DJI’s Phantom 2 Vision+ really upped the ante for a consumer-friendly all-in-one aerial photography drone. It shot solid 1080p video, and its built-in stabilised camera kept the shot super smooth. Well, the Phantom 3 is here — and while it isn’t perfect, it blows the doors off the 2 Vision+. It’s a mighty sweet birdie.
DJI Phantom 3 Review: Stunning Video + Easier Controls = Hell Yes
I did a quick comparison with a GoPro Hero4 Black, and while the Phantom 3 looks good, I have to say the GoPro looks better. The biggest difference is that the GoPro just has way more dynamic range. Details don’t get lost in the shadows so much and highlights are less likely to blow out. I think colours are a bit more lively on the GoPro, too. That said, when you’re shooting in 4K on the Hero4 Black you are limited to the camera’s wide field of view setting, which is roughly 170 degrees. I think the Phantom’s 94 degree field of is better for aerial photography. Another advantage the Phantom has is that it can shoot stills in RAW, so you have a bit more flexibility in post.
So, the Phantom 3 has that trio of ultrasonic sensors so it can fly stably indoors. The first time I tested it, it really did not go well. It just had all kinds of drift, and not just front/back/side/side, but also up and down. Turns out this was my fault, because I was flying over carpet. Ultrasonic sensors need a hard surface to ping off of — so keep that in mind before you buy it for indoor video. Before I figured that out I crashed it into a wall several times while trying to navigate it down a hallway and thought I broke it. It ended up upside down and I could hear all the engines struggling to move. Then it went silent. I picked it up, not looking forward to explaining how I had killed DJI’s latest drone.
Turns out it was just playing possum. I picked it up to switch it off, and the motor roared back to life and took a chunk of my hand as retribution. It was not dead, just pissed off. Lesson learned.
Anyway, over a hardwood floor the drone held very steadily. It was really pretty impressive. So yeah, avoid carpet.
DJI as also redesigned its Pilot app for mobile. It finally has the layer of polish that’s always been missing. There are little bits of animation here and there (just enough to make it feel fluid) and they have made it really easy to quickly adjust settings. Honestly, though, most people won’t ever want or need to touch that stuff. The basic controls are very accessible, but if you start going deeper into menus you’ll wish you had an engineering degree. That’s part of what makes this drone so compelling, though. Advanced users can customise the hell out of it, and beginners can just get up and flying (and shooting amazing video) without having to mess with anything.
It does still have advanced midair orientation features like Home Lock and Course Lock, but now you activate them through the app. Home Lock lets you record a home point and then the forward/back controls will always move the drone further or closer from it regardless of what its orientation or position is. Course Lock will keep the drone pointed in direction it was facing when you set it. Course lock doesn’t work with GPS, though, so you have to have to switch the flight controller to the F mode, instead of P (where the GPS goodness is).
At the Phantom 3’s launch there was some talk about a Follow Me mode, which basically lets you establish an angle and perspective for the drone, and then it will follow you wherever you go, assuming your phone’s GPS is going. This sounds great for stuff like biking and skateboarding, but unfortunately it’s not builtright in. DJI has made this kind of stuff available to developers, so people can build their own apps that utilise it, but it’s not in DJI’s own app yet. Hopefully that will change soon. In the meantime, there area a couple third-party apps available.
I did have a few compatibility problems with the Android app. DJI has said that it only supports a handful of devices at this point. Using an HTC One M9 went flawlessly. Trying to use an LG G4 didn’t work at all for some reason. Using a Google Nexus 9 tablet was the best. Not only did it work quickly (you just have to turn on USB debugging mode), but you’ll really appreciate all that screen real-estate when you’re trying to fly by the drone’s point of view. The iOS version of the app has an integrated flight simulator, so you can learn without crashing your actual expensive toy. Good idea, and hopefully it comes to Android soon, too.
Image quality is phenomenal as long as there’s decent light. The new remote control is fantastic, especially the camera controls, the integrated wireless radio, and the Return to Home button. Flying this thing is just super fun. Also really like the new beefed-up charger which fills up the drone’s battery faster and charges the remote at the same time. The drone seems quieter and less annoying than previous iterations.
Low-light still has a ways to go as there’s a lot of grain and noise. Not being able to swap batteries on the remote control could be problematic on long shoot days (after all, you can do it for the drone itself). I’m sure it would be loud, but I kind of wish this thing recorded audio, because while the sound would mostly be annoying, I think sound adds more dimension to a video. Especially during a crash.
Lastly, just remember this thing really isn’t a toy — you could definitely hurt someone with it.
Should You Buy It?
Do you want a photography/videography drone that’s really fun to fly? Are you willing to spend $1500 to get it? Then yes, go for it, because you’re not going to find a better drone for the money.
At least not yet.
The Phantom 3 Professional just shoots amazing video and it’s so easy to get it. If you don’t want/care about 4K video (it does chew through SD cards at roughly half a gigabyte per minute) then you could just get the Phantom 3 Advanced for an even $1200. That’s really a good deal for a drone that solid, and you can do a lot with 1080p 60 video. Aerial slow-motion surf shots? Why not.
For me, though, I’d probably fork over the extra $400 for the 4K camera. It just looks absurdly good at times. You’ll score a shot and find yourself shocked, thinking “A: I can’t believe that came out of this little drone, and B: I can’t believe I actually shot that!” It gives you such a unique perspective on things you’ve seen thousands of times, and you’ll be able to crop in later if you so desire. To me that’s worth it.
I’ll be sending the Phantom 3 back to DJI in a couple days because I’m done reviewing it. Normally I can’t wait to send back all the digital crap I get. This one I’ll be sending back begrudgingly. I had so much fun with the Phantom 3, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. [Phantom 3 Professional]