You have to walk before you can run.
RC control will be required, despite what anyone else tells you.
Even you want to have a RTF or ARF system, you need some tuning and calibration post flight.
This requires the RC system.
The RTF is/could be really ready only first time you us it.
On next flies you will need permanent adjustment since motors, props, etc could start to have some mechanical plays (normal) and you always need to calibrate and tune.
And RC is your friend. If something happen with the autonomus model (radio interference, reset system in air), RC always will nudge (overwrite) the existing pre-loaded program.
You can find a good RC under $100, look for Turnigy 9x on web.
Here you go: http://www.lehmannaviation.com/la/la100.php
Costs around $1300
You might find better help if you explained some requirements you have in useful ways.
- What quality of video data? Does it need to be streamed live, or can it be recorded, then played back after? NTSC, PAL, HD? 5fps? 15fps? 120fps@1024p?
- What does "good battery life" mean? How long is "good"?
- What does "go pretty far" mean? How far is "pretty far?" Please answer in feet, meters, kilometers, or miles.
- Are there any other requirements you have? The list above is too narrow. For example:
- Do you need it to fly fast? If so, how fast?
- Do you need it to fly in wind? Remember, if there is 10kph wind, then it needs to fly at least 10kph just to stay still
- Does it need to hover?
- What kind of PC do you have, or can you get? Linux? Windows XP? Windows 7? Windows 8? Mac?
- Do you know what kind of radios you need? See my questions about range above. It is also helpful, to pick radios that will work, to know more:
- In what country do you plan to fly? This is important because there are different rules for what types of radios are ok, and which frequencies you can use. Which freqencies are important because they function over different distances, and also because your video and your other radios (telemetry) have to play nice with your GPS, etc.
- Do you plan to fly day or night or both? This is important for many reasons, the kinds of cameras you use, and also because radios work differently in the day and night, slightly, and because you might want lights on your UAV.
- Do you plan on flying in places with lots of trees? If so, evergreens or decidious? THis is important for radio selection (video and telemetry)
- Will you be able to see the UAV? This is also important for the selection of your radio. Some radio frequencies need to be able to "see" directly, called line of sight, and if there is anything in the way, then the signal gets blocked. See my question about trees, but it is also important to know if you plan to fly around buildings, or near large bodies or water, or near large metal structures. These can all cause problems with radio, so if you do need to do any of this, it is best to list what you need, so the right frequencies can be picked. If you cannot see the UAV, the radios may need to be very different, but it is not as easy to just swap them out, because you also need to have the correct antenna for it, and that most likely means different weight. Weight is very, very important, so it is better to have as many details before you spend money .... especially if you want to keep the cost down.
Answer some of these questions, and you might have more success.
Maybe you guys would be interested in this: (from my company)
It's made primarily for aerial photography but it's a big, stable frame, easily modified with widely available replacement parts. No video yet, and still needs an R/C transmitter. Check it out and let me know if you have any questions. Thanks!