How To Choose RC Transmitter For Quadcopter

Before building your quadcopter, the RC Transmitter would probably be the first few things you need to look at. It’s a common question for RC beginners how to choose a decent RC transmitter. In this article I will discuss the basics of a RC transmitter and what you should buy.

Unlike other parts there isn’t much room for you to DIY, so it’s common that we would just buy a commercially available transmitter. There are a few things about functionality you should know before discussing the price, number of channels, modes, frequency and other features.

There are other tutorials you might find interesting.

Channels

You might have already heard the term Channel when talking about RC transmitters. Each channel allows one individual thing on the aircraft to be controlled. For example, one channel for throttle, one channel for turning right and left, one channel for pitching forward and backward, one for rolling left and right. Four channels is a minimum for a quadcopter (pitch, roll, throttle, yaw).

RC-transmitter-channels

With more channels than just four, you can even have switch, or potentiometers to change settings on the quadcopter while flying. Some fly controllers (e.g. Multiwii, Arducopter) recommend using transmitters that has at least 5 channels, the extra channel is to switch between different flying modes.

5-channel-transmitter-diagram

There are basic 4 or 5 Channel, which can has Throttle, Rudder, Ailerons, Elevator. 5 channel has an additional AUX Switch. These are the minimum transmitter you can get for flying a multicopter. They are less expensive but lacking features.

For 6 or more channel, you get more AUX, some even come with potentiometer, 3 position swtich and other great features. They are more expensive radios transmitter, but they do have nicer gimbals, maybe better resolution.

This is a radio controller gimbal. (not the camera gimbal :D )

radio controller gimbal - transmitter RC

Modes

There are 2 different Modes – mode one and mode two. It’s basically different control configuration.

The mode one configuration has the elevator control on the left joystick and the throttle on the right one.

The mode two is the most common for quadcopter because the stick represents the movement of your quadcopter. It has the elevator control on the right joystick and the motor throttle on the left one. The right joystick self centres in the both axis, whereas the left joystick only self centres in left/right axis and “clicks” in the up/down axis in order to allow the throttle setting.

transmitter-stick-modes

 

Frequency

There are two main frequencies we use for radio transmitter, 72Mhz and 2.4Ghz.

72 MHZ has been around a long time (decades), it allows longer range, but you can interfere with others using the same frequency (even with different brand)

2.4 GHZ is a newer one, and it’s currently the most common frequency. You get a shorter antenna, but usually shorter range than the 72Mhz. Another good thing is you can usually get away flying with other people, who are using 2.4Ghz as well, but different brands transmitter module.

RC Transmitter and Receiver Paring

A receiver usually comes with the transmitter when you buy it. But be aware that some types of transmitter are only compatible to their own receivers (same brand same model). That means when the receiver is broken you will have to get the same one. There are a few exceptions that they can be paired with other receivers (i think universal is the word?). Make sure you check and ask the shop before buying.

What RC transmitter should I get?

The price range is huge, from as cheap as $20 to over $1000. Of course the cheaper, the lower quality it would be, and the fewer channels you are going to get. It would be a good idea to get a cheap 5 or 6 channel one to get a taste of flying a plane, and later on upgrade to a better transmitter when you know more about the subject. It’s always a good idea to have backup transmitters anyway. However if you are serious about quadcopters and someday want to get one with GPS navigation, gimbal control etc, it’s better to get 8 or more channels.

The transmitter is potentially a long term investment. If you are not sure about whether you will be staying in this hobby, you would be safe to get something like a cheap 6 channel. But if you are sure you will stay in the next couple of years you will not regret to get a 8 channel or more! Moreover It’s not just a matter of number of channels. Some RC transmitters support programming and firmware flashing to enhance functionality as well. So do your research before spending good money on it.

There are a lot more to consider when it comes to choosing a good transmitter, such as the display screen, how the stick feels, Multiple Model Memories and Training features (Buddy mode).

Some radio transmitters come with a useful feature called Expo, it gives you more precise control but still lets you use the full range (although I don’t personally use it).It’s an exponential curve and makes the stick softer around mid-stick.

Recommedation on 8 Channel RC Controller

For a low budget build, Turnigy 9X is not super expensive, and has room for many DIY/Upgrade modifications! See my review about this Transmitter. It’s cheap and allows many DIY modifications.

If you have enough budget, go get the Frsky Taranis, you won’t need to upgrade again for years. :)

DIY RC Transmitter

Although it’s possible to hack a game console and make your own RC transmitter, it seems quite difficult.

I actually also built a RC Transmitter myself although I haven’t tested it yet with a quadcopter.

43 thoughts on “How To Choose RC Transmitter For Quadcopter

  1. rick

    i have a hobbyking 6ch transmitter….it works complicated. does annyone know how you set the right settings for quadcopter?

    Reply
  2. Esmyle

    sir
    i am using sunnysky X2208 1500kv motors and propellers 8×4.. what frame should i use?? recommend me cheaper one and suitable for my quadcopter.. and battery 1800mah 20c 14point smthng.V.. how about battery?? is good for my quadcopter?? openpilot,and transmitter flysky FS-T6.. please correct me if i am wrong anywhere.. and yes frame please

    Reply
  3. Christopher Boyd

    Hello Oscar
    I am reading through all your blog/posts that are so informative. Thank you for taking the time to share you hard won knowledge and skills.
    I have been dabbling in Quads for a few years and decided that I would be in it for the long haul, so……I bought a taranis X9D (Nov 2013). It is a very nice piece of equipment but very complicated for a novice user. I am now spending many hours to learn many basic things so I can actually use it for the first time. It has the potential to run in four “modes/configs” that allow you to use either, 8,12, 16 or 32 channels. It is enabled for telemetry as well.
    I will be connecting it up to the first “serious” copter- a Quanum Nova (aka Cheerson Cx-20), initially using an 8XR FrSky receiver. I think that using different “flight modes” (which I can assign to the various toggle switches) I will be able to use the limited 8 channels for the four motor controls, one for GPS, 2 for the camera gimbal (2 axis only), one for camera shutter. This equals Eight. I am not sure how the telemetry data gets back to the Transmitter. Any one help with that?
    If this is of interest to others I will post some more on it as I work my way through the maze.

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Can’t agree more Chris! The Taranis is an excellent product.
      I will write a guide on how to setup taranis telemetry in a week or two hopefully you can wait! :)

      Reply
      1. christopher Boyd

        Hello Again.
        I just got back to your blog through another circuitous route. I was searching for “understanding flight modes” and “understanding switches” so that I can set up the controller side of my quad on the taranis. I do not understand these adequately yet. Any advice where to find a good tutorial that will give me the fundamentals of what happens when switching flight modes, how switches are used for this. I am not clear if I use a witch will it reallocate one of the radio channels to another function allowing me to effectively increase my number of channels (…..but I still only have 8 receiver channels that are hard wired to the assets on the aircraft…?)
        Your somewhat confused pupil!

      2. Oscar Post author

        Please join our FB group, lots of people can offer advice there, link on top left of the website.

  4. King Kaiju

    Hey I just ordered a Syma X5C-1 (4-channel with a 4 channel remote), is there anyway I can upgrade the the transmitter/receiver? I also want to see if I can upgrade the battery life and flight distance. What do you think?

    Reply
  5. daristiz

    Hi oscar. I bought a 9xr radio But I’m confused about what transmitter and receiver should I Buy.
    Could you Give me an advise about this and Maybe give me some link? Thanks in advance.

    Greetings from South América

    Reply
    1. Hizzy

      hobbyking.com/hobbyking/store/__14349__FrSky_DJT_2_4Ghz_Combo_Pack_for_JR_w_Telemetry_Module_V8FR_II_RX.html

      This is the recommended module set up for 9XR.

      Reply
  6. firdaus

    Hi Oscar,
    I have Esky Belt CP V2 Heli which is 6Channel transmitter and receiver. Can i use it for Quadcopter? I plan to buy ARF kit Quad.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Daniel C.

    Oscar please help me I have a ton of questions to many to ask just now. Text me please at 915-400-6422 ur blog helped so much I’m sure you can help even more.

    Reply
  8. Pakal

    “They are more expensive radios transmitter, but they do have nicer gimbals, maybe better resolution.”
    What is the function of a gimbal in a transmitter? And how many gimbals there are in a transmitter and where is it located inside the transmitter?
    Thanks for your reply.
    P_

    Reply
      1. Pakal

        I was actually thinking of the transmitter gimbals. And just when I hit the “post” button, I realized that those mysterious internal gimbals have actually been right in front of my eyes the whole time!
        Thanks for replying anyhow.
        P_

  9. alu

    Hi Oscar,
    Nice tut,

    How do you think about the idea that we use other (separated) telemetry using 433mGhz rf modul for other control like switch flying modes, gimbal control or camera ctrl?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  10. Matthis

    Hi, I chose the JR PROPO XG8 whith RG831B receiver and I’m building my own drone quadcopter . I would like to use the flight controller naze 32 but I saw on the net that it does not work with the DMSS modulation, is it true? is there any possibility to solve this problem? if there is no way, I will buy an other flight controller but It’s difficult to find informations about this so do you know any flight controller that i can use with my RC ?

    I am sorry for my english I think it is not really correct …

    have a nice day,
    Matthis

    Reply
  11. shushant

    Hello sir,
    I am a beginner. ….u also can’t say me a beginner because I am very keen about quadcopters I just love them. I am just 14 I saw a video on YouTube on how to make a quadcopter. I am confused about the RC transmitter.

    1) on the video it showed that u need a transmitter and reciever with 4ch……I live in india and there I found all other parts but I didn’t found the RC controller.pls help me with some indian sites selling 4ch transmitter
    2) I am getting a 6ch transmitter at a low cost so should I buy it as I am worried tht I won’t have a 4 ch reciever as shown in the video and it won’t work.

    Thank you
    Shushant

    Reply
  12. Ashade

    Would you recommend the newer 9xr instead of the 9x or would you directly go for the Taranis.

    Thank you in advance

    Reply
  13. Nitish

    Hello
    I am a beginer.Is FR SKY CT6-B 6ch is fine for a quadcopter.In future I want to upgrade my copter. For quadcopter with GPS navigation how many channels(minimum) required.

    Reply
    1. Oscar Post author

      Get 8 channel, you won’t regret it!
      4 for basic control, at least 2 for switch modes, 1 or 2 for gimbal control, or/and FPV cameras switch (recording camera & FPV camera)

      Reply
  14. prabhanjan

    Hi,

    i just had a basic doubt,I have a transreciever with 3 channels,but your blog seems to suggest that we have a minimum of 4 channels. Can I not send the data on same channel by multiplexing,which reduces the number of channel usage.Please enlighten me on this matter.

    Reply
  15. Jaran

    Hi,

    I’ve been away from RC for some years and thinking about getting back to flying.

    Can my many years old JR X3810 transmitter fly quadrotor? I’ve already upgraded my radio with a 2.4Ghz module (it’s frsky mudule). Which mode do I have to choose in the radio, heli or plane?

    Thank you so much.

    Reply
    1. Oscar

      as long as your transmitter has more than 4 channel then it should be fine.
      use heli mode, that’s what i am using on my Turnigy 9X.

      Reply
  16. Marco

    Hi there,
    as far as I know the Turnigy 9X can’t handle the fail safe: is that correct?
    It would be a very best buy but I really need the fail safe feature for my esa and, even more, for my “flying cameras”: how to solve?
    Any advice?
    Best regards, Marco

    Reply
      1. Ken

        One option is to use a flight controller with two way telemetry. That way you can trigger a RTL event if the RC transmitter or receiver fails.

        I purchased a Turnigy 9XR from HobbyKing for under $60 US without a transmitter module. It has open source firmware available and can be configured from an application on your PC. You can buy a transmitter/receiver module on 2.4GHz, 430MHz and several others to suit your frequency and distance needs.

        For the hacker (like those of us visiting Oscar at his Internet home here), OrangeRX makes a TX/RX module based on the Arduino that can be customized.

        The Turnigy 9XR, OrangeRX TX/RX on 430MHz, a FlySky TX/RX on 2.4GHz and programming hardware together cost less than the JR XG8 we bought my wife ($450 US at a local hobby store). The JR feels like a higher quality transmitter, but I like to tinker. :-)

        Oscar – Thanks for all your efforts with this site.

      2. Oscar

        Yes, very good point.
        One thing everyone should be aware of is, what frequency bands and signal power are allowed for personal use, before buying the equipment.
        Although it’s unlikely anyone would find out or even care, but it’s important we fly safely and do not affect other people.
        Some times i envy people living in the states, many frequencies are open to public.

  17. Jasveer

    Hi there, I need to purchase a transmitter/receiver but I just not sure where can i get it for a better or cheaper price. My goal is to be able to fly my x quadcopter for at least 10 to 12 minutes and we are also looking for one extra channel for the landing purpose. Can you suggest me a better place to purchase it. Thank you for your time. Best regards.

    Reply
    1. Oscar

      Hiya,

      try Hobbyking.com, they sell RC stuff at really low price. Another place to look for cheap transmitter would be ebay.
      remember it doesn’t has to be expensive, for quadcopter, 4 to 6 channels would be enough. But if you are thinking about long term investment, Turnigy 9X is a good one (9 channels, and lots of potential for modification).

      Reply
      1. Dj_Garfield

        Yep , Hobby King , right one : serious , listen to the customers , fast mailing , simply one of my favourite :)
        ( HobbyGaGa for the price too and banggood is multipurpose so I can joint Arduino orders with RC one )

        I like :
        “They are more expensive radios transmitter, but they do have nicer gimbals, maybe better resolution.”
        If you search in Futaba , or something equal, yes it’s expensive and would like to try , on day , If the difference justify the price ~|:
        => Thought last month …

        Today I can feel the difference between the HK-T6A-M1 , and Walkera DEVO12 , and the ration Price / Quality is sensable ( syntax ?? ) … ( HK-T6A-M1 :20.33€ / Walkera DEVO12E :148.99€ ), ok we have 6 channels more , but the stick linearity … The sweetness of the stick . All the type of “pilot” Mode : 1,2,3,4
        BUT
        the stickers and all serigraphy are for mode 2 , I fly in mode 3 :) Totaly reversed :) as My brain :)
        If you plan to test at the beginning the HK is quiet what’s we must have … when virus propagates … it’s another story :) ( where are my pills ?? )

      2. Oscar Post author

        thanks Garfield, yes most of the times we don’t have the chance to try every products, and many reviews on the internet isn’t always true. That’s why it’s good to meet people on the field, and try their gear :D

    2. suman hazra

      Hi there, I need to purchase a transmitter/receiver but I just not sure where can i get it for a better or cheaper price. My goal is to be able to fly my x quadcopter for at least 10 to 12 minutes and we are also looking for one extra channel for the landing purpose. Can you suggest me a better place to purchase it. Thank you for your time. Best regards.

      Reply

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