Hands On With The DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus
I’ve been hands on with the brand new DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus and it is quite literally breath taking what this technology can do. Having only ever flown paper aeroplanes before, on first test flight I got jelly legs, butterflies, the lot – but with good reason and not just for being new to it all. These things are quick, I mean lightning fast I’ve heard people talking of getting speeds of up to 35mph. Coupled with the fact it can fly 900ft in the air, there is every reason to get jelly legs and feel nauseous each time you power it up. Ok maybe jittery is a better word. Flying these things is very exciting but, and I cannot stress this enough: THIS IS NOT A TOY. It is a very clever piece of technology, superbly put together (albeit with a sub par camera for any real quality video work) and extremely affordable. I’ll come back to the camera in a moment since this is a pretty big deal and for me the only real flaw with the Phantom 2 Vision Plus.
There are so many reasons to love this kit. First off, the build quality is superb and even the packaging of this thing was absolutely spot on. There are quick start guides that just make sense and explain all the basics you need to know about operation effortlessly and with excellent presentation and thoughtful design. I know this doesn’t mean a product will be good, but it sure does make you feel like you’re investing in something that people care about and take great pride in.
On installing the DJI App onto my Samsung Galaxy S4 and performing the first extremely quick and nervous test flight I was blown away by how well the whole system works. Doing away with the need for FPV goggles (a big additional expense) and utilising something that everyone has in their pocket is to me a stroke of genius. It saves cost and makes the technology that little bit more accessible. An extremely cool feature is using the accelerometer in your phone to control the tilt of the camera, although how easy this is to do practically in a real shooting situation whilst navigating through the air and keeping eye contact on the screen (you have to tilt the phone to tilt the camera) is yet to be seen.
The very brief sequence of footage I shot was so steady, I mean SO STEADY it looked like it was attached to a crane. Seriously. The reason is this little beauty has a tiny 3-axis brushless gimbal which to the non geekafied means it is sat on a cradle that has 3 tiny motors that are constantly being powered to adjust the roll, pitch and yaw. This means from the second you turn it on it’s working away to keep the camera completely steady. And it works a treat.
This leads me onto the camera, which I have to say is for me, is a little disappointing. As a video producer I am going to focus on visuals and in the Phantoms defence it doesn’t tout itself as being a production quality tool and I did not open the box expecting this. But for me a system that has such a focus on keeping its camera steady should make the camera worth steadying. Now there are alternatives to this camera – you can purchase the previous model the Phantom 2 and attach a GoPro with either a 2-Axis or 3-Axis Zenmuse gimbal but as the name suggests this lacks the ‘vision’ of the latest model, meaning if you want to be able to see what your camera sees you’ll need to invest in additional kit. You’ll get much better images from your GoPro Hero 3 but will need to spend a little more time installing extras. For me, the Phantom 2 Vision Plus is the perfect entry level kit for getting to grips with aerial videography.
And on the note of aerial video – if you plan to use one of these, or any device for that matter that can be considered an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for business this is considered ‘aerial work’ and you need to get permissions to fly from the CAA and this will ultimately require you to have taken and passed either a BNUC-S from EuroUSC or an RPQ-S from Resource UAS. As a complete newbie to this flying malarky I found the information around this wasn’t particularly easy to find, yes a good few hours Googling answered most of my questions, and the CAA are a great organisation to deal with and very helpful. However I feel there should be much more done to educate those purchasing equipment like the DJI Phantoms with regards to what legislation applies. I appreciate that this is easier said than done as the technology has (and continues) to move so quickly that the legislation can’t keep up and of course each country has varying rules. However, I do feel there is maybe scope for the DJI App to include links to key websites based on location so if you’re flying in the UK providing links to the CAA pages on UAS would be very helpful in both educating those perfectly innocent users who like me are unsure of where to start looking, and also this can only help strengthen the already excellent and very helpful community of hobbyists, aerial photographers and videographers out there. Better education on this technology means safer skies and lets be honest less opportunity for bad press; I have already had nightmare visions of some of the sticky situations you could get yourself and others into by not respecting this equipment. So far all the info I have read seems pretty straightforward, the authorities like the CAA are not trying to stop people using these, however if people don’t respect the rules and the power that they have at their finger tips this is likely to change making it much harder to get permissions and locking the whole thing down in red tape, and no one wants that – so be safe and do your due diligence!
Ultimately the DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus is an exceptional piece of kit for anyone looking to get into aerial film making. Certainly for me it’s a stepping stone onto a larger rig that can take pro kit but right now it’s baby steps and one flight at a time – but it’s something I plan to be doing quite a lot of.