At the low end of this range is the Phantom 3 Standard, a $699 drone that shoots HD video and offers a lot of features for the airborne videographer. It has its quirks, though, such as a tendency to catch sight of itself on the captured video and a controlling app that throws a lot of data at the user. But it captures great-looking video and is easy to use: even novices will be able to get flying and photographing quickly.
The white plastic case of the Phantom 3 Standard gives it an almost Apple-like look, with clean lines and a functional design. The electronics and battery are located inside the central body, with a large motor at the end of each of four protruding struts. The whole case is made of plain white plastic, but you do get a number of colored stickers that can be attached to differentiate your Phantom 3 from others, which is especially useful in the crowded skies. The landing gear attaches to the bottom of the body, and the camera and gimbal sit between the two landing arms, well protected for a hard or bumpy landing. I crashed a couple of times, once into the ground and once into a tree branch, but neither broke any part of the drone or the camera.
The Phantom 3 comes with an 8GB microSD card. That should be one of the first things you upgrade, as this is only enough to capture about 45 minutes of video at the highest, 2.7K quality setting. Fortunately, microSD cards of capacities of up to 128GB (between $50 and $80) are supported, as long as they have support for UHS-1 speed.
Photos & Video
The camera on the Phantom 3 Standard can capture 12 megapixel still images and has three video modes: HD (1280 x 720 pixels, at between 24 and 60 frames per second), FHD (1920 x 1080 pixels, at 24 or 30 fps) or 2.7K (2704 x 1520 pixels, at 24 or 30 fps). The latter mode is a nod to GoPro cameras, which can capture at a similar resolution, but there is no real 2.7K video standard. We were able to import 2.7K video into iMovie and Adobe Premiere and easily convert it to 1080p video, though. The Advanced model adds the ability to capture 60 fps FHD video, while the Professional model can capture UHD (Ultra HD) video with a resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels at 60 fps. You can also live-stream video from the drone to YouTube.
The Phantom 3 Standard is a very repairable drone, with all of the parts easily available for replacement after a crash. You get two sets of rotor blades in the box, and a replacement set will cost you about $20. DJI also offers a set of carbon fiber blades that are lighter and tougher for about $40. The landing gear and case are the other parts that will get broken, and they are also fairly cheap to replace, at about $40 and $60, respectively. There is also a thriving community of third-party add-ons for the Phantom 3, including replacement rotor blades, LED lights and others.
The Phantom 3 Standard comes with a single battery; a large, heavy 4480-mAh that provided about 21 minutes of flight time on our tests. That is about the same as the flight time of the Yuneec Q500, although that more expensive drone does come with two batteries.
The Phantom 3 Standard battery takes quite a long time to recharge: about 50 minutes using the included charger. Extra batteries for the Phantom 3 Standard aren’t cheap: a spare from DJI will cost you about $145. There is also a $90 charging hub available from DJI.
The DJI Phantom 3 Standard remains the camera drone to beat, and nothing we have tested so far comes close. It flies well, producing generally rock-solid video with excellent color and lots of detail. The $979 Professional and $1,300 Advanced models add support for 4K videos and a few other flying tricks, but I doubt most users will need these: The 2.7K mode looks great on an HDTV, and most people just don’t need 4K video at the moment. The various flight modes are superior to the Yuneec Q500, producing a drone that is easier to fly and shoot great-looking video with. That’s what counts in the end, and the Phantom 3 Standard remains the easiest and best way to do it.