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Summary:

DJI’s new drone updates its previous model with an attached camera that shoots HD video and 14 MP photos. But you have to be willing to shell out $1,199.

The Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter. Photo courtesy of DJI
photo: DJI

The Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter rose into the air for the first time in an alleyway in San Francisco’s SoMa district. We cheered. But then a strong wind buffeted the drone and I panicked, crashing it into the ground before bouncing it into a car.

It was a good lesson in what was to come. While the Phantom drone is a joy to fly, it can be nerve-wracking. Sending a $1,200 piece of equipment up 50 feet or more just feels like a stupid idea. What if it falls? What if the wind grabs it and carries it away?

DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter

But quickly, you start to feel more in tune with its controls. You start to feel less concerned about flying perfectly. Its built-in camera let you see and take photos or video in a totally new way. In short, it’s an awesome piece of technology, and it’s exciting to see a $1,200 consumer drone on the market with this level of features.

A photo taken with the Phantom 2 Vision above San Francisco's North Beach district. Photo by Signe Brewster

A photo taken with the Phantom 2 Vision above San Francisco’s North Beach district. Photo by Signe Brewster

The Phantom 2 Vision released this month is an update on a Phantom quadcopter DJI debuted earlier this year. While the last Phantom was compatible with GoPro cameras, the Phantom 2 Vision includes an attached camera that captures 14 megapixel stills and 1080p30/60i video. It weighs 2.6 pounds and can fly for 25 minutes when fully charged, with a range of nearly 1,000 feet.

Flying the drone

Every session of flying with the Phantom begins with a little dance to the drone gods. Along with connecting it wirelessly to its book-sized controller and a phone or tablet, you also need to hold it to the sky and spin in a circle to help it calibrate its GPS. Then you clutch it to your chest and turn it like a steering wheel. Different colored lights flash to let you know when the process is complete.

DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter

The drone takes off straight into the air. Using a combination of the two joysticks, you can fly the drone in any direction, spin it in a circle and move it up and down. It feels a bit like using an Xbox controller.

After the alley incident, we decided to find a more open space. We settled on an empty parking lot across the bay from the city. We crashed a few times, but then started flying higher and farther. Emboldened, I returned to the cramped, steep streets of San Francisco. From the top of Telegraph Hill, I filmed panoramic views of the downtown skyline, Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge. I followed a cable car as it made its way down Mason Street and then captured a cotton candy pink and blue sunset over Alcatraz.

It’s addicting to use. But there were scary moments when I wasn’t sure if I could steer the drone clear of a building or keep it from tumbling down a hill. It’s very clear that it isn’t a toy for everyone and much more suited to wide-open spaces far, far away from San Francisco.

A photo of the Bay Bridge taken with the Phantom 2 Vision above San Francisco's Telegraph Hill. Photo by Signe Brewster

A photo of the Bay Bridge taken with the Phantom 2 Vision above San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill. Photo by Signe Brewster

Features

To help avert dangerous situations, the Phantom has some assuring built-in safety features. For example, if you fly it to a certain spot and let go of the controls, it will stay there via its built-in GPS. If the controller battery dies or the Phantom flies out of range, it will autonomously return to the point from which it took off.

One of the Phantom’s greatest strengths also turned out to be its greatest flaw. The camera connects wirelessly to an app on your smartphone or tablet, where you can view a live video stream of what it sees. On-screen controls allow you to reposition where the camera is pointing, take photos and start recording video.

DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter

Generally, it’s a convenient way to capture photos and videos. Using the manual controls on the camera, which can be set before take-off, leaves you operating blindly, and it’s rare to get a video with the camera actually pointing exactly where you want it.

DJI Phantom 2 QuadcopterBut every time I used the app, it lagged. That left me shooting blind within seconds of getting into the air; enough time to get the camera into the right position, but not enough to accurately grab photos and ensure video was recording smoothly. I compensated by over-capturing different sites to ensure I got at least one shot right.

It’s very possible that the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 I tried with the app weren’t powerful enough to keep up. I was also only able to use the iPad to take advantage of another nifty feature: wirelessly transferring photos from the Phantom’s micro SD card to a mobile device. Both the iPhone and iPad worked for browsing photos and videos on the card wirelessly.

Overall, the Phantom 2 Vision is fun to work with. The camera takes nice video and photos and survived numerous nasty crashes on concrete. And best of all, the ease of the controls enables even beginners to learn how to fly. It competes ably with other higher-end consumer drones; a genre I can’t wait to watch progress even further.

  1. atlantaapartments Thursday, November 28, 2013

    How noisy is the drone and can it record sound with the video?

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    1. I’d say it is moderately noisy – not like a leafblower or anything, but not super quiet. As for sound recording, I don’t believe that the camera has any microphone. The reason is that all you’d record is the whirring of the blades, which ends up being overwhelming and annoying in the videos – plenty of examples of this on YouTube with regular Phantom videos taken with GoPro cameras where the creator didn’t dub over any video.

      If you want more info on the DJI Phantom Vision or other quadcopters, check out my site: http://www.quadcopterhq.com

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    2. Mike has it right. There’s no audio recording, and it’s fairly loud. It’s not very disruptive if you’re outside, but inside it sounds VERY loud. This is only once it’s in the air. When you turn it on on the ground, it remains fairly quiet until take-off. Something that bugged me: When you turn it on, it emits several very loud tones that make it totally impossible to turn it on inconspicuously.

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  2. It seems that the video taken is shaking. Are there any way to minimize the shaking?

    I am new to dji phantom. I have not bought yet. How do u compare the following options

    Option 1 buy version 2

    Option 2 buy version 1 and combine it with gopro camera?

    I use it mainly for commercial video shooting.

    Thanks for the advice

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    1. I think the shaking mostly comes from my inexperienced piloting. I didn’t have enough time to master maneuvering smoothly; instead, I was more likely to jerk the drone around, causing a lot of shaking. It has built in sort of “shocks” that keep the camera from shaking too violently.

      I haven’t used the Phantom with the GoPro, so I’m not the best person to make that comparison. Good luck!

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    2. The shaking is common if you do not have a gimbal attached. I bought mine to shoot video and pics and have the version before this new one. If you want to learn more on this just Google “Dji Phantom Jello effect”. Also check out djiguys.com, This forum is setup for phantom owners and you can learn a lot from here and ask all the questions you want. I would not buy the new one with the built in camera for professional photography or videos.

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    3. Cyrille de Nervaux Friday, December 6, 2013

      You want to wait for the Phantom II (not the vision) which is announced for end of December. It includes all the features of the Vision but instead of having an in build camera will be available with a Zenmuse Gimbal.

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      1. Best Quadcopter Saturday, December 7, 2013

        The DJI Phantom 2 is already here. You can now pre-order from DroneFly.com
        You can get the Phantom 2 with Zenmuse gimbal package. This new Phantom is FPV ready. It comes with AV output and downlink video cables pre-installed ready for FPV System.

        For more information visit:
        http://www.bestquadcopter.com/dji-phantom-2-dji-phantom-pro/

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  3. Excellent review, thank you! I’m a commercial photographer – and have been looking for ages for something that will let me take aerial photos. With that in mind, would you recommend this for photos and NOT video?

    Second, how would you rate the camera quality? For instance, does it shoot RAW? And how well does it do in low-light conditions…like early evening or at night?

    Thank you!

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  4. i am planning to purchase the vision 2. this looks like the perfect tool for aerials of residences and commercial sites. i understand that raw files are available, but not compatible with conversion apps such as adobe.
    do the still photographs hold up resolution and how do you get the images into photoshop on a main computer from the camera?
    thx!
    j

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  5. There is an update coming towards the end of December to fix the compatibility issue with Adobe.

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  6. How much of a wind can it tolerate without drifting away ???

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  7. Vision 2 is brilliant… had the first phantom but it’s now resting on some random gravel rooftop in inner richmond (somewhere between 7th and 6th Ave on Lake st)

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  8. The FC-200 camera on the DJI Phantom 2 Vision suffers from serious quality control problems. Many owners have reported extreme softness on one side of their images (usually the left).

    Aside from that, images from some examples of the camera are acceptable (provided one’s expectations aren’t too high) whilst images from other examples are about what you might have expected fifteen years ago from a cheap compact. It is certainly NOT what DJI describe in their advertising as a ‘High End Camera’ and any photographer expecting to get decent prints from this is going to be sorely disappointed.

    You can read more about this on my blog – http://www.peter-evans-photographer.com/blog

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