC, then Velocidrone is more likely to work better. Sims like Liftoff and Velocidrone have built-in tutorials to help you learn how to fly and learn Acro mode, which is what you really need.
To fly in an FPV simulator, the first item you should buy is a radio controller that supports FPV simulators. That means USB HID / joystick support that is plug and play without any dongles or adapters.
Don’t bother using XBox console or keyboard because it’s pointless. Only using a proper radio will build up muscle memory and provide the full benefit of the training.
The Types of FPV Drone
What is a drone?
The word “drone” is being used a lot these days and has become synonymous with any unmanned aircraft with an onboard camera, and sometimes a camera is not even necessary for the title! Other than for military use, most “drones” were historically used for aerial photography (AP) and were large with a heavy payload capacity for carrying cameras and equipment.
What is a multirotor?
The word Multirotor (or Multicopter) covers anything that is a “copter” with more than 1 main motor or propeller. For example, a “tricopter” has 3 motors / rotors, a “quadcopter” has 4, a “hexacopter” has 6 etc. But these are all “multirotors”.
What is a Mini Quad?
A mini quad is basically a small multirotor (more specifically, a quadcopter). But most people just call them FPV drones these days.
Mini quads are designed to be fast, nimble and crash-resistant, so even when you crash you can usually just pick it up and take off again. This resilience gives pilots the confidence to fly faster, through smaller gaps, and constantly push their limits to the next level.
Since this fantastic invention, we’ve seen huge progress in the power of FPV drones, increasing propeller sizes, higher battery voltage, larger motors, all coming together to give insane power-to-weight ratios of over 15:1! Turning these little toys into insane rockets, the fastest racing drone in the world is capable of reaching 180mph(~290Kmh) in a matter of seconds.
Tiny Whoops are small ducted FPV drones that are designed for indoor flying. They typically have a 55mm, 65mm or 75mm diagonal motor distances (wheelbase) and weighs around 20g to 30g including battery.
Tiny Whoops are popular because they are small, lightweight, and easy to fly. They are also relatively inexpensive and low ni power, and are often used for indoor racing. The built in prop guards (aka “ducts”) can protect people and your TV from props and let you bounce off stuff and recover. On the flip side, the ducts make them heavier and reduces performance, making them less ideal for outside use and windy condition.
Most people fly them in Angle mode (stabilized mode) and race them that way too, but they’re not nearly as good for flying in Acro – which is the ultimate goal for those who prefer to fly outside and doing freestyle and racing on full size quads.
Typical build: 1S LiPo 300-350mah, 06xx-08xx motors brushless or brushed motor
The ultra-light (or toothpick) class gets its name from the frame looking like a bunch of toothpicks tied together. As you can probably guess, they are not made to withstand crashes, but to get the most performance out of them. But they are actually pretty crash resistant because they are so small and light.
They are also very quiet, as to not annoy people and pets, and when flown on 1 to 3S batteries, typically still pretty safe around people even though they don’t have prop guards.
They can range in performance from “tame” to “extreme” – some of them can approach the level of performance in a traditional 5″ prop mini quad in terms of power to weight and sheer speed.
These are 3″ or smaller drones that are equipped with propellers protectors (ducts), and carries an HD camera like the GoPro for capturing cinematic footage. They are designed for slower and smooth flights, not for freestyle and acro flying.
This category of quad is making a comeback due to the gain in popularity of long-range flying. It is not to say that you cannot use these for freestyle. These quads are not as agile as the 5-inch and tend to be “more floaty”. The components vary quite a bit for this category depending on the style of flying you want to achieve. A 7″ has higher top speed and can carry more payload than a 5″ for carrying a better HD camera or heavier battery pack.
Typical freestyle build: 4-6S lipos 1000-1800mah, 6-7 inch props, and 22xx-25xx motor 1500-2400kv
Typical long range build: 4-6S lipos 1500mAh or li-ion 3000mAh, 22xx-23xx motor 1300-2100kv, equipped with GPS, barometer, 433MHz or 900MHz radio system
X-Class and Beast Class
X-class and Beast class quads are the biggest in this list, and they are similar.
For a quadcopter to be considered an X-Class, the frame size should be between 800mm-1200mm (diagonal motors distance). The props size generally are 9-13 inches. X-class was created for spectators to be more easily see visually during the race. That’s because the smaller 5-inch FPV drones, which most race events are held for, are extremely difficult to view from the stands.
Beast class uses all the same components of an X-class, but it uses a smaller, sub-800mm frame. Beast class is supposed to perform more like a 5-inch quad than X-class.
These types of quads are not recommended for beginners at all. They are expensive to build and maintain, and they are very dangerous. Remember, with great power comes…..
Typically build: 8-12S lipos 4000-5000mah, 9-13 inch props, and 3xxx-4xxx motor.
Octocopter in X8 configuration (just like a quadcopter, but each arm has two motors, so 8 motors in total), usually running 6-8″ propellers. These are designed to carry expensive high end cameras for professional shooting.
What size for you?
As your first build, I strongly recommend building a 5″ FPV drone because it’s the most versatile platform for both freestyle and racing. It’s more than powerful for carrying a GoPro. It’s the most popular size, so it’s relatively easier to get help.
The size of FPV quads have changed quite a bit throughout the years. At the beginning, 6 inch quads were the normal. Then came 5 inch, which became the common face of FPV for a long time.
But as electronics get smaller and regulatory laws change, smaller drones are gaining more and more attention and popularity. The trend now is going smaller.
Of course, there is always exception to the trend. Long range has brought back 6-7 inch quads. And X-class and Beast class have made 12-13 inch quad popular. It is even hard to call the latter two “mini quads” anymore.
Before choosing parts for your FPV drone build, you should recognize what your goal is (what is your flying style). The common flying styles are:
- Long range
- Cinemaphotography (cinematic)
Although not all sizes can achieve all the styles, but people still try.
Freestyle is about free flying and doing tricks. There is no rules to how you can fly, the sky is the limit. And also, the ground, so try not to crash 🙂
Racing is competing against other pilots flying through a designated course, usually consisting of gates that you have to go through and flags you have to fly around. Get the most powerful parts that can take abuse while keeping the weight to minimum, this is what FPV racing is about (plus the skills).
Long Range is trying to achieve long distance flight. With this style it’s mostly low key cruising, trying to be as efficient as possible by holding throttle steadily to minimize current draw and maximize flight time and distance.
Cinemaphotography in FPV (or cinematic flying) is usually referred to a relaxed flying style without too much acrobatic moves, flying in epic locations such as mountain, over water, car chasing, etc. There is no specific build for cinematic flying, it all depends on the job. Popular builds for making cinematic footage are:
- 3″ Cinewhoop
- 2″ Naked GoPro builds
- Regular 5″, 6″ or 7″ carrying GoPro, using Hypersmooth or Reelsteady for stabilization
FPV Drone Kit for Beginners
This hobby is not cheap. A pair of decent FPV goggles can cost $500+, a good radio setup can cost $250+, an FPV drone $300+… and what if you realize you don’t enjoy flying FPV drone after all?
Introducing complete RTF (read to fly) kits that are affordable, and they come with absolutely everything you need to start flying: the drone, radio, FPV goggles, battery and charger.
I recently reviewed the BetaFPV Cetus Pro FPV Kit and it’s a pretty good setup. Don’t even rush to fly the drone, you can connect the included radio controller to your computer and fly FPV simulators such as DRL, Liftoff and velocidrone. Once you get a hang of it in the sim, you should have no problem flying the Cetus micro drone in the house.
Once you outgrow the Cetus drone, consider upgrading to the Emax TinyHawk II Freestyle, it’s great value and flies pretty well. At this point you will have a perfectly functional FPV setup and a well perform micro quad for outdoor flying.
HOWEVER, the problem with RTF kits like these, as good as they are – is that the goggles and the radio controller lack features and are relatively low quality. They work, but won’t give you the full experience. And you will probably soon outgrow them, meaning you will probably end up spending money again. If you have the budget and are confident that you will stay in the hobby, buy the best possible goggles and radio you can afford, so you don’t need to replace them later.
After finishing your build, you’d want to configure the drone before flight. There are two components you want to configure, the flight controller and the ESC. You will need to download two different software to configure them because they are running different firmware.
I have tutorials that dive into detail how to do software setup, just do a search on my blog, or follow instructions in one of my build guides.
The most popular flight controller firmware is Betaflight, and the most popular ESC firmware is BLHeli_S or BLHeli_32 depends on the hardware you have. You can’t go wrong with these choices. Anyway here I will give you an overview of the firmware we use in the hobby.
There are quite a few flight controller firmware available for FPV drone, but it doesn’t matter, just use Betaflight – this is probably what 95% (just a guess) of the people in the hobby use. It’s free, open source, performs very well and being updated frequently. It supports virtually every flight controller available on the market (or should I say most FC are made for Betaflight?). Apart from freestyle and racing, Betaflight has added features geared for long range.
KISS (close source) is another popular firmware that is very easy to setup and flies very well. You will need to purchase KISS specific hardware to use their firmware.
iNAV (open source) is very popular with long-range and autonomous flyers. They do not support as many flight controllers.
I also have to mention Cleanflight. Betaflight branched off from Cleanflight and Cleanflight slowly disappeared.
Every ESC has its own processor and there is “ESC firmware” running on it. The language spoken between the flight controller and ESC’s are called “ESC Protocol”.
The most popular firmware which runs on 99% of all FPV quad ESCs are either BLHeli_S or BLHeli32. BLHeli32 is newer of the two, and uses a faster processor. Flight performance wise, there is very little difference, but BLHeli32 is more future proof.
The main ESC protocol used today are DShot, more specifically, DShot300 and DShot600, with the number indicating the speed of the protocol.
Check out this post to learn more about ESC firmware and protocols.