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DJI Phantom Review
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Starting at a reasonable price, these Phantoms are a great way to have fun and experiment with your photography and video. For other camera/software recommendations, see Trey’s Gear and Tools here on the site.
- Check price of the my favorite Phantom model on Amazon
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Common Question 1: Should I get the Phantom or the Inspire?
DJI makes two quadcopter types. The first is the Phantom, and that is what this review covers, but you can also check out my DJI Inspire Review. But what people always ask, is, “Which one should I get?”
I generally recommend the Phantom 3 series over the Inspire series. It’s much more convenient, which is a big thing for me. In terms of convenience:
- The Phantom is smaller and lighter
- The Phantom fits in a cool hardshell backpack that’s light and easy to travel with
- The Phantom is quicker to set up and launch. I can get it out of the backpack and into the air in less than 4 minutes. The Inspire can take forever, especially if you have to raise it up and attach the camera.
- The Phantom is quicker to break down. I can break it down and get it back in the backpack in 2 minutes.
- The Phantom has the same camera by default as the much bigger Inspire
- The Phantom is easier to travel with, as the Inspire has literally its own bulky suitcase (that has no wheels even!)
Okay that’s great, Trey, you seem pretty sold on the Phantom 3, eh? Well, what are the advantages of the Inspire? Well, here they are, to me:
- The Inspire can have two controllers, one person to fly and the other to control the camera
- It is steadier in bigger winds and generally more stable
- Some models have detachable camera for a new Micro-Four-Thirds interchangeable lens system that has great potential.
Common Question 2: Which flavor of Phantom 3 should I get?
I recommend the Phantom 3 Advanced. You can get the Phantom 3 Professional if 4K video is important to you… I generally think that 2.7K is more than hi-rez enough and you can save some money. I do like the Advanced better than the Standard too because it simply has a lot more cool features… it can fly further, has indoor hovering, and more.
A video and link to the review for the DJI Inspire!
You can see more about the Inspire in this crazy video below I made in Hong Kong!
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. Note this was made with the Phantom 2 with the GoPro attachment, and now the video quality is even better with the Phantom 3.
The music in there is “Jetstream” by the incredible Luscine. 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…
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!
What’s it like to fly?
It’s REALLY easy and fun! Here’s the key thing that new people are surprised by… if you just let go of the controls, it stays steady in the air. It’s also connected to at least a dozen GPS satellites that helps keep it steady if there is a cross wind.
Now there’s a really nice tutorial built into the app that takes you through the paces. Anyone can do it… literally, anyone.
Let me back up a second. So, there are two pieces to the puzzle. There’s the quad and then there’s the DJI Go app that you run on your phone or tablet. I like running it on my iPad because the screen is so big and I like to see the live video. The app lets you do all kinds of stuff. Not only can you configure everything, but you can also use the app to take photos, record video, and more.
Photo Modes Galore
I do love taking video, but maybe I get the biggest kick out of taking photos from unique angles! And there are as many options for this camera that people are used to with modern digital cameras. You can even do auto-bracketing if you wanna make an HDR photo. Mega cool! You can shoot in RAW mode too, which gives you a lot more flexibility for post-processing. Plus, all the photos are a pretty meaty 12 megapixels. One complaint is it does take the photos a little slow. For a set of 5 brackets, it may take up to 3-4 seconds. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s definitely not as fast as my handheld cameras.
Other Awesome Features
This Phantom series of quads has So Many Features I could go on and on. The camera itself is 3-axis auto-stabilized, which makes for buttery smooth video. The controller itself is very fun too — it’s almost like an XBox controller and you can do most anything right from the controller rather than clicking around on the screen on the app. For example, it’s really easy to use the controller to aim the camera straight down or any angle you wish. There’s even a built-in flight simulator so you can practice! Fun!
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!
And here are some sample photos!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
The amazing blues that the GoPro can capture!! This is a view of the Pacific ocean in the other direction off the island.
Here’s my Yoga teacher Sara doing some light paddleboard yoga in the morning! And here’s a shot of me!! hehe
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!
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.
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!
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.
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
I didn’t even notice there were trees growing on top until I got the quadcopter up there!
Looking down near the drum tower.
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.
Getting up high in the 798 area gave a nice perspective on the industrial detritus.
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!
The amazing drum tower sits right in the middle, along the central axis.
A beautiful path of willows bends into the distance.
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!