At some point, I realised that drones got really affordable. I’m not talking about flying toys, but fully-featured flying machines that won’t rinse you dry. FIMI SE X8 2020 (AliExpress) is one of these machines that come with all the bells and whistles, and a price tag of roughly $300 which doesn’t scare the average consumer away. I’m your “average consumer” with no previous flying experience – was it a good choice for a total beginner or should I settle for something less sophisticated?
Is FIMI SE X8 2020 for beginners?
YES. Hear me out.
Just like many of you, I was tempted to get a £50 drone to try it out. Crash it a few times and not cry over expensive repair bills while I learn the ropes. I decided to go with a different approach. With enough tech onboard, drones make flying as simple as possible. FIMI SE X8 2020 won’t avoid obstacles for you, and you still have to make sure that you don’t ram the drone into anything, but it takes care of the landing and take-off and thanks to great GPS and sensors keeps the drone in place even in fairly strong winds.
Apart from one mishap (not anticipating the braking distance, ramming the drone into a tree, from which the drone recovered with a backflip and cushioned by the rotors landing), and accidental drone jousting against DJI (both drones recovered in the air and came unscathed from the collision) I had no problems. It was easy to practice the first steps and the Return Home button would give me confidence that whatever happens, the drone will return to me safely.
My experience with FIMI SE X8 2020 (Banggood, AliExpress) wasn’t stellar, after a couple of flights I noticed that the video taken by the gimbal was out of focus. As the lens has a fixed focus, there was nothing I could do without voiding the warranty. I reached out to FIMI and reported the issue. The support staff was reasonable in their request for evidence and responsive.
Unfortunately, the only way to address this was to ship the drone back to China (at my cost) which would be then reimbursed to me with a free battery. I would be more annoyed at this, if not for the fact that I planned on getting a spare battery (£54) and while the shipping was around £25. I know, others would prefer to have their shipping refunded if the issue was caused by a factory defect.
While the fix was handled very quickly, I got unlucky again and my parcel was held over the Chinese new year adding extra 2 weeks to the total RMA time. While I’m pleased that as a consumer I get decent and responsive support, people may take an issue with getting reimbursed for postage with batteries. The camera had been refocused and the gimbal finally produces decent videos.
The drone and the controller
The drone is actually bigger than I was expecting. At 750g it feels heavy in my hands but folds nicely into a small brick that you could easily put inside a satchel bag or the backpack. It will still take some space, so if you want a more portable FIMI experience take a look at their latest one: FIMI Mini x8 SE (Banggood, AliExpress) (which comes with the same camera, but only 250g weight). Apart from the removable battery, you will find spare props (x 2), controller and cables to link it to USB-C|microUSB|Lightning phones.
FIMI SE X8 2020 feels solid. The 2 crashes that I had so far reinforced the idea that the drone can take a bit of beating as long as you don’t hit the gimbal directly – it’s the most fragile part of the drone. Unfortunately, apart from the foam cover, the kit doesn’t come with any sensible travel cover.
SD card slot and RX switch and pairing buttons are a bit of a pain to access as you have to retract the arms each time. Each time I want to take the card out, I need tweezers. I tend to keep my nails short. Other than that, it’s a design that inspires confidence.
The controller is also pretty neat. The control joystick unscrews, making the controller flat, while the groove inside the controller stores it securely. The controller retracts significantly and should be able to accommodate all phones and some tablets too. With buttons underneath and mappable layouts, you will find the perfect control scheme.
To complete the controls, you get 2 wheels located on the controller’s shoulders. One spring-loaded changes the gimbal’s angle, and the other one rotates freely and is mapped to EV compensation by default.
The only thing that’s missing is hooks to add a neck strap – a very handy feature for when you have to manhandle the drone. Due to the nature of the USB connection with the phone, it will also charge up your phone. It could be a good thing, as long as you remember to keep the controller charged, otherwise it can drain the extra juice charging your mobile instead. In reality, the average flight time of the set is about 35 min – even a partially charged controller will last that long.
This is a 750g beast with a camera onboard. In the UK to operate it legally, you must have a licence for it. Be a responsible drone owner and comply with local regulations, as the FIMI SE X8 2020’s weight and the fact that it has a camera will likely qualify the need for a licence. One test later, I had my ID number and I was ready for my 1st flight. Obtaining the license took an evening to read the rules and pass the test online.
There are 3 main fly modes: beginner’s/sport/cinematic. I think you will know which one to start with. The main difference between the modes is how responsive and fast the drone is. While beginners mode limits range, height and speed, sport mode gives you full control over the FIMI SE X8 2020 raw power.
The cinematic mode will hinder the manoeuvrability of the drone, to remove the jerkiness in the videos caused by sudden changes in speed or direction. You should try it once you feel comfortable with flying.
FIMI SE X8 2020 is very easy to fly. It’s packed with enough electronics to enable auto take-off and precision landing on a launchpad. All these safeguards eased me into taking control of the drone first using a line of sight, then slowly transitioning to flying using the video feed. The drone isn’t very fast in ascending or descending, but if you want to capture immersive footage, you will be operating the drone with the tiniest of nudges.
The battery lasts about 25-35 min depending on how aggressively you fly and weather conditions. It seems short at first, but you will quickly change your mind once you learn the ropes. If you have a goal in mind, you can easily achieve it on a single charge. Otherwise, get a spare battery to keep you flying longer if you just want to mess about and have a long flight time.
Shooting cinematic footage requires patience and going against your instincts of going fast and fun. The best shots are produced with the drone cruising at the turtle’s pace across the sky. As I felt more comfortable with flying, my focus shifted on controlling the framing, exposure and direction. Frankly speaking, it’s a job for two, but once you get the hang of it, you will find moments that look epic.
A recent firmware upgrade introduced a new shooting mode – 1080p90FPS, but the drone has the ability to capture up to 4K30FPS. Before you get excited, the footage is very on par with the FIMI Palm gimbal I reviewed earlier. In a nutshell, this is 1080P or 2K at best scaled up to 4K.
In my trials, I get the best results in 1080P60FPS and 2K60FPS. Scaling up the video to 4K makes little sense to me as getting extra frames in your video gives you better visual results than upscaling the resolution. It’s worth adding that video clips come without sound, which could be obvious for some – but worth noting. You are not losing much as the sound would be dominated by the drone’s droning.
In general, the video at 1080P/2K is OK. It lacks the detail in poor lighting conditions but given enough sun, the footage is crisper and really nice to look at. Something tells me that the drone’s gimbal unit is there same one used on their FIMI Palm (review). It’s decent enough, but down the line, I see myself going for a model with 4k60fps support. Especially, that extra resolution will let you frame the videos better.
Apart from basic in-flight support like auto takeoff, fall recovery, and precision landing, FIMI SE X8 2020 comes with advanced AI modes that utilise GPS and vision to enable creative director in you. The various mode will enable GPS-assisted automatic flights that include gems like:
- follow pre-programmed path
- various orbiting modes
The intelligent features of the drone will strongly depend on your GPS signal, so for the best performance and accurate path tracking, make sure the GPS reception is good. I was flying the drone in open areas, so GPS reception was great, therefore I had no issues with the drone following predefined paths.
Just remember, that drone doesn’t have any side sensors, so if you misjudge the distance of a circular path or other predefined routes, you will end up flying the drone into an obstacle and crashing. Testing the range, I lost control of the drone once at 1.5km due to obstacles and the drone did a great job of getting back to me in one piece.
The dedicated button for return home is handy and can be used to bring the drone closer to your position should you ever lose the orientation. Don’t be afraid to use it, as you can cancel the return home at any point. Just make sure to configure the return conditions prior to your flight (flight altitude etc) for the safest flight back home.
The optical tracking is fine, however, despite the drone’s max speed reaching over 60km/h optical tracking struggles to catch up with targets moving over 20km/h. I have tested it on my bike, and I was able to drop the drone fairly easily even in the open environment.
Another disadvantage is the lack of vertical adjustment. The tracking is done in one place, without vertical corrections. It’s fine for open spaces and meadows but won’t work well in mountainous terrain. The altitude of the drone is measured from a lift-off point.
Used with moderation it can provide smooth, tracked shots, but for the best utility, combine the automatic gimbal tracking with manual control of the drone. The gimbal will stay on target framing the subject nicely, while you can focus on flying. It’s my fav mode for flying as I can focus on the camera work, only nudging the drone when necessary.
Make sure to download the correct version of the app, as there is more than one for drones from FIMI but only one is compatible with FIMI SE X8 2020. The app allows you to customise the controls, set the video parameters, see the drone’s video feed and set and monitor the drone’s path using map layouts.
You will spend extra time deciding what shortcuts are the most useful for you – as these can be mapped to the directional mini joystick. In addition to shortcuts, the controller comes with a return home button which can come in handy.
Other than AI control, map and some basic flight info, you will be focusing on the camera feed and the drone itself so pick all in-flight settings prior to your flight. Also, pay attention to the video quality – one of the most annoying things in the app is the fact that video quality resets to medium each time you launch the app.
In my 20-odd hours of flying, I had no quirks or glitches and the app was operating as it should. My only advice is to pick a phone/tablet with a bright screen as you are likely to fly in good weather and being able to see the feed clearly is important.
It’s all fun and frolics
Ever since I got the drone, I’m looking for cool places to film and cool opportunities to test my skills. Call me careless, but I strapped a 360 camera to the drone and flown above water without prior testing which resulted in an awesome flyby of the birds. I shot a short promo for a hotel, which got me the ability to ask the owners to book a table last minute for one of the busiest nights and I filmed an engagement for a friend on top of the mountain.
Whether I’m carrying rovers to mars, or strapping the Insta360 ONE X2 (review) camera to the drone, the drone feels stable, strong and pretty agile. I even tried to add a Feiyu Pocket (review) gimbal to it to see what the footage would look like. I’m definitely not scared of experimenting with the drone.
FIMI SE X8 2020 is great to fly around and learn about what would you like to get out of your droning adventures and what would be your next device. I think my path would lead me towards cinematic drones, packed with AI rather than FPV aerobatics. I enjoy making videos more than trying to squeeze the drone where it’s not supposed to, but your path may be different.
It’s my 1st drone. I’m very excited about it, and already thinking about what features I’d like to see on my next one. FIMI SE X8 2020 (AliExpress) is fun to pilot, it’s a great learning platform for areography and will keep you busy on windless days for weeks to come. Given competitive pricing of sub £300 on Banggood, it’s not hard why I would recommend giving it a go. It may not be the best drone out there, but one of the better options at this price point. Let me know what do you think about it in this Reddit thread.
🆓📈💳 – See the transparency note for details.