Flight gadgets

A breeze to keep up with the action

The DJI Phantom 3 comes in three variants - Standard, Advanced and Professional - which differ only in their cameras. It is responsive and easy to use, and its 1.3kg weight, 60cm diameter and three-axis gimbal image stabilisation make for very steady
The DJI Phantom 3 comes in three variants - Standard, Advanced and Professional - which differ only in their cameras. It is responsive and easy to use, and its 1.3kg weight, 60cm diameter and three-axis gimbal image stabilisation make for very steady videos.PHOTO: DJI

The DJI Phantom 3 is one of the most popular drones on the market now, and for good reason.

It has a great camera. The quadcopter is responsive and easy to control when in the air. Above all, it is stable and able to withstand moderate gusts of wind without being blown wildly off course.

While stability may be less of an issue in wide open fields, it is crucial when manoeuvring the drone in tight spaces, which are aplenty in Singapore's urban environment.

Even though I am a newbie, it was not long before I had the quadcopter zooming across the field and performing turns, dips and spins.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $1,599 from dji.com.sg

    CAMERA: 12.4-megapixel

    LENS: FOV 94° 20 mm (35 mm format equivalent)

    STORAGE: Up to 64GB on a microSD card

    RANGE: 2,000m (radio frequency)

    WEIGHT: 1,280g (including battery and propellers)


    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The DJI Phantom 3 comes in three variants: Standard, Advanced and Professional. They are all identical in size and shape, and differ only in their cameras.

The Standard version has a camera capable of shooting videos at 2704 x 1520 pixels, at 30 frames per second (FPS).

The Advanced and Professional models can shoot up to 1920 x 1080 pixels at 60 FPS, and 4096 x 2160 pixels at 25 FPS, respectively.

My review unit was the Advanced model. It was ready to fly out of the box and barely needed any assembly. I just attached the four propellers, gave the batteries a full charge, and it was good to go.

I took it out for a spin at a field along Old Holland Road, a popular spot with drone and model airplane enthusiasts.

It was a windy day, with gusts that threatened to send smaller drones into trees or pull unintended stunts in the air.

But the Phantom 3 was unfazed. With a weight of 1.3kg and a diameter of 60cm diagonally across, the drone felt stable and barely shifted or wobbled in flight.

Its radio controller has two joysticks and a host of other buttons, such as an integrated shutter button and a wheel to control the tilt of the camera.

With the controller, commanding the Phantom 3 was a breeze. The left joystick controlled the altitude and the direction it was facing, and the right one controlled the drone's horizontal motion.

The controller also had a stand for me to mount my phone, which is needed for running the DJI app. The app provides a live camera view, as well as read-outs to tell users the drone's altitude, position, total distance travelled and the remaining battery life.

The joystick controls were very user-friendly. Even though I am a newbie, it was not long before I had the quadcopter zooming across the field and performing turns, dips and spins.

It can move up to 16m per second horizontally and 5m per second upward - fast enough to keep up with the action if you are using it to film activities such as surfing or snowboarding.

Although the drone is very responsive, it is not the most agile because of its size and weight. While testing the Phantom 3, I saw several hobbyists flying smaller and faster racing drones that were more agile and capable of making sharper turns than the Phantom 3.

After only 22 minutes of flight time, I was down to 12 per cent of battery. While this may sound short, it is more than reasonable for a drone.

A Phantom 3 owner I met while testing told me that he carries five or six spare batteries with him each time he goes out to fly his drone, in order to have enough flight time.

The real highlight of the Phantom 3 Advanced is its 12.4-megapixel camera, which provided crisp and detailed images even in flight.

Shooting full high-definition video was easy, especially as the video can be stored directly in the phone wirelessly. There is also an option to store it on an on-board microSD card.

A three-axis gimbal image stabilisation feature for the camera makes for very steady videos.

In the videos I shot, I could make out individual tree branches and leaves, even though the video was taken from several metres away and the drone was on the move.

My only quibble is the automatic exposure adjustment, which tends to overexpose the image and make the colours seem slightly washed out. Also, as the exposure is constantly changing, it means that the colours are constantly getting tweaked - a tree in my video kept cycling through drastically different shades of green.

For a more professional-looking video, it is probably best to fix the exposure and edit the colours in post-production.

• Verdict: A top-shelf drone that can be used by both amateur hobbyists and professional videographers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'A breeze to keep up with the action'. Print Edition | Subscribe