When it comes to flying an RC multirotor or fixed-wing aircraft with first person view, one of the most important components is the FPV camera. The quality of the FPV image is directly related to the quality of the camera and the different types of cameras.
Since they are small and lightweight, a lot of the cameras used for FPV come to us from the video surveillance and security industries. These cameras come with two main types of sensors: CCD and CMOS.
Charged-coupled device (CCD) sensors have a greater wide dynamic range (WDR) which makes them better suited for extreme lighting conditions where there is either a low or high light level. CCD cameras are also less susceptible to vibration, so produce low-noise images. So, the CCD sensor produces a higher quality pixel. A drawback is they use more power than a CMOS video camera.
Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensors are less expensive to produce and result in a lower cost camera. CMOS sensors produce a lower quality image and are more susceptible to noise, but have a lower voltage consumption. However, CMOS sensors are improving in quality and may soon be an equal in quality to CCD sensors.
There are some other factors when choosing a camera for FPV flying.
There are two types of video encoding available, NTSC (National Television System Committee) and PAL (Phase Alternating Line). While it is something to consider, it is not terribly important anymore as most FPV equipment will work with either one. However, since video cameras come with either encoding, you will have to make a decision.
The two encoding types have become more regional. NTSC is primarily used in North America and PAL is primarily used in Europe and Asia. If there is any doubt as to which encoding type you want to use, it would probably be better to go with the type most popular for your region. However, if you really want the highest video quality possible, then you may want to go with PAL as it does have a little better resolution, but a slightly slower frame rate than NTSC.
A camera’s TV lines of resolution (TVL) determine the quality of the video resolution. The TVL number is determined by how many alternating white and black lines can be displayed in its image horizontally. So, a camera with a TVL of 380 would be able to show 190 black lines and 190 white lines alternately in one picture. An FPV camera with a TVL of 600 would have a much better definition than the camera with a TVL of 380. A higher TVL will give you a higher definition image, but it’s going to come at a higher price as well. You can fly FPV with a low TVL camera, but you won’t have as clear of an image.
FPV cameras come with various focal length lenses, the most common being a 3.6mm and 2.8mm; the lower the focal length, the wider the field of view (FoV). The 3.6mm focal length would give you a 90 degree FoV and the 2.8mm a 112 degree FoV. One thing to consider is that when your FoV is above 90 degrees you start to experience a “fish eye” effect. Some RC pilots don’t like that and some like it for proximity flying because you can see more obstacles.
The size and weight of the camera are also to be taken into consideration as your multirotor or RC plane has to carry the weight. The camera sizes for FPV are becoming more standardized with the most common being 32mm or 38mm square. Sony cameras may be labeled as 1/3” cameras because of the 1/3” Sony CCD chip. Most cameras come with a removable case depending on how you want to mount the camera. Cameras, with the case, typically weigh between 20g to 50g, but can vary
IR Block VS IR Sensitive: Some cameras may have an option for either IR Block or IR Sensitive. IR Block will give you a clearer picture, but IR Sensitive will work better in low light levels.
Now that you know the types of FPV cameras and the specifications to consider when purchasing, you can make a better informed decision when you select your own FPV camera.
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