Updated 9/3/2016: Added a “Clone Frames” section, added links to all of the frame stores, added a few more frames.

So you’ve watched the YouTube videos, you’re excited, and you’re looking into building yourself a racing miniquad. The first thing you want to decide upon is what frame you are going to use. Let’s get right into it:

What does the frame I choose affect?

The miniquad frame is generally going to be a set of carbon fiber plates that holds the flying vehicle together. It will be your frame choice that determines how and where you place the rest of the components of your miniquad, and how the end product ends up looking. It is also the frame that determines how well your precious aircraft holds up against the numerous crashes that are surely coming for it.

Contrary to what many think, the miniquad frame you choose has very little effect on the flight performance of your miniquad. This is because there are only two effects that a frame can have on a flying object in the first place: weight and aerodynamics. Most quads actually have pretty much the same shape when looked at from the perspective of the air flowing over them, so aerodynamics is not really a factor. That leaves you with weight.

What makes a good frame?

Rather than write a wall of text extolling all of the factors that you should consider when buying a frame, let’s list them out:

  1. Aesthetics – An underrated but very important factor when choosing a frame. If you don’t think your miniquad looks “cool”, you aren’t going to want to fly it.
  2. Arm Layout – “Arm layout” refers to how the quadcopters arms shoot off from the body. “X-quads” are the hot thing right now, but the verdict is still out as to whether the layout of the arms actually grants any performance differences. More than likely, it is just the reduced weight inherent in keeping the arms close to the body that gives an X frame better performance. To help you visualize the different arm layouts, we have a few pictures below:
    1. True-X
      The arms all come from the center of the quad’s body and form a 90 degree angle to each other.
      shrike
    2. Asymmetric-X
      The arms all come from the center of the quad’s body, but one arm-to-arm angle is wider than the other (usually the front and rear angles are wider)
      alien5in
    3. H
      The arms generally originate from each end of the quad’s body (front and rear).
      blackout
  3. Arm Size – The arm size refers to the length of the arm. It determines what kind of props you can use. Different miniquads may have different prop restrictions. Make sure you check the quad you are buying. Here is a general rule of thumb though:
    1. under 200mm – Only supports 4″ props
    2. 200mm through 215mm – Generally supports 5″ props and under
    3. 225mm through 250mm – Generally supports 6″ props and under
  4. Body Layout – This should actually read “whether or not the quad has an elongated body or a pod”. “Pod” quads like the Krieger or Shrike, have all of the electronics stuffed into a tower sitting in the center of the quad. “Normal” elongated-body quads have a long carbon-fiber section between the left and right arms that holds all of the electronics.
  5. Camera Tilt – Tilting your FPV camera upwards is the best way to make your miniquad “faster”. However, keeping it at a low angle lets you fly more precisely at slow speeds. The ideal frame has an adjustable mount that lets you go for super fast or to practice your hovering.
  6. Try to fit anything else in there, I dare you.

    Try to fit anything else in there, I dare you.

    Component Layout – How the components are expected to be laid out can have a big effect on what components you can buy or put onto the quad. Some quads like the Shrike or XBR are extremely small and restrictive, whereas others like the ZMR have a ton of room inside of the body where you can add pretty much anything you want.One aspect of the component layout that may be of particular concern to you is where the battery is to be attached. For beginners, it is better to have top-mounted batteries, keeping them out of the way when you crash. For more compact, lighter-weight racing quads, though, you will need to strap the battery to the bottom.

  7. Component Compatibility – Some miniquad require certain types of video transmitters, fpv cameras. Other miniquads come with a PDB integrated into the quad – which means you will not be able to use your own PDB (that may be a good or bad thing). Knowing what the quad comes with and requires versus what components you want to use is important to making the correct pick.
  8. Durability – The design of your frame will have the biggest effect on how much money you spend in the hobby, especially as a beginner. Here are some things to look at:
    1. Is the frame made from carbon fiber? If not, expect it to break A LOT.
    2. Is the carbon fiber 4mm thick? This is the golden standard for miniquads. You should only consider 3mm if you are an expert and want to save on weight.
    3. Do the arms have holes or cut outs in them? This is generally a no-no. Cut-outs add significant stress points which will cause your arms to break. A well designed frame will not have these weaknesses – but if you are ordering direct from a Chinese firm, be wary and do your research.
      If you see arms that look like this, stay away.

      If you see arms that look like this, stay away.

    4. Is the flight controller fully enclosed with carbon fiber? FC’s are not structural items. If your flight controller is exposed, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be breaking it.
    5. Is your FPV camera exposed? The best new frames completely enclose the FPV camera in carbon fiber. Like flight controllers, they do NOT take a beating well and cost a lot to replace.
    6. Does the frame have separate arm plates or are the arms built into the body? Unibodies cost much more to replace broken arms.
  9. HD Camera Options – The option to mount an HD camera like a GoPro or a Mobius on a miniquad appeals to many. If this is something you want, make sure that there is either a mount built into the frame or that you can 3-D print one.
  10. Parts Availability – The ability to actually repair your quad is pretty important. Most of the frames on the lists below are pretty durable, but when you slam headfirst into concrete, it really sucks to be out of the air for a month or more. “Parts Availability” actually has two factors:
    1. Does your frame have parts available from a vendor in your country? International shipping always takes longer than domestic, no matter where you live.
    2. Are the parts regularly available or out of stock? If you notice the parts are constantly out of stock, you may want to consider buying spares as soon as they become available so you are never “stuck”.
  11. Price – The price of some of the nicer frames of late has exploded to as high as $200. It’s definitely pretty hard to justify that expense for a set of carbon fiber plates and aluminum screws. Luckily, there are still plenty of manufacturers that offer frames at more reasonable prices. The cost of parts should also factor into this. Expect to break an arm or two over the lifetime of your quad, at the least.
  12. Weight – This is going to be the primary driver for performance that your frame can contribute to the whole equation. The less your frame weighs, the more of the thrust from your four motors can be spent rocketing you into the sky. Weight is saved by using less hardware (screws/washers/nuts) and by making everything as small and compact as possible.

 

Miniquad frame manufacturers list

Below you will find a list of reputable frame manufacturers, as well as some notes on their pros and cons. Please keep in mind that here at propwashed, we’re a pretty small group of friends who have collectively only owned 5 different miniquad frames. With that said, we may have bias in these recommendations, but we have attempted to do some due diligence on frames outside of our immediate knowledge.

Unlike many other miniquad components, there is not a small subset of “correct choices” when it comes to frames. There are tens, if not hundreds of very good frames on the market. If you are feeling up to it, you should see if you can find something unique to try out. If you are getting in the hobby, though, you definitely cannot go wrong with these manufacturers.

Notes: Weight is listed where manufacturers have a single model and weight is provided, with hardware. Prices are MSRP, not sale price.

 

Armattan
armattan-f1b

Armattan F1B

Armattan has a great line-up of almost every type of miniquad, and are known for the “lifetime warranty” that they offer with all of their quads. Essentially, if you crash the quad and break some carbon fiber, they will provide replacement parts free of charge.

Arm Layout True-X
Body Standard and Pod
Arm Size 4" 5" and 6"
Battery Location Top
Part Restrictions None
Durability High – Lifetime Warranty
Vendor Locations USA
Price Average-High ($90-$140) (Free parts)
Weight Average

RCGroups Link
Buy here.

 

BoltRC
Bolt 250

Bolt 250

BoltRC is an Australian frame designer that has a line of extremely lightweight, compact H-frames. They are also coming out with the “Kraken”, a high speed 6″ True-X racing frame, in the near future. Their “Race” frames are unibody frames that are extremely lightweight. The “black ops” frames are similar to their race frames, but have separable arms which makes crashing easier on the wallet.

Arm Layout True-X and H
Body Standard
Arm Size 4" 5" and 6"
Battery Location Top & Bottom
Part Restrictions FPV Camera & VTX
Durability Low-Moderate
Vendor Locations Australia
Price Low-Average ($60-$85)
Weight Light-Average

RCGroups Link
Bolt 210 Race build log
Buy here

 

Blackbolt Design (XBR220)

xbr220Blackbolt Design has one miniquad frame in their roster – and it’s unlike any other frame. It’s an extremely compact True-X quad built for light weight and, subsequently, speed! The component selection on this frame is extremely restrictive, but it’ll go like mad..

Arm Layout True-X
Body Pod
Arm Size 6"
Battery Location Bottom
Part Restrictions Flight Controller & PDB
Durability Moderate
Vendor Locations USA
Price Average ($90)
Weight Extremely Light (59g)

RCGroups Link
Buy here

 

Catalyst Machineworks (SpeedAddict)
SpeedAddict 210

SpeedAddict 210-R

Catalyst Machineworks has a collection of really well-designed X-frame quads. The way they mount the battery on their SpeedAddict frame is really clever and makes the fully outfitted quad very easy to balance.

Arm Layout True-X
Body Standard
Arm Size 4" 5" and 6"
Battery Location Top
Part Restrictions FPV Camera
Durability N/A
Vendor Locations Canada & USA
Price High ($105-$160)
Weight Average (102g)

RCGroups Link
Buy here

Flynoceros
ursa

Flynoceros Ursa M5

These guys have a TON of frames on the market, and just recently started up a lifetime warranty program a la Armattan. Their prices are also quite reasonable. Definitely worth checking out.

As a side note, they put a fun and somewhat relevant frame selection chart up here.

Arm Layout All
Body Standard and Pod
Arm Size 4" and 5"
Battery Location Mostly Top
Part Restrictions N/A
Durability High – Lifetime Warranty
Vendor Locations USA
Price Low-Average($30-$80)
Weight Light-Heavy

Buy here

 

Impulse RC (Alien / Helix / WarpQuads)
Alien 4"

Alien 4″

Impulse RC is the designer of the famous Warp Quad, which is the 3rd person miniquad that was featured in a famous youtube video that went viral a couple of years ago. In 2015, they came out with the Alien, an FPV miniquad, to great acclaim. It is a very well designed miniquad that offers a great compromise between the pod-based True-X designs and the convenience of the ZMR-style H-quads.

In August 2016, the Helix was announced – a true-X frame from Impulse RC that comes packaged with a VTX and flight controller. This continues the trend of very high quality, well-engineered quads from Impulse but adds an offering for the true racer looking for light weight simplicity.

Arm Layout Asymmetric-X
Body Standard
Arm Size 4" 5" and 6"
Battery Location Top
Part Restrictions FPV Camera and PDB
Durability Average
Vendor Locations Australia
Price High ($110-$130)
Weight Average (144g)

RCGroups Link
Buy here

 

LiftRC
LiftRC Race 5"

LiftRC Race 5″

LiftRC is perhaps best known for making the frames used by the famed acro pilot MattyStuntz. They have a really good-looking H-frame as well as a new X-frame that is incredibly light.

Arm Layout True-X
Body Standard and Pod
Arm Size 5"
Battery Location Top & Bottom
Part Restrictions None
Durability N/A
Vendor Locations Canada
Price Low-Average ($70)
Weight Light

RCGroups Link (Race)
Buy here

 

Lumenier (QAV)
QAV 210

QAV 210

Lumenier is a well known vendor probably best known for sponsoring Charpu, who flies their QAV line of miniquads. They carry a full line of H- and X-quads.

Arm Layout True-X and H
Body Standard
Arm Size 4" 5" & 6"
Battery Location Top
Part Restrictions None
Durability Average
Vendor Locations USA
Price Average ($70-$120)
Weight Average

RCGroups Link (QAV-R)
Buy here

 

QuadRevo
Rage 210

Rage 210

QuadRevo has a nice collection of good-looking H-quad designs. This would be a great alternative to a ZMR if you are looking for something durable and cheap.

Arm Layout H
Body Standard
Arm Size 4" 5" & 6"
Battery Location Top
Part Restrictions None
Durability N/A
Vendor Locations USA
Price Cheap ($40-$70)
Weight Average

Buy here

 

Shrieker

Shrieker

Shendrones (Krieger, Mitsuko, Tweaker)

Shendrones has a lot of really unique designs, focusing on small size, light weight and durability. The Krieger is focused for the market that wants high durability, while the Mixuko focuses on the lightweight racer market. The Tweaker is an interesting take on an H-frame. The Corgi, recently released, is a hybrid between a compact X-frame and a good-looking H-frame.

Arm Layout True-X and H
Body Pod & Standard
Arm Size 4" 5" & 6"
Battery Location Top & Bottom
Part Restrictions None
Durability Average-High
Vendor Locations USA
Price Average ($40-$110)
Weight Light-Average

RCGroups Link (Krieger)
Build log (Krieger)
Buy here

 

Skull and Drones Rampage

Skull and Drones Rampage

Skull and Drones

A new frame designer out of the UK, the Rampage model has a lot of really neat innovations. It has the same backbone carbon plate in the rear that the Bolt frames have, which makes mounting the video transmitter and RC receiver easy and clean. It has a fantastic flight camera mechanism that is similar to the lauded in Alien. It also comes packaged with a high-friction rubber pad that is mounted to the top to keep the battery in place. You may notice that the arms have cutouts – a measure that not only saves weight but increases aerodynamic stability, according to Simon, the designer. A lot of thought has clearly been put into this choice, and I have no doubt that it is as durable as he claims. Plus – the thing looks really cool!

Arm Layout Asymmetric-X
Body Standard
Arm Size 5" & 6"
Battery Location Top
Part Restrictions FPV Camera
Durability Average-High(?)
Vendor Locations UK
Price High ($160)
Weight Average (111g)

Buy here

X-Labs (Shrike)
Shrike

Shrike

The X-labs Shrike is a minimalist design that keeps the weight to an absolute minimum. If you don’t laugh the first time you see a Shrike fully kitted with a GoPro and a large battery, there is something wrong with you. This is a go-to quad for racers looking for the absolute lightest frame they can get.

Arm Layout True-X
Body Pod
Arm Size 5"
Battery Location Bottom
Part Restrictions PDB
Durability Average
Vendor Locations USA
Price Average ($70)
Weight Extremely Light

RCGroups Link
Buy here

 

ZMR – Propwashed Best Value
ZMR 250

ZMR 250

The ZMR may be the most popular miniquad frame on the market right now, although it is losing it’s popularity to X-frames as of late. It is a heavier quad design with a ton of space in the central body and great durability when the 4mm carbon fiber is purchased. Thanks to it’s popularity, there are a ton of aftermarket mods available for it, including custom PDBs that cover the entire bottom plate and a plethora of 3d-printable components.

Arm Layout H
Body Standard
Arm Size 6"
Battery Location Top
Part Restrictions None
Durability Moderate
Vendor Locations USA/EU/Asia
Price Cheap ($20-$40)
Weight Heavy (185g)

RCGroups Link
Buy here

“Clone” Frames

So here’s the deal – every time a popular frame hits the market, clones of that frame start showing up in the big Chinese retailers like Banggood or Gearbest. These frames will often look very similar to the frames they are cloning but cost 1/4 of the price or less. Unfortunately, most they are not true clones and will throw out some of the design elements that require more complicated tooling or expensive hardware to bring the price down. The most common design element thrown out is the adjustable camera mounts – a real shame.

Wherever possible, we recommend you buy from the original designers of any given frame. Not only does this send money to these designers so they can continue their work – it also buys you a quality frame with customer support. We do realize that many prospective pilots have a hard time with the initial investment in the hobby. If you are trying to stretch your money as far as possible and don’t like any of the cheaper options found above, a clone frame might be a good option to look into. Here are a few popular ones on the market that we have some experience with:

Name Original Frame Price Purchase Link Comments
GE-X250 Krieger $34 Buy here N/A
LT210 QAV210 $33-$45 Buy here Price difference is for thicker CF
Martian Alien $26 Buy here Frame design differs from Alien looks similar though

Other Frames

These are just some of the most popular frames on the market. They have all been flown for hundreds if not thousands of hours and have dedicated RCGroups threads that will link you with fellow enthusiasts for build advice. As you might suspect, though, there is a huge number of vendors who want to make money from printing some sheets of carbon fiber out for you. This is not to say that these frames are “bad” at all – just outside of our immediate knowledge here at propwashed. A friendly user on Reddit, /r/BallistoFPV, has maintained an awesome spreadsheet of frames here. Check this out if you are looking for something more unique.

Other Links:

UAVFutures did a great video on this same topic:

http://www.yeggi.com/ – Great place to search for 3D print designs for camera mounts and other gear for your frame.

Like this buyer’s guide? Check out some of other ones!

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