The advances in consumer Camera Drones have come quite quickly, outpacing similar technologies such as smart phones, computers and flat screen TV’s. As one example, an iPhone 3 in 2009 sold for a similar price as an iPhone 6 in 2016 (when inflation is considered). Of course, the newer iPhones are much more powerful and capable due to increased processing power.
When it comes to consumer camera drones, the price/performance (value) evolution is much more drastic. As an example, we will use the first Phantom/Gimbal combination to illustrate the point.
Mid-2013 Consumer Camera Drone Example
The first models of the Phantom (Phantom 1) were followed by an optional gimbal (stabilizer) – designed for the GoPro Hero 3 models. The gimbal was named “Zenmuse H3-2D” the “2D” meaning it was a 2-Axis gimbal. The Gimbal sold for $700 US, however existing Phantom owners also had to buy a PMU (power management unit) as well as the GoPro 3 Camera. A basic unit would therefore be:
$650 Phantom 1
$780 – Gimbal with PMU
$400+ – GoPro Hero 3
This setup required installation and tuning – the Phantom had to be opened up to install the wires and the PMU. Having this done by a dealer…plus a couple extra batteries, would bring the minimum price up to approx. 2K.
What Was Missing?
For your $2,000, you didn’t have many features that are taken for granted today. For example, you had no control over the camera – you had to turn it on prior to flight and film for the entire flight. Of course, since the flight time was limited to about 6-7 minutes, this was not a big problem.
You also could not see what was being filmed (no app or FPV). For $400-$600 more you (and even shorter flight times) you could install an FPV system that was wired to the GoPro and a small monitor on the ground. You still didn’t have any control of the camera settings, mode or shutter – but at least you could somewhat frame the shot.
Telemetry was also missing – you had no idea when the battery might run out as well as the many other parameters which the more modern camera drones display on-screen. Some of this cold be remedied by the installation of an option “OSD” (on screen display) module – which, of course, added even more to the price. A complete kit for aerial filming could easily end up at $3,000 with tax, shipping and a case.
Range was another shortcoming – although with such a short flight time, you may not have been able to fly very far. The Phantom 1 had an effective range of about 1,000 feet (300 meters) although you might lose FPV (monitoring) at an even closer distance.
2017 Camera Drone Example
The Phantom 3 Standard (Introduced late 2015!) is perhaps the closest model in size and style to the unit described above. It will therefore provide a good comparison of how far the industry, and DJI in particular, has advanced…and what the current Camera Drone Consumer can expect in terms of value.
In terms of price, the Phantom 3 Standard can be purchased as low as $399 – including gimbal, camera, FPV, telemetry, etc.
At this price it includes ALL of the options and extras described above and MUCH MORE. These advances include:
3 Axis Gimbal (as opposed to 2 Axis on the 2013 model).
Triple (3X) the Flight time
Double (2X) the Range
Intelligent Flight Modes such as Point of Interest, Waypoints, etc.
3rd Party Software apps to extend capabilities.
More powerful motors and props
True “Ready to Fly” setup (no professional tweaking needed).
Higher resolution camera (2.7K) and no “fishbowl” effect.
To summarize, the much-inferior 2013 model cost 6 to 8X as much as the “basic starter” model of today. Using the same formula on a laptop computer would project that a nice MacBook Air at $1200 in 2013, would cost only $200 today and be much more capable than the earlier model. This, of course, is not the case – illustrating the vast difference in the speed of improvement(s) in drones vs. computers.
Consumers always desire something new and improved – and so, although the basic models like the Phantom 3 Standard will function nicely, many are opting for the newer models which feature more portability, range, obstacle avoidance and/or other advances.
One has to chuckle, though, when new consumers lament the “high price” of a new drone. Little do they realize than they are getting a bargain compared to just a few short years ago. One comment from a Pentagon contractor says it all “We spent millions on some of our (small) drones and they don’t start to approach the capabilities of the DJI models”.
Note – for a listing and links to current best-selling Consumer Camera Drones, check out: