So, you want a flying camera to take videos of you and your awesome friends doing amazing things. You've thought about getting one of those pre-built drones by DJI or 3D Robotics, but those are expensive little drones that only carry weak little cameras.
Building a giant rig to carry your full frame DSLR isn't ideal either, because it will need to be huge and therefore less portable.
So what should we do? Build something to carry our NEX-5T micro 4/3rds camera! This camera weighs 397g with the standard lens and the video can be viewed and the camera controlled over Wi-Fi, ideal for when we're in the air.
We could just strap the camera straight to a quad-copter that is big enough to carry a 397g payload, but the video would be pretty shaky. For silky smooth footage, we'll carry the camera with the best brushless motor gimbal available for this size camera, an Rctimer ASP Brushless Gimbal.
Since we'll want to be able to let go of our RC remote control and do a bit of filming once in the air, we'll use the best autonomous flight controller on the market, the PixHawk. This is the same flight controller used by 3D Robotics' Solo quad-copter, but the Solo could never carry a micro 4/3rds size camera.
This guide will show you how to fly around your Sony NEX camera. First we'll talk about the components and why we've chosen the ones in this guide. Then we'll go over how to assemble the quadcopter and gimbal. Finally, we'll flash and configure all the components.
This guide should always be considered a work in progress. I'll do my best to keep it up to date, but if you notice something out of date or missing, just leave a comment and I'll follow up!
Let's get started.
The Q600 from Rctimer is an all-carbon fiber 600mm size quad-copter. It comes with a set of awesome 13x6.5 carbon fiber props, landing gear, a huge pdb, a gimble-ready under-body plate, plastic body cover, 40a ESCs and some awesome 3510-350kv motors.
If a 600 size isn't big enough for you, pickup the longer-armed Q850 kit or 850mm arms for the Q600 and turn it into an 850mm size quad. Using the Q600 + 850mm arms is slightly better, because of the updated PDB on the Q600.
You should also get some plastic props and locknuts to hold them on, so you have something less dangerous than carbon fiber props to test with. Once you have everything tuned in, then switch to the carbon props.
The 3510 size, 350kv motors are basically the same motor that is used on the DJI inspire 1. DJI rates their motors for a suggested 800g/motor takeoff weight which is right in line with Rctimer's
3.5kg suggested takeoff weight. The quad-copter itself weights 1734g and the camera and gimbal weigh 918g leaving us 848g for batteries.
The best value 5000mah 6s battery weighs about 864g, which puts us almost exactly at Rctimer's suggested takeoff weight of
3.5kg. I'll be testing with two 239g 300mah 3s batteries run in series. Together these weigh 478g.
The build quality is fantastic. The arms come with pre-installed 3510/305kv motors and T40A ESCs, which makes assembly super easy.
This frame is comparable to a DJI Inspire 1, as it shares the same motors. The only thing it lacks relative to the Inspire 1 is retractable landing gear, which can easily be added on later.
You'll notice I picked a quad-copter over a hexa-copter or octa-copter. Some folks might prefer one of these configurations for redundancy. I would argue that the benefit of reduced complexity in a quad-copter, e.g. less failure points, out weights the benefits of a machine with more motors, as long as it can lift the payload you want to carry.
If you need more lifting power, get something with more motors like a Y-6 hex. You could also consider turning the Q600 into an octo-copter using these dual-motor mounts and another set of motors. The PDB supports up to 8 motors.
PixHawk Flight Controller
The brain of any multi-rotor is the flight controller and you have a wide variety of features and different price point when it comes to choosing one. There are two main open source firmware projects that all flight controllers run: MultiWii and ArduPilot.
You won't hear the names of these much, since they have, through the course of their open source lives, been renamed by their current maintainers. The MultiWii code has become CleanFlight, which has turned into BetaFlight and RaceFlight. The ArduPilot code had evolved into APM then PX4.
APM and PX4's autopilot features are far more reliable, safer, actively maintained and improved than the MultiWii derivatives' autopilot features. However, the focus on autonomous flight over manual mode negatively impacts acro flight performance. So, you should use BetaFlight when you intend to fly in acro mode (like on a racing quad) and APM or PX4 on a craft that needs reliable GPS navigation and return to home.
The PixHawk hardware and software is an open source project. The original development and current maintainers are led by Lorenz Meier at ETH Zurich.
The open source hardware design means that anyone can produce the Pixhawk hardware and the boards are fundamentally the same. There is no such thing as a "Clone" when the plans are freely available via open source. They can be made by anyone and Rctimer has done a great job building their "FixHawk", which is one of these boards.
You may be tempted to buy an APM, but don't do it. The APM uses an 8-bit arduino flight controller and the PixHawk/FixHawk uses 32bit STM32F4, which is much more powerful.
The included power module is safe to use with batteries up to 7S. This is much better than the standard PixHawk power module that only supports up to 4S.
You'll definitely want a Telemetry Radio for in-flight command and control from a computer.
Another must-have is GPS. Pickup an M8N module with a built-in compass to get the best accuracy and update speeds.
To add more devices to the I2C bus, pickup a splitter. Note, this is required for the external USB module.
If you plan on running an onboard computer, pickup an external USB module. This adds a USB port for reliable in-flight use. It is not necessary to connect the PixHawk to a computer.
To get a data overlay on your FPV camera, pickup an OSD. Checkout the full MinimOSD guide here, any of these OSDs will work.
$213.97 (including Telemetry and GPS)
We'll be using the Rctimer simplebgc 3 Axis Nex-GH5 Brushless Gimbal. This is the best gimbal for a micro 4/3rds size camera.
The gimbal includes some awesome 22 pole brushless gimbal motors:
GBM4114 (24N22P) for YAW
GBM4108 (24N22P) for ROLL and PITCH
The industry standard, used in Hollywood and on your drone, is the AlexMos SimpleBGC 32-bit Brushless Gimbal Controller (BGC).
This runs AlexMos' fantastic SimpleBGC firmware. The design is licensed out to hardware manufacturers, like Rctimer.
You'll want the 32-bit version with 2 IMUs. This is much better than the 8-bit version with 1 IMU. Especially at extreme angles.
I got the one with the plastic case. It makes mounting the sensors much easier, you may need to take the controller board out of the case or get some longer screws to mount it. Read the gimbal guide for more info.
Brushless Gimbal Controller Cost:
Radio Transmitter and Receiver
If you don't already have a radio transmitter, I suggest you invest in a Taranis or the slightly cheaper FS-TH9X and DJT transmitter module.
Note that FrSky and FlySky are different brands, so their transmitters and receivers are not compatible. Pickup a DIY FrSky receiver or a ready to go X4R-SBUS receiver. I prefer the one without pins.
Checkout my article on the DIY FrSky Receiver for a full receiver setup guide.
$11 to $30
I did some price analysis of 6s batteries and found that an entry level pack will run around $70 for a 5000mah 6s.
Alternatively, get two 239g 3000mah 3s batteries for
$14.80 each and run them in series.
For example, here's how you wire a series battery:
Here's the battery to buy:
The total cost, excluding your radio setup, NEX camera and batteries, is about:
Compared to a DJI Inspire 1 Pro, which runs
$4,499, (remember, the Inspire 1 uses the same type of motors as the Q600, so the lifting power should be close to equivalent), this is amazing value. Plus, it's tons of fun to build yourself.
Before we get started make sure you have the following tools and misc parts on hand
A proper hex driver set. You'll need something that fits a 2.0mm hex socket head. I broke two right angle allen wrenches trying to screw the carbon plate to the plastic pieces of the quad-copter frame.
Soldering Iron. I have a Weller WES51
Double Sided Foam Tape to mount the flight controller.
Blue Threadlocker. The cheapest place I've found to get this is Harbor Freight, if you have one locally.
Here are the guides for each component of the build:
Assemble the Q600 quadcopter.
Follow the guide on building the and tuning the gimbal.
PixHawk Flight Controller
Finally, install and configure the PixHawk flight controller, then go fly!