Upgrading My Phantom With a Zenmuse H3-2D Gimbal

Unimpressive box containing impressive tech!
Welcome to another upgrade (or add-on) story for my ready-to-flight quadcopter! Rrrriiing ... my doorbell proclaims new work arriving. The kind delivery man hands over a small parcel containing pleasant work. At least for now I consider it to be pleasant, so let's enjoy the moment.

The parcel contains my long-awaited Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal system. This upgrade should bring me into the league of super stable aerial filming.

I couldn't resist so I immediately opened the next chapter in the book of my flying construction site. Today, it seems ages ago that I purchased that ready-to-flight kit...

Not exactly ready-to-flight, the Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal is more or less a must-have add-on (or upgrade) for hobby film and quadcopter enthusiasts. After the great success of their Phantom quadcopter, DJI had been plagued with the usual symptoms: they cannot deliver as fast as people order their cam gimbal system Zenmuse H3-2D that complements their Phantom quadcopter. In my opinion, a good indication of this situation is that the gimbal (add-on) upgrade isn't exactly smooth, that there are two upgrade paths, and that more than just a few quick steps need to be done as part of the upgrade.It's my hope that my first-hand report may be of some help to others that want to add the Zenmuse H3-2D to their Phantoms.

Since I'm not a model hobbyist but still managed to upgrade successfully my impression is that the upgrade cannot be very difficult either. For me, the most difficult part turned out to be soldering due to the lead-free solder. That now requires soldering temperatures around 380 to 400°C. A 50W soldering iron should be good for the job, preferably with temperature control and a wide tip. Aside from this tool, patience will be your good friend. Don't get impatient, some upgrade steps are slightly tricky. But in the end, the result of super stable video footage will be worth the hassle!

First: Which Upgrade Path to Take?

Surely, DJI designed its Phantom quadcopter as a beginner's device. In consequence, they put focus on keeping with the bare minimum required, as to also keep the price tag small. However, this now has the somewhat unpleasant consequence that quite some upgraders to the Zenmuse H3-2D only notice later that they also need to order an additional item besides the gimbal in order to get a working gimbal.
Attention: the  Zenmuse gimbal does not work with the Phantom unless you also order an additional item. You will need either the Phantom Connection (or Upgrade) Kit or a PMU V2 in addition. Only then you will get a working gimbal system for the Phantom.
Of course, especially to beginners it is an annoying experience when getting the gimbal at last and then to find out that they need to order an additional item to make the gimbal work with their Phantom. In my eyes, DJI better had brought out its own gimbal version complete with all things required to make it work in the Phantom. At the moment, the marketing is not crystal clear, that the Zenmus H3-2D is a universal gimbal kit for the GoPro HD Hero 3, and not specially for the Phantom.

Alas, there are currently two upgrade paths. Both are currently costing the same. In more detail:
  1. Separate GCU and PMU: you'll need to order the following two DJI parts:
    • DJI Zenmuse H3-2D ... contains not only the mechanical gimbal system but also the required GCU gimbal control unit. But this isn't enough for operating the gimbal with a Phantom.
    • DJI PMU V2 ... a more powerful power management unit that comes with an additional CAN bus connector. The original PMU that is integrated on the main board of the Phantom doesn't come with the now-required additional CAN bus connector. This is what cost reduction at all means will cost you in the end.
  2. Replacement main board with integrated GCU and PMU; you'll need to order these two DJI parts:
    • DJI Zenmuse H3-2D ... contains not only the mechanical gimbal system but also the required GCU gimbal control unit. However, as said above, this isn't sufficient to operate the Gimbal on a Phantom and the stand-alone GCU is even not required for this upgrade path.
    • DJI Phantom Connection Kit ... comes with a new main board for the Phantom that does not only integrate the required PMU V2 (power management unit) but also the GCU (gimbal control unit). Yes, you have read correctly: you get an integrated GCU with this kit, so you don't use the GCU that already comes with the gimbal kit. Interestingly, the integrated main board containing the PMU and GCU costs the same as the stand-alone PMU V2. You don't need to understand this. I do neither.
Just to emphasize this: at the time of writing, both variants cost the same. The stand-alone PMU V2 is as expensive as the Phantom Connection (or Upgrade) Kit that comes with both the PMU V2 and the GCU. I don't get it.

Personally, I opted for the second variant: in my opinion, the replacement main board leads to a clean setup without the bricolage with separate PMU V2 and GCU boxes literally thrown into the Phantom. However, this upgrade variant requires slightly more work. But even with the first variant you need to solder. In particular, you need to solder additional power wires to existing solder joints ... which isn't an exactly easy task: you need to tame two thick power wires instead of only one. With the replacement main board there's always only exactly one power wire per solder joint.

Let's Upgade!

Some assembly required ... ready-to-tinker.
After unboxing I ended up with a bunch of parts waiting to be put into or below my Phantom quadcopter over the course of roughly three and a half hour.

You don't need all parts. Some parts are only required when you mount the Zenmuse H3-2D to other multi-rotor copters. For instance, the box contains three different types of  dampers. Similary, there are different screw sets.

You will also find a second 8 wire cable in the box for the Phantom Connection Kit. It should be used to connect the gimbal with the GCU. For good reasons, I avoided to use it despite the DJI documentation saying so. Instead, I went with the longer black cable that comes with the gimbal itself, for good reasons I will esxplain later.

Looking at all this I was reminded of what a colleague said: the Phantom is a ready-to-flight kit, isn't it?

But thanks to the excellent documentation in form of PDF documents and tutorial videos from DJI's web site I was sure that I can manage the upgrade successfully. But you need to take your time, this isn't done exactly in passing. Otherwise, you may end up with a bunch of (expensive) electronics junk.

Upgrading the Phantom and Gimbal Electronics

First: read the DJI documents and view their video!
Even for non-native English speakers the video and manual should be pretty self-explanatory. And remember, DJI in its manual also cannot write proper native English, so we're Family. In the following, I will thus mainly focus on those things to take care of during the upgrade procedure.

Unsolder and Remove the Main Board

As I opted for the Phantom Connection Kit the first step is to unplug all cables from the Naza-M flight controller chip. You should leave the Naza-M on the main board at this time.

Next comes the unpleasant work: unsolder all motor power wires (eight in total) that connect the motor controllers with the Phantom's main board. Since we're dealing with lead-free solder, you need to unsolder at comparably high temperatures, around 380 to 400°C. When done with unsoldering, remove the main board from your Phantom.

Replace the Tail LED

Upgrade required.
Just because the original cable lacks an Inch...!
Now we need to replace the LED module at the rear end of the Phantom's body. The reason becomes obvious when you place the old and new LED modules side by side: DJI optimized all cabling to the very tenth of an Inch. With the new main board the Naza-M has been moved to the side and the old LED cabling has become too short. Thus, you need to replace the LED module with one that has a slightly longer cable. Electronics junk galore! Of course, we will also have that spare GCU we don't need that came with the gimbal kit...

You will most probably need quite some patience when mounting the new LED module. A tall, slim screw driver will help to do the job. Open the batter door and try to put the Philips screws in place with the screw driver pointing through the open battery door.

Transplant the Naza-M

In this step, we will need to tranplant the Naza-M from the old to the new main board. Please be careful when removing the Naza-M as it contains sensitive accelerator sensors. Avoid heavy shocks, as this may damage the sensors.

In order to separate the Naza-M from the old main board I used a carpet cutter with an extensible blade. I then cut in the adhesive strip between the Naza-M and the main board. Afterwards, I was able to carefully remove the Naza-M.

Next, remove all traces of the old adhesive strip from the Naza-M. Use the new adhesive strip that comes with the connection kit and first fix it to the bottom of the Naza-M. Then fix the Naza-M to the new main board. Make sure that you mount the Naza-M in proper direction. See DJI's documentation for details. As a nice touch, DJI packs two adhesive strips into their upgrade kit, just in case your first attempt goes wrong.

Assemble the New Main Board

Now mount the new main board into the Phantom using the screws that either came with the upgrade kit or the existing ones. Again, we now need to solder: correctly wire up the power cables to the motor controllers. Make sure that you connect the voltage and ground lines correctly, don't mix them up. Check again, also check for unwanted solder bridges. There is no fuse in the power lines, so everything that is done here may end up in a spectacular failure.

After thoroughly checking your wiring, wire up all the loose connectors. The 4 wire cable from/to the GPS module has to be wired to the main module instead of to the Naza-M, as it was before.

That now leaves us with a difficult question: where to place the Futaba receiver R7008SB?

Successful Upgrade. The Phantom Upgrade/Connection Kit with integrated PMU and GCU.

As the Naza-M has been moved off its central position, the R7008SB doesn't fit into its old place (where once the original receiver was) anymore. I decided to now place it to the other side of the Naza-M. Use the 3M fixing strips to slightly jack up the receiver. In case you worry about thermal issues: just look at what DJI does in its Zenmuse H3-2D video: it wraps anything in layers of isolation tape and then places the PMU and GCU just on top. With my solution, there is still air flow between the receiver and main board electronics.

Run one of the receiver antennae from the R7008SB along the nearest landing gear leg. Place the other antennae inside the Phantom. I've placed it along the rear side of the Phantom.

External Voltage Measurement (Flight Battery)

Unfortunately, the now main board lacks the spare voltage supply cable that the old Phantom mainboard has. So I went for the video cable that comes with the gimbal: it also carries voltage supply. Fortunately, it carries the unregulated voltage that we need for proper measurement. Phew, we're lucky this time! I soldered the ends of the video cable to the external voltage cable that connects to the Futaba R7008SB receiver. Make sure to properly shrink-wrap the soldering to avoid any shortcuts.

Install the Gimbal Cable

Finally, install the longer, black 8 wire cable that comes with the gimbal. I didn't use the gray one that comes with the connection kit as there have been reports of this cable being too short. When you notice the difficult task of threading this cable through a hole you don't want to redo this procedure if the cable turns out to be too short for sure!

One end of the cable connects to the main board, that's the easy part. The other end needs to be run through a hole near one front leg. Please watch the DJI connection kit video: it shows the necessary trick for threading. However, the video doesn't show how to then proceed, just the final outcome. You will need patience in threading this damned connector with its cable through the hole. Take your time, take a breath whenever it doesn't work.

Signs of Life

Before mounting the gimbal it is probably a good idea to run a first check on your Phantom. Don't mount the propellers yet, leave off the top shell. Power up your transmiter first, next comes your Phantom ... and you should hear the familar sequence of differently pitched beeps. If you don't, immediately power off and check your soldering and cabling very thoroughly. Connect the Phantom to the Naza-M Assistent to check that things still work as expected.

My first check after transplantation turned out to be okay. So I could mount the top shell and proceed with the upgrade.

Mount the Gimbal

The heads of the two mounting screws need to
point towards the Phantom shell. You'll need to first
separate the damping plate from the dampers.
Then you can mount the gimbal.
In mounting the Gimbal I needed to proceed slightly different from what DJI shows. The reason is that DJI has slightly changed (or optimized) production of its gimbal. Also, my impression is that the video tutorial skips some important steps so it looks much easier as it is. For instance, how do you put some mounting screws in place when you can hardly reach them even later on with a screw driver?

If you look at DJI's documentation for the gimbal you will notice the following: in the documentation, the mounting arm of the gimbal shows stud holes. The reason is to allow for the screw heads to properly sink in and fix the gimbal arm to the damping plate. My gimbal doesn't have these stud holes anymore. Yet the video shows them. So this doesn't work out as expected.

But don't worry, we just install the gimbal as follows, ignoring the video in part:
  1. Separate the lower damping plate (the one towards the gimbal arm) from the four dampers.
  2. You can now easily mount the upper damping plate to the bottom of your Phantom. Make sure you mount the damping plate in its correct orientation!
  3. Now mount the gimbal arm to the lower damping plate using the two screws that came with the kit. The screw heads need to point towards the damping plate. In fact, the plate has stud holes for the screw heads. Make sure that the screw heads correctly sink into the stud holes!
  4. Connect the black 8 wire cable to the gimbal.
  5. Finally connect the lower damping plate to the four dampers. Tweezers will be of great help.
Phew! That's it! Finally!

Now you only need to mount the GoPro HD Hero 3 according to documentation using the binder.

Gimbal Startup and Programming the T14SG

Next comes the thrilling moment for a second dry run. Power up your receiver first. Again, without propellers, power up your Phantom. After you've heard the familar check beep sequence, hook up your Phantom with your computer. Make sure that you've installed the latest and greatest version of the Naza-M Assistant software (which was 2.16 at the time of this writing). Start the Assistant.
Important: You must configure a Zenmuse Gimbal installed on a Phantom with the Naza-M Assistant only. You can't do so using the separate Zenmuse Assistant software. The latter only works for directly connecting a stand-alone GCU to your computer through its built-in micro USB connector. The GCU integrated on the new main board doesn't have such a connector. Thus, don't install the Zenmuse Assistant, you'll need only the Naza-M Assistant. The Naza-M Assistant now contains the required functionality for dealing with an integrated GCU.

Setup Gimbal Operation

Firmware versions for Phantom and Zenmuse gimbal.
In the Naza-M Assistant, switch to the page named Upgrade. You should now see here the firmware versions of your main controller, the GPS unit, and finally the GCU. It takes roughly at least a second for the GCU to be found by the software.

Don't get irritated by the different firmware versions listed for the stand-alone GCU on DJI's web site and the current firmware version for the integrated GCU as shown here. Probably these two different GCUs also come with different firmwares due to the different integration into the system they need.

Remember that the Naza-M Assistant will notify you if it thinks that you need to run a firmware update.

Note: You don't need to explicitly switch on the Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal. In fact, you can't switch it off either, it is always enabled. You may notice the tab Gimbal on the Advanced page of the Naza-M Assistant. It is only required when you install a gimbal system that is directly operated by the Naza-M chip. The Zenmuse H3-2D however has its own GCU and does not make use the Naza-M (execpt for the X1 channel-through). Thus, leave the gimbal functionality of the Naza-M switched off.

You should notice that by now your GoPro HD Hero 3 should have moved to front-facing position. Grab your Phantom and tilt and pan it: you should now see your HD Hero 3 keeping track of its original position, staring at you like HAL does.

Finally, we need to calibrate the channel 5 (also known as X1 and AUX1) that controls the camera tilt. Switch back to page Basic and its tab RC. Click the button START in the area X1 Calibration. Move the left side lever a few times to its maximum and minimum positions. Then click the button again to end the calibration procedure. That's it!

Programming the T14SG

We finish our upgrade with some tiny optimizations to the programming of the Futaba T14SG transmitter.

First, we need to reverse the direction of channel 5. Enter the Linkage menu (tap LNK twice) and select [REVERSE]. Then, switch to the second configuration page, where you will find channel 5, also termed AUX1. Change its direction from [NORM] to [REVERSE]. In this configuration, when you move the left slide lever away from you, the HD Hero 3 will tilt upwards. When you move the left slide lever towards you, the cam will tilt downwards. This is the way I expect the slide lever to work. However, your expectation may differ, so feel free to reverse or not as you find it more convenient.

In addition, we set new endpoints. You can do also using the Naza-M Assistant. However, I decided to not configure the GCU but the T14SG instead. If you do so, the slide lever travel will be spread: only at the lever's maximum position you will see the channel reaching the programmed endpoint value.

So dive into the Linkage menu (LNK) one more again. This time, go for [ENDPOINT] instead. Then switch to the second page where you will find channel 5, AUX1. Set the «left» endpoint to 23, the right to 76. You should now read the following for values in row AUX1: 135 23 76 135. That's it.

We've now finished the second upgrade phase with success! Now let us test our upgrade: does it work out as expected? Do we get those jello-free super stable footage?

First Flights

Success: My Phantom with Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal.
Finally I could fly my upgraded Phantom to see what the real outcome would be.

When I checked my first footage I was simply blown away!

Jello-free and super stable video footage. I hoped for but I was stunned nevertheless. The effort I took in upgrading my Phantom had payed off very well.

Shooting aerial footage with the gimbal is a real big pleasure. Check out and enjoy my first test footage.
Update: Please enjoy my Castle Burg Thann video with much better real-world aerial footage shot with the H3-2D gimbal.
Now I almost don't want to see my old, jello-ridden and jumping aerial footage anymore. And I would like to have a water-proof and depth-proof gimbal for shooting during my dives...!


In any case, I'm highly satisfied with the DJI Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal. For your hard-earned bucks you get a lot of bang. Impressive technology that makes your GoPro HD Hero 3 Black Edition produce impressive footage: no jello, no shaking. Solid, high quality manufacturing, now that the first-batch glitches have been ironed out. And in particular, no pirated firmware.

Yet, I would like to see DJI finally fixing some of the rough edges.

  • (+) the Zenmuse perfectly stabiluized the GoPro HD Hero 3.
  • (+) well done production quality.
  • (-) the GoPro HD Hero 3 gets charged from the flight battery: this is really a bad idea!
  • (-) you need to screw and unscrew your GoPro HD Hero in order to put in and remove it. Thus, don't forget to necessary tools and screws. Otherwise you will be, well, screwed. At least, DJI packs in a bag with a lot of fixing screws.
  • (-) replacing the main board and mounting the gimbal is not the task an absolute beginner should tackle. In addition, you need a good deal of patience for the task.
  • (-) the upgrade variant using the stand-alone GCU and PMUv2 boxes looks like a flying bricolage to me. Seeing this in DJI's video I opted for their connection upgrade kit instead, as I find this second upgrade variant to be more convincing.
  • (-) the new main board with the integrated GCU and PMU is well done. However, cabling is very tight due to the overbroad optimization DJI did on their Phantom. Assembly thus is more cumbersome than it would need to be. Slightly longer cabling would ease assembly quite a lot.