DJI Phantom 3 – The 3rd generation drone offers 4k video in the air and indoors
Recently I got an email from DJI. The subject line was DJI Phantom 3. I had to do a double take. The Chinese Shenzhen company had recently released the 4k capable DJI Inspire, so I didn’t expect a new drone from Dji so quickly. I immediately took a look at the new features from their site and the many inspirational videos that recaptured my excitement for aerial videography. I’ll recap my experience with phantom so you get a bit of history on the first model’s strengths and drawbacks.
Drawbacks and experience with the first general Dji Phantom 1
I purchased my Phantom 1 in May 2013 while in Honolulu enroute to Australia and Asia. I was super excited at the prospect of flying something that could carry a Gopro camera to get video footage from the air. The Dji phantom looks like a mini modern spacecraft and many times would draw attention from adults, kids, and dogs. This only told me that what I had was still cutting edge. It wasn’t until I had my first flights near Bondi beach being able to fly freely with the camera that I realized I the powerful potential. However, after the honeymoon was over I quickly realized that this first model still had many drawbacks.
The footage out of the box wasn’t good enough for professional use. The vibration in the air would cause shaking also known as the Jello effect. I learned through making many mistakes where I almost lost my drone over the Bondi Sea or crashed into buildings. The procedure to prepare the drone before flight was complex and not 100% reliable.
After Australia and reviewing the footage as unusable for professional use I put my drone away for sometime. In the meantime Dji had released the Phantom 2 vision in January 2014, it’s 2nd version of the drone that had an integrated camera and longer flying time. I had upgrade envy, but would just make the best with what I had. Many people had installed gimbals to stabilize their footage. I’m technical, but not someone had who can open things up to soldier wires and circuit boards. This barrier deterred me from upgrading my existing drone, and I actually listed it for sale. I eventually found a shop in Taiwan to upgrade my drone with a gimbal in 2014 at a reasonable cost. My drone had taken a beating by this time, but it was amazingly durable and survived many impacts.
With the gimbal I now had to take the go pro out of the exoskeleton case, which was a risk for damaging my gopro if I didn’t land it well or crashed. I flew it around Taiwan and was impressed with the footage that it managed to get. The drawback of the extra weight was reduced flying time. I had 5 minutes of flying time per battery so it was limiting, but I made the most of what I had. I was also flying blind, as I didn’t have remote viewing capabilities. I got a feel for it overtime as the field of view of the gopro cameras was so wide.
In 2014 and early 2015 I became quite proficient and confident with flying the drone. I filmed instructional tutorials and created a course during this time. Even with all this experience there were times where the drone behaved unpredictably. When I flew it in Vancouver I was flying with flashing red lights. I couldn’t figure out if it was something to do with the temperature or the battery. Ultimately I lost the drone in March this year while flying it at a park in Tokyo trying to get aerial footage of the skytree. After that loss I was in shock for a awhile and didn’t think I would want to fly drones ever again. I can say seeing what the Phantom 3 can do that I’ve rekindled the fire and excitement again.
Drawbacks and missing features of the first model
- There is a learning curve to learn how to fly and learn some aerial safety
- Lacked out of the box capability to produce stable aerial footage without upgrades
- Complex procedure to synch the drone to the GPS satellites
- The battery was difficult to put in and was the part I hated the most about the flying procedure
- Lack of safety features like sending battery power statistics, low battery warnings, and auto-landing on low battery
- Series of flashing green and red lights were hard to interpret without having the legend card
- Flying time was limited to 5 minute flights with the gimbal upgrades
- Unable to remotely monitor key statistics like height and distance from take off
- Sometimes would behave erratically even after regular software calibration and following the pre-flight checklist.
- Not safe to fly indoors
- The propeller blades are dangerous. They should come standard with the guards
Even with all these drawbacks it was still a joy to fly and it produced some amazing footage
Enter 2015 and with the phantom 3. Lets look at the features that I think are game changers
Game-changing features of the DJI Phantom 3
- 4k video 30fps – In 2015 4k aerial is within mainstream reach with a GoPro 4 or the Phantom 3. It remains to be seen how well the included camera performs at night
- Included stabilization – It includes a 3-axis gimbal, which means we will get stable footage out of the box. This is a more consumer friendly setup that I’m sure will result in more people flying
- Live viewing from from the app up to 2km away
- An app that lets you control the camera and tracks the drone on a map
- Vision positioning uses sensors in GPS free areas to let you fly indoors
- Auto flying, auto return home, auto fail-safe, and auto pilot are much needed safety features are now easy to use with a push of a button
- Possibility for software development for follow you capability and auto setting a flight-path for the drone to flying using the computer
I was originally thinking to get the Inspire 1 drone, but with my thirst for travel and video the small size and features offered on the Dji Phantom 3 would be a great fit for what I do. What remains to be seen is when a model that allows you put a Go pro camera will be available. I am quite familiar with the Go pro 4 Hero Black camera and the combination and versatility of these 2 tools together is very compelling for a videographer. With this 3rd generation I see drone ownership among the mainstream increasing significantly. I also see a need for quality educational content that teaches people how to fly safely as well as how to get great aerial footage. Along with that people will need to learn how to edit. I would like to teach an on-line video course on the DJI Phantom 3. If you are interested in this course please leave your information for updates.
The next step is to get your hands on one and see if the Phantom 3 lives up to it’s promises
Update Sep 22 2015: Since this post I have made the purchase of the Phantom 3 Professional drone. Check out my numerous posts below, videos, and if you decide to purchase the Phantom 3 I would appreciate it if you purchase from the links below.
Gear I recommend
This is the gear I recommend. These are affiliate links that I get a commission from. Thanks if you decide to click and buy from this link
Phantom 3 Professional
It allows me to film 4k aerial videos and photos. It’s easy to travel with and as a 1st generation flyer I appreciate all the safety and technology improvements it allows. The integrated camera allows me to get great stable videos and photos that I can control from the app on my ipad mini 2.
Phantom 3 Professional battery
The battery gives you 23 advertised minutes of flight time, but in reality with the critical battery warnings you want to bring it down sooner than this. I recommend that once you hit 10% battery you should be coming back to land. If you buy the Phantom 3 pro drone the battery is definitely a smart purchase if you want more flight time. It will save you the hassle of leaving your flight location to find a coffee shop to charge for an hour. Purchase the battery here.
While I don’t personally use this setup yet this would be a great setup for someone who is doing a lot of traveling and filming or someone who is mobile. I converted from travel luggage to a Costco kirkland hardshell suitcase and they are great for water protection and protecting delicate things like beer bottles. This hardshell backpack will offer water and piercing protection for your Phantom 3. If you are traveling in countries like South East Asia you may need to ride an e-bike or scooter this is right product. The extra battery will also come in handy as I’ve had too many times where I easily used up the battery power and struggled to find a power point or had to go back to the hotel to charge.