It's funny how filmmaking goes through these trends, where some new piece of tech comes out and then all of a sudden your feed is inundated with those shots everywhere. First, it was the super shallow depth-of-field DSLR look, then sliders took over, then gimbal shots that shouldn't have been gimbal shots, then drones...I've been just as guilty as the next person of jumping on board with a new trend, and FPV drones are no exception! I've been building and flying multirotors for about 8 years now, but only just jumped on board the FPV train back in January. I've learned so much in the past 6 months and made a lot of mistakes, but I'm finally starting to feel comfortable with flying and excited to start thinking about ways to incorporate it into my workflow!
**Add train video**
I'm fortunate to have gotten great advice along the way from some excellent, seasoned FPV pilots, but I realize we don't all have that luxury! I've also spent a lot of time tinkering and working out the best set ups and settings specifically for cinematic flying, so let's jump right into getting you set up for success with cinematic FPV!
The FPV Community
As I mention in the YouTube video that's being released alongside this blog post, the first thing you should try to do is connect with other people who fly locally. If you don't already know someone, try searching on Facebook for your city or town + FPV (i.e: "Hamilton FPV") and see what comes up, or post something on your social media channels to see if anyone comes out of the woodwork. Flying is a lot more fun with other people, but you'll also pick up so much valuable information from hanging out and flying with experienced pilots.
If you just can't seem to find anyone, the online community is the next best thing. You're going to have questions along the way, more questions than a YouTube video or blog post can answer! In this regard, I'd also recommend checking out Joshua Bardwell. He's got a YouTube channel with endless videos on troubleshooting FPV stuff, but perhaps even more relevant is his Patreon, which gets you access to a discord server with dozens, if not hundreds of other FPV enthusiasts who are all actively answering people's questions.
The other thing to consider before dropping a heap of cash on gear is getting started in the simulator. If you have an old RC remote, you might be able to connect it and get started right away. I personally use Liftoff and The Drone Racing League simulators, and really enjoy both, but if I had to go with one it would probably be DRL. It's a great way to get a feel for how these things fly without the worry of having to rebuild after a crash. Once you do get into the real thing, you can even program your quadcopter's PIDs and rates into your simulator drone so it has a similar feel to what you're flying in real life. When I was first getting started in this hobby, I was probably spending a good hour in the simulator for every 5-minute real-life flight.
The FPV Gear
Ok, now it's time to start talking about the stuff you've actually gotta buy. We'll start with the FPV system. There's no doubt in my mind that if you're getting into this for cinematic flying, DJI's digital system is the way to go. It's a little more expensive than analog, but you really get what you pay for. The FPV system is going to be your goggles, your remote, and the air unit, which includes the onboard FPV camera. If you watched the YouTube video you can see the difference in signal quality between analog and digital. Neither are going to be excellent compared to your action camera footage, because having low-latency is far more important than crystal clear quality, but the DJI system rides that balance really well and you do kind of get the best of both worlds.
The remote that comes with the DJI FPV system pairs really easily with the simulator via USB-C, so you don't have to worry about having a special cable or dongle to get started in the simulator.
The goggles also allow you to connect to other people who are flying near you, using audience mode. I find this super helpful especially when flying with pilots who are a lot more experienced than you. Getting to see first-hand the way they're flying around an area or specific obstacles can inspire ideas and also makes learning new techniques easier.
The air unit is the camera and receiver that you mount on your quad, and it's really easy to pair as many of them as you want to your goggles and remote. So if you have multiple FPV quads, you can just turn one off and another one on and everything will pair up automatically.
The FPV Quads
There are a few types of quads that are useful for cinematography. The two main ones that I use are the cinewhoop and the 5" freestyle quad. The cinewhoop has ducts around the propellors which give them a little more power, but also prevent the props from destroying or getting tangled up in whatever they touch.
Cinewhoops are generally a little underpowered and fly slower than 5" freestyle quads, but they're a lot more safe to fly in confined spaces or near a live subject. That being said, the Holybro Kopis Cinewhoop is surprisingly powerful for a 3" 4S ducted quad, and if you change the tuning around a bit, it's almost as much fun to fly as my 5" freestyle quad! It can handle a GoPro Hero 8, but it really thrives with the Insta360 Go. I love using this guy for indoor flights, or really small, confined shooting conditions, like the river shot below, I probably wouldn't do this with the 5" quad and there's no way you're getting a shot like this with a Mavic!
**Insert River Video**
Despite that, my other FPV drone, the 5" freestyle quad, is probably going to be my workhorse. It's much faster and far more powerful than the 3" cinewhoop, so it's perfect for covering vast distances at high speeds, making them feel small. I'll use this for chasing vehicles or any type of shot where I need to be pushing 100km/h. Because it's more powerful, you don't even notice the extra weight of the action camera like you do on the cinewhoop, so recovering from a big dive like I did at the base of this waterfall is no problem. Between these two drones, I have most of my bases covered.
The nice thing about both of these quads is that you can purchase them pre-built and pre-tuned. While it's inevitable that you're going to have a bad crash at some point and will definitely have to fix or rebuild, I can say from experience that it's much easier to fix or rebuild a quad that was built properly in the first place. It'll also save you a huge headache of having to tune the flight controller to the motors and frame that you're using, not to mention saving you from pulling out your hair when you go through the trouble of soldering and building to find out that one of the parts that you ordered was faulty.
If you buy a pre-built quad, it'll arrive tuned and factory tested, so the likelihood of a dud showing up is very low. The more you get into the hobby, the more you'll develop an understanding of how these things work and the little things you would do differently on your own build start to become obvious to you. When you're first getting started, it's next to impossible to know what you're looking for or what you want. That being said, if you're set on building your own, definitely go for it! But if the idea of building your first quad is intimidating and holding you back from getting into this game, don't feel bad about buying a pre-built quad to get you started.
**Links for some pre-built drones**
When placing your orders for everything, I highly recommend adding spare parts in the same order. The reality is disaster is going to strike sooner than later, and the last thing you want is to be stuck waiting for parts to show up before you can get out and fly again! Take a look at the components that your quad is using, and add these to your initial order, if you can afford to. I'll start with the things that are most likely to break:
Propellers Get like 20 sets. No joke, you'll go through a lot of these when you're first getting started. They're recyclable, so don't feel bad, but do go pick up the broken pieces if they explode. Props are the number one item that you'll burn through.
Ducts If you get the Holybro Kopis Cinewhoop, I'd recommend ordering a second set of ducts, or even a third if you're feeling like a baller. I've glued and re-glued my ducts countless times, but eventually they get to the point beyond repair and just need to be replaced.
Frame Arms The carbon fibre arms that your motors are attached to are durable as hell, but eventually the smashing takes a toll and they'll start to fall apart. If you're flying over grass for the most part you'll probably be ok, but a solid collision with concrete or a tree trunk can really do a number on even the strongest carbon fibre. iFlight sells the arms separately from the frame which is nice.
Motors I'd get at least one extra motor, maybe two. After you smash the thing enough times, the motor is gonna kick the bucket. It's pretty rare to smash motors, and good quality ones will survive a lot of thrashing before they finally bite the dust, but you don't want to be stuck waiting on one when that day finally arrives!
Everything else should survive even the worst crashes. These things are really built like tanks and I'm always surprised how well they take a beating.
When the time comes to do the repairs, I recommend this toolkit from Race Day Quads, which has all the essentials and a nice little pouch so you can take it with you in the field.
**Add Link for toolkit once RDQ gets back**
If you don't have a soldering iron, I'd also highly recommend the TS100, which comes in this handy case and runs off the same batteries as your drones, so you can bring it with you for repairs in the field! It gets real hot real fast so it's really the only soldering iron you need whether you're doing repairs at home or abroad.
**Add link for TS100 from GetFPV**
If you're not experienced with soldering, I highly recommend this tutorial from Mr. Steele which took my soldering from probably a 2 to an 8.5. You can also purchase these practice soldering boards before you go for the real thing.
**Add link for practice board**
For a while, the standard for these quads was 4S batteries, which are 4-cell batteries, but recently, 6S has started to take over. Some people say they prefer 4S for cinematic flying because the quad feels a little underpowered, and therefore flies a little more smooth. Personally I'm glad I went with 6S because you can tune them to still move in a cinematic way, but you also have the power at your fingertips if you need it to get out of a sticky situation. I highly recommend these Tattu R-Line 1400mAh 6S batteries for your 5" freestyle quad, and these Tattu R-Line 1550mAh 4S batteries for the 3" Kopis Cinewhoop. I have yet to try 6S on a cinewhoop that can support them, but I imagine I'd be happy with the results. I'll update this blog when I have.
I'd recommend starting with at least 4 batteries for your quad, and at least 1 battery for your DJI FPV Goggles. The DJI Goggles can run off a 3S battery, and I'd recommend having 1 3S Goggle Battery for every 4 or 5 drone batteries you're flying.
There are two chargers that I recommend. If you only get one, I suggest the Venom Pro Duo. It has a built-in AC adaptor and can charge two separate batteries at the same time without using a parallel board. I also use the ISDT T8 to charge batteries in the field when I'm nowhere near power outlets using one of my large octocopter batteries, which is super handy! I have the ISDT parallel charger for that as well, which allows you to charge up to 4 batteries at a time.
I highly recommend you watch this video from Joshua Bardwell on parallel charging batteries before you give that a go. If you're using the Venom or just charging one battery at a time, make sure you select "LiPo Charge," and charge at no more than 3 amps (if you're using the Tattu batteries I recommended above). Also make sure your charger is set to the correct C value of the battery you're charging (3S=3C, 4S=4C, 6S-6C). If you use the ISDT charger it should set that automatically for you when you plug in your balance lead.
*Always Remember to plug in the XT-60 connector before plugging in the balance lead.
Mounting your Action Camera
As of right now I'm still doing tests between the Insta360 One R, GoPro Hero 8, and DJI Osmo Action to see which is my favourite camera to mount for cinematic shooting. Whatever camera you choose to go with, I don't recommend you mount it until you're feeling really comfortable flying. While you're practicing and getting better, you can toss an SD card in the DJI Air Unit and record the 1080p60 feed from that directly for reviewing footage or building an epic crash reel!
I really only mount my action camera once I've gotten comfortable with a spot and/or I'm shooting something that I know I need captured with a higher quality camera. Otherwise, it's not worth the risk of smashing it.
When you do get to mounting your action camera, I don't recommend using the PolarPro ND filters. If you crash, they're either going to fall off and smash, or fall off and get lost. There are a few different stick on ND Filters that you can get for the Insta360 One R and the Hero 8. I recommend these ones from Ethix, or these ones from Camera Butter. It's the kind of stick on mount that stays sticky forever somehow using black magic.
Acro All Day!
A lot of the newer flight controllers on freestyle quads do have the ability to fly in level or horizon mode, which uses a gyro and accelerometer to fly more like what you're used to with a Mavic or Phantom. I'd encourage you to not get used to this, and only fly in Acro mode, even when you're first getting started. The longer you put off getting used to the full manual controls, the longer it'll take you to become a better pilot. If you're nervous, spend more time in the simulator, and only fly in large, open grassy fields with minimal obstacles when you're flying in real life.
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT fly in level or horizon mode!
Subscribe to Joshua Bardwell
As I mentioned before, Joshua Bardwell has the most content out there for people learning to fly FPV by a long shot. He's not the best pilot out there, and his focus isn't at all on using freestyle quads for cinematography, but you'll encounter all kinds of little bumps and hiccups along your FPV journey and there's a good chance he'll have made a video about whatever issue you encounter. Seriously, some of his videos are so obscure, but he'll make it anyway because he knows it'll help someone out there. If you're getting into this hobby, he deserves your subscribe.
Learn how to fly Line of Sight
Flying line of sight simply means taking off the goggles and flying your quad by sight instead. It's a great way to really see and understand how it moves around in 3D space, how it reacts to your stick movements, and the effect gravity has on it when you flip upside down or kill the throttle. This is something I wish I'd started doing from day one, but it's never too late to start!
Get out there and FLY!
That's basically it when it comes to getting started. I'm sure there are things that I've left out, so I'll be checking the comments section both here and on my YouTube video on the same subject to see if anyone has good suggestions for things that I should be adding! If you're ready to pull the trigger, I'll put together a shopping list below of the things I mentioned above so you can fill your carts and get started! If you're still saving up, I'd recommend starting with just the DJI remote so you can get started in the simulator while you wait.
If you found any of the above or below useful, please let me know by leaving a comment or hitting me up on Instagram (I'm @cbenfey)! If you haven't watched the video that goes along with this blog post, you can find that here. Thanks for reading and using my links for your purchases, it helps me out a lot and is very much appreciated! Happy flying, everyone!
3S Batteries for Goggles
iFlight Titan DC5 - Built & Tuned
Extra Props for Titan DC5 (iFlight Nazgul 5140)
Extra Motors for Titan DC5
Holybro Kopis Cinewhoop - Built & Tuned
Venom Pro Duo Charger
Second XT-60 Connector (you'll need this if you want to charge two batteries at the same time)
ISDT T6 Charger
ISDT Parallel Charging Board
TS-100 Portable Soldering Iron Kit