Micro FPV Drones – Best Brushed and Brushless Micro Quadcopters | 2017 Guide
Drones are ridiculously fun to fly and build, and most hobbyists(myself included) consider drones to be a bit more of an, er, obsession rather than a hobby. Some people don’t even build the larger drones and directly jump into micro drones! But don't take them easily; building micro fpv quadcopter is delicate process.
Over the past few years since drones have become really mainstream, the whole industry has seen a huge shift - there was a time when everyone was building huge 450mm+ copters, and gradually the trend has shifted to the crafts getting smaller and smaller.
Nearly nobody builds 450s anymore(nobody needs to, either, because quadcopters like the DJI Phantom are just so damn good), and everyone is building 210 quadcopters or less.
Even the stalwart ZMR 250 is now a relic!
What’s a micro drone?
The short answer: A micro drone is a drone that can support 3” propellers or less, ranging in 110 - 150 mm frame and weighs less than 250 grams.
40 - 100 mm
1" - 2"
110 - 150 mm
3" - 4"
150 - 280 mm
5" - 6"
The ZMR 250, back when it came out, was a class called “miniquad” - with the larger 450 size crafts being just “quadcopters”
Frame Size numbers, by the way, mean how much diagonal distance there is from one motor to the other. So a 450 quad has 450mm between motors, and a 250 quad has 250 mm, and so on.
Obviously, the smaller the craft, the more agile it is going to be.
So miniquads were large enough to support 5 inch propellers.
Then there was a short craze where people started developing designs around 4 inch propellers, but those did not really catch on - perhaps it’s because 4 inch copters were not quite as agile as smaller copters and not quite as fast as larger copters.
Once you get to 3 inch props, you’re in the micro zone. Any copters that support 3 inch or smaller propellers are micro drones, less then 2 inch steps into nano segment, although there's no clear clasification.
The micro revolution owes itself to the FAA ruling some time ago that all UAVs that weighed more than 250 grams had to be registered with the FAA, and a license number must be displayed clearly on the craft.
Obviously, not everyone was happy about this new regulation, so designers and manufacturers jumped to the challenge of making a quadcopter that was both fast and agile, as well as under the 250 gram limit.
Note that 250 grams meant including the battery.
So people began developing micro frames, and also technology that was ideal for these small builds - so you had tiny ESCs, tiny motors, and tiny flight controllers.
To find best micro quadcopter for your taste, you have to know what are you looking for. Here's a round down of few favorite models:
> 24 g
> 250 g
Eachine Lizard 95
> 66 g
> 39 g
> 80 g
In fact, frames are getting smaller and smaller, as are flight controllers and ESCs - and manufacturers are supplying the market with small enough batteries to be used, too.
Brushed vs. Brushless
Micro quadcopters come in two flavors: brushed and brushless. This refers to the type of motor that is being used.
A brushed micro motor is as the name sounds - there are two brushes inside the can of the motor which supply current and make the motor spin. In a brushed motor, only the shaft of the motor will spin.
A brushless micro motor has no brushes, as the name suggests - instead, current is supplied through copper coils, which get magnetized, and cause the bell of the motor(the outer covering, which has magnets on the inside) to spin. In a brushless motor, the entire bell and shaft both spin.
Brushless motors are larger and a little heavier, and require more power to spin - but they’re also faster. Brushed motors are really tiny, but can’t handle more than 4.2 volts(usually), and their performance degrades over time, so you’ll have to replace them after 7 hours of flying or so.
Micro Quadcopter Build difficulty
Micro quads are tight builds, and there is very little real estate to work with and quite a few components to fit in.
That said, if you have built a larger quadcopter, you already know what to do and what goes where, so it’ll just be a matter of cutting the wires short enough and soldering in tight spaces.
A lot of components now combine different things, such as PDB/flight controller combos which make life a lot easier.
Still, you need to have decent confidence with a soldering iron and a little bit of patience to put these things together.
Fortunately, though, once you’ve assembled it then the copter is nearly indestructible.
Top 5 Micro FPV Quadcopters in 2017
4. Eachine QX90
The Eachine QX90 is an excellent full-featured brushed quadcopter available on Amazon. It’s tiny, but holds its own both outdoors and indoors.
The 65Drones Swirlie is a fast, and tiny(Tiny Whoop size) quadcopter than can be purchased either as just the frame or a complete almost ready to fly kit. It’s really small and comes with a TPU bumper that will protect objects from the blades. Did I mention that it’s fast?
Brushless micro quadcopter parts
There are a ton of different frames available, but the coolest micro frames by far (in my opinion) are made by TomoQuads and Flex RC.
When shopping for a micro frame, you’ll have to see which size propeller it supports, and how big the flight controller mount is. There are either 30.5 x 30.5 mounts (standard flight controller size, found on larger copters as well) or 20 x 20 - which is the new micro standard and is found on new frames.
For 3 inch quads, I personally use the Shen Drones Shrieker, but I got the frame a long time ago and it’s still going strong for me, so I have not changed anything.
If you’re going to get a frame now, check out the Rotor X Atom V3 - it’s tiny and can still be equipped with super powerful motors.
Flex RC Piko X The Piko X frame by Flex RC is tiny, with a motor to motor distance of only 88 mm. This cute little thing fits in the palm of your hand, and the whole frame weighs just 10 grams. The reason I selected this frame as my frame of choice for 2 inch props is that it’s compatible with both brushed motors and brushless motors. Plus they have a detachable prop guard which you can take off for outdoor flying or leave on for indoor flying.
Brushed Micro Quad
For a brushed setup, I would just suggest the Tiny Whoop and nothing else! The frame weighs just 5 grams, and a built up setup is 19 grams without battery.
The Eachine E013 Micro is a cheaper alternative. It’s not going to be quite as punchy as a proper Tiny Whoop, but if you have the right batteries you should not have an issue having lots of fun with it.
I’ve tried a lot of brushed setups and the main issue with them is finding a decent battery that does not weigh too much but still delivers enough power. The Tiny Whoop is the only brushed copter I’ve successfully flown and enjoyed flying(and the Eachine E013 micro).
Motors & Prop size
The motor you choose to use for your micro build will largely depend on the frame you choose. Most if not all micro frames have suggested parts lists with them.
The basic theory of motors is that for larger/heavier(higher pitch) propellers, you need larger motors and lower kV.
For smaller propellers, you need smaller motors and higher kV. That’s why 2” and 1.5” props need motors that are at least 8000kV or higher - otherwise the props just will not provide enough lift.
For a 3 inch propeller setup, 1407 or 1306 motors are ideal. Both 1407 and 1306 motors will spin 3 inch propellers like a charm, and you can even use them with 4S batteries.
If you use 4S batteries, though, it’s safe to use ESCs that are at least 20A, because the motors get quite current-hungry on heavy propellers. If you’re using 3S, then even 10A ESCs will not be an issue.
For 1306 and 1407 setups, use any small ESCs like the RacerStar ESCs from Banggood or LittleBee ESCs by FVT. They have BLHeli_S firmware and support DSHOT, which is a digital protocol for flight controller and ESC communication.
Great 1306/1407 motors are:
There are other smaller motors you can use for 3 inch propellers like 1105 size motors, but in my experience they don’t really fly that well outdoors and they’re too powerful to fly indoors safely.
You may as well have a very powerful outdoor setup, and a tamer indoor setup which uses smaller propellers.
For 11xx setups, you will be using 2” or smaller propellers. Remember, the smaller the propeller, the more kV your motor will require. Most frames will have suggested motors - use those and those only. It’s much more critical to go with manufacturer recommendations on micro builds than it is on larger builds.
11xx motors range from 1105 down to 1102, and kV ranges from 5000 kV all the way to 10,000 kV. There are even smaller motors such as 0703 motors which are 15,000 kV(used for super tiny brushless builds that run just 1S batteries, such as the Kosho by TomoQuads).
ESCs will depend on the kind of build you’re doing. For super small builds 2” or less, you can get away with 6A ESCs. Other builds will call for 10A ESCs.
RacerStar makes some really nice 10A ESC and 6A micro ESCs - for these ultra small builds, definitely use the 4-in-1 ESCs rather than four separate ones. It makes the build a lot easier and cleaner.
Micro quadcopters used to be very simple - these were just brushless quadcopters that could fit 3 inch propellers. Not anymore, though.
There are a whole bunch of different options now available, starting with the might Tiny Whoop.
The Tiny Whoop is a brushed quadcopter that only weighs 25 grams with a battery. It has tiny propellers - about 40mm in size(1.5” roughly).
Next up, you have the sub-2 inch propellers. There doesn’t seem to be any systematic organization, as different frames call for different props.
Frame sizes will dictate propeller sizes:
Usually, 200-220mm frames are suited for 5” propellers
180mm frames are suited for 4” propellers
110-130mm frames are for 3” propellers
Finally, when you enter the domain of 3 inch propellers, there’s a bit more regularity. 3 inch propellers are made by many different companies and there’s a wide variety available.
These are also the largest ones(even though they’re quite small!).
Your flight controller will again depend on the kind of frame you are flying. You’ll have to check what kind of mounting holes your frame has, and make sure your flight controller can fit on those holes!
Other than that, really, any flight controller is fine. The newest flight controllers(F3 and F4 ones) are all Betaflight-ready and support the Betaflight OSD.
That’s one thing you really must look out for - I happen to love the Betaflight OSD and now can’t remember how I ever flew without it. It makes life a lot easier, since you can change so many settings on the fly and you have all the vital data that you need right on the screen(battery voltage, really) without the need for a separate OSD unit which takes up space and adds weight!
Your receiver will depend on the radio you are using, but here are the top three receivers for the top three radio companies:
- FrSky: FrSky XM or XM+ - these are tiny receivers that will fit in your micro build like a charm. They don’t support telemetry, but that’s why you have a flight controller with an OSD!
- Spektrum: LemonRX Satellite rx - this is a really tiny receiver that weights just 2 or 3 grams when you remove it from the casing, and it’s small enough to comfortably fit in a tight spot.
- FlySky: FS-A8S mini receiver - this receiver is barely bigger than a coin, and weighs 2 grams or so - perfect for a micro quadcopter!
Micro FPV Drone Gear - Getting good footage
Now that most of the build is complete, the last step is to add FPV gear. FPV gear is a little tough to add, because space is so tight.
There are two options:
- Use a regular FPV camera and a separate transmitter
- Use an FPV camera/transmitter combo (like a Tiny Whoop)
The biggest advantage of the separate transmitter is that you can use the Betaflight OSD - if your transmitter is built into your camera, then you can’t use the OSD.
If you’re using option 1, get a Runcam Swift Micro camera (easily the best micro camera there is) and an Eachine VTx03 transmitter - it’s tiny and powerful.
If you’re using option 2, then there are plenty of all in one cameras such as the Eachine TX01 which is cheap but still has great video quality.
To record your flight footage, the only option you have for super small builds is using a DVR - either built in through your goggles or a separate DVR unit and receiver.
However, if you are doing a 3 inch build that has a little bit of room, then you can fit a Runcam Split - which doubles as your FPV camera and records full HD footage. I’ve used the Runcam Split and it shoots awesome footage - if you have the space to fit it, definitely go for it.
Battery options for Micro Quad
The final piece of the puzzle is the battery.
This is the most critical part, too, because if you can’t supply enough power, or your battery weighs too much, there is no way your copter will fly well. Let’s start from the top.
On a 1407/1306 motor build with 3 inch propellers, you can get away with using a 1000 mAh 4S battery and it’ll handle it like a champ.
All other setups need 3 cells or less, so that’s where things get complicated.
It’s always best to get the suggested battery for whichever frame you are getting - the designers usually arrive at the ideal battery capacity and cell count after a lot of testing and trials.
However you may find that certain batteries are not available where you live, so when you decide to pull the trigger on a micro build, make sure the batteries are available first, then go for the build!
2 inch setups fly fine with 2 cell batteries - and you can upgrade to 3 cells for outdoor flying.
The max capacity of a 2/3 cell battery is 500 to 600 mah for a micro - anything more and your copter will feel sluggish.