DJI steps it up with the new Phantom 3
DJI just announced two new products to the Phantom series, the Phantom 3 Advanced and Phantom 3 Professional. These products both build on the Phantom vision series, including a stock gimbal and camera combo built in with no options of removal or adding a 3rd party camera. It seems likely that there will be a model without a camera, as DJI was quoted by Engadget stating “As you can probably tell by the name there's scope for more.” However, the differences between the two Phantom 3 models is video resolution. On the advanced model, the camera can record 1080p, 60fps, 12 MP. The professional camera can record at 4k, 30fps, 12 MP. The differences are fairly slim and the fps/resolution jump is very small. The camera sensor on each model is the same Sony EXMOR 1/2.3” 12.4 MP sensor, and each model records at the exact same framerate for 1080p and 720p at a max of 60 for both. The professional can do 4k at a max of 30 fps. It is interesting that DJI didn’t bump the 1080p and 720p frame rates of the professional model. It would make sense that if it can handle 4k on the same sensor as the advanced model, that it would also be able to handle 1080p at 120fps and 720p at 240 fps like the GoPro Hero 4 black does. The professional costs $1250, and the advanced model costs $1000. The price difference for solely 4k with no other frame rate bumps or additional perks to the professional model doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m surprised they don’t just call it the Phantom 3 and Phantom 3 4K. The only other difference listed on DJI’s specification page is the battery chargers. The advanced model comes with a 57 watt charger while the professional comes with a 100 watt charger. This will allow much faster charging, but still not enough difference to create an entirely new model.
Enough with the differences between the Advanced and Professional, the key difference is between the Phantom 3 and Phantom 2 Vision.
The Phantom 3 uses DJI’s proprietary Lightbridge technology, also used in the Inspire 1, which allows for digital video downlink instead of wifi via the radio transmitter (which appears to be the same transmitter as the Inspire 1). This allows you to view a live 720p downlink and even broadcast live via a smartphone to the internet. On the Inspire 1 there is a tiny bit of lag compared to analog FPV systems, and we can expect the same lag on the Phantom 3. The Phantom 3 also has indoor sensors, improved GPS, and remote camera control much like the Phantom 2 Vision. Think of the Phantom 3 as the child of a Inspire 1 and Phantom 2 vision. It has Lightbridge, but no waypoint control. It has auto take-off and landing, but fixed landing gear. The camera shares the same Sony EXMOR sensor, 94 degree field of view, ISO range, shutter speed, and f/2.8 aperture as the Inspire One, and should produce similarly looking results. The key here is that the Phantom 3 camera is not a fisheye lens, so will not distort video like the Vision did or the GoPros do. Also the main limitation of the Phantom Vision series was that it relied on a wifi connection for FPV which was incredibly unreliable and had a terrible range. Now with Lightbridge, the system is much more robust and capable as it is in the Inspire One. DJI is very smart to make this switch, because now professionals who laughed at the Vision series and instead bought a Phantom 2, gimbal, GoPro, and FPV system, will now consider purchasing the Phantom 3 instead of their complicated and expensive kit. The downside? The Phantom 3 is not customizable. The camera is not removable for future upgrades. Lightbridge has a slight lag. But if you can deal with those issues, the Phantom 3 might be the UAS for you.