Selecting a camera for your quadcopter
can seem to be hard,as there are so many choices. Fortunately once you work out what you’d like to use your camera for it will be easy to choose.
The three most common reasons to add a camera to a quadcopter drone are:
- To use the camera for FPVflying.
- To create a cool video of your flight, or use the camera for good quality aerial photography.
- Or to create really high quality aerial photos and videos.
While these categories may not seem that much different at first, each category has different needs, so they are best served by different cameras.
There are a few counterfeit cameras on the market today – to save yourself from the trouble just choose Paypal at checkout as Paypal has great buyer protection, or buy from a reputable online store, for example Amazon.
Cameras for FPV flying
If you plan to use the camera for FPV flying, you will need a camera that is small and light and has low latency. FPV cameras are designed with specially these in mind.
When you are looking for an FPV camera, the most important attributes to check are:
Is the camera PAL or NTSC?
PAL has a bit better resolution,while NTSC has a bit better frame rate. In the end what really counts is the compatibility with your existing gear.
CCD vs CMOS?
The difference between CCD and CMOS sensors is decreasing year-after-year,still they are not the same. CCD has better low-light performance, and usually worse strong-light performance (for example turning towards the Sun will result in a whiteout). If you plan to fly a lot in strong light CMOS will be better for you.
CCD cameras have no jello, so their output will simply look better. Excessive jello can be a sign of vibration, and it’s a good idea anyway to balance your props, as it will slow down the aging of your bearings too.
The TVL number
simply shows the camera’s horizontal resolution, you can get cameras with up to 1000 TVL today. There is not much point of getting a higher TVL camera, as PAL or NTSC restricts you to less than 600 lines of horizontal resolution anyway. Instead of relying on the TVL number to gauge the image quality head over to Youtube and check a few videos of the camera you are interested in.
IR blocking coating
is usually applied to all cameras which make them usable for daytime flying. For night flying get a camera without the IR coating, they are great 🙂
FPV transmitters use analog signals.
While the perfectionist in you may want to use digital signals, analog is better as it’s more fault tolerant. If your digital signal gets distorted for example due to flying behind a large tree trunk you will only see the blank screen.
With an analog signal you will only see some distortion on the screen and it will quickly get back to normal.
The camera’s field-of-view angle
is important when FPVracing. For FPV race you’ll want to get a camera with high FOV so you can see more of your environment.Otherwise just choose a camera with a FOV that you are comfortable with.
Of course it’s not only the camera that makes the picture perfect, the transmitter, receiver and the FPV goggle are important too.
Suggested FPV camera: The Eachine 1000TVL MINI FPV Camera
. This Eachine unit has a CCD sensor, so you will get no jello. The camera has IR coating so it’s ideal for daylight flying. It also has a locking focus ring, so once set up it will not slip and lose focus. The latency is ~40ms, the weight is 10.4 grams; you will need to get a transmitter, antenna and connect a 5 volt power source to get it up and running.
Suggested FPV camera: The Eachine 700TVL FPV Camera with transmitter
. This camera has a lower TVL rating and a CMOS sensor, so it’s expected to have a bit lower latency than the1000TVL Eachine camera. Strong light performance will be better too, however you can expect a bit of jello with this one. The weight of the camera with the transmitter is 15.2 grams.
Suggested FPV camera: The Crazepony FPV Micro AIO Camera
. This camera was especially designed for tiny quadcopters like the Blade Inductrix, has an integrated transmitter and weighs only 3.6grams. Choose this one if you want the lowest weight solution – the heavier cameras will have a bit better image quality.
Cameras for flight recording and aerial videos
While FPV flying needs a simple solution to keep it reliable, action cams do not need to be that simple, choosing one is easy too.
A good action cam for flight recording should be light weight, should have a decent battery life, and should be able to take the beating survive the crashes.
Just as with FPV cameras the image quality and the field of view are important when choosing a camera for aerial photography.
When researching the camera probably the most useful thing you can do is to head over to Youtube, and check if you like the footage made with that camera.
Action cams are great both for aerial photography and for recording your high-speed flights.
Suggested: the Gopro Hero4 Silver
The Hero4 Silver weighs 83 grams without the case, and can take videos for1 hour and 50 minutes with one charge. As Gopro uses CMOS sensors, you’ll want to get a vibration dampening mount (like this one), or even better, a complete gimbal to improve the image quality. The Hero4 supports most of the popular video formats including 2704 x 1520 videos at 30 fps, or 1920 x 1080 pixel videos at 60 fps.
Suggested: the Mobius Action Camera
. The Mobius is a light-weight action cam that supports 1920 x 1080 pixel 30 fps videos. The Mobius has an 1 hour 20 minute battery life and weighs only 39 grams which makes it an ideal, lower cost choice for quadrotors.
Suggested: the Mate 808 Keychain Camera
. Keychain cameras are small and light-weight “spy” cameras, which make them ideal for quadcopters too. This cameras can record 1920 x 1080 videos for up to an hour.
Choose this camera if you need to save weight on your quad, the larger one shave better image quality.
High-end cameras for movie-quality aerial shots
Quadcopter drones are especially suitable for high-quality aerial shots and films, as they cost way less than using a helicopter to get up in the air.
With gimbal stabilization you can get as good quality as you’d expect from a blockbuster movie.
These cameras weigh a lot, so you will need a heavy lifting quadcopter for this job. It’s a good idea to get a high-end quadcopter, as there’s no point in getting a low-end $400 quad to save money, then lose $1000 by crashing it with the expensive camera on.For example, the DJI S1000is an octocopter that’s up to the job. (You can check the price on Amazon.)
To quickly find a high end camera for your quad it’s the easiest to headover to Amazon and do a few searches for “dji zenmuse camera-manufacturer”. Replace camera-manufacturer with the name of the camera manufacturers you are interested in, for example “DJI Zenmuse Canon”. This way you’ll easily find cameras which are supported by DJI’s Zenmuse gimbal.
Suggested: the Panasonic GH4
, a professional camera from Panasonic. TheGH4 can shoot 4K 4096 x 2160 pixel cinema quality video using it’s 17megapixel MOS sensor. The GH4 has a more than two hours of battery life and weighs around 820 grams depending on the lens used. DJI’s Zenmuse Z15 line of gimbals support the GH4.
The videos shot with the GH4 are simply stunning, just take a look at this one:
Suggested: the Sony a7S
, one of Sony’s professional offerings. The a7S can record 1080p (1920 x 1080) videos at up to 50 fps, has about an hour of battery life, and weighs a bit less than 500 grams – the low weight in itself is a huge plus. You can check the detailed specs here and the price here.The DJI Zenmuse gimbal supports the Sony a7S, you can get it on Amazon for example.
This video was shot using the Sony a7S and a quadcopter drone:
You can read even more on FPV gear selection in our What quadcopter for FPV?article.