DJI Phantom 3 Comparison
The DJI Phantom 3 can be a bit confusing to understand since there are essentially four different models; Phantom 3 Standard, Advanced, Professional, and 4k. Each model builds off the original Phantom 3 Standard, and each includes different features (although for the sake of explanation we’re going to clump the Advanced and Professional model into the same column because they basically have exactly the same flight features). These are the Phantoms that were released between the Phantom 2 and the Phantom 4 (which now includes the Phantom 4 Pro). You’re wondering if the price is worth the package, or ‘is the price jump between the Standard and the other models worth the differences?’ Short answer: yes. Long answer: read our comprehensive review here to learn the limitations of each model, and then decide based on your intended use.
Core technology: Let’s begin by saying that all these models are based on the core build of the Phantom 3 Standard. The most dominant similarities among them are weight and battery life. They all clock in around 1200g (give or take) and carry the same 15.2V, 68WH 4S 4480mAh cell battery. This battery grants the Phantom 3 models anywhere from 20-26 minutes of flight time, depending on usage and weather conditions. Aside from that, you’ll see big differences in camera specifications and flight technology.
The Phantom 3 Standard: The 3 Standard is one of the most go-to beginner drones in the marketplace, especially now, since you can grab one for just under $500 due to the releases of the other Phantom 3 models, and then the release of the line’s successor the Phantom 4. The 3 Standard comes with an integrated 12MP Panasonic camera that can shoot videos in 2.7k at 30fps. Obviously this isn’t 4k, but that’s why it’s great for beginners. Those who need 4k are usually intermediate/expert pilots, unless the drone newbie is already an accomplished photographer.
In terms of intelligence, the DJI Go application is integrated with the Phantom 3 Standard system and all the goodies that go alone with it (Return Home, Follow Me, Waypoints, Course & Home Lock, WiFi download link, etc.). The autonomy expected of a Phantom machine is certainly not sacrificed. A common misconception is that the Standard’s software is incompatible with all the intelligent DJI features. Don’t think that as a base model, it won’t support those features. With the Standard you can do all of what you expect from the Phantom series: fly with autonomous components, livestream FPV, and capture quality aerial footage.
Phantom 3 Advanced: The Advanced comes at a price increase. Depending on your budget, the extra $200 could be a lot. The Advanced comes with the same core build and the same features. Yet, there are some crucial differences to be addressed. First, it comes with a Sony Exmor R BSI 1/ 2.3” camera which can shoot in 1920 x 1080p at 60 frames-per-second (which is of course better than the 30fps of the Standard). It supports the DJI Lightbridge video downlink, which becomes a crucial component of first-person-livestreaming in later Phantom models (DJI Lightbridge 2 technology is already out and implemented in some drones). It’s got a dedicated ‘return home’ button – so all you have to do is press a single button and the drone will return to the rendezvous point you’ve calibrated into the application. There are video recording, playback, and shutter buttons to assist with immediate photography (especially when the drone is in the air and chewing up battery life. Unlike the Standard, it contains a vision positioning system, which basically means it can position hold without any sort of GPS link. Sustaining stable flight for both flight and photography purposes is certainly easier with the Advanced than the Standard.
Although these upgrades may seem extensive on paper, to the experienced drone pilot there really isn’t so much difference between the two models (Standard & Advanced). It’s certainly not a big enough upgrade for the experienced pilot to say the two models are not comparable. Instead, you should view the two the way you might with base models of an automobile. If you’re to buy the souped up model of a car with all the bells and whistles, then it’ll going to have seat warmers, electronic seats, and power windows. Yet, with manual windows, manual seat controls, and no seat warmers, the two are still pretty much the same car.
Phantom 3 Professional: Here’s the big jump you’ve been waiting for. Rightfully so, too, since the Professional is certainly the alpha of the Phantom 3 line. It’s the drone that targets cinematographers and photographers alike. It’s nearly double the price of the Standard (around $800 – a fair price for its capabilities), and although there are nearly no differences between the how the Advanced model and the Professional model operate, the gold here is in the camera department.
For starters, this is the most ‘loaded’ Phantom 3 and it offers 4k. Shooting in the 2.7k at 30fps of the Standard, or at the 60fps of the Advanced will produce quality footage, but 4k is the bread and butter for the professional photographer/videographer. If you’re someone who knows camera language, then you know there’s a huge difference between what you can do with 2.7k vs. 4k.
To continue, it contains a GLONASS Dual Positioning Module which basically is GPS on steroids. It allows for more accurate readings, responses, and positioning. To the experienced pilot, there’s a noticeable difference between having a GPS unit and then also having a GLONASS Dual Positioning Module on board. When you’re trying to capture the perfect shot, you must rely on position accuracy. The Professional takes the cake there.
It also supports a 10Mbps video bitrate which is better than the Standard and the advanced models. Despite these upgrades, the Professional sacrifices nothing – the Professional contains all the autonomous features found in both the Standard and the Advanced: download links, and FPV. It’s certainly the super model of the Phantom 3 series and is commonly regarded as the most affordable professional aerial photography machine (in comparison, the Phantom 4 and Phantom 4 Pro knock the Phantom 3 Professional out of the water, but because there’s such a price differential that the Phantom 3 Professional retains its value).
Phantom 3 4k: Another common misconception with the Phantom 3 series is that the Phantom 3 4k is the best drone of the line. Honestly, it probably has to do with the fact that ‘4k’ is in the name of the drone. It’s not the best drone and actually sits behind both the Professional and Advanced models. It’s essentially exactly the same model as the Standard, except that it can shoot in 4k. The one user-friendly feature that’s added to the Phantom 3 4k is the VPS (video-positioning-system) that is incorporated in both the advanced and professional models. As stated before, it helps with both flight and aerial footage stability.
Conclusion: To sum the whole thing up, let’s list the Phantom 3 series in order from best to least.
- Phantom 3 Professional
- Phantom 3 Advanced
- Phantom 3 4k
- Phantom 3 Standard
Truth be told, you can’t really go wrong when buying a DJI machine. They are the leader of professional consumer drones and their standard of excellence has yet to falter. But if you’re curious as to how these drones fare within the drone world, then here goes: if you’re a beginner you might want to start with the Phantom 3 Standard. It has all the important tech guts, can capture quality footage, and offers the livestreaming FPV (albeit not as well as the later models due to the Lightbridge technology). If that $400 is still out of your price range, then just do what a lot of people do; buy a toy. Purchase a little mini drone that offers FPV for about $100, and fly it around your home to experience what it’s like to pilot a drone. If you find that you enjoy it, upgrade. If not, then you didn’t spend a bunch of money.
If you’re someone who is a bit more experienced in piloting, go and pick up the Advanced or the 4k, since you are a bit more than the beginner, and these drones are going to keep your hands full for a while. But if you’re truly experienced, don’t need any training wheels, and lust for the crispest, most optimal aerial photography, then the Phantom 3 Professional is your bird (or any of the later Phantom/DJI models).
The Standard is at the bottom of the totem pole, but let’s not forget that these are all professional DJI machines, and their price-points (influenced by the Phantom 4s and Mavic series) create an incredible value for what they offer.