Best flight controller for quadcopter [2017] : How do I choose?

By V Kadamatt | Buying Guides

Sep 08
Best flight controller : Featured Image

Building a new multirotor? You definitely ought to buy a flight controller then! This post is our ultimate guide to choosing and buying the best flight controller for quadcopter and multirotor type crafts and is split up into two sections:

  1. Buying considerations like ease of setup, supported sensors, capabilities and fly-ability.
  2. A list of what we think the best flight controller for quadcopter and multirotor type crafts are (some of these even support fixed wing and other types of crafts) today with a brief review of each one. The section is further divided into subsections of beginner, racing and high priced flight controllers for autonomous flight and cinematography.

How to choose a flight controller for your craft?

 

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What do you want to accomplish and what is your budget?

 

To figure out what is the best flight controller for your craft, you must first figure out WHAT EXACTLY you are trying to accomplish. Are you a beginner trying to build that first quadcopter/multirotor? Do you want to build a fast, racing style multirotor? Or are you a tech savvy cinematographer looking to build a multirotor to add to your photography and videography repertoire?

Of course, depending on what you want to accomplish, the price will vary. A flight controller like the KK2.X for a beginner or a Naze32 (which is typically popular on racing quads), would be way cheaper than a flight controller capable of autonomous flight and videography.  Racing quads are often equipped with flight controllers that are on the cheaper end of the scale (mainly because they are prone to crashing).

Ease of setup and firmware

I don’t know about you, but to us, a flight controller that is a pain to setup is less valuable than one that is easy to get going with. Some boards are compatible with configurator software packages such as CleanFlight and OpenPilot, which are very easy to setup. CC3D and Naze 32 are examples.

Other boards like the KK 2.X models, come with an on-board UI that makes tuning (PID, for instance) very easy, without having to go back to your PC all the time. Many boards come with their own configurator package and firmware.

Fly-ability

Not all flight controllers fly the same. Some flight controllers are better than others at handling and balancing. The KK 2.X model’s handling capabilities for example, is far inferior to the Eagle tree vector.

Quick note: Please make sure to update your flight controller firmware before even setting it up and taking it out for flying. Many boards have reported to have significantly improved their fly-ability from their initial firmware release (including the KK 2.Xs).

Supported sensors and capabilities

Last but not in any way the least, you must consider the capabilities that the said flight controller supports. The following is a list of sensors and features that you must check whether or not the flight controller supports, depending on your needs:

  1. Microcontroller bit size (8bit vs 32 bit): 32 bit flight controllers are far superior to 8 bit ones in terms of handling the craft
  2. Gyroscope and accelerometers : All flight controllers have these
  3. Barometer : Holding altitudes (A requirement for most cinematography based multicopters)
  4. Magnetometer : Useful for detecting direction (head holding)
  5. GPS : Useful for autonomous flights
  6. Whether or not the flight controller supports the kind of craft you want to build: (quadcopter, hexacopter, tricopter, octacopter and so on and so forth)

Best beginner flight controller

 

KK 2.X

(Clicking on image will take you to Amazon)

The KK2 board may not be the most performance delivering. It also doesn’t come with many advanced features and support. Nevertheless, is among our favorite, especially because of the ease of setup and the support for almost all flight configurations (including quadcopter, hexcopter, octocopter, tricopter, fixed wing etc). The on-board screen makes it extremely easy to tune with this craft, making it very beginner friendly. What’s more, it is also among the cheapest flight controllers you can get!

What’s awesome?

  • Cheap
  • Supports almost all flight configurations
  • On board LCD screen and buttons that makes programming it very easy
  • Plenty of tutorials on the web on how to set it up

What’s bad?

  • Comes with an 8 bit microcontroller, which means it is slower
  • Not the best at handing and balancing a craft
  • Doesn’t come with any of the advanced features (like GPS or barometer)

Click here to check price on Amazon


Best racing drone flight controllers

 

CC3D

(Clicking on image will take you to Amazon)

Much like the KK2 board, the CC3D board doesn’t come with many advanced features and sensors. It doesn’t come with an on screen display either. Nevertheless, the board is compatible with CleanFlight, OpenPilot and the like, making it very easy and reliable to setup and work with.

The CC3D also comes with a 32 bit microcontroller as opposed to the 8 bit one on the KKV2, making it closer to Naze32 Acro in terms of performance and capabilities.  You can build racing quads with these. Essentially, there is little difference between the two boards if you flash CleanFlight onto the CC3D board.

What’s awesome?

  • Cheap
  • Supports almost all flight configurations
  • 32 bit microcontroller
  • Compatible with software packages and firmware like OpenPilot and CleanFlight
  • Easy to setup

What’s bad?

  • A pain to tune, especially with no on-board screen
  • Doesn’t come with any of the advanced features (like GPS or barometer)

 

Click here to check current price on Amazon


Naze32 (both Acro and full versions)

(Clicking on image will take you to Amazon)

Naze32 Acro is similar to the CC3D, but the full version comes with additional sensors – a barometer and the ability to add GPS. The Naze32 comes with Baseflight, but you can also use CleanFlight. The Naze32 also has a built in FrSky telemetry inverter and supports all standard receivers. This board is comparable to the CC3D, since it is very similar. If you are into drone racing, this is the best flight controller you can get.

What’s awesome?

  • Cheap, especially the Acro version
  • Supports almost all flight configurations
  • 32 bit microcontroller
  • Compatible with CleanFlight
  • Easy to setup

What’s bad?

  • Doesn’t come with a protective case like the CC3D board
  • The Acro version doesn’t come with any of the advanced features (like GPS, barometer or magnetometer)

Click here to check current price on Amazon


KISS

(Clicking on image will take you to Amazon)

The KISS FC is another 32 bit flight controller comparable to the Naze32 and CC3D. It doesn’t have a barometer or magnetometer and it doesn’t come with a flash memory chip either. Unlike flight controllers like the Naze32, the KSS FC comes with its own custom firmware and software which is much more “dumbed down” and simpler to setup than something like the CleanFlight.

This is a great flight controller overall for a small racing style quadcopter but it doesn’t support octocopters, which might be a bummer. But hey, if you are going for a small, racing style multirotor, you probably are better off not building an octocopter in the first place!

Here is a great review of the KISS flight controller by Oscar Liang.

What’s awesome?

  • Cheap
  • 32 bit microcontroller
  • KISS FC firmware and software packages are relatively easy to setup, especially if you are a beginner
  • Controls a craft very well, even with minimum tuning

What’s bad?

  • No flash memory chip or compatibility for packages such as CleanFlight
  • Can get challenging to tune the PID controls
  • Poor manual

Click here to check current price on Amazon


Best flight controllers for autonomous flight, GPS and cinema

 

ArduPilot APM

(Clicking on image will take you to Amazon)

On the pricier end of the sale, the ArduPilot APM is a great entry level flight controller that supports GPS and autonomous flight (including RTH and other features). It also supports telemetry and flight logs.  In summary, it includes all the important sensors and more, including a magnetometer and a barometer. You also have the ability to add more sensors. A cheaper predecessor to the 3DR Pixhauk, we decided to include it in this best flight controller list.

What’s awesome?

  • Supports all kinds of sensors and has telemetry and flight logging capabilities
  • Excellent software, easy to setup
  • Well tested

What’s bad?

  • Getting obsolete with little to no support. Pixhawk is the way forward
  • 8 bit microcontroller
  • We noticed that the flight performance was poor (compared to flight controllers like the Naze32 at least)
  • PID tuning can take a while

Click here to check price on Amazon


Best flight controller Top Pick : Eagle Tree vector + OSD

(Clicking on image will take you to Amazon)

This ought to be our favorite flight controller that supports autonomous features. We think that the Eagle Tree vector is the most versatile flight controller out there. If autonomous flight is what you are looking for, this is it. It also comes with an OSD and connector (that comes in different versions), which means you won’t have to get them separately.

The vector FC is pretty easy to program and setup and the controller handles a craft (supports multiple different crafts including fixed wing aircrafts) very well with minimum tuning. More than worthy of being included in a list of best flight controllers

What’s awesome?

  • Very versatile and supports all kinds of sensors and has telemetry capabilities
  • 32 bit microcontroller
  • Excellent software, easy to setup
  • Supports many different flight configurations, including fixed wing
  • Controls a craft very well, even with minimum tuning
  • Easy to tune

What’s bad?

  • Pricier than some cheaper FCs, but honestly we think it is worth paying for!

Here is a great video on setting up the Eagle Vector, in case you plan on getting one:

Click here to check current price on Amazon


Best flight controller for autonomous flight: 3DR Pixhawk

(Clicking on image will take you to Amazon)

Coming with an open source software and firmware, the 3DR Pixhawk is probably one of the best flight controllers for autonomous flight and the amount of features. The 3DR pixhawk can be thought of as a successor to the APM flight controllers and much more powerful but not nearly as well tested, making it worthy of being called as one of the best flight controllers out there.

What’s awesome?

  • Supports all kinds of sensors and has telemetry capabilities
  • 32 bit microcontroller
  • Excellent software, easy to setup
  • Supports many different flight configurations
  • Backup system
  • Built well

What’s bad?

  • Pricey
  • You need to add an additional PPM encoder board if you have a non-S.BUS receiver like Futaba

Click here to check current price on Amazon


Best flight controller for cinematography: DJI Nava M – V2

(Clicking on image will take you to Amazon)

Very popular because of the DJI phantom drones, the Naza M-V2 has an excellent GPS capability. We think that the Naza is easier to setup than the 3DR Pixhawk, but offers lesser features especially because unlike the Pixhawk, the Naza is not open source. DJI does sell many addons to this flight controller though. Keep in mind that if you get the Lite version, these addons and accessories will not be supported. If you want to build a craft capable of cinematography, the M-V2 is the way to go. Definitely the best flight controller for cinematography.

What’s awesome?

  • Supports all kinds of sensors and has telemetry capabilities
  • 32 bit microcontroller
  • Excellent software, easy to setup
  • Excellent support

What’s bad?

  • Doesn’t support tricopter configuration making it less versatile than the comparable Eagle Vector. We think this is a big downside, considering the price

Click here to check current price on Amazon


Conclusion

To summarize, consider the following before making a purchase:

  • What do you want to build with the flight controller? A 250 style quad? An autonomous flying machine? A cinematography capable drone?
  • Read reviews on the performance of the said flight controller, watch YouTube videos to see how they perform.
  • Supported sensors and other capabilities
  • Open source vs closed source?
  • Is the said flight controller new or is it tested thoroughly and battle hardened over the years?

That’s all folks! We hope this guide on the best flight controller helps you in selecting the appropriate flight controller for your next build. If you have any questions or suggestions, please drop them below and we’ll be sure to answer and love you for it!

Best flight controller for quadcopter [2017] : How do I choose? was last modified: August 4th, 2017 by V Kadamatt

About the Author

Artificial Intelligence , UAV and RC enthusiast. Software professional, part time philosopher and star gazer. Also loves physics, mathematics, economics, psychology, fantasy, Sci-Fi and futurology.

Leave a Comment:

(10) comments

‫יהונתן בן זקן‬‎ April 26, 2017

Tenx u so much

Reply
Ron June 24, 2017

Hey
Thanks for the blog, it really helpful.
I just wonder, which flight controller is best for integrated with other controller, such as raspberry pi (for example to use it as autonomous)
Do I need to buy dedicated flight controller, or I can use any one listed below?
Thanks!

Reply
    V Kadamatt June 26, 2017

    Really glad you found it helpful, Ron!
    I believe you can integrate the flight controllers with the pi. I highly recommend you check out Navio 2 which already is what you want done, pre-built.

    Reply
Kamalakar Reddy June 28, 2017

Hii
I was just searching around the net for flight controller from so many days and found this site. Its very nice and helpful and i want to know the information about load lifting octocopter i.e: up to 25 kg load capacity on flight. So please suggest me some flight controller that can be used .
Thanks!

Reply
Rahul July 19, 2017

Hello,

Thanks for this nice article, Could you please tell me is there any autonomous flight controller which can support 8 or more motors?

-Rahul

Reply
    V Kadamatt July 26, 2017

    Hi Rahul, most flight controllers support octocopters (8 motors). Before you purchase, check for the configurations they support. The DJI Nava for example has no tricopter feature.

    Reply
Gary Blake July 30, 2017

Betaflight now support KIS FC. It would be nice to link and update for this great post.

https://nathan.vertile.com/blog/2016/07/29/betaflight-kiss-flight-controller/#pinout

Reply
David August 27, 2017

what about f4 f fly controller

Reply
V Kadamatt September 2, 2017

Hi, we haven’t tested that controller yet

Reply
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