It may have been 3DR’s “Smart Shots” which captured my imagination and gave me the courage to try the 3DR Solo and DJI Phantom 3 Professional, but it was the DJI’s superior flight performance and my sense that they’d catch up to Smart Shots faster than 3DR would catch up to the Phantom’s performance which led me to purchase the Phantom. With Intelligent Flight Mode now available on the Phantom 3 Professional and Inspire 1, DJI indeed delivers first.
This is NOT a peeing match between DJI and 3DR – at least, not for me.
If you’ve bought a Solo either with or without a gimbal and are happy with it, I’m happy for you. And I’ll repeat what I said at the end of my comparo back in August: I really want 3DR to succeed, because competition is a good thing.
Still, I ended purchasing a DJI Phantom 3 Professional with my own hard cash, and was delighted by the kind of footage I was able to create – good enough for Shutterstock — even without a Smart Shots equivalent.
Shortly thereafter DJI released a firmware upgrade with its version of Smart Shots called Intelligent Flight Mode (IFM), and after a false start or two I successfully installed the upgrade (HINT: the most helpful thing I can tell you is that contrary to what you may read or see, all you need to do is update the bird itself; the controller will then update automatically. I suggest starting with this video tutorial, but remember what I just wrote!).
To 3DR’s credit, imitation in this case is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.
|3DR Smart Shots||DJI Intelligent Flight Mode|
|Orbit Mode||Point of Interest|
|Cable Cam||Course Lock|
A quick look at this table shows that not only has DJI implemented an essentially identical set of video- and photo-centric functions, but has added the one mode not yet in the Smart Shots catalog: waypoints.
In Practice, Day 1
As has thus far always been the case, I needed to go out with the Phantom twice: the first time to make mistakes and learn from them, the second time to get results.
My first time out with IFM I went to a local dairy farm with the objective of trying two of the three intelligent flight modes I’d be likely to use: Point of Interest and Follow Me. With less than three hours’ total flight time (you may accomplish this even faster), my skills had evolved so that I no longer needed Course Lock or Home Lock.
I expect Waypoints to require more study and practice.
To make a long story short: mission accomplished.
After a couple of orienting runs, I put the Phantom into Intelligent Flight Mode and was promptly flummoxed by Follow Me. I couldn’t get it close enough to the ground for the shot I wanted – to follow me from behind. It turns out you can’t: minimum height for Follow Me is 30 feet.
I was then flummoxed by Point of Interest, as the DJI GO app kept telling me my radius was too tight, and I didn’t see a way to swipe my iPhone screen to make it bigger. DOH! You use the DJI controller’s joystick to do this.
With the low battery warning blinking at me, I quickly brought the bird back to me, allowing it to live to fly another day.
In Practice, Day 2
A couple of days later I returned to my local park, and now understanding my errors focused on doing just one mode: Point of Interest.
This time I got it right.
DJI Intelligent Flight Mode on the Phantom 3 Professional 4K: Point of Interest
You fly to and then directly over the item you want to be the center of your orbit (best to point the camera straight down as you get close to ensure the best framing); mark it in the DJI GO app; back away using the right (factory default) joystick; move to whatever height you want using the left joystick (factory default); and then use the right joystick to drive left or right (clockwise or counterclockwise).
You can also use the left joystick to change height as you fly around the point of interest.
Once you know what to do, it is about as simple as it can be (though frankly I’d like a different control interface altogether – I don’t like joysticks and am intrigued instead by something like the MoVI Mimic).
The Phantom 3 Professional [B&H|Amazon] has motivated me to make shots I’d never thought I could, and has therefore literally expanded my image-making horizons. Intelligent Flight Mode – just like Smart Shots – incredible technology developed specifically for the image maker – and it works.
The more I think about it the more I think maybe this – a quadcopter – should be my pick for camera of the year.
A Note on “Fanfare for the Common Man”
You may feel that Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” – the soundtrack to this test footage — is a bit clichéd here. I might agree with you. But I love the piece, and I don’t think anything I’m going to shoot anytime soon is going to be as appropriate. See more about it this seminal work at the Library of Congress.
Phantom 3 gets Autopilot features Waypoints, Point-of-Interest and Follow Me
Update: The Inspire 1 will also receive Waypoints, POI, Home Lock and Course Lock.
The Phantom 3 Advanced will also receive 2.7K (2704 x 1520) resolution.
News just broke that the Phantom 3 Professional, Phantom 3 Advanced & Phantom 3 Standard Drones will receive the following Autopilot features on Monday September 7th via a firmware upgrade:
Waypoints – You will be able to input points on a map and tell it at which height it should fly past the waypoint, allowing you to concentrate on pointing the camera to frame the angle you want to capture. You will be able to save the flights and recall them at a later date to allow you to fly the same route again at a later date.
Point-of-Interest (POI) – You will be able to select a point on a map and fly a perfect circle around the point while the camera is positioned perfectly to aim at center of the circle, which allows the camera to capture a 360 degree video of the point selected. You will be able to select the radius and height of the circle the quadcopter or drone flies.
(cover photo credit: snap from Quadcopterguide)