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DJI’s Phantom 3 arrives: Here’s what you need to know

Meet the Phantom 3. (DJI)

The news: Chinese drone maker DJI on Wednesday unveiled two new versions of its popular Phantom.

The models: DJI is releasing the Phantom 3 Advanced for $999 and the Phantom 3 Professional for $1,259.

Which one makes sense for me? This mostly depends on how powerful a camera you need. The professional has the superior camera, it shoots in 4K at 30 frames per second. The advanced shoots up to 1080p at 60 frames per second. Both take still photos at a resolution of 12 megapixels. The less expensive model is likely powerful enough for most hobbyists interested in shooting vacation videos.

The only other difference is that the professional model comes with a backpack and a faster battery charger.

Battery life: Estimated at 23 minutes by DJI.

A safer flying experience: Phantoms have occasionally ended up in the wrong places, such as the White House lawn. DJI is continuing to add features to make it easier for well-intentioned pilots to stay out of trouble. The Phantom includes auto-takeoff, auto-landing and auto-return functions. There’s also a flight simulator for practicing.

The GPS has been augmented with GLONASS, a Russian equivalent of GPS so that the Phantom has even more satellites to contact in order to ensure it holds its position. (An airborne Phantom will hover in place when its pilot isn’t giving any commands.) The more satellites the Phantom can connect with, the better it can be at staying in place.

Pilots will also be able to watch live footage from their drone in 720p on a tablet attached to the remote controller. DJI says this will work when the Phantom is within a mile of the pilot.

Easier sharing on social networks: Phantom 3 pilots will be able to select a short video clip while flying to be set aside for online sharing. DJI will also support streaming on YouTube Live. So you can livestream drone footage, however DJI says there will be a 20-minute delay.

Speed: The Phantom 3 ascends at a max of 13 mph and will fly horizontal at 35 mph. These speeds are electronically limited.

Weight: 2.8 pounds.

When you can get one: DJI says it will begin shipping the drones in a few weeks.

What this means in the grand scheme of things: The quality and features of drones continue to advance, and yet the prices aren’t rising. This is reminiscent of developments we’ve seen in PCs, laptops and smartphones. As drones continue to get better at aerial photography, expect them to disrupt traditional professional aerial photography services.

“It’s really a milestone product from our point of view because we have released for the first time an integrated product that features image quality that’s high enough to be cut into commercials and TV shows and vacation videos,” said DJI’s Eric Cheng, its director of aerial imaging.

Steadily improving drones will also likely draw more hobbyists.  Cheng says DJI is seeing exponential growth. It’s an exciting time for the industry. On Monday DJI competitor 3D Robotics will release a new product.