Product Review: DJI Phantom Quadcopter for GoPro

Part 1 - Initial Testing & Useability
Jeff Foster
By Jeff Foster 01.31.13

Everyone is looking for that elusive aerial cam that's both affordable and easy to operate for the average videographer. I'm setting out to see if the DJI Phantom Quadcopter combined with a GoPro Hero3 Black Edition is the answer, in this two-part review and workflow study.

Ever since I got my first GoPro Hero, I've longed to find a way to get it airborne remotely and even tried makeshift setups with DIY kites and researched helicopters and drones - but those were always way out of my budget - not to mention the steep learning curve in flying most of them (read: NOT CRASHING!!)

So you could imagine my enthusiasm in learning about the release of the DJI Phantom for GoPro. An entry-level quadcopter/drone that a beginner can setup and fly right out of the box. And when it comes to motorized RC aircraft, I'm truly a beginner! You can learn more about the DJI Phantom from their website at DJI Innovations website, or though their reseller/dealer DSLRPros, Inc.

Initial Assembly & Setup

When DJI claims that the Phantom is ready to fly out of the box, it pretty much is. Some minor assembly is require to install the landing gear and props, charge the battery and you're good to go!

I did find it extremely helpful to review the step-by-step videos from unboxing to learning the flight controls. Check out this link to learn more about the setup and flight controls from the website.

The kit comes complete and well-organized in the box.

The first thing you've got to do is take out the battery and charger and get it charged and ready to go. My experience is about 30-45 minutes to fully charge from a drained battery.

Then install the landing gear and GoPro mount with the provided screws (with Locktite already applied to the screws)

Then install the props - CAUTION: be sure you pay attention to the directional rotation of the prop to the rotor - there are directional arrows on both the rotor arm and on the prop so you can easily match them up!

Once the battery is charged, you're ready to fly! Again, do watch the prep videos in the link above, as you will need to understand the different controls on the remote, the startup sequence and the compass calibration process.

And - like any other 10yr old boy, I applied all the available stickers that came with the kit - plus added a couple GoPro stickers for that "custom" look... plus I didn't have any flames.


First Flight

We brought a couple cameras with us to capture the first flight with the Phantom - just to show you the process and share my experience working with it "out of the box".

The first thing I did on-site was to attach the GoPro to the Phantom. I used the mount that came with the Phantom which has the knurled knob and nut for mounting either the provided cage (designed for the Hero2) or any standard GoPro housing. Since I have a Hero3, I just used the smallest configuration (no BacPacs) and the basic waterproof housing. I may experiment with the GoPro "Frame" which weighs less, but also offers no protection for the camera. I probably wouldn't suggest that for a first-time flier.

Before you insert the battery in the Phantom (there is no on/off switch so it can't accidentally start up or cause injury) you must first power-on your controller and make sure the throttle is all the way down. If you don't, the controller will beep a warning continuously when you turn it on.

After you've connected the battery and closed the door, you need to calibrate the Phantom's compass and make sure you've got a good satellite signal for the GPS. (again, instructions on all these setup & operational procedures are available via video at this link to the website).

Since I also wanted to control my Hero3 with the GoPro WiFi App on my iPhone, I used a lanyard I got from a trade show to attach to the controller to give me another "hand" and I checked to make sure the iPhone was communicating and the camera was set to record and provided a preview. I also purposely chose the higher-vertical format mode in 1440 on the GoPro so the props would be intentionally visible - but in most cases, a 16:9 format is what you'll want to shoot in to avoid seeing any of the Phantom's structure in your shots.


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