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Hands-on Gear Review
DJI Phantom 3 Standard Review
Price: $800 List | $489.95 at Amazon
Pros: Inexpensive (especially when on sale), good image quality and stability
Cons: Controller not as nice as other Phantoms, video quality slightly inferior to higher end models
Bottom line: A great choice for getting into the aerial footage game on a budget
The DJI Phantom 3 Standard is a great choice for anyone who is itching to add aerial footage into their cinematic endeavors, but can't justify spending four figures on a drone. While the more expensive Phantom models and the GoPro Karma do offer appreciably greater performance in comparison, the Phantom 3 Standard is still a reliable, usable filmmaking tool. The gimbal is supple enough to produce the smooth panning shots most people think of when they envision drone footage. The 2.7K camera has good color accuracy, and the controller benefits from DJI's penchant for creating great user interfaces. And it does all this at about half the price of the upper end models, earning it our Best Bang for Your Buck Award. Bottom line, the Phantom 3 Standard won't make your movie look quite as good as the more expensive models, but it will get you most of the way there for a fraction of the price.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
This graph compares the Phantom 3 Standard's overall performance in our testing (in blue) to the overall performance of the other models we tested.
Here we go into the specific of how the Phantom 3 Standard performed in each of the individual tests we conducted.
The Phantom 3 Standard scored a 6 in our video quality testing. This put it well ahead of the non-gimbal models we tested, which both scored 3, but tied it for the worst score amongst the gimbal models, where scores ranged from 6 to 10.
This may not sound great, but in our testing we were picking apart a lot of very good cameras. The 3 Standard still provides 2.7K resolution, and the camera is able to capture fairly vibrant colors. Those colors just aren't quite as vibrant as those in footage from, for comparison's sake, the Editors' Choice Award winning Phantom 4. Likewise, the footage from the Phantom 3 Standard looks very crisp, but upon very close inspection you can tell it doesn't quite match the crispness of the Phantom 4's footage. The Phantom 3 Standard's gimbal is quite workable and is able to keep the camera quite steady during flight. However, when flying aggressively or under less than ideal conditions there can be some perceptible camera shake, where the Phantom 4 would be able to remain rock solid. All things considered, there is an appreciable dropoff in video quality between the 3 standard and its bigger siblings. That said, nobody is going to look at footage from the 3 Standard and think that it is bad. Most likely they'll be amazed that it was captured by an amateur using a consumer product. In a direct side-by-side comparison most people would be able to pick out which footage came from the more expensive drone, but that doesn't meant the Phantom 3 Standard's footage isn't impressive on its own.
Like all DJI Phantom models, the 3 Standard does have some issues with propellers appearing within the camera's frame of view. This mostly happens when trying to fly fast and aggressively, which inevitably tips the drone far to one side. This problem can be exacerbated when pointing the camera at the sun, as flickering propellor shadows may appear in your footage. This issue is certainly not a dealbreaker, is not a problem for most shots, and can be avoided with a little practice and camera tilting.
Ease of Use
The Phantom 3 Standard ended up in the middle of the gimbal model pack in our ease of use testing. It scored a 7 in a metric where gimbal model scores ranged from 6 to 9. The non-gimbal models fared worse, both scoring a 3. Initial setup of the 3 Standard had all the trappings of DJI's easy out of the box process. Rotors installed easily, battery charging and installation was a breeze, downloading DJI GO and pairing the controller all worked flawlessly. When we set up the 3 Standard it did require a software update, which necessitated downloading the update on a computer and transferring it to the drone. This was somewhat annoying, but only took a couple of minutes.
The 3 Standard's controller is the same basic design as all of the other Phantom controllers. Though we liked this controller, it did feel just slightly inferior to the other Phantom controllers, and is the main reason the 3 Standard received a slightly lower ease of use score than its Phantom brethren. The joysticks are still large and well textured, but feel just a bit stickier. Also, the nice locking phone cradle is replaced with a spring loaded clip that is much more difficult to use. These again are drawbacks one would only really notice in a side-by-side comparison, but we do wish DJI would have stuck with the same controller for the 3 Standard as all of the other Phantom models have.
First flight with the Phantom 3 Standard lends a quality DJI experience. On screen controls allow you to automatically lift the drone off the ground and bring it to a low hover before taking full control. The joysticks may feel a little sticky at first, but any trepidation melts away quickly as you start to get the feel of things. A large on screen record button lets you easily start and stop the camera. Upon bringing the drone back an automatic landing feature gently touches the copter down in a controlled manner.
The Phantom 3 Standard scored earned a 7 in our flight performance testing. This put it in the middle of a tightly packed group of gimbal models that saw scores ranging from 6 to 9, and well ahead of the non-gimbal models, which scored 5.
Here again, though the 3 Standard's performance is slightly lower than the more expensive models, it is still good. It is very stable during takeoff and landing, which definitely lends a degree of confidence when flying. It lost some points because it didn't hover quite as steadily as other models. It would remain fairly stationary when we asked it too, but occasionally it would bob up and down or to the side a bit. We were impressed when testing its autonomous flight features. Both orbit a point of interest and cable cam functions produced smooth flight and good footage. Both these functions were maybe just a bit less smooth than on the Phantom 4, but impressive nonetheless. We also had no issues when testing its automatic return to home function, though we definitely would not recommend making use of such a function a habit, with this or any drone. It's much safer and less risky to fly the drone back home yourself. The Phantom 3 Standard has a maximum flight time of 25 minutes, which is more than enough time to get any shot you need.
The Phantom 3 Standard's score of 7 again put it at the low end of a tightly packed group or gimbal models, which saw scores ranging from 7 to 10.
This was much better than the score of 4 earned by both of the non-gimbal models. We found the downlink to be completely workable and certainly allowed us to accurately frame our shots. However, the on screen video was of a slightly lesser quality than some some of the other models. Also, we did experience some small bouts of pixelation in the downlink when taking the 3 Standard on a 3000 foot flight. Here again the 3 Standard provides a completely usable tool, just without some of the panache of the more expensive models.
Customer Service is definitely DJI's weak point. As such it earned a score of 3 in this metric. Whether we submitted a request via phone, email, or live chat we were often left waiting for a response. When we did actually get a response we were asked to fill out long forms asking for irrelevant information before we got any assistance. We would suggest buying from a reputable dealer with a good return policy to protect yourself in case you are unlucky and get a defective unit.
The Phantom 3 Standard lists for $800, but at the time of this writing can be found for close to half that online. It is certainly not the best camera drone on the market, but considering that it is still able to produce some great aerial footage that price represents a great value.
The Phantom 3 Standard can't quite match the more expensive drones in terms of performance, but it can still produce good footage that will up the quality of any filmmaking venture. It is a great choice for the aspiring videographer on a budget.
Phantom 3 Battery
Phantom 3 Propellers
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
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