Review Update: DJI Phantom Quadcopter for GoPro Hero3 with Zenmuse H3-2D Gimbal
Part 3 of my review series on the DJI Phantom with updated hardware
By Jeff Foster | September 13, 2013
This has been a long time in the making as we've been awaiting all the hardware updates surrounding the release of the DJI Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal first introduced back in April at NAB. I've also been waiting for the updated hardware and electronics to arrive before posting this update so you can get the most current information possible, directly from the manufacturer.
Upgrades covered in this review:
• Zenmuse H3-2D Gimbal for GoPro Hero3
• Updated Motherboard/controller electronics and cabling, hardware
• Prop Guards for 8" props
• Installation and testing - plus tips on getting the best results
Zenmuse H3-2D Gimbal: Smooth out that footage!
The first upgrade completed was the Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal that was sent directly from DJI as soon as it was available in first-production run from prototype. This meant not only installing the gimbal but also taking apart the Phantom and heating up a soldering iron. The cabling for this upgrade also included to additional boxes that connected to various points on the motherboard. Stuffing all the extra cables and components back into the housing was a real trick!
Here's a montage of some of the install/kit of the prototype gimbal but since DJI has upgraded the motherboard & other electronics/hardware, this exact process is no longer complete as there is still a lot of other components to replace in the current installation:
Here's a video from DJI on this installation procedure, should you receive this upgrade kit in lieu of the new hardware/electronics upgrade mentioned later-on in this article:
First Flight Tests with the Zenmuse H3-2D Gimbal:
My first flight tests showed a significant improvement in stabilization of the GoPro footage, but also introduced a new problem - the props dipping down into view of the camera with wind and motion (I'm hoping to look into some solutions to this in the near future). Even with the gimbal pointed-down at about 100deg, you can still see the props and roto arms dip down into the top of the frame as the Phantom moves or gets tossed by a bit of wind.
Here's a video of my first flight after installation and recalibration in front of my neighborhood by the Bay:
DJI Phantom Electronics & Hardware Upgrade:
I received an upgrade kit directly from DJI (China) that included a new motherboard for the Phantom, plus some cabling, hardware and a plastic "lever" for the transmitter that adjusts the pitch of the Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal in flight. Unfortunately, it doesn't really control the way I had hoped it would - logically allowing you to spin the GoPro pointing straight down toward the ground or up to a 90-degree straight-ahead shot. This required some jury-rigging to make work and it's less than elegant in the end. I know that my colleagues Russell Brown (Adobe) and Colin Smith (PhotoshopCAFE) have had theirs professionally modified with a knob applied to the front of their controller housing with full control. I'll most likely be going this route eventually as well. More about this to follow... first the electronics:
The new motherboard replaces the existing board plus the additional cabling and electronic components that originally came with the Zenmuse installation kit. This allows for a cleaner and more spacious installation inside the Phantom housing and less chance for shorts and connection issues. You will need to desolder the old contact points on the original board and resolder the motors' power connections on the new motherboard. If you're not handy at soldering, perhaps it's best to refer to a professional to do this upgrade.
DJI has provided a step-by-step "how-to" video to assist in this upgrade, as well as (tiny) printed instructions that come with the hardware packaging.
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