Maybe you’re here after watching some incredible videos of drones racing through an indoor course, or chasing race cars on the track, or diving down a 1000ft waterfall, or just smoothly flying through beautiful landscapes. In any case, we’re glad you’re here! This means you’re serious enough to Google “how to get into FPV” and want to know what it takes. Well you’re in the right place. This is a comprehensive overview on what to expect. If you’re wondering if getting into FPV is worth it, you’ll find out here. Spoiler alert: the answer is yes, it’s worth it!
The Short Answer
- Learn about the different kinds of FPV drones and consider what's right for you
- Get a radio and start in a simulator
- Learn to fly via Youtube videos or simulator tutorials
- Learn about the different parts of a FPV drone and how they work together
- Choose a video transmission system - analog or digital
- Consider a tinywhoop first
- Decide to build or buy a drone
- If buying: buy a type of quad based on your needs and that is compatible with your radio and goggles
- If building: spec a quad out using QuadPartPicker
- Get accessories, tools and spare parts like a lipo batteries, propellers, battery charger, and soldering iron
- Take stock of all your gear and test your quad
- Get flying!
What Is FPV?
You probably already know that FPV stands for first person view. The name comes from the fact that you’re maneuvering a device from a first-person perspective. FPV drones are drones outfitted with a camera that sends a video feed to the pilot, providing a first-person-view of the drone.
While FPV usually involves a quadcopter drone, technically, any kind of radio-controlled device can be called FPV if you’re looking from the view of the camera embedded on the device. These include fixed-wing planes, RC cars, and even boats.
For all intents and purposes, we’ll really only be talking about quadcopters because over the years, the popularity of FPV quads has surged. Prices for drones and parts have dipped allowing more people to get into the hobby. Parts for quadcopters have continued to improve over time. And a community of support across the hobby has continued to grow. We at QuadPartPicker aim to expand this even further to help newbies and veterans alike to get into the air faster and more efficiently by giving you a centralized place to find and pick parts and equipment for your own custom setup.
What Will This Cost?
If you’ve purchased or flown other drones before, like a DJI Mavic, getting into the FPV hobby can be pretty cost-comparable. While an FPV quad can be cheaper to purchase than a DJI drone (and even cheaper to build) up front, keep in mind that you’ll need to factor in costs for maintenance and upkeep. That said, you can ease into purchasing required equipment as you explore whether or not you want to jump all-in.
When flying an FPV drone, you have to assume that sooner or later, usually sooner, you will crash. Depending on the severity of the crash, you might just need to dust it off, or you might have to replace any or all of the parts before you can get back in the air. This means purchasing replacement parts. QuadPartPicker is great for finding replacement parts at the best prices because we compare costs between retailers and even let you know if parts are in stock. It’s a good idea to stock up on parts that you know will eventually need to be replaced like propellers and batteries.
So to answer the question, there’s a lot of variability in cost. You can get in the air for as cheap as $300 for a tinywhoop kit or as high as $1,500 for a specced out 5-inch HD quad all-in. Like with most things, you do get what you pay for. And depending on whether you fly analog or digital DJI (more on this later), the type of quad you purchase or build, and the parts and features you want, your overall cost will vary drastically. Quadpartpicker can help you choose parts by tallying up price totals and editing your parts list all in one place.
From here on out, we will provide a cost estimate of what to expect as you get into the hobby.
How to Start
Cost estimate: $60 (low-end) to $300 (high-end)
To get into the feel of flying, you want to download an FPV flight simulator, buy a radio transmitter and practice flying from your computer. You can learn the controls and crash as much as you need without purchasing anything else. Sims like Velocidrone and The Drone Racing League Sim are great for racers and feel more realistic, while Liftoff has environments that are great for those who want to get into freestyle and cinematic flying. These sims cost between $10 to $30. When flying in the sim, fly in acro mode (full manual) before trying any of the other flying modes. By doing so, you are priming yourself to become an excellent pilot.
If you’re on a smaller budget, you can get a cheaper radio transmitter that is compatible with a sim and a drone for $40, like the Betaflight LiteRadio 2. Or if you want something that will work in pretty much all instances, you can grab the RadioMaster TX16S MKII for around $200 and rest easy knowing it’ll be compatible.
As you practice in the sim, find some tutorials on YouTube. There is a wide variety of resources from some really good creators that just want to help you fly! Rotor Riot has a lot of newbie-friendly tutorials on flying. And Joshua Bardwell knows absolutely everything about the FPV hobby and breaks topics down in ways nobody else can.
Anatomy of a FPV Quad
If you’ve ever built a PC, building a quad is similar. There are a set of required parts that work in unison to make your quad fly. There are also other parts that can augment the flying experience.
Frame - This holds your quad and all of its components together. In the United States, frames are standardized to the propellers’ size in inches (i.e. 5 inch). Outside of the U.S., frames are measured by its wheelbase, or the diagonal distance between the motors in millimeters (i.e. 240mm). Measuring in millimeters is more precise, while measuring in inches is an easy way to group different types of quads together.
Flight controller (FC) - This processes all the inputs and outputs of your quad. Think of it as the brain of your quad.
Electronic speed controller (ESC) - This controls your motors’ speed like a car’s gearbox. Sometimes these are included or integrated on a flight controller.
FPV camera - This captures the image from your quad.
Video transmitter (VTX) - This processes the FPV camera’s video and sends it to your goggles. You can purchase VTXs that send either analog or digital signals.
Motors - These spin to create lift for your quad’s propellers.
Propellers - These lift your quad off the ground with the help of motors.
Radio receiver (RX) - This processes the inputs from your radio transmitter and sends it to the flight controller.
Antennas - These send signals from your radio transmitter and video transmitter, and receive signals from your radio and video receivers.
Battery - This provides all the necessary power to your quad.
This is a basic description of the most important and required parts for a typical FPV quadcopter. On QuadPartPicker, you can easily find and compare these parts, plus compile them into a list from which you can purchase those parts and refer back to as you build your quad.
What Are the Different Types of Quads?
Cost estimate: $60 (low-end) to $500 (high-end)
The type of quad you need is entirely dependent on what kind of flying you’ll be doing. The key here is to find balance based on your needs. You don’t want something too underpowered or overpowered because you’ll just have a hard time controlling the quad instead of having an enjoyable time in the air. As you’re starting out, don’t think that you’re boxed into one type of flying style if you build or buy a certain kind of quad, but rather, the more flying you do, the more you’ll know what your style is. Below are common classes of quads and a description of each.
Starting Out Quad - Tinywhoop
When you’re ready to get off the sim, it’s recommended that you buy a tinywhoop. Tinywhoops are the best beginner FPV drones because they're small and durable, allowing you to practice in any environment. Tinywhoops are the smallest quads available. They are usually ducted or come with propeller guards which make them safer to fly. They are very lightweight. They usually have propellers that are 1.5 inches to 2 inches. And most importantly, they can take a lot of hits which is great for beginners. Since you bought a radio for practice on the sim, you’ll easily be able to pair it to your tinywhoop. There are a variety of tinywhoops available in analog and digital versions. If you want to get right into the air, consider purchasing a fully-built tinywhoop and when you eventually outgrow it, build one of the following.
If you want to do awesome flips and tricks and fly totally unrestrained, a 5 inch mini quad is right for you. 5 inch quads are very common because they offer a good balance between power, efficiency, and size. Frame parts and electronics are generally compatible with 5 inch frames, or you’ll easily be able to find a way to make them work. These quads can also carry full-sized GoPros which allow you to record your freestyle sessions in HD.
Similar to freestyle quads, 5 inch quads are great for racing. They can pack a lot of power and are very responsive. If you’re dead serious on getting into professional racing, we suggest an analog 5 inch because of the latency that comes with flying HD video. It’s not noticeable when flying casually, but it will make a difference when you need every competitive advantage to win. The differences between freestyle and racing quads primarily lie between PID tuning and frame design. If you want to do both freestyle and racing, you don’t have to get too caught up in which 5 inch quad you choose, as long as it’s a 5 inch quad.
If you like smooth, buttery cinematic footage whether for cityscapes or landscapes, you should fly with a cinewhoop. These are ducted quads in which the propellers are guarded, making them safer to fly in smaller spaces. By design, cinewhoops tend to be slightly underpowered and can feel heavier than a 5 inch racing quad because they are easier to fly and control. You can still do tricks and flips, but you’ll feel a big difference in responsiveness compared to a 5 inch quad.
Cinewhoops can come in any size, but typically, you want a 3 inch mini quad that can carry a full GoPro to capture the beautiful imagery. Pioneered by Andy Shen who created the Squirt, cinewhoops have evolved considerably in the last couple of years, and now come in a variety of form factors.
Indoors and Small Spaces Quad
You might be here because you saw that video of a drone flying through a bar and behind a bowling alley, or you just want to fly through really small gaps or in small spaces with the option to record HD video. In your situation, 2.5 inch to 3 inch micro quads are for you. This is a slightly newer class of quads that allows pilots to fly indoors with enough power to carry a stripped down (naked) GoPro so you don’t need to compromise on video quality. You can fly these outdoors, but you’ll be able to feel even the slightest gust of wind. You might not be able to do crazy tricks with a full payload, but these can still be capable of doing flips and rolls.
If you’re looking to fly up a mountain or a mile or more out, you should select the most efficient frame size possible with the most reliable electronics. You’ll likely opt for 6 inch or 7 inch mini drones which can carry larger batteries and additional electronics like GPS. Larger frames also accommodate larger propellers which are more efficient. If you want something smaller, but still long-range, you can build a 4 inch micro quad by essentially taking parts designed for a traditional micro quad and adding them to a frame that’s slightly smaller than a traditional mini frame.
Flying long-range will also prompt you to upgrade your equipment because both standard video transmitters and radio transmitters don’t have reliable range for a quad to fly so far out. You’ll likely want to upgrade your transmitter (and receiver on your quad) to support the ExpressLRS or TBS Crossfire radio protocols. And you’ll need to use a powerful video transmitter with enough power to send video signals to your video receiver.
Flying long-range is generally not recommended for beginners because there’s a lot of room for error, both with your drone and your surroundings.
So all in all, there are these distinctions between quads, but also understand that the hobby continues to evolve and these lines are blurring more and more every day:
- 2 inch or smaller tinywhoops
- 2.5 inch to 3 inch micro quads
- 3 inch mini cinewhoops
- 4 inch long-range micro quads
- 5 inch freestyle or racing mini quads
- 6 inch or 7 inch long-range mini quads
If you’re a beginner who wants to freestyle, race, or eventually fly long-range, we suggest you build or purchase a tinywhoop for practice coming off the simulator, then upgrade to building your larger quad of choice. If you’re primarily flying slowly or indoors and will likely stick to smaller quads for cinematic footage, we suggest you go straight from the sim to building or purchasing a ducted micro quad. Or you can be this guy.
The TLDR: Start off small, whether it’s a tinywhoop or a 2.5 inch quad. The more you fly, the more you’ll know what your flying style is and build a quad optimized for that style.
What to Know About Radios and Goggles
Cost estimate: $100 (low-end) to $800 (high-end)
From the ground, you’ll be manipulating the quad using your radio, and seeing the effect of those inputs from your goggles. If you’ve practiced on a simulator, you’ll probably have bought your radio already. These days, there are a variety of radio options to start with, plus module attachments that allow you to upgrade your radio should you ever need the functionality.
Your goggles are used to see what’s happening around your quad’s surroundings. Your goggles are connected to the video receiver which takes the signals from your quad’s video transmitter (VTX) and processes the image onto the screens in your goggles. VTXs can either be analog or digital. Think VCR tape quality for analog, and HDTV quality for digital.
Some analog goggles will include a video receiver built-in, while others are sold separately. 2022 has been a great year for digital video systems and a slew of options are now available or about to be released. Currently, one of the best options is the DJI FPV Goggles V2 which retail for $579, and you must use either a Caddx (DJI) Air Unit or Caddx Vista video receiver. So if you’re on a budget, you could be breaking the bank just with the DJI goggles purchase. Some people shun digital because it’s so cost prohibitive, while others can’t live without it.
The TL;DR: If your budget permits, select a radio like the RadioMaster TX16S that supports multiple protocols and is easily upgradable. If you want the best video experience, purchase the DJI FPV Goggles V2.
If you’re on a tighter budget, select a cheaper radio and analog goggles/VTX.
Use QuadPartPicker to add your parts and equipment to your list and see what works within your budget.
Choosing Between Analog and Digital Video
This is the age old question, and it really just comes down to the cost and the tradeoffs.
Racers generally fly analog video because there is a noticeable latency difference between analog and digital. Analog is just faster than digital. You also can’t fly with too many pilots around with digital. The quality of your analog video is dependent on your video transmitter, video receiver, and goggle’s screen quality.
Digital, on the other hand, is newer and has only been on the market for a couple of years, but the difference in video quality compared to analog is unparalleled. DJI, the leader in consumer and prosumer drones, entered into the FPV market with a kit for FPV quads that allows pilots to stream 720p video. Up until the introduction of the DJI (now Caddx) Air Unit, FPV camera, goggles, and radio, FPV quads were limited to analog-quality video. This was a massive step up and made the FPV hobby more accessible because DJI simplified the building process giving you just one family of products to choose from that allows a huge jump in video quality. Following the introduction of the DJI Air Unit, which is a radio and HD video transmitter for mini quads, Caddx partnered with DJI to create a smaller air unit called the Vista.
More recently, HDZero entered the digital market with their own digital system that competes with DJI in an attempt to fix the pitfalls of DJI HD digital video. And even more recently, FatShark and Walksnail (a Caddx company) collaborated on a digital ecosystem, called Avatar, that so far, performs similarly to DJI.
We're also expecting an update to the DJI goggles in 2022. Rumors suggest that even if you buy into the DJI system today, it will still be compatible with their release their new gear.
Learn more about FPV digital VTXs and goggles.
Learn more about FPV analog VTXs and how to choose them.
The TL;DR: Choose analog if you want to race or are on a budget. Choose DJI digital video if you can afford it and want a streamlined building experience and unrivaled video quality.
To Buy or Build?
We get it, by now, you just want to know how long until you can fly. And it seems like a long commitment, doesn't it? So should you build your quad, or buy one that’s pre-built?
The Case For Buying
If you want to get in the air as soon as possible, you can just buy your quad, whether that is a tinywhoop or a 5 inch mini quad. There’s a small price premium, but you will certainly fly sooner. That said, sooner or later, you’ll crash your pre-built quad and will need to know how to repair it. FPV quads are very repairable unlike a DJI drone. If you learn how to build a quad first, you’ll be more familiar with your hardware and better equipped to troubleshoot and repair your quad. When you need to find replacement parts for your pre-built quad, you can find them on QuadPartPicker.
Pre-built quads usually come in two versions from retailers: RTF or PNP/BNF
RTF stands for Ready-to-Fly, which generally means that your quad also includes a radio and goggles. It’s everything that you need to fly minus the batteries and charger.
PNP stands for Plug-n-Play, and BNF stands for Bind-and-Fly. Retailers usually use these terms interchangeably. But most often, BNFs are pre-built quads with a radio receiver built in, and PNPs are pre-built quads that don't come with a receiver, and you will need to buy and solder it on yourself.
If you’ve been following this guide up to here, you’ll likely have a radio already. So if you choose to purchase a pre-built quad, you can just purchase a PNP/BNF quad with your receiver of choice, and your goggles+VRX, and you’ll be ready to get flying.
If you decide to buy, you can find pre-built quads on QuadPartPicker here.
The Case For Building
Building a quad is our preferred method. Everyone will have their own preferred approach, but we suggest that you purchase your first tinywhoop to scratch your flying itch, get the hang of flying, and validate that you really do love it. By then, you’ll have developed your preferred flying style and you can build a quad with that in mind. And if you hate it (you won’t!), you haven’t committed to buying a whole suite of gear and parts.
Because you’ll be flying (and crashing) more with your daily-driver quad, it’s smart to be able to fix it when something goes wrong. Having deep knowledge of your quad will be instrumental in getting back in the air faster.
Building a quad almost always means that you have to also learn how to solder. Whether it's connecting the FPV camera to the VTX, or the VTX to the flight controller, or the motors to the ESC, all these connections are held together by solder. It’s not a particularly hard skill to learn, but we understand it’s another obstacle that prevents you from getting in the air. There are a lot of great tutorials on YouTube that are particularly relevant to soldering for FPV quads. Here’s a great soldering guide by Joshua Bardwell
When you’re ready to build your quad, start your parts list on QuadPartPicker where you can choose a frame, and our tool guides you to compatible parts.
The TL;DR: Buy your quad if you want to fly sooner and money is no problem. Build your quad if you want to know everything there is to know about FPV, including the convenience of troubleshooting yourself, and want to save some cash.
Learn to Build and Fly
We’ve gone over what FPV is, what to expect, types of drones, and a general sense of how to get started, but how do you actually learn how to build and fly a drone? We’re not going to go deep into it here, but there is a wide variety of free YouTube tutorials for pretty much everything FPV related. Here are a couple of resources to help you get started.
Joshua Barwell - Aptly named the FPV-know-it-all, Bardwell is known for his comprehensive approach to breaking down complicated FPV subjects in a way that anyone can understand.
RotorRiot - This is a Florida-based FPV retailer that also creates beginner-friendly content in partnership with well-known FPV pilots.
Both Bardwell and RotorRiot have excellent flying and building guides that will take you step-by-step to get you in the air.
Mr Steele - One of the most well-known freestyle pilots, Mr Steele creates high-quality content on YouTube.
Paul Nurkkala (NurkFPV) - A racing expert turned cinematic pilot who creates tutorials and vlogs on YouTube.
Johnny Schaer (JohnnyFPV) - A racing and cinematic FPV pilot who creates excellent reels on YouTube and other social channels.
Alex Vannover (CaptainVanover) - A racing and cinematic FPV pilot who creates excellent reels on YouTube.
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but these are some of the best resources on YouTube for info and inspiration.
The State of the FPV
Interest in FPV has steadily grown in the last decade as FPV racing took off. Between the rise of freestyle and cinematic flying and pilots gaining recognition as content creators, FPV has transformed from a niche hobby to a mainstream one. Video production companies now frequently hire FPV pilots to shoot custom scenes. And as DJI and other drone companies gain more prominence, the FPV hobby grows with them.
Continued improvements on open and closed-source software has made programming for FPV much easier than before. If you want to do something specific with your FPV quad, chances are, someone has done it before.
Leaps in hardware technology have provided the FPV community with more accessibility and have allowed for more premium experiences. Parts continue to improve, meaning older, but still capable, parts can now be found for more affordable prices. This constant iteration has also allowed for more frequent production of products and use-cases that were previously considered custom just a couple years ago. For example, you need GoPro quality footage in a very tight space, but your 2.5 inch quad can’t handle the weight? You can just take apart a full size GoPro and place the only-necessary parts into a kit resulting in more than 5x weight reduction. Trends suggest the FPV hobby is only going to rise in popularity.
2021-22 COVID Chip Shortage
If you’ve heard about cars getting more expensive, or the unavailability of your favorite PC graphics cards, it’s due to a world-wide computer chip shortage. And unfortunately, FPV drones are not spared. Most flight controllers are built by STMicro which is expecting shortages to continue through mid-2023. Even DJI and other prominent drone companies don’t have enough supplies. While a ramp up in chip production is underway, it will be awhile until supply catches up. The shortages can be felt, and it does prevent newer products from getting introduced into the market. You can use QuadPartPicker to find parts in stock across retailers.
FAA Remote ID
The FAA controls all the air space including the air you fly your quad in (within the United States). In an effort to regulate drones in U.S. airspace, the FAA has most recently introduced new rules called Remote ID to require all drones to broadcast identifying location information while in the air. In short, it means that you'll need to add a module to your quad with these features. We'll likely see these modules being released in late 2022 and into 2023 in preparation for this.
Remote ID recently passed its finally hurdles and are on track to be enacted in September 2022. For people who build their own drones, Remote ID won't apply until September 2023. It's also very likely that these dates will get pushed out. Check out our guide on Remote ID for FPV here.
FAA UAS Safety Test (TRUST)
Previously, for recreational pilots, no test was necessary to fly as long as you followed the FAA’s Recreational UAS Guidelines. But starting in 2021, all recreational pilots are required to pass a very easy safety test online and print the proof of completion in case it’s ever requested by an authority. The test includes some very basic safety questions and can be completed in no longer than 10 minutes. It’s recommended that you understand the rules, because, as they say, it only takes one person to ruin it for everyone. Find information about TRUST from the FAA.
If you made it this far, you now have a solid foundation for the FPV hobby. There are nuances among nuances for everything we’ve gone over. This is an extremely long overview, but it’s still just an overview. We encourage you to find more resources to answer your questions and to use QuadPartPicker when picking and pricing out your FPV gear.