I've been flying RC Airplanes for almost a decade now, always hoping that some day my love for RC flying and shooting images would come together and make beautiful aerial footage babies. Well people, that day is here! That's not to say that RC heli shooting hasn't been around, but to get into it required a professional level of experience in building and flying the machines, not to mention it being expensive. DJI has built the Phantom to cater to people just like me, who want a ready-to-fly machine that is easy and built for shooting. I decided to jump in and see what this thing was all about, and here is our official review of the DJI Phantom.
There's been a lot of talk about drones and UAV's over the last year, some good, a lot bad. The word "drone" has a lot of stigma attached to it, considering they can be used as weapons of war and for reconnaissance. The way I look at them is that they're an awesome tool for getting amazing shots that would otherwise cost you thousands of dollars a day by renting an actual helicopter. So, while this can most definitely be used for tactical purposes, to me, this is a tool, and something that will allow for people to get some really amazing shots.
The biggest plus about this quadracopter is its price. For around $500 you can get into a bare bones phantom, then by upgrading to some things like the gimbal, and a go pro, you can be shooting some really amazing footage for under $2000. While this may seem like a lot of money, when you weigh it against the alternatives and the next level, it's almost unbelievable that they can offer this product for so cheap.
What's also great besides the compact size, is that it's really easy to fly. DJI has done a great job making this product very accessible for first time users, which in turn leads to very smooth shots. My friend Charles Bergquist had never flown anything before and within a couple weeks of having the Phantom, he was up and running and even flying around cars.
Another amazing thing about this is its portability. It is really easy to travel with; you literally just open up the case, set it on the ground, and start flying. It's quite amazing how fast you can be in and out of a situation. (Not that you would be flying or shooting in precarious situations...but if you were...)
As long as you understand that the DJI Phantom is their entry level machine, and really meant to get everyone flying, there aren't many "Cons" to this product. Having some experience using larger heli's where you can fully control the camera, I did find myself wanting more control while I was shooting, but if you're getting to that point in your flying, it really is time to upgrade into something that can lift at least a DSLR.
The only other thing that was a little difficult was installing some of the accessories. Dismantling and Re-assembling the phantom can be a little tricky for the newbs, as it's not just a plug-and-play thing. When you order the box for the gimbal, you still need an extra part (the Naza PMU-2) for installing into the machine, which caught me by surprise when I started the process.
If you want to get some really stable footage with the Phantom, then you'll need to make a couple of upgrade modifications to get this thing ready for epicness. First and foremost is the DJI Zenmuse H3-2D Gimbal. DJI did an amazing job with this gimbal. It's small, light, and SUPER durable. I have literally crashed this thing into metal bars, a number of trees, a parking garage ceiling...anyway, the gimbal comes right off, bounces, and never skips a beat. There are other gimbals out there, but for me, I would rather stick with a the manufacturer's product so you know it's going to work with your machine. The second, but not mandatory, accessory is an FPV. This really increases your range and also allows you to see what you're shooting. I got the DJI AVIL 58 and it seems to work pretty well. I'm still figuring all this FPV stuff out though.
The DJI Phantom is a really awesome product and is really fun, and once you get the gimbal on it, you're really set up to get some shots that basically up until this product would have either cost you $10,000 + or would just not have been possible. I recommend this for anyone who wants to get into aerial videography, as well as people who are already into it. So, go on 'n get chu some, but please be careful. While this does feel like a toy, you can really do some serious damage to the things you hit.