DJI Phantom 3 vs Inspire 1 – Which should I buy?
I’ve owned my Inspire 1 for over a month now and with over 70 flights under my belt I feel like I’m starting to know it well, both from an operational and flight characteristics point of view. Before i purchased the Inspire I spent a lot of time deciding between it and DJI’s other popular offering, the Phantom 3 Professional as both have 4K cameras and a lot of features in common. I wasn’t able to test either system so I based my purchasing decision on a few factors that could potentially make a difference. The things that really swayed me towards the Inspire was it’s ability to rotate the camera, the removable gimbal allowing for future upgrades and the ability to operate in higher winds.
Recently I’ve had the chance to spend a few weeks flying the Phantom 3 Professional so I thought I’d share my findings about whether I made the right choice and try to give some advice to anybody trying to decide between these two platforms. Firstly I’ll describe some differences in the aircraft and then I’ll go on to talk about my findings.
Size, weight & build.
By far the biggest difference between these two drones is the size and weight of each design. Although I’d seen a few Phantoms in the past I’d never actually used one before and after using the Inspire for a few weeks I was quite surprised how much smaller and lighter the Phantom is. The Inspire weights in at 2.93 KG whereas the Phantom 3 is less than half that at a mere 1.28 KG.
The interesting thing about comparing these two designs is that whilst the Phantom does feel more like a toy compared to the Inspire in a lot of ways I think it’s tougher. Whilst carbon is an extremely strong material the Inspires carbon arms and landing gear legs are known to break very easily, even very light mishaps can result in broken arms on the Inspire and if that happens it needs to be shipped back to DJI for repair.
In comparison the Phantom feels surprisingly sturdy considering it’s plastic construction. I have a feeling that if both were dropped from a few feet in the air the Phantom would be fine but given it’s weight and construction the Inspire would likely suffer damage. I’m not going to be putting that to the test though.
The props on the Phantom are self tightening meaning that you simply screw them on to the threads on top of each motor. The Inspire uses DJI’s new Quick Release props.
The Phantom uses 9.4″ props whilst the Inspire uses larger 13″ props which also feel stiffer.
Both aircraft are fitted with DJI’s Visual Positioning System (VPS). The system utilises a small camera and a sonar system to aid with position fixing and height measurement at low levels. DJI list the Phantoms VPS as working from 3 – 300 cm whilst the Inspires works from 5 – 500 cm.
Camera & Gimbal
Both the Phantom 3 and the Inspire 1 feature 4K cameras. Both are reported to use the same Sony EXMOR 1/2.3” sensor and record using the same specifications through a 20mm f/2.8 lens providing a 94° field of view. For a full list of shooting formats and available features see the DJI specification pages for the Phantom 3 and Inspire 1
From my testing I couldn’t see any noticeable differences in the quality of the recorded images from each camera so I believe both cameras do feature the same hardware. Please note that in the photo’s shown both cameras are fitted with 3rd party ND filters. Whilst the Inspire does come with an ND4 filter the Phantom does not so filters must be purchased separately. I used a set from Polar Pro.
Whilst the camera internals may be similar the externals and the gimbal systems on each platform are very different. The removeable Zenmuse X3 on the Inspire is a much more self contained and slick looking design. Both systems can pitch 90° down and 30° up but the Inspire gimbal can also rotate 320° in each direction. The Phantom’s Gimbal is less well designed, it has open motors with exposed ribbon cables that seem more vulnerable.
The Inspires camera has a Micro SD slot mounted on the side if the camera itself, the camera also features an active cooling fan that starts up when the Inspire is powered on. The Phantom has a Micro SD slot on the gimbal plate and seems to rely on air cooling alone.
Both aircraft use Intelligent LiPo batteries. The Phantom 3 uses a 4 cell, 15.2V 4480 mAh battery that powers the aircraft for around 22 minutes flight time.
The Inspire uses a 6 cell, 22.2V, 4500 mAh (TB47) battery which provides up to 18 minutes of flight time. A larger capacity 5700 mAh (TB48) battery is also available for the Inspire offering flight times up to 22 minutes.
Both aircraft have their antennas built in to the landing gear.
The controllers supplied with the Phantom 3 and Inspire 1 look very similar, they follow the same design with just a few differences between each unit. Both controllers include a holder for a tablet or smart phone and they both use the same DJI Pilot app.
The most noticeable difference between the two controllers is that the Inspire unit has a metal top as well as an aluminium bracket that supports the tablet holder. As well as looking and feeling nicer I found that the metal bracket on the Inspire holds the tablet in place much more securely whereas the plastic one on the Phantom controller tends to work loose leaving the tablet a bit wobbly.
Note that the Return To Home button on the Inspire 1 controller also features a switch to control the landing gear position. The Phantom’s gear is fixed so no need for the switch on there.
Other than the landing gear switch both controllers have the same button layout. The left shoulder of both controllers houses three controls, a three way switch for selecting flight modes, a video record button and a rotary control wheel which by default controls the tilt of the camera. The tilt control is spring loaded to return to it’s centre position, the more it’s pushed to the left the faster the camera tilts down and the more it’s pushed to the right the faster the camera tilts up.
The right shoulder houses buttons for taking a still photo, a media playback button for reviewing shots on an attached tablet and a rotary controller for navigating through menu options. The rotary control can also be pressed to make selections.
The back of each controller looks identical. Both feature a pair of buttons that sit under your index fingers whose functions can be customised in the DJI Pilot App.
In the hands both controllers feel identical although with the metal components the Inspire controller does feel a little heaver and nicer to hold.
One important difference between the two systems is that the Inspire 1 controller features an HDMI output allowing video to be displayed or recorded on a secondary device plus a canbus port for expansion, neither are available on the Phantom 3 controller.
Below you can see my iPad Mini 2 running on both the Phantom 3 and Inspire 1 controllers. Both use the same DJI Pilot app for controlling the various features and options on the aircraft as well as displaying flight information and telemetry.
For the purposes of this comparison I won’t describe all the features of the Pilot App as both platforms share most of them. There are however a few differences based on the hardware capabilities of each aircraft so I will describe those.
The first and probably biggest difference between the two is the enhanced ability to control the camera through full 360 degree movement with the Inspire 1. It’s as simple as holding your finger on the iPad screen and then moving it in the direction you want the camera move. Whilst the same feature does work with the Phantom the gimbal is limited to tilting up and down only.
The other big advantage the Inspire 1 has over the Phantom 3 is it’s ability to utilise two controllers allowing a second person to work as camera operator. Whilst it’s possible to achieve a lot of interesting shots as a single operator, letting one person concentrate on flying the aircraft whilst another frames the shots allows you to be more creative and increases both ability and safety.
The size and weight of each aircraft definitely has an effect on their flight characteristics. The Inspire 1 tends to feel more stable and small movements feel dampened by it’s size. In comparison the Phantom 3 is a little more skittish in it’s response and requires a little more finesse to achieve smooth results.
Flying slow moves at higher altitudes over say 100ft up in light winds where small movements are less obvious I think it would be hard to tell which aircraft is being flown, both platforms respond quickly to control input and produce similar results. It’s only really when aircraft or wind speeds start to increase that the difference between the aircraft start to become more apparent.
When flying forward at high speed or hovering in to a higher speed headwind the aircraft have to pitch forward. The images above and below show both aircraft fully pitched forward in ATTI mode. As you can see one downside with the Phantom is that the props and even parts of the forward arms then move in to the cameras field of view and become visible at the top of the frame.
The same conditions are not a problem for the Inspire 1 due to the larger distance between the props and the camera with the landing gear raised. In fact the camera can be tilted up by a few degrees and the shot remains clear of the props.
Flight Speeds and Wind
When it comes to pure speed specifications and performance the Inspire 1 definitely has some advantages, here’s a breakdown of the performance specifications of each aircraft from DJI in zero wind conditions…
Max Flight Speed: 16 m/s (35.7 mph)
Max Assent Speed: 5 m/s (11.1 mph)
Max Descent Speed: 3 m/s (6.7 mph)
Max Flight Speed: 22 m/s (49.2 mph)
Max Assent Speed: 5 m/s (11.1 mph)
Max Descent Speed: 4 m/s (8.9 mph)
As you can see there’s not much in the assent and descent speeds with the Inspire having just a 1 m/s advantage in a descent but in a flat out flight speed test in ATTI mode the Phantom trails the Inspire by around 6 m/s (14 mph). If your planning on shooting high speed subjects or operating in higher wind speeds than that might the difference between keeping up with your subject or not.
The Inspire is likely the better choice for working in higher wind speeds because it has more speed on tap and it’s weight will help it deal with gusts and changes in wind speed, however the Phantom 3 isn’t far behind it, whilst the smaller aircraft is more easily blown around I think both could be flown successfully in wind speeds around 20 mph as long as the pilot has sufficient skill levels and remembers to monitor battery levels.
If you plan on travelling overseas or hiking to remote locations then the Phantom 3 would likely be a better choice, especially for an operator working alone. This is obviously dependent on the requirements of the shoot you have in mind however.
DJI Hardshell Backpack for Phantom 3 – Click here for more details.
I recently took a Phantom 3 with me on an overseas trip just so that I could spend some time flying it for the purpose of this review and it was the perfect size to just stick in the boot of a car or carry around in a backpack in case an opportunity to grab a shot arose.
Bigger isn’t always better
Another thing I’ve found when comparing these aircraft is how much more adventurous I am with the Phantom. The shorter props on the Phantom makes it feel much less intimidating to fly in close proximity to obstacles. One shot I did with the Phantom involved flying sideways through a group of trees, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that shot with the Inspire. While this is mostly down to the smaller size of the Phantom I think it’s fair to say that it’s ruggedness and lower cost defiantly play a part.
In operation the Phantom does feel less dangerous than the Inspire. I know both could potential cause harm or damage, but given the choice I’d rather bump in to something with the Phantom than the Inspire. I also hand caught the Phantom on a few occasions, thats not something I would attempt with an Inspire 1.
Inspire 1 vs Phantom 3 – the bottom line
After spending a few weeks with the Phantom 3 Professional I’m really impressed by it. Working most of the time as a single operator I feel it’s a great tool for somebody who needs a portable and hassle free way to obtain aerial shots for setting scenes or even lower level creative camera moves in controlled situations.
The big thing about the Phantom 3 Professional is it’s amazing value. At the time of writing this article B&H are selling them for $1,259. In comparison an Inspire 1 is going to set you back $2,899 with one controller or $3,398 with two controllers.
The Inspire is also great value but for different reasons. It offers more stability and a more advanced camera platform but only you can decide if those features are worth double the cost of the Phantom 3. What really sets the Inspire 1 above the Phantom 3 is it’s ability to use dual controllers in combination with the advanced gimble system, if you’re in a position to utilise that then the Inspire would be a great choice.
The Inspires ability to output HDMI from the controllers and the possibility that DJI might release an improved camera for it are also factors to bear in mind. DJI have already announced a stand alone handle for the Inspire 1’s camera, although the camera itself is available as a stand alone accessory should that be of interest.
Here’s a collection of clips I shot while testing the Phantom 3 Professional…
Costs and where to buy
Please click the links below for the latest prices from B&H Photo in the US. I have included the costs at the time of writing this article but theses may change over time.
DJI Phantom 3 Professional – $1,259
DJI Inspire 1 – Single Controller – $2,899
DJI Inspire 1 – Dual Controllers – $3,398
If you have any questions or thoughts about what’s been written then please feel free to let me know using the comments box below, or by pressing the comment link on the left side of the page.