More powerful than your average toy quadcopter, but not as intimidating as DIY enthusiast models, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ falls in a sweet spot for anyone who wants to get started capturing videos and photos from the sky.
Well, anyone who has $1,160 to spare on a new hobby anyway. (It'll set you back around £890 in the UK and in Australia about AU$1,300.) But, that's a fairly reasonable price considering how ready-to-fly and shoot the Vision+ is out of the box.
If you don't stop to charge up its batteries or read the manual (you should do both before your first flight, of course), you can go from unpacking it to up in the air inside of 10 minutes.
The quadcopter itself is for the most part unchanged from its predecessor, the Phantom 2 Vision. You'll find all the same convenience features like color-coded, self-tightening propellers for easy installation and replacement, and a slot-loading battery pack -- no connectors to mess with here -- that delivers up to 25 minutes of flight time (more on that "up to" part in a bit).
The camera on the Vision+, though it looks different, also seems to be the same, at least in specs: an f2.8 lens paired with a 14-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor that can capture Adobe DNG raw and JPEG images and video at up to 1080p at 30fps and 720p at 60fps. You can also control ISO, exposure compensation and white balance, and choose from a 140-, 120-, or 90-degree field of view.
The biggest change is what is supporting the camera. With the original Vision, the camera was on an antivibration platform stabilized only on the tilt axis and the tilting range during flight (remotely controlled through the mobile Vision app) had a range of 60 degrees. The Vision+, however, has a three-axis gimbal similar to the one available for use with a GoPro camera on the Phantom 2.
The gimbal actively stabilizes the camera in roll, pitch and yaw directions keeping the video looking smooth even with sudden movements. Plus, the camera can do a 90-degree tilt, letting you shoot straight down, straight ahead and anywhere in between.
Again, there's not much to setting up the Vision+ for the first time. The propellers have to be spun on, but they're clearly marked so you don't do it incorrectly and they're self-tightening so they lock on as soon as the copter spins up for take-off.
There are three things you'll need to charge up before you fly: the Vision+ battery pack, the wireless range extender and an Android or iOS mobile device. The remote control also needs four, AA-size batteries.
The copter's battery is charged via an included wall charger or an optional car charger, while the range extender pulls its power from a Micro-USB port connected to a computer or wall adapter (not included). It would be nice if both could get topped off from one charger giving you a bit of a reminder, but it's just something you'll have to make a habit of before you fly.
You'll need a smartphone loaded with DJI's Vision app, which among other things lets you see what the camera sees, control the camera and its settings, view real-time flight telemetry and set up an autopilot flight plan with up to 16 waypoints.
There have been a few app and firmware updates since the Vision+ was released in April. Once you're all charged up, you'll want install the latest version of Phantom 2 Vision+ Assistant software on a Windows or Mac computer, connect the copter through its Micro-USB port and use the Assistant software to check your firmware and update it if necessary.
Time to fly
Whether you've already bought the Vision+ or are still in the consideration phase, I recommended downloading and reading through the full user manual and flight training guide available on DJI's support site.
To get ready to fly, you'll have to power on the Vision+, the remote control and the wireless range extender. Once the extender is ready (it takes about 30 seconds), you'll connect your phone's Wi-Fi to it and then open the Vision app.
The key piece that makes the Vision+ easy to fly for beginners is the built-in DJI Naza-M flight control system. It's made up of an inertial sensor, barometric altimeter, a compass, GPS, LED flight indicators and a controller that gets them all to work together.
After a quick calibration of the compass -- something you'll do before every new flight -- that requires little more than rotating the copter once horizontally and once vertically, you'll be ready to take off.
Highs and lows of piloting the Vision+
I don't need to tell you how much fun it is to fly one of these things, but if you have no experience with any radio-controlled aircraft, I highly recommend taking your first flights out in an open area where there are no people or distractions.
The flight training guide I mentioned in the previous section gives you basic to advanced skills to practice. You're going to crash every now and then, but flying in a big open space can help prevent that.