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The Phantom returns

That big eye makes this phantom look more like a Cyclops /Image: dji.com
That big eye makes this phantom look more like a Cyclops /Image: dji.com

DJI’s Phantom gets a major upgrade

Article: Arthur Ward – Technical Editor

I’m sure we all have seen the Star Wars movies and marvelled at the fact that modern technology knew no bounds. We’ve been anxiously waiting for the day advanced robots, drones, travelling through space at light speed and cutting through anything with a beam of light are no longer a thing of science fiction. Well, my friends, that day is finally here. Well, sort of.

In January of this year, the folks at DJI innovations unveiled the Phantom, a quad rotor remote controlled aircraft, which was outfitted with a GoPro mount. The Phantom unlocked a whole new field of aerial photography/cinematography so enthusiasts no longer needed to book those expensive helicopter rides just to get aerial shots of the surroundings. The Phantom, along with the optional GoPro, which is used to capture video, costs about $900. With only 15 minutes of flight time per charge, the cost here is reasonable when compared to a helicopter tour of New York City that starts at $175 for a 15-minute tour. It may seem like I’m comparing apples and oranges here, but if you’re that budding photographer/cinematographer who’s on a tight budget, you’ll understand what I mean.

The Phantom’s GoPro mount made it very popular among consumers; however, the one feature that gave this device a spirit is it’s built-in GPS. Not only does the GPS allow it to effectively stabilize its flight and remain absolutely stationary in mid air even in a stiff wind, but it allows it to fly on it’s own! If the aircraft flies out of range of the controller or the controller’s battery dies, it automatically ascends to 60 ft and flies over the position where it first began its flight before descending in a controlled descent. This technology saves users the headache of having to worry about the battery life of their controller, which is a common issue with RC aircraft.

Although the Phantom was a big hit among consumers, its Star Wars-like ability of automated flight wasn’t enough for the designers over at DJI innovations. In October, they released the Phantom 2 Vision, which is an upgrade to the original Phantom. Straight out of the box, the Phantom 2 Vision comes equipped with its own high-performance camera, hence the name. The Phantom 2 Vision‘s camera is extremely high quality with a 4GB micro SD card included. It shoots full HD video at 1080p30/60i and takes 14 megapixel still photos. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

[youtube http://youtu.be/9bMFt4vSerk]

DJI innovations also released a smartphone app with the Phantom 2 Vision, which gives the user control over a variety of features. The app allows the user to use their smartphone as a live display of the Phantom 2 Vision’s camera during flight. It also gives the user control over tilt of the camera, which increases the field of view. This is a significant improvement over the original Phantom where the tilt angle of the camera remained fixed during flight. Other features of the app allow the user to take photos and video clips remotely as well as key camera settings such as Picture Quality,

ISO settings, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, RAW, or JPEG image formats. Such creative control over the Phantom 2 Vision’s camera will certainly appeal to amateur and professional photographers.

The Phantom 2 Vision’s Wi-Fi capability allows it to connect to a smartphone up to 300m away. It also relays crucial flight information to the smartphone’s live display such as altitude & direction, height & speed, flight distance, signal strength, battery capacity and the number of GPS Satellites it is connected to.

Flight time has been dramatically improved on the new Phantom thanks to the new battery. The high capacity, high performance 5200 mAh Lithium polymer battery offers up to 25 minutes of flight time. LED lights on the battery provide an indicator of the remaining charge, over charge and discharge protection as well as maintenance reminders.

Drones such as the Phantom 2 Vision has rapidly increased in popularity over the last few years so much so that the US is trying to keep up with Federal laws that limit and prohibit the use of drones in public.

Will we soon live in a Star Wars era where we will have drones delivering our mail and pizza? I think the technology currently allows it and as the Phantom’s GPS features clearly demonstrates, that automated flight is not too far in the future.

About Frank Nordstrom