It’s amazing to think of how little time it’s taken for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)—or drones—to go from being an almost unknown niche for RC enthusiasts and high-end video production to something we hear about nearly every day. This sudden explosion in popularity was all triggered just a few years ago by the original DJI Phantom, which included everything you needed to start flying in a single package. Following that, the incredibly easy-to-fly Phantom 2 was released. This was the first UAV I used for photo and video work, but it had some serious disadvantages. You had the option of (1) using the simple-to-operate Phantom 2 Vision, which could communicate directly with your iOS or Android device but had pretty poor image quality; (2) attaching a gimbal and GoPro to the Phantom 2 and going through the expensive and tedious process of sending a video signal back to the operator; or (3) shooting blind.
Now DJI has launched the Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional packages. These are complete packages including the drone, gimbal and camera. No more hunting around online to find out if various accessories will be compatible; just grab either of the Phantom 3s and you’re ready to fly. DJI has also included their Lightbridge system, which allows long-range viewing and camera control via a smartphone or tablet. It was only a year ago that just the Lightbridge transmitter cost $1500, and that feature is now being included in entire Phantom 3 kits for nearly the same price!
One other major improvement is the new Visual Positioning System, which the Phantom 3 uses to fly indoors (where there is no GPS signal) and take off and land automatically. Just push a button, and the Phantom 3 can smoothly rise into the air or land on any semi-flat surface. I can’t say how many rotors I’ve bent after lacklustre landings with the Phantom 2, so this is a welcome change!
So what is the difference between the Advanced and Professional models? It really all comes down to the camera: the professional model can shoot 4K video, and the Advanced is limited to 2.5K recording. I generally recommend the Professional model because the ability to crop video and still have high-quality 1080P at the end is a very important factor when shooting aerials since you may not always be able to get as close to your subject as you’d like. Both the Advanced and Professional versions capture identical stills quality, and I really appreciate that you can shoot RAW stills. The default contrast and sharpening are excessive for my tastes, so it’s nice to be able to tone them down in post-processing.
If you have any interest in aerial photography, now is a fantastic time to get started. The Phantom 3 is incredibly easy to fly, with many tasks handled automatically, and the quality you can achieve is truly remarkable. Check them out at thecamerastore.com or dji.com. Just be sure to look into the law and flying safety regulations before you take off—and have fun!