DJI first introduced a prototype “shell” of the Phantom Vision back in April at NAB in their tradeshow booth, but they're finally gearing up to ship them in early November. I've had the chance to test a prototype over the past couple of weeks and am more than impressed with it's stability, maneuverability and overall ease of use and function. This is my “First Look” review of what I can show you and tell you about the Phantom 2 Vision and the iOS/Android App that controls the FPV with heads-up info display.
The Phantom 2 Vision is a GPS-based multirotor quadcopter operated by remote control that has a built-in HD camera that can be controlled by your iPhone or Android device. It has a rechargeable battery pack that will give you up to 25 minutes of flying time and you can preview and assist your flying on the smartphone screen while setting the pitch of your camera remotely and recording either video or taking still images in real time. This ready-to-go combination will have you up and flying in no time and the stability and ease of flying the Phantom 2 Vision is greatly improved over the original Phantom – thanks to newly-designed hardware and software algorithms that control it.
Out of the Box
The Phantom 2 Vision requires little setup right out of the box. Just assemble a few of the components such as the props and the phone holder onto the remote, charge everything up and install 4 AA batteries into the controller and you're ready to prepare your setup for first flight. You will need an iPhone or an Android OS smartphone to download and run the DJI VISION App (available free in the iTunes Store or the Google Play store).
The Phantom 2 Vision has the new style self-tightening rotors and props so not only is it easier to distinguish which props go onto which rotors, but they also stay tightened after each flight. DJI has provided a special wrench for installation and preflight checks.
The integrated HD camera captures both still images and video. At the time of testing, it captures 1920×1080 video at 30fps and currently JPG images 4384×3288 @72ppi. I spoke with DJI's Colin Guinn today and from what I understand, DJI will be providing a utility that will allow you to convert or open/save/export the RAW image files in some fashion, but I have no knowledge of whether it will be Windows-only or also Mac OS compatible.
I was impressed that they actually stamped the camera optics specs right on the bezel, unlike other POV camera manufacturers that seems to elude these specifications. The Phantom 2 Vision has an F/2.8 140º FOV with a wide dynamic range.
The camera comes pre-attached to the Phantom 2 Vision and is mounted with a shock-absorbing bracket. The camera's pitch (tilts up and down) is controlled remotely by the smartphone App. DJI will also provide a 4GB microSD card so you'll be able to capture video and images right away. I don't know of any camera manufacturer that provides a media card with the purchase of your camera these days.
There is also a USB port on the front of the Phantom 2 Vision for configuration and calibration purposes. However, you will need to download a special version of the PC Assistant software (Windows only) as you cannot use the old Naza PC software – it won't even recognize this device. The remote control also has its own PC Assistant software.
Existing DJI Phantom users will drool over the new 5200mAh battery that will provide up to 25 minutes of flying time under normal conditions. The battery cage contains the proprietary battery and charges with a provided charger. My tests charging the battery that came with with the test device took approximately 1-1/2 hours to fully charge a completely depleted battery, but times and rates may differ in the shipping production model.
The battery plugs directly into the compartment so no clumsy plugging/unplugging to install or power on the Phantom 2 Vision. The power button also serves as a battery charge indicator that diminishes in the number of bars as the battery level decreases.
The Phantom 2 Vision also comes with different color sticker options so you can customize your unit or use a different color if you're flying more than one at a time in a group.
There is a rubber cap for the camera that fits fairly snug and a “cheat sheet” quick reference card that tells you what messages the flashing LEDs mean.
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Setting up the Phantom 2 Vision
DJI will provide setup instructions with the shipping version of the Phantom 2 Vision, but they said it was okay to share this copy of the Vision Quick Start Guide to show how simple it is to setup and get you flying in short order. Some of these components may be further pre-assembled when you receive your unit.
After you've fully charged the Phantom 2 Vision battery and the Wi-Fi extender; installed 4 AA batteries in your controller and installed the DJI VISION App on your smartphone, you're ready to prepare for your first flight.
Existing Phantom users know the “calibration dance” quite well – where you must rotate your unit to set the initial compass calibration to your geographic location. Failure to do this will most definitely result in a crash or your Phantom may fly off into the horizon.
Luckily, the DJI VISION App has several status indicators on-screen as well as a live FPV (First Person View) from the camera. If you haven't calibrated your device or it's placed inside a car or other tight metal structure, you will get an on-screen warning to calibrate, as illustrated below:
Follow all the instructions completely and double check them. There are plenty of good flying/practice and support videos on YouTube and I highly recommend that you watch several of them before your first flight. It's really easy to forget a step of preflight or get disoriented if you're not familiar with flying a multirotor craft.
Once you're in the air, you'll be able to see the super-bright LEDs to aid you in direction of your Phantom 2 Vision and give you status updates and low power warnings.
*NOTE: Since I've been flying only a short time with the original DJI Phantom and have been sharing my experiences here on ProVideo Coalition, I've had a chance to get some time in at the controls, but that still doesn't make me a pro by all means! This hobby takes time to learn and master and that only comes with a lot of practice and safe flying habits. Take your time and don't try to mimic what you've seen others do on YouTube. It's really easy to become overconfident or rush through your preflight and that is ALWAYS when something goes terribly wrong!
First Impressions and Test Flights
On my first flight I was instantly impressed with how stable and responsive the Phantom 2 Vision was to fly! The spring-controlled throttle is very helpful in maintaining hover altitude right at 50% power when you take your hands off the controls – this is really important to not have your craft continue to climb to unsafe altitudes inadvertently. Having the FPV screen with real-time response if a great help for seeing what the camera sees and guides you into position for your shot or navigation/orientation at long distances. DJI's Colin Guinn confirmed that they've done a lot of work refining the Naza control algorithms which greatly contributes to the amazing responsiveness of the Phantom 2 Vision.
The data feedback from the Phantom 2 Vision back to the smartphone is invaluable in assuring you're maintaining safe levels and battery consumption. The DJI VISION App is also what controls the camera and lets you adjust the pitch (tilt) and smooth rotation of the craft in a panning mode with just a touch on the screen. You can select either photos or videos and even change the settings of the camera mid-flight.
I recorded a fun video of a complete flight with the Phantom 2 Vision both from the ground where I was controlling it and the footage captured by the Vision's camera. The footage clips have not been filtered, stabilized or altered in any way and were edited in as they came off the media card. You will note how agile and responsive the craft is when I dart it around trees and obstacles and literally “bounce” it as if it were attached to a string. I would have surely crashed my original Phantom if I attempted a rapid decent like this and the footage would be quite wobbly. However, you'll note how smooth and steady this is – even without a gimbal attached to the camera. I hope this will help you see how easy this device is to use to get great images and video:
For the shear fun of flying, I must say the Phantom 2 Vision is a major upgrade in the experience – especially for novices and hobbyists. The camera's optics are clear and provide good quality HD video and hi-res photos to give you a POV shot like you've never experienced before. However, if you're looking to shoot professional-quality video productions, you will need a much more sophisticated piece of gear – complete with at least a 2 or 3-axis gimbal and a professional camera. This also means a lot more $$ to be invested. The Phantom 2 Vision would be my recommendation for anyone wanting to learn to fly and maintain control while capturing some incredible photos and video clips – even if you eventually plan to move up to the major leagues some day. You can get more detail info and specs about the Phantom 2 Vision from DJI's website.
I don't have an exact release/shipping date for the Phantom 2 Vision yet, but the official MSRP is US$1199 and preorders are being taken online at DSLRPros.com.
And I know there are still a lot of other folks out there asking about the next version of the Phantom they might be able to upgrade to and DJI has confirmed that a more professional version (and more expensive, of course) of the Phantom 2 Pro will be released this spring, but no other details are available at this time.
*UPDATE: Here's a video shot with the Phantom 2 Vision on Nov 1 down in Santa Cruz, CA and I was really impressed with the results… I'm sure you will be too!
I will be reviewing the actual production model of the Phantom 2 Vision in greater detail after it ships and give more tips on getting the best results from this amazing new multirotor!
Jeff Foster is a published author of several how-to books and training videos in the motion graphics, animation and video production industries and is an award-winning video producer and artist. Visit his web site to learn more about his training methods, tips & tricks at PixelPainter.com