DJI’s drones are well loved in the imaging industry. Reliable hardware, quality cameras, and strong safety features have opened the world of aerial imaging to photographers who haven’t braved an open-door helicopter flight—or those who would never consider doing so in the first place. DJI’s newest drone, the FPV Combo ($1,299), is a different beast entirely. It’s built for high-speed performance and first-person flight, satisfying thrill seekers and drone racing enthusiasts over aerial photographers. Its camera is capable, but it takes a back seat to the flight experience.
That’s one of the reasons we’re not giving the FPV Combo a rating at this time. I’ve tested plenty of photography-first drones, but I have very limited experience with FPV racers, so I didn’t brave trying the Combo out in manual flight mode (up to 87mph) myself. Flown with care, and a partner, there’s plenty of room for aerial adventure here. But in faster flight modes, you can find yourself in a bad situation, quickly.
Ready to Fly
The FPV Combo is a sleek little drone. It’s got the style of a race car, with its dark gray airframe accented by translucent plastic, showing off some of the internal tech, and red-tipped propeller blades. For whatever reason, adding a bit of red makes everything look a little faster.
The aircraft sits in between the slim cinema Mavic series and DJI’s older Phantom line in size, and its design language falls somewhere between the two as well. It’s taller than a Mavic, with short, fixed struts and small three-blade propellers. Flight time isn’t as long with camera drones, at about 20 minutes on a fully charged battery.
It’s big enough that you’ll want to carry it in a case or backpack, at 5.0 by 7.0 by 9.1 inches (HWD). It’s also pretty dense, at 1.8 pounds at takeoff, which puts it under the purview of FAA oversight for recreational flight. Those rules require you to keep the drone within your line of sight, or fly with a visual observer when using goggles—more on that in a bit.
A traditional two-handed video game-style remote controller is included. The analog control rings stow in the handles, and screw into each control pad with a few twists. Tension is adjustable, so you can set the sticks to be looser or tighter if you prefer.
The remote will be familiar to anyone who’s already piloted a drone—the left stick sets altitude and turns the aircraft on its axis, while the right stick moves it forward, back, left, or right. (If you haven’t flown a drone before, we cover the basics in a guide.)
DJI is also selling a Motion Controller for single-handed flight—it costs an extra $199. I’ve not yet had a chance to try it out, but it looks similar to the motion controllers that work with VR headsets.
Speaking of, you’ll use a headset, not a smartphone screen, to see the view through the camera lens. The video feed comes in over a digital connection at HD (810p) quality. It’s powered by an external battery pack—the cable is long enough for it to slide into the pocket of your pants when you’re wearing the headset.
The video coming through the goggles is crisp and vibrant, and DJI promises minimal (7ms) latency in the feed. Each lens has an adjustable position, so you can tune eye spacing to match your vision. There’s enough room to wear the headset with glasses, too.
I noted some blur and color fringing toward the edges of the display in testing, but was generally happy with its quality. The issues I had were more personal—VR goggles give me a nauseous, headache-y feeling with any extended use. If you have this same issue, the FPV experience lacks appeal.
Three High-Speed Flight Modes
Everything is ready to use out of the box, which is in stark contrast to the DIY kits and homebuilt aircraft used by enthusiast drone racers. Because of this, DJI has included some autopilot assistance, so pilots who haven’t operated this type of drone before will be able to get it off the ground.
In its Normal and Sport modes the FPV Combo flies like most of DJI’s other drones—just at a faster pace all around, in speed and acceleration. In Normal mode it flies as quick as 31mph, a little bit faster than the Mavic Air 2 (26mph).
GPS and visual sensors work to keep the FPV Combo stable and to hover in place when you want it to. If you’ve flown a drone before, the biggest hurdle here is getting used to the headset.
This is the only flight mode that leverages the obstacle detection sensors—they’ll warn you if the drone is barreling toward a wall or tree branch, slowing it down so you can adjust its path to avoid a crash. In this mode, it would take some intent to have an accident, but you don’t enjoy automatic navigation around obstacles, something the Mavic Air 2 does.
Sport mode keeps most of automatic flight aids active, but turns off the obstacle detection sensors and ups the maximum speed to 60mph. It’s here where you get a real sense of speed, and can absolutely have an accident if you’re not careful.
To fly at the fastest speeds, you need to switch to manual mode. Here the FPV tops out at 87mph, and can go from 0-62mph in just two seconds. There’s a catch—automatic flight control largely disappears, so you need to apply throttle and keep the drone moving to keep it aloft.
Constant motion and high speeds can make for a dangerous combination. I don’t feel comfortable using the FPV near people—it’s not hyperbole to say that it could actually kill someone.
There are some safety features included to help keep you out of trouble—DJI enforces a geofence to keep it from taking off in no-fly zones, and you can set altitude and distance limits via the app. It also includes an Emergency Brake and Hover button on the remote. It’s a bumper control, at the top right, so it’s always under your index finger. Pressing it halts the drone’s forward motion and makes it hover in place. Of course, momentum is unavoidable—if you’re flying fast, don’t expect the FPV to stop on a dime.
If you lose track of the aircraft, holding the button down longer activates Return to Home (RTH), which brings the drone to a preset altitude, flies it to the launch point, and lands automatically. If you use the Emergency Brake or RTH feature, the drone switches to Normal flight mode.
Manual flight mode is intimidating. It’s turned off by default, so you can’t switch into it accidentally. DJI promises to release an iOS flight simulator app so you can practice manual control from the comfort of home, but it’s not available yet. As mentioned, I have limited experience with FPV racers, and didn’t feel comfortable putting it to the test in manual mode.
Experienced racers won’t have to worry about the learning curve, but it’s especially important to stay safe, and fly legally, when using the FPV headset. FAA regulations require pilots to keep a drone within line of sight, which isn’t possible when your vision is blocked by a headset. To fly first person, and do so legally, you’ll need to bring a partner along to act as a visual observer. Their job is pretty simple—to give you a warning if you’re about to have an accident.
DJI is the first name in aerial imaging. Its slim Mavic line is the darling of YouTube vloggers, and you’ll see Inspire and Matrice aircraft used on professional sets and for location shoots.
Even though the FPV Combo isn’t built for imaging, DJI still put a good camera on board. It records video at 4K60 quality and goes as high as 120fps at 1080p. It’s mounted on a single-axis gimbal, and supplemented by digital stabilization. DJI’s video drones typically use three-axis gimbals, but they aren’t meant to compensate for tight turns and high speeds.
The angle of view is wide, at 150 degrees. It’s similar to a GoPro lens, and shows a modest fish-eye effect. Distortion correction is turned on by default, but you’ll see the uncorrected video through the goggles. If you prefer the wider look you can turn it off. Even with it enabled, the propellers are visible at the edges of the frame.
Video is recorded in your choice of H.264 or H.265 (HEVC) at up to 120Mbps quality. DJI’s standard profile is applied by default, which is a standard color look. The D-Cinelike profile is also included; it drops contrast and saturation, so you’ll have some flexibility to correct color, but it needs a grade to look good.
Video footage is sharp and detailed, and delivers the feeling of fast flight, especially when flying low to the ground. The gimbal and electronic stabilization do an excellent job of balancing that sense of movement while keeping footage free of jitters and jumps. Single-axis stabilization removes most ugly bits of motion, but doesn’t correct the horizon when you’re turning.
You lose out on the same type of silky smooth aerial pans and turns as you do with a cinema drone, but that’s not the point here. There’s still cinema application for this type of camera, of course—it’s perfect for point-of-view shots, especially if you’re trying to convey a sense of motion.
Both the drone and goggles have microSD slots. The video recorded by the drone is of better quality, full 4K, but silent. The goggles record the live feed at lower quality and resolution (810p), but do include sound. You can’t hear anything aside from the whine of the propellers, though.
Modular and Repairable
The FPV Combo includes everything you need to get started, but it’s not the only way to buy the drone. DJI tells us it will sell components and spare parts on their own. The company anticipates that some aircraft may be lost to misadventure, but you won’t have to buy a new remote and goggles if you’ve lost or totaled the drone itself.
Likewise, you may want to add additional goggles. The FPV supports Audience Mode, so nearby spectators can peek through the camera lens in real time—up to eight people can connect and watch simultaneously.
The DJI Care Refresh extended warranty is also available. You can get a one-year ($199) or two-year ($319) plan. With the single year of coverage you’re eligible for up to two replacement drones; the two-year plan will get you three replacements, but no more than two in a single year. Each plan carries a fee for a replacement unit in addition to the cost of the warranty itself ($259 for the first replacement, $279 for the second).
As for durability, I crashed the FPV Combo once, in a failed attempt to test the emergency brake. This was my fault—I tapped the wrong button on the remote—but I can report the aircraft survived a nose-first impact onto an embankment, soft ground thanks to freshly melted snow. I had to clean a little bit of dirt out of the camera gimbal, and wipe off the lens. If you do more damage than that, replacing the camera is a job you can do yourself.
As DJI’s first built-for-speed drone, the FPV Combo marks a splashy debut. Its industrial design is stunning, and there’s no question about its performance. It’s your personal rocket ship, capable of quick acceleration, tight turns, and immersive 4K video.
There are some training wheels to help you along. The standard flight mode leverages the forward obstacle sensors, so you can spend some time learning to fly before graduating to the more advanced modes, and a flight simulator is forthcoming for pilots who want to try flying without autopilot assistance.
But even so, there’s real potential for danger here. If you’re flying the FPV with goggles, you lose sense of the world around you. One wrong turn could end poorly, especially if you’re pushing the throttle to its limits. Without them you lose the camera view, making navigation through tight spaces more of a challenge. It’s one of the reasons the FAA requires drone operators keep aircraft within sight.
This drone is perhaps the best argument yet for licensing requirements. Sure, you can still do some damage to people and property with cinema drones, but they’re not made for the same fast, risky flight as the FPV Combo.
As mentioned earlier, given my limited experience with FPV racers, I’m hesitant to assign the FPV Combo a rating at this time. That said, there isn’t any sort of problem with the hardware—it does what it’s supposed to. It’s just that what it’s supposed to do has some potential to do harm when used carelessly.
The asking price, $1,299, may deter impulse buyers and reckless flyers, and scores of pilots will undoubtedly enjoy the FPV Combo responsibly. But if you need to pass a test to drive a car, you should probably have to pass one to fly this drone.