Ok, so Christmas has come and gone and you didn’t get the drone you wanted. Not to worry – there should be some good deals in the coming months on drones of various types. One of the drones that anybody just getting into this hobby should be considering is the Phantom 3 Standard. If you read part 1 of my Phantom 3 Standard review you know that the Standard is a very solid product, but as would be expected based on the cheaper price it’s missing a few features found in the advanced version. That doesn’t mean it’s just a basic drone with nothing going for it though. The Standard still has a few tricks up its sleeve and in some respects fares quite well against the higher priced sibling. So what are some of those tricks, and exactly what is missing vs. the Advanced?
Keep reading to find out!
Advanced Flight Modes
The following are some of the advanced flight modes available in the P3 Standard. Note that these flight modes are also available in its bigger brothers the Advanced and the Professional, so these are capabilities common to all three models.
1. Waypoints – When I first learned how the P3 does waypoints I initially wasn’t happy. I had just assumed that waypoint flying would entail picking your waypoints on a map and sending the Phantom happily off to follow those waypoints. That’s now how it works in the Phantom 3 though. In the P3 you “learn” your waypoints by flying there and then saving the waypoint in the DJI Go app. This didn’t really make sense to me at first, and seemed unnecessarily restrictive. When you stop and think about how the Phantom is intended to be used though, it makes perfect sense, and is in fact incredibly useful.
The power of the waypoints feature is that the drone will follow the waypoints at the designated speed INDEPENDENT OF ORIENTATION. That’s the key, you control the rotation of the drone while it is following the waypoints. What this means is that with a well programmed set of waypoints, you can let the drone follow the waypoints on autopilot while you focus on orienting the drone to get the shot. This is incredibly powerful and with practice could become a very useful tool for videographers.
2. Point of Interest – This mode allows you to set a specific focus point which the drone will circle. I can see this being useful in some circumstances, but probably not as useful as the waypoints feature. The advantage is similar to with Waypoints, it allows you to focus more on the shot and less on the flying.
3. Follow-Me – AKA Robot Selfie. While this mode can be fun and entertaining, I consider this one to be more of a show-off type of feature that is not particularly useful for filming (unless you happen to need to film yourself walking around for some reason). In this mode the P3 will basically follow you around like a puppy. It’s neat and fun to show people, but because you have to carry the remote and whatever smart device you’re using with you, I don’t find it especially useful. This could change down the road if DJI were to allow the use of much smaller “smart tags” that could be carried by the subject and then set the drone to follow the tag rather than the operator’s equipment. For now though it’s more of a parlor trick, cute but not especially useful.
4. Course lock – This one can be useful if you’re in a hurry and don’t want to take the time to set waypoints. In this mode the copter will fly along a set course and can rotate freely while still flying along the set course. This could be useful for doing fly-by type of shots, and although it doesn’t totally remove the task of flying from the equation, it does make it a lot easier and is quicker to set up than waypoints. Moderately useful, but I think I would still just use waypoints in most circumstances.
5. Homelock – Homelock can be handy if you lose your way and just need to get oriented to your home position. In this mode (also called headless mode on some other drones) the drone flys heading independent. If you pull back on the stick the P3 will fly back toward the home position. If you push up on the stick it will fly away from you, if you push to the right it will fly right, and if you push to the left it will fly left. This mode can also be handy for new pilots who are struggling with orientation, however you will still need to learn to fly it in normal mode if you want to do any decent AV with it.
The 5 additional flight modes discussed above are available in all three versions of the Phantom 3. The main difference between the Advanced and Professional versions is the camera, but there are some notable differences between the Standard and the Advanced versions. This section will itemize what’s missing or different, what it does, and how important it is.
1. Lightbridge – Without a doubt this is the most important technology that you get with the Advanced that is missing from the Standard version. Lightbridge is a revolutionary and proprietary new way of streaming digital high-def video that greatly extends the range and reduces the lag you get with normal WiFi video. The claimed range for lightbridge is about 1.2 miles, which is easily twice the range available on the standard using Wifi. When you consider a Lightbridge system alone costs about $1500, it’s absolutely amazing that DJI has included it in the $1000 Phantom 3 Advanced. Without a doubt Lightbridge is the single biggest reason to go for an Advanced over a Standard.
2. HDMI Out. HDMI out does not actually come with the P3 Advanced (or Professional), but it is available in a $100 adapter that is not available for the Standard. While this could be of some use to stream your recorded videos to your TV, the real usefulness of this feature would be to enable you to fly your phantom FPV by hooking the HDMI up to a set of goggles that support HDMI out. When you consider the range the Lightbridge system is capable of, this is a compelling 1-2 punch of a reason to go with the Advanced
3. Range – The Radio on the P3 Advanced seems to be capable of approximately double the range of the Standard.
4. Ipad Ready Smart Device Holder – While this may be a nit-picky item, I did find it somewhat annoying that the smartphone clip that comes with the standard does not support larger tablets. I’m sure this can be upgraded if you want to use an iPad as your viewing device, but it comes standard on the Advanced.
Deciding on your first drone is a tough decision. Even just choosing from among the different Phantom 3 models is a bit daunting. My recommendation would be to use the following guideline when choosing a Phantom model:
If you’re brand new to the world of drones, you’re not really sure if this is for you, or you just want to keep your costs as low as possible, get the Phantom 3 Standard. This is a very capable video drone that takes excellent video and has a lot of advanced features for the money.
If you’re upgrading from an older model or a different drone, or you’re new to the hobby but are sure it’s something you will love, go for the Phantom 3 Advanced. I think this model is the best “bang for the buck” purchase, is packed with advanced technology, and is something you can get a lot of mileage out of.
If you think you might want to do this professionally, get the Phantom 3 Professional. While you would certainly need to upgrade down the road, this drone makes a good, entry-level professional platform for doing small jobs.
If I were to make an overall recommendation it would be to go with the Phantom 3 Advanced. As I said it’s the best bang for the buck and will suit the needs of most hobbyists.