Darwin240 Johnny 5 Review: The Best Cheap BNF FPV Drone in 2024?

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RCHobby Lab’s Author: Daniel Henderson
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Reviewed by Kristen Ward
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Reviewed by Kristen Ward

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FPV (first-person view) quadcopters have come a long way in recent years. Advances in technology have led to more capable drones with better video transmission systems, flight controllers, motors, and more. However, all these improvements have also driven costs up. High-performance FPV racing and freestyle drones now often cost $300 or more just for the basic components. But the Darwin240 Johnny5 aims to challenge that with an unfathomably low price of just $180!

In this in-depth review, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about the Darwin240 Johnny5. How does a full 5” quadcopter with FPV gear get so inexpensive? What exactly are you getting for under $200? And most importantly, how does this budget build actually fly compared to more premium options?

Let’s find out!

Overview: Impossibly Cheap 5” FPV Quadcopter

At first glance, the Darwin240 Johnny5 seems too good to be true. A full 5” quad, capable of carrying a GoPro style action camera, with FPV transmission and a flight controller capable of acro and angle flight modes for just $180? A few years ago this would have been an absolute bargain, but today it raises some skeptical eyebrows.

Have quality standards and expectations just gone up, or is the Darwin240 Johnny5 resorting to circa-2016 components to hit this price point? Can you actually get a decent, flyable 5” FPV quadcopter in 2023 for under $200? That’s what we’re here to find out!

What You Get in the Box

Inside the box, you’ll find all the components needed to get this 5” quadcopter airborne:

  • Carbon fiber frame with integrated power distribution board
  • 4x 2207 2400Kv motors
  • 30A BLHeli_S 4-in-1 ESC capable of up to 6S input power
  • F4 flight controller running Betaflight 4.1
  • 800mW 5.8GHz video transmitter with adjustable output power
  • Caddx Ratel Starlight camera (wide angle)
  • 5x4x3 triblade props
  • Battery strap

In other words, just add your own LiPo battery, radio receiver, battery charger, FPV goggles/monitor and you’ll be ready to fly. Not bad considering some standalone FPV cameras alone can cost over $100 these days.

Alternatively, you can purchase the Johnny5 RTF (ready-to-fly) package which includes a FlySky compatible receiver for only $15 more. But we’ll focus mostly on the base model for this review.

First Impressions

Fresh out of the box, the Darwin240 Johnny5 makes a decent first impression for a sub-$200 drone. The frame feels study and durable thanks to 5mm thick carbon fiber arms. The stack of components in the center looks neatly arranged and well protected within the frame. And nothing immediately jumps out as being egregiously cheap or poorly made.

However, it is clear that some cost optimizations have been made:

  • The soldering job is messier than average
  • Component-to-component connections use plugs rather than solder
  • Lots of zip ties substitute more expensive hardware
  • Overall finish is less refined than a premium drone

In other words, this was obviously put together with a tight budget in mind rather than maximizing performance and quality at any cost.

But that’s expected given the price point. As long as it flies decently for freestyle and general FPV purposes, saving a few bucks on the production quality seems reasonable.

Frame and Components Breakdown

Before heading out to fly the Johnny5 (and maybe crash it a few times), let’s take a closer look at the frame itself along with the various components that make this quadcopter tick.

Frame Design and Durability

The Darwin240 frame uses a basic but proven design we’ve seen utilized by mini quads for many years. It consists of:

  • 5mm thick carbon fiber arms arranged in an X pattern.
  • A flat single-piece carbon fiber base plate.
  • An additional carbon fiber plate sandwiched in between forming an “X” shape when viewed from above or below.

Durable 5mm arms should provide good protection against minor crashes. And the overall frame feels stiff and solidly constructed.

However, the additional plate mounted inside adds height to the stack. This raises the center of gravity and offsets weight further from the center, potentially reducing stability. It also provides more leverage against impacts compared to a slammed stack or unibody frame.

In other words, this won’t be as resilient as some modern, performance-focused frames. But it should hold up fine to learning and progressing through beginner to intermediate level freestyle tricks before needing to upgrade. Just don’t expect it to survive as well if you frequently slam it full-throttle into concrete.

The camera is front-mounted in a vertical orientation to make the most of the limited space when running a GoPro-style action cam or keeping things lightweight with just an FPV cam. The GoPro mount is an additional $7 if you want the ability to record HD footage.

Overall, while not the most durable, cutting-edge design, the frame gets the job done for a basic 5” FPV quadcopter. And it leaves the most budget for the components that actually make it fly.

Flight Stack Components

The flight components stacked vertically in the center are what handle controlling the motors, stabilizing the quadcopter, transmitting the FPV video feed, and communicating with your radio controller. Here’s what’s included:

Flight Controller

The Darwin240 comes with a nameless F4 flight controller running Betaflight 4.1. Despite the no-name nature, F4 boards running at a fast gyro sampling rate of 8kHz have been the go-to for many miniquad pilots for the last few years and offer good performance.

The F4 chip offers enough memory and speed for Betaflight’s stabilization and flight control algorithms. And 8kHz provides responsive control without overburdening the CPU.

Additional features include an integrated BMP280 barometer for altitude hold and the ability to flash the ESCs for better performance if a future upgrade. We’ll talk about that more later on.

The most disappointing omission though is RPM filtering. This uses the ESC telemetry signal to isolate noise in the gyro readings and provide even crisper handling. The ESCs would need an update to BLHeli_32 to take full advantage of this.

But otherwise, a very capable budget flight controller suitable even for intermediate pilots looking to progress their skills.

Video Transmitter

Handling the analog video transmission duties is an 800mW 48-channel 5.8GHz vTX. 800mW (or 0.8W) strikes a nice balance between power and battery efficiency for most pilots and situations. And 48 channels ensures you’ll easily find a clear band at group rides or races.

The video transmitter (vTX) connects directly to both the camera and flight controller to allow power level and channel adjustments on the fly. No need to fiddle with hard-to-reach buttons mid-flight! This is a really nice feature to have and shows that the Darwin is not cutting every possible corner.

During testing, the output power levels did not display totally accurately in the goggles or match up exactly with the settings changes. But it was good enough to tell that switching from 25mW to 800mW made a noticeable difference in video range and resilience. Just don’t expect an extremely precise match to the 1mW levels you choose.

ESC & Motors

One of the main areas that keeps the cost down on the Johnny5 is definitely the electronic speed controllers (ESC) and motors combo. But cost savings doesn’t necessarily equal poor performance here.

The 30A 4-in-1 ESC runs Blheli_S firmware. While not as efficient or smooth as the newest Blheli_32 or Bluejay firmwares, Blheli_S absolutely gets the job done on a budget build. Opto ESCs keep costs down while the high KV motors compensate with higher RPMs. And 30 amps per motor is plenty for 5” props on 4S/6S batteries.

Speaking of the motors, they have classic 2207 size stator cans with 2400Kv winding. Lower Kv rating compared to some modern builds allows them to work well on both 4S and 6S configurations to fit different pilot preferences and budgets. And stranded wiring with silicone insulation gives decent flexibility.

The bells attach via grub screws rather than press fitting. This old-school method can present issues with bells slipping if the screws vibrate loose over time. But it also makes motor maintenance and bell replacements easier. Something to keep an eye on during pre-flight checks.

Overall though, this combo provides good power and efficiency to let the Johnny5 fly well while keeping costs down. The main limitations come from omissions in the ESC firmware. Lack of RPM filtering and easily accessible ESC telemetry removes some tuning options for maximizing performance.

Other Components

Rounding out the rest of the electronics are:

  • A compact Spektrum DSM receiver if you opt for the RTF bundle. Or easily tap into spare UARTs to wire up your own receiver if going for the plug-n-play route.
  • Beefy pin headers for plugging in aux devices like FPV cameras without needing to solder
  • Wire management could be cleaned up. But everything is secured neatly and out of the way with zip ties. No loose wires flopping around mid-flight.

Built, Setup, and Programming

With all the components and wiring inspected, it’s time to wrap up the build by installing a receiver, configure the quad in Betaflight, and program the ESCs.

Overall, everything went together without a hitch following standard procedures. No weird issues popped up. The manual provides all necessary details on button combos for entering DFU and BLHeli modes. And the Betaflight configurator detected and connected to the flight controller instantly.

However, one note for advanced pilots: the ESCs do not support bidirectional DShot or ESC Telemetry from the factory. This must be activated by flashing the ESCs to Bluejay firmware rather than the stock BLHeli_S. Without bi-directional DShot, RPM Filtering also will not work.

Here are step-by-step instructions if you wish to flash to Bluejay to activate these performance enhancing features. Just be aware that the CPU cannot support the full 8kHz gyro refresh rate with additional load. So gyro rate will need lowered to 1-4kHz.

Overall, everything built up quickly with no major issues. Now let’s head out to a field and test this budget build out!

Flying the Darwin240 Johnny5

After charging up a 4S battery and doing a brief hover test, it was time to really put the $180 Johnny5 quad to the test by tossing it around the local bando spot. How would this ultra budget 5” rig hold up in the air? Let’s dive into the flying experience!

Flight Characteristics

Right off the bat, it became obvious that the Johnny5 was tuned… adequately. Just don’t expect buttery smooth, locked-in handling. The PIDs were oscillating and needed adjustment right away before feeling comfortable really pushing the envelope.

After tuning and rate adjustments, aggressive flying was alright. Snappy flips and rolls came through decently enough. Though it did lose a good bit of speed during heavy direction changes.

This was likely due to both the slightly dated components, lack of modern filtering technology, and the bulky frame design adding weight/inertia. So performance felt on par with quads back in 2017-2019 before RPM filtering, bidirectional DShot, etc. became commonplace.

Overall maneuverability rating: 6.5/10

High speed handling highlighted the drawbacks in the flight characteristics even further unfortunately. Fast forward flight felt more squirrely than expected at times. And coming to an abrupt stop or changing directions aggressively at speed resulted in much more wobbling around than top tier FPV drones.

Clearly this flight stack and power system works way better for medium speed cruising, transitions, and trick progression rather than racing or intense freestyle sessions. Beginners won’t notice much. But experienced pilots will yearn for something snappier before too long.

High speed handling rating: 4/10

The included high KV (2400) motors performed decently well on 4S LiPo packs, delivering solid mid-range punchouts and climb outs. Throttle resolution was smooth across the range too. However, strength dropped off noticeably below 50% throttle making tight, technical areas a bit trickier.

Overall though, these budget motors offered enough thrust for learning tricks, flying at most bando spots, and general FPV enjoyment without costing an arm and a leg. Durability seems like the bigger question mark if you frequently slam things into the ground or concrete.

Power system rating: 7/10

Speaking of durability… this ain’t no cinewhoop! The Darwin240 survived several minor crashes into grass/dirt/wood just fine thanks to the thick 5mm carbon fiber arms. No gimbal or HD recording equipment here to baby. This rig can take some reasonable beatings while learning.

However, just don’t expect the Johnny’s durability to match that of modern, unibody frames or even race-focused builds with well protected electronics. One slightly overcooked flagpole collision snapped an arm right in half thanks to all the leverage from that tall stack. Stronger 6mm arms would help significantly.

Overall durability definitely felt “budget grade” but not egregiously fragile either. Perfectly reasonable for a $180 brushless FPV rig. Just know the limits before sending it full send into concrete pillars.

Expect to repair/replace arms once you progress into more hardcore bando shred sled status. Or upgrade the frame first when you feel held back on rowdier freestyle moves.

Durability rating: 5/10

Summary: The Darwin240 Johnny5 offers “just good enough” flight performance matching its entry-level price point. Capable and confidence inspiring enough for newbies learning the basics. But more experienced pilots will yearn for something snappier before long with better efficiency, filtering, and high-speed handling. Overall rating: 6/10

FPV Camera & Video

While the motors, ESCs, and legacy flight controller perform adequately to limp the Johnny5 around the air, the weak link holding back the overall experience is definitely the included camera.

Rather than a Caddx, RunCam, or Foxeer cam, the Johnny5 resorts to some noname camera that frankly should not be used. Like… at all. Ever.

First off, it has a ridiculously narrow, distorted field of view around 90-degrees. Modern FPV cameras have 150-170 degree FOVs, so this feels like tunnel vision goggles by comparison! Trying to fly fast while seeing so little peripheral vision becomes nearly impossible.

Secondly, the image stretched horizontally into a misshapen widescreen format not supported by goggles. So everything looks ridiculously tall and skinny. Maybe that was cool for a hot minute back in 2017. But support for widescreen analog died off years ago as standards moved to 16:9 HD digital systems.

The horrendous image made flying the Johnny5 exponentially more difficult. Thankfully, the camera connects via simple MMCX pigtail so swapping out to any modern option is straight-forward. Seriously, do yourself a favor and plan another $25-50 in the budget for a Foxeer, RunCam, or Caddx camera…

Once the FPV camera was upgraded, visibility became way more reasonable. And the 800mW video transmitter had no problem delivering clear, low-latency video to my Skyzones even 200-300 meters out. No complaints on the analog transmission strength or quality.

Ratings Summary

Here’s a quick recap of all the rated metrics for the Darwin240 Johnny5:

Final Verdict – Is the Darwin240 Johnny5 Worth Buying?

The Darwin240 Johnny5 definitely shows where some significant costs got cut to hit that astoundingly low $180 price point for an entire working FPV drone. Dated components, simple frame, budget motors, and horrendous factory camera all reveal the tight budget focus.

But this ultra-affordable approach largely works pretty decently as long as you set proper expectations!

Beginners just diving into the hobby will find it more than capable. It flies well enough to learn basic stick skills, try out simple tricks, zip around local fields, and have an absolute blast without costing a fortune or fearing breaking some delicate rig. Some el-cheapo upgrades like new props, foam standoffs, and an HD camera could extend its life too.

However, intermediate to advanced pilots will likely feel limited fairly quickly. The dated stack lacks modern stabilization and efficiency advancements to keep up with serious FPV demands. And you’ll definitely want to replace the camera immediately either way. So cost creeps up.

At the end of the day, while cutting one too many corners in some areas, the Johnny5 still delivers a fully functional 5” FPV quadcopter with goggles and a controller for around $300. And that options didn’t even exist just a couple years ago.

Overall, the DarwinFPV Johnny5 makes a great entry point for new FPV pilots on a tight budget. Just make sure you factor in another $50-100 for spare parts and some minor upgrades to unlock its full potential.

Happy flying!

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Written By Daniel Henderson

My name is Daniel Henderson and I'm an avid FPV pilot and videographer. I've been flying quadcopters for over 5 years and have tried just about every drone and FPV product on the market. When not flying quads, you can find me mountain biking, snowboarding, or planning my next travel adventure.

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