How To Get Into Hobby RC: A Snapshot of the Multi-Rotor Market

Buying a multi-rotor can be a daunting experience. There are so many different models already on the market, with more emerging every day. Those choices represent a wide range of sizes, capabilities and quality, not to mention price points. In an effort to make the candidate pool a little less overwhelming, I have compiled an overview of currently-available multi-rotors. Consider it a snapshot of this ever evolving scene. Obsolescence will come quickly.

To make the list more manageable it has been abridged to include only those aircraft that meet the following criteria:

  • Hobby Grade – Parts can be replaced or upgraded as needed.

  • Ready-to-Fly (RTF) – The multi-rotor is ready to fly, or very nearly so when purchased. A transmitter is included. Smart phone controllers don’t count (sorry Parrot).

  • Available from US retailers – No offense to our foreign readers. This criteria is meant to weed out the clones, and knock-offs of dubious origin.

The multi-rotors shown here have been divided into two categories: small and medium. The primary difference being that medium multi-rotors are capable of carrying an action camera such as a GoPro. Of course there are multi-rotors that would fit into large, X-Large, Jumbo, etc. categories. These ships are intended for hauling high-quality video equipment. Due to their complexity and cost, they should really only be considered by experienced pilots. So they have been omitted from this list.

I have chosen to include only RTF models simply because that is what most people prefer. With small quads, RTF is really the only option. There is nothing wrong with using an unassembled kit for your medium multi-rotor. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that building your own aircraft will provide you with a much better understanding of its inner workings and abilities. You just have to be willing to dedicate the time and effort required to get it assembled, outfitted and tuned.

Please note that this is not a ranking. I have personal experience with only a handful of the listed models. So any type of hierarchy would be disingenuous. Comparing listed features is one thing. Actually flying and exercising those features is quite another.

Small Quads

If you are new to multi-rotors, this is where you should be looking. These quads are ideal for learning the basics of multi-rotor piloting, but without the financial and safety risks associated with larger aircraft. With a few models selling for under $50, there really is no excuse to skip this important step in the learning process.

None of the small quads feature GPS capability. This means that they have no way to hold their position autonomously when the wind tried to blow them away. I think that learning to fly without GPS is a critical skill that will serve you well when you transition to a larger machine. GPS is a fabulous and useful tool, but it’s an unreliable crutch for those who can’t be bothered to learn basic flying skills. Being able to fly the aircraft manually when the GPS link is lost (it happens all the time) can get you out of a jam.

Small quads are perfect vehicles for learning to fly multi-rotors. The inputs are the same as with larger aircraft, there’s just less risk involved. Plus, they’re fun to fly indoors.

Some of the small quads include cameras as built-in or optional equipment. These cameras can be fun to play with, but I have yet to use one that provides high-quality photos or video (regardless of the camera’s advertised specs). If aerial photography is your end-game, you will find much improved results once you step into the medium category.

The larger quads in the small category can be a bit much for flying in confined indoor spaces…especially when you’re just starting out. So if you’re stuck in a cramped apartment, you’re probably better off with one of the “smaller” small quads. If you have access to a large indoor space such as a basketball court, it is a great stress-free training area. Outdoor areas can be useful too. Just be aware that areas close to buildings, trees, walls, can hide turbulent air when the wind is blowing.

In my opinion, the most important features to look for in a small quad are adjustable control sensitivity (via gyro settings, multiple flight modes, and/or dual-rate controls), a reasonably-sized 2-stick transmitter, and a dependable supplier for replacement parts (preferably local). The best way to address the third qualifier is to visit a local hobby shop and choose from the lines they carry. Local prices are often the same as those found at internet stores.

Brand Model Size* Transmitter Size Adjustable Sensitivity Camera FPV Current Street Price
Align M424 240mm diag full FM $110
Ares Ethos PQ 63mm long small FM $50
Ethos QX 130 205mm long full D/R O $100
Ethos HD 292mm long full D/R I O $170
Ethos FPV 292mm long full D/R I I $270
Spectre X 100mm long medium D/R I O $90
Blade Pico QX 92mm long small D/R $50
Nano QX 140mm long medium FM, D/R $90
FPV Nano QX w/goggles 140mm long medium FM, D/R I I $420
180 QX HD 292mm long medium FM, D/R I $190
Dromida Kodo 90mm diag small FM I $60
Ominus 238mm long medium FM, D/R $80
Estes Proto-X 45mm long small $30
Proto-X SLT 45mm long medium FM, D/R $40
Proto-X FPV 115mm long full FM/GR I I $230
Heli-Max 1Si 123mm diag medium FM, GR, D/R I $140
1SQ 123mm diag medium GR, D/R $100
1SQ V-Cam 123mm diag medium GR, D/R I $130
230Si 230mm diag medium FM, GR, D/R $150
230Si w/camera 230mm diag medium FM, GR, D/R I $180
HobbyZone Faze 45mm long small $40
Hubsan H111 45mm long small $60
H107C 70mm long medium GR I $50
H107D FPV 140mm long full GR I I $175
LaTrax Alias 166mm long medium GR, D/R $150
Syma X1 not listed full FM $30
X3 220mm long medium FM $40
X4 140mm long medium FM $35
X5 310mm long medium FM $50
X5C 310mm long medium FM I $75
X6 560mm long full FM $75
X11 152mm long medium FM $30
X12 45mm long medium FM $25
Traxxas QR-1 120mm long medium GR, D/R $70
Walkera Ladybird 85mm long medium D/R $55
Ladybird FPV 85mm long medium D/R I I $255
Infra X 108mm long medium D/R $130
Scorpion (6 motors) 118mm long medium D/R $50

* Not all manufacturers use the sane measurement methods. Some provide the distance between rotor shafts, while others include the blade lengths. The values shown here are taken directly from the manufacturer’s specifications.

** FM = Selectable flight modes, GR = Adjustable gyro rates, D/R = Dual rate controls – All are effective means of adjusting a quad’s responsiveness

*** I – Included, O – Optional

All efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but verify features and specifications with your retailer before making a purchase.

Medium Quads

Once you’ve mastered your small quad, you should be ready to move into a medium multi-rotor. You may choose a tri-rotor or hex-rotor, but all of the units that I found within my criteria are quads. In some cases, the actual size change from a small to medium quad may not be much at all. Regardless of their footprint, medium multi-rotors represent a significant uptick in power, weight, and complexity.

Medium quads can haul around a good quality camera for aerial photography. There multi-rotors represent a significant increase in power over small quads. Threat them with respect.

All of the medium ships utilize brushless motors and lipo batteries with three or more cells. This extra power is what allows them to haul a payload like a GoPro, fight strong winds, and reach impressive speeds. The same level of power can also pose a significant danger if not handled with adequate diligence and competency. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, I’ll summarize by saying this: Always be smarter than your multi-rotor. In other words, just because you can get great aerial footage of your kid’s soccer game, doesn’t mean you should. In fact, you shouldn’t…it’s an awful idea.

When moving from a small to a medium quad, you will probably find that the larger vehicle is considerably easier to fly, especially in wind.

When moving from a small to a medium quad, you will probably find that the larger vehicle is considerably easier to fly, especially in wind. First of all, the medium ships are typically denser than the smaller quads, so they are less affected by the wind’s ambitions. Furthermore, the medium multi-rotors will often feature a larger and more precise suite of instruments and processors that stabilize it. When all systems are functioning properly, the electronic pixie dust inside a medium multi-rotor will handle most of the piloting workload. You just tell it where you want it to go.

While most people use medium multi-rotors for shooting photos or video, their power and agility also makes them fun sport models (with or without a camera attached). Many of the listed aircraft are capable of basic aerobatics such as flips and rolls.

As with small quads, I suggest that you first check availability at local hobby shops. If you plan to use your multi-rotor for aerial photography, you should definitely consider a model that includes a gimbal. Gimbals provide a huge improvement in the quality of your media by isolating the camera from the inescapable tilts and bobbles of the aircraft. Many gimbals also include the ability to reposition the camera during flight. A 2-axis gimbal provides stabilization in the pitch and roll axes.

A gimbal, such as the 2-axis gimbal shown on the Blade 350QX2 AP Combo is invaluable for capturing smooth video footage in rough flying conditions.

3-axis gimbals add the ability to pan the camera without yawing the multi-rotor. Just keep in mind that the landing gear can obstruct the field of view with 3-axis gimbals unless there is a provision to reposition the camera or gear in flight. Some multi-rotors that do not include gimbals can be outfitted with add-on units whenever you’re ready.

First Person View flying is a fun segment of multi-rotors. Just be sure to learn the basics of flying before you strap on FPV goggles.

You will find that a few of the medium quads come equipped with First Person View (FPV) systems. All of them can be outfitted with add-on FPV systems. Keep in mind that many FPV systems require an amateur radio technician license to operate legally. Legalities aside, FPV should be considered an advanced skill. It is my firm opinion that you should refrain from FPV until you have a solid grasp of the demands of flying a medium multi-rotor. Given the limited situational awareness, potential latency, and risk of video signal loss, FPV can be overwhelming for pilots with little experience.

Brand Model Size* Camera Gimbal Stock FPV Approx Street Price
3D Robotics Iris+ 550mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) optional 2-axis $750
Blade 350 QX2 465mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) $450
350 QX2 AP Combo 465mm long C-Go1 (1080p/30) 2-axis 5.8GHz Wi-Fi $700
350 QX3 465mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) $500
350 QX3 AP Combo 465mm long CGO 2 (1080p/60) 3-axis 5.8GHz Wi-Fi $1000
DJI Phantom 1 350mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) optional 2-axis $420
Phantom FC40 350mm long FC40 (720p/30) 2.4GHz Wi-Fi $430
Phantom 2 350mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) optional 3-axis $550
Phantom 2 Vision 350mm long Integrated (1080p/30/60i) 1-axis (tilt) 2.4GHz Wi-Fi $760
Phantom 2 Vision+ 350mm long Integrated (1080p/30, 720p/60) 3-axis 2.4GHz Wi-Fi $1100
Inspire 1 438mm long Integrated (4K/30) 3-axis 2.4GHz $2900
Hitec Q-Cop not listed Integrated (1080p/30, 720p/60) 1-axis (tilt) Wi-Fi $800
Walkera QR X350 Pro 289mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) $365
QR X350 Pro FPV 289mm long iLook (720p/30) 2-axis 5.8GHz Wi-Fi $900
Scout 335mm long iLook+ (1080p/30) 2-axis 5.8GHz Wi-Fi $1600

* Not all manufacturers use the same measurement method. Some provide the distance between rotor shafts, while other include the blade lengths. The values shown here are taken directly from the manufacturer’s specifications.

All efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but verify features and specifications with your retailer before making a purchase.

Conclusion

Even with filters applied to create this list, I realize that there are likely a few models that I’ve missed within each category. None of these omissions are an intended slight. The multi-rotor market is just too dynamic and broad to catch them all…which, of course, is the whole reason for this list in the first place. I hope that it will help you narrow your search when you are ready to buy a multi-rotor (or two) for yourself.

Terry spent 15 years as an engineer at the Johnson Space Center. He is now a freelance writer living in Lubbock, Texas. Follow Terry on Twitter: @weirdflight

SOURCE:http://www.tested.com/tech/473147-how-get-hobby-rc-snapshot-multi-rotor-market/

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