Note – if you are looking for an article on the differences between the DJI Phantom models, click this link.
DJI is well known as a leader in the RTF Quadcopter market. The first Phantom, released at the end of 2012, provided a new standard and value in a mid-sized GPS quadcopter. In the time since, DJI has grown quickly (now over 1,000 employees) and invested heavily in R&D and production.
The PHANTOM 2 VISION + represents many of their innovations all rolled up into one customer-grade quadcopter. But is it for everyone? Or, more importantly, is it the right machine for your needs?
Unlike many other reviewers, we will not try to reinvent the wheel by providing you with duplicates of every specifications on this model – the specs and features are clearly stated on the DJI site and elsewhere:
Rather we will try to help with more subjective views on this aerial robot – how does it “feel” to fly? Can you get parts and repairs for it? Who is the target customer? How does it compare to competitive models? This, and much more, will be covered below.
Please note – we have recently published an ebook with a vast amount of information about all 5 models – it will very likely save you time and money BEFORE you make a buying decision. The book is available at the link below:
Appeal to users:
Advanced Beginner (flyers) and up who want to use the relatively advanced video and still photography features built in. This is not a quadcopter for racing, flips, etc.
Type of Quad: Consumer / Hobbyist “hobby grade”
Cost: approx. $1369 with spare battery – all other items included except for smartphone or tablet for the FPV (required).
Crashworthiness – Fair
NOTE – THIS IS A TECHNICAL PRODUCT AND YOU SHOULD BE TECHNICALLY ORIENTATED OR WILLING TO LEARN IN ORDER TO PROPERLY PILOT IT. SKILLS NEEDED ARE EVERYTHING FROM PILOTING TO PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF MAPS, COMPASS HEADINGS, DISTANCES, WIND SPEEDS, ETC.
IF YOU ARE GENERALLY CLUELESS ABOUT THESE MATTERS, YOU WILL LIKELY LOSE OR DESTROY YOUR CRAFT OR HARM PERSONS OR PROPERTY.
It has been said that DJI is the “Apple of Quadcopters” and the packaging and presentation seem to indicate they’ve take a cue from that company. While I will not waste your time with yet another “unboxing” video or description, here is a picture of what is included.
In addition to the items in the box, you’ll need a smartphone or tablet (Apple or Android) as well as the DJI Vision app which must be downloaded (free) and installed. Most flyers would want to purchase an extra battery. DJI sells a bundle which includes two batteries at a lower than usual pricing.
Click here for the link to that “Extra Battery Package” at Amazon.
I suggest buying and installing the optional prop guards on Phantoms – ou will be safer and also save money on props as Phantoms can easily tilt over upon landing…making the props strike the ground surface.
Assembly and Preparing to Fly
Assembly was easy – I used mostly the “quick start guide” since I am already familiar with quadcopters. In terms of what must be done in order to fly, these are the basic steps:
1. Unpack Phantom and install props – no tools needed.
2. Install batteries in TX, charge battery for the Drone (plug in charger included) and the range extender (charges via USB).
3. Install the DJI Vision app on your phone or tablet.
4. Remove gimbal lock and lens cap – install micro SD card into camera.
5. Turn on the TX (first) then the Quadcopter along with the Range extender
6. Connect your smartphone or tablet to the Phantom wireless network.
7. Calibrate compass on the Phantom (same as with other models).
8. Open Vision app, confirm camera connection – mount your phone on the TX clamp.
9. Make certain both S1 and S2 switches are in the fully up position (S1=GPS S2=Normal Flight)
10. Arm props as with other Phantoms and take off.
DJI has provided good instructions as well as some nice engineering and design to eliminate assembly errors. As an example, the propellers are threaded and screw on – no tools needed. Prop hubs are market with a black dot for the black props and no dot (silver) for the silver props.
NOTE: All LiPo batteries should be charged on a non-combustible surface – ideally inside a bag made for such purposes or an old metal ammo box or similar vessel. Batteries should not be left completely unattended when charging and make sure a smoke detector is in the area where you charge!
The included battery charger will top off the included “smart battery” in about an hour – not bad for a heavy duty power source that can keep the Phantom flying longer than most other brands (15+ minutes). Once charged, the battery will slide right into the provided compartment on the quad – no wire connections needed (as with early Phantom models).
Note: I used an iphone 4S for these flight tests.
First Flight and Impressions
Once charged and assembled, the Phantom 2 Vision + is ready for takeoff. This RTF quad is no lightweight when it comes to weighing in – 1285 grams, which is almost 3 pounds! However, this is only about 250 grams (8 oz.) heavier than the stock Phantom – not bad when you consider the much larger batter and the gimbal and camera. Current technology does not allow for it to be much lighter, but it’s worth noting that DJI takes a different tack toward their design than the upcoming Parrot BeBop (1/3 the weight at 400 grams). These quads are quite different, but I suspect the future will see multirotor designs take off in this type of different direction(s). DJI designs can currently be classified as of the “heavy lift” variety, using more powerful propellers, motors and batteries to achieve their goals. The important point here is that a compact heavy object will not survive any drop (crash, fall from sky, etc.) from heights without damage. Fly over grass and softer ground if possible. Also, the danger to vehicles and pedestrians is multiplied with heavier and denser objects. In short – DO NOT FLY OVER ROADS OR PEOPLE!
As mentioned in the summary and rating, this quad is for still photography, video and demonstrations. The design is not meant for acrobatics, racing, threading through forests at high speed, etc. Rather the unit is designed to be as stable as possible – a flying tripod, as DJI describes it. If you use it properly with this in mind, you are likely to be satisfied with it’s performance.
The real draw of the Vision + is it’s gimbal/camera combination. This combination in itself would have cost $1,000 or more a year ago- now it’s included along with many other features. The gimbal is a electronic stabilizer which keeps the camera very steady along 3 axis. The quad can shiver, shake, vibrate, etc…and the camera stays fairly stable. Here is a short video showing how the camera maintains stability.
Once the initial steps outlined above (#1-10) are taken, it’s time to leave the ground. Set the Phantom on a level surface in the clear and arm the propellers by pulling both TX sticks down and toward the center. If all systems are go, the props will start to spin at idle. If there are problems with the camera, gimbal, etc. the props may not start – error messages will display on your smart phone screen. I had some messages regarding gimbal errors come up, but they disappeared as soon as I controlled the gimbal from the app screen arrows.
Before takeoff, confirm that you are seeing what the camera sees on your smartphone or tablet. You may want to reposition the gimbal (use the up and down arrows on the screen) before you start your flight. Confirm that you have turned on the devices in the proper order – TX first, THEN the Quad. Shutdown is the opposite – turn off the Quadcopter first, then the TX.
Advance the throttle and the Phantom will take off. I find that giving the quad almost full throttle works best, as the NAZA flight controller (FC) will regulate the acceleration for the first few seconds. Once you’ve lifted a few feet off the ground, leave go of the throttle and the quadcopter should hover. I found that the added weight can slightly confuse the Phantom – it seems to want to drop a few feet on random occasion…as compared to an old model Phantom with little or no payload. This is simply the NAZA and other instruments reacting to gravity and tends to smooth out after a few seconds.
Once in the air you will probably marvel at the way the gimbal and camera work to self-stabilize. My first flight consisted mostly of some short range testing of the “feel” of the quadcopter as well as the control of the camera gimbal. In the default mode, the camera is not taking any pictures, but simply relaying it’s view back to your smartphone or tablet. Controls on the screen are available for taking still shots or starting/stopping the taking of HD video. Still shots can be taken in JPEG or RAW format. RAW will take longer between shots, as it writes much more data to the MicroSD card.
A downsized sample of my first still is below. It illustrates the wide angle of the camera lens as well as another consideration of using FPV with an aerial vehicle – that of having to take your eyes off the quad quite often to look at the screen! Also, many screens are difficult to see in very bright sun – so keep this in mind and perhaps make or buy a sunshade for your monitoring device. It occurred to me that the best possible setup for decent video and safe operation may be a pair of operators, one to fly the bird and the other to direct the framing of shots perfectly. This is not as much of a problem near sunrise and sunset and in cloudier conditions.
The camera adjusts very well to the lighting condition – as you can see from the image specs, the above picture was taken with a relatively fast shutter and at a low ISO. The original was 4384 pixels wide by 2466 high, large enough for virtually any size print or small poster.
Still Photography Impressions
The quality of the still shots – both jpg and raw – are quite impressive. Most any hobbyist or consumer will be pleased and even “prosumer” photographers will likely get decent results by post-processing RAW files and seeking out scenes with proper lighting. The included FC200 camera is adjustable along a 90 degree path – it can be pointed straight down, level with the quadcopter, or anywhere in between. The FC 200 camera (that’s the name of the built-in cam) has three resolution settings:
4384×3288 = 14.4 MP
4384×2922 = 12.8
4384×2466 = 10.8
Some sample still photos are below:
The Camera in the Vision+ records GPS data, including altitude, along with the image files. Viewing the photos in any program which supports mapping (iphoto, lightroom and many more) will display the map location.
I sent a couple of the RAW photos to a professional photographer and their comments were quite positive:
“It’s a little noisy in the shadows, but that’s only for pixel peepers. Seems like you can easily boost it about 3/4 of a stop without much degradation of the image. Colors are a bit pale straight from camera but easy to increase saturation in RAW. White balance seems very accurate right out of camera. It looks like the image is a bit softer on the corners and it looks like chromatic aberration sets in a bit in the corners too (purple fringing around the houses/highlights). Again, this can all be fixed easily, especially in the RAW format. Decent sharpness overall and the high shutter speed should help neutralize any issues with motion blur. Good quality stuff overall!”
Video Quality – First Impressions
If a picture is worth 10,000 words, then a video or two will demonstrate what this rig is capable of. In one sense, the gimbal/camera combination is almost magical, bringing capabilities to the masses which formerly cost many time more and required a lot of training. Here’s a sample “Real Estate” Video I made – make sure you switch it to full screen or go to Vimeo and do the same. This video was taken in full HD:
I find the video perfectly adequate for the intended uses, although without the number of options you will see on a $400 top-end GoPro or similar cameras from Sony. The camera compresses the video into an mp4 file – which saves memory, but also gives up some quality. 1080p at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps are the video formats. DJI publishes a spec of 1080 60i, but this is confusing because “i” (interlaced” video is not really superior, in most cases, to “p” (progressive) video at 1/2 the frame rate. In other words, consider this camera to be 30 fps at the full HD.
There is no audio input (microphone) to the camera – so all videos are silent. Microphones only tend to pick up the loud motors and wind noise, so their use on current quadcopters is very limited.
The built in gimbal is nothing short of amazing! The Phantom takes butter-smooth video even in moderate wind conditions. This type of stabilization formerly required very expensive equipment and continuous tuning. The Phantom is the first RTF Quadcopter to bring such capabilities to intermediate pilots in a system that works out of the box. While we could nitpick about additional video options, 99% of users – especially those of a “hobby” quadcopter – have little need for these enhancements.
Here is another sample video from Rhode Island, USA. Note that even Vimeo compresses the video – the original looks better than this:
For those who want a peak at the original video files, I put two short parts of them here for you to download or watch:
Our forum continuation thread – for your questions and discussions of this aircraft, is here:
Also, you can purchase worldwide – with free shipping – direct from the DJI Web Store. This way you are sure of getting the newest models (Phantom 2 models were recently upgraded!). They also have some discounts, free shipping and holiday specials. Click here for the official DJI store.
Some Amazon Links to the Product below – one with an extra battery and one without: