DJI Phantom 3 Standard review

With the Phantom 4 just announced, now is a great time to buy a Phantom 3. And if this will be your first 'proper' drone, the Phantom 3 Standard is the best bargain. NOTE: The sample video above has been processed by our video player and is intended only to show the kind of footage you can get from the P3S. The original quality (especially at 2.7K) offers far more detail thanks to a higher resolution, bitrate and lack of secondard processing.

We’ve already reviewed the Phantom 3 Professional which wowed us not only with its stable, powerful flight, but also the excellent video quality which runs to 4K resolution at 30 frames per second. The Phantom 3 Standard (P3S) was announced a few months after the Professional and Advanced (in August 2015) and provides a much more affordable entry into the world of top-quality consumer quadcopters.

DJI Phantom 3 Standard review: Price

Thanks to the introduction of the Phantom 4, the P3 range has now dropped in price. This means the P3S costs only £449 from Currys PC World. If you hunt around - be careful to check warranty and for grey imports - you can find it for under £400. To put this in context, just 18 months ago, this kind of specification would have set you back around £1000. 

Spare batteries cost a whopping £124 from DJI, but you can buy compatible batteries for under £50, such as this one from Banggood.

DJI Phantom 3 Standard review: What’s the difference?

While the Professional and Advanced models are essentially identical save for the camera, the Standard omits a few features and also has a different camera.

Phantom 3 Standard review

All three models share the same body, flight system, battery and propellers, but the Standard lacks the ‘vision’ positioning cameras which face downwards and allow the Advanced and Professional to fly close to the ground indoors without a GPS signal.

This is unlikely to be a problem for most buyers, especially as DJI is targetting beginners with the Phantom 3 Standard.

The Standard’s camera has the same wide-angle lens as the other new models, but it has a Panasonic 12Mp sensor instead of the Sony Exmor R found in the Advanced and Professional. It’s still the same size at 1/2.3in. You don’t get a filter ring like on the other two models, so you can’t easily attach ND filters or a polariser.

It also shoots 12Mp photos, and sounds superior to the Phantom 3 Advanced as it can shoot up to 2.7K video (2704x1520 pixels) while the Advanced was limited to 1920x1080 at launch - a software update added 2.7K later. However, it can only shoot at 30fps unless you drop the quality to 1280x720, where it can record at 60fps. The Phantom 3 Advanced can shoot 1920x1080 at up to 60fps, so it’s better if you want to shoot slow-motion clips. The Phantom 4 can capture 120fps in Full HD - just one reason why it costs so much more.

DJI has moved the microSD card slot from the gimbal base to the camera unit itself, but there’s no change to the gimbal which still has three-axis stabilisation. It can correct for the quadcopter’s roll, pitch and yaw. To be clear, though, just like the other Phantoms, it doesn’t have much left-right correction when rotating the quadcopter, so if you need completely free 360-degree rotation you’ll be looking at the professional-level Inspire 1 which costs around £2,500.

The other major difference between the Standard and other P3 models is the controller. The Standard ships with a very similar transmitter to the discontinued Phantom 2 Vision+ V3 model. This means it has a built-in USB rechargeable battery and a shoulder rocker dial for controlling the camera’s pitch (up-down tilt angle). It lacks a button for controlling the intelligent flight modes - an update which came after launch.

Phantom 3 Standard review

The transmitter doesn’t have a separate range extender: this is now housed inside the body of the controller. That means just one on-off switch but you’ll still have to connect your phone – iPhone or Android – to the Wi-Fi network it creates. With the new controller that comes with the Advanced and Professional models you don’t need this Wi-Fi connection as your phone – or tablet – connects to the controller via USB. The Standard’s controller will take a phone up to iPhone 6 Plus size but not tablets without an adaptor.

You get a higher-quality 720p live stream (than on a Phanton 2) so you can see a fairly detailed image from the camera while the Phantom is flying.

As it takes the same battery as the rest of the Phantom 3 range extra batteries are pricey at over £100. But DJI says it will last a couple of minutes longer on the Standard – up to 25 minutes.

DJI Phantom 3 Standard review: App and intelligent flight modes

Like the Advanced and Professional the Standard works with the DJI Go app. This is considerably better than the DJI Vision app which the Phantom 2 range uses. It has a much nicer interface and makes flying even easier.

The beginner mode lets you set limits for height and distance away from your position to help you avoid losing track of the craft. Plus, you can track the P3S's position and flight path on a live (or cached) map, and see its heading. All of which mean it's safer and easier to fly.

Flying in the standard GPS mode is simple, and it doesn't feel much different to flying a Phantom 2. Technically it may be a little quicker, but it didn't feel any more responsive. This is hardly a criticism: the P2 was already a very responsive and easy-to-control drone.

It's pretty hard to get nice smooth sweeping footage when flying manually, of course. That applies to any drone which lacks automatic flying modes, but in a big software update after launch, the whole Phantom 3 range also got intelligent flying modes: point of interest and follow me. 

On the P3S, it's a mystery how to access and use these in the Go app until you enable the 'multiple flying modes' option in the settings. Even then, you'll need to spend some time learning how to use it to get the best out of it (tip - you need to flick the right-hand switch to the lowest position to engage POI mode).

With point of interest, you fly directly overhead the object you want to circle around, set it as your POI, then fly away to your chosen distance. The Phantom will then fly on its own in a perfect circle, keeping the camera pointed at the centre. You can still control the tilt angle, but you can't change the altitude. To exit the mode and regain control, you have to flick the switch back up again.

Follow me requires your phone or tablet to have GPS, and a strong signal at that. You can 'push' the Phantom away from you simply by starting with it in front of your position, facing you. Or you can set it behind and have it follow you from that position. You first have to fly it to a set height - around 10m - before you can engage the mode.

It has to be said that it's considerably easier to do all of this with a 3DR Solo (which also has extra autonomous modes and allows you to change altitude in POI mode), but that drone is also a lot more expensive.

DJI Phantom 3 Standard review: Video / photo quality

Having the DJI Go app is already a huge improvement over the Phantom 2's Vision app, but the real benefit of buying a P3S is image quality.

Not only does it record at the higher 2.7K resolution, but image quality is in a different league. The lens is bigger and there's a better sensor: this combination means there's more detail in videos and photos, with far less distortion.

People were wowed by the P2V+ footage mainly because of the 3-axis stabilisation. In calm conditions, it was as if the camera was floating in the sky. You get the same effect on the P3S, but without the 'miniature planet earth' effect.

Despite the bigger, faster lens, low light performance is still unimpressive with grainy, dark footage. This won't bother too many people who will only want to fly in daylight anyway. 

DJI Phantom 3 Standard: Specs

  • Flight time: 25 mins Charging time: 55 mins Spare battery cost: £105 Claimed range: 500m (open field, limited by CE rules) Camera resolution: 2.7K (up to 2704x1520p/30fps at 40Mbps) Stills resolution: 12Mp Photo functions: Single Shot, Burst Shooting 3/5/7 shots, Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) 3/5 frames, Bracketed Frames at 0.7EV Bias, Time-lapse Weight: 1.22kg
  • Flight time: 25 mins Charging time: 55 mins Spare battery cost: £105 Claimed range: 500m (open field, limited by CE rules) Camera resolution: 2.7K (up to 2704x1520p/30fps at 40Mbps) Stills resolution: 12Mp Photo functions: Single Shot, Burst Shooting 3/5/7 shots, Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) 3/5 frames, Bracketed Frames at 0.7EV Bias, Time-lapse Weight: 1.22kg

OUR VERDICT

The intelligent flying modes may not be the easiest to use, but they do allow you to get smooth shots that would be near impossible with a Phantom 2. The Go app is also a huge improvement, but the biggest gains are crucially in photo and video quality. With the recent price drop, the Phantom 3 Standard is almost unbelievably cheap. If you can't stretch to a P3 Pro, this is superb value for money.