The Ultimate Guide To Flying FPV Drones | How To Fly FPV Drones
We've got this ultimate guide on getting into the awesome hobby of flying FPV drones and how it can enhance action sports edits
FPV drones are the latest trend in the videography world, and have blown up in recent years. If you’ve been keeping a finger on the action sports pulse, then it’d be hard to miss the use of FPV footage in recent films such as Danny MacAskill’s The Slabs and Travis Rice’s epic Natural Selection event.
Now, don’t get us wrong, we’re big fans of camera drones for filming action sports (both camera and FPV drones have their own merits). You know, the DJI Mavic Air 2, DJI Mavic 2 Pro or DJI Inspire 2 (as you can see, DJI essentially owns the consumer-level camera drone market right now), but FPV offers a refreshing take on aerial videography.
Saying that, we’re going to stay away from calling camera drones ‘DJI drones’ as DJI are now also, quite confusingly, heavily invested in the FPV world as they create their own ready to fly FPV drone and also a lot of the equipment that we’re going to touch on further down in this guide.
What’s the Difference Between FPV and Camera Drones?
Thanks to the First Person View (that’s what FPV stands for, by the way) experience offered by FPV drones, you’re in the action, you’re part of the action, and the best part of all – you’re getting rad shots while flying around your friends, mountains, or anything else that may stand in the way of you and these little flying cameras.
You’re most likely asking how FPV drones work. Well, by attaching a camera to the drone, you’re able to transmit a video signal back to your goggles, to see exactly what the drone is doing in the air. Then, by using a transmitter, you can control exactly what the motors on the drone are doing, giving you free reign to fly the drone exactly where you want it to go (depending on your skill).
“FPV drones are totally free to spin, flip and roll”
While camera drones are locked into an axis, FPV drones are totally free to spin, flip and roll at will – whatever you command the drone to do, it’ll do – this is what gives the free-flowing feeling to FPV footage.
Another note about flying FPV drones is that they do not automatically hover on take off. This means that you need to be specific with the throttle input, which may seem like another thing to manage, but this control over throttle means that you can drop the throttle to zero and dive down mountain ridges like no camera drone has ever done before.
So in this article, we’re going to break down everything there is to know about getting into flying FPV drones. We’ve also written articles on the Parts Needed To Build Your Own FPV Drone and How To Build Your Own FPV Drone, so be sure to check them out.
You sadly can’t take a regular DJI drone and turn it into a FPV drone. While DJI do make FPV specific drones, the regular off-the-shelf DJI drones are usually just fixed in their altitude and axis, so they can’t fly free like a FPV drone.
For that reason, most FPV drones these days are custom built. A custom built drone allows you to pick and choose your parts depending on your needs, and swap them out if you’re after different flight characteristics. You can go two ways down the custom built drone route: prebuilt, or a DIY job. We always recommend the DIY job as when you inevitably crash (spoiler alert: you will crash your FPV quad a lot), it’s easy enough to fix.
With all that being said, here’s a quick overview of the gear you need to buy before getting into FPV.
Analogue vs Digital
The first thing you’ll notice being mentioned when you begin your research into buying your first FPV drone is the difference between analogue and digital FPV drones. There’s a wealth of reading online on this subject but, in short, analogue means faster latency (the lag between your transmitter movements and what the drone does), but poor image quality. Digital systems offer (very) slightly lower latency, with exceptional image quality sent back to your goggles.
“Digital systems offer … exceptional image quality sent back to your goggles”
Because we’re an action sports website and are focusing on filming action sports, we’re going to focus on the digital FPV experience. If you’re looking at buying a racing drone, then analogue might be the way to go. So let’s get into the equipment.
The drone itself is quite obviously the most important as even if all the below bits of equipment remain the same, it’s the drone that determines the flight characteristics, the length of your flight and the amount of weight it can carry. Make sure you give our ‘Choosing The Correct FPV Drone Components’ article a read to get to grips with all the components that come together to make a fully flying drone.
If you’re in a rush and don’t have time to read that article, then here are all the components that make up an FPV drone:
It’s the goggles that give you the first person view experience. FPV goggles can vary between analogue and digital. As we’ve mentioned previously, we’re going to be focusing on digital as they offer the best user experience and video feed back to the goggles. While most people will view what’s recorded on the GoPro on the top of the FPV drone, you’ll be seeing a slightly lower quality version through the FPV camera that sits below the GoPro.
The transmitter (controlled by you) sends actions to the drone that makes it fly. These are quite simple things really, and it’s quite hard to make the wrong choice. We recommend the DJI FPV transmitter if you’re going to fly digital.
The transmitter should be the first thing you buy, as it means that you can plug it into your PC and use a simulator to get practicing the basic flight movements of FPV drones.
The great thing with being action sports fans is that we’ve most likely got one or two GoPros lying around at home. The GoPro is what records the high-resolution video of the subject you’re filming. It’ll be set up on the drone with the same up tilt as the FPV camera, so it records exactly what you’re seeing.
To attach the GoPro, you just need a 3D printed part (there are many for sale online – we love the Drone Co Productions designs) that attaches to your frame, holding your GoPro in place, and protecting it from any knocks and bumps.
FPV drones are usually grouped together as ‘racing drones’, but racing drones are usually specifically built towards racing through gates (kind of like downhill skiing) with your mates, or in competitions. Featuring a high camera up tilt, powerful motors wrapped up in a lightweight build, these drones are built for speed and responsiveness.
Because of the twitchy, extremely fast nature of racing drones, they’re never really used to film action sports content, you’re much better off using any of the below drones.
Freestyle drones are essentially much more durable versions of racing drones. Built with tougher frames and motors, freestyle drones are designed to take on the inevitable crashes that come with flying FPV. For this reason, they’re a great choice for action sports videographers looking to film with an FPV rig, as they can take on beating after beating, while still having the acrobatic performance to keep up with skiers, mountain bikers or snowboarders.
A Cinewhoop is essentially a scaled down drone with propeller guards surrounding the props. This allows you to get extremely close to the action, without the danger of harming the talent in the event of a crash into them.
Because of the smaller propeller size, Cinewhoop drones are usually slower and much less agile to fly than a freestyle drone.
Long range drones have become extremely popular in recent years. Featuring an extremely lightweight build, efficient motors and high capacity batteries, long range FPV rigs let you capture that epic mountain cruising footage.
The beauty of FPV is that all of these drones use pretty similar components and, once you’ve got the goggles and transmitter, they’re pretty inexpensive to buy. This means that you can have one of each of the category, depending on the type of content you are looking to film. All you need is the skills to build the drone, which we’ve covered in our How To Build A FPV Drone article. So let’s get building.
Featuring a prop size of 2.5mm, propeller guards and an extremely lightweight build, these tiny drones have been designed to fly through spaces that would’ve been impossible with regular sized FPV drones. When combined with a stripped down GoPro, or Insta360, these drones can still record 4K clips, just with a limited flight time.
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