The History Of The DJI Phantom

Posted by
Korey Smith
May 21, 2015


The Phantom is a quadcopter developed by DJI. You probably knew that much, but what you didn’t know is that the Phantom has been around since the beginning of 2013.

DJI Phantom 1

The Phantom (otherwise known as the Phantom 1) was DJI’s first drone designed specifically for consumers. It was a quadcopter that most people could order online, read the manual, and get flying without too many issues.

Being one of the first ready-to-fly drones that used GPS, it was relatively easy to fly compared to what was out there at the time, but it still had some big flaws. The battery life was less than 10 minutes, video footage was shaky and looked like you were falling out of the sky, the GPS wasn’t always reliable and any RC hobby enthusiast would laugh at you if you told them you had a Phantom.

DJI Phantom 2

Less then a year after the Phantom 1 came out, DJI released the Phantom 2. It was a big change from the Phantom 1, addressing almost all of the previous issues. The flight time was about 20 minutes without a camera, there was an optional gimbal for getting stabilized video footage, but the biggest improvement was how easy they made it to use.

Here are some of the things that made the Phantom 2 become the most popular drone of 2014.

​The battery was completely different from the Phantom 1. There was no longer a strange looking shrink-wrapped brick with colorful wires sticking out of it, you didn’t have to worry about reading a manual just to charge it, and it simply slid into the Phantom 2 like a laptop or Phone battery.

Software was another big improvement. One of the coolest features of the Phantom 2 when it came out was a feature called intelligent-orientation-control ( or IOC). IOC was a feature that made the Phantom 2 dead simple to fly. Basically, whatever direction you pushed the sticks on the controller, it would go there, regardless of what direction the Phantom was facing. There were also a lot of safety features that were added, like remaining-flight-time-estimation where the Phantom 2 would automatically return home and land based on a calculation that looked at how far you were from home and how much battery you had left.

Many of the improvements to the Phantom 2 were later picked up and utilized by other drone manufacturers, but that didn’t stop the Phantom 2 from becoming the most popular drone ever. The Phantom has appeared in adds, tv shows, racing and other sport events, Ice caves, movie sets, on the lawn of the Whitehouse (unfortunately) and anywhere else you can think of.

Other Phantom 2 Models?

There were a few different Phantom 2 models available–the Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision and the Phantom 2 Vision Plus. The Phantom 2 was the basic model. It didn’t come with a camera or anything fancy, just the quadcopter and an optional gimbal. The Phantom 2 Vision came with an integrated 1080p camera that streamed live video and could be controlled by a smartphone, but it didn’t have a gimbal so it wasn’t very useful for video. The Phantom 2 Vision Plus was a later version of the Phantom 2 Vision that did feature a 3 axis gimbal, but the video quality still wasn’t as good as a dedicated GoPro hero 4.

Phantom 3

​The Phantom 3 is the result of DJI taking everything learned from the Phantom and Inspire 1 to make something that really performs amazingly.

From the outside, the design of the Phantom 3 doesn’t look much different from the Phantom 2 Vision Plus, but it’s been completely redesigned on the inside with a larger 4S battery, small fans and a large motherboard containing most of the electronics (including the motor speed controllers).

There are two Phantom 3 models, but the only difference between them is that the Phantom 3 Professional can record in 4K where as the Phantom 3 Advanced only goes up to 1080p. It seems that DJI is no longer going to make Phantoms without integrated cameras, so if you just want something to fly around without a camera, the best option would be to buy the Phantom 2, or maybe get a 3DR Solo when it comes out.

4K, Lightbridge, active motor braking, optical-flow stabilization and the DJI Pilot app​ are all features of the Phantom 3 that have been taken right from the Inspire 1. However, the Phantom 3 remains at a relatively low price of $1300, making it much more affordable than the Inspire 1 and a great alternative. If you’re looking for a real comparison between the Phantom 3 and the Inspire 1 check out this article.

Since 2013 the Phantom has come a very long way, but DJI isn’t slowing down in innovation any time soon. Seeing how the Phantom 3 is selling even better than the Phantom 2 (and DJI is aiming to become a billon dollar company), there’s no doubt that we’re going to see some pretty interesting drones in the future.


Korey Smith

Korey Smith, independent film maker, RC model enthusiast and co-owner of MyFirstDrone

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