This is a guest contribution by Shabbir who runs FPVFrenzy.
Flying multi-rotors (also commonly known as drones) is incredibly addicting! I bought my first RTF drone (a Blade 180QX) two years ago and I’ve been going deeper and deeper in the rabbit hole ever since.
My first two drones were RTFs, in fact. I lost my Blade 180QX due to a flyaway – and poor choice of flying location – so that was an expensive lesson learned.
I saved up a little again and bought a Hubsan X4 FPV. I was pretty happy with it and got a lot of flying with it until one day I crashed it hard and the camera stopped working. I took it apart in an attempt to fix it, and with my then-very-poor soldering skills, managed to fry the whole control board and ended up with a broken drone.
Replacement flight controllers and cameras together would have cost me nearly $80 back then, almost what I paid for the whole drone, so I ended up listing the transmitter on eBay to recoup some of my investment and that was the end of my Hubsan.
The Hubsan experience brings me to the topic of this post: the case for building your own drone.
Note: For a first drone, I strongly suggest you buy a ready-to-fly toy quadcopter to familiarize yourself with how drones fly and respond. I DO NOT recommend building right away(unless you have previous experience in hobby-grade RC).
There’s an adage in the multi-copter hobby that if you are not crashing, you’re not flying right! For racing drones, I wholeheartedly agree. If you are not crashing while trying new moves, you are not pushing yourself and your machine to the limits.
This obviously does not apply to aerial photography multi rotors, but even those are not immune to crashes, as a search for “DJI crash” or “DJI flyaway” on YouTube will show you.
The problem with RTF drones is that they are very difficult to repair. The new DJI Phantoms, for example, have an entire integrated circuit, so if something other than a motor or propeller breaks, you’ll have to replace the entire circuit board. Yikes!
On the other hand, if you’ve built your own multi-rotor, you can just replace the one part that has gone bad, saving you a huge chunk of cash in the long run.
You’ll also have a lot more appreciation for something you built with your own two hands, and the skills you’ll pick up on the way is priceless:
What’s more, when you build your own machines, you can have a single transmitter to fly a multitude of copters. The Taranis X9D, the gold standard for multi rotors nowadays can store over 60 models.
If you had 60 RTF models, you’d also have 60 separate remote controls. Yikes!
Assuming you already have a charger, transmitter, and batteries, here’s what you’ll need for a multi-rotor build:
You’ll also need some tools for assembling everything:
There are a ton of great resources online if you’d like to learn how to build your own drone. This video series is one of the best and it’s what I learned to build my first drone from:
As a final note in favor of getting a Ready-To-Fly machine (like a Phantom 4) is that you won’t be able to get the sort of connectivity a Phantom has with your phone through the radio. If your goal is purely the best aerial photography build possible (for casual and semi-professional use), the camera and autopilot features you get with a DJI Phantom for the price can’t be beaten by even a home-built machine.
But if you just want something that can lift a gimbal, or something to fly acrobatics with and race, then building your own is most definitely the way to go!
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