Drones are all the rage right now and with the Drone Racing League appearing on ESPN, FPV drones have catapulted to the forefront of sports entertainment. These little drones, or quadcopters, zip around tracks at breakneck speeds while performing hairpin turns and they race for a total of…..3 minutes per race. You might think the point of entry is pretty high to get into something like FPV drones but you might be surprised at how little it can actually cost!
An FPV drone can be built for as little as $150. This doesn’t include the other FPV equipment needed which can elevate the price to about $400 – $550 dollars for a basic setup to start flying FPV quadcopters.
If you want to know how much does it cost to build an FPV drone, it might actually surprise you. The price of admission into the sport is not super steep but if you want gear that has less issues with performance and is more reliable, expect to spend more money. $450 is a good starting point if you are not sure whether or not FPV drones will be for you. I knew I was going to want to fly and dive into the hobby very quickly so I got some high quality gear.
Ready To Fly FPV Drones
If you don’t want to build your own FPV drone from scratch, there are TONS of ready to fly out of the box options out there. You can buy kits that include everything from completely built drones with goggles, batteries, and propellers. All you have to do is flip on the switches and you are ready to fly!
How Much Do Ready To Fly FPV Drones Cost?
This option has a wide variance in price because many dealers offer several different packages that include a wide range of products to get you ready to fly. A cheaper kit with the basics you need to fly that include goggles, RTF drone, and transmitters will start around $250 and they will let you get the hang of flying. I personally started with a ready to fly kit, but upgraded the transmitter and goggles and was significantly more expensive.
FPV Drone Frames
The frame of an FPV drone is the body that holds all the parts and is the backbone of the entire machine. Frames of FPV drones are typically made out of carbon fiber and there are varying degrees of quality in the manufacture of the carbon fiber. Cheap Chinese clones of more popular brands of frames are not made to the same standards and tend to be weaker and not as structurally sound as the more popular brands. Frames are measured diagonally from the center of one motor mount to the center of another motor mount.
Every frame type tends to have it’s own flight pattern and are a bit different. Quadcopter frames are usually categorized by size and intended use. Drone frames come in a range of sizes to include 2.5″, 3″, 5″, and 6″, along with many other variants of frame sizes. You can even 3D print drone frames! Obviously these will not hold up as well but it is really neat to see one fly. I personally have a printed FPV drone frame and the possibilities are endless!
I have been through several frames, some cheap, and some expensive and I can personally say that the cheap ones will do the trick if you never crash but you will crash! You will crash especially when learning and the better quality frames hold up in the inevitable crashes that will occur.
How Much Do FPV Drone Frames Cost?
Frames can run from $20 for the cheap Chinese knockoffs to $100 for high quality name brand frames. If you want a frame that will do well and not cost a ton of money, the $50 range of frames are somewhere in the middle and serve their pilots well.
FPV Drone Motors & Propellers
Quadcopters are called that because they have 4 motors, each equipped with propellers to give the quadcopter lift. There are MANY drones out there that have 3, 4, even 6 motors but quadcopters are more common in FPV.
Motors come in different sizes and vary in performance but motors control the amount of power or acceleration you get in order to light your quadcopter into the air. Brushless motors are normally used to power quadcopters and use electromagnets to spin the motor.
FPV Drone Propellers are a key component that keeps you flying, and they directly affect how your drone flies. Making sure to choose the right drone propeller for your quadcopter will allow you to get the best out of your machine. Each type of propeller flies differently on different setups so it is a good idea to test different types of drone propellers to find what you enjoy flying the most and find out what suits your flying style the best.
How Much Do FPV Drone Motors & Propellers Cost?
Motors can range anywhere from $10 a piece to $45 a piece. With a higher price comes better quality (most of the time) because these companies have put the time in to make a quality product with the best technologies around.
Propellers bolt onto the motor and provide lift to make the drone fly. They range in price as well but you can generally find a set of four for around $3.
FPV Drone Flight Controller (FC)
The flight controller is considered the brains of the entire quadcopter. It basically tells every other part what it is supposed to do. The flight controller has sensors, or gyros that can determine the orientation of the copter in the air and transmits the stick inputs from the transmitter of the pilot to the motors in order to fly.
Flight controllers can be tuned through special software and customized to fit the current pilot’s distinct flying styles. The customization is endless and you can tune a quadcopter to get the best performance and smoothest feel.
I spent hours upon hours trying to tune my quad just perfect. You can tune things like stick sensitivity by adjusting the rates at which your quad turns according to how much input you put in as a pilot. This can result in faster reaction times and tighter, swifter turns and rolls in the air.
How Much Do FPV Drone Flight Controllers Cost?
Flight controllers are complex pieces of equipment that require extensive knowledge and programming to create and can be some of the most expensive single components on the quad. Prices for flight controllers can range anywhere from $20-$100 depending on the brand and features. You can also get stacks which come with FC and 4 in 1 ESCs in a bundle as well.
FPV Drone Electronic Speed Controllers (ESCs)
Each quadcopter has an ESC for each motor. Sometimes they are 4 separate ESCs but they also come in 4 in 1 variants where all 4 ESCs are on one board in order to save space. ESCs take commands from the flight controller and tell the motors exactly how fast they need to spin according to the pilot inputs. Some ESCs are designed for high-speed racing, while others are made to be more stable in aerial photography situations.
How Much Do FPV Drone Electronic Speed Controllers Cost?
With multiple options for types of ESCs, prices may vary but 4 in 1 ESCs cost around $40-$60 on average. If you want to get fancy, there are more expensive $100 or more models. Single ESCs range from $9-$18 a piece. This makes each type of esc around the same price range so it all depends on what you want to build, and how much space you have. The only downside to the 4 in 1 variants comes when one of the ESC channels fails, you have to replace the whole unit. Single ESCs can be independently replaced.
The FPV camera is what captures the live video feed so the pilot can see what the quadcopter sees while flying. The camera and goggles are what makes this first person view because you are flying it like you are a pilot. Your FPV camera takes the image and sends it to the video transmitter, or VTX, and your goggles receive the image in real time. It is a very immersive experience and a whole lot of fun.
How Much Do FPV Cameras Cost?
Cameras run from $15 for the general camera up to $80 for HD cameras. Some FPV cameras can record in HD without having to attach a GoPro to get that nice smooth footage of you flying. The image you see in your goggles will not likely be HD quality unless you spring for a bunch of high end gear, to include goggles.
Power Distribution Board (PDB)
The PDB allows you to connect the battery terminal directly to the board to distribute the power to each of the pads. You can also filter power through newer designs allowing you to get cleaner and more reliable power that is free from noise. Fluctuations in power that are caused by the ESC’s and motors make the raw voltage from your FPV drone battery noisy. This noise can pass through the PDB or flight controller to your VTX and FPV camera, which shows up as interference in your FPV goggles .
How Much Do FPV Drone Power Distribution Boards Cost?
Power distribution boards are normally less than $20 and can also be part of a stack, which means it is a part of the ESC board, thus saving space. On small builds or builds with tight spaces, these are a necessity.
The video transmitter does exactly what its name states, it transmits the video from the FPV camera and into the goggles that the pilot wears. This gives the pilot a live feed of what the quad is doing. They range in size and power and transmit through an antenna connected to the VTX. Depending on your antenna and VTX setup, you can transmit your signal and reach the antenna on your FPV goggles from long distances.
How Much Do FPV Drone Video Transmitters Cost?
Typical prices are $40-$100 for a good quality VTX. You can buy a VTX that has an FPV camera already connected to it for a bit more, usually in the $120-$150 range.
The receiver is mounted on the quadcopter and receives signals from the controller, referred to as a transmitter (TX). The pilot uses the transmitter to input movements and the receiver “listens” to these inputs and allows the pilot to control the quadcopter. Signal is then sent from the transmitter to the receiver and the signal is then sent to the flight controller. The flight controller then sends signals to the rest of the components telling them what to do, based on the pilot’s inputs. Receivers are paired to the transmitters so your receivers do not get signal from other pilots flying around.
How Much Do FPV Drone Radio Receivers Cost?
Good receivers help extend your range and provide resistance to interference. They are small and lightweight, making them one of the cheapest parts, coming in at around $15. Most receivers will not take up too much room on your drone and will not weigh it down, which also aids in relieving any stability issues that may arise due to weight.
Other Gear Needed To Fly FPV
Now that you have your FPV drone built, you need a few more pieces to actually be able to get flying. Most kits you can purchase can include all of the items you need, but if you want to upgrade, you can expect to spend money. When looking for full ready to fly kits, be sure that they include the following items to make sure you have everything you need.
First-person view (FPV) goggles offer a remarkable flying experience. You are now in the “pilot” seat and flying with your aircraft first hand. Goggles are what connect the pilot to the camera feed and allow them to see everything from the sky. There are all kinds of goggles available with all kinds of features such as DVR, OLED screens, and small form factors to suit many pilot’s needs.
How Much Do FPV Drone Goggles Cost?
Goggles were the most expensive part because I didn’t cheap out and I am glad I didn’t. $200-$500 is what you can expect to pay for a good pair of goggles. Goggle technology has come a long way and there are many brands out there that provide great connection and a solid feed when paired with the right video receivers.
The transmitter is what the pilot actually holds and is kind of like a video game controller. The pilot inputs commands using sticks and switches to maneuver and fly through the air. There are a lot of different transmitters to choose from and the one you choose is determined by several factors, such as price, size, comfort, features, and range of operation. There are many quality options out there so make sure you test drive a few.
How Much Do FPV Drone Radio Transmitter Cost?
Two major brands are FrSky and Spektrum and both brands make high quality transmitters. If you want to get a decent transmitter expect to pay over $100 and in the $300 plus range for good quality radios. For a top of the line model, $500 or more is the price point.
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Quadcopters get their juice from batteries. There are tons of sizes and ratings for batteries and it all depends on what size quad you have and what it can handle. Average flight time for most batteries on FPV quadcopters is anywhere from 2 and a half minutes to 6 minutes for a single battery. People have hooked up multiple batteries and gotten more flight time on bigger copters but 2 to 6 minutes is the general time for quadcopters. Batteries are not too expensive in the grand scheme of things, but you will need multiple if you want to fly for more than a few minutes so make sure you buy a few to get as much time flying per session.
How Much Do FPV Drone Batteries Cost?
Batteries can range anywhere from $12-$40 each depending on the brand and capacity. Sometimes you can catch good sales on batteries which will make them cheaper. Batteries can be a large expense if you buy multiple at a time to make the most out of each flight session. I have about 30 batteries in my bag that I take out with me at a time. I don’t generally use all of them but I have lost batteries, had them die prematurely, and had them damaged before so it is always nice to have extra batteries in the field.
If you have batteries, you have to have a charger to recharge the batteries after each flight. Chargers come in single battery charge or multiple battery charge configurations. If you plan on having multiple batteries, look for a charger that is capable of charging multiple batteries at once so you don’t spend a whole day charging batteries.
How Much Do FPV Drone Batteries Cost?
You can find a pretty decent charger for $80 or so, and just like any of the other equipment in this list, this prices depends on the brand and capabilities of the charger.
Pros And Cons Of Building A Drone
There will always be pros and cons when building your own FPV drone. Being able to customize your own drone allows you to fix your aircraft when it takes that inevitable plunge and will allow you to upgrade your drone whenever you feel like it. Building your own drone also gives you the satisfaction of knowing “Hey, I built that, and now it is zipping around the sky” and that is a fantastic feeling.
When building your own drone it can be a crapshoot. Your drone is not going to fly as well as a drone out of the box that has been put together by professionals and tested.
You can build a drone on a budget and it can fly just fine, but if you are here, then chances are, you aren’t a seasoned drone builder and are wondering if you want to even try to build your own FPV drone or not.
Building your own FPV drone is definitely not for the faint of heart. You must have in-depth knowledge of the technical aspects and methods, such as soldering and working on small components, which will need to be utilized when building a drone. If you don’t possess this knowledge, then you must be willing to do a lot of research and go through trial and error to teach yourself, like I did. You will most definitely have to have a lot of patience and be willing to fail in your attempts at self education.
As I have already mentioned, you can buy an RTF drone kit that will have you in the air a lot more quickly but you may lose out on the experience you gain when building your own, and may have difficulty repairing your drone when that inevitable crash happens. I have broken frame arms, cameras, motor bells, and many other parts. My knowledge in repairing them helped me save time and money in the end. If you are like me and want the challenge of being able to build, repair, and fly your own drone, then this is the path for you. Flying FPV drones is a lot of fun, but it comes with a lot of downtime as well.
My Final Thoughts
As you can see, you can build an FPV Drone for fairly cheap. If you want to buy cheap equipment then the price of entry is not that high. Speaking from experience, I know that quality gear makes all the difference in the world and if you already know that this is a hobby you want to dive right into, go ahead and get started with your research and get moving. It is a fun and entertaining hobby that will give you the rush of flying without every leaving the ground.
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