Flight Controllers: OpenPilot, MultiWii, ArduPilot And More
Most flight controllers do not present the corporate, mass-produced feel of the Nazas. One of the many success stories to arise in the multi-rotor market is OpenPilot, an open-source community dedicated to perfecting flight control algorithms.
There are various OpenPilot flight controller boards available. The CC3D is one of the most favored. Thanks to OpenPilot, it too is relatively easy to set up, leaning on a software wizard to configure the board, step-by-step. It features multiple flight modes, including self-leveling and completely manual input. It lacks the autonomous natures of the Naza, as well as GPS lock.
Another popular board is the KK2. Cheap and customizable, there's little to say about it, other than it warrants your attention.
Also viable is the MultiWii open source software project, derived from developments related to the motion-sensing Nintendo Wii remote. The software is compatible with a number of different hardware components, but most notoriously associates a Wii Motion Plus and Arduino board. Again, you have a choice between multiple flight modes, support for a gimbal (typically used to mount a camera for recording), camera trigger output, and a full GUI.
At the extreme end of the spectrum, challenge-hungry pilots and capable coders may be interested in programming their own flight controllers. The Arduino platform is the common avenue for homemade or fully programmable FCs, and ArduPilot is the community you'll want to look to for guidance.
There is an abundance of choice when it comes to flight controller options, and there is no right or wrong answer. The features you require depend on the platform you're using, as well as your own appetite for customization. A more complex multi-rotor sporting eight props and expensive camera gear might justify GPS lock and a fail-safe functionality, making a Naza the most sensible path to take. However, a small quad built to fly for fun won't benefit as much from those features. And sometimes, maximizing your enjoyment means using a more manual flight mode anyway.
As a beginner, it’s tempting to buy the board that’s easiest to fly. That's often a regrettable decision in the long run, though. It is far preferable to learn to fly without excessive assistance from a flight controller. By starting with a small setup and a non-locking flight control mode, you're going to get a lot better at flying than someone learning in GPS lock or a similar mode.
With that in mind, my recommendation is to buy a less expensive starter setup, the likes of which this story is focused on, and avoid Naza in all of its feature-filled temptation. Preferred is the CC3D board, a more manual controller with the option of a self-levelling mode that's perfect for learning comprehensively.