China’s DJI Just Released The Best Drone Money Can Buy

Chinese drone-making giant DJI has improved upon their already amazing selection of drones, with the release of the latest iteration in their wildly popular Phantom series, the Phantom 3 (P3).

Housed in the same architecture as the previous Phantom drones are a multitude of improvements, from better positioning ability, to improved camera functionality. In short, the best drone on the market just got better and the Chinese drone maker will likely pull further ahead of domestic competitors who appear to missing the birth of a multi-billion dollar industry.

The P3 works with both GPS signal and GLONASS, Russia’s counterpart to GPS. With access to the additional satellites from GLONASS, the P3’s positioning stability is all the more solid. The drone, ideal for photographic and survey work, can even position itself using its downward facing camera when a satellite signal is not available (e.g. indoors), though this feature works best when flying over a surface with good contrast. When flying over a surface of uniform color, this system is not as effective.

Of the three P3 models available, all have the same appearance, but with a different camera on board, ranging from 2.7K HD video for the P3 Standard ($799), up to 4K video for the Professional model ($1259). A testament to the stability of the P3 is apparent once you look at the resulting video, which appears as if shot on a tripod, even in windy conditions. The new model allows for 20 to 25 minutes of flight on a single charge, which can be replenished in 40 to 50 minutes of charging. However, the new battery in the P3 is not compatible with older chargers or drones, which may hurt the pocketbook of those with an array of DJI drones, as the P3 only comes with one battery.

The number of improvements continues with the addition of an integrated wireless video feed known as LightBridge. Previously only available through a separate accessory for $1,400, the LightBridge now comes standard on the P3’s Advanced ($999) and Professional models. Not only can you use LightBridge to watch a live feed through your mobile device, but it is also capable of live-streaming to Youtube. The performance of this feature varies with wireless signals, but the potential applications are limited by one’s imagination.

One hassle about using the device is the compass calibration process, which must be performed whenever the drone is used in a new location. This entails spinning the drone 360 degrees for both the X and Y axes, which does not always result in a successful calibration.

A possible damper for would-be photographers looking for the perfect shot of natural disasters may be the currently proposed drone legislation in California. The legislation will allow emergency service personnel (firefighters, police, etc.) to disable/destroy drones found to be operating in the vicinity of an “emergency,” which covers any event from fires, to traffic accidents, or anything for which a 911 call has been made.

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