Thanks to the boom in popularity for this great hobby, parts are now cheaper than ever and you can build a decent FPV drone for quite cheap. Two years ago, even a single motor would set you back $30, but now, you can get a set of 4 fairly powerful motors for less than that!
The initial cost of the hobby is a little high – there are a few one time purchases like a radio, charger, and FPV goggles that you have to make to get started, but building a decent FPV drone for cheap is very possible – in fact, Stew from UAV Futures did it for less than $100. If you want to follow his build step by step, you’re welcome to do so – the build I’m going to outline here uses pretty much the same parts, except I prefer using a slightly higher quality FPV camera.
The reason I prefer using a good camera is because the camera is your whole and sole visual link to your quadcopter – so you want to have the best picture possible.
Note: Here’s a detailed build guide for a similar copter.
Quick breakdown of cost:
Frame – $16
Motors – $27
ESC – $30
Flight controller – $20
FPV Camera – $20
Video transmitter – $12
Receiver – $13
10 pairs of props – $7
Note: I’m using slightly higher quality components in some cases. You can shave off $10 by buying this FPV camera instead(lower quality), and another $10 by getting this(older model) flight controller.
Let’s get started with the build!
Frame – Lisam LS-210
The LS-210 is a classic quadcopter frame which is good for both racing and freestyle, and especially geared towards beginners. The frame is compact yet still quite spacious, so it is an easy build, and although it’s only 3mm thick at the bottom, it’s still pretty sturdy. Thicker 4mm frames are more costly, and you’ll end up paying nearly $10-15 more – so I’m recommending this frame instead.
Motors – Racerstar 2205/2300 kv
For less than $30 for motors that give almost 1000 grams of thrust at full throttle, these are a no brainer. Considering that a single Lumenier motor costs $25, and four of these put together cost just a little more, if you’re on a budget, you can build at least 3 copters for the price of a single one. And it’s always better to have more than one copter – especially given how frequently we crash!
The Racerstar motors will spin all sorts of 5 inch propellers quite comfortably, and if you’re starting out, or you want to build a beater quad, they’ll give you good punch and bang for buck. These motors have been out for a while now and are well tested.
ESC – Racerstar 20A 4-in-1 ESC
Coupled with the Racerstar motors, these 4-in-1 ESCs have enough amperage tolerance to handle basic flying on decent props – if you over prop the motors and keep throttling up to 100% you may kill them, but for normal flying and 2-3 second 100% throttle punchouts, you’ll be fine. These ESCs run BLHeli_S firmware and will do the job nicely.
Alternatively, you can pick up some RCX ESCs from MYRCmart. Just make sure you deselect the warranty option so that’ll knock off a couple of dollars from the price.
Flight controller – Omnibus Betaflight F3 Controller
The Omnibus F3 flight controller is an awesome little FC that gives you F3 processing power for faster looptimes(and effectively smoother flight), as well as having an SD card slot for Blackbox recording should you choose to use it, and the Betaflight OSD, which lets you see flight data and even tune the quadcopter through the OSD itself. There are slightly cheaper flight controllers available too, but the Omnibus F3 is a solid choice because the OSD support makes all the difference in the world when it comes to tuning.
FPV Camera – HS1177 clone from MYRCMart
MyRCMart has a $20 clone of the HS1177 FPV camera – pretty good value for a really nice camera. The original cameras are a little more pricey at close to $30-35, so why not save $10, right? Remember to get at least a 2.5 mm lens.
Video transmitter option 1 – Eachine VTX03
The Eachine VTX03 is a super tiny, inexpensive video transmitter with switchable power outputs at 25, 50, and 200 mW – more than enough for racing and basic park flying. It has 72 channels, so you’ll never have an issue with being on the same channel as someone else, and it’s super compact design saves a ton of weight and space. The dipole antenna is attached with a u.fl connector, so if you don’t want to run a dipole antenna in the future, you can simple attach an RP-SMA or SMA pigtail with a u.fl connector and an antenna of your choice.
Video transmitter option 2 – TS5823
The TS5823 video transmitter is a very basic 32 channel transmitter – I’ve been using it for a long time and it’s cheap and does the job well! The only disadvantage is that there are dipswitches instead of a push button channel change, so if you fly often with other people, it may be a bit cumbersome to keep switching channels. But if you mostly fly alone or on the same channel, you can’t go wrong.
Antenna if you are using option 2 – Foxeer Unbreakable
These Foxeer unbreakable antennas are great for the money and have decent picture quality. The lobes are sealed in very hard plastic so they can take a massive beating and won’t break or bend out of shape!
FrSky Receiver – FrSky XM or XM+ receiver
The XM series receivers from FrSky are cheap, support SBUS, and do the job wonderfully for miniquads. There are two options available. The XM series is a single antenna receiver with slightly less range, and the XM+ receiver is a dual antenna receiver with the full 1.5 km range. Honestly, you’re never going to go further than 1 kilometer, so if you want to shave off another $5, go for the XM receiver. You don’t need telemetry because you already have the OSD support from your flight controller.
FlySky Receiver – FlySky FS-A8S
The FlySky FS-A8S receiver is a tiny SBUS receiver great for miniquads and micros. This is the perfect receiver to use if you are using a radio like the FlySky FS-i6 or the Turnigy Evolution.
DSM Receiver – LemonRX Satellite
Finally, if you are using OrangeRX or Spektrum gear, then the tiny LemonRX satellite receiver is a great unit you can pick up for less than $15. Receivers unfortunately don’t come any cheaper, so these are $10-15 you’ll have to spend.
Propellers – King Kong 5040 x 3 props
Banggood’s own brand(I’m assuming), King Kong makes pretty decent propellers. The classic 5040 props were Joshua Bardwell’s favorites, and the new 5040×3 props are really nice for beginners. Once you get a little advanced, though, you may find these props lack a bit of punch at the higher end of throttle. However, these props are remarkably durable and you can pick up 10 pairs for just $6. These 10 pairs are going to last you a very long time unless you keep crashing into concrete!
Cheap lipos – Infinity or China Hobby Line
Both Infinity and China Hobby Line batteries are cheap, well performing batteries. At around $20 each, they’re good value, especially considering the more expensive ones are nearly double the price. These are more than enough for every day flying. If you are buying from the US, you can use either China Hobby Line or Banggood Infinity batteries, but if you’re buying from elsewhere, you may have an issue with shipping for the CHL batteries so go for Banggood instead.