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DJI Phantom Review
Check the Latest Prices
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!
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!