Clair: Airblade Eclair w/ onboard DVR

By ACROBORG on Aug 29, 2017

8  944  8

I've been on the hunt for the perfect micro freestyle quad since the moment I first dove into FPV. Obviously it had to be tough, reliable, and perform great. But darn it, I also wanted to record video that didn't suck. And hey, if you can fly at night, then suddenly the flying season gets longer and you can sneak in sessions at locations that may otherwise be inappropriate or inaccessible during daylight hours. So after a little experimentation, I settled on building around a Runcam Owl with one of the available HD-capable DVR modules onboard. My first attempt was woefully overweight, underpowered, and fragile. My second and third attempts had the VTX prone to overheating, required partial disassembly to access the SD card, and eventually proved to be built on fragile frames that failed unexpectedly. Then I decided to give Airblade UAV a try.

The Eclair V2 2.5" hit the mark! Let's see here:

Eclair V2 - Not the lightest, but very reasonable. The sideplate design makes for great versatility as well as fantastic protection for the components. The nicely spread true-X geometry lends consistent, stable all-axis handling that's easy to tune. And now with plenty of rough treatment over grass and concrete, I've grown pretty confident in the long-term durability of this frame. If I lost this quad tomorrow, I'd absolutely buy this frame again. I've also created a custom 3D printed TPU body kit for this frame to accommodate the DTX03, Runcam Owl, and add a little extra motor protection. You can download the STL files at Thingiverse:

Runcam Owl - Great daytime quality, if slightly odd colors. And as the name suggests, it's low-light handling is superb, to the best of my knowledge the best night-flying camera that can often be made to fit in frames that were designed for Swift Micros or all-in-one units, generally about 20mm wide. The only place the Owl really falls flat is in dawn/dusk flying with a bright sky and deep shadows. It becomes readily apparent that there's none of that wide dynamic range magic being applied.

Realacc 1106 6000kv Motors - They're kind of crappy, and kind of awesome. The motor wires are plastic-sheathed, fine-gauge crap that's a pain to solder. And the bells have somehow been managing to work their way up the shafts, and need to be pressed back down on occasion. BUT, they were dirt cheap, provide plenty of thrust on 3s (barely warming up), and haven't failed me yet.

XJB F425 Flytower - Does just what is says on the box. F4 is a must for getting the most out of Betaflight 3.2, OSD isn't even optional anymore, more than enough ESC for this modest quad, and blackbox can be a real asset when working out any issues. Only thing I could ask for would be current sensing.

Props - Cut down Gemfan 3025. There aren't a lot of good 2.5" prop options just yet. But these cut-down 3" gemfans have delivered very admirably. They make a heck of a noise, so you know they mean business! They've proven remarkably durable, taking a heck of a smack to explode a blade.

DTX03 - For just a couple grams more than a conventional VTX, this gives you DVR recording better then any pair of goggles or ground station. It's rather unfortunate where the antenna sticks out though. Just what sort of quad was this intended to fit in? Easy enough to address with skillful application of a soldering iron I guess. Note that the default recording setting is only standard definition video. You'll want to go into the OSD and set it to HD. The easiest way to do this is to solder the video out and video in wires together temporarily and power it up. The OSD will have some fun ghosting effects, but otherwise you can navigate in and change settings through your goggles without any additional hardware. Just do this once, unsolder the bridged wires, and continue with your build.

Slow urban rip

Ecstatic redwoods fun <3

After spending several weeks lost in a tree, we reunite

Sloppy lazy sunset parkland flippy-flips edit (LENSFLARE PORN)





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mattw213   Oct 25, 2017  

Awesome build! Been looking for something like this. Anything u would change on the build? Is the runcam owl discontinued? See it’s hard to find that small one now.
Thanks Matt

ACROBORG   Oct 26, 2017 

Thanks! Several days ago I managed to stick this quad in the top of a tree and I suspect it will be staying there for a while. So of course, I got to work planning it's replacement. Before losing this quad it got an R-XSR receiver, and was flying fast and hard on 4s 450 lipos.

It would seem that Runcam has discontinued the original Owl. Part of me is in panic, wanting to stockpile them while they're still available. The rest of me believes they wouldn't discontinue such a long-lived product if they didn't have a proper replacement in the works. Fortunately I have another Owl here I can use, but if I didn't have this one I'd be snatching one off the market right-quick.

So the only major changes I'm making with the new build is I've decided to bump up to the 3" Eclair Light, and will be running some RCX 1304 4000kv or the new RotorX 1404s with 3" props. If the 3" wasn't available I wouldn't hesitate to go with the 2.5 again, but now that there's some well-engineered 3" t-mount props on the market, and a variety of larger t-mount motors on the market, I suspect the 3" will deliver more thrust more efficiently, without a noticeable change in weight. Sounds like a win to me :-)

deks   Sep 13, 2017  

Your setup was used by Albert Kim!

He used an Eclair 2.5", Runcam Owl, DTX03, and the backpack you designed.

ACROBORG   Sep 13, 2017 

So cool! This was the first time I'd ever shared any of my 3D prints, and seeing others enjoy it is very encouraging. Also, having super-human night vision is a ton of fun.

deks   Sep 01, 2017  

Nice! I'm putting together a 2" Atom mini and was trying to figure out my video options. FPV cams are lower res, but I actually like the wide dynamic range handling better than the 808#16, which seems to have visible jumps in exposure.

Have you experimented with other HD cam options, or is the DVR03 the best solution you've found? I wonder if it could be paired in a nicer FPV cam better footage, or does the Owl have close to the best available image quality?

Also, did you mod the antenna connector? Seems like the DTX03 just has a direct-soldered clover leaf?

ACROBORG   Sep 01, 2017 

I've played around with a couple of inexpensive, light-weight 1080p camera modules. The resolution and color certainly is nice, but nearly all of them run into issues with fast light/dark changes, and aren't particularly good for capturing low-light/night footage. The main reason I gave up on them was because they generally hung off the micro in delicate ways, or fit so snugly they added heat build up, often complicating access to buttons/indicators, etc. Fine for experimenting and getting some fun HD footage in small places, but not terribly sustainable for an everyday freestyle basher. Once you get to the size of quad where a micro HD module can fit comfortably, there's a good chance a Runcam Split would fit as well, which blows away the video quality of the cheapo micro HD options.

The DVR03 works darn well, but what makes for pretty aerial videography is fairly different then what makes for good FPV flying. Most FPV cams don't have more than 650 lines of resolution, so the footage is grainier. The Owl at 700tvl is looking pretty nice in my opinion. Of course, if you fly with an OSD, that will be recorded as well.

I have another project in the works pairing this module with a Foxeer Monster. At 1200tvl, I can't wait to see what the dvr footage is like!

I chose the Owl specifically for recording night flying, where it's the best (only?) proper low-light camera that will fit the 20mm spacing larger micros provide (for AIO and Swift Micro cams). It's a great cam for flying in bright daylight as well, with the IR-sensitive quirk of odd red/green foliage. It does fail pretty miserably in deep shadows and unlit dusk lighting though. This DVR would work just as well with Swift Micro and save 5 grams.

As for the antenna, I think the stock DTX03 antenna placement is pretty darn inconvenient. Thankfully it's easy to replace, as I did here.

deks   Sep 13, 2017 

Thanks, that's all really helpful. Yeah, I feel like the 808 and and mobius mini fall in this unpleasant valley where the video quality is better, but still not great, they're not convenient/secure, and add non-trivial weight. Using a DTX does seem like a good spot in the solution space.

I was curious if you could go the other direction, and fit a Runcam Split into the stack of an Eclair. The board is 36x38mm, but I wonder if there's enough prop clearance if you put it on the bottom or top of the stack? (Though the camera may actually be an issue - it's 22mm wide, not sure if it'll fit the Eclair side plates.)

ACROBORG   Sep 13, 2017 

The Split wouldn't fit in the Eclair 2.5" frame in any practical way. I guess with enough zip ties and hot glue...

I think it's about to become a moot point though. I know that Tomoquads, Airblade UAV, and Flex RC all have currently, or will have very shortly, light-weight 3" micro frames that will fit a Split natively along side a 20x20 stack. I'll still have plenty of uses for my Owl Eclair, but top-quality HD should be possible in a sub-120g quad. I'll be giving it a try.

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