I know that cameras are applicable to lots of fields, but FPV cameras are a special category with a very specific set of requirements - what should I look for when picking an FPV camera?
When choosing an FPV camera, there are several things that you need to look out for:
Most modern FPV cameras use a CMOS sensor. These are digital sensors that generally tend to have a higher resolution (measured in TVL or TeleVision Lines) than the alternative, which is CCD analogue sensors.
Pretty much every modern FPV camera uses CMOS tech, however, there are pros and cons to each:
- They are generally higher resolution
- They are very common so finding support should be easy
- They can introduce a shimmering effect in the image, especially around the edges of objects or in places of high contrast. Some people dislike this effect so strongly that they won't even consider CMOS cameras.
- They are less prone to jello, or warping of the image due to vibrations
- They can have better dynamic range, although modern CMOS cameras tend to surpass CCD in this
- They tend to create a "softer" image that is more pleasing to the eye, without any "digital" shimmer.
- They are more expensive to make
- They may have slightly higher latency
- Very few new CCD cameras are being made, so there is less to choose from.
There are many more pros and cons, so I recommend reading the source of this pros and cons list.
The sensors used in FPV cameras can have different physical sizes.
Bigger sensor sizes perform better optically by capturing more light, so cameras with larger sensors are generally considered to produce a better image, but are also more expensive.
There are two formats in our FPV cameras: NTSC and PAL. To know which camera you should get, make sure you check what format your goggles can use. Most modern cameras can be switched between NTSC and PAL, so this isn’t too much of a big deal, but make sure you can check.
Make sure you pick a camera that is an appropriate size for your drone. The size classes commonly used today, defined by the camera enclosure's width, are Mini (22mm), Micro (19mm) and Nano (14mm). (The "full" size was 28mm).
Adapter brackets are available for mounting smaller cameras in frames with larger camera mounts, but there's nothing that would help you to fit a camera that's too wide for your frame. For example, a CADDX Ratel which is 19x19mm would not be appropriate for a standard Tiny Whoop.
Most modern FPV cameras will also have switchable 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratios. Check which your goggles is designed for and which you personally prefer, though if you get a switchable one this likely isn’t a big deal.
The lens on your camera will affect the field of view. In general, a shorter lens will give a wider field of view (source). According to the same article, a wider lens can give better image quality.
If you’re going for an ultra-light build, every gram counts, and some cameras will be lighter than others. If this matters to you, be sure to check out the camera’s weight.
Software and other intangibles
There is more to a camera's performance than just the optics. The software that the camera uses to "prettify" the image is no less important, and can make or break the flying experience. Camera manufacturers each have their own WDR, sharpening, denoise, auto-exposure and other algorithms in their cameras, that all affect the picture. There are also some manufacturer-specific bugs in this software, which you may or may not care about. All of that can only be felt by looking at the actual imagery, which brings us to...
This is the most important section. There are many videos and reviews online that let you see the actual image produced by the camera. Watch them and see for yourself. Do you like the look of its image quality? If so then you probably want that camera. If you don’t like the image then you probably don’t want it.