How To Choose FPV Camera For Drones

What drone pilots see while they are flying, are the low latency analog video from FPV cameras. To choose the best FPV camera for your multirotors, there are a few things to consider which we will discuss in this post.

Choosing the Best FPV Camera For Quadcopter / Multirotor

FPV camera is one of the most important parts of a quadcopter FPV setup. Real-time image is broadcast from the camera through a video transmitter. Regardless how good the video transmitter is, the image quality on your FPV display is only as good as your FPV camera.

To give you some ideas what are popular, check out our article on top 5 best FPV camera.

Content Index

Before we begin, it’s important to know the difference between FPV cameras and HD cameras. HD FPV videos you normally see on Youtube are captured using HD cameras like the GoPro or Runcam 3, which is an additional camera pilots mount on their multirotors.

CCD and CMOS – Type of Imaging Sensor

CCD and CMOS are two main types of imaging sensors used in FPV cameras, each has unique characteristics and advantages. Most HD digital cameras uses CMOS sensors. For FPV cameras, CCD used to be better a few years back, but not the case anymore. Here are a summary of the pros and cons, check out this post for more detail.

CCD

  • Less jello effect in footage
  • Less noisy in low light
  • Better light handling
  • Lower latency

CMOS

  • Higher resolution
  • Better colour
  • Higher frame rate
  • Consume less power
  • Generally cheaper to make

CMOS cameras can perform just as good as CCD cameras these days. It’s very important that you check example footage of the cameras before buying, see how they perform in bright daylight, low light, facing the sun and overall wide dynamic range.

Latency is just as important as image quality. CCD generally has a lower latency than the CMOS.

NTSC and PAL – Video Encoding Standard

It really isn’t a big issue whether to use PAL or NTSC nowadays, as they are both supported by most FPV equipment. NTSC is used in North America, Japan and South Korea. PAL is used in most of Europe, Australia and large parts of Africa and Asia. It’s a good idea to stick with the standard in your country. But I don’t think it would be a huge problem if you decide to use the other format.

PAL-NTSC-map-country

The main different is that PAL offers better resolution, while NTSC allows more frame rate. So if you want to have good picture, PAL is good. But if you want more fluid footage, NTSC does a better job.

  • PAL: 720 x 576 @ 25fps
  • NTSC: 720 x 480 @ 30fps

For a more detail comparison, check out this post.

FPV Camera Field of View (FOV) – Lens Focal Width

When selecting a FPV camera, you usually have an option of different lens focal width, which give you different field of view (FOV). But note that lens focal width does NOT always give you the same FOV. For example, on one camera 2.8mm lens might give you 90 degree FOV, but on another different camera, 2.8mm might give you 100 degree FOV. So knowing what FOV you like is more important than knowing what lens focal width when you are buying a camera/lens.

It’s important to pick a FOV that you feel comfortable with. The wider FOV, the more environment you can see. But it’s not always a good thing though as you will start to notice the “fish eye” effect. The objects in the middle will appear smaller and further away, and the edges of the image will appear curly. However when FOV is too small the image will appear zoomed in.

I personally find 130-140 degree more comfortable for FPV (normally 2.5mm-2.4mm lens).

This is a good example of different FOV, from high focal width number to low.

camera-fov-comparison

Some cameras allows replacement lenses of different FOV. You can get these screw-in lenses and try them, instead of buying a whole new camera. For example I was experimenting different lens for the Runcam Swift.

10-sony-fpv-ccd-camera-lens-compare

I think it’s all down to personal preference and what type of flying you do. For instance if you tend to fly proximity or through places with lots of close obstacles, wider FOV might be better. If you fly high altitude in clear open space, narrower FOV might be better. For FPV racers, wider FOV are popular because it allows the pilot to see more when flying fast, without having to physically tilt the camera as much.

TVL – FPV Camera Resolution

TVL (TV Lines) is basically a measure of how good the FPV camera resolution is. The number is based on how many alternating black and white lines can be displayed in the image horizontally. A 600TVL camera means it can display 300 black lines and 300 white lines alternately in one picture. The more TV lines, the better definition image you can get out of the camera. Commonly seen FPV cameras TVL are 380, 480, 600, 700, 800, 1200 etc.

However higher TVL or resolution comes with a price: it costs more and it has higher latency (because of the image processing)! 600TVL has been the most popular choice for a number of years. Besides, it’s not always “the more the better”. Due to the limitation of analog 5.8Ghz video transmission: there is only so much data can be transferred per second, i.e. the quality of your video is capped.

Latency

Latency of a camera can be a deciding factor if you are into drone racing. Although it’s less critical if you fly around the park, it will still affect your the way you fly. Imagine if you are flying at 100Km/h, a 50mSec delay means you quad would have traveled 1.4m before you can react on the sticks.

Delay of a camera is often associated with TVL, and the image processing.

Most 600TVL CCD cameras often only have less than 20ms of lag, such as the Runcam Swift and Foxeer HS1177. For higher TVL cameras have higher delay due to more image processing.

Latency is not published on camera spec by manufacturers, and this is tested by online reviewers most of the times, so you need to do your research and find out for yourself.

Aspect Ratio

There are 2 aspect ratio to choose from, 4:3 and 16:9. It all comes down to which ratio your FPV display/goggles supports. If you have a 4:3 camera but 16:9 display, the image will appear stretched. If you have a 16:9 camera but 4:3 display, the image will appear squashed.

FPV Camera Size, Weight and Operating Voltage/Wiring

Next things to consider would be the dimensions and working voltage. Cameras for FPV these days are standardizing, most are built on a square 32x32mm PCB or inside a 26x26mm case. This determines how easily the camera can be mounted on the multirotor frame of you choice.

Sometime you see them branded as 1/3″ cameras because they use the popular 1/3″ Sony CCD chip. It doesn’t indicate the size of the camera.

2-sony-600tvl-fpv-ccd-camera-without-case

foxeer-arrow-fpv-camera-hs1190-side-by-side-runcam-swift-top

A FPV cameras could weight somewhere between 10g to 30g. There are also micro FPV cameras available for micro brushed quads which are only 1g-2g.

The electrical connections are very simple, we usually just connect 3 cables. The red wire is the positive voltage power, black is the ground, yellow is the video signal. Sometimes you might also get an extra withe wire which is the audio (if there is a built-in microphone).

Surveilzone 600TVL 120degree Wide Angle Super Mini FPV Camera with MIC

Most cameras these days have a wide range of input voltage, e.g. 5V to 17V. This allows you to power them either from a regulated power source or directly from LiPo batteries (2S-4S). I also prefer to run a LC filter (power filter) to clean the power source for the camera, video transmitter and OSD for the best quality image possible.

IR Block VS IR Sensitive

FPV cameras normally offer two versions, one is IR Block and the other IR Sensitive. IR block gives you better colour, IR sensitive works better in low light condition.

If you mainly fly during the day, stick with IR Block.

Here is a more detail comparison of the two.

IR block IR sensitive fpv camera comparison

Camera Settings Features

Some good cameras allow users to change settings using an OSD control module (on screen display). There are so many settings on these cameras, it could be overwhelming for the first time. To understand some of the useful features, take a look at this post about how I set up my Sony Super HAD 600TVL Camera.

16-sony-600tvl-fpv-ccd-camera-content-parts-all

Running a dedicated FPV camera VS GoPro / Mobius

If you use the GoPro or Mobius camera for recording, you might wonder if these cameras can be used for FPV as well. It’s not uncommon to see people do that, in order to simplify their multicopter setup to save weight and costs. However there are some disadvantages using HD cameras for FPV, as I have already pointed out in this post “the reasons for running a dedicated FPV camera“. To summarize:

  • Lag – there is a obvious delay, especially when recording at the same time
  • Battery dependent – You don’t have video feed if the GoPro battery dies. You can power the HD camera with external power source but it will consume large amount of current
  • Recording locks up – If for some reason the recording freezes, your might also lose video feed

GoPro-FPV-Camera-setup-video-transmitter-external-power

Therefore I always use a dedicated FPV camera alongside with a HD recording camera. It’s also important that you don’t put the FPV camera on a gimbal, so it doesn’t mess up your orientation. You can also consider having video feed from the GoPro as well at the same time, and use a video feed switcher. You can switch between cameras with your radio transmitter, and see what the Gopro is filming.

Adding On Screen Display Data – OSD

This is a bit off the topics, but i am sure there are still people wondering what an OSD is. Basically, an OSD (on screen display) is a device that overlays text/data onto your camera footage. The video feed from the camera enters the OSD, and the OSD output goes into your video transmitter.

arducam-osd

OSD is an useful tool to have as you can display many types of data on your FPV screen: RSSI, current, flight speed, altitude, compass heading, and distance, etc. For people like me who doesn’t fly long range, I prefer to just have time and batter voltage displayed on my OSD.

You made it!

I hope this article gave your some ideas and understanding how to choose a suitable FPV camera. Don’t hesitate to leave me a comment/question, and happy flying!

Article was first created in Dec 2014, last updated in Nov 2016.

32 thoughts on “How To Choose FPV Camera For Drones

  1. Rettro

    A current or near future technical question from a serious amateur still photographer: Are there quadcopter cameras with large image sensors (e.g. “full size” Nikon D5 is 35.9 mm X 23.9 mm)? Are there interchangeable lens or mechanical zoom, not digital zoom? Explanation of the question: The perspective of the quadcopter offers a practical perspective for “art” still shots that otherwise only could be achieved by shooting from full sized helicopter. By being able to more narrowly control the depth of field…I.e. make it more shallow…and be able to capture large image files…i.e. raw files in the 24 mb range, large artistic images would be possible. For example, a shot of a ship at sea needs a deep depth of field but a shot from about 50 ft of a raptor feeding its young in the nest needs only about 2-3 ft in focus. Too great a depth of field in that setting distracts the eye from the subject. You want only an out of focus background that supports but not distracts from the story you are trying to tell with the image.

    Reply
  2. Johnathan hoehaver

    Thank you for this, I have been struggling with questions towards fpv and it’s setup for months now, finally building my second 250quad after losing my first in the woods (still). And now it’s on to finally, ohhh finally, fpv. This blog was really, very well articulated and touched on every topic I had questioned about. You’re the man.

    In conclusion, I’ve decided on 600tv , probably that Foxeer HS1177 you mentioned, I have it on paste lol my only other question would be… for the transmitter, is 600mw the obvious choice, over 200mw? Also.. is 1.??ghz better then 5.8ghz?

    Reply
  3. Ben Portman

    Hi Oscar, have recently dragged out the old fossils stuff frame and rebuilt it, I’m using a runcam 2 for both recording and video (1080P @ 60fps) I’m not getting noticeable lag for my flying style (cruising about and mostly shaking alot whilst flying!)
    It maybe worth mentioning that this is an option now with runcam 2.1 firmware. I’ve connected the video lead to a Vtx, and am running the camera directly off the lipo with the battery out. There’s also a genius mod here;
    youtube.com/watch?v=WrjGromqfoE where they guy has used the empty battery space to fit a vtx in the runcam……If you’re not racing, this is adequate and saves space and weight.

    Reply
  4. Bryan

    Hello. Under the section on FOV I think you have a mistake – lenses that come with IR filters make for better daytime visibility, but drastically reduce nighttime visibility. Most cameras have an IR filter. If the camera does not have an IR Filter, you can sometimes see really well at dusk, etc, but risk having “whiteout” during the day.

    Reply
  5. Jim Eastep

    Oscar:
    Your information is always very clear and objective.
    There are two issues I would like to see you discuss:
    1) Can you discussion the intracacies of FPV latency?
    2) If a camera has a particular actual resolution in pixels (WxH), can we expect this resolution to be accurately conveyed to the 5.8ghz receivers and DVRs? If not, how do we tell what we are actually getting?
    Jim

    Reply
  6. ninh bui

    I bought this Boscam All In One 7″ Inch FPV Monitor w/ 5.8ghz Receiver and Built-In Battery and Boscam TS832 32Ch 5.8Ghz 600mw Wireless Audio/Video Transmitter for FPV RC CN143 for my Fuav seraphi copter with the Firefly camera came with the copter but i not be able to connect one to another. I change every combination of dip switch seem not work…any one out there can help me ion this. i bought this two from ebay but have tuff time to reach them for help can not return neither

    Reply
  7. Ivan

    There is no info of how to find correct aspect ratio camera and googles.
    I have spent a lot of time to find real camera with 16:9 aspect ratio which corresponds to my FPV googles.
    I don’t understand why most of the cameras are 4:3 aspect ratio when most of the TV, Monitors, googles are 16:9.
    Even GoPro outputs 4:3 live video and adds black bars up and down which makes impossible to use with any of 16:9 TV.

    Reply
    1. digler

      Hi Ivan. The main reason you can’t get 16.9 is because analogue video is 4.3 -eg 720×576 (pal) You can “fake” 16.9 by using a camera with anamorphic pixel aspect ratio. so the end result will look great on a 16.9 screen. i would love to use one of these but haven’t seen any around. I only know about anamorphic because i do video production and thats how we got wide screen before HD came along. eg by using a mini-dv camera with the anamorphic setting – when we used this feature the picture would be squeezed/narrow (stretched in a vertical fashion) when viewing through a 4.3 screen on our cameras. we’d fix it during editing wr the image would be stretched back to normal, resulting in a widescreen image. hope this makes sense! (ps: i think buzzhobbies had a camera that did widescreen)

      Reply
  8. john sutton

    Hi Oscar
    I have viewed the Inspires digital view through Headplay. It was awesome.
    I want to have that super digital clarity for my 250 racer.
    So I need a lightweight video transmitter (200 meters is minimum but more is better ) & receiver with no lag and a small high res. digital camera.
    I understand GoPro has lag which I do not wish to tolerate.
    Can I have your advice please .
    Please respond to my email address with a copy of your response when you have time.

    Reply
    1. geroge

      the reason we fly analogue is because it is tolerant of interference. hd signal is either all or nothing. when signal is weak, you get no image. i don’t know about you, but when signal is weak (ie. due to lots of trees and interference) i’d rather get a really garbled image (and still be able to just barely make out enough to fly out of the woods) than see no image at all (and most definitely crash due to that same interference).

      Reply
  9. Bill

    Hey thank you for the information. I just wanted to make a quick note. When you said “Some lenses can even improve the camera light sensitivity, and some come with infrared filter which enhance the ability at night.” I think you meant to say that some come “without” the filter which enhance night visibility.

    Reply
  10. Prog4j

    Hi Oscar
    Thanks for the post, it’s very helpful.

    I have a questions regarding FPV cameras and transmitters.
    You say FPV cameras has at least 3 wires (positive voltage, ground and video). So, is it possible to connect any kind of FPV camera (CCD/CMOS) to any transmitter?

    I have a TX5803 transmitter and a DEVO F7 with RX corresponding video receiver (working with an iLook camera), and I want to re-use this kit (TX/RX) for a 250 racing drone by connecting a dedicated FPV camera.

    Regards.

    Reply
    1. bill

      that was most definitely hollywood beach. My grandmother has a house about 3/4 of a mile from there… i go down every winter to get away from the NJ weather

      Reply
  11. me

    Hey , just a minor point about TVL , it’s actually vertical lines displayed which is equivalent to “horizontal” resolution. The vertical resolution is fixed in the PAL / NTSC analog standard and can’t be changed. TVL is not connected in any way to 576p and 1080i or whatever which is also vertical resolution ( also called lines).
    That means if you have 600 TVL you might have higher horizontal resolution but the same vertical resolution.
    wikipedia has an (small) article on “tv lines”

    Reply
  12. tombo9999

    …”most are made into a square shape of length 25mm”…
    Sorry, but i can find only 32×32 or 38×38, can you help me?

    Thanks, Luca

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Hi Luca, sorry i meant 32 and 38, not 25. I have updated the post now.
      but you can find smaller camera, try searching for Sony 600TVL Mini.
      thanks
      Oscar

      Reply
      1. tombo9999

        What about this one?
        securitycamera2000.com/products/RunCam-600TVL-DC-5%252d17V-Wide-Voltage-Mini-FPV-Camera.html

        Thanks for your reply :)

  13. Louisiana Jeff

    Nice article, very helpful. There is so much more to this hobby than “grab & go fly” and you lay it out in an easy to read and understand form. It seems every article I read leads me to 2 or 3 more I am going to need to read, I like how you refer to the more detailed stuff but break it down to beginner/advanced.

    Reply
  14. P-J

    Was about to buy a new Sony 800TVL camera but luckily I found a video on Youtube where they found out about the excessive lag compared to the Sony 600TVL PZ0420. Anyone know of a new generation camera with low lag or comparable to the Sony 600TVL PZ0420.

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      There are mix review on this one. quite a few people say there is no noticeable delay. I am getting one of this camera so will test it out myself :)

      Reply
      1. Munim

        Hi Oscar ..this is a very fine article on selection of a camera..i need a suggestion from you .i am designing a vision added inertial nevigation for quadcopter ..so which cmos camera would you prefer me for this application.

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