DJI Phantom 2 Vision+
$1,159 / £919 www.dji.com
The first known aerial photograph was taken in 1858 by French photographer and balloonist, Gaspar Felix Tournachon. It was a view of the French village of Petit-Becetre, captured from a tethered hot-air balloon, 262 ft. (80 meters) above the ground. Over time, aerial photography evolved via airships, planes, helicopters, and other iterations of flying machines. However, all of the aforementioned methods of elevated flight have one main thing in common: they require pilots and passengers. Taking into account that they are expensive to operate and require extended pre and post flight preparation, aerial photography becomes a rather foreboding process.
In my own experiences, aerial shoots have proven difficult to pull off. The window of shooting time was limited, the cabin was cramped, and the first time I ever stuck my camera out the window, the lens flew off and I miraculously caught it in mid-air. It was also roughly $250 for an hour.
But within the past couple of years, aerial photographers have been introduced to a burgeoning market rife with little flying machines that don't require passengers, don't need fuel to operate, and can fit inside a cubic foot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the era of user-operated photography drones is upon us, and it's already kicking into warp speed.
With a handful of manufacturers to choose from, I wanted to take a look at the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone ($1,299) for a few reasons. Firstly, DJI is one of the more well-received brands. Secondly, the Phantom 2 Vision+ features a new 3-axis gimbal for improved camera stabilization, which is an issue amongst many drones on the market. Lastly, I shoot a lot of real estate photography and wanted to compare a plane ride with a Mark III to a photoshoot with a drone - the fact that the DJI Phantom 2+ can be payed for in four shoots as compared to plane ride rates is quite alluring.
If you have an interest in aerial photography and have been considering a drone, get ready for takeoff.
Note that there are legal restrictions on where drones can be operated. Be sure to find out what laws exist in your area before you engage in any drone use or photography.
- Supported Battery: DJI 5200mAh LiPo Battery
- Weight (Battery & Propellers included): 1284g
- Hover Accuracy (Ready to Fly): Vertical: 0.8m; Horizontal: 2.5m
- Max Yaw Angular Velocity: 200°/s
- Max Tiltable Angle: 35°
- Max Ascent / Descent Speed: Ascent: 6m/s; Descent: 2m/s
- Max Flight Speed: 15m/s (Not Recommended)
- Diagonal motor-motor distance: 350mm
- Sensor size: 1/2.3"
- Effective Pixels: 14 Megapixels
- Resolution: 4384×3288
- Recording Formats: Adobe DNG RAW and JPEG
- HD Recording: 1080p30 and 720p
- Recording FOV: 110° / 85°
- Control Accuracy: ±0.03°
- Controllable Range: Pitch : -90°－0°
- Maximum Angular Speed: Pitch : 90°/s
- Communication Distance (open area): CE Compliance: 400m; FCC Compliance: 800m
- Receiver Sensitivity (1%PER): -93dBm
- Transmitter Power: CE Compliance: 25mW; FCC Compliance: 100mW
- Working Voltage: 80 mA@6V
- Battery: 4 AA Batteries
The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ represents the company's flagship consumer model, improving on the Phantom 2 Vision by adding a Zenmuse H3-3D gimbal camera system. The Phantom 2 Vision is only outfitted with a jello-slaying rubber platform to ward off minimal gyration shake, while the new Phantom 2 Vision+ corrects for vertical, horizontal, and angular shake. With this new system, the onboard camera can be tilted up or down, greatly maximizing the range of the lens. DJI also offers the Phantom 2, which comes without a camera or gimbal. Users can purchase the H3-3D gimbal and mount a GoPro underneath the drone, which would feature the same functionality as the Phantom 2 Vision+ while supporting a different camera.
With that bit of technical fanfare out of the way, let's take a tour of the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+. Upon opening up the box, you'll find the drone itself, fairly large remote control, WiFi range extender, charging cords, DJI 5200mAh LiPo Battery, a set of extra propellers, propeller tool, extra rubber bumpers, lens cap, gimbal lock, customization decals, and lots of literature. There's even a manual with flight instructions. The drone runs on the 5200mAh battery pack, which can be removed and charged independently, while the WiFi Range Extender features an internal lithium polymer battery and is charged via a Micro USB port. The remote controller, oddly enough, runs on four AA batteries, so you might want to toss a set of rechargeables in there.
|The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ with remote controller and DJI Vision-equipped smartphone application.||The drone's 5200 mAh lithium ion battery pack.|
In terms of dimensions, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone can fit inside a cubic foot sans propellers. The plastic propellers themselves are 9.5 inches, but the unit still does not consume a lot of space with them installed. In order to install the propellers, they must be screwed on by hand and then snugged using a special Y-shaped wrench. The wrench really only needs to be used to take the propellers off, and it's worth mentioning that two of the propellers are reverse-thread. The remote control of the Phantom 2 Vision+ is about the size of a full-size DSLR body with battery grip. The WiFi extender is roughly the size of an Altoids tin and sits atop a chrome bar along the top of the remote. The remote controller also has an adjustable spring-loaded clip used to hold a smartphone.
As for construction, count on everything being plastic, except for the gimbal and camera, controller joysticks, and of course hardware holding everything together on both the drone and remote controller. Another exception to the plastic rule are the four prop motors, which are essentially just very small magnetically-operated coil stator motors. These are miniature versions of the same electric stators (flywheels) you'll find on motorcycle and turbine engines. The gimbal with mounted camera appear to be very delicate, and DJI includes a gimbal lock, which is just a plastic piece to prevent the camera and gimbal arm from getting damaged in transport. A MicroSD card slot is present in the gimbal's base, as well as a system reset button. Aesthetically, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is neat, yet its red stripes on two of the prop arms cause it to resemble a pair of bowling pins. A set of blue and pink stripes are included to customize the look of the drone.
|The remote controller with DJI Vision app-enabled smartphone and WiFi range extender hiding behind it.||The propeller motors are simply miniature stator motors.|
As for the remote controller, it features a sliding Power button, Left and Right joysticks, S2 and S1 switches, and a chrome eyelet to mount a neck strap to. There is a movable antenna at the top of the controller that can be angled upward, which is recommended by DJI for attaining the best signal. The WiFi extender has two LED lights that indicate connection status, as well as the power level health.
In terms of actually piloting the drone, both the S2 and S1 switches need to be flipped up and the WiFi extender needs to be powered on. The S1 switch places the drone in calibration mode by flipping it back and forth several times, and the S2 switch will change the drone's Home location (we'll get to that soon). The left joystick powers the drone up, down, and turns it left and right. The right joystick moves the drone forward, backward, sideways to the left, and sideways to the right.