*April 2016 Update: Check out my extensive camera drone comparison guide to see how the DJI Phantom 3 series compares to the new Phantom 4*
“I just learned about the existence of drones and I need the best drone right now! Is it the DJI Phantom 3? They seem kinda pricier than I expected, maybe there’s a cheaper drone that can do it all and more? And if not then which Phantom 3 series model is right for me?”
These are all good and reasonable questions people might have when they first hear about the outstanding capabilities and applications of the DJI Phantom camera-drone quadcopters. The answers all depend on who you are and what exactly you want and need.
“I want the best non-custom camera drone on the market and reasonable value for money.”
You absolutely want the DJI Inspire Pro. It has the best camera, the best aircraft, and the best features of any prebuilt drone, without costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars like some custom drones. There isn’t much more to it than that.
Phantom Series Comparison
|Drone Specs||DJI Phantom 4||DJI Phantom 3 Professional||DJI Phantom 3 Advanced||DJI Phantom 3 4K||DJI Phantom 3 Standard|
|Battery||15.2 V, 5350 mAh||15.2 V, 4480 mAh||15.2 V, 4480 mAh||15.2 V, 4480 mAh||15.2 V, 4480 mAh|
|Flight time per battery||~28 mins||~23 mins||~23 mins||~25 mins||~25 mins|
|Max. Flight Speed||20 m/s||16 m/s||16 m/s||16 m/s||16 m/s|
|Outdoors Positioning Module||GPS+GLONASS||GPS+GLONASS||GPS+GLONASS||GPS||GPS|
|Vision Positioning Module||Vision Positioning System with optical AND ultrasonic sensors (Position holding without GPS), and automatic obstacle avoidance with optical sensors (will move around obstacle)||Vision Positioning System with ultrasonic sensors (Position holding without GPS)||Vision Positioning System with ultrasonic sensors (Position holding without GPS)||Vision Positioning System with ultrasonic sensors (Position holding without GPS)||No|
|Vertical Hover Accuracy||+/- 0.1 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/- 0.5 m||+/- 0.1 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/- 0.5 m||+/- 0.1 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/- 0.5 m||+/- 0.1 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/- 0.5 m||+/- 0.5 m|
|Horizontal Hover Accuracy||+/- 0.3 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/-1.5 m||+/- 1.5 m||+/- 1.5 m||+/- 1.5 m||+/- 1.5 m|
|Diagonal Size (Excluding Propellers)||350 mm||350 mm||350 mm||350 mm||350 mm|
|Weight: (Including Battery And Propellers)||1380 g||1280 g||1280 g||1280 g||1216 g|
|Return Home Button||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Max Bitrate of Video Storage||60 Mbps||60 Mbps||40 Mbps||60 Mbps||40 Mbps|
|Camera Brand||Sony Exmor R BSI||Sony Exmor R BSI||Sony Exmor R BSI||Sony Exmor R BSI||Panasonic Smart FSI|
|Total Pixels||12.76 MP||12.76 MP||12.76 MP||12.76 MP||12 MP|
|Max Video Resolutions||4096x2160p 24/25, 3840x2160p 24/25/30,||4096x2160p 24/25, 3840x2160p 24/25/30,||2704x1520p 24/25/30,||4096x2160p 24/25, 3840x2160p 24/25/30,||2704x1520p30,|
|ISO Range||100-3200 (video) 100-1600 (photo)||100-3200 (video) 100-1600 (photo)||100-3200 (video) 100-1600 (photo)||100-3200 (video) 100-1600 (photo)||100-3200 (video) 100-1600 (photo)|
|Lens||FOV 94°, f/2.8, focus at ∞||FOV 94°, f/2.8, focus at ∞||FOV 94°, f/2.8, focus at ∞||FOV 94°, f/2.8, focus at ∞||FOV 94°, f/2.8, focus at ∞|
|Distortion||38% less than Phantom 3||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Unknown|
|Shutter Speed||8s -1/8000s||8s -1/8000s||8s -1/8000s||8s -1/8000s||8s -1/8000s|
|Max Transmission Distance||5000 m||5000 m||5000 m||1200 m||1000 m|
|Max. Video Bitrate (transmitted, not saved)||10Mbps||10Mbps||2Mbps||2Mbps||2Mbps|
|Max FPV Preview Quality||HD 720P @ 30fps||HD 720P @ 30fps||HD 720P @ 30fps||HD 720P @ 30fps||SD 480P @ 30fps|
|Supported SD Card Types||Micro SD||Micro SD||Micro SD||Micro SD||Micro SD|
|Max capacity: 64 GB||Max capacity: 64 GB||Max capacity: 64 GB||Max capacity: 64 GB||Max capacity: 64 GB|
“I want one of the best camera drones with great value for money.”
The DJI Phantom 3 Professional is the drone for you. It includes a great 12mp/4k camera, a long-lasting 23 minute battery with a fast 100 W charger, GPS+GLONASS and ultrasonic-assisted hover mode for easy flying indoors and outside, and very intelligent software features. It streams all the action back from the camera to the remote controller at a maximum distance of 3.1 mi (5 km) and bitrate quality of 10 megabits per second.
The Phantom 3 Professional is very smart. It can Return to Home by pressing a button on the remote or within the Pilot app. Your system automatically remembers the point at which it took off, and returns and lands safely at this point when you command it to Return to Home. You can program your Phantom 3 to follow you and act as your own personal, flying film crew. With the Ground Station feature, you can set waypoints and assign automatic actions for your aircraft to follow. Most cool of all is the Point of Interest feature, where you can pick a location or object to focus on, and the Phantom 3 will continuously face it, no matter how you fly.
“I want the camera drone with the best value for money.”
The DJI Phantom 3 Advanced has the best value for money of any advanced drone. As a less expensive upgrade to the older Phantom 2 Vision+, the Phantom 3 Advanced includes most of the great features of the Phantom 3 Professional, with just a few downgrades. The Advanced model has the same camera as the Professional, but cannot shoot 4k video, only 2.7k max. And it can only stream video back to the remote controller at a rate of 2 megabits per second, vs the Professional’s 10 megabits per second rate (they both still record at the same bitrate to the SD card on the drone itself). Lastly, the Advanced comes with a slower 57 W charger vs the Professional’s 100 W charger (taking around 72 minutes to fully charge, vs around 52 minutes for the Professional).
If you do not absolutely need 4k-quality video, then these downgrades are likely not deal breakers. You get the rest of the cutting edge features of the Professional, for hundreds of dollars less, which might be better spent on extra batteries.
“I need the most inexpensive, yet still DJI-class camera drone, and KNOW I won’t be flying it indoors or out further than 0.6 mi (1 km) from me.”
If you are absolutely sure your use-case for a camera drone does not involve flying it indoors or beyond 0.6 mi (1 km) from you outside, then the DJI Phantom 3 Standard should serve you well and save you hundreds of dollars. The Standard model has many of the great features of the Advanced, but is more of a downgrade than the Advanced is from the Professional. Compared to the Advanced, you are losing the ability to pilot it easily and safely indoors (no ultrasonic sensor), a much lower flying radius of 0.6 mi (1 km) vs 3.1 mi (5 km), slower and more limited position-lock (GPS only, no GLONASS), a big camera quality downgrade (still a solid camera), and fewer dedicated buttons on the remote controller.
The Advanced model is definitely a big step up from the Standard, especially if you value camera quality and flight range, but the Standard still delivers the rest of the same great features at hundreds of dollars less. If money is tight, and you need a DJI-class camera drone with a limited flight radius, then the Standard is drone for you.
“I just learned about camera drones. They sound exciting, but I have no real use for them at the moment aside from recreation. And money is a bit tight.”