I mentioned in my Year in Review post that my holiday present was a DJI Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter, or as some people like to say, “drone.” I’ve seen quadcopters proliferating, but this one caught my eye as a complete out of the box solution for anyone looking to explore aerial photography. While most quadcopters, including the original DJI Phantom, were complex do it yourself projects with few instructions, the DJI Phantom 2 really simplifies things. And now that I’ve been able to use it for a few weeks (in between snow storms), I’m hooked. This baby is fun to use, easy to fly, and takes pretty decent photos!
Integrated GPS System
The core of the DJI Phantom 2 Vision surrounds two great features. The first is a built-in GPS system that makes the copter incredibly easy to fly. As long as you allow the Phantom 2 to acquire 6+ GPS satellites (not too hard, really), it marks your home position and uses GPS to hover in place… even in a breeze! GPS lets you let go of the control sticks and hover the copter without having to do anything. The other great feature of the GPS is that it has a fail-safe mode. Should the Phantom 2 lose radio contact, it will return to your last known home position and land itself!
Built-in camera with FPV
The other great feature of the Phantom 2 Vision is the built in First Person View (FPV) camera. This is a 14-megapixel camera with a fixed f/2.8 aperture and a 140° angle of view. That’s kind of like a fisheye lens on a DSLR, so you’re going to see some curvature in your horizons. You can also use the camera to capture 1080/30p video at one of three different view angles; 140°, 120°, or 90°. That’s fun stuff, but the really awesome part is that with a built-in WiFi transmitter, you actually use your smartphone (iOS or Android) to control the camera and you can watch where you are going in real-time! Did I mention that this thing is COOL? The camera is mounted on a single-axis (tilt) gimbal, which holds the camera steady in the up/down direction when flying.
Here’s a video I captured in Colorado Springs, CO:
The Phantom 2 Vision uses a lithium-polymer (LiPo) battery that delivers 20+ minutes of flying time. That’s actually quite good; earlier models are limited to around 10 minutes of flight between charges. You’ll need AA batteries for the Remote Control unit, and the WiFi extender module charges via a USB port.
The DJI Phantom smartphone App is what sets this bird apart from traditional RC copters. In addition to the FPV camera, you can check battery status, GPS, and even locate your Phantom on your Maps app if needed. It also has options to control exposure parameters like EV compensation. Because you don’t need to constantly hold the control sticks of the RC transmitter, your hands are freed up to use the smartphone App. I’ve been able to hover 250′ up and take photos without fear of losing control.
I took the Phantom 2 Vision to Ashcroft mining town. At an elevation of 9600′ in the Rockies and sub-freezing temperatures, I had no issues getting 20 minutes of flight time.
Right now, there are really only two negatives I can find with the DJI Phantom 2 Vision. First, the gimbal is single-axis. This means that you only get camera stabilization in the up/down tilt direction. That’s fine for stills and basic video, but serious videographers will want a 2-axis gimbal for super-smooth videos. Currently, there are a couple of third-parties developing gimbals for the Phantom 2 Vision, but they are still not mainstream.
The other drawback is lack of RAW support from the Phantom’s camera. The camera JPEGs have some sharpening artifacts that could be better. The good news here is that the camera does indeed produce a RAW file; Adobe is currently working on supporting it. So for still photographers, you’ll have the ability to work with RAW files soon (I can’t wait).
The DJI Phantom 2 Vision is an amazing piece of technology at a fairly reasonable price. I purchased mine from B&H Photo along with an extra battery and extra set of rotor blades. Considering that you really have a turnkey solution for aerial photography, this is a really amazing device! If you are interested in a more custom solution, like mounting your own GoPro camera and gimbal, you can also consider the non-vision version of the Phantom 2, which doesn’t include a camera. You’ll need to purchase and install one yourself at additional cost, and install the necessary FPV software to get real-time video. For me, the Phantom 2 Vision was just the right thing to dabble in aerial photography and video, because it is an integrated system. I’m having a great time learning to fly it and by the time spring rolls around I should be pretty good with it! I highly recommend the DJI Phantom 2 Vision to anyone who wants the thrill of flying without having to get a pilot’s license!
Pricing and Availability
I purchased my DJI Phantom 2 Vision from B&H Photo for $1199. The non-vision model with a gimbal mount, runs $869, but you’ll need to add a GoPro or similar camera yourself.