Chapter 2 – Guide to Current DJI Phantom 3 and 4 Models
The P3 and P4 build upon the platform and successes of earlier models. The price/performance (value) has increased – DJI is now building in more goodies for less money!
Phantom 3 – 4 models as of Fall, 2016
DJI Phantom 3 Standard -$499
DJI Phantom 3 4K -$599
DJI Phantom 3 Advanced -$799
DJI Phantom 3 Professional – $999
The Phantom 3 is not available “bare” – it comes complete with the camera and transmitter (remote). All that is needed to fly is your phone or tablet (IOS or Android).
The two more expensive models, Advanced and Pro, are identical except for the capabilities of the camera. The Phantom 3 Standard has a different camera and remote controller as well as some different specs in terms of range. The Phantom 3 4K is essentially an upgraded P3S.
Let’s discuss the two top-end models first and then delve into the differences in the less expensive Phantom 3 Standard and Phantom 3 4k.
The Phantom 4 is essentially a perfected Phantom 3 Professional with one major new feature – Computer Vision (Obstacle Avoidance, etc.). We will introduce that feature at the end of this section and expand upon it later in the book. Those interested in the Phantom 4 should read all the Phantom 3 material since it also applies fully to the Phantom 4.
Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional
The main difference between these two models is in the camera – the Pro model is capable of 4K video (4096 x 2160 pixels), while the Advanced is HD (1920 x 1080 pixels). A major advantage of the new camera is that the lens is rectilinear, which means it lacks the fish-eye or bending of the picture and video so common to earlier models and sports cameras.
For many users, 4K is not important. Most computers don’t have the capability of easily editing or watching 4K and most screens where it is viewed don’t take advantage of the large number of pixels. The exceptions would be:
1. You are a professional doing Indie or other films – and/or commercial and industrial video where 4K is called for.
2. You own a 60″ or larger 4K TV and desire to watch your own videos in the fullest resolution possible on this large screen.
3. You like to take video and then use screen and frame grabs for still pictures. The 4K will get you a slightly better frame grab.
The FPV (camera view beamed back to you) is much improved, so monitoring of the flight on larger tablets will look better. This is made possible by a patented DJI system called “lightbridge” which is standard in the P3A, P3P and P4. It is essentially a custom radio system for the broadcast and receiving of high quality digital images and other data.
Both models have added a sonar (sound wave) sensor for better manners when flying indoors or close to the earth. This helps determine the position of the Phantom in relation to the floor or ground when GPS is not present or is not as accurate. The sonar is augmented by a small downward facing camera – this uses a picture of the floor to help stabilize the Phantom. These sensors help keep the Phantom stable during indoor flight (GPS does not work indoors) and when it is relatively close to the ground.
Range has been increased in both models – up to a mile or more is now possible. A new TX (the Remote Control) has been introduced…which contains the hardware and software for these new features.
The P3A and P3P also contain a dual GPS system which uses both Russian and American satellites to achieve more accurate positioning. The P3S and P3 4K contain only American GPS positioning.
Phantom 3 Standard
The Phantom 3 Standard was introduced a few months after the Advanced and Professional models. It was designed to appeal to beginners and budget buyers but still sports amazing technology at a price less than 1/2 of former models (introduced at $799, now $499). The following are the main differences between the Standard and the other P3P and P3A models.
Shorter range – the Standard has a maximum range of approx. 3200 feet in the USA (1/2 that in Europe). This is about 1/3 the distance the P3A and P3P can travel. Note that these are maximums so your normal working range will generally be less. In either case, this is plenty of range for most pilots as the Phantom becomes a dot in the sky at even 1000 feet distance.
Lower quality video monitoring – the Phantom Standard uses a different protocol to send the camera feed back to your smart phone or tablet. The quality is not quite as good as the lightbridge technology used on the two more expensive models.
No VPS (downward sonar) – the Standard lacks the VPS system so it will not fly as reliably indoors.
Different Camera Specifications – although the camera lens and resolution (Megapixels) are similar, the Standard lacks some of the video settings of the Advanced and Pro models. For example, at full HD (1080), the Standard shots conventional 20 fps (frames per second) while the P3A and P3P can shoot at 1080/60.
The Remote (TX) is more basic and designed for use with smaller mobile devices.
While the Standard does not measure up to its big brothers, it is still one of the most advanced machines of its type – and superior to the Phantom 2 Vision+ which sold for $1369 1 1/2 years ago.
All Phantom 3 models use a new battery (4 cells, 15.2 volts) so you cannot reuse any extras you are using with the older Phantom models. An active braking system allows for more precise control in the air.
The Phantom 3 models feature an updated DJI App (DJI Go) that runs on your IOS or Android smart device. This advanced app allows access to various features, settings and controls. Long term experts claim, and we agree, that IOS devices generally work better for use with the DJI Phantoms and Go App. However, many pilots use Android with little problem – just get the most powerful device you can afford from the suggested list DJI provides in their specs.
Anatomy of the DJI Phantom
The Phantom is a highly technical product. Unlike your computer, cell phone and other examples of modern technology, users of flying machines with sophisticated cameras and controls MUST familiarize themselves with both the fundamentals of flight and the operation of their specific drone. Here are the very basics on the parts of the Phantom 3 as well as a description of the internal flight control system and its functions
In addition to the parts shown above, all P3 models other than the P3S have bottom facing sonar and camera (VPS) as shown in the picture below.
The Phantom 4 has the bottom facing Sonar and Camera (2) and, in addition, two front facing cameras located in the legs. These provide Computer Vision and Obstacle Avoidance.
The Phantom Controller (P4, P3P, P3A and P3 4K) Controller (also called Remote or TX) provides the interface between your Phantom, your smart device (tablet or phone) and you – the pilot. In addition to the parts shown above there are some additional buttons for activating the camera as well as other such tasks. Some buttons and switches can be programmed by the user for quicker access to various functions.
The real magic happens on the inside of your Phantom. This is the location of a powerful computer along with numerous instruments that help your Phantom fly.
Phantom Flight Control Systems
1. The GPS gathers satellite data in order to determine the position of the Phantom 3 – this data is also fed into the main flight controller. The Phantom 3 reads both USA (GPS) and Russian (GLONASS) satellites, resulting in much more accurate positioning than previous models.
2. A Barometer measures the pressure in the air, which help the Phantom know its altitude above the ground.
3. Sonar sensors and a bottom facing camera combine to help the Phantom (all models except Standard) know where the ground or floor is when it is within 9 feet of the ground. This system is helpful for indoor flight when no GPS is available.
4. Accelerometers (IMU) inside the Phantom sense whether it is moving through the air and/or the effects of G forces and gravity against it.
5. A gyroscope helps keep the Phantom body level during flight.
6. A compass keeps basic track of which direction the Phantom is pointing.
It is the combination of all of these sensors and inputs that results in a flight system which is extremely robust and reliable.
The Phantom 4 actually contains dual compasses and IMUs (accelerometer) to provide an even more reliable and failsafe drone.
However, the instruments by themselves are of little good without programming and computing power – that’s where the flight controller (F/C) comes in. This is the central computer of your Phantom and it performs many thousands of calculations per second.
The Flight Controller and Power System
If you were able to look from above down into your Phantom, you’d first see the GPS system which is located in the top center hump of your quadcopter. Underneath that is the flight computer along with the main IMU (Inertial measurement unit) which contains some of the instruments mentioned previously (#2,#4 and #5 in the list). This board also contains the radio receiver and transmitter which help your Phantom communicate with the transmitter and smart device back on the ground. Other parts of the main system board contain the “ESCs” (Electronic Speed Controllers) which provide power to the Phantom motors.
The Phantom Smart Battery takes up much of the center of the Phantom shell and provides the energy to power all the electronics and motors of your Phantom.
The DJI Go App
The DJI Go App, which runs on certain models of smartphones or tablet computers, provides the last piece of a Phantom complete system. This app is very advanced and provides literally hundreds of features and options.
These three basic assemblies – the Quadcopter, Transmitter (TX, Remote) and a smart device (IOS or Android – see DJI.COM for an approved list) make up a complete and ready-to-fly system.
The preceding is just an introduction – the later sections on Flying your Phantom and Camera Tips and Hints will delve deeper into some of the specifics of operation and control. A separate chapter on the new features of the Phantom 4 will also explain the details of the Obstacle Avoidance and Computer vision included in this top-of-the-line model. Here is one of our posts here on Droneflyers.com which explains the system in detail.
Chapter 3 coming soon.
If you would like to help support our publishing and educational efforts, purchase your Phantom (or accessories – or anything at Amazon, etc. for that matter) using the links below or on one of our sister sites of Dronesavings.com (best deals updated regularly) or Phantominfo.com (most everything you need for a Phantom).