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When we want to fly drones, we need compatible controllers to receive a live image and transmit commands to the drone. If you don’t buy a drone as a kit, you must look separately for drone controllers.
What are the best drone controllers?
The best drone controllers are the DJI RC, DJI RC Pro, and RC-N1 for DJI standard drones. The DJI FPV Remote Controller 2 and Radiomaster TS16x are also fantastic drone controllers that can be used with flying FPV drones and the DJI FPV Motion Controller for an immersive, unique experience.
In this article, I want to share with you a few things to remember when buying a drone controller and a few tips to help you decide which controller you should choose for your drone.
How do drone controllers work? #
A drone controller, remote controller, or RC, are physical devices that will make a radio or wireless connection to the drone on a specific frequency to help the pilot send input signals to the drone.
Standard drone controllers (non-FPV) transmit inputs to the drone AND receive data such as a live image, telemetry, and more.
Taking a DJI controller, for instance, the standard DJI RC-N1, where you will have to connect your phone to the controller for the drone to fly, will allow you to receive a live image on your phone through the DJI Fly app.
The drone you’re flying has a module, in this case, a DJI O3 transmission system, that will act both as a receiver and a transmitter.
With custom FPV drones that do not have a digital DJI video transmitter, in most cases, the VTX module will only transmit video to the goggles, and the drone will require a separate radio receivers module, such as TBS Crossfire or FrSky XM+, that will have a different broadcast channel and a link between the drone and the controller.
But in this case, the remote controller should have a compatible transmission module, and things may get complicated here.
What types of controllers exist? #
Standard drone controllers: These can be from DJI, such as DJI RC-N1, DJI RC, or DJI RC Pro, which will both transmit data to the drone and receive a live image, and non-DJI drone controllers, which have similar functions.
FPV drone controllers: These will be vastly more complex controllers that allow for extra functions and will only transmit data to the drone. The image cannot be received by the controller but by the goggles.
**Motion Controller: **Created by DJI, these controllers use motion movement and diverse controls to simplify flying some compatible drones (such as DJI Avata).
Motion Controllers will only transmit data to the drone and may not have as much range as an ordinary controller.
These controllers were introduced recently and may be foreign to some drone pilots, and they require different skills to learn to fly than standard gimbal-based controllers.
Other RC controllers: Very similar to the FPV drone controllers (and in some cases, even the FPV drone controllers can be used as such), they will allow a link to other RC devices, such as RC planes, RC cars, helis, and RC boats.
In many cases, RC car controllers can also differ from standard gimbal controllers.
These controllers will have a narrow compatibility range, so you must ensure that if you want to acquire a separate controller for your drone, the controller can link to the drone.
That’s why we want to extend this article and help you obtain the correct controller for your drone.
Many controllers are available on the market today, so our selection will include only the best drone controllers that will be compatible with familiar drones and controllers with broad compatibilities.
» MORE: Can you fly DJI drones without a controller?
Best standard drone controllers #
1. DJI RC #
DJI RC is an advanced drone controller from DJI compatible with several DJI drones.
The controller comes with an incorporated screen, removing the need for pilots to connect their phones to the controller to fly their drones.
Weight390 gramsSize168.4×123.7×46.2 mm without controller sticksBattery lifeUp to 4 hoursTransmission RangeUp to 9.3 miles (15km) with DJI Mavic 3Does it also receive video?YesHave an incorporated screen?Yes, 5.5 inches, Full HD resolution, 60 frames per second display, multitouch, and max 700 nitsCompatibility– O3 Video Transmission System, which includes DJI Mini 3 Pro and DJI Air 2S– O3+ Video Transmission System, which includes DJI Mavic 3, Mavic 3 Classic, Mavic 3 Cine, Mavic 3 Pro, Mavic 3 Pro Cine– O2 Video Transmission System, compatible with DJI Mini 3
✅ Pros #
- It comes with an incorporated screen, removing the need to use a mobile phone to fly the drone
- It has a fantastic transmission range
- Widely compatible with several DJI drones
- Has an ergonomic look that feels rugged and not plasticky
- Smooth gimbal control
- Extra dedicated buttons
- It comes with preinstalled DJI Fly app and is ready-to-use
- Requires no setup before any flights
❌ Cons #
- It is slightly bulky and heavier than some drones (such as DJI Mini 3 Pro)
- It’s slightly pricey
With the DJI RC remote controller, you simply cannot go wrong, as it is so easy to use and requires no setup at all before launching the drone.
The DJI RC is also compatible with the above-mentioned drones and may be further used with yet-to-be-released DJI drones that embrace the same O3 and O3+ transmission systems.
As a drone pilot, you will surely notice a significant difference and upgrade from the classic DJI RC-N1 remote controller, which requires your mobile phone to fly the drone.
2. DJI RC Pro #
The DJI RC Pro is the professional version of the DJI RC, compatible with only a handful of DJI drones but with better transmission range and penetration, a brighter display, and a few more unique perks.
Weight680 gramsSize183×137×47 mm with antennas folded and controllers not mountedBattery lifeUp to 3 hoursTransmission Range15kmDoes it also receive video?Yes, with an O3+ video transmission systemHave an incorporated screen?Yes, it has a 5.5-inch display at Full HD resolution, 60 frames per second, and can reach 1000 nits on sunny daysCompatibilityThe DJI RC Pro is currently compatible with DJI Mavic 3, DJI Mavic 3 Cine, DJI Mavic 3 Classic, DJI Mavic 3 Pro, DJI Mavic 3 Pro Cine, and DJI Air 2S, but will support more aircraft in the future
✅ Pros #
- It’s a unique DJI controller made for professionals
- Has one of the best range transmissions and penetration with the most advanced receiver module
- You can live stream from this controller, which is perfect for content creators
- It has 32GB of internal storage
- Dual Band Wi-Fi 6
- Mini HDMI output which can support display on additional monitors
- Has an outdoor mode where the display will be exceptionally bright and visible in full sunlight
- Very smooth operating experience with fantastic gimbals and outstanding performance
- It’s made for the future
❌ Cons #
- It’s very expensive for non-professionals
- It’s a heavy controller, not ideal for backpacking and light travel
3. DJI RC-N1 (RC231, mode 2) #
The DJI RC-N1 (RC231 model, mode 2) is the latest standard controller used amongst most DJI drones with extensive compatibility.
It’s the one to choose if you’re looking for a budget controller for your compatible DJI drone or if your original DJI RC-N1 dies.
This RC usually comes with a DJI drone when you buy one, but it is a tricky product to buy separately, even from the official DJI website.
WeightApprox. 390 grams without a mobile deviceSize150x100x35mm foldedBattery life4 hours when charging a mobile device or 6 hours when not chargingTransmission Range7.5 miles (12km), but it depends on the droneDoes it also receive video?Yes, on the mobile device connectedHave an incorporated screen?NoCompatibilityThe DJI RC-N1 is widely compatible with a number of DJI drones such as Mini 2, Mini 2 SE, Mini 3, Mini 3 Pro, Mavic Air 2, Mavic Air 2S, Mavic 3 (plus Cine and Classic), and Mavic 3 Pro (plus Cine)
✅ Pros #
- It’s a cheap little controller with smooth performance
- Excellent transmission range
- Broad compatibility with DJI drones
- Lightweight and portable
- You can connect an iPad or Android tablet instead of a phone, giving you an enormous screen advantage
❌ Cons #
- It’s hard to find it separately
- It does not have an incorporated screen
- The build quality, transmission range, and additional functions cannot compare with DJI RC or RC Pro
Over the years, there have been multiple versions with different compatibilities of the DJI RC-N1. Still, overall, it is the same controller as many years ago—good, strong signal and with no issues.
It’s rare for the RC-N1 to go wrong or break, but if you need a new controller, you will have difficulty finding this one outside of a drone pack.
With some creativity, you can do something with this controller you cannot with others. For instance, while I was flying my Mavic Air, I often connected my iPad to the RC to fly and see it on a bigger screen.
It’s possible for you to do that, whereas, with the DJI RC or RC Pro, you will need to look into HDMI output monitors instead.
» MORE: DJI RC vs. DJI RC-N1
Best FPV drone controllers #
FPV remote controllers are multiple and distinct from standard controllers as they cannot receive video feeds, have different transmitter protocols, have no throttle spring tension, and feature numerous custom buttons for other FPV functions and commands.
Here are some of the best controllers in FPV.
1. DJI FPV Remote Controller 2 #
Weight346 gramsSize190×140×51 mmBattery lifeUp to 9 hoursTransmission RangeMax 6.2 miles or 10 kmDoes it also receive video?NoHave an incorporated screen?NoCompatibilityDJI FPV Drone, DJI Avata, DJI FPV Goggles V2, DJI Goggles 2, Integra
✅ Pros #
- It has very smooth and sensitive joysticks for accurate FPV flights
- It’s simple, compact, and efficient
- Good transmission signal
- Lightweight and portable
- An excellent controller to train in FPV simulators
- It’s affordable
❌ Cons #
- Narrow compatibility range
- Does not work with non-DJI drones
Strictly for DJI FPV and Avata (and compatible headsets), the DJI FPV Remote Controller 2 is the one you need to fly these drones, but it is also an excellent inexpensive choice to train in simulators with this RC.
Although I personally own a few FPV remote controllers, I always train in Liftoff with the DJI FPV Remote Controller 2, which works seamlessly.
2. Radiomaster TX16S Mark II #
Weight750 grams without batteriesSize287x183x129 mmBattery lifeDepends on the protocol you use, transmitting power, etc. Does it also receive video?NoHave an incorporated screen?Yes, to display data and settingsCompatibilitySupports over 40 protocols
✅ Pros #
- It is one of the best-known FPV radios of all time
- It has a smooth finish and is a durable controller
- Has a 4.3 IPS color display (for menu, settings, and configurations, not to receive live images)
- External module bay
- 4 in 1 multi-protocol module
- Can support over 40 different protocols that may cover compatibility with almost any FPV drone (sometimes an external module may be needed)
- Up to 16 channels
- Very smooth and quality gimbals (which can also be upgraded)
- It’s compatible not only with FPV drones but with other aircraft, RC boats, cars, etc. (depending on the protocol)
❌ Cons #
- It can be slightly pricy
The Radiomaster TX16S is one of the most used remote controllers for FPV drones that supports a wide variety of protocols and can also install more into the external module, including Crossfire, ELRS, etc.
This remote controller is also one of the most recommended and best you can get for the price if you want to fly FPV drones.
It comes with the EdgeTX operating system but can be installed with OpenTX.
3. DJI Motion Controller for FPV #
Weight167 gramsBattery life5 hoursTransmission RangeUp to 6.2 miles (10 km)Transmission Frequency2.4Ghz and 5.8Ghz spectrumCompatibilityDJI Avata, DJI FPV Drone, DJI Goggles 2, DJI FPV Goggles v2, Integra
✅ Pros #
- An innovative new way to control a drone
- It’s a very beginner-friendly method of flying drones
- It provides a fantastic experience to fly a drone with motion controllers
- All the drone controls are at your fingertips
❌ Cons #
- This version is compatible with only DJI Avata and the DJI FPV drone
- You have limited potential to control an FPV drone
- The transmission range is much less than that of a remote controller
For many beginners and people looking for alternative ways to fly these two drones, the FPV Motion Controller is a fantastic method to do it.
One more motion controller, the DJI RC Motion 2, is also compatible with a few other DJI drones. Still, many pilots complained about its issues, so we recommend only the standard FPV motion controller.
If you’re used to flying drones with gimbal controllers, it will be strange for you to grab the Motion Controller and directly fly the drone with it.
Although not complicated, you should do it in an open space for the first time for safety reasons.
Are there other ways to control a drone without a controller? #
Although drone controllers come in different forms, using your mobile phone’s touch screen is the only way you can control a drone without a controller.
But this will apply to only a few cheap drones with minimal transmission range, which are challenging to control from a touchscreen phone.
Are remote controllers interchangeable? #
Yes, different types of remote controllers can be used with different drones as long as they are compatible with each other.
For instance, let’s take the DJI Mini 3 Pro, which can be used with DJI RC-N1 and the DJI RC.
Or let’s say that Protek 25 is compatible with the RadioMaster TX16S via the D8 protocol. That drone can be bound with any controllers supporting that protocol.
If we don’t like D8, we can swap the module to Crossfire, which will be compatible with any modules on compatible remote controllers.
The idea is that the remote controller has to match the protocol of the drone radio receiver, and then they can bind together.
Do FPV remote controllers work with standard drones? #
FPV remote controllers cannot bind to standard drones because these drones also transmit video feeds, and FPV RC cannot receive video feeds through the goggles.
And likely, the protocols are totally different.
But an expert may be able to add a custom receiver to a standard drone and bind it with an FPV remote controller.
However, you may run into issues in these scenarios and not receive a video feed on the same controller.
Do standard remote controllers work with FPV drones? #
Same as mentioned above, the standard remote controllers cannot work with FPV drones.
That’s because, on top of different radio protocols, the standard remote controllers have spring tension on the throttle gear, which must be removed to fly an FPV drone.
What else should you keep in mind when choosing a drone controller? #
FPV controllers will differ from standard controllers with additional switches and buttons, and the throttle spring will have zero tension.For instance, a standard drone controller’s throttle gear will always come centered, whereas an FPV drone controller always requires manual input to the throttle.
Standard drone controllers, as mentioned before, have the ability also to receive video feeds and displays on a mobile or RC screen, whereas the FPV radio controllers can be used ONLY for transmitting input data.
Often, standard drone controllers function on either a 2.4 or 5.8Ghz spectrum, where FPV radios will operate on specific radio bandwidth, depending on the protocol and module.