When DJI announced the Phantom 4 I knew it would change drones forever, finally rather than just flight and video capabilities we took a step toward smarter aircraft that will make flying easier and safer in the long run. Testing it meant putting on two hats – one as a Phantom 3 Professional owner, the other as someone keen to get into drones.
It’s hard to argue that DJI are the market leader in consumer hobby drones – their Phantom range has been popular and growing since the original Phantom launched in early 2013. Here was a small drone you could very easily fly yourself. Add to it a GoPro and you’re getting photos and videos from the air.
There are many others on the market, most notably the 3DR Solo and Parrot Bebop. Both are very capable, but in my view the Phantom 3 Professional was the best in market from the moment it was launched.
DJI’s Phantom 4 is a whole new drone from the ground up and at first look it strikes me that DJI have been listening to their owners in developing this new drone.
Any Phantom owner will know the process – you get out your props, work out which are which, then spin them onto the screw-point end of each of the four motors. You can’t get them mixed up, but you can fail to tighten them correctly which will end in an issue – either at take off, or as the drone falls from the sky.
On the Phantom 4 there are still two pairs of propellers, but instead of spinning on like a nut on a bolt, the new attachment style is to push and twist them on – it’s a very short twist, and to give you confidence you can spin them either way and they won’t budge. You need to push down and twist to release them.
The Motors and Props also sit higher than on earlier models. This doesn’t add anything to the flight capabilities, but it does give you more clearance to the camera – meaning less blade interference in-flight.
At a distance, you can still tell this is a DJI Phantom. The now almost iconic white body is still there, white legs underneath in a shape that could seem obvious for a quad-copter, but when compared to the 3DR and Parrot it is very unique. However the middle of the Phantom is now a big “fatter” and the whole body is now made from what feels like a more solid plastic and has a gloss coating.
It looks like a Ferrari sat next to a Porsche alongside it’s older sibling the Phantom 3 Professional.
Probably the most impressive part of the redesign is to build into the craft more of the gimbal – making the whole design look seamless, rather than a drone with a camera attached – this looks like a camera that can fly.
Going back to the Phantom 2, where you could buy a gimbal that was attached underneath the craft, and allow a fully stabilised and controlled GoPro to be connected, the use of the Phantom for aerial photos and videos was destined to be the future for this product.
Taking the same high quality camera from the Phantom 3 but integrating it more into the drone makes the whole thing look sleeker and better from every angle. When you’re spending over $2,000 that’s important.
In-flight you still get the same level of control of the camera as on previous models, the redesign simply cleans up the overall look.
Here’s where things get interesting. On the legs (or landing gear) of the Phantom 4 are two forward facing cameras. Tiny cameras which allow the Phantom 4 to “see” in 3 dimensions. Just like your left and right eye allow you to determine depth and space around you, these two cameras, combined with powerful software are designed to detect obstacles and avoid them by flying over or around.
Let me be clear – I haven’t tested this. I didn’t want to fly a $2,400 drone toward a wall in the hope that it would not actually hit it. I’ve watched all the videos from DJI and several user videos. What’s clear to me is that you will get some excellent crash avoidance in slow speed forward flight.
As someone who has had a couple of incidents resulting in a drone falling from the sky (or landing in tree), there’s nothing here that will stop a high-speed crash on a sideways flight.
Perhaps though it’s best to look at this as an outstanding version 1.00 of collision avoidance. With the Phantom 4 now in the sky, DJI will learn a whole lot more than any lab tests could show. I can imagine this feature being expanded to four or even eight cameras in future models – looking all around the Phantom to avoid more incidents.
For now though, it’s an amazing feature which should not be treated as a fail-safe, you’ve still got to be a good pilot.
This. Is. Amazing. Yep, it’s awesome. For previous models of the Phantom, and on other drones, you can tell your drone to follow you so you don’t have to control it – but it’s following your device. Your iPad or iPhone used in connection with the controller. Phantom 4 doesn’t.
On-screen when flying the Phantom 4 you can switch to a mode that enables Active Tracking. On screen you draw a box around a person or object then click GO.
I tried this on the beach. It was brilliant. The Phantom 4 followed me as I ran (like an idiot) around the beach. Not only did the drone follow, but the camera did exceptionally well.
Speed, Battery & Flight Time
The Phantom 4 flies faster than ever too, it can ascend and descend faster than the Phantom 3 could, and can achieve higher speeds when you are full stick in horizontal flight too.
An all-new battery means longer flight time too – the new battery is a very different design to the previous and packs 5350mAh power compared to 4480mAh in the Phantom 3.
This battery, along with the aerodynamic and propeller improvements offer around 28 minute flight time compared to 23 from the previous model which will please many owners.
So, what’s your call on this one?
There’s no doubt in my mind this is the best drone on the market for hobby pilots under $2,500. DJI make some serious kit over that price, but for those looking for a new angle on their photos and videos on holidays or local tourist hot-spots the Phantom range has been and continues to be the benchmark.
Professional photographers and videographers will flock to a device like this, especially when the commercial use restrictions by CASA are lifted at the end of September.
I think the Phantom 4 is a clear sign of the future for this category. Smarter drones are going to be how the category grows. People crashing a $1000 or $2000 item just isn’t going to cut it, so the Collision Avoidance here is an amazing leap forward.
Likewise, the intelligent Active Tracking is an amazing feature which videographers will love.
For someone who doesn’t own a Drone and is thinking of spending the money, if you have $2500 – don’t look anywhere else. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far then there are Phantoms at all prices with varying features, as well as the Parrot Bebop, but you’ll almost always be left wondering why you didn’t wait and save.
If you currently own a Phantom 3 Professional, Active Track and Collision avoidance are the features you need to think about. For me, Active Track is super impressive, and if I did more videos of “people” then it’s a no-brainer. For my “coastline” or “countryside” style videos I don’t see it as a vital feature.
The real question is what next! It’s hard to imagine how DJI can top the Phantom 4, but like all good technology companies they will have a long roadmap of technology and improvements coming. For my mind, all-round collision avoidance is a must, but perhaps more critically some sort of drone-to-drone communication and avoidance too. If more and more drones are being bought, then more will be in the air and a higher likelyhood of crashes between drones. Seems a solid way to move forward too – and perhaps have professionals use multiple drones for their shoots in a co-ordinated manner.
This is a five-star device, top of the tree and should be the envy of all its competitors.