DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ V3 – a drone for the masses
Flying a remote-control aircraft used to be a pursuit for the obsessive. The craft were incredibly difficult to fly, easy to crash and prohibitively expensive to purchase or build; the barriers to entry were multifarious and difficult to overcome.
But that was before the multi-rotor drone emerged as the latest gadget to have. Products such as the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter, which I’ve been testing as part of an upcoming feature in PC Pro magazine, have opened up the pursuit to a whole new category of hobbyist.
Our thanks to the friendly people at official UK distributor First Person View for supplying our review sample.
DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ review: flying
Let me be clear: to qualify as a potential member of this new group of model-aircraft pilots, you need no skills beyond the most basic hand-eye co-ordination.
Once you’ve gone through your preflight checks – made sure all the various bits and bobs are charged, the rotors are fastened on, and your smartphone is paired with and mounted on the remote control – taking off is simply a matter of pulling the two sticks on the remote diagonally downwards to fire up the motors, then pushing up on the left stick to launch the Phantom into the sky.
You can leave it at that, if you like: the Phantom 2 has enough brains on board to hover in one place in a completely stable fashion with absolutely no input from the user. Its Naza-M flight-control system, coupled with a barrage of sensors – a compass, GPS, inertial sensor and altimeter – makes it embarrassingly easy to get started.
Flying and landing is just easy as setup and take-off. Push forwards on the right stick, and the Phantom zooms forwards; pull the stick towards you and it backs up; left and right on the right stick slide the drone left and right, while tweaking the left stick left and right spins it around in the air.
Flashing red and green LEDs on the front and rear rotor arms indicate the direction of travel, so you know in advance which way it’s going to progress, and, with the aid of the Wi-Fi extender box attached to the top of the remote, the Phantom has an impressive range of 700m.
It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that all this sophisticated technology eats up the juice, and the 5,200mAh lithium-polymer rechargeable battery delivers only up to 25 minutes of flight time – less if the wind gets up and you’re recording video. It’s definitely worth budgeting an extra £50 for the bundle with a second power pack, since batteries bought separately are £91 a piece.
DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ review: camera
There’s plenty more to the Phantom than mere ease of flying, though. It’s also equipped with a 1080p video camera, mounted on a fully stabilised and motorised, three-axis gimbal.
It shoots rock-steady footage with an 85-degree field of view – even remaining stable through violent changes in direction – and it’s possible to tilt the angle of the camera up and down by 90 degrees using a rocker dial on the top-left shoulder of the remote control.
Its only weakness is that the gimbal isn’t terribly rugged. When the drone isn’t flying, you have to fit a fiddly plastic bracket to stop it from flapping around, and in a crash it will be the first part that’s damaged – as we found to our cost when we clipped a tree and brought our test unit crashing to the ground.
The quality isn’t bad, although not a patch on what you’d get from a GoPro, and you can also capture wide-angle, 14-megapixel stills (in raw or JPEG format), all recorded to a microSD card that slots into the base of the gimbal. Cards up to 32GB in size are supported.
DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ review: advanced features
You’re not limited to recording, either. As you fly, the camera also pipes through live first-person footage to the DJI Vision app, installed on a paired smartphone or tablet (iOS or Android), which not only makes framing your shots easy, it means you can pilot the drone as if you were onboard yourself.
The app is also where you set your video- and image-resolution options, and configure the autopilot: you can plot in up to 16 waypoints and have the drone fly between them. There’s a flight-radar display, too – handy if you ever lose sight of the drone.
The Phantom 2 Vision+ is equipped with GPS and “no-fly zone” technology, which prevents you from flying it inadvertently into legally restricted areas, such as around major airports. It’s also good to know that if you accidentally fly it out of range – or if the battery reaches a critically low level, or the connection between it and your remote is lost – the drone will fly back to base and land completely automatically.
DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ review: verdict
The most complimentary thing we can say about the Phantom 2 Vision+ is that flying it is a bit like playing a video game. It’s so easy to pick up and get flying that anyone with a spare five or ten minutes can master it.
That makes it an excellent entry point into what’s becoming an increasingly exciting area of technology and gadgetry. The only downside? Once you start, you may want more, and with high-end advanced systems costing as much as £4,500, you might need to consider a second mortgage.