DJI Phantom 3 Review

DJI Phantom 3 Review

DJI Phantom 3 Review

The DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter is a highly capable and easy to fly aircraft, packed with advanced features and technology. The Phantom 3 comes in three different models: the Phantom 3 Professional (4K HD video), Phantom 3 Advanced (2.7K HD video), and Phantom 3 Standard (2.7K HD video but fewer advanced features). This review will focus primarily on the Professional/Advanced models, as they are exactly the same aside from the video resolution. The Standard model is an OK choice for beginners on a budget, but it lacks advanced technical features that improve the flying and filming experience. You can read more about the difference in our DJI Phantom 3 Professional/Advanced vs Standard model comparison, but the bottom line is that you should really go with the Professional/Advanced if you can afford it.

DJI Phantom 3 Professional Front View

The Phantom 3 will be very familiar to anyone who has owned a prior Phantom model, and the mechanics of flying are nearly exactly the same. The Phantom 3 really shines with the introduction of Lightbridge – the technology that extends your flying and HD live streaming range to over several miles, as well as improved navigation and stabilization features. The upgraded camera is high quality and gimbal performs nearly flawlessly, resulting in beautiful video that can be shared on the fly or saved for later editing and post-processing.

Pros:

  • Amazing video quality
  • Simple and clear flight operations and controls
  • Longer battery life (~20-25 minutes)
  • Reliable design and mature software

Cons:

  • Expensive batteries (~$150)
  • Proprietary camera system

Overall, the DJI Phantom 3 is an excellent choice for anyone looking to take photos and videos with their drone, regardless of skill level or technical competency. Its ease of flying and refined hardware and software make it a great choice for relative novices, while its power, range, and advanced options make it an aircraft that even experienced fliers won’t get bored with quickly. The Phantom 3 isn’t perfect, but it is by far the best overall quadcopter on the market right now. The Phantom 3 Advanced is $250 cheaper than the Professional model, so unless you need the 4K video we recommend the Advanced – you can use that extra money for spare batteries and accessories! Check out Amazon for the latest pricing:

Packaging

Phantom 3 - Neatly and Securely Packed

Phantom 3 – Neatly and Securely Packed

The Phantom 3 comes in a well designed white cardboard box with DJI graphics and an image of the quadcopter itself. The box is about 15″ x 15″ x 9″ and it has a carrying handle, which is nice as you can use it to easily transport your drone (though we recommend getting a dedicated case or backpack). Inside the box, you have the Phantom 3 itself, the accompanying user manuals, and all the necessary accessories:

  • Remote Controller (with clamp for mobile device)
  • Propellers (two sets of 4)
  • Intelligence Flight Battery (4480 mAh 15.2V LiPo 4S)
  • Battery charger and power cable
  • Gimbal clamp (to secure the camera/gimbal during transport)
  • 16GB MicroSD Card
  • Other accessories (vibration absorbers, landing pads, prop wrench, stickers, and micro USB cable)
Everything in the Box

Everything in the Box

Hardware and Design

The Phantom 3 is a mid-large size quadcopter, measuring about 10″ x 10″ x 7″ without the propellers and weighing in at 2.8 pounds (1300 grams or 1.3 kg). With the propellers, the area covered by the “wingspan” of the Phantom 3 is about 19″ x 19″. If you’re familiar with previous DJI Phantom models, then the Phantom 3 will look very familiar – the exterior is nearly identical and the aircraft retains the traditional white bulbous look.

Stock Propellers on Brushless Motors

Stock Propellers on Brushless Motors

The frame itself is made of plastic, though it is high quality and there is very little flex in the aircraft. There’s no carbon fiber in the Phantom – likely because of the cost of the material – but maybe that’s a change for a future generation. The main electronic components are located in the top bulb part of the drone, and the battery compartment is squarely in the middle – between the electronics and the gimbal/camera. Throughout the Phantom 3 frame you’ll see slits in the shell, which help with heat dissipation and weight reduction.

One addition in the Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional is the Vision Positioning system, which provides better indoor and low-level flying accuracy. The system uses visual and ultrasonic sensors to recognize patterns on the ground and then adjusts your position accordingly. The hardware for this is located underneath the rear part of the battery compartment and behind the camera/gimbal attachment point and supporting electronics.

Vision Positioning System - Behind the Gimbal and Under the Battery Compartment

Vision Positioning System – Behind the Gimbal and Under the Battery Compartment

Overall, the design and shape of the craft, the landing gear, and the components within it is great. The Phantom was an established platform and design so it makes sense that DJI didn’t radically alter it in the Phantom 3. Some critics have knocked down the Phantom 3 for not bringing in totally new design elements, but in our view there wasn’t much need to change it so no points off there.

Inside the Phantom 3 is a different story – the Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional have a few major hardware differences that make a big difference in user experience. The biggest improvement is the inclusion of DJI Lightbridge technology. Lightbridge is an image transmission technology that vastly extends your flying range and video transmission capabilities. While the Phantom 2 models had a range of up to half a mile (depending on the conditions and interference) and offered decent video streaming, the Phantom 3 has a range of nearly 3 miles – and a full 720p HD stream! Lightbridge is also the system that handles all of your communications to and from the aircraft, and it does to seamlessly. While previous versions of the Phantom relied on somewhat spotty and limited range Wi-Fi connections, the Lightbridge technology in the Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced is impressive and solid.

Video and Camera

The Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced come with high quality cameras and gimbals, providing you with smooth video and crisp and sharp still shots. Both models have an f/2.8 lens with a 94 degree field of view, which provides a image relatively free of distortion and the fish-eye effect common to GoPro cameras. The lens and housing is quite small, and DJI separated it from the image processor – a smart move, as that way the gimbal doesn’t have to do as much work since the weight is significantly less. The camera is suspended from the quadcopter by a 3-axis gimbal that offers a -90 degree to 30 degree pitch, and in our testing the gimbal did extremely well, handling even major changes in direction with little noticeable change in image orientation.

Gimbal and camera provide smooth 4K video shots

Gimbal and camera provide smooth 4K video shots

Both the Professional and Advanced can take 12MP photos (4000 x 3000 pixels), but the Professional can shoot video UHD 4K (4096x2160p) while the Advanced maxes out at 2.7K (2704x1520p). While it is always great to have a higher resolution option, the 2.7K resolution is very impressive and offers plenty of pixels for the majority of users. At ~$250 more for the Professional over the Advanced, we think the Advanced is a much better value. The sensor within the camera is a Sony EXMOR 1/2.3″ and in practice it does quite well, rendering sharp pictures and smooth video with accurate color and little distortion.

Side view of gimbal and aircraft

Side view of gimbal and aircraft – microUSB slot visible

Overall video quality is very similar to the latest GoPro HERO4 Black camera, and in some tests it actually exceeds it. The videos and images you can get from the Phantom aren’t quite professional level, but come very close to it. Additionally, the app and software let you control various camera settings, including ISO, shutter speed, etc. which is great for more advanced photographers and videographers. The out-of-the-box auto settings are pretty good though, and will leave you with relatively high quality images and videos.

Up close on the lens

Up close on the lens

Flying Experience

If you’re familiar with flying previous Phantom quadcopters, then the mechanics of flying the Phantom 3 are very similar. For anyone who has limited quadcopter experience (or even none), learning to fly the Phantom is fairly easy. The Phantom 3 has integrated auto-takeoff and auto-landing options, though its easy enough to accomplish both of those manually. Once in the air, the Phantom 3 maintains altitude and positioning extremely well, even in light to moderate wind conditions.

The Phantom 3 is extremely fun to fly – it responds to your input quickly, it is quick and powerful, and it flies very smoothly. With a max ascent rate of 5 meters (16.4 feet) per second, you can hit the 400 feet maximum altitude in less than 30 seconds. The Phantom 3 has a maximum speed of 16 meters (52 feet) per second, or roughly 35 miles per hour – meaning that at full speed, the aircraft can cover a football field in less than 7 seconds!

Almost ready to fly!

Almost ready to fly!

When you first take the controls and bring the Phantom 3 into the air, it is almost a magical experience. The live stream of 720p HD video feed into your smartphone or tablet is impressive, and the vantage points you can quickly find are stunning, even if the scenery is just your backyard. Aside from the technical specs of the Phantom 3, the best thing about the aircraft is that it just works without any tinkering, connection hiccups, or disruptions. In our testing, we never once had an issue with the controls or connection to the aircraft. The original Phantom – and even the Phantom 2 models – had sporadic connection and flyaway issues. Some of which were likely due to user error, but part of the issue was the underlying hardware and WiFi connection. With the introduction of Lightbridge into the Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced, those worries are largely gone, your flying and video streaming range is extended significantly, and the end result is a great user experience.

We used an iPhone 5S in our testing, and having the video stream and controls on it adds significantly to the experience. An even larger screen would be better – and something the size of an iPad mini would be ideal, in terms of benefiting from a larger image and ease of changing settings while not covering the whole display, while also not being so heavy as to be a burden to hold for the ~20 minutes of flight time.

The DJI GO app is surprisingly well designed and laid out. There are clear and conveniently placed buttons for most options, and you can control everything from camera exposure to low battery warnings to flight altitude maximums from within the app. The Phantom 3 sends back telemetry data and the GO app displays that live, which is very helpful when you’re flying. There’s also a map feature, so you can see where the aircraft is, what direction it is facing, and even your prior flight path. DJI stores all the data from your previous flight (and caches the videos/photos you took) and you can later on see exactly how far you flew, where you flew overlaid onto satellite imagery, and even a moment by moment account of what you were doing with your controls!

The flying experience of the DJI Phantom 3 is the best that we’ve tested at QuadcopterHQ.com, and the built in features in the GO app outshine the current competition.

Charging and Battery

The Phantom 3 comes with an upgraded Intelligent Flight Battery that offers about 20 minutes of flying time. DJI claims a max flight time of approximately 23 minutes, and in our testing that is relatively accurate – though you rarely want to drain the battery down to zero or risk not being able to get back to your home point in time. Your flight time will vary depending on the weather conditions, how aggressive you’re flying, and the health of your battery. Even 20 minutes is a good amount of time though, and the Phantom 3 flight time is among the higher in its class.

Phantom 3 battery - expensive, but high tech

Phantom 3 battery – expensive, but high tech

The Phantom 3 battery is a 68Wh 15.2V LiPo 4S with a capacity of 4480mAh. The battery actually has a slightly lower mAh rating  than the Phantom 2 Vision+ battery (4480mAh vs. 5200mAh) but it overall has a higher energy capacity (68Wh vs. 57Wh). Compared to the original Phantom, the Intelligence Flight Battery on the Phantom 3 has a much higher capacity. The Phantom 3 battery weighs about 365 grams (12.8 oz) and is housed in a strong protective plastic shell.

Rear view - battery power button and four LEDs visible

Rear view – battery power button and four LEDs visible

The battery has four LEDs built into it, and a quick push of the power button shows you the current level of charge. It also has built in sensors that provide information on the battery’s health and remaining capacity. The DJI GO app will warn you when you are reaching a critical battery level, and it will even redirect your aircraft back so that you can make it to your home position before losing all battery life. The battery also self-balances when charging and is designed to last longer than typical LiPo batteries.

Battery compartment on the rear of the Phantom 3

Battery compartment on the rear of the Phantom 3

The charging process takes a little over an hour, which is standard for LiPo batteries. The charger is well constructed and heats up a bit during charging, but not to a level that is worrisome. We strongly recommend purchasing an extra battery or two to fully enjoy the flying experience.

Remote Control

The DJI Phantom 3 (Advanced and Professional) include an updated remote controller that is intuitive and well-designed. It looks similar to previous Phantom models’ controllers, but there are a few external changes in addition to a redesign of the internal electronics. The remote is about 7″ x 7″ x 4″ and fits easily into your hands. The buttons are well laid out and easy to initiate, and DJI included two programmable buttons on the rear of the controller. A dedicated shutter button, video record button, and gimbal control dial make aerial photos and videos easy to take.

Top left corner - video record button, gimbal angle wheel, and flight mode switch

Top left corner – video record button, gimbal angle wheel, and flight mode switch

There is an integrated mobile device mount that can accommodate an iPhone, iPad mini, or iPad (or any other comparable sized phone or tablet). The video link is live streamed to your mobile device via the Lightbridge technology. The connection was solid and strong during our testing, and having a full HD video stream really adds to the flying experience and improves your ability to frame shots. With an iPhone 5s, the display is a bit crowded with all of the controls in the app, but very usable. We’d recommend an iPad mini or comparable size tablet as the ideal screen size to pair with the remote controller.

Final Verdict – DJI Phantom 3 Review

The DJI Phantom 3 is an amazing aircraft and a big improvement over what was already a solid product. The improved camera and video quality, increased range via Lightbridge, and advanced positioning features make the Phantom 3 a worthwhile upgrade for anyone with an older model DJI Phantom. DJI continues to refine and add features to the GO app, and the hardware/software combination in the Phantom works nearly flawlessly.

The Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional are great choices for any person interested in aerial photography or videography, from complete novices to advanced users. While many professionals will gravitate towards the Inspire 1 for its increased payload and interchangeable camera options, the DJI Phantom 3 Professional is still a great tool to have for shoots and can create amazing looking photos and videos.

Another view - with Hubsan X4 for scale

Another view – with Hubsan X4 for scale

At about $1,000, the Phantom 3 Advanced offers the best value in the lineup right now. The 2.7K HD is more than enough for most non-professional users, and you get all of the other advanced features and technology that is built into the Professional version. If you need to shoot in 4K, then the Phantom 3 Professional is the way to go. While the Phantom 3 Standard is an OK aircraft, we really don’t recommend it unless you are absolutely on a strict budget.

How does the Phantom 3 compare to the competition? As of now, the 3DR Solo drone is the biggest competitor to the Phantom 3 and it gives it a good run for the money. The 3DR Solo offers similar flight time, more advanced automation, and equal or better video results when using a GoPro HERO4 Black camera. However, the Solo has a much less refined design and overall system, it doesn’t include a gimbal or integrated camera, and it more expensive than the Phantom 3. Overall, we recommend the Phantom 3 over the 3DR Solo drone, though we’re excited to see innovation from both companies.

We hope you enjoyed our DJI Phantom 3 review! Please leave your thoughts down below, and let us know if you have any questions!

Where to Buy the DJI Phantom 3?

We recommend purchasing the Phantom 3 quadcopter from the following retailers: