The latest innovation in micro quadcopters is HD recording. BetaFPV’s entry into this market is the Beta85X HD “Cinewhoop”. Calling an 85mm with 2-inch props any kind of “whoop” is a stretch—but it’s certainly a unique kind of product with a niche market.
Let’s start here. (Warning: I’ve intentionally left the audio in place for demonstration purposes. You’re going to want to mute that.)
At this point you’re either bored at how slow and level I’m flying, or you’re really interested in capturing some cinematic footage from angles and locations that were previously impossible. Whichever way you’re feeling will probably be all you need to know about this review—but let’s dive in deeper and look at the specifics. By the way, that video is on stock settings and without post-processing other than transitioning clips together. However, it was upscaled to 4K to help avoid Youtube’s awful compression. The camera doesn’t do 4K recording; watch it in 1080.
The 85X HD is built from the existing 85X: an 85mm frame with 1105 6000Kv motors spin up 2″ 4-blade Avan props. An F4 flight controller flashed with Betaflight 3.5 provides an MPU6000 gyro, and a separate 4-in-1 BLHeli_32 ESC board is rated for 16A continuous and 25A peak. This may sound very high for a micro quad, but you’ll be flying it on 3S. (It was actually intended to handle 4S, but doesn’t hold up to the stress and has been down-rated. Try at your own risk.) The battery connector is XT-30, which is common for batteries targeted at 2– and 3-inch quads. Below these boards is a separate receiver. BetaFPV provides options for FrSky, Spektrum, Flysky, Futaba, and even Crossfire. Our review kit is a FrSky, which has a genuine XM+ receiver.
The 85X and 85X HD also share a VTx; a 25/200mW adjustable transmitter that comes with a Lumenier AXII micro antenna. The name-brand antenna is a nice touch and really makes for a nice flight experience from the video. SmartAudio completes the package to allow in-goggle frequency changes. After that point, the 85X and the 85X HD diverge. The original 85X has a lightweight canopy that covers a micro camera similar to the various Beta65 and Beta75 Pro/2 models. The HD variant has a thicker, more rigid canopy that serves as a camera mount for its CADDX Turtle V2. The Turtle V2 doesn’t transmit HD in real time, but records it to an SD card (not provided).
A small caveat here. the Beta85X HD doesn’t come with a battery. BetaFPV recommends a 3S 450mAh. The only batteries I had on hand were 3S 650mAh (one of which was a CNHL, which is probably more like 725mAh). Using a heavier battery like this will degrade performance somewhat. I don’t think this will make a large difference unless you’re flying acro.
The flight experience on the 85X HD is, to be honest, a bit lackluster. It feels heavy and has a pretty significant drift slide — and I don’t think all of that is the extra battery it is lugging around. If you were flying quads back in 2014, I’d compare it to a 3S on my QAV250. Despite the 3S battery, this is not an “on-rails” racer by any stretch. Acro is possible, you can throw flips and rolls and other moves as long as you give yourself a fair amount of clearance. Arresting a fall takes much longer than you’re probably used to, though, so watch those dives. You do have power at your disposal to build up some decent speed, but hard, tight turns tend to “wash out” and send the quad into a tumble. Propwash abounds, and light winds will blow you off course. If you’re flying for the thrill of flight, this is not the drone for you. Whether the flight feel comes more from performance or camera latency really doesn’t matter since the HD camera is the whole point of owning this particular machine.
While these flight characteristics won’t excite you, they are beneficial for a certain kind of flying: the slow cruise. Sliding sideways around a corner makes for a nice, smooth shot, and propwash handling is more than adequate when you’re not flipping around like a maniac. With a slower flight style, the 650mAh provides nearly 8 minutes of flight time. That gives you more opportunities to catch the right moment or retry different shots to get it perfect.
If the acro isn’t fun, and it’s not a competitive racer, what’s it for? If you’re into making video, a “cinewhoop” opens up a lot of new possibilities. You can put a camera in positions and get shots that were previously impossible or prohibitively expensive. Explore small spaces, create shots that transition from outdoor to indoor areas, or blend close-up and overhead angles in the same shot. I’ve written before about the micro quad’s size being a benefit to when and where you’re allowed to fly, and this is no different. Low weight and prop guards make it safe to fly indoors and even within inches of people. There aren’t many other drones that exist which can do that. A big limitation is the fixed camera angle, though; it will be tough to loiter at the upper edges of a room since if you’re in a hover, you’re stuck with the camera pointed upward.
The 85X HD appears to be pretty well put together. The materials are more solid than BetaFPV’s smaller models, providing a stiffer frame and more durable canopy at the expense of weight. The strengthened canopy was a requirement since it doubles as a mount for the Turtle camera/DVR. Even the props are thicker and stiffer in this larger version. The separate genuine XM+ receiver means the control range is really good. You can’t get telemetry via the XM+, but the lockup bug that plagues all-in-one flight controllers isn’t an issue on the 85X.
The camera and image quality is superb for a micro, and certainly the best I’ve seen on a BetaFPV product. The Turtle’s wide dynamic range (WDR) holds detail in both highlights and shadows, reacts quickly to light level changes, and has pretty good color reproduction. The effect of WDR is lower contrast in the mid-tones, which has the effect of hiding leafless branches from view until the very last second. Flying through trees is more likely with a micro than a full-size quad, making flights on the 85X subject to more “ghost branch” encounters than I’ve ever had before.
The DVR video looks pretty good as well. I noticed some stuttering in playback, but it’s usable for a lot of purposes—just maybe not professionally without some post-processing. Starting and stopping the DVR is annoying, though—the record button is hard to press since it’s recessed into the canopy. I can’t reach it with my finger; I have to find something to press it with. The DVR unit saves the video when it’s powered off even if it’s still recording, which is excellent. You can simply pick it up and unplug the battery when you are done with your flight, and crashing doesn’t mean losing all of your footage. The DVR audio is awful and unusable.
I had a number of reliability issues with my 85 the first few times out. On those days, I had all sorts of problems that would hang around for a short time and then go away. The camera didn’t boot. The receiver wouldn’t report a connection. The gyro reported bad data. A motor quit spinning. This might be my own fault—I managed to dump it in the snow a few times while attempting different acro moves and didn’t always unplug immediately and allow it to completely thaw and dry out before I tried to fly again. On other days, after the snow had gone away, I had error-free flights. Even so, I’m not sure getting wet explains why the VTx would cut out when I crashed into something with moderate speed. If you do disassemble the boards, take care to plug them back together correctly. It’s very easy to offset the two boards’ pin connectors and short the whole thing.
Setting up the Beta85X HD can be fairly simple. You’ll need to bind the receiver of your choice—the process will differ from one type of receiver to another—and you’re good to go. PIDs and rates aren’t critical since flight performance is already so limited, but there are a few things you might consider changing.
- The VTx antenna sticks horizontally out the back of the canopy. This puts the antenna null in front and behind the quad, so flying directly toward or away from you will have the worst signal. Bend this upward and level it out for much better reception in these positions, placing the nulls above and below instead.
- The receiver is more or less loose in the bottom of the quad. Separating and mounting the receiver antennas at a 90° angle to each other would provide a more reliable control connection.
- The camera is 16:9 format and will always record HD this way, but you can adjust the live feed output to 4:3 aspect instead so it matches your goggles.
- You can set the DVR to record as soon as the craft powers up to avoid carrying something to help press the record button.
- Since the HD recording happens separately from your FC and VTx output, feel free to enable any OSD settings—you won’t see them in the HD footage. Avoid the top right edge, though; this is where the Turtle places its recording time and indicator.
Camera settings are adjusted by taking the canopy off and plugging in included joystick board to the Turtle V2. When you power on, you can adjust the camera settings via OSD.
Like most of BetaFPV’s products, the Beta85X HD is built from many parts that are individually available.
- 450mAh 3S 70C battery
- F4 FC board
- BLHeli_32 4-in-1 ESC board
- 1105 6000KV motors with connectors
- EMAX Avan 2″ 4-Blades Props
- CADDX Turtle V2 HD DVR Camera
- Beta85X Frame
- Receiver: Frsky XM+ / DSMX / Futaba S-FHSS / Flysky / TBS Crossfire
BetaFPV’s Beta85X HD does not fly awesome. If you want to rip around and experience acrobatic flight like never before, look elsewhere. BetaFPV’s own 75 Pro 2 is a much more capable craft in this regard, or you might step up to a 3-inch quad instead. But the 85X HD is not meant to do what most others do. It’s not supposed to be just a step upward in power from the 75; it’s a wholly different kind of machine. When you pick up the 85X, you take on the role of videographer. The 85 has a unique capability to safely capture video extremely close to people and in close quarters. You’ll either love it or hate it depending on the kind of shooting you want to do. I had a blast shooting micro drone racing for our local group’s chapter event video, and I can think of several nearby locations that wouldn’t be appropriate or safe to fly with a larger, open-prop drone. The cost of this one-trick pony is about $200—which isn’t exactly an impulse buy for many. But if you want a unique perspective in a difficult location, there’s not much else that can get it for you.