Best flight controller for quadcopter: How do I choose

Are you planning to develop a new drone with multiple rotors? Then you surely are in need of a flight controller for that multirotor. This article is geared towards providing you a detailed and comprehensive insight into the process of choosing and purchasing the best quadcopter flight controller alongside flight controllers for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) of a number of types. This instructional guide is bifurcated into two sections given below:

  1. Criteria that should be kept in mind when buying the quadcopter controller such as ease of assembly, compatible sensors, functionalities and fly-abilities
  2. A comprehensive list of what according to us are the top-of-the-line quadcopter flight controllers and those for multirotor type aircrafts (there are few which are compatible even with fixed wings and other types of aircrafts). We’ll be giving a brief review of each one of these. We have further divided the section into small subsections for beginners, racing and high end quadcopter controllers for drones with autopilot flight capabilities and offering cinematography functions.


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How to choose a quadcopter flight controller for your craft?

What do you want to accomplish and what is your budget?

In order to decide which flight controller is the one that is suitable for your drone, you first need to determine what is your motive in reality! Are you someone new into the world of drones who is just trying to build his/her first quadcopter or multirotor aircraft? Or are you someone who is planning to construct a fast paced, multirotor specifically for racing purposes? Or are you a professional cinematographer who is quite cognizant of the technological revolution and wants to develop a multirotor machine that could help him/her capture some professional grade photographs and video footages at extremely high resolution and frame rates?

Let’s be candid here! Depending on what you ultimately want to achieve with your multirotor device, the price ranges will vary for different options. A quadcopter controller such as the KK2.X for a novice or Naze32 (which famous among pilots of racing drones) will certainly cost far less as opposed to the quadcopter controllers dedicated for drones with autopilot functions and cinematography features. The quadcopter flight controllers that are designed for racing drones are generally on the lower end of the price scale since there is huge probability of the racing drones succumbing to crashes and accidents.

Ease of Setup and Firmware

We are not too sure about you, but we believe that a quadcopter controller that is easy to start thing off is a lot better than the one that involves plenty of complexities in the initial setup process. Some quadcopter controller chipsets support configurator software packages such as CleanFlight and OpenPilot. These are extremely easy to get going with. CC3D and Naze32 are a couple of examples in this regard.

On the other hand, other chipsets such as the KK2.X versions, are manufactured with an inbuilt User Interface due to which the tuning process (such as PID) is rendered very easy. The pilot does not need to access the personal computer every now and then to carry out the tuning. There are a number of chipsets in the market that are manufactured with their own configurator package and firmware.

Fly-Ability

Please keep in mind that not all quadcopter controllers fly in the same way. Some quadcopter flight controllers provide better functionalities when it comes to handling drones and maintaining their balance and stability. For example, the performance of the KK2.X model,  when it comes to handling and balancing, are not as good as those of Eagle Tree Vector model.

Here’s an important fact: It is very important to update the firmware of your quadcopter controller before you begin to even set it up and use it to fly your beloved drone. A number of chipsets have reportedly enhanced their fly-ability as compared to the performance offered with the earlier versions of their firmware release including the KK2.X models.

Supported Sensors and Capabilities

This is probably the most important point of all: it is vital to take into account the capabilities boasted by a quadcopter controller before choosing and buying it. In accordance with your requirements, you must check out the following sensors and characteristics compatible with your quadcopter controller:

    1. Microcontroller bit size (8 bit vs 32 bit): 32 bit quadcopter controllers are way ahead of the 8 bit controllers when it comes to portraying high quality handling
    2. Gyroscope and Accelerometers: This features are an essential feature of all quadcopter flight controllers

 

  1. Barometer: Keeping an eye at the required height so that the drone is able to hover at constant altitude (this feature is in great demand by cinematographers)
  2. Magnetometer: This sensor is very important for determining direction and hence ensuring that the drone is headed in the correct direction
  3. Global Positioning System: Essential for quadcopters with autopilot feature
  4. Whether the flight controller is compatible with the type of aircraft that you intend to build: quadcopter, hexacopter, tricopter, octacopter etc.

Best Beginner Flight Controller

KK 2.X

The KK2 chipset does not include a number of astounding features and may not be able to deliver cutting edge performance. Despite these loopholes, it is one of our all time favorite quadcopter controllers since it is very easy to set up and it is compatible with almost all types of flight configurations such as quadcopter, tricopter, hexacopter, octacopter, fixed wing etc.). The screen that is integrated into this quadcopter controller makes the tuning of the aircraft exceptionally easy. These characteristics make this flight controller one of the best ones for rookies. Moreover, it is available at very affordable prices.

What’s Awesome
  • Low priced
  • It is compatible with almost all flight configurations
  • Onboard LCD display and keys make its programming very easy
  • The internet is proliferated with video tutorials telling how to set it up
What’s Bad
  • It includes an 8 bit microcontroller implying that it is far too slow as compared to modern standards and demands
  • The handling and balancing of drones is not the most efficient with this quadcopter controller
  • It does not include any of the advanced features such as Global Positioning System or barometer

 

Best Racing Drone Flight Controllers

CC3D

Similar to the KK2 chipset, the CC3D quadcopter controller does not offer a range of sensors and overall performance. In fact, it also does not include an onboard LCD display. Anyways, the chipset provides support for a number of configuration software packages such as CleanFlight, OpenPilot etc. which makes its usage extremely easy and handy. It is very easy to set up and is very reliable as well.

The CC3D quadcopter controller includes a 32 bit microcontroller as opposed to the 8 bit microcontroller contained in KK2. Hence, it provides a performance and features that are in pretty close proximity to Naze32 Acro quadcopter flight controller. These quadcopter controllers can be used to build quadcopter devices. If you flash CleanFlight configuration software package on CC3D chipset, the difference between CC3D and Naze32 Acro almost fades away.

What’s Awesome
  • Low priced
  • It is compatible with almost all flight configurations
  • Boasts a 32 bit microcontroller
  • Provides support for configuration software packages such as OpenPilot and CleanFlight
  • Very easy to set up
What’s Bad
  • The programming can prove to be a bit tough in the absence of an onboard LCD display
  • Does not include advanced features such as GPS and barometer

Naze32 (Both Acro and Full versions)

Naze32 Acro is quite similar in terms of performance and capabilities to CC3D chipset but the full version of this board includes advanced features such as barometer and the option to add a Global Positioning System (GPS). The configuration software package that originally comes with Naze32 is BaseFlight but you can also use CleanFlight with it. In addition, Naze32 boasts an inbuilt FrSky telemetry inverter and is compatible with all standard receivers. We intend to compare it with CC3D because of them include a number of similar features.

What’s Awesome
  • The Acro version is especially very low priced
  • It is compatible with most of the flight configurations
  • It includes a 32 bit microcontroller
  • Provides support for CleanFlight
  • Very easy to set up
What’s Bad
  • It does not include a protective outer covering similar to that contained in CC3D chipset
  • The full version comes with advanced features such as magnetometer, barometer and GPS. These features are not present in the Acro model, however.

 

KISS

Quite similar to the Naze32 and CC3D boards, KISS FC is another quadcopter controller that does not include any of the advanced features such as magnetometer or barometer. In fact, it also does not contain a flash memory chip. As opposed to Naze32 quadcopter controller, the KISS FC comes with a firmware of its own that is immensely easy to set up as compared to CleanFlight.

On the whole, this quadcopter flight controller is a superb device for small sized racing quadcopters. However, here comes the bad news: KISS FC is not compatible with octacopters which in itself is quite surprising. But won’t it be more prudent not to opt for an octacopter if one is actually looking to build a small racing drone? You can read this magnificent review of KISS FC written by Oscar Liang.

What’s Awesome
  • Low priced
  • Includes a 32 bit microcontroller
  • The KISS FC firmware and configuration software packages are a lot easier to set up for novice dronies
  • Provides top quality handling and balancing of aircrafts with minimum tuning
What’s Bad
  • Contains no flash memory chip
  • Offers no support for software configuration packages such as CleanFlight
  • PID controls tuning is quite complex
  • The instruction manual that comes with it is not of the greatest quality

Best flight controllers for autonomous flight, GPS and cinema

ArduPilot APM

This chipset is slightly on the more expensive side in terms of price. However, it is a great machine for rookie pilots that includes extensive support for Global Positioning System and autonomous flight features such as Return to Home. Support is also provided for telemetry and flight logs. All the crucial sensors are present in this chipset including barometer and magnetometer. One can also integrate additional sensors into the chipset.

What’s Awesome
  • It is compatible with sensors of all kinds and allows to maintain flight logs
  • Contains GPS and telemetry
  • The software is very easy to set up
  • Thoroughly tested by the developers
What’s Bad
  • As time and technology evolve, it is getting obsolete. Pixhawk seems to be the future!
  • 8 bit microcontroller makes it quite slow
  • Displays very below par flight performance even in comparison to quadcopter controllers such as Naze32
  • PID tuning is quite complex

Eagle Tree Vector + OSD

This one is our hot favorite board that provides lots of support for autonomous flight features. We believe it to be the most flexible, adaptable and versatile quadcopter controller in the market which is an excellent choice for drones with autonomous flight features. An On Screen Display and connector also come in the original packaging which implies that you won’t have to purchase them separately as extensions.

Tuning, programming and setting up the Vector FC is exceptionally easy while the pilot is able to control aircrafts of all sizes and natures including fixed wing aircrafts are not at all hard to maneuver with only a small amount of tuning.

What’s Awesome
  • Extremely flexible and adaptable
  • Supports a large number of sensors
  • Includes telemetry
  • 32 bit microcontroller
  • Firmware is very easy to set up
  • It is compatible with numerous flight configurations including fixed wings aircrafts
  • Handling and balancing of drones is very easy with this amazing quadcopter flight controller
  • Easy to program and tune
What’s Bad
  • Price is on the higher side but our candid opinion is that you will reap rich dividends for the investment

 

We bring to you this superb video on how to set up the Eagle Tree Vector FC if you are interested in purchasing it!

 

Best flight controller for autonomous flight:

3DR Pixhawk

This is probably the best quadcopter controller for autonomous flight features that comes with an open source software configuration package and firmware. These extremely powerful quadcopter controllers are heirs to the all time famous APM FCs but have not been tested as extensively so far

What’s Awesome
  • It is compatible with most of the sensors out there
  • It includes telemetry
  • 32 bit microcontroller renders it quite robust
  • Software is open source and very easy to set up
  • Support provided for a number of flight configurations
  • Back up system
  • Durable and reliable
What’s Bad
  • It is quite expensive
  • If you are in possession of a non-S.Bus receiver such as Futaba, you need to install an additional PPM encoder board onto the chipset

 

Best quadcopter flight controller for cinematography:

DJI Naza M – V2

The Naza M-V2 quadcopter controller has been able to gain traction with the dronies owing to the DJI Phantom quadcopter. It boasts sensational Global Positioning System functionalities. We believe that the Naza M-V2 is a lot easier to set up as compared to 3DR Pixhawk. However, Naza lacks in features since the Pixhawk comes with the software and firmware that are open source while this feature is not present in Naza currently. A number of additional products can be purchased with Naza. However, accessories and extensions that are on offer by DJI are not compatible with the Lite version. If you are a professional cinematographer who intends to build a craft that is meant to produce cinema grade videos and images, then DJI Naza M-V2 quadcopter controller is the one you should be looking to get your hands on!

What’s Awesome
  • It is compatible with most of the sensors out there
  • It includes telemetry
  • 32 bit microcontroller renders it quite robust
  • Software is very easy to set up
  • Support provided for a number of flight configurations
What’s Bad
    • No support is provided for the tricopter flight configuration which makes it far less flexible and adaptable as compared to Eagle Tree Vector quadcopter controller. With the price in the hindsight and no support for the tricopter, this is a huge turn off for the drone enthusiasts

 

 

Conclusion

Here’s a gist of what should be kept in mind when looking to purchase the best quadcopter flight controller:

  • What is your ultimate target? Do you want to build a 250 style quadcopter? An aircraft with autopilot features? A UAV that can perform aerial cinematography?
  • Carry out an extensive research on the internet regarding the quadcopter controllers discussed above; watch video tutorials on YouTube, visit forums and read books and instructional guides to learn about their performance
  • Compatible sensors and other features
  • Open source software and firmware as opposed to closed source
  • Has the quadcopter controller been developed recently or has it gone through years and years of rigorous tests to test its efficacy?

With this, we are done for today guys! We hope that our tips will go a long way in helping your decide which is the most suitable quadcopter controller for your next aircraft build. If you have any queries, do not hesitate to contact us and please do not forget to comment in the comments section below!

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