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Review (with video!): DJI Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter

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November 13, 2013

Gizmag takes a turn behind the joysticks of DJI's new Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter

Gizmag takes a turn behind the joysticks of DJI's new Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter

Image Gallery (12 images)

It was less than two weeks ago that DJI Innovations released its Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter, the camera-equipped successor to its popular Phantom model. Since then, I've received a review unit from the company, which I've had a few chances to try out – between snowfalls and high winds, that is. My verdict? It's awesome, despite a couple of surprising shortcomings.

What's new

Like the base-model Phantom (which I'll just refer to as the "Phantom" from hereon in), the Vision utilizes an onboard GPS unit that allows it to hold its position in mid-air, and to return to its take-off point if the batteries in the remote control unit should crap out.

Its big new feature, however, is its built-in Wi-Fi HD video camera – while the Phantom is promoted as being designed to carry a GoPro HERO, buyers of that model still have to supply the camera themselves.

Using the free DJI Vision app on their iOS or Android mobile device, users of the Vision can view live output from its camera as the quadcopter is in flight, plus they can start and stop recording, and tilt the camera up and down. Additionally, the app allows them to monitor aircraft parameters such as altitude, location, and remaining battery life.

The Vision features an easier-to-install battery

Speaking of which, the Vision's other touted feature is an improved 5,200-mAh lithium-polymer battery that slides in and out easily, has a built-in on/off switch, and offers at least 25 minutes of flight time. By contrast, the Phantom's battery has to be plugged into wires that then have to be stuffed out of the way; the only way of turning off the power is to remove the battery; and it's good for about 10 to 15 minutes in the air.

Taking it up

As with the previous model, users still have to go through a little compass-calibration ritual before flying the Vision, that involves holding it out in front of themselves, then turning around in a circle – twice. Throughout the pre-flight procedures, the Vision also still uses different patterns of flashing multi-colored lights to relay its status to the user. Thankfully those patterns are now less complex, plus DJI now includes a little paper card with the remote, which lets users quickly reacquaint themselves with the meanings of the patterns. It would have been nice if that card had been laminated or even made of plastic, but at least an effort was made.

Upon actually getting the Vision into the air, I noticed that it was easier to control than its predecessor. While I first wondered if this could just be due to the practice I got with my original Phantom, DJI informed me that the Vision does indeed use a new-and-improved version of the Naza-M control system.

The Vision has a Wi-Fi video range of up to 300 meters/984 ft

It also really helps to be able to see things from the copter's point of view, using the app. This is particularly true when the Vision is flying towards you, since the left/right orientation of the joysticks on the remote becomes reversed – if you want the oncoming quadcopter to move left relative to you, for example, you have to push the joystick to your right. By simply watching its onboard video, however, you just control it as if you were in it. This video-watching is made much easier thanks to a smartphone-holding clamp, attached to the remote.

The video feed is also handy for those times when the Vision has gotten far enough away that you can't see which way it's facing. Instead of experimentally turning it back and forth and trying to make out which way it's going, you can just check the view from its camera, and turn it around until you see the desired destination on the screen. That said, don't go relying on getting it back that way – a couple of times when the copter was at a distance, I temporarily lost its Wi-Fi video signal (it has a range of up to 300 meters/984 ft).

The DJI Vision app

Fortunately, you can also use a feature on the app that shows how far the Vision is from you, and which way it's facing. Keep in mind, though, that mobile device screen displays can be pretty difficult to see in bright sunlight. I made a cardboard shade for the iPod touch I was using, yet I still often found it hard to make out many details – such as the locator feature I just mentioned.

Of course, flying by first-person-view is already possible with the older model, for people using a Wi-Fi-equipped GoPro. Which brings us to ...

The camera

I'm impressed with the quality of the Vision's video, and would say that it's on par with that of the most recent GoPro models. It has a 140-degree field of view at its maximum resolution of 1080p (30fps or 60i), although lower resolutions can be selected using the app – it can also snap 14-megapixel stills. The wide-angle lens does present a bit of a fisheye effect that shows up most when panning or tilting, probably to a greater extent than is seen with the GoPro.

A frame of video captured by the Vision's camera

A frame of video captured by the Vision's camera

The ability to remotely tilt the camera via its integrated motor is definitely a nice feature to have. With the Phantom, users have to lock in the GoPro at one angle before taking off, then just hope that it will be able to take in what they want when it reaches altitude – unless they're using DJI's new Zenmuse motorized gimbal, that is.

Another great feature is the built-in anti-vibration mount. This uses four soft rubber plugs to (mostly) isolate the camera from vibrations caused by the quadcopter's motors and propellers. Although such mounts are available as third-party aftermarket accessories for the Phantom, that model doesn't come with one included ... and it should. Going with the out-of-the-box setup, vibrations from the Phantom frequently cause what's know as the Jell-O effect – distorted video that looks sort of like it's being projected onto a sheet that's rippling in the breeze. While I won't say that there's absolutely no Jell-O with the Vision's camera, it's definitely minimal.

The Vision's camera features an anti-vibration mount

One thing the camera does not have, though, is a microphone. It could certainly be argued that there's no point in including one, as all that it would pick up would be the whine of the motors and the chop of the propellers. Still, those sounds really add to the "it's almost like I'm up there" quality of the video – without them, users will either have to add their own soundtrack, or just go with stony-silent footage.

Additionally, the camera lacks any sort of line-out port. This means that videos and stills can only be retrieved by Wi-Fi (which involves leaving the Vision powered up the whole time), or by popping out the camera's included 4GB microSD card and sticking it in a card reader. Using such a reader is also the only way of deleting files from the card – it can't be done through the app. This is a bit of an oversight, if you ask me. Fortunately, card readers can be purchased for less than five bucks on eBay (if you don't have one already), although users really shouldn't have to do so in the first place.

It's also worth noting that the camera isn't user-removable. Given that it presumably isn't as rough and tough as the GoPro, it would be nice to be able to take it off for those flights where you don't care about video – why risk the camera and add to the Vision's weight if you don't have to?

Summing up

The Vision utilizes a new-and-improved version of the Naza-M control system

If you're OK with silent video and buying a microSD card reader, then the Vision is certainly a very nice improvement on the original Phantom. That model is still available, by the way, at a new lower list price of US$479. The Vision, by contrast, sells for a suggested $1,199. It's definitely worth it, although should you already be happy with your existing Phantom/GoPro combo, don't go rushing out to upgrade just for the sake of doing so.

Oh yes, and an added bit of advice ... if you get the Vision, make sure to keep on top of the whole battery-charging thing. Along with the quadcopter's own battery, you will also need to regularly juice up the battery in the Wi-Fi range extender, the remote control unit's four AA's, and the battery in your mobile device.

You can see my Phantom 2 Vision in flight, plus you can check out some footage from its camera, in the video below.

Product page: DJI Innovations

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
16 Comments

Quads are awesome, the only bad part of the experience is using a touch screen controller vs. the already perfect joystick system. Result is (if you are me) is that you are constantly looking at your touch screen gizmo trying to get your thumbs back in the right place, and losing tons of control in the process. Why, why does everyone love touch screens sooooo much? Not always the right tool for every job! Super cool copter though - awesome!

damonator
14th November, 2013 @ 12:26 am PST

Awesome review Ben!

You mentioned FPV is possible on the original Phantom with a WiFi equipped GoPro. The Phantom uses 2.4 GHz for radio control. The GoPro's WiFi is also 2.4 GHz. Turning the WiFi on on your GoPro will result in you losing control (or at least getting massively reduced range) with your Phantom.

The Phantom 2 Vision uses 5.8 GHz for radio control to avoid this problem.

FPV is possible (more than possible, its excellent!) on the original Phantom. You just need a 5.8 GHz FPV system (such as the Fatshark Attitude (http://www.fatshark.com/product/1720.html) which would then plug into your GoPro 3) to avoid the 2.4 GHz control signal.

FPV-UK
14th November, 2013 @ 04:07 am PST

Great article and awesome product! I think the Phantom Vision is going to be a top seller pretty soon.

Quad copterHQ
14th November, 2013 @ 06:31 am PST

I recently watched someone flying a Phantom on a beach in Bali. This beach is well-known for the constant strong wind that blows onto the beach. Large kites fly all day there, tied off and unattended. As I watched the Phantom take off I was wryly amused because I was absolutely certain that it would be blown sideways and tumble violently into the nearby palm trees. I've tried several times to fly my RC helicopters outdoors, and even the slightest cross-wind has a devastating effect. I was pleasantly surprised when the Phantom rose straight up into the air and hovered in a completely stable fashion. The flyer then manouvered the Phantom very nimbly around a very large field of flight, including out over the sea, never losing contact. The Phantom flew at all times as if there was no wind at all. It must present a very small profile to the air. Nice job, DJI.

Moonhead
14th November, 2013 @ 08:07 pm PST

With the flight time this would be a practical choice for search and rescue, but of course it won't get used for that.

It doesn't cost enough. One county government out here in Idaho spent $40,000 on a large quadcopter for SAR, plus training at the manufacturer's shop in Canada. They also have to contact the FAA for permission to fly it.

For the money they could've bought a large fleet of these instead of just one. If one of these would get damaged or even completely trashed, just whip out another one and continue the search.

But it's government, rarely any logic to find there when it comes to spending money!

Gregg Eshelman
14th November, 2013 @ 10:11 pm PST

First off, I wanted to start by saying I saw the original post the day the DJI Phantom 2 Vision was released and bought one within minutes of reading the article. This quadcopter is awesome! More on that later..

I did want to make note of one correction. You mentioned that the only way to retrieve the video and images was via the Wi-Fi connection or by popping out the camera's microSD card. While this is true, you also went on to state that an oversight was made regarding the lack of an ability to delete data from the microSD card. This is actually incorrect. The DJI app does have the ability to delete images while the card is still inside the camera.

If you are in the Camera mode, you will see the settings icon in the bottom right corner. If you select this option and scroll towards the bottom of the left justified icon menu, there is an option to delete the images. Albeit, by formatting the card, but I have found this as the easiest and most useful way of deleting the captured date.

After retrieving all of the images from the camera's card via the Wi-Fi connection, which automatically loads them to your phone, you can then format the card, all while leaving the card in the camera.

It is, however, easier to use the card reader which in turn also prevents you from further draining the batteries of any of the devices components. The use of a card reader also allows one transfer of the files vs. pulling them from your phone and then having to upload them to your cloud based storage or transferring them to another media device.

Everything else stated in both the original article as well as the updated review is accurate. This is my first quadcopter and has been quite a leap into this platform. I couldn't be happier with this piece of equipment. This is certainly a toy for the Nintendo generation and not recommended for kids. Although, I have let my 6 year old fly it. It is extremely stable and easy enough to control that he had no problem flying. Granted, he immediately went full throttle in all directions like a 6 year old would, but I made sure it was at about 400 feet before handing over control to prevent him from running into the nearest tree, fence, kid at the park, neighborhood pool, etc..

Thank you for your posts. This has been a great add to my big kid toy collection. If you buy one, I would recommend buying a set of replacement rotors out of the gate. It already comes with a complete replacement set, but if you're an idiot like me, its easy to get the controls reversed while facing towards you and flying it straight into a park bench. This is 100% user error and by no means a flight control fault on behalf of the DJI product. Outstanding work and very impressed as an entry level piece of equipment into this hobby.

[Thanks very much for your comment, Ryan. I had wondered if there was a way of deleting files while the card was still in the camera, that I just hadn't noticed. I emailed DJI about it, and the response was "In order to delete the videos and photos saved in the DJI Phantom 2 Vision’s MicroSD card, you would have to use a MicroSD card reader. It is not possible to delete the videos and photos directly from the MicroSD card or from the app." – Ben Coxworth]

Ryan Manser Droege
15th November, 2013 @ 08:02 pm PST

Another great review, Ben. I read your previous assessment of the original Phantom [that's where your craft got hung up in a tree].

I have now owned four Phantoms; one was defective and returned and the other two were flyways [at a loss of over $2,000 owing to the camera equipment on board]. Neither recovered unfortunately. Google 'DJI Phantom flyways' to see a list of people who've lost their machines. The GPS feature doesn't always work.

Last week I bought the new Phantom 2 Vision, which seems to be a much better craft. It has longer flying time, and one is able to watch all the action and control the camera from an iPhone. The images are also more stable. I had it up over my house in the west end of Edmonton for shooting on a sunny day, and man both the stills and videos were great.

I also like the idea of having more control over the unit, plus the radar feature. This should reduce the risk of expensive flyways.

A tip: put your name and phone number on the unit in case it does get lost and an honest person finds it.

We're seeing the evolution of a unique product; improvements will continue to be made by DJI and its competitors. We already see that in the just-released Phantom 2.

So far I've not read of any abuse by flyers, but I can see the day when some will not act responsibility, triggering legislation that will restrict their use. All it takes for a flyaway to come crashing down on a busy freeway or comes crashing down in a backyard, striking someone … and those lawmakers will soon get involved. Hopefully, flyers use extreme care.

But yeah, what a cool machine this Phantom 2 Vision.

Keep up the good work. Enjoy your reviews.

Byron Christopher
18th November, 2013 @ 09:05 am PST

First this is the most comprehensive review I have seen thus far on this Quadcopter. That said I do have some specific questions I was wondering if you might be able answer?

1. How well did the batteries hold up in the cold? I live in Alaska and have some very cold temps up here to deal with in the winter, so I am understandably interested in how it may affect flight time. I understand at -40F that it would be very limited, but at around 0°F I would think might be a more operational temp for some images.

2. Have you tested the camera out in lower lighting situations? I am trying to find out if night time images would be possible on such a platform (photographing still images, not video). But I cannot find any specs on the camera systems for what equivalent ISO's these camera's use. Mind you I am not expecting anything close to 80,000 ISO that Canon firmware update did for their cinema cameras. But it would be nice if I could shoot a winter moonlit landscape with bands of aurora on the horizon from an elevated platform. Though with the limited image stabilization of these systems, that may not be possible for some time without gyro's attached.

I am sure future evolutions will improve on these systems, and as a pro photographer I am also trying to keep up with the legal side, as I cannot use one for my commercial work now anyway (per FAA). But I am still interested in picking one up this spring, so I can start teaching myself how to fly one. So that when they do become legal for commercial use, I can immediately start doing so (for my architectural photography work). This is where low light capability would also be very useful, for aerial images of lit up buildings at dusk and dawn for dramatic effect. If you have any thoughts on this, please feel free to share them. Thanks. - Søren

[Thank-you, Søren. It was just a few degrees above or below freezing on the days that I took the Vision out, and its battery lasted for right around the claimed 25 minutes. I've yet to test it in colder temperatures. I also haven't had the chance to try the camera out in low-light conditions yet. - Ben Coxworth]

Søren Melchior
19th November, 2013 @ 10:22 am PST

This is a great review.

It doesn’t look like it, but I’m interested to know if you added any image stabilizing to the footage? It would be interesting to see a few of those shots after they have gone through image stabilizing in something like Final Cut or similar.

- No image stabilization was added in post. Ed.

Pbasinger
24th November, 2013 @ 06:33 pm PST

Ben, I found this article to be very informative. I was very happy to stumble upon it. I did just purchase a Phantom Vision2, but have not operated it yet. While I am amazed at the technology, and the company's tutorial videos, for me, all is not well. There was no information regarding the location of the SD micro memory card on the company's web site tutorials, nor in their very limited directions accompanying the product. From your review, it would seem the customer must purchase a card, but one dealer said it comes with a 4GB card installed. There are numerous and recent software and other upgrades posted, but limited and confusing info on just how to transfer that data to the proper section of the Vision2. My Norton protection software found a malware in one of the downloads and canceled it, but I have no way of knowing if that red flag was/is real. I telephoned the number on the web site over 12 hours ago and left message, but no one has returned the call. I would like to enjoy this technology, and what seems to be a decent performing product, but remain unable to for the reasons stated. Thank you again for your worthy efforts, Robert

Facebook User
16th December, 2013 @ 03:16 pm PST

Unfortunately, the FC-200 camera on the DJI Phantom 2 Vision suffers from serious quality control problems. Many owners have reported extreme softness on one side of their images (usually the left).

Aside from that, my own research and testing has shown that, whilst images from some examples of the camera are acceptable (provided one's expectations aren't too high), images from other examples are about what you might have expected fifteen years ago from a cheap compact - even when shooting RAW (the camera produces .dng files).

In any event, the FC-200 is certainly NOT what DJI describe in their advertising as a 'High End Camera' and any photographer expecting to get decent prints from this is going to be sorely disappointed (unless he or she is very lucky).

Peter Evans
12th February, 2014 @ 03:43 am PST

Great review but one issue not addressed…

…while the new batteries for the Phantom 2 Vision give you longer flying time (thanks to a 5200 mAh powered battery), they are proprietary (downside #1) and as a result expensive at $159 (downside #2) versus about $27.00 for a third-party 2200 mAh battery used in the original Phantom or FC40.

Yes, it's easier to just slam in the new Phantom 2 Vision battery compared to the original battery which has to be stuffed in and then the cable awkwardly behind it, but you be the judge if the power difference is worth the outpouring of more bucks.

bradg60
23rd February, 2014 @ 07:53 am PST

Thanks for the review. I'm wondering how loud you perceive the Phantom 2 when it's at, say, 100' up. Specifically, I'm wondering if it will spook horses, since I intend to video equestrian sports.

GLC
23rd February, 2014 @ 09:16 am PST

Look at this: totally spherical photo 360 with Phantom 2 Vision: http://www.mariocarvajal.com/360/aerea-bocagrande-cartagena/

Facebook User
2nd March, 2014 @ 10:21 am PST

Hey,

Great review, I have a loan of a Phantom 2 Vision at the moment doing a bit of camera work with it, mostly taking still pictures and stuff but also some video and I was wondering how did you get the sound on the video, as in the background noise of the props when you were flying around,

Thanks!

[In order to illustrate my point in that one shot, I just lifted the prop noise from some footage of the quadcopter that was shot with my regular camcorder - Ben Coxworth]

Joe Doran
12th June, 2014 @ 06:10 am PDT

Hello, and great info..thanks!! Can the camera, while shooting video, shoot straight down? All the images I've seen are with the camera at a slight angle.

Roughly, what corresponding 35mm DSLR lens does the camera have....if you know? 14mm, 17mm.

I understand the fish eye effect can be eliminated with a software program....app?

Keith Chapman
6th July, 2014 @ 11:52 am PDT
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