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.
DJI Phantom drones
The basics – what is a Phantom drone?
As I’ve mentioned, the Phantom line is not exactly new, the Phantom 4 Pro released in November, 2016. As the name implies, this latest iteration is part of the fourth generation of the line. 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 Phantom 3 and newer. The Phantom 3 rolled out in April of 2015, the Phantom 4 in March 2016, the Phantom 4 Pro and Phantom 4 Pro+ in November 2016, the Phantom 4 Advanced in April of 2017 and the Phantom 4 Pro RTK in early 2019.
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
Also seen in our Best GoPro drones list
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.
Drone legal and safety
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 3
- 23 - Minutes
- 1080p - 30 FPS
- 36 - MPH
April 2015Release Date
DJI Phantom 3 Pro
- 23 - Minutes
- 4K - 30 FPS
- 36 - MPH
April 2015Release Date
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.
If you are flying for pay, or any other form of compensation, you must operate under a different set of rules and possess a commercial drone license. We call it the Part 107, it’s not too hard to get, but it will take some time to learn all the rules. We want to help you learn the rules and get your commercial license, check out our drone pilot training material.
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.
DJI Phantom 4 Advanced
April 2017Release Date
DJI quietly launched the DJI Phantom 4 Advanced around the same time as discontinuing the original Phantom 4, that was not a coincidence. At that time, the Phantom 4 Pro was the best available Phantom drone, the Advanced model was launched to cater to a lower budget, removing a few obstacle avoidance sensors.
Check out the DJI Phantom 4 Advanced for around $1199 today.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0
May 2018Release Date
The DJI Phantom series of drones are some of the best machines on the market, every iteration makes improvements on the previous and in the case of the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, we're talking about improved motors, more efficient propellers and the first Phantom drone to rock OcuSync connectivity.
The Phantom 4 Pro series was DJI's best drone at launch for object avoidance technology, a trend that continues and is improved upon with the V2.0 series, adding radar and more obstacle avoidance goodness. The newer drone comes with the same 20MP 4K camera as previous, still one of the best camera drones on the market.
The difference between the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 for around $1,499 and the Phantom 4 Pro+ V2.0 for $1,749 is the inclusion of a 5.5-inch built-in display on the remote of the Pro+. The bright, Android powered display is the only difference between the two machines.
DJI Phantom 4 RTK
October 2018Release Date
The DJI Phantom series of drones are some of the best machines on the market, while the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is the best consumer offering, professional users will want to look at the Phantom 4 RTK. Taking the best features of the Phatom line, then adding the extreme precision of RTK technology makes for a drone with great hover accuracy, and photo capture that is within 1cm. RTK utilizes connectivity to satellites and to a ground station, which is a little cumbersome for your fun hobby flights, but absolutely beneficial to your professional drone needs.
For those times that you need some highly-accurate aerial imagery, the DJI Phantom 4 RTK starts at around $8,000.
DJI Phantom 4 Multispectral
At Interdrone 2019, DJI explained that they have some big ideas for the Phantom line, but that the Phantom 5 may not be the next big thing. Not long afterward, they introduced the Phantom 4 Multispectral. DJI understands that the Phantom line of drones is being used for a multitude of uses. In the case of agricultural inspection, folks could get the job done with a standard Phantom 4 Pro, but it was lacking the camera to do things better. Simply put, the Phantom 4 Multispectral adds a multispectral camera to the Phantom for detailed crop analysis. There is also a daylight sensor on the top, that’s not an RTK sensor, sorry, but it does help normalize the imagery, to ensure accurate analysis.
DJI Phantom specs comparison
|DJI||Phantom||Phantom 2 Standard||Phantom 2 Vision||Phantom 2 Vision+||FC40|
|Release date||January 2013||December 2013||October 2013||July 2014||January 2014|
|Price (As of Nov. 2016)||$450||$339||$470||$623||$738|
|Maximum battery life, flight time||Under 10 minutes||25 minutes||25 minutes||25 minutes||25 minutes|
|Remote control||Factory RC remote||Factory or smartphone/tablet||Factory or smartphone/tablet||Factory or smartphone/tablet||Factory or smartphone/tablet|
|Range||0.6 mile||0.6 miles||0.2 miles||0.4 miles||0.5 miles|
|Camera||No, mount action camera||No||1080p, 14MP||1080p, 14MP||720P|
|DJI||Phantom 3 Standard||Phantom 3 Advanced||Phantom 3 Professional||Phantom 3 4K|
|Release date||April 2015||2015||2015||2015|
|Price (As of Nov. 2016)||$450 (Watch for sales.)||$699||$897||$699|
|Maximum battery life, flight time||25 minutes||23 minutes||23 minutes||25 minutes|
|Remote control||Factory with smartphone as FPV or smartphone/tablet||Factory with smartphone as FPV or smartphone/tablet||Factory with smartphone as FPV or smartphone/tablet||Factory with smartphone as FPV or smartphone/tablet|
|Range||0.6 miles||1.2 miles||3 miles||3 miles|
|Camera||2.7K, 12MP||2.7K,||4K||4K, 12MP|
|GPS||GPS||GPS / GLONASS||GPS / GLONASS||GPS / GLONASS|
(Sorry for any duplication below, we’re trying something new.)
It may still be too soon to effectively speculate on the DJI Phantom 5. Indeed, we’ve seen no leaks, nor heard any reliable rumors, but the Phantom 5, or otherwise titled next generation in the Phantom series, may always be just around the corner. We can speculate enhanced object detection, collision avoidance, an improved camera sensor and maybe a collapsible design, for easier portability, but those are more our wish list than anything.
Be sure we’ll bring you the latest on any Phantom 5 announcements, but for now, join us in the comments below for your hopes on the next Phantom drone.
April 2018: We have had some time to scour the wish lists of others, and the rumor mill, for new phantom 5 ideas. Logically, DJI could include Quickshots, APAS and OcuSync. We’d be happy with that. A newer camera gimbal could provide greater control and mobility over rotation and speeds – certainly retractable landing gear lends to 360 articulating gimbals. An interchangeable lens system could take the camera to the next level.
When everything is said and done, we see no reason for the Phantom 5 to be as large as the previous Phantom drones. The Mavic Air has all but proven as capable as the Mavic Pro, and it is much smaller than the Pro. Phantom 5 could easily pack in all the same great features of the Phantom 4 line with a smaller and lighter body. On the flip side, I’d prefer to keep it large and bump up the camera.
Back to you, hit those comments to give us your wishes and expectations of the next Phantom drone, that is, if you think DJI is still going to release one?
December 2020: We heard a wild rumor that the next iteration of Mavic drone will include a high-end model that is supposed to haul Inspire cameras. We aren’t saying that’s not feasible, but it does stand to reason that a “Phantom killer” Mavic drone is very possible.
If you are here trying to figure out which drone you should purchase, trying to identify which is the best Phantom drone, the answer is not simple.
First off, there is a definite reason to upgrade from one generation to the next, even if incremental upgrade, each update packs flight, camera and convenience well beyond previous. So, ask yourself if you are looking for the best camera to put in the sky, or just for a drone to play around with.
If you are serious about taking photos or video from the clouds (assuming the clouds are at or below 400 ft, of course) I would recommend purchasing the latest DJI drone possible for your budget.
That said, if you are just looking for a drone to fly around the back yard, not concerned with the camera, ignoring that there may be better options out there for you, the Phantom 3 Standard is a great bang for the buck, particularly if you can find it for a deal or refurbished this holiday season.
With the many great options on the market, we hope you find the drone that suites your needs. The Phantom line is a great place to start, most Phantom pilots stick with their unit until it literally falls apart.
Which is your favorite in the Phantom line of quadcopter drones?