DJI Phantom 3 Advanced Camera Drone Review

For many people the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about serious camera drones is the DJI Phantom series of quadcopters. The Phantoms have been popular; with good reason, since they are reasonably priced but definitely fall into the “pro” category of camera drones.

The Phantom 3 is the latest in the series and refines what has always been the workhorse of the camera drone industry. Let’s look at this quadcopter and see if it’s worth starting your drone journey here.

Ooh Shiny

The design of the Phantom 3 is at this point old hat. Version three of the product doesn’t do too much new with the classic Phantom design. I can’t say that I have ever liked the design of the Phantoms. They aren’t actively ugly or anything, they just seem sort of boring. Then again, I guess when you are shopping for a serious tool and not just a toy, you want it to look the part.

In that regard the Phantom 3 does a great job. Gone are the plasticky white shell material and tacky red decals. This drone is all business with it’s grey-silver finish and emboldened curves. I’d almost say it looks more expensive than its price tag, which is a good thing in my book. Of course, if you want to mess up those looks there are multiple sets of stickers included. So go crazy.

Boxed In

The package I’m looking at here is a ready-to-fly setup and it comes with quite a lot in the box, actually. There’s the main body itself (obviously), an extra set of propellers, a charger for the battery, the gimbal kit, a 16GB micro-SD card, a USB cable, an anti-drop kit, landing pads, a propeller wrench, and the aforementioned stickers. Pretty good for less than a thousand bucks.

It’s too bad that only one flight battery is included; you’ll definitely want to order one or two extra if you buy the Phantom 3. Given the high resolution video the system is designed to take, you may want to spring for a bigger SD card as well. They’re dirt cheap these days, so there’s no reason not to.

Still, DJI says it’s ready to fly and they aren’t lying. Everything you need to get going is right there.

I Have the Power!

So let’s take a look at the features and specifications of the Phantom 3 Advanced and see what you’re getting for your money.

The quadcopter itself weighs 1280g. You get about 23 minutes of flight time for 96 minutes of charging, which is why two extra batteries are a good investment. This advanced model also uses both GPS and GLONASS, so if one system has a problem the other can still function.

There’s also an ultrasonic vision positioning system, and the Phantom 3 Advanced can work indoors with an automatic hover at lower than three meters.

The return-to-home feature is always a lifesaver and there is also a comprehensive app. Of course you can split flight and camera controls between two people, but one-person operation is totally doable.

Smile!

The camera system that comes with the Phantom 3 Advanced is pretty good for the price. You get a 3-axis gimbal and a 2.7K video and still camera.

Of course the proof is in the pudding, and you’ll find plenty of sample footage online. I’m particularly fond of this footage from Norway taken by someone on their first camera drone flight ever.

You can’t argue with the results and, personally, I think as an out-of-the-box package this is pretty amazing.

The Phantom 3 Advanced has a lot going on under the hood to provide such stable footage. Apart from the upgraded and highly accurate GPS systems, it also has fine independent control of each rotor to automatically compensate for gusts of wind and other things that would spoil your footage. The gimbal itself makes sure that the picture remains stabilized too. I still can’t believe this product is being sold for less than a grand. Just a year or two ago that would have been impossible.

If you have line-of-sight, the video transmission range is about three miles at 720p HD quality for the FCC compliant model. CE compliant models cut that down to 2.1 miles, unfortunately. The 2.7K footage is saved locally to the SD card, the largest of which the Phantom supports is 64GB.

The included camera comes with a detachable UV filter and there’s an optional neutral density filter available too, should you need it for your project.

Remotely Interesting

I really like the remote control system of the Phantom 3 Advanced. It has a holder for your mobile device, which acts as the live video screen via the app that has all the controls you need to fly the drone and manage the camera. Alternatively, while you fly your buddy can manage the camera using the app.

There are a host of advanced photography settings that you can adjust on the fly, making the Phantom 3 Advanced pretty much a flying DSLR camera.

Choice Paralysis

The Phantom 3 Advanced is one of four models in the range, and I personally think it’s the one to go for. The top-end model is almost $500 more expensive and identical to the advanced in every way except for the 4K camera. Then there’s the Phantom 3 Standard, which is very affordable but lacks almost all the video and advanced software functionality that makes the Advanced such a great choice. Don’t get me wrong, the Phantom 3 Standard is one of the best in that price class, but it isn’t a professional device. It’s at the upper end of the hobby range.

Judgment Day

It’s very, very hard to argue with the value proposition that DJI is offering with this drone. People who have bought it are overwhelmingly positive about their experience with the product, and it seems that DJI wasn’t lying when it said anyone can fly a Phantom 3 Advanced.

There are minor gripes, such as the fact that you can’t take stills without interrupting the video recording. DJI has nailed the sweet spot for pro-level camera footage hard with this product, and it really seems as if the third time’s the charm for the Phantom 3 Advanced. I have no trouble recommending it to anyone looking to get into aerial video and photography.