New $1,300 Drone Sports 4K Video and Ultrasound Navigation


There are a few cases in which 4K video would be a noticeable improvement over plain old 1080p. An aerial fly-by of a Scottish moor, a sweeping pass over an alpine meadow, or a close inspection of your friends’ bald spots would be three such cases.


That’s all possible with the latest version of the the DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone. The flying machine—an update to DJI’s previous, popular Phantom drones—comes equipped with an integrated 4K camera mounted on a three-axis gimbal that keeps footage as butter-smooth as it is tack-sharp. In 4K mode, the camera captures at either 24 or 30 frames per second. It also shoots 1080p video at 24, 30, or 60fps. If you can do without the 4K capabilities, there’s a step-down model called the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced that offers the same 1080p frame rates of 24, 30, or 60.


These things haul a fair amount of ass, too. The top speed for each model is about 35mph, and if you’re comfortable with letting these flying one-pound beasts careen around your apartment, DJI says the newly designed drones are also suited for indoor use. That’s thanks to a ground-facing positioning system that uses ultrasound and additional cameras to identify what it’s flying over, meaning you don’t always need to use its GPS tech.


These flying cameras cost as much as a decent DSLR. The lower-end DJI Phantom 3 Advanced is priced at $1,000 with all the fixins, while the 4K-capable Phantom 3 Professional comes in at $1,260.


Despite the video-resolution differences, both models have the same size sensor and capture the same resolution when it comes to still photos. Each version has a Sony 1/2.3-inch-type sensor, about the same size as the ones you’ll find in most long-zoom point-and-shoot cameras, that snaps 12-megapixel stills. The cameras have some deeper controls, too. There’s a bracketing mode, a time-lapse feature, and burst-shooting options. The drones each have a MicroSD slot to store the moving and still images.


You can command each drone using the included controller and mount an iPhone, iPad, or an Android device loaded with the DJI Pilot app right over the sticks. That app gives you a real-time video feed from the drone, integrated maps, a heads-up display of drone settings, a flight-simulator feature, and a running log of all your flights.


You can also access a few autopilot modes. The drones will take off and return to you all by themselves, and there’s a low-battery mode that automatically returns to its takeoff point so that it doesn’t fall out of the sky—its 4480 mAh battery is rated for 23 minutes of flight time. An SDK is available for programming your own “follow me” commands, and other modes too.



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