Looking for the best FPV drone? This guide will help you to choose, tell you what to watch out for, and give you up to date prices.
First Person View, or FPV, drones have been increasing in popularity for some time. Many of the early enthusiast builds used this approach, placing a camera on the front of the copter and relaying a live view to goggles worn by the pilot. A gamer would argue that a screen very near the pilot is also “first person view,” just as Doom was, but this is a view treated with some skepticism by experienced pilots.
ARF: almost ready to fly (some construction needed)
BNF: bind and fly (a drone where you need to buy your own controller
FPV: first person view
HUD: head up display
Lipo: Lithium polymer battery
mAh: milli Amp hours (measure of battery capacity)
PNP: plug and play (a drone where you need to provide the receiver/transmitter)
RTF: ready to fly
Here we will take first person view to mean drones flown by drones which at least allow goggle-wearing, and encourage speed. In that context FPV has always been popular with the hobby community as well as interested visitors at events like the International Drone Day “Mini Air Show,” first held in 2015. More recently this has been commercialized as a spectator (not to mention TV and gambling) event by organisations like the Drone Racing League and Multi GP.
After years of speculation by the flying community the world’s biggest drone manufacturer, DJI, finally got in on the act launching a dedicated FPV drone. Around the same time, millions of view were attracted by a viral video, apparently shot using FPV, which highlighted the stylistic possibilities these very different drones offered the cinematographic community.
That means, if you’re interested in taking charge of some mini acrobatics, there are plenty of decisions to make in terms of technology, not just in terms of the camera and radio technology but also how you’re going to get started – will you choose a ready to fly (RTF) kit, assembled or otherwise, one which lacks a controller, or perhaps take the DIY route?
The DJI FPV is a drone with a lot of possible uses; it has a good quality camera which (with the right MicroSD cards) can capture 4K at 60fps and, unusually for an dedicated FPV drone, features mechanical stabilization, albeit only on one axis (very good digital image stabilization handles the Y axis and vibration). Any delicate motors might seem a design risk but the frame does feature a degree of protection for the camera and, perhaps more importantly, this is where DJI’s other major area of development in their consumer line also plays a significant role: collision sensors.
As a result, the drone can be operated at two lower speed options with very effective collision sensors in operation, and the system can even avoid some objects. Other safety features include an ‘all stop’ button which brings the drone to a total hover nearly immediately as well as the usual GPS-powered return-to-home. DJI’s dedicated goggles are also thoughtfully designed, with large screen not too taxing on the eyes or head band; the visual quality is breathtaking compared with early analog equivalents.
Powered by Xing-E 2207 2750KV motors, the Nazgul 5 might be named after the baddies in Lord of the Rings, but that power is a useful thing if you choose to act responsibly; many drone pilots will lament the increase in weight to the latest GoPro Hero 9 Black, but this powerful machine seems unconcerned by the extra grammes. (Perhaps that’s why it uses the Succex-EF4 flight stack?)
With 5mm thick carbon arms, this drone is going to be difficult to break even in a pretty fast collision, but if you want to try iFlight are offering the machine in both (fast) 4S and (screeching) 6S versions. It can even keep up with a fixed wing. The firm are also well known for the quality of their default PIDs (flight settings), and this machine is no exception, which means even pilots used to very consumer-friendly experiences should be able to transition to the world of FPV.
The drone includes the Caddx vista HD digital video transmission system, so you’ll likely need DJI FPV Goggles which will be something of an investment in themselves though. Other than that, you get a good selection of accessories in the box: antennas, tools, rubber battery stickers, props, and more.
Parrot is, in many ways, the creator of the commercial drone market, having demoed the AR.Drone demos at CES 2010, three years before the DJI Phantom came out. The firm then took some time to realize that DJI’s high-quality photography was selling well better than their overgrown toys, at which point their Anafi – the first Parrot with a camera gimbal – finally came along, and in its wake a number of variants including some professional versions and an FPV kit.
The Anafi is a good drone, with a number of features DJI weren’t supplying at the time of launch, but what makes the FPV edition stand out especially is the unique approach to “in cockpit” flight. Rather than requiring an expensive additional electronic screen, with radio systems and other features, the Anafi comes with a strap which enables you to use your phone screen like FPV goggles, no doubt explaining why the initial investment is someway lower than for the DJI FPV. As a result, it nicely hits the sweet spot for a customer interested in FPV but who also wants a decent camera and change from a grand.
A fast, compact drone with the power to fly with the best of them is known as a Tinywhoop, and iFlight’s ProTek35 is a great example of the category. Built from incredibly durably carbon fibre, held together with copper pillars, and with room for 3.5-inch propellors and a 4S battery, this drone doesn’t let its form factor hold it back from presenting a total of 3kg thrust – the power for 120km/h (75mph).
The frame’s design is thoughtful, with an accessible USB port. Acknowledging that you might not avoid the odd crash out of sight (especially if you’re lured outside), there is a “lost model buzzer” you can trigger to help find it, and to keep flight smooth there is moulded plastic all the way around plus the option of stability mode.
Like it or not, the historical chain of names ending in “—whoop” is now part of quadcopter lore. On the plus side, this one is about half as powerful again as most, so you should have no problem winning races. Remember you’ll need to bind to your controller on delivery, but it’ll be worth it; it’ll feel close to 5-inch propellors.
The EMAX TinyHawk 2 (actually the third in the line) is a great nano drone to start flying with; the wheelbase (motor-to-motor measurement) is just 75mm, so the drone is smaller in the box than both the controller and the goggles but, crucially, all those things are available in the same box. Assuming you choose the RTF Bundle.
EMAX also supply you two batteries – a 450mAh and 300mAh so you can experiment with your choice of power, and used carefully you can stay aloft for up to 7 minutes which is OK for a machine with tiny 2-inch props, or blast along at up to 50mph (again impressive at this size). If you’re doing so in low light the array of LEDs provide the opportunity to wow the assembled crowds; their brightness responds to the accelerator.
While there isn’t the power to carry a GoPro, the 600TVL camera provides surprisingly good-looking video – much more so than other small drones – thanks to its dynamic range and white balance. The only real complain is the ‘land now’ warning seems to come a little early, so the drone is better suited to racing flight than aggressive “acro” (acrobatics).
Sometime before the virus took hold, your humble wordsmith was taken in a bus to the desert outside Las Vegas not to be executed by the mob but to see these mini drones do their stuff. I’ve long suspect that I was only returned to the Consumer Electronics Show because I didn’t crash mine too hard (not for want of trying), but it’s good to see the cheerfully toothy micro-copter has made its way to stores.
What really makes this copter stands out is how inexpensive it is for a kit including goggles and a controller. Sure, the build quality might not compare well to some machines, but useful features are still available; standby charging is available on the goggles, which also have enough vents to avoid trouble. The camera’s 170˚ field of view works well for flight through goggles, too. Very usefully, for both first timers and for those making the transition from gadget store toys – the system has all the same safety features, not to mention rolls and flips, associated with toys in that category too, making for an easy transition.