War of the Drones: DJI Phantom 3 vs. 3DR Solo, Episode 5

by Hugh BrownstoneLeave a Comment

Today is Day 5 of our 5 part series this week entitled “Holy crap, now I need to learn how to do this other thing, too?” — in which I’m handed two of the hottest drones in town (the 3DR Solo vs. DJI Phantom 3)  just long enough to put them through their paces as a first-time drone operator. Forthwith, my recommendations. Your mileage may vary.


I think you’d up your game dramatically with either quadcopters (I’d be delighted with either one), and I think healthy competition in this space is great.

· If you’re going to get the Solo, you probably already have or like a GoPro, you’re new to quadcopters, you like the idea of component upgradeability (“What will GoPro come out with next year?” “What will 3DR do next?”), you like open source, and/or your emphasis is likely on getting the shot within an hour of opening the box. I would go straight to the Solo with 3-Axis Gimbal ($1,399) . Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. The footage without the gimbal is too shaky and the inability to redirect the camera once in flight is too limiting. I’d also recommend that you take a close look at going 4K with a HERO4 Black if you aren’t already there, because the difference between 4K and 1080p – at least on my screen where I edit – is significant.

On the other hand, we all know that most viewing will shift to mobile in 2016, where the differences between the two resolutions will be very difficult to detect – especially when you down-res. So maybe not. I’d also suggest you get at least one extra battery ($149) — I’d actually suggest two — a sun hood (the DJI ones ($12 or $16) will probably fit phone or tablet respectively); and an anti-glare screen protector.

· If you’re more inclined toward the Phantom 3, you probably already have a Phantom 2 or something smaller and less expensive like a Parrot, like the idea of an established company and the wider ecosystem – and/or you don’t mind or maybe even prefer their camera over a GoPro (I’d lean this way myself, though it wouldn’t take much to tip me the other way, either). I’d take a close look at the just-announced Phantom Standard with 2.7K Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal for $799. It is a heckuva price. I'd also look closely at the Phantom 3 Advanced with 1080p Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal at $999 because it has the dual GPS systems with access to the GLONASS satellite system that the Professional has — and the Standard does not.

If you want 4K (which in spite of myself — and with the certain knowledge that 4K footage dramatically slows down editing — is my inclination), I’d go straight to the model I tested – the Phantom 3 Professional with 4K Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal ($1,259) plus two extra batteries ($149 each); prop guards ($19); a Monitor Hood ($12 or $16, smartphone or tablet respectively); and anti-glare screen protector.

· In all instances, I’d keep the original packaging and use it as long as I could – but there are great backpacks out there for both company’s products including this hardshell for the Phantom, and this soft backpack with custom insert for the Solo. Both also have more robust rolling cases available, like this one for the Solo at $269.90 and this one for the Phantom at $254.90.

DJI Phantom 3 4K vs 3DR Solo for Newbies: Hands-on First Impressions

Then again, your choice between the two may come down to other factors such as:

– expandability (the Solo is designed for it with its own expansion bay, though I’m not quite clear what one would put there. I’ve read about a ballistic parachute or a module like the Phantom Vision system. I think a micro-Hellfire missile would be too big)

– reliability (I’d give the nod to the Phantom, just because it eliminates the need to work through the micro-HDMI port on the GoPro and has been around a lot longer than 3DR, with the opportunity to learn from its mistakes)

– customer service (I don’t have a basis for comparison, though 3DR was very responsive)

– your sense of company direction and responsiveness in new product releases (3DR is clearly the innovative attacker, but DJI has gotten very aggressive with pricing and has been innovative as well)

– the way you relate to it from an industrial design and interface perspective

– price

This last one – price – is a bit of a surprise: the Solo costs more.

If you don’t already have a 4K camera and want to go that way, the Phantom 3 Professional’s entry price of $1,259 gives you everything you need, and their DJI Phantom 3 Professional with 4K Camera and Battery Bundle with Backpack at $1,659 gives you just about everything you’d want including spare battery, 16G card and backpack (you can get a hardshell version for $130 less).

If you start with the Solo with 3-axis gimbal, you start at $1,399 sans camera (though as of the writing of this post, the gimbal is still not available). If you want their bundle (spare battery, spare props and hard case with wheels), it will set you back $1,849 – still no camera. If you love GoPros and figure now’s the time to move up to 4K, you’ll want the HERO4 Black for $499, taking the total for the bundle up to $2,348. If I had to pick one right now, for me – just me?

You already now: I’d probably go with the Phantom 3 Professional with 4K Camera and 3-axis gimbal.

· My current GoPro is not full 4K but I’m thinking now is the time to explore (yes, the HERO3+ will do 4K at 15fps, but that doesn’t really help for how I’m most likely to use it);

· I don’t love how I interact with GoPro so I don’t enjoy using it and I’m not inclined to get the HERO4 (that’s no knock on GoPro – it’s a personal thing and the same reason I ultimately sold off my Leica M8);

· I’m leery of micro-HDMI ports in general;

· I now have a place and buds – Valley Forge Signal Seekers – where I can practice and learn how to take fuller advantage of a quadcopter’s capabilities, obviating the value of their Smart Shots (thought I wouldn’t have gotten to this point so quickly without them);

· I can’t shake the sense that the Phantom is just a bit more sorted as an aircraft and integrated video capture device; and

· The difference in price would ($1,899 vs $1,259) would get me halfway to that Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 or Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS that’s on my list.

Unless, of course, I bought the DJI Phantom 3 Standard with 2.7K Camera and 3-Axis Gimbal for significantly less money

Unless, of course, someone were to give me a Solo with Gimbal for my up-coming birthday.

That would be nice.

Wrap Up

So there you have it: if it were me, I'd go Phantom 3, but I can see why other people would choose the Solo.

And then there's the just-released Yuneec Q500 4K Typhoon

Huge shout-out to Rob, Alex and the Valley Forge Signal Seekers RC Club; Manny, who just happened to pop by and immediately offered a helping hand; and Stuart Honickman and the team at B&H for making the gear available for test.

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh is the founder of Three Blind Men and An Elephant Productions. He and the team write, direct, shoot, score, and edit web-centric films; conduct photo shoots; and write copy, white papers and blog posts. Hugh also writes screenplays (he recently optioned a TV pilot) and just published his first eBook (Apple's iPhone: The Next Video Revolution). If it's about telling stories, it's in their wheelhouse.

And always with the ambition of authenticity, humanity and wit.
Hugh Brownstone

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