This hobby can be extremely expensive starting from scratch. If you watch a few videos and see all the components, tools for building, and gear needed, it can easily dissuade you from jumping in. We wanted to make a purchasing guide that can help you structure your investment. Our goal is to help you start by spending a small amount of cash, and expand as your skills and passion increase. Moreover, if you find that the spark just isn’t there, it will help prevent you from spending way too much money right out the gate.
First and foremost, get a micro quad
If you browse this site for a while, you will see that we bring this subject up in nearly every introductory learning topic. If you are at all interested in flying quadcopters, get a micro quad first. It is the simplest investment that you can make that will a) give you knowledge and muscle memory that transfers directly to larger quads and b) will give you an inkling if you even like the hobby. We have seen many bright eyed hobbyists pick up the best of the best gear from the get go, only for it to end up collecting dust in a corner a month later. Similarly, just search YouTube for Phantom crashes from inexperienced pilots. A micro quad like the Hubsan X4 or Syma x11 is a cheap (< $40, usually much cheaper that that even) entry path into the hobby. If you are having a blast zipping around in your micro quad and can’t get enough, you will definitely enjoy taking the next step. If you find the micro quad frustrating to fly, and aren’t really having fun with it, chances are you will be just (if not more) frustrated taking the next step.
If you are really ambitious, consider getting an Inductrix for your micro quad. This thing is great because there is a cult following behind upgrading it and turning it into an awesome FPV platform, called “Tiny Whoop”. With this little micro quad, you may never even want to move on to full size!
|Basic micro quad – Hubsan X4, Syma x11||$20-$40 depending on model|
Section Total: $20-40
Running Total: $20-40
For running total we will show the range between the low end and high end price totals. Remember, these are just estimates!
Get basic tools for your micro quad and gear for going to the field
Most micro quadcopters come with one battery and a few spare props. If you start really flying your new toy all the time, you will quickly be frustrated by the downtime spent waiting for batteries to charge. This is a good thing though! This means that you are into the hobby enough where you want to be in the air longer. Our next purchase recommendation therefore is to expand your tool kit and gear for your micro quad. Things like extra batteries, multichargers, and simple repair tools can be had on Amazon extremely cheaply. Similarly, you are probably at a stage where you are venturing outside of the house to a local park to fly around. Picking up some gear to make your field experience better is also a great step at this point. Best of all, most of the gear you pick up here can be used later in the hobby, or for other hobbies and sports. Things like collapsible chairs and agility cones will help tremendously in training – with a micro quad now and with an FPV racer down the line.
|Extra micro quad batteries||$20 for 5 is a common price|
|Extra micro quad propellers (Hubsan selected)||$7 for a pack of 5 sets|
|Multi battery charger||$7 for a 4-in-1 charger|
Section Total: $34
Running Total: $54-74
At this point, for $60 you would have a micro quadcopter and plenty of batteries and extra props to push it to its limits. If you also picked up some quality of life improvements for the field, you are probably sitting around $100 total invested. This should provide a ton of training hours and fun! If you are having a blast after spending days / weeks crashing and learning, then you are probably ready to move to the next step. If you just aren’t feeling it, then hey, you are less than $100 in the hole.
Get a radio transmitter and a simulator
The battle scars on your Hubsan show the hours invested in training. You can do flips around the house, are comfortable hitting small gaps, and are looking for new challenges. I think it’s safe to say if that describes you at this point, then you will probably enjoy expanding into the hobby further! Now it is time for our first purchase in the full-size market – your radio transmitter.
“Wait, wait, wait,” you might say, “I don’t even have a real quadcopter yet, why would I buy a transmitter and not a quadcopter?” Great question! The reason is, getting your full quad is going to be another big expense, and is definitely the item that will ‘wear out’ first. As a new pilot, you will crash constantly (which is a part of the learning process) and likely damage parts left and right. We highly recommend using a sim before real airtime to help save you frustration and money on repairs. To do so effectively, you want to learn using the transmitter you will be flying with to build up muscle memory that will transfer directly to real flight. Simulators are amazing tools that let you practice line of sight flying and FPV right in your house. There are a ton of options on the market right now that can really test your abilities and give you a ton of training from the comfort of your home. Check out our list of simulators and reviews here.
Moreover, your transmitter probably has the highest resale value of any of the items you will buy for a full-size drone racer. Our favorite transmitter, the Taranis X9D, has been out for years and you’ll still be lucky to find one on eBay for less than 80% of the MSRP. Since at this point it will mainly be sitting plugged into your computer at home, it will remain in good condition as well. This means if after you start putting time into the simulator and find that FPV isn’t for you, reselling your transmitter can help you recoup your investment at minimal loss. On the other hand, selling used quadcopters can be more difficult depending on the wear and tear as well as the components used in the build.
|Radio transmitter – Taranis, Spektrum, etc.||Expect to spend around $200 on a nice transmitter|
|Simulator – List of simulators||Free to around $20-$40. Check out our simulator list for a ton of options|
Section Total: $220
Running Total: $274-294
At this point, you have all the tools needed to keep your micro quad in the air and a transmitter to build your skills in a simulator. Now you want to practice with both – spend time flying your micro quad and hitting the simulators hard. When you are not flying, you can read guides (like our Drone Racing Guide!) and watch videos to further your learning and prepare yourself for taking the next step. Spending wise, you will be somewhere around $300-$350 invested, and should have a much clearer feeling if this hobby is for you. If you still have the itch at this point, it’s time to really get in the air.
Purchase ‘required’ tools
It’s time to buy a quadcopter! Before you do so though, there are tools you will absolutely be required to purchase in order to build, or at least maintain and repair, your new investment. We recommend budgeting for, and buying these required tools first to make sure you have everything on hand when the actual building commences. You don’t want to get mid-way through your first build and have to hit pause because you don’t have the right tools to put things together. This will slow your momentum and cause the build process to be that much more frustrating. Even if you are going with a ready to fly (RTF) option, if you crash and have nothing to repair your quadcopter with, then that is going to be many days out of the sky while you wait for tools.
We put together an article on all the tools needed for building a quadcopter. For this step, we recommend picking up all of the “required” tools before purchasing your first quadcopter.
|Soldering iron||Our favorite iron costs around $40|
|Hand tools (see this article for full list)||You will need hex drivers, pliers, etc. Be sure to check your home toolbox for these first! Expect around $30 in spending.|
|Multimeter||Expect to spend around $15|
Section Total: $85+
Running Total: $359-379+
After grabbing your tools, you should have everything required for your first quadcopter. Best of all, the above tools and gear will be useful for years! From this point, the purchase totals will depend on what you purchase – be it an RTF quad, building from a kit, or from individual parts.
Purchase your quadcopter (and necessary items!)
The part you have been waiting for! It is time to get a real quadcopter! Now come some serious choices though. What is your budget? What are you looking to fly? Your first step should be reading our drone racer buying options guide. This will help run you through the pros and cons of building from a kit, from parts, or purchasing an RTF quad. Each of these have different financial impacts.
At this point, unless you are purchasing RTF, find a great deal, or have budgeted for it, you can skip the video components required for FPV. While this may be your eventual goal, it is not required to get you flying. You can continue flying line of sight with your new quadcopter in replacement of your micro quad! This way you can get more practice without having to spend the $200+ on FPV gear. Don’t worry, getting video equipment on your quad is our next recommended purchase!
Also, don’t forget to buy propellers! Many kit and part packs come with a set or two, but you will definitely need more. We recommend aiming for at least 10+ full sets to keep you busy for a while.
As per what to look for when browsing vendors, be sure to review our buyer’s guides on these items:
- Brushless motor buyers guide
- ESC buyers guide
- Frame buyers guide
- Flight controller buyers guide
- Propeller buyers guide
|RTF – TBS Vendetta, Immersion Vortex||Expect $500+ for a solid racing drone RTF kit.|
|Kit build – Dubai 210, MQB ZMR||Expect $150-300+ for a kit build.|
|Build from parts||Huge range depending on parts list, but expect at least $200-500.|
Section Total: $200-500+
Running Total: $559-879+
While buying your quadcopter – battery and charger
In addition to buying your quadcopter, you will need to purchase batteries to keep it airborne! These items can be purchased during the same time you order your quadcopter to help save on shipping from various vendors. Many vendors offer chargers, so usually it is worth saving the cost on shipping for beginner level gear. If you want higher end gear, you may have to purchase these separately.
Be sure to check out our buyer’s guides on these items:
If you are looking for information on which retailers to go with, check out our “vendors page” for details on specializations, locations, and links.
|Batteries (4s – see buyers guide)||$25+ depending on brand and C rating.|
|Battery charger||$40-200 depending on quality and number of batteries that can be charged.|
Section Total: $140-300 (assuming 4 batteries purchased)
Running Total: $699-1,179+
Get your FPV gear (as needed)
To round out your quadcopter for racing, it is time to get it equipped with FPV equipment! This will mean purchasing the on-quad components such as a video transmitter and camera, as well as the goggles you will wear to see your quadcopter. We recommend purchasing the goggles first, as you can use them at flight events to tune into other racer’s video streams and watch the competition. If you purchase your transmitter and camera gear first, you won’t have much use for them until you can see them through the goggles! If you decided to go with an RTF quad, it likely came with a camera and video transmitter. In this case, you just need to pick up some goggles and you are good to go!
For video gear, you can check out our buyer’s guides on these items:
|FPV goggles||$50-300 depending on quality – ranging from DIY Quantum goggle kits to high end FatSharks|
|Video transmitter system||$40+ for your on board video system|
|FPV camera||$20-50+ range depends on if you get a board camera or something with an adjustable body (like the Runcam Owl)|
|Antennas||$35+ for matching antennas for your goggles + quad.|
Section Total: $145-425
Running Total: $844-1,604+
So in summary, to get from absolute zero to the complete FPV setup with all gear, expect to spend around $1,000. Obviously equipment can be found cheaper (or more expensive) based on sales, quality, etc. This article isn’t aiming to give a price guide (we will save that for a future article!) but rather structure your purchase order and give you (extremely) rough estimates on pricing.
Upgrades (as desired)
Now that you have a fully kitted out quad, you might want to purchase some other unnecessary (but fun) items. We plan to do another guide on which parts to prioritize when upgrading and purchasing more top of the line components, but here are some ideas for now!
Action Cameras: If you want to capture footage in the sky, the easiest way is with an action camera like a Runcam2, Yi, or GoPro. You could get a DVR to record your flight camera, but the quality will certainly be lacking.
3D printer: a big investment, but if you want to really dive into creating your own mounts, gear add-ons, and other accessories, a 3D printer can be a lot of fun. Check out our article on using a 3d printer for creating quadcopter parts here.
Fancier video/transmitter gear (diversity modules, base stations, etc.): If you want to extend your flying range, or improve your video quality for racing, these products can be a great investment. Advanced pilots gung-ho about competitive racing or distance flying should look into these. See our articles on advanced components such as the Connex ProSight and LaForge diversity module.
Hopefully this helps structure your purchasing process from absolute beginner to drone racer! While this list may not be for everyone, we tried to structure it in a way that helps test and build your interest in the hobby while keeping spending down. To make things easier, we have included a flowchart that can help guide your purchase decisions. Feel free to share this with friends!
Like many of our articles, many of the links above are affiliate links. We urge you to shop around, but if you do decide to buy from the vendors above, we would really appreciate it. It doesn’t cost you a dime more, but it sends us a few cents every time a purchase is made. Thanks!