DJI Phantom 3 Series

What we like:

  • Easy to fly
  • Advanced camera controls w/ bracketing
  • Stellar gimbal
  • Redundant stabilizing sensors (Pro/Advanced models)

What we don't:

  • Standard model uses Wi-Fi for downlink
  • Expensive batteries
  • No collision avoidance

DJI is probably the best-known name in the drone industry, and its Phantom 3 model is one of the most popular in this price range. 

There are essentially three versions of the Phantom 3. (A fourth, the '4K' version, is difficult to find and can’t even be bought on the DJI website). At first glance it may appear that only the cameras are different, but there's a bit more to it. You can’t just buy a 'Standard' version and upgrade it to a 'Professional' by swapping out the camera. The sensors and chassis are also quite different.

The Standard model ($499) is essentially the previous Phantom 2 model with a slightly updated camera, and lacks a downward-facing camera and sonar. The video downlink system is Wi-Fi with a range of 1km, and the controller is a little less 'smart.' Huh? Ok, what all this means is that it's not as stable, and the preview has less resolution (and range), than the other two versions.

The Advanced ($799) and Professional ($999) models are essentially the same drone, and include sonar and a downward camera, though their imaging cameras are different.

Downward-facing cameras constantly perform motion-tracking on the ground.  This way, if you lose GPS (or as an augment to GPS), you can hold a hover and move in straight lines with a lot less 'float.'  Sonar constantly senses how far the drone is from the ground.  Most guidance systems (including the Phantom's) also have a barometer to sense air pressure in order to calculate altitude in addition to GPS sensing.  Any of these three sensors can have fluctuations in accuracy, but by using all three in conjunction with each other, the guidance system can increase its accuracy.

For still photography, all three models have the same 12MP resolution and features, including 3-5 exposure bracketing, time lapse, and exposures up to 8 seconds.

The Advanced camera maxes out at 2.7K/30p, while the Professional offers support for both UHD 4K/30p and DCI 4K/25p resolutions. They also have different bitrates for the video. The Advanced maxes out at 40 Mbps while the Professional hits 60 Mbps. If you want to get the best video quality, the Professional is the way to go.

For still photography, all three models have the same 12MP resolution and features, including 3-5 exposure bracketing, time lapse, and exposures up to 8 seconds. And with the additional stabilization sensors in the Advanced and Professional, you can actually use those long exposures! The Professional also has the ability to shoot in HDR.

All of the remotes look the same on the outside, but the Standard uses Wi-Fi for video transmission while the Advanced and Professional models use an integrated DJI Lightbridge video transmission system, providing nearly zero-latency and high-range (compared to high-latency, low-range with Wi-Fi signal).

The Phantom 3 also has a follow-me mode as well as a point of interest mode (point the camera at a location, and the camera faces it no matter how you fly), but no collision avoidance system, so its use is limited to open areas.

The Phantom 3 Standard has a 25 minute flight time, while the Advanced and Pro have a 23 minute flight time. Batteries are a bit expensive at $101.99.

DJI Phantom 3 Rating (based on the Phantom 3 Professional)

Build Quality

Ease of Use
Camera Gimbal

Sensors/Flight Control System

Range
Weather Resistance (rain/wind) Portability
Battery Life Crash Resistance/Repair Cost
Value  
Overall Rating