For most, DJI is a trusted and respected name in the consumer drone market, they’re certain a favorite around these parts. With more than a dozen flying devices in their stables, many of which equipped with 4K or higher video capture capabilities, it may be hard to keep them straight – we’re here today to explore the Phantom line of DJI drones.
As one of the most icon drone designs around, the familiar tall landing gear, quadcopter frame at 350mm and white paint job now lives on several generations of the Phantom. Let’s see which is which in this Phantom Drones comparison.
The basics – what makes a Phantom?
As I’ve mentioned, the Phantom line is not exactly new, the Phantom 4 Pro released in November, 2016, (last week,) is, as the name implies, part of the fourth generation of the line. The original DJI Phantom drone hit the market in January of 2013. You didn’t think drones were a brand new fad, did you?
The important thing to note is that the physical design and overall frame of the Phantom line is largely unchanged from the first gen. all the way up to the Phantom 4 Pro, at least. Instead, the majority of changes live within the flight control and software.
What started as a quadcopter that required some skill to fly, and a hanging GoPro to get the most of your less than 10 minutes of flight, is now a nearly autonomous precision drone with near-DSLR capable camera. The addition of GPS changed the landscape of drone flight, enabling far greater flight accuracy, even if at a hover, and features like return-to-home.
The latest from the line includes upwards of 30 minutes of flight, a range of over 4 miles, the ability to control from the dedicated remote or from a smartphone, or both, and so much more. GPS and 5-way collision detection sensors make the latest Phantom drones very hard to crash, offer many advanced and autonomous flight modes and have cameras that give GoPro a run for the money.
As far as purchasing a new drone goes, the Phantom line is currently still selling the Phantom 3 and newer. The Phantom 3 rolled out in April of 2015, the Phantom 4 in March 2016 and the latest, Phantom 4 Pro and Phantom 4 Pro+ in November 2016.
Our goal is to take a closer look at the drones that are still on the market, but let’s take a quick look at the early drones for reference.
A white drone with double red stripes on the leading arms. Flight time of under 10 minutes and a simple gimbal to mount a GoPro camera. There were really no major pilot comforts on this drone, the Phantom 1 was a first gen. product in a rather new market.
Currently still available from some vendors, you’re looking at about $450 to get in the air vintage drone style.
Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision, Phantom 2 Vision+ and FC40
With each of the models rolling out between December 2013 and July 2014, the Phantom 2 line introduced GPS positioning, mobile device support to control the craft, including some VR goggle integration, and Wi-Fi connectivity for extended range and control.
Improved gimbal camera mounting provided better image stabilization and leveling. Flight time per charge was about 15 minutes.
When it comes to the little things, DJI started proving they were as into their technology as the rest of us with the Phantom 2. Small conveniences like self tightening propellers, GPS marking a ‘Home’ location for automated return and improved flight controls began here, and they did not stop here, things just keep getting better.
In rough order, the FC40, despite coming last, was a step down from the other Phantom 2 models. The Standard brought the initial changes with Vision and Vision+ slowly adding the improved flight controls then image stabilization and mounting.
Perhaps the most important feature is a built-in notification system to let you know when you are in an official no-fly zone. There is plenty to flight laws, particularly in the United States, this little feature serves as a reminder when you forget to check the rules of an area.
With prices ranging from $339 up to $750, there are some good deals to be had, and some extreme prices in the bunch for rare units.
Now to the current models.
Phantom 3 4K, Phantom 3 Professional, Phantom 3 Advanced and Phantom 3 Standard
The Phantom 3 line started shipping in April of 2015, with 4 models available, their names fairly accurately represent their capabilities. Standard offers up 2.7K video recording, and excludes the line’s lightbridge downlink for range up to 1.25 miles.
All models pack in the best of previous generations plus treats such as a Follow-me mode, GPS waypoints Course lock and Home lock.
The Phantom 3 Advanced maintains the 2.7K max video capture, but provides the extended controller range.
The Phantom 3 Professional takes all of the above, bumps up to 4K video resolution and throws in a larger charger to get you back in the air sooner.
Finally, the Phantom 3 4K offers up nearly the same features as the Pro model, also with 4K resolution, but with a Sony camera sensor. Frequencies are a little different as well, better to support non-North American airspace.
Flight time for the Phantom 3 range is upwards of 25 minutes of optimal air time. Prices range from about $500 up to $1000 for a new unit from DJI.
Best of all, these models include visual positioning systems designed to supplement for tight quarters or when GPS is spotty. We certainly do not recommend flying indoors, but you might be able to get away with it using these drones.
Hitting the market in March of 2016, the Phantom 4 was yet another iterative update to the line, adding advancements in all facets of the technology, but no major changes otherwise. Increased flight speed, battery life, range and obstacle avoidance are compelling reason to upgrade, just expect a very familiar experience to previous models.
A little extra battery life is on deck, making for a slightly heavier drone than the Phantom 3 line, but this results in greater flight time, even with the more powerful motors and functionality of the flight systems. More battery life is required with the new ability to get beyond 4 miles of range.
The camera looks the same as the Phantom 3 Pro at first glance, but dive deeper to find 120fps shooting at 1080p and the addition of 2.7K recording.
For a cool $1000, the Phantom 4 can be yours, but do keep an eye out for deals as the newer Phantom 4 Pro and Pro+ roll out.
Phantom 4 Pro and Phantom 4 Pro+
A year from now, the Pro will be a footnote in the Phantom 4 line, but for now, it is new and shiny, and actually a great upgrade from the Phantom 4 standard.
Flight-wise, additional positioning sensors almost entirely take collisions out of the equation. At this stage, you should only run into something if you are shooting straight up into it. All sides of your craft can detect obstacles, fly in too close and the quadcopter will come to a halt.
The real difference in the Phantom 4 Pro lives with the camera. A full 1-inch sensor is on deck, with 4K video recording up to 60FPS, previously limited to 24 fps, and a mechanical shutter. This is a 20MP camera with a powerful 100Mbps bitrate, and a bump up to include H.265 recording.
But wait, there’s more! Previous Phantom drones included a controller for flight, but used your phone as a FPV screen, this remains true of the Phantom 4 Pro itself, but for the Phantom 4 Pro+ that is no more. The Phantom 4 Pro+ packs in it’s own screen on the controller, with 1000 knits of brightness. That’s a 5.5-inch 1080p touch display attached to a controller for up to 4.3 miles of range.
About that controller, there’s an HDMI port on the back. Connect to a monster screen, or, livestream to your followers.
If you haven’t gathered yet, the new Phantom 4 Pro, along with the Inspire 2 that it was announced alongside, are focused on the camera, the drone is just a tool to get the camera in the air. The new flight modes are designed to make filmography as simple and dynamic as possible. Follow-me modes are accompanied by the ability to track objects, people and more whether the object is in motion or stationary. Have the drone slowly circle the subject, follow behind, or even lead the way looking back.
For $1499 you can get the Phantom 4 Pro, or bump up to $1799 for the Phantom 4 Pro+, which includes the display on the remote control. Orders are live now, but first shipments have not begun at the time of writing, we expect them soon with full availability in January 2017.
Be sure to check out our interview and impressions of the Phantom 4 Pro from the launch event in LA.
DJI Phantom specs comparison
|DJI||Phantom||Phantom 2 Standard||Phantom 2 Vision||Phantom 2 Vision+||FC40|
|Release date||January 2013||December 2013||October 2013||July 2014||January 2014|
|Price (As of Nov. 2016)||$450||$339||$470||$623||$738|
|Maximum battery life, flight time||Under 10 minutes||25 minutes||25 minutes||25 minutes||25 minutes|
|Remote control||Factory RC remote||Factory or smartphone/tablet||Factory or smartphone/tablet||Factory or smartphone/tablet||Factory or smartphone/tablet|
|Range||0.6 mile||0.6 miles||0.2 miles||0.4 miles||0.5 miles|
|Camera||No, mount action camera||No||1080p, 14MP||1080p, 14MP||720P|
|DJI||Phantom 3 Standard||Phantom 3 Advanced||Phantom 3 Professional||Phantom 3 4K|
|Release date||April 2015||2015||2015||2015|
|Price (As of Nov. 2016)||$450 (Watch for sales.)||$699||$897||$699|
|Maximum battery life, flight time||25 minutes||23 minutes||23 minutes||25 minutes|
|Remote control||Factory with smartphone as FPV or smartphone/tablet||Factory with smartphone as FPV or smartphone/tablet||Factory with smartphone as FPV or smartphone/tablet||Factory with smartphone as FPV or smartphone/tablet|
|Range||0.6 miles||1.2 miles||3 miles||3 miles|
|Camera||2.7K, 12MP||2.7K,||4K||4K, 12MP|
|GPS||GPS||GPS / GLONASS||GPS / GLONASS||GPS / GLONASS|
|DJI||Phantom 4||Phantom 4 Pro and Phantom 4 Pro+|
|Release date||March 2016||November 2016|
|Price (As of Nov. 2016)||$1024||$1499 and $1799|
|Maximum battery life, flight time||28 minutes||30 minutes|
|Remote control||Factory with smartphone as FPV or smartphone/tablet||Factory with smartphone as FPV or smartphone/tablet
Pro+ has built-in 5.5-inch display
(31MPH with all collisions sensors active.)
|Range||3 miles, official, ~4 miles possible||4.3 miles|
|Camera||4K 24fps, 12MP||4K 60fps, 20MP|
|GPS||GPS / GLONASS||Dual GPS / GLONASS|
If you are here trying to figure out which drone you should purchase, trying to identify which is the best Phantom drone, the answer is not simple.
First off, there is a definite reason to upgrade from one generation to the next, even if incremental upgrade, each update packs flight, camera and convenience well beyond previous. So, ask yourself if you are looking for the best camera to put in the sky, or just for a drone to play around with.
If you are serious about taking photos or video from the clouds (assuming the clouds are at or below 400 ft, of course) I would recommend purchasing the latest DJI drone possible for your budget.
That said, if you are just looking for a drone to fly around the back yard, not concerned with the camera, ignoring that there may be better options out there for you, the Phantom 3 Standard is a great bang for the buck, particularly if you can find it for a deal or refurbished this holiday season.
With the many great options on the market, we hope you find the drone that suites your needs. The Phantom line is a great place to start, most Phantom pilots stick with their unit until it literally falls apart.
Which is your favorite in the Phantom line of quadcopter drones?