DJI Phantom 3 Standard Review

DJI is probably the most popular drone maker out right now. They offer the Phantom 3 Professional and the Phantom 3 Advanced, both are awesome flying machines, but they also cost a good amount of money. However, the Phantom 3 Standard is an entry-level drone that may be as good as the Phantom 4, but it’s the best drone you can get for less than $500. It still includes the automated flight modes, safety features, and captures video footage at 2.7K resolution. Therefore, if you’re on a budget but still looking for a top of the line drone, you should definitely consider the Phantom 3 Standard.

DESIGN

The Standard uses the same battery and flight body as other models in the Phantom 3 family, with a couple of differences. The quadcopter doesn’t include the Vision Positioning system, so you should use caution when flying close to the ground. The camera is also designed a little different, while the lens is the same 20mm wide-angle prime, the microSD memory card slot is located on the camera unit itself, instead of on the base of the gimbal mount.

This model is designed with the same four-pylon white design. You’ll see that it has metallic red decals on the body of the aircraft along with two red strips at each of the for pylons, and the DJI logo is at the top center of the chassis. The propellers are red, with a black dot on the motors.

 

 

The drone weighs about 2.7 pounds and measures 23 inches from wingtip to wingtip. The landing struts are located underneath the body and the camera and gimbal are mounted on the undercarriage. The lightweight of this aircraft makes it ideal for videographers who will be transporting it to various locations. When you store the Phantom 3 Standard in a backpack like the Think Tank Photo Airport Helipack, it’s very easy to transport the drone to remote locations or easily stow it away in your backseat or trunk.

The camera records very stable footage from the air. It’s always facing forward, with the ability of right and left rotation. If you’re looking for the ability to rotate the camera 360 degrees, you’ll need to consider the Inspire 1, which is considered a pro-grade model. The Inspire is designed with carbon fiber, while the Phantom is made of mostly plastic.

The remote control is similar to the one that came with the Phantom 2 Vision+. You won’t have to worry about buying batteries as it comes with an internal rechargeable battery. There’s a micro USB port located on the bottom to recharge. The four LED lights tell you what the battery’s charge level is and a single power switch is used to turn it on. On a metal rail you’ll find a clamp that’s used to hold your smartphone. We were able to use our iPhone 6 Plus, but unfortunately it’s not big enough to hold a tablet like the other Phantom 3 models can.

PREFLIGHT

If you’ve never flown a drone before, we suggest you use the DJI Go app and try out the flight simulator mode. The app is available for iOS and Android devices. Turning the Phantom on is required to use it, but it’s definitely a good idea to spend some time flying virtually before you decide to take to the skies.

Before taking flight, you should always make sure that every component is in good working order. Also, make sure the battery is fully charged, it will take about one and a half hours to charge the battery fully from empty. We also suggest turning on the aircraft and connect it to the app to see if there’s a firmware update available. If you’re already out in the field, you can download and apply firmware updates over cellular data, but it’s not ideal. We found that doing it this way took about 20 minutes and drained some of the battery life as well.

The remote control uses its own Wi-Fi network to broadcast over. You will find the SSID and password on a sticker located on the back of the remote. Keep in mind; you’ll have to connect your smartphone to that network to be able to communicate with the app. Calibrating the Phantom’s compass before your first flight is also required. To do this, you’ll have to rotate the drone along two separate axes. Also, be sure that the GPS lock has been acquired before you try to take off. If you try to fly wit GPS or compass issues, the stability will be compromised and it will fly erratically. Occasionally, the remote control may need to be calibrated, which is accomplished by tilting it along its axis and moving a virtual ball in a circle on your smartphone’s screen.

IN FLIGHT

A cool feature the Standard supports is the automated takeoff. Simply pressing the up arrow icon on the left side of the DJI Go app will power on the engines and raise the drone a couple of feet into the air. From that point, you can use the sticks on the remote to control the movement. The right stick will move the aircraft backward, forward, right, and left through the air. The left stick when pushed forward will raise the altitude and pulling it toward you will lower it. If you move the stick to the right or left, it will rotate the drone along its central axis.

It’s really an easy control system to get the hang of rather quickly. DJI made it very easy to fly forward while ascending or descending, or to rotate the aircraft along its axis to get the perfect panoramic view of the surrounding landscape.

The control wheel at the top left of the remote control is used to control the tilt of the camera. You’ll also notice two toggle switches located at the top corners labeled S1 and S2. Pushing the S2 switch up and down a few times will make the drone return to home, and pressing the S1 switch will cancel the request. Using the H icon on the DJI Go app will do the same thing. If communication is lost, it will also fly home automatically without any intervention from the pilot.

During our flight tests, we first started in a suburban area and managed to get 1,250 feet between the aircraft and the remote before the signal was lost. At that point, the Phantom started to return to home automatically. In a wide-open, rural area, we were able to go about 1,800 feet. While these distances aren’t as good as the Phantom 4, they’re still very good for a drone at this price point.

We did notice that the Live View feed isn’t quite as crisp as the Phantom 3 Professional version. The feed didn’t seem as smooth and there were some compression artifacts that were visible in streamed footage. However, it’s definitely good enough to help you from crashing into things and to use as a framing guide.

When flying in the United States, the FAA limits the flying altitude to 400 feet and there are also no-fly zones you need to stay away from. The default altitude limit set in the DJI Go app is 400 feet, but you can set it as high as 1,640 feet if needed. On a calm day with little wind, I was able to get the drone moving at 24mph, but you can definitely achieve a higher speed if there’s a tailwind.

During our test flights, we found that the Standard is just as steady as the Professional when flying at high altitudes. However, as I mentioned before, it does lack the Vision Positioning System. Without that feature, I would caution all pilots to be careful when flying close to the ground. If you’re not comfortable flying low without that feature, we would suggest you consider buying the Advanced or Professional models. If you’re looking to stay in a lower price range, the Parrot Bebop does well at flying at low altitudes.

The Phantom 3 Standard has all of the same DJI intelligent flight modes. These include Point of Interest, in which you can keep the camera fixed around a point in space while orbiting around it; Follow Me, which causes the Phantom to track the movement of the remote control; and Waypoint, which will cause the drone to fly along the same route over and over again – you will have to fly the route manually first. There’s also Home Lock and Course Lock, which will alter the way the control stick functions. Home Lock will adjust the controls so they’re relative to your position, pulling the right stick back will move it toward you, pushing the right stick forward will case the drone to fly away from you, and it doesn’t matter which direction the nose is pointing. If you engage Course Lock, the starting direction of the nose of the drone will be the forward setting, regardless of if the pilot spins the aircraft around during flight.

One of our favorite features of the DJI Go app is the flight log function. It will automatically track flights and log telemetry data, including your takeoff location, distance traveled, and maximum altitude. This is a great feature to use to keep track of the path you’ve flown during the flight and how much time you’ve spent in the air.

DJI states that the Phantom can fly for 25 minutes per charge. We saw an average flight time of 24 minutes. Keep in mind, we also refused to continue flying once the battery has reached 10 percent, therefore you may see a slightly longer flight time if you’re brave enough to fly with only 10 percent of battery life left. This time will also vary depending on how fast you’re flying, wind conditions, and how high you’re flying as well.

The Return-to-Home feature kicks in when the battery power is low. Many people wonder how low the battery has to be before this feature initiates and this varies on the drone’s altitude and distance relative to its takeoff position.

VIDEO AND IMAGE QUALITY

All four versions of the Phantom 3 use very similar camera, but they offer different maximum video resolutions, bit rates, and frame rates. The Standard records footage at 2.7K (1520p) resolution at 30fps or 24fps with a 40Mbps bit rate. It tops out at 48fps when shooting at 1080p, but it can shoot at 50fps or 60fps at 720p. 24fps, 25fps, and 30fps are all supported for those resolutions.

We shot some test footage at 30fps at 2.7K resolution to see how much detail the camera can resolve. However, there are some options at lower resolutions that are worth mentioning. For example, if you capture footage at 1080p48, you have the ability to slow it down to playback at 24fps. This will give you a half-speed slow motion effect with the same cinematic look that 24fps footage provides.

We found that the 2.7K footage is very good. Obviously, it’s not as crisp as the 4K video captured with the Phantom 3 Professional because 2.7K only captures 4 megapixels, about half that of 4K footage. We did see some evidence of compression artifacts with the 40Mbps bit rate. Shooting houses, cars, streets, and trees from above came out crisp. Shooting straight into the sun did create some halo flare, but we noticed that you don’t see any real lens flare until you move the camera so the sun is hitting it from an angle.

The lens covers a 94-degree field of view, which is roughly the equivalent to a 20mm lens on a full-frame camera. The aperture is fixed at f/2.8 and the focus is also fixed. We didn’t notice any fish-eye distortion that many drones show, however it does seem to stretch objects at the edges of the frame slightly. This is mostly noticeable when capturing shot with the aircraft rotating about its axis. The propellers sneak into the top of the frame when flying forward at full speed, but slowing down slightly will keep them out of view.

One of our favorite things about the Phantom 3 Professional is being able to dial in exposure compensation using the control wheel on the remote. A quick turn of the wheel can darken or brighten a scene quickly, which is ideal when shooting during sunset or sunrise. The EV is able to be adjusted using the app since there’s no wheel on the remote to do so.

Full manual control is also an option for pilots. You have the ability to adjust the shutter speed and the ISO to obtain the exposure you want. There’s also a flat color profile, Log, is available if you want a lot of room to color grade footage, and there’s a Normal setting if you’d like to do a lot of detail oriented fine-tuning. There are also a few basic filters that remind us of what you would typically see on Instagram: Film, Vivid, Classic, Art, B&W, Beach, Dream, and Nostalgia.

The image quality is the same as you’ll find with the Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced. The 1/2.3-inch sensor captures 12-megapixel JPG or RAW DNG images at 4:3 aspect ratio. The image quality is very similar to a point-and-shoot camera with Raw support. We always love to see Raw capture as an option on drone cameras because it allows you to fine-tune exposure and color in any Raw developer you prefer to use.

If you’re a casual video editor, you have the ability to cut together short clips using the DJI Go app. It’s very easy to use and it automatically adds music to the silent footage. The video on your phone’s Live View will appear in low-quality, but you can copy the footage to the app to be able to edit it in full quality. If you prefer to edit footage on your computer, you can use iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, Apple Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere Pro.

CONCLUSIONS

We doubt that you’re going to find a drone this good for $500. It delivers the reliability, stability, and safety features you’ve come to expect from a Phantom, as well as all of the same automated flight modes as the higher end models. Therefore, if the Phantom 3 Advanced or the Phantom 3 Professional are out of your budget, rest assured that the Phantom 3 Standard is definitely a solid choice.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

AIRCRAFT CAMERA GIMBAL REMOTE CONTROLLER
Weight (Battery & Propellers Included): 1216 g Sensor: 1/2.3” CMOS Effective pixels:12 M Stabilization: 3-axis (pitch, roll, yaw) Operating Frequency: 5.725 - 5.825 GHz, 922.7 - 927.7 MHz (Japan)
Diagonal Size (Propellers Excluded): 350 mm Lens: FOV 94° 20 mm (35 mm format equivalent) f/2.8 Controllable Range Pitch: -90° to +30° Max Transmission Distance: FCC: 1000 m CE: 500 m (outdoors and unobstructed, aircraft's altitude at 400 feet (120 m))
Max Ascent Speed: 5 m/s ISO Range: 100-3200 (video) 100-1600 (photo) Max Controllable Angular Speed Pitch: 90°/s Operating Temperature Range: 32° to 104°F (0° to 40°C)
Max Descent Speed: 3 m/s Electronic Shutter Speed: 8 - 1/8000 s Angular Control Accuracy: ±0.02° Battery: 2600 mAh LiPo 18650
Max Speed: 16 m/s (ATTI mode) Image Size: 4000×3000 Transmitter Power (EIRP): FCC: 19 dBm CE: 14 dBm
Max Tilt Angle: 35° Still Photography Modes: Single Shot Burst Shooting: 3/5/7 frames Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB): 3/5 bracketed frames at 0.7 EV Bias Timelapse Operating Current/Voltage: 600 mA@3.7V
Max Angular Speed: 150°/s Video Recording Modes: 2.7K: 2704 x1520p 24/25/30 (29.97) FHD: 1920x1080p 24/25/30 HD: 1280x720p 24/25/30/48/50/60 Video Output Port: USB
Max Service Ceiling Above Sea Level: 19685 feet (6000 m) Max Video Bitrate: 40 Mbps Mobile Device Holder: Tablets and smart phones
Operating Temperature Range: 32° to 104°F (0° to 40°C) Supported File Systems: FAT32 (≤32 GB); exFAT (>32 GB) Charging Port: Micro USB
Max Flight Time: Approx. 25 minutes Photo: JPEG, DNG (RAW)
Satellite Positioning Systems: GPS Video: MP4, MOV (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264)
Hover Accuracy Range: Vertical - ±0.5 m Horizontal - ±1.5 m Supported SD Cards: Micro SD Card 8 GB included
Operating Temperature Range: 32° to 104°F (0° to 40°C)

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