When it comes to drones, there’s DJI, then there’s everyone else. Much like GoPro have carved out a really nice market for themselves, DJI continue to invest in new products to delight their users. The DJI FPV is a drone that is a reflection of that continued R&D spend and they have managed to produce something quite special.
This is a high-end FPV drone that addresses many of the common drawbacks of high-performance racing drones, namely the image quality, and to some extent battery life, while managing to maintain the critical attribute of low latency transmission between the drone and the googles.
DJI’s FPV is capable of amazing speeds flying from 0 to 100km/hr in just 2 seconds. Those kinds of speeds require you to spin the 4 props at a high rate, so this drone is easily the loudest I’ve flown, so any subtlety is thrown out the window, in favour of achieving maximum performance.
While racing may not be everyone’s focus for drone ownership, the 4K visuals that come from this drone are still incredibly impressive and many videographers will still be drawn to it. Flying the FPV is honestly the closest experience to flying you can have while standing on the ground, it really is an amazing drone. If you can master the controls, you can progress from Normal Mode, via Sport Mode and on to Manual Mode where you can perform full flips and barrel roles which just makes flying incredibly fun.
After spending a few weeks with the FPV, it’s time to break it down in a full review and let you know if this should be your first drone, or for those existing owners, if its time to upgrade.
Disclaimer: It is important to highlight here that current CASA regulations are incredibly restrictive when it comes to FPV and you should read up on the Australian regulations here. CASA argues that the use of FPV devices may lead to disorientation that could cause you to crash the drone into trees, people, birds etc. This is a generic statement, written before the DJI FPV entered the market and implemented a low-latency digital video feed with HD visuals, but something you should be aware of before purchasing.
A very unique design with a purpose
The design of this drone comes in 3 fundamental parts – the drone, the goggles and the controllers.
The drone’s body is unusual, particularly to those of us who’ve flown phantoms and mavics in the past. The shape of the drone is very different, with a large brain-like shape to the top of it which houses the electronics necessary to achieve the amazing performance. At the front you’ll find a single-lens camera on a vertical axis, something we’ll talk more about in a minute.
The arms of the drone are fixed, so there’s no effort to make this ultra-portable, just an absolute priority on speed. To achieve that performance, you need strength, so fixed arms it what we get with the FPV. While you can remove the props for transportation, generally I found myself leaving them on, just placing the drone in the passenger footwell of the car.
Given the size of the drone, it is a little harder to throw in a backpack, but if you did remove the props and place the camera cover on, it would be possible. For those that want to ride or hike to destinations, this is still possible, but don’t expect the lightweight found in the Mini 2, this tips the scales at around 795g just from the drone, before the controller and goggles.
The back half of the drone is almost all battery and when you remove it, there’s a giant gaping hole left, like someone removed half your drone. DJI have gone with a new battery design, so no, you can’t re-use any existing DJI batteries. Once you’ve installed it into the body, you’ll hear a reassuring click, followed by the quick step of connecting the battery to the drone terminals.
The FPV has a number of RGB lights on the arms of the drone to provide feedback on which direction the drone is facing and have also made these customisable to suit your personal preference or if you’re flying around other DJI FPV users, to tell the drones apart.
I never used the first version of DJI’s goggles, but I can confirm Gen 2 are phenomenal. These reminded me a lot of wearing the Oculus Rift headset, but when I turned it on for the first time, I was amazed at how great the image quality was, with the video feed being beamed wirelessly from the drone’s camera.
Once the drone is in flight, this really is the closest you can get to the feeling of flying, while being on the ground. The HD video feed is sent to the goggles with really low latency, as low as 28ms.
As a pilot, when you’re flying a drone at speed, you’re constantly on the look out for obstacles that could be a problem for you. As the drone is moving so fast, it takes time for humans to spot an obstacle then feed the input to the drone, if there’s a delay in the visuals being sent from the drone to the headset, the whole chain is delayed and that could spell disaster. There really is no escaping physics and when you spot a problem ahead, like a tree branch or a fence, you’ll adjust the direction or altitude of the drone using inputs to the controller in an effort to avoid the obstacle. The drone will take a small amount of time to respond, much like a hovercraft on water. With a really low-latency signal back to your goggles, you really minimise the chances of crashes occurring.
Until now, most FPV drones run on an analog signal to the goggles, which gets you that really low-latency, but offers really poor quality. The risk with that is that you may not have the visual fidelity to spot an obstacle with enough time, so what DJI have on offer here, really is a dramatic improvement. What was great to experience is how rapidly the drone stops if you press the panic button, also known as the emergency brake. This is a really great feature and I’m sure will save many pilots from damaging their investment.
The Goggles themselves are comfortable enough, particularly given the drone’s fairly short flight time of around 20 minutes. This is not like a VR headset that you may try to wear for hours on end. DJI designers did some clever things with the goggles to reduce weight, tipping the scales at just 420g. The battery required to power the goggles is placed in your pocket and attached to the goggles via a USB-C cable. This works as a solution but isn’t necessarily the most elegant solution as cable management does become an issue.
DJI provided two different controllers with the FPV. The first is a fairly regular standard controller that fits well in the hand, has removable sticks (that cleverly store in the controller body). This offers the ability to control the camera gimbal, stop/stop recording and more.
At the top of the controller, you’ll find a very unique wireless transmission antenna, responsible for those ultra-fast, low-latency inputs to the drone. It’s big and runs almost the entire length of the controller, but without the need for a phone mount (because of the headset), it’s the perfect location for it.
The second controlling option is a motion controller (sold separately). This enables you to control the drone with one hand thanks to a Wii-style controller. This features essentially the same functions, just positioned very differently. This simplified controller is definitely aimed at more casual users, with more accurate flight possible with the more traditional controller, thanks to the fine movements available via the two thumbsticks. but instead by rotating your wrist and in turn the controller.
How does it perform ?
When it comes to measuring the performance of the DJI FPV, there’s a couple of metrics that are important. One is the performance of the drone itself, which really comes down to which flight mode you’re in, but also important is the image quality you get from the drone.
The FPV offers 3 different flight modes which enables a wide cross-section of users to enjoy it, from beginners to advanced.
Flying in normal mode is for beginners and in this mode, the downward and forward facing sensors are active, enabling the drone to self-protect, avoiding obstacles like trees and fences etc. When flying in normal mode, you can have plenty of fun, but the speed is reduced and if even advanced pilots may like to use Normal when capturing video as the props are far less prevalent in the frame.
After you’ve got the hang of operating the drone and feel like you can handle faster speeds, you can try Sport mode. This turns off some of the collision detection, making you more responsible for not crashing. What it offers though, is a taste of the real capabilities of this drone. The speed at which you can make turns in Sport is fantastic, feeling snappy and nimble.
Personally I’d like some more resistance on the thumbsticks when in this mode, to allow for more precision, but there is no substitute for putting in the hours to get good at flying in Sport.
Let’s assume you want even more of a challenge, then that’s where Manual mode comes in. This is something you have to enable in the menus, which ensures you don’t enter it by mistake. In this mode you are far more likely to crash, but a really advanced pilot can then unlock the maximum potential of up to 140km/hr.
To enter manual mode, you need to enable it in the goggles first, before using the mode selector to change to M. To do this, you need to select the Remote menu and select Manual. You can then chose if you want to enable or disable attitude control. Only once you’re done this, can you unlock the real potential of the drone, but remember, with great power, comes great responsibility.
In this mode, you can perform some amazing manoeuvres, including full flips and barrel rolls. These are lots of fun, just make sure you have lots of clearance when you attempt these and you’ll want to keep a good eye on the horizon as you are completely responsible for countering the drone’s movements.
If you buy the DJI FPV because you’re looking at becoming a professional drone racer, this is the mode you’ll need to master. Once you get to this level, you may consider opening the rear of the controller and adjusting a couple of screws to configure the thumbsticks.
Typically the thumbsticks on the controller snap back to center when you release pressure on them, but in manual mode, you may be chasing the ability to set an input and have it remain until you tell it otherwise. This is a very different way of flying, but opens the door to having forward momentum set at a constant, while you focus on altitude and banking. This is a really nice inclusion and I’m glad DJI spent the time to include it.
The camera mounted on the front of the FPV drone features a 150° super-wide camera that can capture 4K visuals. If you’re familiar with the 3-axis gimbal on other DJI drones, there’s an important difference here with the FPV. This drone features a single vertical axis for the camera and uses digital magic to stabilise the horizon where possible.
This works amazingly well, however, you’ll notice something when you watch the footage back, you’ll see the footage angle sideways (think 45 degrees) as the drone moves sideways. I actually really love this look, as it helps provide an appreciation for the speed of a banked turn, but not all videographers will love this. Being close to objects also helps show off the speed to the audience, in a way that flying at heights just can’t. This obviously comes with danger, but if you can achieve it, the visuals are stunning.
The DJI FPV can record video in 4K/60fps video which offers really amazing visuals of the world you fly it in. I found the video often featured the edges of the rotors in the shot, particularly at speed, but given the quality on offer, it’s possible to crop that out and still have the visuals look fantastic.
When I fly, I don’t try and push the distance limits, but it will be important to some pilots. DJI use their OcuSync 3.0 Transmission System which offers really clear real-time video transmission, even at distances of up to 10 km.
This system has some band-switching magic which automatically transfers between 2.4 and 5.8GHz frequencies to send back video an incredible bitrate of up to 50 Mbps, High-gain antennas on the aircraft include three transmitters and four receivers to enhance signal, resulting in a stable, reliable video feed.
Auto-landing for nearby aircraft
The DJI FPV gives users an additional layer of safety with built-in Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). This system receives flight location information of manned aircraft in your area and will send warnings on the Goggles V2, providing enough time to avoid any manned aircraft nearby.
The last drone I reviewed was the DJI Mini 2, and I think I was spoiled by that experience with close to 30 minutes of flight time. The DJI FPV offers around 20 mintues of flight time, but you will get warnings well ahead of that, so most flights were between 15 and 20 minutes. Additional energy is used when flying at high speed, in windy conditions and if you’re recording video the whole flight.
I feel 15 to 20 minutes is adequate time to capture some amazing visuals and have lots of fun if you’re just playing around. If you end up racing it, 20 minutes will definitely suffice, as drone races typically last just a few minutes. This short duration was born out of the fact that most smaller FPV drones have traditionally been lightweight and have small batteries. Looked at in that light, the FPV will appear amazing with more than double the average battery life of an FPV drone.
While the best plan would be to have multiple batteries charged up ahead of a video shoot, or competition, the cost is fairly prohibitive, with additional batteries for the FPV coming in at a serious cost of hundreds of dollars.
Stand out features of this drone.
As you begin learning to fly a drone, and specifically this drone, you’ll want to be conscious of your abilities and limitations. It’s likely you’ll need to develop your pilot skills over a number of weeks and even months. If you want to accelerate that skill growth, DJI has a feature that can help.
DJI Virtual Flight is a dedicated simulator app (currently only available for iOS) that allows you to fly the drone virtually to increase your flying skills before trying out the real thing. It’s important to remember digital crashes are free, real ones are not. There’s a number of different environments you can fly through to refine your skills, but one point to remember is you have to have the drone powered up to be able to use it. Let’s hope it comes to Android soon.
Return to home
A great staple of DJI drones is their ability to return home if the drone runs out of battery, or suffers a loss of connectivity. When the drone takes off, it registers the geolocation as the home point, where it returns to in the event of an emergency. The FPV thankfully includes this.
Emergency brake and hover
When you’re flying at the speeds possible with this drone, you may find yourself needing to pull up quickly. Thankfully if you get out of control, DJI has a dedicated button to stop the drone which could potentially save the drone from an accident.
You can press this button, in any mode, at any speed, and the aircraft will stop and hover within a few seconds.
The gimbal camera, landing gear, and top shell of the DJI FPV aircraft are all modular and easily replaceable, making repairs more convenient. DJI Care Refresh is also available, offering coverage for a wide range of damage and giving you greater peace of mind as you fly. It is important to know that not everything is replaceable, but DJI does offer a repair service for a price.
DJI FPV supports Audience Mode. If you’ve got the dollars, then you can get another set of the DJI FPV Goggles V2 and sync it with your drone channel and you’re ready to share the first-person view.
Not everything’s perfect
I’ve already mentioned minor gripes like the propellers showing in the frame, or the fact I wish Battery life was a little longer. My main complaint centers around the lack of technology to support flying at higher speeds. Switching from Normal to Sport mode shouldn’t disable the assistive sensors that help keep it safe. This feels like a limitation of the technology and something that should be possible to achieve even at 100km+.
For a human to spot a thin fence line at tens of meters ahead is really difficult, but if the drone had a well-trained computer vision system, it may be possible for this to be fast, nimble and almost uncrashable. Instead, DJI took the easier route, which is to sell you replacement parts when you do crash.
If you do happen to enter manual mode, then fine, you want ultimate control and you’re on you’re own in terms of navigating. I would also like Normal mode to be simpler to enter. I agree it should be as easy as using the mode selector, but perhaps a switch to Manual, then an on-screen prompt to accept on the goggles.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
How much and when can you get one ?
The DJI FPV 4K Drone Combo is available now and costs A$2,099 from DJI directly, or from retailers like JB Hi-Fi. For that price, this drone is certainly at the pointy end of the drone market, but when I think of comparisons, I really struggle to come up with one. This drone just does things others don’t and as such I think the price is justified.
There are a number of accessories available for the DJI FPV, including
- The DJI Motion controller – A$229
- DJI FPV Fly More Kit (2x batteries and charging hub) – A$429
- DJI FPV Intelligent Flight Battery – A$229
What’s really great is the amount of spare parts you can buy from DJI. If you do happen to crash it, you can buy almost every part of the drone to replace any damage.
The DJI FPV drone is an incredibly unique product in the drone market. It offers the best visual fidelity of virtually any FPV drone available, while delivering the critical low-lag transmission back to the pilot.
While the subsection of drone pilots that are into FPV has been quite small, it is growing, given the rise in drone racing. DJI’s offering here will definitely tempt some pilots to spend the money to upgrade from a home brew kit worth hundreds of dollars, to stretch for a performant, incredibly capable commercial device.
While DJI do sell replacement parts for the FPV, the cost of components can be worth more than the cost of an entire cheaper drone, so crashing it will be something you’ll want to avoid, whereas FPV today is almost of thought of as disposable.
Given the amazing visual quality transmitted to the FPV goggles, combined with the speed possible, I think that will be enough to get people stretching their budgets.
techAU has a global audience, so the recommendation to buy the DJI FPV is an easy one for customers outside Australia. With the CASA regulations being so prohibitive around the use of FPV, it really makes it hard to recommend as the use of it, could see you receive a fine. If you happened to have a large, indoor arena, then you may be fine, but most people will want to fly outdoors and capture the amazing country we live in, so that makes owning and operating a DJI FPV very tricky.