A Plethora of Phantoms
SEPTEMBER 1, 2015
The DJI Phantom is now probably the most popular consumer drone on the planet but, with a new model coming out almost every month, which is the right one for you?
This is a very quick summary of the different models based on my own experience. For further reading please have a look at the DJI products page. In the absence of a collective noun for Phantoms, I am suggesting “plethora”!
DJI Phantom 1
The original DJI Phantom with Naza-M flight controller. No stabilised camera gimbal but does have a mounting bracket for GoPro. Uses standard lithium polymer batteries rather than the newer intelligent batteries. DJI are no longer producing them but you can pick them up cheaply on eBay so can make a good, cheap machine for learning basic flight skills. Flight times are short, but OEM batteries are cheap as chips!
DJI Phantom 2
The DJI Phantom 2 was a real game-changer in the consumer drone market. The “intelligent” batteries make for a simpler, if slower, charging experience and allow flight times of up to 23 minutes or so. Initially the H3-2D gimbal was frustrating as it gave a characteristic ‘headshake’ to the video as there was no yaw axis correction. However, the H3-3D and H4-3D gimbals really began to show what a small machine can do.
The Phantom 2 comes in two main flavours, the standard Phantom 2 carries a GoPro whereas the Phantom 2 Vision range (now discontinued) carry DJI cameras. The Vision range connect directly to a mobile phone or tablet using the DJI Vision APP whereas the GoPro versions require the addition of a 5.8GHz downlink.
The Phantom 2 is a great starter machine but as it contains the DJI Naza flight controller, the GPS hold and flight characteristics can occasionally be a little poor compared to the newer aircraft. However, as they can be obtained from new at around £600 and probably cheaper in used condition, they can make a great starter machine for HD and 4K aerial videography. If you are looking for second hand Phantoms (always a risk in RC aircraft) I suggest you look out for the H3-3D or H4-3D options rather than the H3-2D as there is a marked improvement in video quality as mentioned earlier. Also, check carefully to see what accessories you are getting and if a downlink is included. People who are upgrading often strip downlinks to use on other aircraft.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the Phantom 2 batteries cannot be used in the Phantom 3 and vice-versa due to a change in voltage.
DJI Phantom 3
When a friend of mine told me to try a Phantom 3, I was a little sceptical, wondering how much better it could be. However, with an upgraded flight controller and a camera that is close to the quality of the DJI Inspire 1, it punches way above its weight. We have a DJI Phantom 3 and an Inspire 1 that we use for our drone flight training courses and they go down very well with both experienced and novice pilots.
The Phantom 3 has much improved flight characteristics and GPS hold than its predecessors and, again, comes in several flavours. The Phantom 3 Professional has the same 4K camera that is in the Inspire 1, but is only a single operator machine, whereas the Inspire can be operated either as a single or dual operator machine. The Phantom 3 Advanced has a 1080P camera, which is similar to that on the Phantom 3 Standard. However, the Phantom 3 Standard, which replaces the Phantom 2 Vision+, does not include the Lightbridge technology which is part of what makes the Phantom 3 such a leap forwards.
The Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced feature the Lightbridge, which allows a 720P HD downlink to a tablet or phone. The quality is much better than previous downlinks and even allows live streaming to Youtube. I do find, however, that sometimes there is a bit of latency on the digital downlinks that you don’t tend to get on the analogue downlinks.
The downside may be that there is no DJI system for adding ND filters to the Phantom 3, but there are aftermarket push-on filters available.
The Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced work on the same DJI Go APP as the Inspire. A bit of a difference on the transmitter, compared to the Inspire, is that the Phantom 3 has no HDMI out for live streaming to a monitor or other output device, but that can now be added with a small HDMI output upgrade module.
Personally, I purchased the DJI Phantom 3 Professional with extra battery and hard shell backpack. We recently took it on holiday with us and the backpack proved its worth, both in portability and protection.