Note for Holiday Shoppers – DJI is having a Sale from Dec 11 to the end of the Month where a free hardshell backpack comes with any model of the Phantom Series. Here is the link to the DJI Sale Page.
Droneflyers.com received a new Phantom 3 Quadcopter (Professional 4K model) at the beginning of May and have been flying it regularly since then. With about 50 flights under our belts, it time to do a First Look, Review and Rating on this new quadcopter.
We purchased the Phantom 3 Pro (4K) direct from DJI’s online store for $1259.00 including shipping and a single battery. We have since purchased two extra batteries as well as a used Nexus 7 II (2013) for running the DJI Go App (formerly called the Pilot App).
It is our opinion that this hobby and pursuit is still in its pioneer stages – so we never expect the first release of a new model to be perfect or bug-free. A more important question would be whether most or all of the shortcomings are either acceptable or fixable with firmware and software updates…and, so far, it looks like that is the case. As of the end of summer (2015) software updates have resulted in better reliability – and, DJI has added a number of new features including Intelligent Flight Modes (Point of Interest, Waypoints, etc.).
NOTE: The Phantom 3 is a highly technical aircraft and requires study and skills to fly safely and to keep it in one piece. Despite the marketing materials, a quadcopter is not “for everyone”. Beginning pilots should invest time learning the hobby before putting an expensive model such as the P3 into the air.
The Phantom 3 Basics – more Revolution than Evolution
Note: For some background, please see our article – Phantom 3 Improvements over Phantom 2 Vision +
When the Phantom 3 was announced we thought it was a nice evolution of the popular Phantom line. However, after exploring this aircraft for a couple of weeks we can see that it is more than that. It is simply an unheard amount of technology and capability built into a compact frame for an unheard of price!
DJI now offers THREE models of the Phantom 3, the Advanced ($999) and the Professional ($1259) with the main difference being the 4K video capabilities of the Pro model. The models can be distinguished by the color of the decals and nameplate – the Pro model is Gold, the Advanced Silver. Most buyers will be fine buying the Advanced model which records the same size still photos (12 MP) and 1080P HD Video. 4K video requires a very powerful computer to process and edit and is also not viewable by the vast majority of devices connected to the internet.
The third model was introduced later – the Phantom 3 Standard. This is a base (beginners) model but still has amazing capabilities. Read about it in this article or at this Amazon link or the DJI Direct Store.
A Flying Tripod with a Stabilized Camera
DJI has promoted the idea of a “flying camera” and that is exactly what the Phantom 3 is. This is not a drone you’d want to buy for racing around the park, lifting other payloads, experimentation and/or hacking, rather it’s a tool which allows the hobbyist to takes pictures and video from new perspectives.
The new LightBridge system (built in First Person View of what the camera sees) is nothing short of stunning – this system alone sold for $1400 in former quadcopter models. Now it’s included as part of the system! The clarity is especially evident on larger devices – many pilots are using tablets the size of the ipad mini or larger, although a regular phone will also do the job. Range is vastly extended with over a mile possible – although that generally exceeds the legal (and safe) Line of Sight (LOS) flying most countries insist upon for hobbyists.
DJI has beefed up virtually every part of the system – the GPS now uses both USA and Russian (GPS and GLONASS) satellites for much tighter location fix, the propulsion system (motors and controls) is much more powerful and features “active braking” which can make the Phantom 3 stop or maneuver much quicker than earlier models.
A VPS (Visual Position System) has been added which helps the Phantom remain more stable when indoors and/or within 10 feet of the ground. Working together, all the sensors and flight systems make for a aircraft which is more likely to maintain it’s stability and do what you – the pilot – demands of it.
Note: The new Phantom 3 Standard does not have the VPS system.
Parts of the System
The Phantom 3 is, as mentioned above, a very technical product. To understand the aircraft, it may help to break it down into the separate subsystems which work together to make your Phantom fly and record Photo and Video.
The major parts of the system are as follows:
1. Phantom Quadcopter with Flight Controller – this is the main body and the “flying machine” which lifts the camera. It consists of mechanical parts such as the battery,motors and propellers, however most of the magic resides in the flight controller (a computer) and the many sensors – all of which are tied together with programming (software). The Phantom body also has a powerful radio that communicates with your Remote (TX).
2. The Camera and Gimbal are hung below the quadcopter and contain their own controller as well as motors which keep the camera steady. The MicroSD card which records the photos and video is also located in this subsystem.
Here is a one minute Video of how the Gimbal works:
3. The Remote (TX or Transmitter) contains switches and controls as well as a radio to communicate with the Phantom and Gimbal/Camera.
4. The DJI Go App is the 4th piece of the puzzle, providing a powerful interface to many of the functions of the Phantom 3. This App runs on your choice of IOS (Apple) or Android smartphone or tablet device. It is directly connected to your Remote via a USB cable.
Software and so-called “firmware” (embedded software) is provided…and is upgradable in three separate pieces….the DJI Pilot App, the Quadcopter Firmware and the Remote Firmware.
The following graphic gives a non-technical look at how the new Phantom 3 senses it’s position:
Taking off and Flying
The Phantom 3 is a powerful bird! The pilot feels a sense of control while navigating this quadcopter through the air and the smooth response of the Phantom builds confidence. After about 30 minutes of flight we felt totally comfortable with the sticks and were able to navigate to get the pictures and video that we desired. Here are a couple sample pics and videos – because, after all, imaging is the main function of this drone. – Note, all pics and videos are downsized for online use.
Improved Reliability and Return to Home/Failsafe
DJI did everything in their power to “protect us from ourselves” by improving the access to the failsafe and return to home functionality. Due to my own pilot error, I had the chance to put the new system to the test.
I took the Phantom to a very large field behind our home. As I ventured out I noticed the wind was quite strong – but thought “hey, that’s a good test too!”. Unfortunately I have not yet labeled the bird with my name and phone number.
BIG MISTAKE. At about 250 feet high the wind was really blowing – you can’t use the ground based reports since they are off by a factor of 3 or 4 from the winds at 200+ feet. The winds were gusting well over 25MPH up there and the Phantom blew away. Far Far Far it went – quicker than I could react. The sticks didn’t seem to be doing anything due to the wind pulling it harder…and so it went over the trees and out of sight.
I pressed the RTH button but it seemed to be too late. I assumed it had dropped in the forest or field beyond my line of sight.
Lost. Sure, maybe the improved GPS would show me the approx flight path and I would be able to locate it – after all, I was not over a river. I could have gotten lucky…so I started walking toward the direction of where it was lost – perhaps 1,000 feet away. My ears were fooling me. I kept thinking I heard the Phantom “buzz”, but looked up and didn’t see anything – then I noticed that trucks on the nearby highway made a similar sound.
As I walked I turned back to where I had taken off from and saw a white dot on the ground. “must be a piece of trash or paper”, I thought! Well, you can guess what happened next – I walked back to the home point and there it was – about 10 feet from where I took off and looking perfect. The DJI Pilot App screen showed 32% on the battery and “GPS ready to fly”.
Wow. Close one.
I dislike losing control, but the Phantom 3 Failsafe system came through for me this time.
Please – don’t go flying when the wind is over about 12MPH steady and 15MPH max gusts. Find a proper station located in a big open area and look at what the max. winds are or were – then add 50% or double it for the winds at altitude.
Too Much to Cover in Depth Here
A book could be written about the Phantom 3 – in fact, we’ve written one and even this book can’t cover everything!
This being a Review and Rating, we’ll try to stick to the basics and a summary while continuously adding material to our Tips and Hints article at this link.
We will also be adding to and updating this article as we gain more experience with the Phantom 3.
SDK and other Upgrades and Solutions
DJI has released a Software Development Kit and is encouraging 3rd party programmers to create apps and functions to the Phantom 3. DJI themselves will likely add many of their own upgrades. Some of these include waypoints (map out flight plan beforehand and P3 flies the mission), Follow-me, mapping and many others. As of Fall, 2015 a number of these apps are either in beta or available for sale.
It’s safe to say that no consumer drone on the market gives you anywhere near the functionality of the DJI Phantom for a similar price. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find this combination of features even at triple the price. If you are looking for a photo and/or video quadcopter that is RTF (ready to fly) and provides the state-of-the-art in current drones…look no further.
On the “cons” side of the equation, DJI has grown so quickly that their customer service has only recently started to meet the expectations of customers. Even so, quadcopter are not warranted against crashing or other accidents. Successfully operating a flying camera requires a commitment…it’s not as simple as opening a box and taking off. We’ve put together an article on the best ways to make sure you keep your new Phantom 3.
Read other reviews and our new Phantom 3 Hints and Tips section and decide for yourself if you want to invest the time and money to become a pilot and photographer worthy of this advanced flying machine.
How and Where to Buy
The Phantom 3 model is the best selling consumer drone in history. It is available at many various outlets. The usual advice applies in terms of places to purchase:
1. Direct from DJI – The Phantom 3 Advanced and Phantom 3 Professional are available to order immediately – but shipments will probably take 2-3 weeks from your order date. DJI charges your credit card or paypal when you order (not on shipment, but on order!).
2. Amazon.com – Amazon lists both models of the Phantom 3 but is also selling more of them than they can supply – so they show various shipment dates and even some IN STOCK. They ship based on when the order was received, so the sooner you order the sooner you may get your Phantom 3. Amazon does not charge your credit card until they ship.
Phantom 3 Pro at Amazon
Phantom 3 Advanced at Amazon
3. Other large online/bricks-and-mortar outlets and/or many local dealers – if you dig around you can actually find some dealers who have the P3’s in stock and will ship them right out. Check DJI’s dealer listing page at: http://www.dji.com/product/phantom-3/dealer
If you have a local hobby shops that you frequent who is also a DJI dealers, that should also be on your list….especially if they have deep knowledge of the Phantom line.
Sunny days can present a problem for aerial photography and video. Many Phantom pilots have had success with using ND Filters (neutral density filters) on the camera. We have tried some from Polar Pro on both our bare GoPro Hero 4 and on the Phantom. These filters will likely help in protecting against video that is too “blown out” by the brighness and also help with a better contrast between the sky, clouds and ground colors. So far we have used ND filters from Polar Pro – a well known producer – but other companies may have some available. Here are some links:
Cases are available from DJI and other vendors – some are hard shelled and some are more like luggage – soft cases with foam or other inserts. I use a model from ThinkTank, but many others are available for both lower and higher prices.
Enjoy your flying!
To see some of the result that we, non-professionals, have been able to achieve with the Phantom 3, check out our Vimeo Channel at this link.
A couple of direct shopping links to Amazon on the three models are below…note that the prices may slightly vary – we do suggest buying at least one extra battery with your purchase!
*Droneflyers.com belongs to Amazon and other affiliate programs and we do make a small commission when products are purchased from the above links – however, you do not pay any more for the product! We do appreciate your support especially if you find our articles relevant and informational.