Best Flight Controllers And Why

Posted by
Korey Smith
May 4, 2016
Buying Guides

Your search for the best flight controller is over! I’m here to tell you that the best flight controller is…

None of them! There’s currently no such thing as “the best flight controller” on the market. Everyone you talk to is going to tell you that what “they use” is the best, and that might be the case for them, but everyone has different needs and personal experiences that alter there opinion on what really is the “best flight controller” out there.

In this article, I’ll try going over what all the best flight controllers are (in my opinion) for specific uses, since there isn’t yet an all-in-one solution that will work for any kind of flying. Please note that this will not be a specs comparison in any way.

What Kind Of Flying Are You Doing?

Before looking at flight controllers, you should know that there are three different types of flying. When building a drone, the most relevant type of flying is FPV Racing and freestyle, but some people still build drones for aerial photography and even autonomous missions. most flight controllers are only really good at one specific style, so when buying a flight controller, you should make sure you understand what kind of flying you’re going to be doing the most of, then make you’re decision off of that.

Prices and Links

Now that you know what type of flying that you’re trying to do, you should be able to pick a flight controller from the list below. There are a lot of other flight controllers out there, but these are the ones that work the best for each category of flying.

Flyduino KISS $45

Lumenier LUX $40

DJI NAZA-M V2 $300

DJI A3 $900Pro

3DR PixHawk$204

FPV Drone Racing

The most fun style of flying (in my opinion) is FPV drone racing and freestyle. Any good flight controller for Racing or freestyle should be able to recover from very fast roll rates, hold any angle you put it in (regardless of how fast or what direction it’s going) and should be fully tunable. It also shouldn’t cost a lot of money, since it’s possible that it could break from crashing often.

KISS Flight Controller

The KISS FC (flight controller) from Flyduino is an amazing little board for any small sized quadcopter. I’m going to start off by saying that the KISS FC doesn’t have as many features as some of the other popular flight controllers out there, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because of it’s lack of features, you’re able to navigate through the user interface for the first time without a lot of confusion, and there’s no random or useless settings laying around that take up space.

Other than the basic configuration settings and monitoring tools, the only other thing that you’ll find in the GUI (graphical user interface) is the PID settings for tuning your drone. In the PID section, you can choose to tune every part of the PID loop yourself, or if all of this is new to you, simply select one of the user presets uploaded from hundreds of real pilots who already know what they’re doing.

All of this is great, but none of it matters if the flight controller doesn’t fly well. The good news is, it flies great! Out of all the flight controllers out there, this one is my favorite, and it’s widely known as the best flight controller you can buy (Even if it doesn’t have every single feature known to man.

Lux Flight Controller (Cleanflight)

If you want more flexibility than what the KISS FC can offer (things like LED controls, ESC flashing, OSD integration, black box logs etc…) then you should get a flight controller that runs the firmware known as Cleanflight. The Lumenier LUX flight controller is a great choice because it has all of the hardware features that are needed to take advantage of Cleanflight, Betaflight and Raceflight.

By now, you might be asking “what exactly is “Cleanflight, Betaflight and Raceflight?”. This is where things get confusing. With the KISS flight controller, the hardware, firmware and software are all made by the same company. On the other hand, with Cleanflight the hardware, firmware and software is all created independently. For example, The flight controller might be made by lumenier, the software for configuring it might be Cleanflight, but the firmware might be called Betaflight and come from a person in his garage. The reason for this is because it’s an open source platform, so everything is always changing and people can’t just stick with one system that works and keep improving it.

To understand things a bit more, here’s a history lesson. In the beginning of time, there was a crazy project called Multiwii that started out using sensors from Nintendo Wii remotes and Arduino micro controllers that made quadcopters stable enough to fly. Then people started making dedicated flight controllers that ran the Multiwii firmware. After a few years went by, there were a lots of evolving projects that started from Multiwii. One of those projects was called Baseflight. It was made to take advantage of modern 32bit processors instead of the traditional 8bit processors found in Arduino hardware. Baseflight was great, but the code was messy and unorganized. Thats when the Cleanflight firmware and configuration software was created.

Cleanflight is still the most popular firmware today for open source flight controllers, but a lot of people immediately flash their boards with Betaflight to get even greater performance. The Betaflight firmware still uses the Cleanflight configurator software, but the PID loops are better. Some like Betaflight even more than the proprietary firmware found on KISS flight controllers, but that subject is debatable. If you want to be on the cutting edge, there’s an even newer Cleanflight based firmware called Raceflight, but I won’t get into that because it’s not something that you should even be worrying about right now.

Cinema Flying

When doing aerial photography and video, you’ll want a flight controller that will produce the smoothest video possible. This type of flying usually requires a flight controller with very dampened flight characteristics and small control stick rates (slow maneuverability).

If you want to do Aerial Photography, the DJI NAZA M V2 is the best flight controller for the job. The flight characteristics are smooth, it’s easy to fly with, and it has a lot of features like intelligent-orientation-control and return-to-home. This makes it good for beginners, or cinematographers who don’t want to worry about how to fly perfectly in order to get the shot they want. The NAZA M V2 is also one of the only flight controllers that will work with the DJI H4-3D GoPro gimbal (the best gimbal for the GoPro in my opinion).

Autonomous Flying

Autonomous flying is obviously when you fly a model without having to touch any of the controls. If you want to do a lot of autonomous flying, It’s important to have a flight controller that has features like auto take off and landing, waypoint flying and data telemetry. It should also have open-source firmware so that you can later on add or improve features.

The bad thing about the the NAZA flight controller is that the firmware can’t be modified in any way, so there isn’t any future expandability or extra features unless DJI comes out with a firmware update for it. That’s where something like the 3DR Pixhawk comes in. The Pixhawk from 3D Robotics is a flight controller designed specifically for Autonomous flying. The Pixhawk has more features then the NAZA flight controller, but the more important aspect about it is that all of the software/firmware from 3D robotics is open-source, so you can add things on to it and do whatever you want. So if you’re trying to do advanced research projects, getting something from 3D robotics is probably the way to go.

Korey Smith

Korey Smith, independent film maker, RC model enthusiast and co-owner of MyFirstDrone

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