So you are new to FPV Drone and wondering where to start? You have come to the right place! This beginner’s guide explains the basics of buying, building and flying an FPV drone.
What is FPV Flying?
FPV stands for First Person View.
By putting a camera on the drone, so you can see what the drone sees while controlling it. It’s like you are sitting in the cockpit and flying like a real pilot, but your feet are actually firmly on the ground.
Flying a drone in FPV is the most surreal experience I personally have ever had. You can go anywhere in 3D space, what you can do is totally up to your imagination.
Flying FPV feels a bit like a video game, except it’s real. There is no “reset button” and you could damage your drone in a crash, not to mention the damage or injury that could result in losing control at these speeds. It’s the adrenaline rush that makes it such an exciting experience.
Flying FPV Drone as Hobby
More and more FPV drone pilots are now flying drones on a professional level (racing and video making), but the majority of us just fly them on our days off as a hobby.
The FPV drone hobby has some of the friendliest online and offline communities I have ever experienced. Everybody helps each other out, and our local group regularly meet, fly and race together.
With the help of this guide, you learn to choose parts, build and repair your own quadcopter. You will also learn to tune your drone to fly exactly the way you want it to. Everything in this hobby is highly customize-able and upgrade-able.
But most importantly you should search on social media to see if anyone near you also fly, flying together with friends is the quickest way to learn and improve in my opinion.
FPV Drone Overview
Let’s cover the basic terms used in this hobby to avoid any confusion later on.
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.
Here is a list of drones that are commonly seen in this hobby.
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”.
Here are the different configurations of multirotors.
What is a Mini Quad?
A Mini Quad is basically a small multirotor, or more specifically, a quadcopter. But most people 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.
What is a Micro Quad?
A micro quad is basically an even smaller mini quad that have 3” or smaller, with a frame size (wheelbase) of 150mm or less. There is no rules really, if it’s small, it’s a micro quad :)
FPV Drone Sizes
The size of an FPV drone is determined by the maximum propeller size it supports. For example, a 3″ drone is designed to spin 3″ propellers.
As your first build, I strongly recommend building a 5″ mini quad because it’s the most versatile platform for both freestyle flying and racing. It’s the most popular size, so advice and build logs can be easily obtained online.
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, and is still likely the most popular.
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.
Pretty much the standard for FPV drone nowadays, excellent balance between power, efficiency, and agility, it’s great for both freestyle and racing, and even long-range. Components are larger, therefore easier to solder and maintain.
There are a lot of build logs and tutorial available when it comes to building a 5″ FPV drone. In fact I have a tutorial showing you how to build a 5-inch quad from start to finish.
Typical build: 4-6S lipos 1000mah-1800mah, 22xx-25xx motors 1600-2800kv
4 inch is the middle child. This category started to get more attention when the 250g weight limit was introduced in some countries, while the 4″ is the biggest size that can achieve that without impacting performance too much.
However when building and choosing parts for a 4″ you have to be careful, because there is no parts that are specifically designed for 4″, and you have to use parts either from a 5″ or a smaller 3″.
This results in the lack of standard when it comes to motor mounts and flight controller stack size. Some frames use 13xx-15xx motor while other uses 18xx-22xx motor. (What’s Motor Size) The same goes for the stack, some uses 20mm stack while other uses 30mm stack (flight controller mounting explained).
Typical build: 3-4s lipos 600-900mah, 13xx-15xx or 18xx-22xx
2-Inch, 2.5-inch and 3-Inch
2″-3″ is becoming very popular, due in part to regulatory law that makes you register any quad over 250g. The other reason, electronics are getting smaller and more reliable, these small drones can do pretty much anything a 5 inch drone can do.
Typical build: 2-4S lipos 300-800mah, 13xx-15xx
Whoops are considered micro quads, but normally with ducts or prop guards to allow you safely fly indoor and around people.
A typical tiny whoop weighs only around 20g including battery, and they are great fun to fly in the house, and great tools to learn flying with. I have a buyer’s guide explaining what I think the best whoops are currently on the market.
Typical build: 1-2S lipos 200-400mah, 06xx-08xx motors brushless or brushed motor
Toothpick is basically 2.5″ or 3″ micro quads with extremely low weight. The 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.
You can buy one pre-built and I tested a bunch to find out which is the best.
Typical build: 1-3S lipos 300-450mah, 11xx-13xx motors brushless motor or brushed motor
6 Inch and 7 Inch
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 a 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.
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.
FPV Drone Flying Style
Before choosing parts for your build, you should recognize what flying style the drone is designed for. The common flying styles are:
- Long range
Although not all sizes can achieve all the styles, but people still try.
Freestyle is the most popular for hobbyists. It 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 don’t crash.
Racing is flying through a designated course. Usually consisting of gates that you have to go through. Drone Racing is like racing roller-coasters, just without the tracks. 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 steady with throttle to minimize current draw and maximize flight time and distance. Here are some tips to long range flying.
When talking about Cinemaphotography in FPV, there is no specific build, and 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
How Much Does It Cost?
Building a drone for the first time is not cheap because of all the tools and accessories you have to buy. Just like anything else it largely depends on your choice of components.
To give you a rough idea, an FPV drone alone typically costs somewhere between $100 to $400 (there is no limit really). That is just the quad itself and doesn’t include other necessities like batteries, FPV goggles, radio controller, and other basic accessories can cost you another $100 to $400.
With the growth of the hobby, there are cheaper options hitting the marketplace all the time, and it’s becoming much more affordable now than when I started back in 2013. Competition is driving the price down for every type of component, parts are better designed and more robust. A good example would be the durability of propellers, now I don’t have to change them for days, compared to the 10 props I used to break every session.
Building From Scratch or Buy Pre-Built?
If building a quadcopter from scratch sounds too challenging, there are pre-built models available. However I do recommend building your first drone! Building is a big part of the fun and the skills and knowledge you learn along the way will enable you to diagnose, repair and upgrade your FPV drone later on.
There are now DIY kits, which has everything for you to build. These kits tend to be low quality, but they are much cheaper and can get you started with learning how to build, this is fine if you have a tight budget.
Whether you are buying a pre-built drone or building it yourself, you should make a shopping list, and have it checked by someone experienced. If you want some advice on selecting components, ask at my forum IntoFPV forum. We have a wealth of experience and are always ready to welcome new members and answer questions.
Get a Taste of Flying in Simulators
“I don’t even have a drone yet, how can I learn to fly?”
You don’t need a drone to learn flying these days, there are many FPV simulators available for you to practice on. Simulators can teach you the basic controls of a drone, and the muscle memory your hands require. In most cases, you will be able to use the same radio transmitter to fly the simulator, and the real drone so there is no need to adjust between different controllers.
Speaking from experience, I don’t think it’s wise to learn to fly on a full size mini quad. You will crash a lot in the first few days, and it’s dangerous and expensive if you crash and damage the parts. As you practice more, muscle memory will take over and you will crash less. Practicing in a sim in advance can accelerate that process and prepare you for it.
Here is a list of FPV flight simulators for Drone.
FPV sims are probably the cheapest way to get into quadcopter flying. You can practice anytime of the day regardless the weather. It’s not exactly like flying in real life, but it’s close enough as basic training. I recommend spending 5 to 10 hours in a simulator before attempting to fly a real drone, this will help you tremendously as a complete beginner.
To fly FPV simulators, the first item you should buy is a radio controller (aka transmitter). Make sure it supports FPV simulators, many of these are plug and play without any dongles or adapters. You can use the same transmitter to fly your drone later.
Don’t use XBox console or keyboard because it’s pointless. Only using a proper transmitter will build up muscle memory and provide the full benefit of training.
What radios should you consider? Here are my personal recommendations. These are the most popular options in the hobby and you won’t go wrong with them.
- Cheapest worth having: BetaFPV LiteRadio 2 (get it from BetaFPV | GetFPV | RDQ)
- Best value and most versatile: Radiomaster TX16S (get it from Banggood | RDQ | Amazon)
If you want to dig deeper, here is my tutorial on how to select radio transmitters for FPV.
Parts and Equipment
These posts will walk you through the basics of mini quad hardware and constructions.
- The construction and components of a quadcopter – explains the construction of a quadcopter in general, and what each component does
- How to build an FPV drone – explains how to build a quadcopter from scratch
- FPV Acronyms – A list of common technical terms and acronyms used in FPV
An FPV drone consists of the following parts:
- Frame – how to choose an FPV drone frame
- 4 x Motors – how to choose FPV drone motors
- 4 x Props (Propellers) – 2x CCW and 2x CW rotations – how to choose propellers
- 4 x ESC’s or a 4in1 ESC – Electronics Speed Controller – how to choose ESC’s
- FC – Flight Controller – how to choose a flight controller
- LiPo Battery – how to choose LiPo battery
- FPV Camera – how to choose an FPV camera
- Video Transmitter (VTX) – how to choose a VTX
- FPV antennas – how to choose FPV antennas
Additionally you will also need the following equipment to fly your quadcopter in FPV:
- Radio transmitter (TX) and receiver (RX) – how to choose a radio transmitter
- FPV Goggles – how to choose FPV goggles
- LiPo Charger – how to choose LiPo charger
- Beeper with built-in battery
When starting out you can get by with just a few basic tools, just to name a few:
- Soldering iron and solder
- A set of hex drivers or Allen keys (sizes dependent on your frame choice)
- An M5 (8mm) nut spinner or ratchet for your propeller nut (or you can just use your big pliers)
- Wire Cutters
- Cable ties
- Electrical Tape
- Smoke stopper
There are many other useful tools you can consider to have which will make building and repairing your quads more enjoyable!
This can be tough for your first build. If you are not sure what to get, it’s a good idea to get what’s popular so if you run into problems, there are more people who might have the answer. Do your research and if in doubt, ask on our IntoFPV forum!
Take a look at the gear I use and quads I fly, this might give you some ideas.
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.
How Does FPV Drone Work?
The Pilot controls the drone using a radio controller which has two joysticks. The stick commands are sent wirelessly to the radio receiver installed inside the drone.
The flight controller takes commands from radio receiver, combines with data from the gyro sensor, and calculate what speed each motor should move
The ESC converts this signal from the FC, and controls how fast the motors should spin, in order to generate the correct thrust desired.
A drone is normally powered by a LiPo battery.
FPV System – How To Receive Video From Drone
The FPV system on a mini quad is actually quite simple:
- There is a camera connected to a video transmitter (VTX)
- The VTX broadcasts video feed wirelessly to a video receiver (VRX) which is either built into the FPV goggles, or added to them as an external module.
Check out this FPV guide to learn about FPV system in more detail.
[add photo] Pilot wearing goggles, camera/VTX on quad, rest of the quad low opacity
Analog vs Digital FPV Systems
There are now two main systems for FPV drones – analogue, and DJI (digital).
When FPV quad started, the only choice was analogue. The FPV feed you see through your goggles is like old Standard definition television. The resolution is limited to 525 TVL for NTSC and 625 TVL for PAL. You see snow, static and breakups throughout your flight. Due to the fast pace of a quad, you needed a low latency video feed. And analog was the answer, which allows for a compact VTX and antennas, making it capable for a mini/micro quad to carry and portable enough that you can fly virtually anywhere.
Then digital came later, but the first generation had high latency, bulky and expensive. The game changed in 2019 when DJI came out with their digital FPV system. The digital system provided relatively low latency, HD video feed and HD video recording all-in-one. Digital is becoming very popular. The cost of a digital system is similar to a high-end analog system.
It is not to say that digital is the way to go. A lot of people still fly analogue and are perfectly happy. If you want to get into drone racing, you will still be better off to stick with analogue. And if you are not sure whether you will like FPV or not, an entry level analogue setup is much more affordable.
5.8GHz (5800MHz) is the frequency band that we commonly use for broadcasting the video feed. The frequency we use for radio control is on 2.4GHz, so there is little interference.
Typically video transmitters and receivers support 40 channels or more. This allows multiple people flying at the same time. Spectators can also tune into FPV drones and watch the actions.
If you crash, unplug the battery as soon as you pick it up. If you walk back to your seat with the quad powered on, it might interfere your buddy’s video signal if they are still flying (because your transmitter is now closer to your friend’s receiver than their own quad is).
Use Circular Polarized Antenna
Some VTX and VRX come with dipole antennas, we recommend replacing them with aftermarket “circular polarized” antennas for your FPV gear. They provide better range, reliability and less interference (for you and others).
Find out more about the benefits and negatives of circular polarized antennas.
How to Get Those Beautiful FPV Footage?
You just watched a surreal video on Youtube, and you are wondering how that guy captured those high quality footage.
DVR footage from an analog feed is far from 1080p HD quality, let alone 4K quality. Most of the beautiful footage you see online is usually recorded with a separate HD camera.
The most popular way is to put a GoPro (or similar camera) on the drone with a 3D printed TPU mount. You can also use an FPV camera system like the Runcam Split or Caddx Tarsier, that can record HD videos at the same time.
Lastly, the new kid in town is going digital with the DJI FPV system. With the DJI system, you are seeing HD FPV feed and record in 720p which is still far better than analogue.
Learning How to Fly FPV
It takes time to relate what you learn on a simulator to an FPV drone in real life. Don’t worry it might take a few days, then it will just click and all of a sudden the sky becomes your oyster!
And you also need to learn how to tune PID when learning how to fly.
Don’t Fly Auto-Level Mode
If all you want to fly is a DJI camera drone, or other GPS assisted multirotors, auto level is perfect and it’s fine to just fly like that. But if you want to get into racing and freestyle flying, you have to learn to fly in acro mode. The one exception is flying Tiny Whoop indoors, they are actually flown in angle mode most of the times. That’s why a Tiny Whoop flying indoors is not the best way to learn acro mode.
This article explains the differences between acro mode (rate mode) and self-level mode.
Acro mode might seem hard at first, but once you have learned it you are free to control your quad exactly how you want it. Betaflight has an Acro Trainer mode that will help you get used to Acro without the ability to flip or spin out of control.
Auto level is like a pair of crutches, great if you can’t balance yourself, but try using them while running a 100m sprint! Once you have learned acro mode, auto level will feel like a hindrance, it can also teach bad habits which can be difficult to shake.
While learning how to fly in a simulator, you should also start doing research on quadcopter parts, and plan your build. Move on to the next section to learn more about parts and equipment.
Attending Meetup and Race Events
As you arrive at the FPV site, first thing you want to do is to work out who is using which video transmitter channel.
DO NOT power on your quad before you get your video channel confirmed, especially when there are other people in the air!
When 2 quads are on the same VTX channel, or when frequencies are too close to each other, one can disrupt the video feed of the other. Interference on 5.8GHz frequency can cause accidents because the image in the goggles can disappear entirely while flying, leaving a pilot “blind”.
Always warn other pilots before you power on your quad.
Even if you are not on the same channel, some low quality VTX can emit power through the whole spectrum on start-up and changing channels. This can cause a split second of interference to everyone else.
Alternatively you can always switch on your video receiver first, and check which channels are being used before you switch on your video transmitter.
With proper equipment and frequency management, normally up to 8 people can fly at the same time, but typically 4 pilots is more common for an interference free race.
Safety should always come first.
Remember that these racing mini quads are really FAST and powerful! They can cause some nasty injuries to people and animals, and damage to property. We have zero tolerance for people ignoring safety rules, because it does not only affect the pilot and victim, but also the reputation of this hobby.
- Check your local rules and regulations regarding FPV, RC and Model Flying in general
- Buy Insurance!
- Get a spotter, or a fly buddy!
- Choose your flying location sensibly
- Never fly too close to or above people and animals
- Disconnect battery immediately after picking up the crashed quad
- Do not try to catch a multicopter in mid-air
- Never use damaged LiPo, and dispose of LiPo battery properly
Please also read about this article that explains FPV safety in a bit more detail.
- Sept 2015 – Article Created
- Dec 2016 – Article revised, added “The Origin of Drone Racing and the Types of Drones”
- May 2017 – Added “Buy a Radio First and Learn How To Fly”
- Aug 2017 – Updated
- Apr 2019 – Updated
- Aug 2020 – Rewritten