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DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ review: Top-notch eye in the sky

The ready-to-fly camera-toting quadcopter can now be controlled from more than 2,000 feet away, while a new three-axis gimbal keeps your shots nice and steady.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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8 min read

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.

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DJI Phantom 2 Vision+

The Good

The DJI Phantom Vision 2+ is an easy-to-set-up and ultimately simple-to-pilot quadcopter drone for aerial photos and video. It's fun to fly, well-constructed, has very good battery life for its class and can painlessly be set to navigate a flight path autonomously.

The Bad

Video quality is on par with a lower midrange POV camera. Though flight times are longer than those of most RTF copters, you'll want to factor in an extra battery or two and spare propellers into the cost. Ground Control features might be too limited for more experienced users.

The Bottom Line

An excellent entry point into the world of aerial photos and video, DJI's Phantom 2 Vision+ is worth the cost for its simple setup and use.

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Getting started

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.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

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.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

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.

DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ gets rock-steady video (pictures)

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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.

DJI built the Phantom 2 Vision+ pretty tough, so even if you do have some minor crashes, chances are good it'll survive. It is not indestructible, though, and while the camera and gimbal did survive one particularly high drop after I got a little too close to a tree, it did require some manual recalibration. Mainly, you'll want to buy an extra set or two of props, because those will break.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Initially, you'll probably navigate by sight, but the Vision+ is relatively small and you don't have to send it all too far away before you'll have trouble seeing it and using its lights and markings for navigation. At that point you'll be flying using your smartphone's screen, which can be difficult if you're flying out in full sun. Just one more thing for new pilots to keep in mind.

The quadcopter's GPS autopilot system comes in particularly handy for those just starting out. When locked onto a minimum of six satellites (both the Vision app and LED indicators on the copter will let you know when you're good), the Vision+ will hover in place and hold its position. This allows you time to stop and potentially avoid a crash.

The GPS also gives you a return-to-home fail-safe that will signal the Phantom to fly back to your take-off spot and land in case it flies out of range, the controller is powered off or the signal is lost between the controller and the Phantom for some other reason.

Using the Vision app, you can also set up a GPS-navigated flight path for the Vision+ to follow autonomously. Similar to DJI's iPad Ground Station capabilities available for the Phantom 2 and other drones, the integrated ground station functions in the Vision app let you set up to 16 waypoints just by tapping on your smartphone's screen.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

The default altitude for each waypoint is 98 feet (30 meters), but by tapping the individual waypoints you can select the altitude for each one from 0 to 650 feet (200 meters). Waypoints cannot be placed more than 1,640 feet (500 meters) from your Home point. You unfortunately can't set individual speeds for traveling from point to point, but you can set an overall speed: fast (8m/s), mid (4m/s) and slow (2m/s). The Vision+'s top speed, by the way, is 15m/s.

When you've got the flight path set, you tap Done to get a preview and then tap Go to start it on its course. You can tap a pause button to stop and hover during the flight and you can call the Vision+ back to its home point at any time as well as regain complete control to fly it manually. However, it will only fly point-to-point, and cannot be programmed to do anything else at the moment.

It's not as robust as the iPad Ground Station solution, but for a RTF quadcopter it's enough to give you a taste of what's possible. However, like flying it manually for the first time, I suggest using it in an open area when you're starting out.

Of course, all of these wonderful things require battery power. DJI says its battery is good for up to 25 minutes, which is long for this class of quadcopter. Using the camera or flying at high speeds or in windy conditions will use more power. Plus, you'll be using at least some of that 25 minutes to bring the Vision+ safely back to the ground without falling from the sky. Basically, plan to buy an extra battery or two unless you want the fun to end fast.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Camera control and quality

Having the camera and gimbal all set and ready to go out of the box is great. There's no need to attach or connect anything, and it even comes with a 4GB microSD card for storage; cards up to 32GB are supported.

All the camera's settings and controls are managed through the Vision app. For video, you can just tap record and it will start to capture wherever you point the camera. A slider on the left side of your screen lets you control the camera pitch. You can also use your smartphone's accelerometer to control pitch simply by rolling your device forward and back.

The gimbal makes the video ridiculously smooth. There were times while I was hovering when I thought the video had frozen because it was so still. Between the gimbal and the copter's capability to hover in place, it makes grabbing photos of the shot you're after possible.

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The top photo is a JPEG straight from the camera, while the bottom is an edited DNG file. Joshua Goldman/CNET

However, every time you take a photo the screen goes black for several seconds. It's a little unnerving at first and then it just becomes irritating. On the upside you can capture in Adobe's DNG raw format and JPEG.

Having the raw file gives you more flexibility when it comes to editing the images. You'll be able to rescue details blown out in a highlight or hidden in shadows as well as exposure, color, sharpness and distortion.

Video quality is what I would call "good enough." If your main concern is to get the best possible video and photo quality, you'll want to with a quadcopter like the Phantom 2 where you can attach your own camera. For me, this is the biggest downside to an all-in-one solution like the Vision+: You can't put on a better camera.

The video has a bit rate of about 12Mbps, which is what you'd find on a lower midrange POV/action cam these days. Fast movement results in a fair amount of motion artifacts where details turn into flat patches. There are aliasing and rolling shutter artifacts, too, but wobble is kept in check for the most part thanks to the gimbal.

You're paying for convenience here, though, and really, depending on how high up you're shooting from, fine detail becomes less important. But, you can see for yourself in the clips above.

Conclusion

If you have no interest in tinkering and want a no-muss, no-fuss way to get in the air and start seeing the world around you from a different perspective, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is an excellent entry point for aerial photos and videos. However, if you think you might want better video quality consider the Phantom 2 instead.

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DJI Phantom 2 Vision+

Score Breakdown

Design 8Battery 8Features 8Ease of Use 8
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