Let's be honest: this is going to be a controversial category. For one thing, there are lots of great frames out there, so I'm going to offend somebody by leaving out their favorite. But the whole point of this page is to help you narrow down your options, so I've picked just a few that I think are great.
When I first made this List, I struggled over whether to include “clone” frames. On the one hand, original frame designers deserve to be compensated. On the other hand, some people just don’t have the money to buy a premium frame. Today, I’m glad to say that you don’t have to compromise on price to get a high-quality, first-party frame. Manufacturers like Armattan, Rotor Riot, and Team Blacksheep have released high-quality frames, priced to compete with cheap “clones”.
The other argument people make is that many first-party frames ship from the United States, which is expensive if you’re anywhere else. Both TBS and Armattan (SabotageRC) ship from Asia, and Armattan offers free shipping on the whole Sabotage line of frames.
Based on this, I’ve pulled all the “clone” frames from this list; and I encourage you to support these manufacturers with your business. (EDIT: I am in the process of updating the page to remove clone frames, so if you still see one, come back in a bit.)
Freestyle is like dance. The goal is to move the quad through the environment in interesting, exciting, and beautiful ways. A freestyle quad may have power, but raw speed is not its end goal. Freestyle frames are usually larger and heavier than frames focused on racing. They're simpler to build, since the pilot isn't focused on shaving every single gram of weight that they can. Freestyle frames are always designed to carry a High-Definition camera such as a GoPro.
If this is your first build, you should definitely buy one of the "freestyle" frames on this page. A "racing" frame is probably too challenging for a novice because the electronics will be harder to install.
High-quality frames; Budget Prices
The CL1 is a basic, affordable frame for freestyle racing. It features interchangeable arms so you don’t have to pull out all your electronics when you break an arm. It’s fairly roomy, which helps if this is your first build, and you haven’t yet figured out how to cram ten gallons of electronics in a two-gallon frame.
The Dingo carries on Armattan’s tradition of innovative frame design. It doesn’t look like anything else you’ve seen, but don’t let that turn you off. The rounded edges mean that the force of impacts is spread out, which increases durability.
The Dingo is a little bit compact for a beginner builder, so think carefully about the parts you’ll use in your build. Or just have Armattan select it for you! Yep. That’s right. You can buy everything you need for your Dingo build right from the product page above. Armattan will even build it for you if you want!
The TBS SourceOne is the first totally open-source, community-designed frame. Literally. It’s got a github repo! A community of contributors are working right now to improve the frame, and every so often a new version is “released” and the product in stores is updated.
Accessories for the SourceOne are plentiful. You can buy them from the TBS store, or you can download the .STL files and print them yourself. Heck! You can cut the whole frame for free if you’ve got a carbon fiber cutting machine. How’s that for a bargain?
The Strix Screech is designed by ReadyMadeRC, a stalwart of the U.S. RC hobby industry. It's a great freestyle frame (although you could race it if you really wanted to). And it's under $40.
Although Rotor Riot, Armattan, and TBS may be better known, ReadyMadeRC deserves credit for being one of the first to release a high-quality, first-party frame at clone-killing prices. It comes with a 3D printed GoPro case, which should be factored in when comparing price.
The Reverb is the sequel to the ImpulseRC Alien, possibly the most successful mini quad frame ever. The Reverb keeps everything that made the Alien so successful, while adding modern design touches like reduced weight, lower top deck for tighter center of gravity, and smaller wheelbase for better agility.
There's a reason that the original Alien stuck around as long as it did: it's easy to build, durable, easy to maintain, and flies amazing. With the Reverb, ImpulseRC has brought the Alien's success into the modern era.
In terms of popularity and innovation, the Chameleon may be the only legitimate contender to the Alien's throne. It has an innovative aluminum front end that protects the FPV camera and provides a mount for the HD camera with integrated uptilt adjustment. No need for a 3D-printed GoPro mount on this frame! The Chameleon has a low-deck design that centralizes weight, making the quad more nimble. The low deck makes it more of an intermediate build, since there is less room to fit all the equipment in the frame.
If you're at all interested in the Chameleon, you must watch this video review, by Soma, the developer of the Alien. This may be the best frame review I've ever seen.
The goal of a racer is to go fast and finish first. Racing frames are built as light and aerodynamic (thin) as possible. They're also more compact and difficult to build.
Durability is a challenge for racing frames. If the racer crashes out, he's not going to win the race. But additional strength usually equates to additional weight. The best racing frames strike a fine balance between these considerations.
One defining characteristic of today's racing frames is the Stretched-X motor layout. These frames have the motors farther apart front-to-back than side-to-side. It's hard to tell whether this offers any legitimate benefit, or whether it's just another fashion trend. Enough top racers are flying Stretched-X that maybe there's something to it.
Racing frames are more likely to use an under-slung battery. They can usually carry a GoPro if need be, but may be designed with the GoPro as an afterthought, rather than a necessity.
All of the "racing" frames on this page are intermediate to advanced builds. If you're a beginner, you should buy one of the "freestyle" frames above and enjoy racing it. You won't be as competitive as someone with a purpose-built racer, but you'll still have a great time.
Proven By Pros
Hyperlite Floss Team Edition
The Hyperlite Floss Team Edition has been proven by Team Pyro-Drone pilots, who are winning some of the most prestigious races in the world. It's incredibly light, for nimble handling and fast acceleration. Light frames are often fragile, but not the Floss. It's been refined over years of race experience to remove the weak points. (You can't win a race if you crash out).
The main disadvantage of this frame is that inexperienced pilots will find it challenging to build. There's very little room to place your electronics. Correct part selection is crucial. And you need to be a fairly tidy builder or the whole thing will just be an ugly mess of wires.
Light. Fast. Simple.
RDQ Mach 1 Stretch X
The Mach 1 was one of five frames selected for MultiGP's prestigious Spec-Class racing league. Frames like the Mach 1 reduce weight by minimizing the amount of carbon in the frame. The "frame" consists of little more than a base-plate and a top plate. Fitting all of your electronics in this frame will require a lot of thinking ahead. Some components simply won't fit, so you might want to look up somebody else's parts list before proceeding. But you'll be rewarded with an incredibly nimble and fast quad. The centralized weight will make it turn on a dime, and the small surface area minimizes drag.
The Mach 1 design has been updated to reflect the needs of modern racers. It’s available with standard (14mm wide) or “race” (8mm wide) arms. And it can be ordered with mounting for any size of FPV camera.
Purebred Racing Machine
Catalyst Machineworks 'Merica
The 'Merica continues Catalyst Machineworks' tradition of innovative, no-compromises racing frame design. The frame is light enough for responsive acceleration and cornering. Obsessive design means light weight without compromising durability. Perfectly-centered mass distribution gives amazing handling.
What really sets the Merica apart from other, similar frames, is its modular 3D-printed "pod" design. The flight controller, receiver, camera, and video transmitter all install in the "pod". The FC connects to the 4-in-1 ESC and motors using a wire harness. For a racer with a full stable of quads, this is a life-saver. Break an arm? Break a camera lens? Just take an un-damaged "pod" and un-damaged "base" and mate them together. Want to try 6S low kv motors on one quad and 4S high kv on another? No need to re-build a whole new quad. Just build a new "base" and install your existing "pod" on it.
Be warned though: Catalyst's builds are not for beginners. If you select the wrong parts, they won't even fit inside the Merica's pod. So do your research (Catalyst publishes lists of suggested parts). Or if you want, you can even order a bind-n-fly model pre-built by Catalyst!