Drone Review: DJI Phantom
Have you ever wanted to take a shot from a location impossible to reach by foot with your camera?
If you’re looking for exploring new horizons when capturing your travel videos and taking fantastic pictures when visiting the most stunning places on Earth, you must certainly try out a drone!
With this guide, I’ll try to cover what I think are the most important aspects of a drone, how to start flying quickly, some advanced (and cool!) functions, some safety tips and also some suggestions on how to carry your drone around. Let’s go!
What is a Drone?
A drone is a quadcopter (4 engine helicopter) that comes with a remote controller device that allows you to fly it at different heights and distances while capturing breathtaking images and videos through its onboard camera.
We can probably state that currently, DJI produces the best drones around especially if we consider the quality/price factor and also for the extensive experience that they have demonstrated in this industry….or simply because it’s my drone!
DJI Phantom 3 Standard
I’ve personally never flown a drone or quadcopter in my life and the DJI Phantom 3 was my first experience.
More specifically what I’m talking about is the DJI Phantom 3 Standard which is probably the best choice that you can make if you’re just starting out with your first drone and don’t want to spend too much money.
It includes a high-quality camera capable of capturing videos up to 2.7K and 12-megapixel photos, a custom built remote controller and a battery (called by DJI Intelligent Flight Battery).
Without going too technical, one of the key features that the DJI Phantom 3 Standard possess, is the ability to hold the camera steady and stable when you fly, thanks to a three-axis gimbal. This means that your footage will be totally shake-free and very smooth all the time!
Drone Battery: Duration and Charging
The battery duration is about 20-25 minutes and you can easily check the status by pressing the button on it which lights up some LEDs on the side. Of course, you can check it remotely on your screen also while flying.
The charging process is quite easy as well since you just need to connect it to the dedicated AC adapter and plug it into an outlet.
Preparing to Fly your Drone
One of the most important things to do before you fly your drone is to ensure the propellers are tightly attached to the motors. This is really important as it’s a matter of safety.
With the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, it’s extremely easy to mount and dismount the propellers since colors and arrows are placed on both propellers and motors to guide you through the process.
Next, you need to ensure the battery is fully charged and placed inside the drone firmly, which also, in this case, is easily achievable thanks to a poka-yoke, mistake-proof, structure.
Finally, make sure to verify that also the remote controller and your mobile phone are fully charged. Why your mobile phone? Well…that will be your remote screen, allowing you to view exactly what your drone sees!
Drone Flight Modes
There are 3 flight modes on the DJI Phantom 3 Standard:
P-Mode (Positioning Mode) is the way to go 90% of the time and also the default mode. It grants probably the safest and easiest way to fly your drone since it uses the GPS for positioning.
A-Mode (Attitude Mode) allows flying using only the barometer, which of course isn’t as accurate as the GPS so probably useful only when the GPS signal is missing, like indoors.
F-Mode (Function Mode) grants you the possibility to fly your drone using additional functionalities that can make your flight very interesting.
LED Indicators on the DJI Phantom
LED indicators on the DJI Phantom are an extremely useful aid when operating the drone.
They provide guidance on what is going on simply by looking at the drone itself without checking the display on the remote controller.
The Phantom 3 Standard has four LEDs, two in the front and two in the back.
These LEDs come in very useful if you want to understand at a glance in which direction your drone is pointing and the current status.
The front LEDs glow solid red when the drone is turned on and are active also when flying in the sky (if you don’t deactivate them).
While the rear LEDs follow a pattern based on the aircraft’s status. In general, these are the most important statuses:
Flashing yellow quickly: signal lost from the remote controller
Flashing red slowly: low battery level
Flashing red quickly: critical battery level
There are many other combinations, for more details I highly recommend you to check the latest user manual.
Drone Tips: How To Avoid Losing Your Drone?
This is one of the most important features that the DJI Phantom 3 has: a failsafe solution in case you need to bring your aircraft back to the ground at the lift-off point.
Drone tip: before flying away after take-off ensure always that your aircraft has recorded your most recent Home Point. In addition, verify that the minimum height set up in your settings for the RTH (return to home) feature is adequate for the surroundings.
E.g. if you have trees around you, ensure that their height is well below the RTH height – otherwise, you might hit the trees when that mode is activated by yourself or by the aircraft.
Drone Tips: How To Practice Flying a Drone
Drone tip: before getting out in the field, I would highly suggest doing some practice flying your drone using the simulator which is integrated on the DJI Go App.
The flight simulator is very similar to the reality allowing you to understand the reactions of the drone during each phase of the flight without taking any risks.
Once you’ve mastered your skills with the simulator you can proceed and enjoy the real flight in the open air.
First Flight with a Drone
For your first flight, I recommend choosing an area where no trees, cars, buildings and people are around.
It might be challenging depending on where you live, but it’s very important to avoid causing accidents and also crashing your drone.
Additionally, remember to avoid flying when the wind blows or when the weather is in general turbulent – as you can imagine, the more you increase the altitude the higher are the chances that wind blows stronger and so it becomes even more difficult to fly your drone safely.
A quick tip to ensure your drone is functioning correctly is to simply allowing it to hover right after take-off – this can be easily accomplished by using the automatic take-off function or by manually setting the DJI Phantom at approx. 1 meter or 3 ft from the ground.
If the drone stays in place and the propellers rotate without issues, you’re probably safe to start.
Where Can You Fly Your Drone?
It is mandatory to always follow the rules regarding local aviation wherever you’re flying your drone. Often drones are defined as UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), so make sure to check the flight regulations before trying to fly in a new zone.
Some No Fly Zones are already integrated inside some drones, but of course it’s better to manually verify if these are up to date and still valid.
You can also lock the maximum distance and altitude to ensure your drone stays inside the desired range of operation. In case you reach those boundaries the drone will still fly and rotate but will not move any further.
Drone Photography Tips
Drone photography is simply exceptional. It allows you to capture fantastic landscapes, amazing nature scenery and grab shots of something that would be otherwise impossible to see from that point of view.
A few drone photography tips for ensuring you’ll get the best shots of your landscapes:
- Use P-mode when possible, this allows the drone to stay steady and avoid shaking
- Avoid flying with bad weather and strong winds
- Adjust the camera settings in terms of ISO, exposure, aperture, shutter speed, etc.
- Be very gentle when moving the drone, especially when rotating the aircraft as this gives a lot of dizziness when watching the final video
The DJI Phantom requires very little maintenance thanks to its robust structure and good materials used – and also thanks to the nicely thought Intelligent Flight Battery.
The battery, which is typically the most fragile element in terms of duration and maintenance on any electronic equipment, is truly intelligent on the DJI Phantom.
One of the main features in this sense is the “auto-discharging function”. The battery will automatically discharge at 65% when it is left idle for more than 10 days and it will take the battery 2 days to execute this discharging process (which might slightly heat it).
This is a tremendous benefit for the battery as it will help its preservation over time.
It is also highly recommended to avoid charging the battery right after a flight since it’s still too hot, while there’s anyway a system to prevent charging outside the allowed temperatures (0°C – 40°C).
I also always clean up the propellers right after each flight to avoid any dirt remains on each, on the engines or on the camera.
How to Carry a Drone?
Carrying a drone isn’t a very easy and straightforward task, so let’s check out how to carry a drone when you wish to bring it with you during your trips.
Most drones are still quite bulky and basically made of one main (and bigger) component plus additional smaller accessories.
The biggest part is where the engines, the battery and the camera are typically located – while the smaller detachable parts are the propellers. Plus there’s the remote controller (which isn’t so small too) and maybe additional spare batteries.
How do we move around with all this stuff? Is there a way to carry the drone around without ruining it or compromising its functionality?
The answer is yes! Luckily there are a few brands that have created various drone bags exactly for this purpose.
We can divide them into 2 main categories: hard shell and soft shell.
Hard Shell Drone Bags and Cases
Hard shell drone bags are exactly as you can imagine from the words, created to totally protect your drone from bumps and hits even in tough environments.
More than bags, these are real cases that are suitable also when checking-in your drone on an airplane (even though I would prefer to bring it as hand luggage whenever that is possible).
Soft Shell Drone Bags and Backpacks
Drone backpacks are my favorite choice since they are way more flexible and comfortable to bring around with you.
The best thing is that you can often even fit other equipment inside the bag. For example, inside my Manfrotto drone bag I can fit also my camera, my MacBook, additional batteries, my GorillaPod and more!
The size is usually very close to the limit of the carry-on luggage allowed on most airplanes, so it’s better you check anyway if the dimensions correspond with the airline you’re going to fly with.
Taking Drones on Airplanes
Since many airlines and aviation authorities are now better clarifying if they accept or not drones on the airplanes both as hand luggage or even as checked in baggage, I’ve created a quick guide that answers exactly that question: can you bring a drone on a plane?
Check it out for more details!
Do you have any experience with drones? I would love to hear your opinion: feel free to add your comment below!