FPV. THE new thing in drones. But what’s it all about?
‘First Person View’, or FPV for short, is seeing massive interest in the drone world right now. If you’ve ever seen someone wearing goggles in the local park while flying a drone, that’s FPV. Looks fun (and it is) but it’s definitely not easy, which is why we are now offering training in FPV flying. Put in the effort, and the result can be incredible.
If you’re interested in taking up FPV read on, as we quiz Stuart Taylor from fireFLY aerial innovation on how to get started in FPV.
Why the big excitement about FPV?
I remember in the infancy of high-resolution camera drones, viewers often regarded seeing aerial video and imagery as novel and something previously only attainable via expensive means. There was a perceived barrier to entry in acquiring decent looking drone shots, which to some extent there was, though that has tapered off considerably to the point where the aerial views are commonplace across most of the media we consume. FPV offers a different style of flying that a lot of people will have not seen before. A certain element of this appeal comes from the ‘how did they do that?’ factor which puts engaging shots back in the remit of the creator rather than who has the better equipment. The freedom afforded by FPV flying removes some of the limits placed on consumer drones (usually for ease of use purposes) and allows the pilot to be as creative as they want to be ultimately creating more dynamic and engaging shots.
Do you have any favourite pilots/creators?
The FPV community has formed many different sub-genres allowing pilots to find a style that suits them and offers plenty of opportunity to develop your own style. I have been greatly influenced by pilots just doing their own thing and expressing themselves through their flying. I suppose the first and most pivotal video I watched was simply some racing drones crashing and racing around a wood:
To me at this time, it just looked fun and having already built larger drones wasn’t too hard to build and set up. Flying them though was a very different story…
The next most influential video I saw was called Muscle up by Robert McIntosh, and was an entrant into the 2017 GoPro awards.
This quite frankly blew my mind and established the fact that FPV flying doesn’t always have to be about going the fastest. From then on I flew how I wanted to fly and accepted that I wasn’t going to be the greatest racing drone pilot. These pilots led me to discover Paul Nurkalla (NURK FPV), MR Steele, Stingerswarm and Joshua Bardwell as well as others too numerous to mention. I tend to take little elements from lots of different pilots and emulate them into my own style
Why and how does FPV differ from other drones?
Part of the mysticism of FPV could be related to seemingly taking a step backwards technologically. Even today’s modestly priced consumer offerings operate under assisted flight – GPV, ultra-sonic, optical flow etc… However FPV drones typically utilise only an accelerometer and sometimes a barometer which puts greater emphasis on the pilot’s ability and also permits greater three-dimensional freedom to point a camera. With the steeper learning curve also comes another burden not usually put upon flyers of traditional camera drones: repairs.
There is an excellent ‘ready to fly’ selection of drones available meaning the pressure is now off on building one yourself (if that’s not what you’re looking for), though fixing them is almost inevitable if you’re pushing yourself and your flying ability. Whilst not needing to be prohibitively expensive, learning HOW to fix them can be very time intensive. Apart from that, the differences aren’t that great. They use the same core hardware to operate (motors, ESCs, flight controller etc…) and generally follow the same principles as their more advanced cousins. Subtle differences are found in the power systems too. A DJI Mavic, for example, is built for endurance and stability which is reflected in the motor, propeller and battery specification. If you were to try and perform acrobatic manoeuvres there just wouldn’t be enough power to accomplish it. FPV hardware is often designed to deliver high levels of thrust quickly, regardless of the impact on flight times. Batteries for example have a very high discharge rating and propellers tend to be high pitched and in more numerous blade configurations. However, the sheer variety of styles and types of FPV flying mean that there are some cross-overs developing. For example long-range FPV configurations resemble a Mavic more than a racing drone.
I’m thinking of getting a FPV drone. Is there is something relatively inexpensive and straightforward you’d recommend as a first step?
Yes, never fear! We are in a golden age of FPV where you can pick up ready to fly bundles for a range of different applications. The BetaFPV Cetus for example is a great bundle for under £160 that includes everything you need to learn indoors. Pair that with a simulator such as Liftoff, add a couple of week/months of practice and you’ll be equality proud and surprised how you’ve progressed. Don’t invest in a top of the range set-up at first as you will break it, though do spend a little more on a transmitter if you can (as this can be used with future models). I’d also suggest starting small rather than a five inch drone for example. There are some great lightweight and capable models available such as the BetaFPV Pavo and 85x, Iflight Taycan, Eachine Tinyhawk and Babyhawk, Flywoo Nano hex and Explorer and lots lots more.
What kit do I need?
Fundamentally, all you need is a drone, goggles, transmitter and a battery. However, a lot of the sundry items such as battery chargers, spare propellers, soldering equipment, cameras can all add up. Try and factor this in at the early stages as it’s important to have a budget. None of this needs to be expensive, though shop around. Consider secondhand equipment cautiously as components become obsolete, worn out and damage easily and a fault in the learning stages can send you down the wrong road and into thinking that any deficiency is related to the pilot when in fact there could be a fault or just a poorly performing aircraft.
What about if I want something top of the range?
Ultimately the intended use should determine how much is invested. You could aim for an X8 cinelifter carrying a Blackmagic camera or simply wanting to mount an Insta360 Go. This will do some extent determine what you invest in. If you’re looking to upgrade, consider improvements to the video system with better goggles or transmissions systems such as DJI digital or Crossfire. Improve your control link with systems such as Crossfire to provide better range or signal penetration. Consider better hardware such as motors and ESCs. A lot of these options are like buying a traditional camera, a GoPro will get you some great shots in the right conditions and get the job done, though the more you are willing to invest, the better or faster or richer the outputs will be. The elephant in the room is of course the DJI FPV drone which has certainly divided opinion. For all of its shortcomings in performance, cost and image quality it does provide a safe learning platform and has introduced a lot of new pilots to FPV. I personally believe that if the end goal is something for commercial filming the old fashioned route is still most economical and will provide a better overall experience.
Are there different rules/laws around flying FPV?
Technically use of an FPV drone still has to comply with the existing regulations, however since the pilot cannot maintain visual line of sight, a competent observer must be used to keep an eye on the aircraft and environment. Otherwise the same distance and safety considerations apply. The availability of lighter camera payloads has also opened up numerous sub 250g options. A de-cased GoPro or Insta360 Go2 for example are around 26g creating some more flexibility as to how these aircraft are used within the classifications of the law.
What qualifications and training are necessary to fly an FPV drone?
The disciplines and principles of traditional camera drone airmanship apply to FPV flights. Be safe, operate within the law and fly within your means. Providing procedures are in place, FPV flights can be conducted with a GVC or Operational Authorisation. Prior to the latest round of regulatory changes, FPV flight was permitted under an exemption (CAP1294 is now covered within the UAS regulations (within CAP2013) and 1297 is covered by general exemption ORS4 1449), though are now more accessible providing mitigations can be put in place. There is currently no formal necessity to train for FPV flights, though by default, if you are not competent enough to conduct a certain type of flying, you may be in breach under safety reasons. Training is a great way to fast-track your development in terms of flying though understandably people learn in different ways. Ultimately practice makes perfect and this is what you should be aiming for in the short-term. I follow this approach even now. Even when work and family commitments put pressure on practice time, I still endeavour to get some flights in, though usually this means doing it at half seven in the morning or last thing before the sun sets. A good discipline with practice is to avoid just flying on good weather days. I made this mistake early on which dented my confidence operating in higher winds. This was a point of development and I worked on improving.
What are your secrets for getting great footage from FPV?
- Find your style and develop it. FPV is a very expressive form of flying and there are no right or wrong ways to fly providing it is safe and within the realms of what is legal. Finding a good flow is also important and unfortunately only comes with experience. The more competent and able you are as a pilot the better you will be able to navigate the drone the way the scene requires it.
- Plan ahead and aim to find the smoothest line you can. This will often take multiple attempts, though if this is a known factor, it can be accounted for when planning. For single take videos for example, I usually state that I need three takes of the scene just to get my ‘eye in’ and six takes to get the flow that I am after. This is a known variable and we can plan for this when going into a shoot.
- Reduce vibration. Whatever form of video stabilisation you opt for (Realsteady, SteadXP, Hypersmooth, Gyroflow), having a good clean raw video will greatly improve the end outcome.
- 3D printing will help no end! – Having the ability to design and print custom parts or replace broken items is a great addition, though be prepared to take on another hobby….
- Find a flow – Use the space you are flying in to your abilities. Learn to link up different sections and create a suite of flying moves to get you to each stage. Incorporate people and moving subjects into your scene where possible.
- Fly to your abilities – there is no chancing it on-location. Be confident you can achieve a certain shot before agreeing or attempting it. If this requires practice prior to the day then so be it. I’ve used simulators several times to establish a flight route and get be 80% of the way before practicing it in real life.
- Have a range of payloads – And understand when to use them and what their shortcomings are. The Insta360 Go2 is a great camera for example, though only once paired with the right ND filter and even then only in certain conditions. GoPros are great, though there are subtle differences between them and how they best perform that need to be understood.
- Select the right tool for the job – there are so many different sizes, formats and types of aircraft out there that perform niche tasks that it may require a couple of different aircraft adding to your fleet. The Shendrones Squirt is a three inch ducted drone great for slow and steady indoor flying, though underpowered and un-optimised for higher winds compared to a five inch aircraft. Other factors such as what camera you intend on flying with and what you are flying close to can influence your choice of drone.
Thanks Stuart! If you have any more questions or would like to sign up to our FPV training course, you can get in touch with us here.