DJI’s ready-to-fly Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional camera drones are remarkably simple to operate, which makes them great for people entering the hobby. What’s not so great: their prices.

To help out your poor credit card, DJI introduced the Phantom 3 Standard, a quadcopter that looks a lot like its linemates, but at $799 in the US, £649 in the UK and AU$1,299 in Australia, it costs hundreds less. Also, to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary, DJI has cut the price to $499, AU$859 and £449 with no end date set for the promotion.

At its price, the Standard is tough to beat. You might be able to find a quadcopter with similar features from someone else, but it won’t be as polished a product — from unboxing to flight — as the Phantom 3 Standard.

That said, the Standard is the entry-level model and as such it has fewer features. For starters, it lacks the Visual Positioning System that the other Phantom 3s have that would have let you more easily fly it indoors without GPS. Similarly, the Standard uses only GPS for positioning outdoors, while the Professional and Advanced use GPS as well as GLONASS, a secondary satellite system for faster and more accurate positioning provided by GPS alone.

The biggest difference is its controller, though. The one that comes with the Advanced and Professional models features DJI’s Lightbridge technology for better video image transmission between the sky and ground as well as having a range of up to 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).

In place of Lightbridge, the Standard’s controller uses a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi range extender for transmitting the live view from the Standard to a mobile device, so the potential for a delay or loss of signal in the video downlink is greater. Plus, transmission range is cut down to a maximum 1,000 meters (0.62 mile). The remote controller operates on 5.8GHz frequency.

Also, the higher-end controller has camera controls like buttons for starting and stopping recordings or taking snapshots in addition to two that are programmable. The Standard’s controller is limited to an adjustment wheel for tilting the camera up and down with all other camera settings and controls handled via DJI’s Go app for iOS and Android. There’s also no discrete Return-to-Home button; one of the controller’s switches can be used instead. (Here’s where you can see the full feature breakdown by model.)

dji phantom 3 standard
Joshua Goldman/CNET

As for the Standard’s camera, it uses a similar distortion-free, 94-degree, wide-angle f2.8 lens to the Pro and Advanced, but it has a maximum recording resolution of 2.7K HD video at 30 frames per second. That’s the same maximum resolution as the Advanced, however that model can also do 1080p at 60fps; the Standard taps out at 1080p at 30fps.

The Standard can also snap 12-megapixel photos in both Adobe DNG raw and JPEG formats. The Go app also lets you manually change shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO and you can set it to do burst shooting, exposure bracketing and time-lapse photography.

The Standard uses Phantom 3 Intelligent Flight batteries, which allow you to check the health of its individual cells via the Go app. This also means older batteries won’t work. DJI claims flight times top out at 25 minutes. In my tests the quadcopter lasted 22 minutes with a mix of hovering and flying in light wind and factoring in time for takeoff and landing (which can be done automatically through the Go app). That’s about average for this class of quadcopter and more aggressive flying or high winds will cut into that flight time.

To help you make the most of that time, the Standard has DJI’s Intelligent Flight features including waypoint navigation, point of interest (POI) flight planning and a Follow Me function.

Waypoint navigation lets you set up a multipoint path for the drone to follow while you control the camera, while POI flight planning allows you to autonomously fly a circle around a subject, keeping it centered. Follow Me sets the drone to track your movement based on your orientation when holding the remote controller.

The modes are accessed by flipping down the S1 switch on controller’s right side. You have to do it once you’re in the air, so you’ll have to be somewhat quick about setting up your shot as you’ll be cutting into your overall flight time.

Video quality is fine. The gimbal keeps the camera extraordinarily stable even in high winds. Like most small-sensor cameras, the Standard’s struggles with extreme highlights so you end up with blown-out details. It does a relatively good job of adjusting for lighting changes — another area where these cameras can struggle. You may also notice some horizontal banding, which is a rolling shutter artifact that’s common to these cameras as well.

Despite all of this, the video is generally very good, especially for the price. My biggest issue is that you’re stuck with this camera. There is no option to upgrade it down the road and it can’t be removed for handheld use.

Lastly, whenever you record a video, a compressed 720p version is stored to your mobile device. To help make the most of these clips, DJI built a basic video editor in to the Go app. You can use it to cut up your clips, gather them up and then combine them into one movie. DJI also included some style templates with music you can apply before you save. Then you can just share away.

A review by Joshua Goldman/CNET

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