Cinematic first-person view, or FPV drones, have been a growing trend in the drone industry for several years. Now, DJI, the world’s largest consumer drone manufacturer, is jumping into that wave with the first FPV drones.
The new FPV (yes, just called FPV) drone comes bundled with DJI’s goggles and costs $1,299. If you consider this as a starter FPV drone, its price is steep, but it’s pretty close to the rest of the drones on the market, sold with controllers, goggles or cameras.
DJI believes this drone will be suitable for newcomers who, like FPV experts and me, have been piloting “standard” drones, but are now ready to step into the FPV world. I’ve devoted a lot of time over the past two weeks to see if I can live up to one of these ambitions.
FPV design and hardware
If this review is your first introduction to FPV drones, here’s what makes them different from ordinary drones: First of all, FPV drones require special goggles for full flight immersion. (This is what gives you a “first person” view.) The camera is usually fixed in one position, and unlike standard camera drones, it doesn’t aim to be leveled and leveled. And most importantly, every FPV pilot would say that FPV drones are a lot more fun to fly. And they will be right. Drones are more responsive in the air and move at the speed of raising their hair. They can also be a lot more difficult to fly.
For DJI’s first entry into the FPV world, the company is betting on simplicity. You don’t need to know how to build your own drone, calibrate your motors, set up your transmitter correctly, and more. It’s really “plug and play”. The drone automatically connects with the controller and goggles and is ready to fly.
Drones are slightly heavier than most FPV drones due to their heavy battery. This battery is also a big selling point for DJI as it enables a 20 minute flight time. It is considered short if you are familiar with Mavics, Phantoms or Parrots. However, compared to FPV drones, this is a significant upgrade in typical flight times, which varies from 3 minutes for small drones to around 10 minutes for larger FPVs. It is also DJI’s “intelligent battery”. This means that when not in use, it discharges after a few days to maximize life and prevent swelling.
The FPV shares the same 1/2.3-inch sensor as the $450 Mini 2, which is mostly a good thing. However, it doesn’t match the features of DJI’s advanced photo and video-centric drones. The FPV’s camera works well in daylight, but it begins to show its drawbacks in dark environments by blurring out the noisy details. FPV can shoot 4K at 60 fps instead of the Mini 2’s 24 fps. Perfect for slowing down video for thrilling close-up calls. If you want to make it slower, you can also shoot up to 120 fps at 1080p.
The camera is mounted on a 1-axis gimbal and offers an ultra-wide view of 150 degrees compared to 83 degrees seen on the Mini 2. It’s so wide you can see the tip of the propeller in the video. It’s great for measuring how close you are to certain obstacles in flight, but not for the overall aesthetics of the final clip. You can easily remove it from the post, or even remove heavily distorted edges by applying Lens Correction from the goggles’ menu. Some of me especially wish I had a better camera for this price, but I get it. It’s safe to assume that it’s DJI’s first FPV drone and, if successful, you’ll see a wider lineup in the future.
However, the biggest difference between DJI’s FPV and most other FPVs is the image transfer. DJI’s FPV drones rely on digital transmission, which was introduced in the summer of 2019. Most starter FPV drones use analog transmission.
The downside of analog transmission is that it does not allow long-distance flights. However, the advantage is that the analog transmission has a very low latency, which takes precedence over range. Luckily, DJI is using OcuSync technology here and it’s been great based on our experience over the past few weeks. At a few points I noticed some kind of interference in the image where I had to stop and wait a few bits before continuing the flight, but most of them sailed smoothly.
The goggles themselves were first introduced in 2020 for use with custom FPV drones with the DJI Air Unit, a camera for digital transmission. At the top is a 5-way joystick, back button, and record button. The display has a resolution of 810p and the preview image of the goggles looks very sharp and detailed. This is important when you need to avoid branches in the flight path. The design makes me feel like Christopher Nolan Batman. I can’t stand the feeling the idiot is wearing, but I trust him because my colleague Dieter looks terrible.
Finally, there is a new controller that is half the size of other standard FPV controllers. DJI developed an optional $199 motion controller, and I didn’t have time to test it for this review. Standard controllers are more comfortable at this point, but motion controllers can be a great option for beginners. There is one very annoying thing about both controllers, it doesn’t charge with USB-C to USB-C cable and not with USB-A to USB-C. It’s infuriating.
As mentioned, this full kit costs $1,299. Compared to other options, you can spend a lot less money until your FPV flight becomes more comfortable. Emax makes some of the best Tinyhawk beginner FPVs, and kits start at $99. But if you’re already comfortable flying, I think this price is comparable to the price over there.
FPV drone flight
There are three modes in which you can fly this drone: normal, sports and manual.
Normal is similar to how you control other drones. It has an automatic leveling function and maintains its own altitude. The speed is limited to 31 mph and is suitable for beginners. The sport mode is a simplified FPV mode and is much faster than the normal mode at speeds of up to 60 mph. The drone still maintains an automatic level and maintains altitude in sport mode.
Then there is a manual mode that allows you to perform fun FPV tasks like flip and roll. It can reach speeds of up to 97 mph and accelerates from 0-60 mph in 2 seconds. In this mode, you have to control the throttle and keep the drone’s position at all times. In the FPV world, this mod is called “Acro” and it actually takes hundreds of hours to get used to it.
I want to emphasize again. This was the first time I had piloted an FPV drone. I’ve always been interested in it, especially when I see what FPV racers turning into the cinematic FPV world can do with these drones. DJI isn’t aiming this drone at racers, it’s for those who are familiar with FPV or want to step into the FPV world, but it’s discouraging in terms of DIY. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with other modes. I made my baby gait by getting used to the manual mode for two weeks, but I know how much more time I need to spend practicing first.
Instead of showing my amateur skills, I decided to hand this drone to a real professional FPV pilot, Reza Kurniawan, so watch the video review above to see what the pros can do with DJI FPV.
The FPV has an obstacle avoidance sensor on the front, but only works in normal mode. As the drone detects nearby obstacles, it gradually slows down, so you have time to react. The sensor is much less sensitive than what you are used to when using the Mavic series. And they will not participate in the other two modes.
There is an emergency button on the controller in case you lose control or need to stop completely, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to press it. I didn’t know what’s on the other side and cut one of the branches that sent my drone to spiral free fall, running around the tree. I expected the motor to turn off by itself after a crash, like the auto shutoff feature of a standard drone, but instead the FPV “shocked” the ground by itself. DJI says it shouldn’t. Hopefully it’s just an early software bug, but it’s a pretty serious bug nonetheless.
If you break this drone like me, you can replace items like the top housing shell, propeller, gimbal/camera module and arm yourself. Most of the stuff except the gimbal and arm had to be replaced by myself. All replaceable parts can be ordered directly from DJI. The FPV kit comes with an additional top housing and an additional propeller and must be stored. But if you need more spares, the propellers cost $15 each and the top price is $15. Each arm is $19 and the camera module is $129.
Overall, the drone is very responsive. For those who love the Mini 2 because of its size and feel in the air, especially in sport mode, the transition to FPV wasn’t really that difficult. I didn’t reach the level I wanted to be, but my initial anxiety went away rather quickly. Actually too fast. When I switched to full manual mode, that anxiety came back.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that I’m totally indulged. Whenever I wander around the city or go anywhere right now, all I can think of is where I can fly this drone and a little nook to go through it and so on. However, I’m more into the idea of flying a FPV, not specifically this model.
The FPV is too expensive to be a novice first-person drone. However, DJI contains some of the best technology, so it works very well. It’s a very simple system to use, and for beginners it’s a lot more accessible than the other options. DJI is also introducing a flight simulator built into the app (accessible via goggles), but wasn’t available during testing. If you are a beginner, we strongly recommend that you spend more time practicing the simulator. There are plenty of them available for Mac, Windows and Steam.
And when it comes to drones, there are standard issues: the laws of the country in question; The area in which you live and how much to use in it; You need a few more batteries ($149 for each), and the total price goes up. This is also not really a portable system. It’s big, bulky, and oddly enough, it doesn’t come with a carrying case, so you’ll want to buy something like a pelican case.
If you are familiar with FPV drones, I think you can’t go wrong with the DJI FPV. Whether you prefer it depends greatly on your preferences. Do you like to mount your GoPro instead of the built-in DJI camera, or do you want to enjoy the DIY side of everything and customize the quad to your liking? For me, flying this was absolute, yes, sometimes it was kind of stress. But for many of you, including me, it’s worth spending a little more time on the FPV simulator before spending too much time on the whole kit. When ready, DJI FPV will be at the top of my list.
Photos and videos for Vjeran Pavic / The Verge