For most, DJI is a trusted and respected name in the consumer drone market, they’re certainly one of the favorites around these parts. With more than a dozen flying devices in their stables, many of which equipped with 4K or higher video capture capabilities, it may be hard to keep them straight – we’re here today to explore the Phantom line of DJI drones.
As one of the most iconic drone designs around, the familiar tall landing gear, quadcopter frame at 350mm and white paint job now lives on several generations of the Phantom. Let’s see which is which in this Phantom drones comparison.
The basics – what is a Phantom drone?
As I’ve mentioned, the Phantom line is not exactly new, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is the latest consumer-class drone in the line, and it released back in May 2018. The fourth generation Phantom line has been flying since early 2016. The original DJI Phantom drone hit the market in January of 2013. You didn’t think these sorts of consumer drones were a brand new fad, did you?
The important thing to note is that the physical design and overall frame of the Phantom line is largely unchanged from the first gen. all the way up to the Phantom 4 Pro, at least. Instead, the majority of changes live within the camera, flight control, and software.
What started as a quadcopter that required some skill to fly, and a hanging GoPro to get the most of your less than 10 minutes of flight, is now a nearly autonomous precision drone with near-DSLR capable camera. The addition of GPS changed the landscape of drone flight, enabling far greater flight accuracy, even if at a hover, and features like return-to-home.
The latest from the line includes upwards of 30 minutes of flight, a range of over 4 miles, the ability to control from the dedicated remote or from a smartphone, or both, and so much more. GPS and 5-way collision detection sensors make the latest Phantom drones very hard to crash, offer many advanced and autonomous flight modes and have cameras that give GoPro a run for the money.
As far as purchasing a new drone goes, the Phantom line is currently still selling the later Phantom 4 drones. You can still find some Phantom 3 era drones for sale, mostly used or refurbished. They’re still fun to fly, but you will likely find more bang for the buck in a newer and smaller drone.
Our goal is to take a closer look at the drones that are still on the market, but let’s take a quick look at the early drones for reference.
These are the Phantom drones
A white drone with double red stripes on the leading arms. Flight time of under 10 minutes and a simple gimbal to mount a GoPro camera. There were really no major pilot comforts on this drone, the Phantom 1 was a first gen. product in a rather new market.
Currently still available from some vendors, you’re looking at about $450 used or closer to $575 new to get in the air, vintage drone style. All things considered, we think this is not a smart purchase.
Phantom 2 series
Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision, Phantom 2 Vision+ and FC40
With each of the models rolling out between December 2013 and July 2014, the Phantom 2 line introduced GPS positioning, mobile device support to control the craft, including some VR goggle integration, and Wi-Fi connectivity for extended range and control.
Improved gimbal camera mounting provided better image stabilization and leveling. Flight time per charge was about 15 minutes.
When it comes to the little things, DJI started proving they were as into their technology as the rest of us with the Phantom 2. Small conveniences like self tightening propellers, GPS marking a ‘Home’ location for automated return and improved flight controls began here, and they did not stop here, things just keep getting better.
In rough order, the FC40, despite coming last, was a step down from the other Phantom 2 models. The Standard brought the initial changes with Vision and Vision+ slowly adding the improved flight controls then image stabilization and mounting.
Perhaps the most important feature is a built-in notification system to let you know when you are in an official no-fly zone. There is plenty to flight laws, particularly in the United States, this little feature serves as a reminder when you forget to check the rules of an area.
With prices ranging from $399 up to about $1100, and increasingly reduced availability, I am sad to recommend you skip this drone.
Don’t forget: No matter what drone you fly, you have to follow your local drone laws.
Phantom 3 series
Phantom 3 4K, Phantom 3 Professional, Phantom 3 Advanced and Phantom 3 Standard
The Phantom 3 line started shipping in April of 2015, with 4 models available, their names fairly accurately represent their capabilities. Standard offers up 2.7K video recording, and excludes the line’s lightbridge downlink for range up to 1.25 miles.
All models pack in the best of previous generations, plus treats such as a Follow-me mode, GPS waypoints Course lock and Home lock.
The Phantom 3 Advanced maintains the 2.7K max video capture, but provides the extended controller range.
The Phantom 3 Professional takes all of the above, bumps up to 4K video resolution and throws in a larger charger to get you back in the air sooner.
Finally, the Phantom 3 4K offers up nearly the same features as the Pro model, also with 4K resolution, but with a Sony camera sensor. Frequencies are a little different as well, better to support non-North American airspace.
There’s an important question to be answered, is the DJI Phantom 3 still worth it?
Flight time for the Phantom 3 range is upwards of 25 minutes of optimal air time. Prices range from about $500 up to $800 for a new unit. If you are not looking for the latest tech, nor the best camera, but just want to put a Phantom drone in your inventory, prices are still fairly good.
Best of all, these models include visual positioning systems designed to supplement for tight quarters or when GPS is spotty. We certainly do not recommend flying indoors, but you might be able to get away with it using these drones.
Phantom 4 series
DJI Phantom 4
The first Phantom 4 launched back in 2016. A bigger camera, longer flight time, more safety features, and more upgrades made it a valuable update over the earlier models. The drone was fine, but was quickly replaced with a more powerful model several months after launch.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
The original Phantom 4 was a good stepping stone for the platform, DJI learned a few things, invented some new tech, and crammed it into the Phantom 4 Pro. The Pro version launched in late 2016 alongside the Inspire 2. The two were promoted as being the consumer and Professional drones for the avid aerial videographer. Aside from the camera system, price, and size, they are similarly capable flying machines.
The Phantom 4 Pro, and Pro+ rocketed to the top of drone best lists, for good reason, as there was nothing that could match the camera output for the price for quite a while after launch.
Be sure to check out our interview and impressions of the Phantom 4 Pro from the launch event in LA.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian
Don’t get me wrong, there is still tons to love about the Phantom 4 Pro, but this update, like the Chinese New Year skin, is just a new color. Obsidian black looks pretty slick to me, and the drone packs all the best features from the Phantom line, so I guess that’s a win.
DJI Phantom 4 Advanced
For those looking to save a few dollars, the Advanced launched with a few fewer features, but was basically the same flying camera. A worthy purchase at the time, but not an award winner.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 – the current king!
If you are looking for the latest and best Phantom drone, at least one on a retail shelf, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 from 2018 remains the top choice. Truly, the V2.0 model is the best of the best that DJI has pumped into a Phantom drone. (Excluding the commercial versions.) The major change in the V2.0 model is Ocusync. Previous Phantom drones used a different connection protocol, but Ocusync adds range, reliability, and adds the ability to connect to Ocusync accessories like the DJI Goggles.
The reign of the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 has been undermined by the portability and growing capabilities of the smaller Mavic drones. The latest Mavic has practically the same camera as the Phantom, but is far easier to transport and costs almost half the price.
DJI Phantom 4 RTK
The commercial market was attempting to use the Phantom 4 Pro for their inspection and mapping services, while the drone was capable enough, there is no compromise for RTK when extreme GPS precision is required. DJI came to the call, the Phantom 4 RTK is the same great aerial platform, with RTK embedded.
DJI Phantom 4 Multispectral
At Interdrone 2019, DJI explained that they have some big ideas for the Phantom line, but that the Phantom 5 may not be the next big thing. Not long afterward, they introduced the Phantom 4 Multispectral. DJI understands that the Phantom line of drones is being used for a multitude of uses. In the case of agricultural inspection, folks could get the job done with a standard Phantom 4 Pro, but it was lacking the camera to do things better.
Simply put, the Phantom 4 Multispectral adds a multispectral camera to the Phantom for detailed crop analysis. There is also a daylight sensor on the top, that’s not an RTK sensor, sorry, but it does help normalize the imagery, to ensure accurate analysis.
It may still be too soon to effectively speculate on the DJI Phantom 5. Indeed, we’ve seen no leaks, nor heard any reliable rumors, but the Phantom 5, or otherwise titled next generation in the Phantom series, may always be just around the corner. We can speculate enhanced object detection, collision avoidance, an improved camera sensor, and maybe a collapsible design, for easier portability, but those are more our wish list than anything.
Be sure we’ll bring you the latest on any Phantom 5 announcements, but for now, join us in the comments below for your hopes on the next Phantom drone.
Updates: Almost every new drone launched from DJI proves that a new Phantom drone is not as needed as some might desire. Admittedly, even the largest Mavic drones have smaller payload capacity than a Phantom drone, but Phantoms no longer boast vastly superior cameras, nor superior flight features.
Being that DJI is focused more on putting a camera into the sky than they are on providing drones for payload delivery, we don’t imagine that a new Phantom is a high priority for them right now.
That said, DJI could do some absolutely amazing things if they developed a $2,000-$2,500 range Phantom drone, create a machine that differentiates itself from the retail camera drone market, without costing as much as the high-end professional and commercial units. Update: DJI launched the Mavic 3 series, which is a total Phantom killer in terms of putting a camera in the sky.
If you are here trying to figure out which drone you should purchase, trying to identify which is the best Phantom drone, the answer is not simple.
First off, there is a definite reason to upgrade from one generation to the next, even if only incremental upgrades, each update packs flight, camera, and convenience features beyond the previous drones. So, ask yourself if you are looking for the best camera to put in the sky, or just for a drone to play around with.
If you are serious about taking photos or video from the clouds (assuming the clouds are at or below 400 ft, of course) I would recommend purchasing the latest DJI drone possible for your budget. As we update this article, the DJI Air 2S has the same size of camera as the latest Phantom drones, is less than half the size, and about 2/3 the price.
If you just want something to bounce around the back yard, there are less expansive and more capable drones available than a Phantom drone. Don’t be afraid of a used or remanufactured Phantom either.
With the many great options on the market, we hope you find the drone that suites your needs. The Phantom line is a great place to start, most Phantom pilots stick with their unit until it literally falls apart.
Which is your favorite in the Phantom line of quadcopter drones?
Frequently Asked Questions
We’re in a tough place for the consumer drone market. There’s no question that the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 (the newest Phantom machine in mid-2020) is a superb quadcopter, equipped with a big camera, solid obstacle avoidance and the latest in connectivity, but it is a big drone.
The convenience factor and lower price of the Mavic series of drones is well worth the smaller cameras and lower payload capacity for most users. So, yes, Phantom drones are great, but smaller drones may be more appealing for you.
That is a great question. We’ve been following the progression of the Phantom drones for a while now, and we have no indication that DJI is in a rush to launch an official Phantom 5 any time soon, but last we spoke to DJI representatives on the matter, the Phantom team is still hard at work developing new things.
Keep in mind that since we first started seeking out a Phantom 5, DJI launched the Phantom 4 Advanced and Phantom 4 Pro V2.0. It’s possible that another Phantom 4 version or two will release before an official Phantom 5.
Your flight needs should always influence your drone purchasing decisions. If you did not already, look above to learn what each Phantom drone is capable of, if any of the older Phantom drones meets your needs, by all means, go for it.
Keep in mind that software support will be limited or even discontinued the older you get, but the machines should continue to operate with the current software for a long time. Also, if buying used, pay attention to warranty options and the availability of spare parts.
What do you need from a drone? If you are looking for a larger, more powerful drone that can maybe haul an extra payload, the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is absolutely better here, but if all you are looking for is the best camera in the sky, we’d actually recommend the Mavic 2 Pro.
These drones have very similar cameras, especially on the spec sheet, with fairly similar image quality, but the newer drone has better software processing, is easier to transport, and costs less.