Drones can fly sky-high at your command, and there are drones with a variety of features – or a lack thereof – to best suit your needs and budget. Typically, the higher the price is, the stronger the drone’s performance is and the more features it has. Less expensive options are easier on your budget, especially if you just want one for fun and don’t care about extra frills. Luckily, the DJI Phantom drone line encompasses a vast combination of features, performance and price points.
DJI’s Phantom line of drones includes premium high-performance consumer drones, packed with top-of-the-line video and photo hardware, advanced multi-directional obstacle sensors and extended flight ranges and durations. These drones are powerful, but aren’t for those that are faint of budget. If you do have a budget to stick to, the DJI Phantom line also has several units under $500. Though these units are older models – some of which are only available for purchase through third-party retailers like Amazon – they still offer great performance and comparable specs to their costlier counterparts. In this article, we’ll guide you through the DJI Phantom drone line, discussing which drone works best for a variety of pursuits.
Want to Take Videos Like a Pro?
Best Drone for 4K Video: DJI Phantom 4 Pro
Sometimes you need an extra hand while filming a video, or just want that special bird’s-eye image. The Phantom 4 Pro is DJI’s top-of-the-line unit, and with its 1-inch, 20MP sensor, you can capture high-quality images. It can also capture videos in resolutions up to 4K at 60 frames per second. Its mechanical shutter helps reduce, if not eliminate, rolling shutter distortion.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro also has integrated infrared sensing systems, and its FlightAutonomy system’s two rear sensors actively search for obstacles in five directions. It also has four-direction obstacle avoidance. Its powerful sensor capacities mean you won’t have to worry about your drone crashing while it’s capturing a sweeping aerial shot. The remote controller has a built-in, high-definition screen that provide you with a real-time view of what the drone can see. You’ll also have access to all flight and camera controls.
The 4 Pro has a maximum flight time of 30 minutes, which is the longest of any drone within this product line. You can steer the drone manually, or set waypoints via DJI’s Draw technology, which allows you to draw paths or waypoints on the display with your finger and specify what direction the drone should face as it flies.
Need a Budget-Friendly Option?
Best Drone Under $500: DJI Phantom 3 Standard
The DJI Phantom 3 Standard packs an impressive punch and is the best drone under $500 in the DJI line, making it a great option if you have a budget to stick to. Additionally, the drone is easy to use and has comparable features and performance to costlier models. On a single charge, it can fly for up to 25 minutes. Once you start it, it hovers in place awaiting further direction from you. If you stop telling to move mid-flight, it automatically hovers, holding its position until it receives another command. You can also set a limit on how high and far it can travel.
From the included remote controller, you can see the current location of your drone, as well as the direction it’s facing, on a live GPS map. The drone’s built-in camera has a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and a f/2.8 aperture capable of shooting JPEGs and DNG RAWs up to 12 megapixels. You can shoot video in HD at a max frame rate of 60 frames per second, and in FHD and 2.7K at 30 frames per second at 40 Mbps. It has a 94-degree field of view and a three-axis gimbal to stabilize the drone as it flies.
Want a Drone With the Camera Included?
Best Drone with a Camera: DJI Phantom 4
With its dual satellite positioning system and enhanced Vision Positioning System, the DJI Phantom 4 flies safely and reliably, wherever you are. It takes a double tap on the drone’s companion app to launch the drone, and just one more to bring it home. The Phantom 4 is a pro at sensing and navigating around obstacles. It has a three-axis u-frame stabilizer system for its camera, which eliminates much of the unwanted movement you can get while filming, so you end up with a smooth and professional video.
It can shoot video in resolutions up to 4K at a frame rate of 30fps, and it can capture full HD video at 1080p at 120fps, which makes it possible for you create slow-motion video from the footage. The camera shoots at 60 Mbps, as well.
For photos, you can take a single shot, burst shots, time lapses and even HDR images. Built-in post production functionality allows you to perform basic image editing. You can also create a 12MP Adobe DNG RAW image.
If you just want to fly it, you can do so for up to 28 minutes at a time. The Phantom 4 has an impressive range of 3.1 miles, and you can enjoy a 720p live view. It automatically logs all your flight data, such as location, time and distance, and you can even customize the buttons on the remote controller.
Need a Beginner-Friendly Option?
Best Drone for Beginners: DJI Phantom 2
The DJI Phantom 2 is DJI’s best drone for beginners for multiple reasons. Its compact build makes it easy to control and store. It is ready to fly in minutes, only requiring you to attach the propellers and charge its battery. It has a small learning curve. The drone is one of few available that does not have an integrated camera, though you can choose to attach one later, like a GoPro. However, you may find that not having a built-in camera is one less thing for a new flyer to worry about.
It expected flight time is 28 minutes. This drone has self-tightening propellers, which allow for efficient airflow and are fastened in the opposite direction to the spin direction to prevent them from coming off. This also makes one less thing for beginners to worry about.
Also included in the DJI Phantom 2 line are the DJI Phantom 2 Vision and the DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus. Both include cameras for shooting HD video and give you a live view via an app for your mobile device. Though the Phantom 2 drones are no longer being manufactured by DJI, you can purchase them through third-party sources like Amazon.
Are You a Professional Looking for a New Drone?
Best Drone for Video Under $1,000: DJI Phantom 3 Professional
The DJI Phantom 3 Professional is a great option for anyone wanting to shoot video using a quadcopter, but because it’s not an ultra-premium option, it won’t break the bank. There are still plenty of features, including an impressive range of 2,000 meters and the ability to shoot videos up to 4K quality. And its compatibility with iMovie and Final Cut Pro X makes it easy to edit your videos.
The drone has a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and a total pixel count of 12.76MP. For still photos, you can opt for single shot, burst shooting or time lapse, and you can shoot video in HD and full HD at 60 frames per second, and Ultra HD at a max rate of 60 frames per second.
The Phantom 3 Professional’s built-in GPS and GLONASS help you keep track of your drone, and they help it hover and move more precisely. Its powerful motors let you quickly increase or decrease speed and altitude, and its air brake mechanism allows for instantaneous stops. The integrated companion app can track its location, and the app allows you to command the drone to return to you with a single touch. It also automatically logs each flight’s data.
Choosing a Drone: What to Look For
Drones come with a wide array of features, which vary depending on the individual unit. If you don’t have a price point or any specific features in mind, here are some of the most important features to keep in mind as you decide with drone to buy:
Most drones rely on either a remote controller or a companion mobile phone app to control it. With either controller type, you can program a flight path for your drone or guide it manually. By using the display on the remote controller or your phone, you can see a live view of what the drone’s camera can see and capture videos or still images. Some models can even log flight data. Though you can technically send your drone off into the distance, it is recommended that you always stay within sight of it for safety reasons. Depending on which country you live in, there may also be restrictions on how high you can fly a drone, despite how high the drone is capable of flying.
Some drones have integrated cameras, and others have mounts for external cameras, like GoPros. The most important things to look for in a drone with a built-in camera is a large CMOS sensor and the capacity to take high-resolution photos and video. Most drones have sensors with a total pixel count of at least 12 megapixels, with some having up to 20 megapixels. The greater the resolution is, the sharper and more detailed the image can be. A high-definition image – one that has a resolution of at least 1080 x 1920 pixels – looks better to the human eye than a low-resolution image, which can look blurry and make it difficult to see details clearly. If producing high-quality photos and video is important to you, newer models like the Phantom 4 Pro allow for multiple image sizes, aspect ratios and photography or video recording modes and formats.
Most drones these days can record video in high-definition, 1280 x 720 pixels, though some are capable of recording in ultra high-definition, also known as 4K, which is 4096 x 2160 pixels. Additionally, the Phantom line of drones gives you multiple options for frame rates, with models able to provide anywhere from 25 frames per second (fps) all the way up to 60. The higher the number of frames per second (fps) is, the smoother the video looks. If you just want to see a general image from your drone, neither the resolution nor the frame rate matters, but if you’re wanting to shoot a video or a high-quality image, these factors should be amongst the first that you consider. Faster bitrates allow you to transmit images more quickly along a digital network, which can impact the live view some drone remote controls offer.
There is also a variety of ranges available for a drone’s field of vision (FOV). Generally, you’ll see a field that’s anywhere from 85 to 110 degrees wide. On high-end drones, you’ll see more detailed information, indicating field of vision ranges for looking forward, backward and downward.
Though the term may be unfamiliar, the gimbal is an essential part of any camera drone worth its weight. Simply put, the gimbal allows for image stabilization, which is particularly useful if it’s windy outside or you don’t have a steady hand to guide the drone manually. The gimbal works on three axes – pitch, roll and yaw – to keep your image steady in all directions. Different drones might have different controllable ranges and angular speeds, so consider these ranges and how windy of an area you’ll be flying in before purchasing a drone.
Flight Time & Battery Life
Flight time is an important feature to consider, depending on your specific needs. A longer flight time means, of course, longer flights, but there can be tradeoffs. Longer flight times generally mean the battery takes longer to charge, and longer times are often only available in more expensive units. However, DJI drones are compatible with exchangeable batteries, allowing you to swap out batteries in under a minute and send your drone back out. You’ll have to buy additional batteries separately.
Connectivity & Streaming
Many drones offer a variety of connections for streaming. By connecting to mobile or GSM network, you then allow a camera drone to stream from almost anywhere, though there may be additional costs related to doing so. Wi-Fi generally costs less, but you must have connectivity for it to work. Some drones include a Wi-Fi repeater, which usually allows for connectivity up to about 350 feet from your phone.
DJI Phantom drones are automatically connected to either their remote controller or your mobile phone via the companion app. Amongst other features, this allows you to see a live view of whatever your drone can see, provided it has a built-in camera. This feature makes it easy to take photos or to preview photos or video before you upload and share them.
DJI Phantom drones generally come with all the basics you’ll need to start flying right out of the box. Along with the drone, you’ll also receive a basic case for travel and storage, a remote controller, a battery, propellers, a microSD card and a myriad of cords. Of course, you can always order additional or better accessories, like a backup battery, a larger microSD card, a stronger carrying case or back-up propellers. Be cautious of buying third-party replacement components, as they may not be a good match and cause issues with or prevent flight.
Warranty & Customer Support
Warranties for DJI Phantom drones vary depending on the model as well as the specific part of the drone in question, such as the motor, camera unit or battery. Typically, warranties for this line last between six and 12 months, though certain drone components – frames and propellers – generally aren’t covered by warranty. It is worth noting that drone warranties rarely if ever cover accidental damage, as is specified directly on the company’s website. For more information, you can contact DJI’s customer service directly, via live chat, email or phone, or you can peruse the FAQs section or community user forum on the company’s website.
A word about regulation, for our U.S. readers: Drones occupy a unique space somewhere between traditional aircraft and remote-control toys. The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) regulations currently do not apply to hobbyists. If you’re purchasing a drone for business purposes, check on local and federal regulations; these are changing as the FAA moves to create a space for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the National Airspace System. The FAA requires registration of many drones flown in the United States, whether for recreational fun or commercial use. Operators of certain drones, especially operators using drones for commercial purposes, may be required to have a license. The agency is also considering limiting flights to daylight hours, and other proposed legislation includes requiring the drone to hover below 400 feet and within sight of the personal controlling it. Be aware that changing regulations for drones are in the works, and check local and federal guidelines before flying your drone.
Drones are an exciting technology, especially with the increasing number of affordable units becoming available. Finding the right drone for your business or recreational needs can be confusing and intimidating. However, with DJI’s Phantom line, you have several drones to choose from that each have a unique array of features at differing price points.