If you're buying an FPV camera for your quad copter, you would want to remember that the vast majority of these cameras on the market today are designed for use with home security systems and the like.
You most likely will be buying a camera that is primarily designed for surveillance, but luckily, they could for aerial filming as well as they are small and are designed to work well in low ambient light conditions.
What's more - they are really simple to hookup. Most have three wires for output - one each for power, ground and video. There are also a few that have a microphone and these have an additional output wire for audio.
Just about every FPV camera is designed to work with 6V to 15V DC current, which means you can use these with 2S (7.4V), 3S (11.1 V) or 4S (14.8 V) Lithium Polymer batteries without any voltage regulation.
GoPro Hero7 Black
4K @ 60fps
GoPro Hero7 Silver
4K @ 30fps
GoPro Hero7 White
1080p @ 60fps
YI 4K+ Action Camera
SummitLink Sony 700TVL
Runcam Night Eagle 2 Pro
Foxeer Arrow Micro Pro
RunCam Eagle 2 Pro
AKK KC02 FPV Transmitter + Camera
This ubiquitous classic camera has become the benchmark of is FPV successors. It is small in size, easy to carry around and relatively inexpensive at about 40 dollars.
The Foxeer HS 1177 is user-friendly that setup is a breeze - its form factor fits many frames that you will find this unit on most FPV pilots’ quad. It can be placed at any angle by simply mounting it onto the frame with just 2 side screw holes. Then you plug it in and you’re ready to fly.
This nifty gadget features a Sony CCD that can handle different light conditions by adjusting quickly and seamlessly. This way, your shots will look consistently good and on point. It can also generate high-quality videos without having to pay a hefty price.
It is best to spare a few minutes to adjust the camera settings to achieve crisp images at any time. That’s because when you use the default settings, the pictures don’t come out as spectacular compared to tweaking it right.
More people are accustomed to the Foxeer HS 1177 V2 as it was practically one of the first that came out ahead of its time. It remains a sought-after, affordable choice that offers great value for money and great performance.
Launched in 2015, the HS 1177 V2 was touted as the “RunCam killer” by FPV enthusiasts because of its lightweight feature and its capability of producing good quality images that rival the RunCam Swift 1. The marked difference between the two, however, lies on the color of the image.
While this FPV camera’s specs may seem basic, the HS 1177 V2 is still a reliable, camera nonetheless. Beginning 2016, most mini quadcopter frames have started to be built to accommodate its form factor. The HS 1177 V2 has since then become a trailblazer in terms of size, taking the place of board cameras.
A lot of the other popular FPV cameras in the market took after HS 1177 V2’s compact dimensions. Clones have since emerged as well, but being copycats, you cannot be assured of their quality, so buyers beware.
Small but terribly good, the Foxeer Arrow Micro Pro will amaze you with its upgraded features given its neat tiny package. Weighing almost like a sheet of paper with a little over than 5 grams, it is one of the smallest and lightest FPV cameras out there. It is even a lot lighter than the RunCam Swift Micro.
The Foxeer Arrow Micro Pro comes with WDR support for a broader perspective, a voltage range of up to 40V, and an integrated OSD. Pictures from this camera have bright colors with its 600TVL resolution, thus images have better saturation and are more natural-looking compared to the earlier version. You can randomly adjust it to different scene modes that produce pictures in various styles.
The Runcam Owl 2 should be your weapon of choice when it comes to flying nighttime, shots-wise that is. As the name suggests, it is specifically designed for capturing images in low light using an OSD menu which you can adjust according to environment.
While regular FPV cameras will produce mostly dark pictures under the circumstances, shots taken from the Owl 2 will produce colors as they are, even brighter and richer with its infrared light blocking filter. The Owl 2 seems to be brightness-conscious the more you use it in the dark as if your pictures were shot in the day.
Just like other good FPVs cameras, this one comes with bells and whistles that will delight the user. The OSD feature also allows you to check for battery voltage, timer, and name of the pilot. It has F2.0 lens and a good-sized aperture. It has a wide 150 FOV so that you’ll get everything covered in one shot.
The Owl 2 is a much improved version than the first model given the DC battery input power 5V to 36V that’s built-in. Mounting can even be done three ways. The image output during daytime however, is not as superb- it appears too bright and overexposed. After all, this is aimed for night use, which you should consider before buying this model.
This FPV camera has some of the best features that make it a great flying device. The superior quality of the image is made possible with its impressive Wide Dynamic Range. This Global WDR allows light transitions enabling you to capture excellent details even in shadowy spots. It also produces crisp videos as a result that sets it apart from its Eagle predecessor.
The RunCam Eagle 2 now uses an OSD controller with only 2 wires instead of 6 on the previous model. It has an 800TVL resolution for its 1/1.8-inch CMOS sensor, a better latency that is comparable to CCD cameras such as Foxeer Arrow and RunCam Swift, and performs great with low illumination similar to the Runcam Owl 2.
You can use other devices alongside this camera because of the wider battery power input at 5V to 36V. This FPV can be set up with either NTSC or PAL formats, but without the complicated procedures by just using the control adapter on the OSD menu, and plugging in the cable.
There is an OSD socket on the backside of its alloy case which also houses the electronics. Furthermore, the Eagle 2 has a variable mounting bracket made in aluminum that fits like a glove on most drone vehicles. It comes in 2 different aspect ratio options: 4:3 and 16:9 that cater to your screens and goggles.
This is without question the best money can buy right now. You can shoot 4k video at 30 fps and 1080p at a whopping 120 fps. The video is super smooth - even when you are shooting scenes that are really fast moving.
This is the #1 choice for professional videographers. It records at 60Mbps - which is truly impressive. And it allows you to capture 12MP photos at 30fps.
If you truly want the best of the best, this is what you should choose. There's nothing better on the market right now.
But all of this takes a toll on the battery. If you will be shooting 4K at 30 fps and have the Wi-Fi on, don't expect the battery to last for much more than a minute.
If you want the batteries to last for more than just a couple of minutes, you will need to turn Wi-Fi off, have the battery BacPac and shoot at 720p.
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If image quality is what is of paramount importance to you, this is the camera you should be using with your drone. Nothing else can match the GoPro Hero4 Black.
While you cannot use this to shoot 4K, it allows you to shoot 2.7K at 30fps and capture at 1080p at 60fps or 720p at 120fps. This comes with a touch screen display you can use to control the camera, adjust settings and view footage.
And you can capture 12MP images at 30fps - which is certainly nothing to sneer at.
2.7K at 30fps or 1080p at 60fps is still more than good enough for most people - and a lot, lot better than what most other quadcopter cameras are capable of.
What's kind of strange is it does not come with a memory card. You will need to buy the memory card separately.
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This is a really good buy for the money. It has almost everything one could as for in a quadcopter camera. The video quality is great, comes with a separate waterproof housing and has a touch screen that makes using it a breeze.
If you have used the GoPro Hero3, you can't but love the improvements and new features in the Hero4 Silver.
This is ideal for someone who's just getting started with aerial photography and wants a taste of the GoPro experience.
This very reasonably priced camera weighs a little over 110 grams and can record 1080p video at 30fps or 720p at 60 fps - which most certainly isn't bad by any standard. You should not be comparing this one with either the Hero4 Black or Hero4 Silver because this is aimed at a different market segment - not professionals but those who are just getting started.
That said, this little camera has some impressive features that the other models lack - it is waterproof and comes permanently encased in a rugged housing that can take quite a bit of abuse. So if you happen to crash your drone, the camera might survive intact.
But if the housing gets damaged, there's little you can do as you will not be able to pull the camera out of it. You will also need to be careful with the lens. If the lens gets scratched for some reason, you will not be able to fix it.
It does not have a GoPro accessory port - so you can't use Wi-Fi or plug in a spare battery.
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This is a good camera for the money, more so if you are just getting started. The video quality is good, the camera is waterproof and can take a lot of wear and tear.
The SummitLink Sony 700 TVL Can capture video at 700 TVL (analog camera). Good for beginners, but certainly not for professionals. This camera is excellent for filming in very low light conditions. The package comes with two lenses - a 3.6 mm lens that's preinstalled, and another 2.8 mm wide angle lens that is better suited for wide angle viewing.
What's more - this camera is very quick to adapt to changes in lighting conditions - a feature that makes it very well suited for FPV flying.
But don't expect to be able to shoot 4K or even 1080p video with this. The resolution is around 700p. If you are looking for a good, entry level micro FPV camera that's very well suited for filming in near complete darkness then this will be the camera that's best suited for you.
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If you are just starting out with FPV flying, this is a good camera for you. It can shoot in very low light conditions, adapts to changing lighting conditions very fast and the resolution is reasonably good.
It's critical that you buy the best FPV camera your budget will allow you to if you are serious about the hobby. You might have a really good video transmitter and FPV goggles, but it will not matter if your camera is not good enough. The image quality will suffer if your camera is not of high quality.
Choosing the best FPV camera for your drone ...
To choose the right kind of camera, there are two decisions you need to make -
Either CMOS or CCD : In general, you should choose a CCD camera. CCD is short for charged coupling device, while CMOS is short for complementary metal oxide semiconductor.
CCD cameras perform well under very low and very high light levels. A CCD camera will allow you to see clearly even when it is pointed at the sun, and in very low light conditions as well - something that isnot possible with CMOS cameras.
This is something you will want to be aware of if you are serious about aerial photography. CMOS cameras do not capture entire images in one shot - instead, the camera captures images by rapidly scanning either from left to right or from top to bottom. This is alright when you are stationary and the scene you are trying to capture is stationary as well - like when you are using your tripod mounted camera to photograph a lily in full bloom.
But when the camera is mounted on a quadcopter, it's an entirely different scenario. The camera will be in motion, and objects on the ground may be moving as well. This results in a wobbly image.
The jello effect can be very significantly reduced by using CCD cameras as they capture the whole image in a single shot instead of scanning. More so with the latest CCD cameras that can capture images at 120frames per second. The faster the camera is, the less jello you will have in the images.
While CCD cameras tend to be a bit bigger, consume more battery and are more expensive than CMOS type cameras, they perform a lot better under very low light conditions under less likely to output wobbly images.
While you'd likely want to use a camera with a very low weight on your quad copter, the output of these devices is much better than CMOS cameras. You definitely want to buy a small CCD type camera.
In addition to this, you will also want to balance the propellers and motors and make sure the mounting surface of the hub is true as otherwise, the image will be wobbly because of the vibrations passed onto the camera through the frame of the quadcopter.
Using the appropriate camera settings is of vital importance as well, but you can do this with some trial and error.
To put it simply, if you happen to live in North America, you'd want to use NTSC. And if you live in Europe, you'd want to use PAL.
PAL offers slightly higher resolution but lower frames per second (720 x 576 @25fps).
NTSC has a better frame rate but slightly lesser resolution (720x480 @ 30fps)In addition to these two primary factors, here are a few more things you would want to consider.
The majority of the CCD cameras used today are 30mm square - or 1/3" square cameras.
They typically use Sony's 1/3" CCD chip. You'll be able to use various 12mm lenses to change the field of view.
The best focal length (F-stop) for your FPV camera is a hotly debated topic, and the answer you get will depend on who you ask.
Experts who know their flying area like the back of their hand tend to use lenses with higher focal lengths and smaller FOV (field of view), while those who are relatively inexperienced and tend to fly closer to the ground will use lenses with lower focal lengths and higher FOV.
A lens with a higher focal length will result in images that are more natural, but tend to have a lower field of view. Focal length alters the perspective.
With a lens of very short focal length, field of view can be high but perspective distortion increases as well. The image does not look natural and these lenses will have what's termed the 'fish eye effect'.
Objects at the edges appear curly and those in the center appear small. Lens of smaller focal lengths, while having a good field of view, also produce a visual distortion.
Essentially, this is what you would want to remember:
So the focal length you would want to use would depend on:
So while a 2.5 mm lens may not give you the clearest images, it will allow you to easily maneuver around obstacles you would have never spotted with a 6 mm lens.
One rule of thumb : If you are flying in a area that you are not familiar with - or one that has lots of potential obstacles, use a lower focal length lens.
On the other hand, if you are flying at a low altitude with lots of obstacles like trees and buildings, use a low focal length lens - 2.5 mm to 2.8 mm.
Ideally, you would want to have the option to test several lenses with your camera and see what serves your purpose best.
And if you can, it would be best to have two cameras on your quadcopter - one for peripheral view and one for distortion free images. You could install a video switch enjoy the best of both worlds.
A real thermal imaging camera would be very expensive. Instead, you could try replacing your camera lens with one that has an IR filter - like those used in security systems.
You will certainly not be able to see the entire infrared spectra, but then there's always a trade-off between cost and quality. You could say this is pseudo IR photography, but it's good enough if you are just out to have some fun.
The resolution of these cameras is measured in TVL - short for TV lines of resolution. While you'd want to get a camera with at least 500 TVL, the least resolution should be at least 380TVL. You would also want to remember that even with a very high resolution camera, the actual live footage you will be seeing while the quad copter is in flight can appear blurred because it is transmitted wirelessly.
If you're going to be using FPV goggles, you'd want to choose a camera with really good resolution - around 700 TVL. This way, the video you see will be at least "good enough". No matter what you choose, you cannot expect to see HD quality video.
Unless you're looking for a pan and tilt camera mount, you'll want to check out this video for ideas about how to build your own camera mount for your quad copter...
But if you are willing to settle for a fixed camera, you can even fix it with gel tape. That's probably the quickest way to build your own camera mount. You'd want to make sure that you will be able to access the buttons on the camera while designing your own mount.
One problem you might have fixing the camera is that you'll have to decide on the mounting angle beforehand. If you mount the camera such that it is always looking forward, you will not be able to look right below the quad copter. If that bothers you, you should use a pan and tilt mount.
Pan and tilt mounts are not expensive and are readily available. But you would want to make sure you have two spare channels on your radio before buying such a mount.
If you're just starting out, a pan and tilt mount will not be necessary. A fixed camera would be good enough. Only when your very comfortable flying the UAV would you want to consider a pan and tilt mount.Because only when you are well versed with the controls will you be able to do the more complicated stuff.
Beginners most certainly do not need on screen display. When you're just starting out, you'll be struggling to keep the craft in the air.
If you are just getting started with quads, you would not care about details like flight speed, distance from home,vertical speed indicator and more that an on-screen display would give you. That stuff most probably will not make much sense to you and all you care about is not crashing.
But once you're very comfortable flying the quad copter, you most certainly will want an on-screen display.
With a OSD, you'll be able to readily see information like a strength of the GPS signal, flight speed, compass heading, attitude, distance from home, flight time, battery voltage and much more.
All of this does make your flying experience a lot richer and more similar to what a pilot would see in the cockpit.