This is a complete beginner FPV guide for anyone who wants to learn how to start flying FPV drones.
Starting to fly FPV drones can quickly become overwhelming if you are new to the hobby. The learning curve is extremely steep when you first start out.
In this guide we will learn the fundamentals of a FPV system and how everything works together. We will learn what gear you should start out with and how you can progress further. After you have read my beginner FPV guide you will hopefully be able to start flying FPV drones without doing some of the expensive mistakes I did.
I remember back in 2013 when I strapped my brand new Fatshark V3’s around my head for the first time, flying a home made 8-inch quad from the perspective of the craft. It was pure joy, and it still is today.
The frame was made out of four hollow aluminum rods that formed a shape similar to a H. I had the newest top-notch Naza-M Lite FC with the GPS module.
In the front I had a fanzy gimbal made for a GoPro Hero4!
I had so much fun in the beginning, building and flying these strange flying machines.
|Content: FPV Beginner Guide|
|1: What is FPV?
2: How does a FPV system work?
3: The cost of a FPV system
4: Your first purchase
6: Rate mode VS auto-level mode
7: Different flying styles
|8: Main parts of a typical 5 inch quadcopter
9: Analog VS digital
11: 5.8 GHz VS 2.4 GHz
|12: Drone laws|
|13: How to get super-smooth drone footage
What is FPV?
FPV is short for “first person view”.
FPV makes it possible to control a drone, quadcopter, a plane, or anything that moves, from the perspective of the craft with a real-time video link, usually with a set of goggles. This feels much more immersive compared to just watching your craft from your own perspective – LOS (line of sight) flying.
Like the guy below, this is pretty much every person’s reaction to trying FPV for the first time.
How does FPV work?
For a FPV system to work we need a few things:
FPV Cam, video transmitter (vTx), video receiver (vRx), a pair of antennas and power.
The picture above is an analog system. DJI’s digital system works very similar. You have an ‘Air Unit’ that you mount in your craft that consist of a camera, transmitter and two antennas. On ground you have DJI’s digital FPV goggles.
|The basics of a FPV system|
|FPV Cam||The camera sends the video signal to the video transmitter. FPV cams are tiny cameras made for as little latency as possible and high dynamic range for rapid change in light conditions.|
|Video Transmitter (vtx)||The video transmitter sends the video signal as radiowaves to your receiver on ground.|
|Video Receiver (rtx)||This part is usually built into the goggles or monitor. Some goggles, like Fatshark's top tier models HDO and HDO2, comes with an empty slot for the video receiver.|
|Antennas||The Vtx and Vrx needs antennas to work properly. These antennas comes in all shapes and forms. More on that later.|
|Power||The entire system obviously needs power. Power can be taken directly from the FC (flight computer) if there is a 5v/9v connection, a BEC (Battery Elimination Circuit) or directly from the battery connection.|
The cost of a FPV system
A FPV system can set you back anything from a hundred to several thousands dollars. A very basic FPV system will cost around hundred dollars, but the costs will quickly add up when you want more high-end stuff.
Lets take the goggles as an example. You can get a pair of cheap box goggles for 30 dollars from Banggood with a built in battery and video receiver. It will get you started.
But, if you want Fatsharks top tier goggles, Fatshark HDO2, it will set you back 500 bucks. That’s only for the goggles. You will still need a video receiver module and antennas for the goggles. Most receiver modules goes for more than 100 bucks and directional antennas like TrueRC x2 goes for 50 bucks.
With that gear you’re already up in 650+ bucks and you haven’t even started on the gear you need in your craft.
Here are some rough estimates on what each parts of the FPV system costs:
- FPV Cam: 10$ – 50$
- Video Transmitters (vtx): 20$ – 60$
- Cheap box goggles: 30$ – 100$
- Goggles: 100$ – 500$
- Top tier goggles with reciver module: 650$+
- Antennas: 10$ – 30$
- High end directional antennas: 50$+
If you go for DJI’s new digital system. Goggles and 2x Air Units, it will set you back around 900 bucks.
Your first purchase
Okay, lets get started!
Before you start ordering drone parts or deciding what goggles you’ll buy you should to learn to fly first. The smartest and least expensive way to do that today is to use a simulator on a computer.
To use the simulator you’ll need a radio controller. Your radio is going to be with you for a long time. It’s also one of the few things that stays on the ground all the time (meaning you won’t crash it or loose it in the mountains).
Buying the right radio right away will save you money and you will avoid upgrading later when you get better at flying and need better gear.
So, what radio should you buy?
There are several good radios out there, but getting a radio with these properties are probably the best deal right now:
- Operating system: OpenTx
- Radiolink: Frsky protocol
- JR-slot: for Crossfire upgrade later on
It can be a confusing to use OpenTX in the beginning as there are so many ways to set things up within the OS, but you will get the hang of it. You’ll also find YouTube tutorials on how to do anything in the OpenTX universe as OpenTX is very common.
A few radio-controllers with OpenTX OS and FrSky protocol. All of these radios also have a JR slot on the backside:
Another great radio-controller is the TBS Tango 2.
Its much smaller than most regular radio-controllers, making it very easy to travel with. It has Crossfire built straight into the controller making it perfect for all kind of flying styles. You can use it in the park or on the mountains flying long range for several kilometers.
One of the downsides is that its running on FreedomTX, and not OpenTX. Another downside is that the radio Rx (the receiver in the drone that receives the signals from the radio-controller) is slightly more expensive than the usual Frsky Rx.
Read more further down in this guide about different signal systems such as Frsky and Crossfire.
Now you have a radio. It’s time to buy a simulator and get started with FPV!
Right now there are two simulators that are really popular:
- Velocidrone and Liftoff.
Liftoff is available on Steam and Velocidrone you can purchase here.
Another great simulator on steam is the ‘DRL sim’. This sim even has multiplayer so you can race with other players. DRL stands for Drone Racing League.
Practice in a simulator until you start feeling comfortable flying. I highly recommend that you start learning in rate mode straight away. This is the hardest way to fly in the beginning, but as you get better this mode will give you a lot more freedom in controlling the FPV drone.
Don’t bother with the self-leveling modes or other fancy modes. Spend the time it takes to learn rate mode and you will be rewarded.
Connecting your radio-controller to your computer to start practicing.
There are two ways you can connect to your computer:
- With a USB cabel
- Wireless FPV Dongle
Rate mode VS auto-level mode
How can I describe the difference? There are basically two different ways you can control your drone. Rate mode and auto-level mode. Why is this important? I will try to explain.
Stick input from roll and pitch axes decide the speed of rotation. The more you push the stick away from the center, the faster the drone will spin around itself. The moment you release the stick the drone will stay in whatever angle it was when you released the stick. The drone will not correct itself back to horizontal level.
Stick input from roll and pitch axes decide the angle. The more you push the stick away from center, the more aggressive the angle will become compared to the horizon. The moment you release the stick the drone will correct itself back to horizontal level.
In auto-level mode. When you reach the end of your stick range the drone will not angle any further. It will stop in whatever angle represent the end of your stick range.
Which mode should you choose?
Rate mode one hundred percent. There is not even a discussion. Yes, rate mode is harder to learn in the beginning, but once you master it you will get much more freedom in controlling the drone.
A few examples
Lets say you want to dive your drone. You would have to angle your drone straight down. In auto-level mode your drone would maybe stop at a 60 degree angle. Not possible in auto-level mode. Or what if you want to do flips and rolls? Not possible in auto-level mode either. What if you want to fly upside down? Not possible in auto-level mode.
Another benefit with rate mode is much less stick input during flight. Lets say you are cruising around in the park. Once you have a pitch angle you are happy with you could just let go of the pitch stick. In auto-level mode you would have to constantly hold the pitch stick forward to keep a constant angle. Thats how you get a tendinitis.
If you are coming from a world of video games it will take some time to readjust. Its a different way of flying. Luckily you can learn it in a FPV simulator with zero costs of crashing.
Different flying styles
People use FPV drones for many different reasons today. Here are some of them.
- Freestyle / Acrobatic
- Long range
- Indoor / Tinywhoop
1: Freestyle and acrobatic flying
This is what people who just started learning to fly FPV drones do. Its basically flying your drone however you want for no other reason than for the enjoyment. It could be in a local park or in an abandoned building. As you progress you will be able to do more and more sophisticated stunts.
It will start out with simple flips and powerloops. As you get better you will start to do the same tricks as your fly through windows or above the treetops.
Most freestyle is done with 5-inch FPV drones with a sturdy frame. After a crash you usually just have to go pick it up and start flying again. Some people also attach a action camera on the frame to get high quality video of their flying.
FPV drone racing is done on a racing track where you have to fly in a specific way. Most tracks have checkpoints and markers you have to fly through.
Most people use 5-inch FPV drones for racing. The trick is to build as light as possible with the strongest possible battery and motors.
3: Long range
Long range flying is usually done with 7-inch FPV drones. They are built in the same way as the 5-inch drones, but have a larger frame with stronger motors that runs on a lower KV.
Its wise to have some extra gear on your long range drones that makes them easier to find if you crash or lose the signal. As a minimum you should have a GPS on your drone that can send GPS coordinates back to your radio controller. All radio controllers with the OpenTX operating system can be programmed to log the GPS coordinates. When you crash you just go back to the log to look up the latest GPS coordinates.
You should also have a beeper with its own battery. The beeper should have two functions:
- Be able to start beeping automatically if the drone battery detaches from the frame.
- Be able to start beeping if there is no signal or you switch it on with the radio controller.
Why do you need a beeper if you have GPS? If you are high up the quadcopter could still crash over a big area or it could land inside vegetation making it impossible to see. Having a beeper helps a lot.
Check out my guide on how to build a 7-inch long range quadcopter.
If you like to make videos or you want to make content for your instagram you will need a FPV drone that is suited for filming. You could use a 3-inch, 5-inch or a 7-inch depending on what you want to film.
The most important feature of a cinematic FPV drone is that they are well tuned, regardless of size.
- The hardware needs to be well tuned in the sense of good propellers and undamaged motors that gives off little vibration.
- The software needs to be tuned in the sense of good PIDS and gentle stick movements.
If you want to make money with FPV drones this flying style is the way to go. Read my guide here with some tips and tricks on how you can make money with FPV drones.
5: Indoor / Tiny Whoop
If you want to fly FPV in your home or any other location that is indoors. You should do that with a tiny whoop. Its a very small drone with 2.5 or 3-inch propellers. Around the propellers there is usually a casing to protect the environment from the propellers.
Some people attach naked GoPro cameras to tiny whoops to get better video or to use it in professional productions.
Main parts of a typical 5 inch quadcopter
|Frame||A stiff and sturdy structure, usually made of carbonfiber, that holds everything in place and protect the hardware.|
|FC (Flight Computer)||The main brain on the quadcopter that controls everything.|
|ESC (Electronic Speed Controller)||Controls how much power the motors are getting. The ESC is getting its orders from the FC.|
|Motors||Generates lift. Two motors spins CW and CCW.|
|VTX||A video transmitter that sends a video signal down to your video receivers in your goggles or monitor.|
|FPV Cam||A camera that sends a video signal to your VTX|
|OSD (On Screen Display)||Shows information such as battery voltage, mah and signal strength as an overlay above your video feed.|
|DJI Air Unit||A digital FPV Cam and VTX that works very similar to the analog system. However, the digital system is a more closed system and you can't mix up cams, vtx boards and antennas.|
|Propellers||This one you should be able to figure out yourself.|
|Buzzer||A small speaker that is connected to your FC. Will make a lot of noise on your command or when you failsafe.|
Analog VS Digital FPV systems
I’ve been using both analog systems and digital systems for FPV. Up until recently it was not easy to give an easy answer if people asked me if they should go digital or analog.
With recents updates to DJI’s digital FPV system I don’t really see any good reasons anymore to get analog systems.
Here is the reality:
The DJI FPV system is expensive, but if you compare it to the top-tier products of the analog world it’s basically the same price.
If you buy a DJI FPV Experience Combo package it will set you back roughly 900$ – that’s with two Air Units included that you can mount to your crafts.
A good bundle deal with Fatsharks top tier goggles (Fatshark HDO2) will set you back 700$. That’s without FPV cam, video transmitter and antennas for your craft. That will set you back another 100$+ for each craft.
DJI FPV Goggles + 2 Air Units: 900$
Fatshark HDO2 Bundle + 2 analog systems for your craft: 900$
DJI will give you a crystal clear HD video feed with 30ms latency, while the analog system will give you much worse video quality with lots of interference; for the same price tag.
Both system have great range with the right antenna setup.
If you are going for the top tier stuff, go for DJI’s FPV system.
I would actually go so far and say: Flying with the DJI system is like flying FPV for the first time again. The step-up in video quality is absolutely nuts!
OSD stands for “on screen display”. This is basically an overlay with different information in your video feed. Usually your battery voltage, signal strenght and mAh used. More advanced information like return to home arrow, altitude and speed is also possible if you have GPS connected to the FC.
This information feed is generated in your FC (flight controller) and added to your video feed by connecting your FC in between your FPV cam and video transmitter.
Nowadays most FC have built in OSD that you can manipulate with Betaflight. But in the old days that was not normal. If you wanted OSD you had to get an OSD as a separate unit. OSDs was more basic back then and usually just included battery voltage and maybe a timer.
5.8 GHz VS 2.4 GHz
The most common frequency to run your FPV system is 5.8 GHz.
Traditionally, the biggest advantage of 2.4 GHz FPV systems was that you got longer range and higher penetration with your video feed.
Today the 5.8 GHz antennas has become so good that a 5.8 GHz system outruns your battery range on your quadcopter anyways so a 2.4 GHz system in terms of range would be meaningless.
Another downside of 2.4GHz systems is that the antennas are bigger and easier to break.
Drone laws are different in every country, and you need to find out yourself what laws are relevant for your country. Some countries, like Morocco or Venezuela, have banned drones completely.
In my country, Norway, there are basically three main rules for hobby flying:
- Keep a distance of 150 meters from people and private property
- Don’t fly closer than 5km to an airport
- Never fly higher than 150m above the ground
How to get super-smooth video like the “pros”?
Step by step
- Build a well tuned quadcopter
- Use a Gopro Hero6 or Hero8
- Turn of all types of stabilization in-camera
- Stabilize with Reelsteady Go
Check out this in-depth guide on how I stabilize with Reelsteady Go.