posted Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 2:15 PM EST


We've mentioned DJI's awesome Phantom quadcopters quite a few times on our news page over the last year or two, but as cool as these aerial photography platforms are, they're about to get a whole lot cooler.

"What could be better than a reasonably affordable quadcopter with a built-in, remotely-aimable high-res camera, Wi-Fi live view at a range of 300 meters, and 25-minute flight times" we hear you asking? How about "All of the above, plus the ability to shoot still images in raw format, and to have the quadcopter navigate by itself along a predefined route"?

Both of these features are headed to the DJI Phantom 2 Vision, an impressive quad that currently retails for street prices in the neighborhood of US$1,200. (If that's beyond your budget, DJI also has an entry-level quad -- the Phantom -- which requires you to supply your own camera, has half the battery life, and lacks remote live view, for somewhere in the region of US$470.)

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision has a remote-controlled tilting camera with live view functionality, and will soon support raw shooting.

It's the soon-to-be-upgraded Phantom 2 Vision that really has our attention, though. Courtesy of a firmware update slated for release late this month or early in January, it will now be able to shoot 14-megapixel, 12-bit DNG raw files, and to pilot itself autonomously along a route you've programmed on your Android or iOS smart device.

The Vision's imagery is captured using a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, which is the same size used by Woodman Labs' GoPro-series cameras. In the Vision's built-in camera, it sits behind an f/2.8 glass lens capable of providing 90°, 120°, or 140° field of view. (And should you want to correct for its wide-angle imagery, DJI provides an Adobe .lcp lens profile that will help you do so.)

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision will soon gain autonomous flight configured with a smart app.

Shooting raw is pretty nifty, as it will allow you to correct for white balance after the fact without losing data in your images, and might even give you a little latitude for exposure correction too, although small sensors like these don't give as much benefit as an APS-C imager would in this respect. The autonomous navigation is what has us excited, though. Thanks to the on-board GPS and an array of other sensors, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision will be able to take off and then navigate to a certain point and altitude you've selected on a map view, then another, and another, and so on.

We don't yet know if there's a limit on the number of waypoints, nor whether you can also set variables like speed and direction at various points on the route, but even if not this is a pretty cool feature. (And if you can -- well, that could make for some awesome footage. Imagine being able to have your quadcopter slowly navigate itself around a landmark, all the while keeping the camera facing towards your subject!)

The DJI Phantom Vision 2 currently retails for around US$1,200.

We'll be watching for the firmware when it drops, so check back to our news page for the latest on this exciting update to the Phantom 2 Vision's capabilities.

(via John Nack on Adobe)