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 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
March 2016Release Date
Carrying the DJI Phantom line torch from early 2016 until late 2016, the DJI Phantom 4 offered a familiar flight experience and solid camera performance for pilots. It may have held only a short time in the lime-light, taking over from the Phantom 3 and being replaced by the far more capable Phantom 4 Pro, but it was a well respected drone in the series. This was the last Phantom drone to ship with a 1/2.3-inch camera sensor, all Phantom drones since are equipped with a full 1-inch sensor, but it still offered 4K video capture and 12MP photos. With a flight time of about 28 minutes and a range of about 3 miles at 45 mph, the Phantom 4 remains on par with some of the best drones on the market today.
Check out the DJI Phantom 4 for about $999, but keep in mind that the drone has been discontinued, prices may fluctuate with availability of remaining stock.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro and Pro+
November 2016Release Date
When you think about drones, it's possible that the first image that comes to mind is the iconic design of the DJI Phantom line. DJI knows it, continually iterating their Phantom drones to be some of the best high-end consumer class quadcopters on the market. That trend continued in the fall of 2016, launching the Phantom 4 Pro and Phantom 4 Pro+ alongside the Inspire 2.
The difference between the Phantom 4 Pro and the Phantom 4 Pro+ is the inclusion of a 5.5-inch built-in display on the remote of the Pro+. It's a good looking, Android powered display, but it's the only difference between the two machines.
Be sure to check out our interview and impressions of the Phantom 4 Pro from the launch event in LA.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian
Don’t get me wrong, there is still tons to love about the Phantom 4 Pro, but this update, like the Chinese New Year skin from earlier this year, is, well, just a new color. Obsidian black looks pretty slick to me, and the drone packs all the best features from the Phantom line, so I guess that’s a win.