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Best Drone Controllers (FPV Flight controllers and transmitters)

ULTIMATE Guide for 2021
best-drone-controllers-flight-controllers

If you’re looking for the best drone controller there might be a small misunderstanding of terms.

You could be referring to either a remote controller or a flight controller for your FPV drone.

To make sure everyone is satisfied I’ll answer both questions and give you good recommendations for each.

Let me first concentrate on the best remote controllers and leave my recommendations on some of the best Flight controllers for your FPV build at the end.

Difference between Remote Controller and Flight Controller?

Remote Controllers are very different from flight controllers, and we need to establish this difference first.

In this article, we’ll cover what both do, but we first need to separate what is the purpose of each one.

What is a Remote Controller?

It’s also known as a transmitter and it is used by every drone pilot to control the drone by using the two sticks on it to pilot the drone in the air. It connects to a receiver on your drone and can be used either for FPV drones as well as commercial drones like DJI Mavic.

What is an FPV Flight Controller?

An FPV flight controller is a small board that basically works as the brain of a racing quad, being added in what people call “a stack”, usually on top of an ESC. It is used as a basis to solder your camera wires, The VTX, and more on top of it.

If you’re not into building FPV drones this might sound like an alien tongue, but all in all, it’s one of the most important things to consider when building one.

Best Drone Remote controllers

best-drones-podium-arm

In this section we'll look a bit into remote controllers for beginners mainly to cover a few things people should know, so bare with me.

How do drone controllers work?

Drone remote controllers are a vital component of most drones as they help us issue commands and navigate the aircraft. Put simply, this is what drone pilots hold in their hands and use to command the aircraft in flight. 

The drone pilot enters a command to the drone controller which in turn interprets it and relays the command to the drone. The commands are sent in the form of radio signals that are relayed from the drone controller and sent to the drone’s receiver. Sometimes it might be difficult to actually pair the drone with the remote and there might be connection issues, if that happens I recommend checkin my article on how to fix a controller that won't connect.

Drone controllers with display screens

The top drones on the market have advanced controllers that feature an fpv display screen, saving the user the need for connecting their drone to a smartphone. 

The feel on the drone remote controllers is good. The user gets a gamified feel while holding onto the analog sticks and pressing the physical buttons as they assume full command of the aircraft. It could be the slow feedback or the feeling of flying your drone like a video game. In all cases, remote controllers are a fine accessory in most high-quality drones.

Built-in drone fpv screens

First, not many drone models come with built-in screens. If they do, they tend to be costly and slightly advanced. Drone pilots can use their smartphones or tablets for drones without in-built screens. 

Some of the terms linked with drone remote controllers 

Pitch - Tilt your drone backward and forwards

Roll  - Move from right to left in the oar 

Yaw - Rotate your drone clockwise and anticlockwise

Throttle - Controls power output sent through your drone

Features of drone remote controllers

If you push the controller's direction firmly towards a given direction, the drone will move there with the same vigor. That is why most beginner drones have propeller guards to prevent injury should the user make sudden strokes that can result in collision with objects or people. When learning how to fly your drones push the sticks gently till you sync your pressure exertions and motions with the corresponding movement from the drone. 

It is worth noting that not all controllers work in a similar fashion. Even if you have tons of experience flying drones, once you interact with a new controller take a cautious approach with the controls before launching off with zest. 

 

The Right stick

In most of not all drones the right stick controls the roll and pitch action of the drone. You can move the drone forwards,backwards, to the left or right. 

The left stick

Left stick controls the thaw and throttle action. It helps control the height of the drone while letting you rotate clockwise or anticlockwise while in flight. 

Trim buttons

You have just launched your drone for a flight and notice that it starts drifting mid-flight. This might require drone trimming which is adjusting the drone's roll, pitch, yaw and throttle to achieve an aerodynamic balance. A well-trimmed drone will hover over an area without input from the controller. 

Most drones tend to have trim options

  • Left
  • Right
  • Forward
  • Backward

Forward and backward is the pitch of the drone hence pitch trims

Left and right is roll hence roll trims 

Do all drones offer trimming?

Only cheaper toy drones offer trimming options. This is because they lack smart flying features and alot happens manually. 

Expensive UAVs run on gyros, GPS, and other smart flight features.

The DJI Smart controller

When you buy a DJI drone you do get a drone controller. However, DJI still sells a separate drone controller called the DJI smart controller

The Smart controllers work fine with all DJI Mavic 2 models from the Zoom, Pro, Enterprise, Mavic Air 2, and Phantom 4 Pro V2.0.

According to DJI’s website, the controller can be used with any drone with OcuSync 2.0”. 

DJI Smart controller has a 5.5 inch in-built screen displaying clear, bright images under the most challenging conditions. 

The DJI Smart Controller retails at $749 on DJI’s website.

What to do if my drone doesn't connect to the controller?

  • Ensure your drone controller batteries are fully charged
  • Switch of the controller batteries with fresh ones 
  • Carefully follow the setup instructions Manually link the drones remote to the drone

If you still have questions on areas you might have encountered trouble you can post the issue on credible drone forums and try to be as specific as possible. 

The most recommended are the UAV Coach community forum, Commercial sUAS Remote Pilots, and DJI’s official forum. 

 

Best Drone Flight Controllers (for FPV drones)

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The role of a flight controller is to manipulate the flight path of the drone. 

In our review, we shall pay keen attention to the open-source drone flight controllers.

What are the best Flight Controller softwares?

Several changes have been witnessed in the world of drone hobbyists including in the use of flight controllers. The number of flight controllers available to drone pilots has also exploded. A while back, a review of flight controllers would list them all out with ease, but it is now harder as they are just too many emergent brands competing for a piece of the action. 

In this article, it seemed useful to make our flight controller comparison based on the flight modes you desire to get out of the software rather than base our review on the hardware. Most of the flight controllers in the market run different versions of the flight controller software and it’s up to you as the drone pilot to choose the type of flight controller you want. 

The majority of the F3 and F4-based flight controllers coming out in today’s market are supported by beta flight and clean flight. 

Note: F4/F7 refers to the processor, the higher the processor, the more code and processing power it has. Also has more memory. Modern-day boards are the F4/F7. 

flight controller software comparison
Supports wide boards
ACRO
RATE
GPS
Redundancy
Betaflight
YES
YES
YES
NO
NO
Cleanflight
YES
YES
YES
NO
NO
INav
YES
YES
YES
YES
NO
ArduPilot
YES
NO
NO
YES
YES

Betaflight

Still remains the darling of most fpv pilots who prefer to have it on their multi-rotor technology. A good number of the ready-to-fly quads available in the market these days come with Betaflight. Most of the advances made using flight controller technology happen on Betaflight meaning it offers some of the latest and most exciting features in the market. A lot has been invested in maintaining the code and improving it. Betaflight actually came from Cleanflight. Today it is regarded as the basis on which everything else is starting to be built. 

Versions of the Betaflight such as the 3.3 version are very easy to set up. Betaflight is excellent at flying, acrobatics, racing, and several other innovations. 

INav

Can be described as a cousin for Betaflight and Cleanflight, but have invested a lot in the development of two parts of the code - GPS support and fixed-wing. GPS offers users capabilities such as Return to home and fail-safe. This feature is liked among fpv and fixed-wing pilots as they know that should there emerge a problem, the drone will fly back to them.

Clean flight

Regarded as the father of Betaflight, its project has slowed down as attention resources and development have shifted to the Betaflight version.

Ardupilot

Ardupilot is described as a futuristic version of INav. It supports Arducopter, Ardurover, Arduplane and Ardusub, where one can use it on anything. It has existed for a while as an open-source project initially supported by 3DR, and has seen a lot of investment go into it. Hundreds of crafts and flight hours have run through it to deliver a super smooth flight. Until recently, one had to run one of the Pixhawk to run the RD family of products.

Kissflight control

Ardupilot is described as a futuristic version of INav. It supports Arducopter, Ardurover, Arduplane and Ardusub, where one can use it on anything. It has existed for a while as an open-source project initially supported by 3DR, and has seen a lot of investment go into it. Hundreds of crafts and flight hours have run through it to deliver a super smooth flight. Until recently, one had to run one of the Pixhawk to run the RD family of products.

Pixhawk 2.1

Expensive flight controller with very smart features.

What flight controller hardware should I use?

Lots of changes and new flight controller versions are emerging in the market. In this article, I will focus on some of the things I look for when I am choosing a flight controller and hopefully it might help you make your own selection too.

What are the functions of a flight controller?

  • GPS flight - maintaining a smooth flight path 
  • Point-of-interest (pre-programmed)
  • Waypoint control
  • Follow Me 
  • Return to Home 
  • Sense and avoid 
  • Stabilize
  • Auto
  • Acro
  • Circle 
  • Loiter 
  • Manual

What to look for when choosing a flight controller?

Read through the comments and feedback to gauge how easy it is to set up.

Comb the purchase reviews for issues or clones. 

If you want the GPS feature and do not want to use the PixHawk, choose carefully.

Verdict

If I was the one choosing a flight controller, this is what I would be looking at. 

First, I’d recommend that you opt for an F4 flight controller as they run on more advanced tech. 

Of course, I would be biased towards Betaflight or some new exotic software depending on what your specifications are.

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paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.

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