It’s incredibly satisfying to capture awe-inspiring aerial shots with a drone, and while seeing the world from high above is always intriguing, some pilots make an exciting flight as big of a part of the experience as the beautiful scenery that’s being highlighted.
When it comes to tricks such as flying in tight areas, performing barrel rolls and doing high-speed maneuvers there isn’t a better tool than an FPV drone. This expands the possibilities of a video camera.
That said, it isn’t exactly easy to achieve these acrobatic moves. Any camera drone allows you to change your perspective and get shots that would be difficult or impossible any other way. Depending on what type of photo or video you are trying to capture, an FPV drone may not be right for you.
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What Does FPV Mean?
In the drone world, FPV stands for “first-person view” and it means that, as the pilot, you can see what the drone sees. This makes it possible to fly higher than you ever thought possible and allows you to see places you might not have seen from the ground like the trees or underneath bridges. Modern drones have a camera that can transmit live footage to smartphones. Although technically, almost every drone can be classified as an FPV drone, this definition is constantly changing.
To the leading drone manufacturer in the world, FPV means something more. While every DJI drone can provide a first-person perspective from the camera, only two of its drones come with a head-mounted display for totally immersive viewing. DJI FPV, DJI Avata, include a fully assembled FPV system that includes a drone, battery and transmitter.
This, in itself, is unique in the world of FPV racing drones, which are sometimes sold as a collection of parts, sourced from various manufacturers. While this allows you to personalize, it can also cause compatibility problems. Some manufacturers also sell ready-to fly drones, such as DJI’s FPV or Avata. These are less appealing options for many people.
DJI Avata Versus DJI Mini 3 Pro
The DJI Avata and the DJI Mini 3 Pro are great examples of DJI’s latest drones and a convenient way to compare a standard drone to an FPV drone that uses a head-mounted display. The Avata is DJI’s newest FPV drone featuring head-mounted Goggles 2 and a Motion Controller, while the Mini 3 Pro has a classic joystick-based controller with a holder to insert your iPhone or Android phone to serve as the display. The latest DJI technology is used to ensure stable flight, solid tracking and reliable signal transmission.
There are enough similarities between these two drones that the differences stand out clearly. Strapping a headset on means there won’t be any problem with seeing the screen in bright sunlight and the Avata’s Goggles 2 are surprisingly comfortable. You can adjust the sharpness of your vision with diopter adjustments. Eye spacing controls allow you to see the screen clearly, while the interpupillary distance and eye spacing controls keep it clear. The microLED display gives you a vivid and bright preview of what is being recorded.
The downside to wearing goggles is that your natural vision is obscured entirely. That means you’re legally required (in the United States) to have someone else who can act as a spotter to keep an eye out for hazards that might not be visible while you’re piloting the Avata, so an FPV drone might not be a good choice if you plan on flying solo. With the Mini 3 Pro, it’s a different experience. It’s simple to look up at the drone or nearby objects using your phone. Then, you can return to the smartphone and continue the view.
Speaking of regulatory ease, the Mini 3 Pro is under 249 grams and doesn’t need to be registered before use, although every drone pilot must pass a test. Even though the DJI Avata is smaller, it weighs more at 410 grams so it must be registered. Registering a drone costs just $5 and it can be done online in a few minutes, so it really isn’t a big deal.
The FAA’s TRUST test is designed for recreational pilots. The FAA’s TRUST test is short and easy. It consists of multiple-choice questions. No matter the drone’s weight, commercial pilots must register and pass a harder test. The full details are available on the FAA’s website and are subject to change, so it’s worth taking another look from time to time. The TRUST test is a relatively new rule that took effect in the summer of 2021.
How Do You Fly an FPV Drone?
Most FPV drones use a familiar-looking remote control that’s quite similar to a game controller. Two joysticks allow control of throttle, yaw, roll, and pitch. These controls give you complete freedom of movement but require many hours of practice to master. The throttle controls the aircraft’s speed and lift. At least some throttle must be maintained to keep the drone in the air. Adjusting the yaw control spins the drone around its vertical axis. Roll to the left or right, and pitch angles will change. You can fly anything from simple loops in a park to more advanced tricks such as barrel rolls or back flips using this combination.
DJI changed the game with its FPV drones because they have the option to reassign the joysticks to control the heading, height, and position of the drone in a horizontal plane, allowing you to think about flying in more traditional terms. That means it’s a bit like driving a car with the added ability to raise and lower the drone whenever you’d like. The drone will hover in one place until the control buttons are released.
The great thing about the DJI FPV and Avata is that their incredible speed and maneuverability are still available, albeit at lower top speeds, in these easy-to-fly modes. You have the ability to improve your skills and take full control of a DJI drone even if you don’t use their flight aid software.
Besides assisted flight and manual control, DJI offers a third option for the Avata and FPV drone that’s unique, the Motion Controller. Shaped like an infrared temperature gun, this advanced remote control detects your hand movements, rotating the drone and tilting the camera accordingly. The DJI remote control is intuitive, as a small white circle appears in the glasses display. This indicates which direction the drone will fly once the trigger button is pressed.
Why You Should (and Shouldn’t) Get an FPV Drone
The great thing about an FPV drone that has goggles is the immersive sense of flight. This drone is the best way to experience the thrill of flying high above treetops, at high speeds, with very few restrictions, safely and for a reasonable price. A small FPV drone with goggles and intuitive controls, like the DJI Avata, might make it easier to pilot through small spaces in calm conditions.
That said, some FPV drones are difficult to master. It takes practice to be fully present and enjoy the flight like a bird. The initial experience will more likely be filled with frustration, delays, and unexpected expenses as trial and error take a toll on components, leading to ongoing maintenance costs.
FPV drones, even those from DJI, ship with cameras that can’t compete with the best drones on the market. Many FPV drones come without a camera or ship with a 1080p camera. The Avata and DJI FPV have 4K resolution but narrower apertures and smaller sensors than the Mini 3 Pro, for example. Hyperlapse video and RAW mode photography are not common features in FPV drones.
Another downside with FPV drones is the added cost of the goggles. The DJI FPV is $999 and the Avata is $1,388. Although the price tag is reasonable considering all of the technology in these drones, it is much more expensive than those with higher quality cameras. A pilot of a small FPV drone can navigate tight spaces with relative ease as seen in this YouTube video by AvataTime of a trip through a forest of dappled light.
Other FPV drone manufacturers usually sell kits and when the specifications are brought up to the level of DJI’s drones, the price might be even higher. There are bargains to be had if you dig deep enough into the world of a builder. You can get exactly what you need, including power, flexibility and quality. It takes time and effort to delve into the details and learn enough to build a nice drone.
The excellent DJI Mini 3 Pro, by contrast, costs $759 and its camera outperforms those of DJI’s FPV drones. If high-fidelity video and photos are the goals, it’s hard to beat at this low price. There is no manual mode or maximum speed option, lower speeds, no options for high-fidelity video and photos, as well as a reduced experience due to the fact that DJI’s glasses are not supported. Also, there is no way to use the Motion Controller. There are third-party solutions that allow using a VR headset but they aren’t really comparable to the experience of piloting the DJI Avata or FPV. This YouTube video from Drone The Sky shows how to use a DJI Mini with a VR headset and the Litchi app.
The DJI FPV can blast by at 87mph in manual mode and the Avata can reach 60mph when flown with an FPV Remote Controller 2 in Manual mode. These drones are faster than regular ones, but they are also slower when flown with FPV Remote Controllers [******************************************************************************************************************************************************] in Manual mode. For most people, flying in normal mode can feel fast if space is limited. The Avata can reach 17mph in Normal and 31mph in Sport mode, while the FPV holds the DJI crown, even with assisted flight features enabled, at 34mph in Normal and 60mph in Sport mode. DJI has posted a video showing the FPV racing against a sport car to demonstrate its incredible speed in manual mode. The DJI FPV is a great choice if you’re looking to take off in open spaces or fly over obstacles.
The Mini 3 Pro is no slouch and clocks in at 22mph in Normal mode and 36mph in Sport mode, outpacing the Avata when using DJI’s flight assist features. That means speed isn’t always a deciding factor when choosing between an FPV drone and one optimized for photography.
Is an FPV Drone Right for You?
You might still be wondering if an FPV drone is right for you and, if so, which one. The answer to this question depends on your needs and the technology you use. Do you prefer aerial photography or video? Or do you need a more mobile and agile drone camera to capture your images.
DJI’s standard drones, like the Mini 3 Pro, have many more features that are geared toward recording cinematic video and special camera modes. RAW images can be taken, you can stitch together panoramas, take hyperlapse videos and even use preprogrammed flight movements such as MasterShots or QuickShots. It’s easy to automate the maneuvers needed to record impressive aerial videos with a Mini 3 Pro, and if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s hard to go wrong with a DJI Mini 3 Pro. A unique feature of the Mini 3 Pro is the ability to physically rotate its camera and record videos in portrait orientation.
The DJI FPV is among the fastest drones on the market and DJI’s fastest. It isn’t legal to fly an FPV drone faster than 100mph, so DJI’s thrilling, 87mph FPV drone gets pretty close to that hard limit. Although the FPV is less expensive than Avata’s, it is an older model. The DJI FPV’s 1/2. 3-inch camera sensor and 720p Goggles V2 fall behind the Avata’s 1/1. 7-inch sensor and its 1080p Goggles 2. It’s important to note the lack of a ‘V’ in the name of the new headset because the Avata is also available with the older Goggles V2 for $220 less. When choosing the small and light Avata, it’s more natural to opt for the improved, smaller, lighter, Goggles 2 in the Pro View Combo. The DJI Avata has a couple of additional tricks up its sleeve.
The Avata has a head-tracking feature that allows you to synchronize tilt and rotation of your drone with your head movements. That makes it possible to fly in one direction and look in another, which isn’t currently possible with the DJI FPV when paired with the Motion Controller. Flying sideways while shooting video is still easier with a joystick controller but it is possible with the Avata’s head-tracking. When moving in an unfamiliar direction, make sure to have someone with you. Head-tracking allows you to capture video in a variety of ways.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a dragonfly? DJI gave the Avata the ability to fly very close to the ground and skimming over a forest stream and moss-covered stones with just 10 inches of clearance produces unique video that’s unexpected from an FPV drone.
An FPV drone might not be the right choice for you, even if you want to fly fast. The feeling of flying a drone isn’t like driving a car on a highway where roads are designed to be straight or to bend in gentle curves. Drones can reach their top speed in seconds and can make hairpin turns, all while flying close to the ground and maneuvering through tight spaces. Your sense of speed is greatly amplified in these cases and reaction time dwindles to microseconds.
DJI’s Mini 3 Pro is an excellent choice for getting started with aerial photography. The DJI Avata is a nice middle ground and can probably go as far and as fast as you would ever need. The DJI FPV and a fully manual FPV drone set might suit you if you like to challenge your flying skills.