The Leader 2.5 is a recent release from FullspeedRC and as well as being available on their own website, is also available from Banggood and Gearbest. If you do decide to purchase, Fullspeed over many more customisations and offer free shipping till Jan 2019. The Leader 2.5 follows the recent Leader 3 but is limited to 2.5 inch rather than 3 inch propellers. My objective for this blog is not to write a tradtional review due to the similarities to the Leader 3 but to cover the keys settings and physical changes I'd strongly recommend to enjoy this quadcopter.
The key differences to the Leader 3 (reviewed here) are as follows:
As you can see these differences are minimal, the key differences for flight performance will be the higher kV motors and of course the smaller propellers. It's an interesting choice that they went for an F3 rather than an F4 processor on the flight controller but for now this shouldn't make much difference especiallly if you use the F3 performance edition of Betaflight described here.
All betaflight settings as customised by fullspeedRC are shown below. I usually find this is an easier way to refer rather than looking through lines of code in the diff file (which I've also included below for completeness. As you can see this shipped with betaflight 3.3.0
A quick note on weight
Perhaps the key ingredient than made the original Leader 120 such a successful micro was it's light weight, coming in at less than 70g stock. Unfortunately the Leader 2.5 cannot keep this up largely due to the VASTLY improved camera, vtx and much larger motors. Weights with and without props are below for comparison.
Changes recommended before first flight
After the first 2 flights there are some immediate updates I'd recommend.
Next I'd recommend rotating the VTX by 180° so that the connector is at the back of the quad rather than the front, This will allow you to have better adjustment for camera angle. As you can see below I could not drop my camera angle to less than about 40° before I did this. UPDATE: I mentioned this to Lewis @ Fullspeed and they are now assembling this way.
Flight performance here is as expected and comparable with any modern 2.5" quadcopter. With 1106 7500kV motors it has a power edge over most though but you'll need good batteries to manage supply them. I'd recommend a 2s battery of around 650mah which should give you 3-4 minutes flight depending on how you fly. The GNB 3s 650mah would probably be the pick of the bunch and is available from Banggood or Gearbest amongst others.
Given I wanted to make a number of changes to betaflight settings I chose to update Betaflight to 3.5.1 performance edition (OMNIBUS target). So far I've had to dial back the P and D values around 10 points do reduce oscillations but will post PIDS here once I've refined a little more.
From testing around 50-60 packs I can say the frame is extremely strong with no signs of damage. It does a great job of protecting the camera and motors.
Below is DVR of some early flights:
In summary this quadcopter needs a few very minor tweaks out of the box for the best experience however once these are done (at very little cost) you have a very, very good 2.5" quadcopter with a strong featureset, particularly the powerful motors and VTX which allows up to 600mW transmit power and full tramp telemetry control via betaflight OSD.
Oddly the closest competition to this model is probably Full Speed's own Leader 3. Personally I do prefer the Leader 3 given the difference in retail price is only $4 and you get better props and a more capable FC out of the box. More relevant to this choice though is the motor kV and what batteries you have available. Outside of the Leader 3 though, the closest competition for the leader 2.5 is the Emax Babyhawk R Pro but at $170 retail price this is over $40 more expensive. The Leader 2.5 is a great step forward from the Leader 120 (reviewed and modded here) and brings the featureset up to date with common tech for 2018.
The Leader 2.5 is available from the following retailers that deliver worldwide:
The Leader 3 (SE) is a follow up to the hugely successful Leader 120 which I have reviewed and documented modification extensively, most recently with a summary here. Both are available from Fullspeedrc.com This has been a highly anticipated release not least of which because there has been no releases from Full Speed since last years' Beebee 66 light. The good news is that a big chunk of that wait has been spent working on the Leader 3. FYI two of the main guys are pilots from Full Speed RC are pilots and do a lot of work testing before release which is a welcome change in this hobby compared to many models that come out half-baked.
Firstly the Leader is available in 2 variants. The standard model (Leader 3) can be seen below and weighs 87g with regualar standoffs. The Leader 3 SE is exclusive to Fullspeedrc.com and comes with a 3d printed canopy instead of the standoffs. It is 6g heavier but offers several benefits that I'll cover a little later on.
A run through the components
First the frame. Like the Leader 120 the base plate of the frame is 3mm thick although it has been stretched to 130mm motor to motor diagonally rather than 120mm This means it is capable of accepting a true 3" propeller rather than 2.8" maximum on the Leader 120. The frame is most definitely still a 'deadcat' shape meaning the two motors are further apart (107mm) than the 2 rear motors (98mm). Additionally it is a 'squashed-x' compared to a 'stretched-x' meaning the front and rear motors on the same side are closer together. This means it should be more stable in the roll vs. pitch axis but modern flight software somewhat negates this. Compared to the leader 120, sideplates have increased from 2mm to 3mm thick which should aid durability. More imporatantly a 19mm gap rather than 17-18mm means the leader 3/SE now natively fits a 19mm micro cam. It's worth nothing that the baseplate is only 1 piece so you cannot replace single arms. Personally I think replaceable arms are unnecessary on any quad size less than 4" since there is much less leverage for breaking on a smaller quad. The frame can be purchased separately here.
The canopy (Leader 3SE only). When I first saw the canopy I wasn't keen because it adds 8g weight however I think the functionality may just offset that - jury is out until I fly it some more. The 3d TPU print is of very high quality available in black,white, red, purple, blue or yellow and performs the following functions:
The motors are 1106 4500kv which is the same specs as those found on the Emax Babyhawk R 3 inch and the Skystars X120. They are not open bottom and have mounting holes for regular t-mount props and the emax 2.3" avan props. Most importantly they are rated for up to 4s.
Like the original Leader 120, build quailty is excellent. Solder is clean, wires are cut to length. Not much more to say here, it is well beyond my ability! With the quad assembled there is plenty of room behind the camera to adjust tilt (45° and beyond are capable) and the receiver is mounted in this void. with plenty of room left yet. This is speculation but I'd like to address anyway since it seems like a common thread: my best guess is the caddx turtles HD FPV/DVR (not yet released at time of writing) will fit but not without a little modification. My reasoning is that there seems to be 2-3mm 'spare' room between each stack layer. If these standoffs are trimmed by this amount you will be able to save 6-9mm in height which should be enought to fit the turtles board. It will require some fine wire management and a steady hand to trim the standoff but I do think it may be physically possible - a project for another day. That being said, the double stack of the runcam split micro definitely will not fit.
Plenty to talk about here although most can be foundin commentary of the Betaflight screens below. If you don't choose to read these however:
Final thoughts pre-flight
As you can see from above this looks to be a very well thought out quad and not something slapped together from a spare parts bin. The Babyhawk R and Skystars bolt X120 have both shown that 1106 4500kV motors perform well on 4s in 2.5" and 3" so I am excited to see what the Leader 3SE will add here with all the work that has gone into development from a hardware and software perspective. On paper this looks to have the edge on both of those models in terms of weight, VTX capability and ESC current overhead however the real test will come in flight - stay tuned for part 2 of this review where I will cover flight in full - I already have 3s and 4s batteries charged for tomorrow :)
The Fullspeed RC Leader 3/SE can be bought directly from Fullspeedrc.com and is also available at other retailers however buying from the source is your best chance to get your hands on one quickly.
This is part 2 of the review. In part 1 I discuss an overview and setup (including betaflight settings from factory) are covered in detail: Part 1 review
Firstly a very important correction. In the first review I showed a picture of the quadcopter minus battery sitting on a set of scales at 65g. I took this for granted and after measuring on my own scales got 84g. I don't usually trust weight in text but seeing it was sitting on digital scales I did not measure myself. Disappointing as this is misleading so I updated Gearbest immediately. To their credit they promptly took the image down and corrected the weight in the description - see below.
Preparing for flight
Just some minor housekeeping prior to the first flight. XM receiver was fixed in place on top of the VTX as it was dangling free when I received it. Antenna was fixed in place with a cable tie off the rear arm and heatshrink to secure. VTX antenna got the same treatment off the rear upper-deck of the frame. Lastly I replaced the rubbish battery strap with one from RJX hobbies (review here). Although a buckled strap was included as well as the one picture above, it was much too long? Weird.
Flight performance on 2s
Just because the Bolt X120 *can* fly on 2s doesn't mean you *should* fly on 2s. I used my Turnigy Nanotech 2s 950mah (47g) pack and needed about 40% throttle to hover. I could fly but performance was lacklustre and I got bored. I did get about 4 minutes flight time but won't say any more.
Flight performance on 3s
After my initial disappointment on the weight, performance on 3s 450mah turnigy nanotech was better than I had expected. It felt controlled with enough speed to be enjoyable. I had to switch to default betaflight 3.3 PIDs though since the customised PIDs look more like a 4s tune and felt sloppy as a result. I did manage to get good flight times on these little batteries of approximately 2.5 - 3.0 coming down at 3.75 volts and had fun doing so. Given then power of the quad I'd probably pefer a 650mah 3s for another minute or so of flight and would have less concern about sagging on big throttle punches. For the places I usually enjoy micros the most (tight with small trees) I found 3s the most fun.
Quick update: compared back to back on same batteries with my Leader 120 which is lighter (68g vs 84g) with 'smaller' motors (1104 7500kV vs. 1106 4500kV). I found it was similar speed with comparable handling and I actually got as good if not slightly better flight time on the Skystars Bolt - the extra stator size was negated by the lower kV from an efficiency standpoint. The leader however cannot do 4s...
When I went from 3s to 4s on the BabyHawk R 3" (review here) I got a reasonable increase in speed but not 33% as you'd probably expect. Given the same motor size (1106 4500kV) I was expecting something similar here but got a complete shock here - This thing ABSOLUTELY SCREAMS on 4s. I've always liked the Gemfan 2540 props (review here) but have never tried them on 4s and boy, they sure hold up and deliver on the extra power, it was like a different quad altogether. The speed was like nothing I'd felt on a micro and I had real trouble managing in a tight area. This probably wasn't helped by the fact I was using a CNHL Ministar 4s 650mah battery which weighs 87g so I was really blowing out on corners, even with a lot of extra throttle. It reminded my of running a heavy 4s 3 inch with 1408 motors - super fast but handled like a brick. I'd dare say 450mah 4s at around 62g would be a better option for weight control. at the cost of some flight time. As it stood I was getting 4 - 4.5 minutes on the 650mah battery. I've since moved to betaflight 3.4.0 and have got the tune tighter without oscillations but it is still a handful. For my piloting ability running this quad on 4s requires a bigger area akin to my 4 and 5 inch quads but that kind of deafeats the purpose of this micro. For my money and ability I actually prefer this on 3s - It is much quieter and handles better with the lower weight which is better suited to small parks. The noise alone on 4s makes people more wary of this one.
Rather than trying to recommend how many cells you should run I've merely stated my opinions on what I want from a micro. The most important thing here is that this Skystars Bolt X120 is well and truly capable of comfortably running 3s or 4s depending on where you are flying or how you are feeling on a particular day. The new throttle limiting feature on betaflight is a great way of limiting power to fly on 4s if for example you want to stick with just this battery size with power more akin to 3s. I've written a full tutorial on this here including how to assign to an AUX switch.
Although I alluded to the similarities to the original Leader 120 (review here) it is clearly a different quadcopter with a different feel and different capabilities - it has a much better camera and VTX but is much heavier and designed to run on more cells which make it heavier again for a different flight feel. A better comparison is perhaps the BabyHawk R 3 inch which I find handles better but lacks the speed of this model, particularly on 4s. Images below on a scale for all of these for comparison.
The Skystars bolt can be bought exclusively from Gearbest in several different formats - an unbuilt kit with no receiver (PNF), a built quad with no receiver, or as a built quad with FRSKY or Flysky receivers.
Check on my discounts page regularly for specials but at the time of writing the unbuilt kit is available for $117 and the FRSKY BNF as seen here is available for $134
Gemfan have recently released the 2540 Flash propeller to add to their growing library of micro propellers. This time rather than sticking with their 'Hulkie' naming on the 1940 and 2040 propellers, they have gone with 'flash' from their popular 5" 5152 prop.
The design is stylistically similar to the 5152 in that it is a swooping 3 bladed propeller with a pronounced wingtip. Colours currently available as below. I like the yellow as they are easy to find!
The material feels very much the same as the gemfan 2040 Hulkies which I reviewed here but the design is much more refined and so will not make any further comparisons as design will impact performance and durability more than material.
For testing I used my Leader 120. This is a popular model and I have put 80 odd packs through this one making it a good test mule. Also, I have experimented with other props like the Gemfan 3025 alongside the stock King kong 2840 for more than one point of reference.
Since this frame will fit a 2.8 inch 2840 prop there is plenty of room on a 2.5 inch 2540 without losing too much blade area. No issue installing so will move on to flight performance.
Performance on 2s
The first thing I noticed about these props is that they were very quiet. I flew in a reserve where there were several people enjoying the sun and very few people even noticed the quad flying about. The noise made was even less than the 2840s which are already very quiet. On 2s the performance was almost on par with the 2840s. I was able to hover at around 25% throttle with a 47g 950mah 2s battery and had flat out speed close to the 2840s. Cornering (grip) felt about 90% as good as the 2840s which is the grippiest quad/prop I have - even more than my 5" racing floss 2. Balance was excellent with no increase in jello at high throttle over the 2840s which have always been well balanced for me.
Battery life was definitely superior to the 2840 props. As you'll see from my pics below I got around 6 minutes from the 950mah battery with fairly heavy throttle flights as I was in a large reserve. This is about a minute more the the king kong 2840s with similar flying and comparable times to the Gemfan 3025 (although the 3025s were slower on 2s). It was an enjoyable 6 minutes too - the quad felt tight with these on.
Performance on 3s
For 3s testing I used my Turnigy Nantoech 3s 450mah 65C batteries that weigh approximately 45g.
The performance gap between the stock 2840 and new 2540 propellers were even less pronounced than on 2s. If there was a difference in performance compared to the 2840s in top speed or cornering grip I could not tell. The advantages did remain though - 2540 propellers were again more quiet and I had a similar increase in battery life: from roughly 3 minutes of hard flying to roughly 3.5 minutes+ hard flying (see below). Lastly at higher RPM I actually had less jello than any prop I have used on this quad before. This suggests they have excellent balance.
In short I got all of the benefits I enjoyed on 2s with none of the downsides.
Oddly enough I haven't had a crash worth speaking of yet. I'll update here once I've had a view and can give more of an opnion on this.
Simply put these are now my favourite prop on both 2s and 3s for the Leader 120. I can only guess that the more modern design helps get the efficiency up over the 2840 on 2s with very nearly the same top speed and grip through corners. On 3s the gap was even less and I'd struggle to tell the difference between these and the 2840s. The only real change was that there was less noise and more flight time.
In conclusion these will be my go-to prop from now on my leader 120 on 2s or 3s. The slight downside of marginally less top speed and cornering grip is easily outweighed by the reduced noise and improved battery life. Give them a try for yourself, they are inexpensive.
This is part 2 of my review of the Leader 120 by Full Speed from Gearbest. For part 1 click here. As at September 2017 try code HarvestRCnew7 to get this for only $US93.99!
None of the dreaded "brown outs" here
Straight up I have had none of the reported issues of brownouts as many of the youtube reviewers found on the first version of the Leader 120. In saying that my review modelis version 2 which I has the fullspeed branded black motors. The default idle speed of which there was a lot of chatter about was set at 10% from the factory in Betaflight 3.1.7. This is very high and reducing it to my regular 3.5% caused no issues. So on to the more interesting stuff!
This is a great little flier, As I expected from hearing the motors run in betaflight they are very quiet and coupled with the well-balanced KK 2840 props it lets off very little noise in flight. Coupled with the size, this makes it much more socially acceptable to be flying in areas that aren't completed isolated. The rates are not stock either and I actually really liked them, even compared to my stock betaflight 3.2.0 settings when I flew my 5" quad immediately afterwards. There are an awful lot of micros that have poor or no tuning from the factory so was escpecially pleased when the tuning here required practically nothing for those either lacking the know-how or too lazy to do. Power is excellent on 2s and comparable to many 2" quads on the 3s - the bigger props and relatively light weight really make these motors come alive. Handling was predicatable and I felt I had good control even in heavy gusts.
The stock battery can be described as adequate. I can see the voltage alarms were set low at 3.0 warning, 2.9 critical to allow for the sag but it keeps you in the air with moderate flying for up to 4 minutes. Considering I was able to flow without esc desync, losing vtx signal or getting failsafe, this probably makes it better than 90% of included batteries out there (not kidding).
I'll have a follow up tips and tricks article soon where I look at some of the other internationally available battery options including 3s.
FPV - Camera and VTX
Ahh a chink in the armour. Hitting a sharp price point eventually means compromise and I think I've found it. Typical of All In One (AIO) cameras this handled low light on a dull day poorly even with the focus correct. Kind of makes branches jump out at you when flying under trees - that's my excuse anyway. Secondly although the VTX does well enough for 25mW, it still only does 25mW. That means that I started seeing breakup at 100-150M away or as soon as I was on the wrong side of even small trees. The good news is you can pop this on your RC car or tiny whoop (I STRONGLY recommed the Eachine E011) and upgrade this one. There is more than enough lift for the extra weight of a micro CCD camera like the Foxeer arrow micro or Runcam swift micro and a Vtx like the new one from fullspeed that is 25mW/200mW switchable to mount on the back. I'll be making such a change in the near future and reporting back in a new article in the tips and tricks section.
This model is an amazing combination of well-matched parts with good assembly and a custom tune making it compelling on paper. I'm pleased to say that this transfers into flight characteristics and power making it an option you should definitely be considering if looking at a micro in 2017. I personally think this frame size that allows for a 2.8" prop rather than 2" is much better matched to this motor size and not nearly so sensitive to weight meaning for a more robust and enjoyable flying experience. My only real gripe is the video quality where camera light handling and vtx power lets it down. It is hard to argue at this price point though and in a future article I'll be doing a budget mod to address this.
Most interestingly, I built a model from parts that was very similar to this before this model was announced. Cutting to the chase the PNP version from Gearbest was more quiet and felt more solid in the air (perhaps due to the tune/rates) than my own build. Power was similar: although noisier I think the DYS motors had an edge although for the small difference I prefered the ones in this PNP model. I preferred the adjustible power vtx on the model I built to bump up power but this is really starting to split hairs. This does have me second guessing my build vs buy strategy but I think this is testament to the well thought out component list Full Speed have chosen.
Buy the Leader 120 from Gearbest
Firstly, thank you to Gearbest for supplying this model in exchange for a full review including my observations and recommendations from having built a very similar quad from parts. I'll review here and then run a series of tip, tricks, mods depending on how it flies stock. You can find the PNP version (no receiver) here. As at September 2017 try code HarvestRCnew7
to get this for only $US93.99!
I'm going to skip the unboxing, I don't have anything to add other than the picture of all the parts included below, so straight to the good stuff.
The parts included and build quality have improved...
First off the motors are no longer and unbranded red 1104 7500kv. They are now branded SZ speed and full speed but are still rated the same. From what I can see the shaft length extending through the bell is shorter. Great idea - the only job this does is to centre the prop which the screws hold on. Less stress when trying to put tight props on (looking at you Gemfan 2035) and you don't have a 1.5mm drill bit. Below is a comparison to my DYS 1104 7500kV. You can see my review on these here
The comparisons to these motors don't stop there. Both are similar external size, and the magnets are simlarly strong - very notchy compared to the racerstar motors. From there the leader 120 motors are better. Wires are multicore, slightly thicker and much more flexible and easy to manager. On spin up in betaflight they are so quiet and smooth! Not noisy like the DYS even when they were new. In fairness the DYS are powferful so if the stock leader 120 motors get anywhere near this I'll be happy, especially given the improvements.
This flight controller and ESC is ubiquitous and first appeared on the ARFUN90. I've reviewed one in full here - in short reliable and well featured. What impressed me here was the quality of soldering and the cable managent, just so clean - see below. I wasn't going to compare my efforts but I'd already soldered in the receiver and the macro image makes me feel inadequate! From what I can see of the earlier reviews, this looks to have improved substantially.
Betaflight setup and the Flip of Death
This model shipped with the full release at the time of writing - 3.1.7 (3.2.0 still in release candidate). Interestingly along with the physical changes the software settings have been changed to address some of the brownout/flip of death issues the early reviews had. Most notable digital idle is set at 10%. Since I'll maiden this with stock settings I'll go with that and see if moving back to my standard of 3.5% is still viable. 10% is not ideal for me as you will never be able to fully chop throttle for flips and whatnot. Cool to see that they have addressed it and looking forward to seeing if this issue may have gone altogether.
I'll post some pics of the key betaflight screens for prosperity below (flip through them) but I intend to move to 3.2.0 as soon as I have completed initial flights and can confirm everything is functioning as expected.
I'm something of a lightweight jukie when it comes to miniquads, benefits include longer flights, better agility, greater crash resistance through lower intertia. See the gallery below for the various weight measures but in short 64g dry, 94g AUW ready to fly with the stock 2s 500mah battery. This include an ibus FS82 1g receiver which was not present when I too the photos.
This is a very respectable weight for a micro that swings 2.8" props as these props generate a significant amount of lift in combination with a motor of this rating.
All this and it includes my favourite beeper/led combo (reviewed here) - a beeper is a must for micro quads as you can loose them even in short grass! I can anyway.
Size comparison to other micros
This is not a big model by any stretch. The beauty of these micros - and to be clear this is still a micro - is you can fly in small areas (not indoors!) with less danger and concern to the public. They are also quick to get in the air and consumables like batteries and props are cheaper too. This model measures 120mm diagonally motor to motor and offers most of the experience of a 5" FPV quad. Picture below compare to an E011 typical tiny whoop and an 80mm EYAS x2 with 2" props