Recently, you may well have seen many videos in your feeds covering the latest volcanic eruption in Iceland. As if the eruption and the sight of lava weren’t exciting enough, some of the drone footage we’ve been seeing is crazy. The cameras are getting so close to the lava that it feels like your face will melt off just watching. How are people getting such insane shots? Welcome to the world of FPV (‘First-Person View’) drones, ladies and gentlemen.
And to help you create killer soundtracks for your own FPV videos that fit the excitement on screen, check out this handpicked collection of high-energy, cinematic songs in our FPV music collection.
What are FPV drones?
One could argue that this volcanic eruption in Iceland was made for FPV drones. It’s the perfect case study for them. Drones, as we know them today, have been around for a while now, first really announcing themselves onto the camera gear scene in 2013 with DJI’s Phantom 1. From there, DJI and a few competitors have gone from strength to strength, slowly modifying, adapting and evolving the consumer drone into something that many of us simply can’t leave the house without.
Naturally, as the technology has improved and advanced, new types of drones have begun to appear. In the past few years, FPV drones have really taken off (pun fully intended). But how do they differ from ‘normal’ drones such as the DJI Mavic 2 Pro?
Compare the following two videos from the Iceland eruption. The first one is shot with the DJI Mavic 2 Pro—one of the most popular consumer drones on the market. The second is shot with the new DJI FPV drone. See the difference?
DJI Mavic 2 Pro footage:
DJI FPV Drone footage:
Whereas the ‘standard’ consumer drone (DJI Mavic 2 Pro) can capture breathtaking cinematic aerial footage and your classic establishing shot, an FPV drone allows you to get right into the action with a first-person view, up close and personal at adrenaline-pumping speeds. They are two completely different styles.
FPV drones enable the pilot to actually ‘become’ the drone. Using your headset, you get a first-person view that fully immerses you into the robotic structure, allowing you to feel as if you’re flying. As you can imagine, they’re incredibly addicting and fun!
This style of piloting is what separates the FPV drone into a category of its own. Unlike other consumer drones where you are watching the footage on a tablet or phone screen, using the drone as a camera in the sky, an FPV drone really puts you in the cockpit. It’s what enables FPV drone pilots to fly the way they do—up close to, in between, and through their subjects at breakneck speeds.
What makes an FPV drone?
So, what actually makes an FPV drone? Many different components enable you to experience the first-person-view flying experience, and it can be a little overwhelming at first. We’ve broken down the basics for you below. Some of the features are very similar to other drone types; others are entirely new and different.
The frame is the drone’s main body onto which all other parts are mounted, including components such as the FPV camera, motors and propellers. Think of the frame as the skeleton of your drone—it’s what will house and protect all of your electronic components safely should you crash (which will definitely happen at some point). Usually, they are made from carbon fiber to ensure that they’re very lightweight without compromising strength.
Mounted on board your craft, the flight controller is the brains of your FPV drone. It receives the signal from the radio receiver, makes the necessary calculations of angles and then tells the motors how fast to spin, thus controlling your flight.
Drone motors make the craft move by turning your propellers and producing thrust. They can be incredibly powerful, launching you into crazy speeds.
Fitted to the motors, the propellers enable your FPV drone to fly. You can choose among several types, with ‘slow flight’ and ‘aggressive’ options available. The bigger the propeller, the bigger your motors will need to be.
Electronic speed controller
The electronic speed controller (ESC) is the circuit that controls the speed of the motors. Think of ESCs as veins that deliver power from the battery to the motors. They change your motors’ speed and can also be used as a dynamic brake.
The FPV camera is perhaps the most important feature of the drone. It serves 2 purposes: 1) To capture the amazing footage from your flight and 2) It’s your eyes! The FPV camera feeds the image back to your headset, allowing you to see what the drone sees and navigate properly. Without the FPV camera, your FPV drone simply wouldn’t work.
Note that sometimes, depending on the craft model, you may have one camera for each specific job.
Video transmitters transmit the image from your FPV camera to your headset, converting analog signals and boosting those signals’ strength with amplifiers.
FPV antennas are essential. At a minimum, you will have 2. One is used to send out the drone’s video signals, while the other is fitted to your radio transmitter, receiving the signal. Omnidirectional antennas are particularly useful for FPV drone flights as they offer the best coverage across all kinds of environments.
Radio transmitter and receivers
The radio transmitter/receiver is your remote control pad. Just like any UAV, it enables you to control your FPV drone. The movements you make with the stick and buttons are transmitted to the drone via radio waves and antennas.
We know we said the FPV camera is the most essential part of the puzzle, but…it’s probably the battery. Without them, you’re flying nowhere. Batteries power the whole craft, and they must have a high current discharge that will keep up with the high current consumption of your machine.
These are your eyes and the key to first-person-view flying. Whereas standard consumer drones usually utilize a tablet or some sort of mobile screen, FPV drones are at their best when you make use of FPV goggles that can really put you in the cockpit.
Types of FPV drones
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what FPV drones are and mapped out all the components that make up these unique UAVs, let’s take a brief look at some of the different options available to you.
FPV racing drones are built with one thing in mind - speed. They’re designed to round a track that really pushes their limits. Take a look at the following video to get an idea of what it’s all about:
Here are a few things to note about an FPV racing drone:
- A racing drone can have a power-to-weight ratio of over 12:1. This means that the FPV racing drone’s power at full throttle is 12x more than its max weight. In other words, it’s really fast.
- FPV drone racing requires speedy, slick reflexes. These will only come to you through a lot of practice.
- Some FPV drone racers use FPV drone simulators that help you adjust to racing, so you don’t have to worry about crashing your expensive UAV every 5 minutes.
- We recommend taking a look at the Walkera F210 3D and the Emax Hawk Pro
There’s not too much difference between an FPV racing drone and a freestyle FPV drone. FPV freestyle drones are less about top speeds and pushing limits and more about creating breathtaking footage. You’ll tend to find that the majority of FPV drone pilots are ‘freestyle.’ Take a look at the following video to get an idea of what it’s about:
- Freestyle drones do not demand as much power as FPV racing drones. Their power-to-weight ratio is close to 4:1.
- They’re also pretty durable. Freestyle models are built with crashes and the consumer in mind, so don’t worry if things go wrong. It’s part of the learning process, and they can take a hit.
Build it yourself
If you’re feeling brave and comfortable enough to the point where you know your way around an FPV drone blindfolded, there is also the option of building one yourself from scratch. We don’t recommend this for beginners, but if you’re really getting into it, and FPV flying is a true passion and hobby for you, it could be a great project. You’ll find plenty of great tutorials on YouTube that will help get you started. Good luck!
So that’s your introduction to the world of FPV drones. We’ve covered everything from what FPV drones are to freestyle flying and racing and provided a full component breakdown and some of our best recommendations. What’s exciting about the FPV drone space is that it’s just getting started. There’s never been a better time to put on that headset and enter this brave new world of drone flying.
While you’re at it, why not check out our FPV drone collection featuring some of the best music to pair with your breathtaking FPV drone footage!
Josh Edwards is an accomplished filmmaker, industry writing veteran, storyteller based in Indonesia (by way of the UK) and industry writer in the Blade Ronner Media Writing Collective. He's passionate about travel and documents adventures and stories through his films.