Is the DJI Inspire 1 just an expensive Phantom 2 Vision Plus?

Note: We now have a newer post out that compares the Phantom 3 and the Inspire 1Click here to read more.

Since the Inspire 1 was officially announced, there’s been some debate over whether or not it’s really worth what DJI is charging for it. After all, you can go buy a Phantom 2 Vision Plus for less than half the price of an Inspire 1, and they both have very similar features–or do they?

In this article, I’ll not only be going over the technical differences between the Inspire 1 and the Phantom 2 Vision Plus, but also some of the more abstract reasons for buying one over the other.

 Design And Professionalism

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Design is important. From a style/design standpoint, the Inspire 1 is much more appealing than the Phantom 2 Vision Plus. It’s bigger, the camera looks more streamlined, the carbon fiber parts make it look more expensive and the overall design looks way more intimidating.

If you happen to be buying one of these drones for doing professional Video or photography work, then you’re going to want something that looks professional. You’ll want something that will leave a good impression on your clients and the Inspire 1 is definitely a drone that will do that.

On the other hand, the Phantom 2 will generally be easier to cary around since it’s smaller and lighter. It’s also less dangerous because of the smaller plastic propellers and the optional prop guards, so the Phantom is definitely a better drone to buy if you plan on flying around children or animals.

Range And Reliability

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You need a reliable connection. Having a good reliable connection could be the difference between getting that amazing shot or ending up with a crashed/lost drone. Most DJI products are pretty reliable, but with drones, sometimes unpredictable things can happen.

As far as range goes, there’s really no comparison between the Inspire 1 and the Vision Plus. The Inspire 1 has a range of up to 2km (about a mile) which is more than double that of the Phantom 2 Vision Plus. In general, having a better transmission distance will allow you to have more freedom when flying. It will also allow you to fly around structures that might have otherwise blocked a weaker radio signal.

GPS signal loss is a pretty common problem with drones. It usually occurs when you go behind or inside buildings, mountains, caves and other thick structures. With the Phantom 2 Vision Plus (or any Phantom), once you lose GPS signal you are pretty much on you’re own to keep the drone from drifting into anything. However, with the optical flow sensor on the Inspire 1 it will still stabilize itself even without a GPS signal. The only exception is if you’re higher than 16 feet, flying over moving surfaces (like a boat), or if it’s really dark outside. So generally, if you plan on flying indoors, or in spaces where you don’t have a GPS signal, then the Inspire 1 will do a much better job at staying where you put it.

Durability And Repair Cost

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Anything RC that flies will most likely crash at some point. The Inspire 1 and Phantom 2 Vision Plus are no exceptions to this fact. You could crash on the first day, 6 weeks later or 6 months later. If you fly more than a couple times a month, then it’s bound to happen eventually. That’s why it’s always a good idea to think about how much your drone will cost in the long run, not just up front.

The Phantom 2 Vision Plus is pretty durable “for what it is” and it’s not going to break just from falling over on it’s side. Although, if you happen to fall from a height of over 40 feet, you can pretty much guarantee that there won’t be much left of it. With the inspire 1, nobody really knows yet. Even with carbon fiber parts, since it weighs more than twice as much as the Phantom 2, I wouldn’t expect it to take a hit very well.

What I do know is that a crash with the Inspire 1 is going to cost at least twice as much as it would with the Phantom 2 Vision Plus. The only exception to this would be if by luck, the carbon fiber landing gear on your Inspire 1 was down and strong enough to protect the camera from smashing into the ground. Since the Phantom 2 has plastic landing gear attached to a plastic frame, it does a pretty bad job of protecting the camera in the event of a crash. But who knows, the smaller control arms on the Inspire 1 could probably snap just as easily.

As far as parts go, both the Phantom 2 Vision Plus and the Inspire 1 can be fully repaired. Obviously since the Inspire 1 isn’t out yet, spare parts aren’t currently available, but I’m sure you’ll be able to get them once the Inspire 1 ships in December.

In any case, it’s always a good idea to set aside an extra 60% of whatever the price of the drone is that you’re buying. That way, you’ll be able to pay for almost any crash that happens (unless you completely lose it).

Cameras And Future Expandability

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A drone is only as good as the camera under it. Both the Inspire 1 and the Phantom 2 Vision Plus are great drones for photography and cinematography, but there’s a lot of differences between the two cameras. They both can capture RAW photos, but the similarities stop there.

One massive difference is that the camera on the Inspire 1 has 360 degrees of movement. That means that it can be operated completely independently and isn’t locked to the heading of the drone. Because of this, the Inspire 1 had to have a transforming design so that the frame wouldn’t show up in the view of the camera. Also since the camera can be controlled independently, the Inspire 1 has the option of dual pilot operation, but I’ll talk about that later. The last thing that I’ll mention about the two gimbals is that both cameras can be tilted down by 90 degrees, but on the Inspire 1 the camera can also be tilted up by an additional 30 degrees.

Another difference is the FOV (field-of-view). The FOV on the Inspire 1 is 90 degrees vs 120 degrees on the Phantom Vision Plus. Honestly, having a wider FOV on the Phantom vision Plus is not really a feature or a drawback. Some people like to have a wider FOV because it lets them get more in the shot, although personally I prefer the narrower FOV because it eliminates distortion and makes scenes look more cinematic.

If video quality is important to you (it should be), then you’ll definitely appreciate the fact that the Inspire 1 can shoot 4K video at 30FPS. 4K video has literally 4 times the number of pixels of HD (1080p). Now, that doesn’t mean that you can zoom in by 400% and expect to have the same quality as you would if you were zoomed back out. There’s a lot of other factors like compression, image noise and lens imperfections that will make the image look muddy, granulated or unsharp. In any case, 4K video looks much better than 1080p. The Inspire 1 can also do 1080p at 60FPS vs only 30FPS at 1080p on the Phantom 2 Vision Plus. So as far as video quality goes, the Inspire 1 is the clear winner.

As far as photo quality goes, there isn’t much of a difference between the two. I found some DNG RAW photos taken from both of the drones and looked at them in Photoshop. Looking at the photos taken from both cameras I notice that the Phantom 2 Vision Plus had “slightly” more detail, but it seemed like there was less noise in the shots taken with the Inspire 1. I guess this makes sense since the Image sensor in the Inspire 1 is a new 12 megapixel CMOS from Sony, where as the Phantom Vision Plus has a 14 megapixel sensor from an unknown source.

The last thing that I’ll mention about the camera on the Inspire 1 is that it’s completely removable. This means that unlike the Phantom 2 Vision Plus, you won’t be stuck using just the camera that it came with. DJI hasn’t said anything about what other cameras or devices that they’ll put under the Inspire 1, but I can only assume that there will be some type of GoPro gimbal along with some other cool things in the future.

Controls and radio Integration

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Although These controllers look similar, they are very different. With the Phantom 2 Vision Plus, there are two completely separate radio systems. The primary radio used for controlling the Phantom 2 Vision Plus is built into the controller and operating on the 5.8Ghz frequency (although the controller for the Phantom 2 with H3-3D operates on 2.4Ghz). The secondary radio is actually a separately powered box that sits on the back of the controller known as the WI-FI booster. The WI-FI booster runs on the 2.4Ghz frequency and basically links your phone to the Phantom 2. It’s mainly used for viewing the standard definition video feed, controlling the camera, setting up waypoints and any other commands that aren’t immediate or vital to staying in the air.

With the Inspire 1, the WI-FI booster is completely eliminated. Everything is built into the controller from receiving the High definition video signal to sending waypoint commands. Additionally, you can now access camera controls like recording videos, taking pictures, or adjusting exposure right from the physical buttons and dials on the controller. From what I understand, all communication from the controller to your phone or tablet is done through a USB cable. So besides the fact that the Video signal is now HD, there should also be less latency.

Another cool feature about the Inspire 1 controller is the HDMI port in the back. Using the HDMI port you can get a clean (OSD free) video signal to an external monitor or video capture card, while still keeping the OSD information displayed on your phone or tablet. Unfortunately, doing this will output OSD info to your phone, but it won’t keep displaying the live video feed (only through the HDMI port). Alternatively, If you still want to see the live video on your tablet while outputting an HDMI signal, you can buy another Inspire 1 controller and use the HDMI output on that.

Speaking of additional controllers, one of the main features of the Inspire 1 is the ability to do dual pilot operation. Basically the two controllers are physically identical, but there are two operating modes, master and slave. in master mode you have access to every control of the Inspire 1 from the camera to waypoint settings to controlling the aircraft itself. In slave mode you only have access to camera settings like gimbal movement and other camera related controls. The cool part about slave mode is that it doesn’t actually send signals to the drone itself. The video feed is received from the inspire 1, but the control inputs that you make are sent to the primary controller (operating in master mode). Then the combined signal from both controllers gets sent up to the drone.

Having two people operating the Inspire 1 (or any aerial video platform) is great, because one person can focus on flying while the other person can focus on getting the perfect shot. So if you want to take full advantage of the Inspire 1, then getting an additional controller is definitely something to think about.

Both the Inspire 1 and the Phantom 2 Vision Plus work on most IOS and Android devices, although the Phantom 2 Vision Plus doesn’t have a dedicated iPad app. The Inspire 1 requires a slightly faster device running at least IOS 7.1 or android 4.1.2, but unlike the Phantom 2 Vision Plus, it’s designed to work great on both the iPhone and the iPad.

On the Phantom 2 Vision Plus, the mobile app is called “DJI VISION”. There’s a lot of great features on this app like camera control, aircraft settings, waypoint plotting and a few other things. However, the Inspire 1 app called “DJI Pilot” has quite a few added features that make it a lot better than the DJI VISION app.

Some of the new features of the DJI Pilot app are:

  • Auto takeoff
  • Auto land
  • Calculated range based on battery life
  • Changeable stick modes
  • Changeable radio channel settings
  • Now runs natively on iPad
  • Detailed battery information

Flying Differences And Ease Of Use

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The difference in preformence between these two quadcopters is like the difference between a Honda and a Lamborghini. Just like most of the subjects that I’ve covered so far, there are some major flight differences between these two drones that might even justify buying one over the other.

The first big difference is speed. The phantom 2 Vision Plus is “not” slow by any means. It can go about 22mph (to 30mph with all flying aids turned off). With the Inspire 1 you can go almost 50 mph (without GPS) thanks to the more powerful motors and battery onboard. You might not think that speed is something you would need on a video drone, but having it is actually really great, especially if you’re shooting a lot of action shots like car chases or big wide open nature shots.

Flight time on the Inspire 1 isn’t exactly what you would expect. DJI claims that the flight time is about 18 minutes. This would mean that it’s slightly shorter than the 20 minute average that most people get on their phantoms. That being said, I can understand why the flight time is lower since it weighs almost twice as much as the Phantom. Weight “can” be a good thing though. In general I think that having some extra weight will make it more stable in high wind conditions and possibly more stable at higher speeds.

One thing that DJI has tried to do with the Phantom series and now the Inspire 1 is make a drone that anyone can learn to fly. They pretty much achieved this with the Phantom 2, but there were still a few minor issues that people had while learning to fly. Most people had a hard time learning things like how to take off and land, or flying close to the ground without drifting from ground turbulence.

With the Inspire 1, all of those issues have been dealt with. Like I said before, the optical flow and ultrasonic sensors make it even easier to fly than the Phantom. This is great, but I wouldn’t buy the Inspire 1 just for this fancy new technology since it will most likely be included in the new Phantom 3 when that comes out next year.

Pricing and final thoughts

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At the end of the day, it all comes down to how much you’re willing to spend. Right now you can get a Phantom 2 Vision Plus for about $1200 USD. Basically it’s at the price point where the average person isn’t going to go out and buy one without thinking about it, but it’s still cheap enough for professionals to buy them as disposable drones.

The Inspire 1 is in a completely different class. Retailing at $2900 USD (or $3400 for the dual pilot version), it’s not as disposable as the Phantom but it’s still way less expensive then having a DJI S1000 (A drone worth over $8000 with camera gear). The Inspire 1 is for people who want something that’s more professional than a Phantom, but at the same time won’t cost as much as a small car.

Related Posts

Check out this post comparing the Phantom 2 Vision Plus with the Phantom 2.