This post is a little different from those past- while we do have a video to show you that isn't too shabby in itself, we also wanted to review a new piece of gear, (for those of you who care about that sort of thing.)
This video is shot in two locations: Philly, by Penn Treaty Park, and on the Elk River in Maryland, by Turkey Point.
Twas our first time using DJI's new Phantom 3, and as a previous Phantom 2 owner, I have to say I'm quite impressed. We splurged for the "Professional" model ($1,300) over the "Advanced" model ($1,000,) so the following review is based on those specs.
DJI Phantom 3 Tech Specs:
4K at 24fps (widescreen 4K option also)
1080p at 60fps and below
720p at 120fps and below
Battery Flight Time: 22 min
Battery Charge Time: 60 min
Camera: 12MP DJI Stock Camera
Stills in RAW (DNG) format
Videos in MOV
(All record to a Micro SD card)
The unit itself is very well-built- same classic form as the Phantom 2, but with many added features. To start off, the remote comes ready to mount your smartphone or tablet, and via USB connect with DJI's free pilot app, to control the flight. The app alone is impressive, now offering auto-takeoff, auto landing, (optional) manual camera controls with ISO and Shutter Speed, live Google maps flight path tracking, exposure lock, altitude/speed/distance measurement tools, "Point of Interest" camera tracking mode, "Follow Me" mode, "Ground Station" where you can tell your drone where and how to fly, "Go-Home" feature telling the drone to return exactly to where it lifted off, and of course, the most important... built-in video downlink!
With the Phantom 2, if you were using a GoPro, you either custom built the unit with transmitters/receivers and your own monitor, or you had nothing to see what the camera sees at all. The other option was to buy with DJI's own camera attached, but it wasn't all that great.
With the Phantom 3, you have no choice but to go with their cameras, which in my opinion is the only downfall of this unit- the drone is not modular and you can't simply upgrade to the newest GoPro when your camera is outdated. Nonetheless, the built-in camera is better than comparable to the GoPro 4, so this still is not that big of an issue. The only thing I'm not crazy about in the Phantom 3's camera is the lack of custom picture profiles. GoPro didn't have that much to pick from either, but it did have Protune, (GoPro's version of Cinestyle,) for a flatter image that was super clean and unsharpened and great for color correction. A big misconception right now is that the Inspire 1's camera is significantly better than the Phantom 3. It's not. In fact, it's the exact same camera sensor. So, when we compared drones at buying time, it was an obvious choice to stick with the Phantom series and save a couple thousand dollars- it's just not worth it for the retractable carbon fiber landing gear that the Inspire 1 offers. The Dual Pilot operation is also a big selling point for the Inspire 1- we almost bought for that reason- but if you can get the camera motion down well enough by yourself, there's really no need for this. Detachable Payloads are also not that important for us, because if we wanted to shoot a video on the ground, we'd just use one of our DSLR's or mirrorless cams.
The Inspire 1 has actually caused a bit of a stir with it's malfunctions too, so that might be another reason to stick with the Phantoms for now until DJI gets its act together with the more professional models.
As far as its performance, it is the smoothest motion I've ever experienced in a drone, and the controls are laid out in such a way that I can keep my fingers steady, and control the camera at the same time. The remote also runs off of an internal battery which plugs into the charger while you juice up your other drone batteries, so, no more stocking up on AA's for this drone! The failsafe and auto-return home features work flawlessly- From our tests, the craft has landed within 1-2 feet of its takeoff point. The GPS combined with the built-in VPS (two down-facing cameras that track the drone's motion in 3D space) makes for pretty pinpoint accuracy when it comes to knowing where the drone is, and using the drone's automatic flight path functions. We're using the drone with a 2nd gen Nexus 7, and it's a pretty smooth system. The remote is much more ergonomic than it's predecessor, with rubber grips added, and a slightly different form. There are customizable buttons on the controller as well, a nice added feature, which work like a charm.
Though you won't see any differences in the motors just by looking at them, but they are a complete redesign of the last generation, and the stability is much better due to the VPS. Moderate winds seem to be no problem with the unit. Only once have I felt it difficult to pull against winds. Once in motion, the drone can reach up to 36 mph (but according to my controller, I've gone into the forties.)
Of course, with the low price tag, there has to be some cons, too. Like I said, the camera is not modular and cannot be replaced except for repair by DJI. The body is all plastic, and my experience with the Phantom 2 tells me that, yes, it is breakable. Unfortunately, the first part to take a blow is usually the gimbal, which is also the most expensive. The batteries on the Phantom 2/ Phantom 3 are not backwards or forwards compatible for either generation, which means you have to buy all new $150 batteries. The down-facing red and green lights (front and back lights respectively,) can be al ittle hard to see in the daytime, but, it's small potatoes when you still have all those other features to keep track of the thing.
To sum it up, if you don't have 10k to spend on a DSLR-holding octocopter, then this is probably a good choice for you. In my opinion, it is the best and most affordable way to bridge the gap between consumer and professional, and the image you'll get out of it will rival many of the professional drones out there. There's other crazy drone companies making headlines, (for instance 3DR, and even GoPro,) the Phantom 3 (at the moment) seems to be the biggest bang for the buck.