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Pick a camera

Cameras used for FPV are analog cameras and therefore have 3 wires output (ground, positive and video signal). Some also have an integrated microphone with an additional wire.

Many of the small digital cameras do not possess the analog output interface and therefore are unsuitable for FPV. So don't get your hopes up when you see a small 10.00 USD camera like the well-known keychain camera. They're good for recording only, and cannot be used for FPV.

Most of the camera used are surveillance cameras, due to their small size, weight, and light handling.

Recommended:

NameTypeDefinitionWeightPowerDemo videosComment
Sony SN555CCD550 TVL30 gr.5V (from UBEC)YouTubeVery good quality, slight UHF interferences (reduce range)
KX171CCD420 TVL25 gr.5V (from UBECYouTubeStandard quality, no interferences
CX161CCD380 TVL~20 gr.5V (from UBECYouTubeVery cheap, quality is ok
FC422CMOS420 TVL~3 gr.3-4V (1S battery)YouTubeTiny, for micro-models
GoPro HeroCCD1080 TVL 90-100 gr.5V (from UBEC)YouTube Usually for recording only, you need an additional camera for FPV, slight UHF interferences

More cameras: RCGRoups - FPV Camera Review mega-thead

CMOS sensor cameras

CMOS1) cameras are usually not doing very well in non-perfect light conditions, and often have an unstable image due to the vibrations of the vehicules. They are generally to be avoided, although there are a few exceptions like the “CCD Killer” from FatShark which offers decent image.

Their advantage is price, weight, low current consumption.

With the exception of micro-models they are generally not recommended.

For micro-models, the FC422 and similar models are recommended. They run off small and light batteries and weight next to nothing, while retaining a good image quality and decent light handling.

Please note that, certain high-end CMOS cameras can be performing extremely well however in general they have the aforementioned issues

CCD sensor cameras

CCD2) cameras are the FPV cameras. While slightly larger and heavier than their CMOS counter-part, they provide very good light handling which is of major importance when you're controlling your remote vehicle.

Most cameras you will find in FPV shops are CCD cameras.

Definition (TVL)

The TVL3) are a notation to define the perceived quality of the camera.

An analog TV4) signal is composed of lines. The more lines, the more details can be represented.

Rule of thumb:

When used for FPV, the signal is degraded by the retransmission and lower quality of the camera's lens and components compared to heavy and high-end cameras. Therefore, you can safely read the right-hand part of the table for the FPV visual expectations, which are basically shifted down by one rank.

TVLVisual expectation (broadcast cameras)Visual expectation (FPV cameras)
380Slightly blurry, VHS & analog broadcastReally quite blurry
420S-VHSVHS
480Laser-discS-VHS
500-560DVD qualityLaser-disc
720Half HD qualityDVD quality (does not exist with micro analog cameras)
1080Full HD qualityHalf HD quality (does not exist with micro analog cameras)

PAL & NTSC

Another choice you will have to make is PAL or NTSC. PAL has a slightly higher resolution (720×576) but lower frame rate (25 fps). Generally used in Europe. NTSC has a lower resolution (720×48) but higher frame rate (29.97 fps). Generally used in USA.

At the end of the day, most equipment is compatible with both PAL and NTSC. Many FPV users choose PAL for the higher resolution, but the difference is not crucial.

As long as the rest of your equipment supports both standard, you can choose any. Otherwise, stick to one standard (the one the most used in your country is therefore recommended).

Lens and FOV

While flying FPV you might be tempted to use lens with a larger FOV5), to see more of the environment around you.

Most FPV users have slightly larger than standard FOV, so that the objects on the sides of the image appear at normal distance. This is crucial for estimating distance and avoid crashes.

Some experienced FPV users prefer larger FOV, to see more of the landscape or details on the image sides. However, estimating the distance is difficult and objects appears further away than they really are. Larger FOV also enhance the probability of the “fish-eye” effect.

You may refer to this table for a rule of thumb of the lens's FOV effect:

Focal lengthFOVComment
1.7mm170 degreeLarge “fish-eye” effect
2.1mm158 degree
2.5mm147 degree
2.8mm130 degree
2.9mm127 degreeHuman eye - higher FOV than 127 not recommended to avoid heavy “fish-eye” effect
3.6mm92 degreeMost common FPV FOV - Recommended
4.3mm88 degree
6.0mm78 degree
8.0mm58 degree
12.0mm28 degreeObjects appear really big

HD Cameras

HD cameras are usually used for recording, as their signal cannot be transmitted to the ground for viewing. However, many of the HD cameras have an analog output. Granted that the output stays on continuously and does not have a lot of clutter on the screen, they can sometimes be used both for viewing and recording.

They usually add black top and bottom bars to accommodate the 16:9 (HD) view to the 4:3 (SD) analog view. There is also usually at least a recording timer which makes the view slightly obstructed.

A few known to work models are:

NameComment
Toshiba Camileo P and S10Very lightweight uncased
Some aipteks camerasEasy to find in the USA
GoPro HeroRequire manipulations for the AV out - very good quality for recording only

Interferences

Some cameras are known to interfere with various equipments, reducing their range and/or quality. Generally, all HD cameras reduce severely the range of 433MHz UHF radio systems and must be installed far apart to minimize the effect.

Some cameras, like the infamous Sony SN777 (12v) high resolution camera suffer from the same problem.

While it is difficult to judge, avoid unknown cameras and/or be prepared to place them far apart from the rest of the equipment.

See Cameras noise characterization for additional information.


Back to FPV table of contents | Next: Pan, Tilt and head-trackers

1) complementary metal oxide semiconductor
2) charge coupled device
3) Television Lines
4) Television
5) Field of view
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