For most, DJI is a trusted and respected name in the consumer drone market, they’re certainly one of the favorites around these parts. With more than a dozen flying devices in their stables, many of which equipped with 4K or higher video capture capabilities, it may be hard to keep them straight – we’re here today to explore the Phantom line of DJI drones.
As one of the most iconic drone designs around, the familiar tall landing gear, quadcopter frame at 350mm and white paint job now lives on several generations of the Phantom. Let’s see which is which in this Phantom drones comparison.
The basics – what is a Phantom drone?
As I’ve mentioned, the Phantom line is not exactly new, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is the latest consumer-class drone in the line, and it released back in May 2018. The fourth generation Phantom line has been flying since early 2016. The original DJI Phantom drone hit the market in January of 2013. You didn’t think these sorts of consumer drones were a brand new fad, did you?
The important thing to note is that the physical design and overall frame of the Phantom line is largely unchanged from the first gen. all the way up to the Phantom 4 Pro, at least. Instead, the majority of changes live within the camera, flight control, and software.
What started as a quadcopter that required some skill to fly, and a hanging GoPro to get the most of your less than 10 minutes of flight, is now a nearly autonomous precision drone with near-DSLR capable camera. The addition of GPS changed the landscape of drone flight, enabling far greater flight accuracy, even if at a hover, and features like return-to-home.
The latest from the line includes upwards of 30 minutes of flight, a range of over 4 miles, the ability to control from the dedicated remote or from a smartphone, or both, and so much more. GPS and 5-way collision detection sensors make the latest Phantom drones very hard to crash, offer many advanced and autonomous flight modes and have cameras that give GoPro a run for the money.
As far as purchasing a new drone goes, the Phantom line is currently still selling the later Phantom 4 drones. You can still find some Phantom 3 era drones for sale, mostly used or refurbished. They’re still fun to fly, but you will likely find more bang for the buck in a newer and smaller drone.
Our goal is to take a closer look at the drones that are still on the market, but let’s take a quick look at the early drones for reference.
These are the Phantom drones
A white drone with double red stripes on the leading arms. Flight time of under 10 minutes and a simple gimbal to mount a GoPro camera. There were really no major pilot comforts on this drone, the Phantom 1 was a first gen. product in a rather new market.
Currently still available from some vendors, you’re looking at about $450 used or closer to $575 new to get in the air, vintage drone style. All things considered, we think this is not a smart purchase.
Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision, Phantom 2 Vision+ and FC40
With each of the models rolling out between December 2013 and July 2014, the Phantom 2 line introduced GPS positioning, mobile device support to control the craft, including some VR goggle integration, and Wi-Fi connectivity for extended range and control.
Improved gimbal camera mounting provided better image stabilization and leveling. Flight time per charge was about 15 minutes.
When it comes to the little things, DJI started proving they were as into their technology as the rest of us with the Phantom 2. Small conveniences like self tightening propellers, GPS marking a ‘Home’ location for automated return and improved flight controls began here, and they did not stop here, things just keep getting better.
In rough order, the FC40, despite coming last, was a step down from the other Phantom 2 models. The Standard brought the initial changes with Vision and Vision+ slowly adding the improved flight controls then image stabilization and mounting.
Perhaps the most important feature is a built-in notification system to let you know when you are in an official no-fly zone. There is plenty to flight laws, particularly in the United States, this little feature serves as a reminder when you forget to check the rules of an area.
With prices ranging from $399 up to about $1100, and increasingly reduced availability, I am sad to recommend you skip this drone.
Don’t forget: No matter drone you fly, you have to follow your local drone laws.
Phantom 3 4K, Phantom 3 Professional, Phantom 3 Advanced and Phantom 3 Standard
Also seen in our Best drones under $500 list
The Phantom 3 line started shipping in April of 2015, with 4 models available, their names fairly accurately represent their capabilities. Standard offers up 2.7K video recording, and excludes the line’s lightbridge downlink for range up to 1.25 miles.
All models pack in the best of previous generations, plus treats such as a Follow-me mode, GPS waypoints Course lock and Home lock.
The Phantom 3 Advanced maintains the 2.7K max video capture, but provides the extended controller range.
The Phantom 3 Professional takes all of the above, bumps up to 4K video resolution and throws in a larger charger to get you back in the air sooner.
Finally, the Phantom 3 4K offers up nearly the same features as the Pro model, also with 4K resolution, but with a Sony camera sensor. Frequencies are a little different as well, better to support non-North American airspace.
There’s an important question to be answered, is the DJI Phantom 3 still worth it?
Flight time for the Phantom 3 range is upwards of 25 minutes of optimal air time. Prices range from about $500 up to $800 for a new unit. If you are not looking for the latest tech, nor the best camera, but just want to put a Phantom drone in your inventory, prices are still fairly good.
Best of all, these models include visual positioning systems designed to supplement for tight quarters or when GPS is spotty. We certainly do not recommend flying indoors, but you might be able to get away with it using these drones.
DJI Phantom 4
The first Phantom 4 launched back in 2016. A bigger camera, longer flight time, more safety features, and more upgrades made it a valuable update over the earlier models. The drone was fine, but was quickly replaced with a more powerful model several months after launch.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
The original Phantom 4 was a good stepping stone for the platform, DJI learned a few things, invented some new tech, and crammed it into the Phantom 4 Pro. The Pro version launched in late 2016 alongside the Inspire 2. The two were promoted as being the consumer and Professional drones for the avid aerial videographer. Aside from the camera system, price, and size, they are similarly capable flying machines.
The Phantom 4 Pro, and Pro+ rocketed to the top of drone best lists, for good reason, as there was nothing that could match the camera output for the price for quite a while after launch.