DJI Phantom Review – The Best Quadcopter!

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The exact model I use now and recommend is the DJI Phantom 2 with Zenmuse H3-3d 3-axis Gimbal and Gopro Hero 3+ Black Edition — click on that to pop over to Amazon and see the latest prices.

A living review, more stuff coming

I just started this review and I’ll use it as sort of a dumping ground of thoughts, videos, and photos. It will continue to grow and grow as the months go on, but I have enough now to give it some meat!

First Video: Floating Above Bora Bora

Let’s get right into it with a sample video… this may do more than any of my words below! (be sure to click the little gear to make it hi-rez!)

I’ll put a little making-of version of this video below.

The music in there is “Jetstream” by the incredible Luscne. Click that link to see their Soundcloud channel! And thanks again to the team over there at the Four Seasons Bora Bora for making such a fabulous resort that was so amazing to shoot from the skies above…

Why do I prefer the GoPro version of this DJI Phantom?

The very long-named DJI Phantom 2 with Zenmuse H3-3d 3-axis Gimbal and Gopro Hero 3+ Black Edition is the best iteration of this system, I think! The video quality and photo quality is just amaze-maze! You can see some sample videos and photos below!

I used the original Vision that has the integrated camera, but I found the photos to be a little soft. Also, whenever I would shoot in RAW mode, it seemed to take 5-10 seconds to take the photo. I find that the GoPro 3 takes really good photos, even though they are just 14-megapixel JPGs. As long as I am shooting in good light, I am generally happy with the results.

Keep in mind too that I am a fairly hardcore photographer that likes my big thick RAW files! For example, now I am using the A7r (see my Sony A7r Review here on the site) as my main on-the-ground (heh) camera. So, while I kind of like the RAW files that come out of the Phantom Vision camera, I am still partial to the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition.

Combo video & photo mode

My favorite setup with the GoPro Hero 3 on the DJI Phantom is to set it up so that it does HD Video while also shooting a still photo every 5 seconds. Most of the photos you see from below are from that setup! 1080p video is more than good enough for me. I could amp up the GoPro to higher video settings, but then I loose the ability to take a photo every five seconds.

Now, if I wasn’t lazy, I would do 2 flights. The first would be ultra-highdef video and a high frame rate before landing and changing the settings for an all-photos flight. One advantage of an all-photos flight is that it automatically takes 2 photos per second, which gives you a lot to choose from!

Flying the Quadcopter in Sydney. It’s so easy and fun to fly! Love to Mick Love for taking this cool photo during our Google/HBO Game of Thrones photowalk event!

Live view on the GoPro setup?

When I tell people that I use the GoPro, they look at me with concern, asking, “Don’t you want the live video on the screen while you fly?”

I did have that for a long time with the original Phantom Vision, but I did not like it very much. I often found it very confusing, and I preferred just to watch the quadcopter and make good guesses. Besides, in photo mode, it takes 2 photos per second automatically, which is very handy. I get to aim the camera any direction, including straight down, and I generally guess pretty good!

You CAN make your GoPro do live video to your mobile device via WiFi, but DJI does NOT recommend this. It can interfere with the other communications, which are important to the flight.

I also flew another setup in China from DJI where they had a third-party live video system all hooked in there. It was quite cumbersome to hook up and get going… to me, it was just too much trouble… So I do 99% of my flights “blind” but I’m never disappointed with the video footage or photos.

Second video – Beijing from Above

Here’s a video I made in Beijing. I actually got detained by the Chinese Police for this. If you click on that link, I have the whole story!


That music is by the great Jon Hopkins. The name of the track, fittingly, is “A Drifting Up.” Thanks to Chris Craker for the introduction.

Flying the Quadcopter – behind the scenes

Here’s a video that shows more about the Bora Bora one. Sorry it starts out with some stuff about my Sony A7r, so you can just skip that bit if you wish! :)

Sample Photos

And here are some sample photos!

HDR Photo

I love aiming the camera straight down… I think this is also why I like looking out of a plane window so much… I want to do it all day long!

 

DCIM101GOPRO

Oh my gosh – how beautiful is this place? Even though it is beautiful from the ground level, it’s really remarkable how surprising the view is from just a bit above. I showed this photo to several people that have worked there at the Four Seasons for many years, and they were absolutely shocked at the angle. I think taking photos from new perspectives like this is so exciting!

 

DCIM101GOPRO

If you watch the behind-the-scenes video for this on the review page, you can see more how this shot was made… mostly just lucky!

 

DCIM101GOPRO

Just what I always wanted, my own small deserted island! How cool! I find that when I do these straight-down shots that I prefer to have the GoPro set on the wide-angle mode because it makes it look like the quadcopter is much higher than it really is.

 

DCIM101GOPRO

Now, I don’t love this shot, but I’m putting it up anyway. The light was starting to get low here, and this is when the GoPro doesn’t do so hot. There are many artifacts and other problems with this photo. But, I still kinda like it, despite the flaws.

 

DCIM101GOPRO

I love that the top-down view is often kind of confusing. This was taken wide-angle, but I used the Profile Correction in Lightroom to make all the lines nice and straight again.

 

DCIM101GOPRO

The amazing blues that the GoPro can capture!! This is a view of the Pacific ocean in the other direction off the island.

 

DCIM101GOPRO

Here’s my Yoga teacher Sara doing some light paddleboard yoga in the morning! And here’s a shot of me!! hehe

 

DCIM101GOPRO

This is one of my favorite shots and I didn’t even take off yet! This kind of shows how awesome the GoPro camera is!

 

DCIM101GOPRO

Another crazy view from above that shows the lovely colors of blue. I also profile-corrected this one so the horizon was straight across. Sometimes I leave it curved though, because I like the effect.

 

DCIM101GOPRO

Which one do you want to live in? I shot this from room 101, right below. I was laying on my back by that little plunge pool. Actually, one of my favorite ways to fly this thing is laying on my back!

 

Quadcopter Perspective

The perspective from up above is truly amazing. I find myself trying to picture what it looks like from above then launching the quad to confirm. It really makes you think about 3D space in a different way.

 

World Park

Here’s one from their little World Park where they have all the world’s monuments in semi-miniature. It’s a strange place, truly. I treated this one with the new Analog Efex Pro 2 from the Nik Collection

 

Trees on Roof

I didn’t even notice there were trees growing on top until I got the quadcopter up there!

 

Drum Tower

Looking down near the drum tower.

 

Ming Tombs

I like how they lay out the towers for the Ming Tombs in this pattern. I bet the original designers would have enjoyed seeing this perspective.

 

798

Getting up high in the 798 area gave a nice perspective on the industrial detritus.

 

Ming Tombs From Above

One of the Ming Tombs from above. This is honestly the straightest shot I’ve ever taken! I didn’t even have to rotate it 1% in Photoshop… and I was 1000 feet up in the air!

 

Drum Tower Axis

The amazing drum tower sits right in the middle, along the central axis.

 

Willow Path

A beautiful path of willows bends into the distance.

 

Beijing From Above

Here’s a view from over the Northeast Tower. This is the most popular area to take photos in Beijing… so I was happy to see what it looks like from a thousand feet up with the sweet DJI. I had this set to take a photo every 5 seconds while recording HD video!

 

  • Stephen

    I have a few questions Trey. What do you edit your GoPro videos in ? I know FCP 7 doesnt like to play mp4 and I havent played much with FCP10. I know Premiere Pro CC its pretty good and has presets from lens distortion removal for the Gopro. Whats your preference ?
    Also I read that some people shoot when using the DJI in Gopro setting 1440P, just to have a little more head room on the 16×9, incase they want to move up or down the vision. Do you think its worth it, or just stay in 1080P ?

    And my last question would be, what frame rate do you thinks best to shoot in when using the DJI and go Gopro ? For example Im thinking maybe if you want to slow down the vision, it maybe best to shoot in a higher frame rate, but I dont quiet understand and if so what would the time line settings be, ie 30fps placing the 60fps video on the timeline and then slowing it down ? (sorry that turned into a q and a) Thanks Trey.

  • treyratcliff

    Hey @disqus_cSA3xQ6kL0:disqus :)

    I edited the Beijing one with FCP X and the Bora Bora one with iMovie. Both seemed to work with no prob. As for format, I just stay in 1080P, although I don’t consider myself a video expert!

    For frame rate, I stay at 30FPS so I can continue to take photos every 5 seconds automatically. I actually prefer 60FPS, though. If you want to slow down 60FPS to more slo-mo, just extend the time of that segment in FCP or iMovie! :)

  • http://sgreaves.com Stephen

    Thanks for the reply Trey, always good to hear your thoughts. My DJI arrived today, but I missed the delivery.

  • http://www.riverbum.blogspot.com Riverbum

    Trey, I have the Phantom FC40 and love it. The video quality from the on board camera is pretty good. Stills are ok too. I may eventually move up to a GoPro set up, but this is meeting my needs at the moment. I just hope the FAA doesn’t place any additional restrictions on them beyond the commercial use permitting fiasco that is currently under review.

  • treyratcliff

    Yeah, it will be so interesting to watch what happens with the restrictions…

  • Mike

    Are you referring to the camera on the Phantom 2 Vision + or on another model? I’m concerned about my ability to use guesswork when taking photos and videos. Additionally, I want to have the newest features such as the GPS mapping. Cheers.

  • treyratcliff

    I believe that the Phantom 2 Vision+ camera is the exact same as the previous version. The big difference is the gimbal

  • http://500px.com/ConnorKatz Connor Katz

    Out of pure curiosity, have you tried mounting the a7r to it? Could it even lift it? You could get some really cool vantage points with it if you could. I have no idea how you would trigger the camera, a wireless remote possibly? If you could make it work that would be amazing!

  • treyratcliff

    No – I don’t like to mod my quad too much… The GoPro is so good though… I don’t see much need.

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