Review of the DJI Phantom 4

Constant updates as our ops test out the latest drone from DJI

Out of the box

16th March

Rather than just focus on all the Phantom 4 review specs, and what we already know from everyone else. We’re going to look at what features we like and dislike straight out of the box from a commercial operator’s perspective. So in other words what features do we think will be useful and make our lives easier on a job, and do they make the Phantom 4 a worthwhile addition to a pro ops drone fleet?

What we like
  • The props are quick release just like the Inspire 1 props (the non pro version that is).
  • Nice case/box  whilst still technically a box, it fits everything and has a latch and handle – a great start before you can get your hands on a proper case.
  • Full set of spare props included, although apparently you can’t crash…
  • The battery is smaller than expected – it looked really big in the photos, but its actually not that much bigger the the P3 battery.
  • Great camera clip/lens cover that holds that camera in place during transport, and covers the lens.
  • Over the air updates for the aircraft are now done via the app, no more messing about with f/w files and sd cards!
What we dont
  • Plastic wrapping around props – It’s a real pain to get off! We just want to go fly!
  • Still no HDMI out on tx as standard – The Inspire radio tx’s have this, so why not the Phantoms? We thought it might change with the P4, guess it’s a way to differentiate between pro and consumer systems. At least you can still buy a module, but we think it should be included.
  • NDs not included – These are a must for any video work, again the Inspire comes with them…
  • The battery isn’t charged yeh yeh transport safety first, we want to go fly, does watching a battery charge make it charge faster?
Phantom 4 review prop mount
Phantom 4 Battery
Phantom 4 review case

A quick test flight

17th March

Let’s see what these new features are like, are they actually helpful… can we crash…

Phantom-4-app

Ok, so we managed a really quick test flight… and we couldn’t hit a wall, good start!

Thoughts after a few days flying the Phantom 4

22nd March

After a few days flying, I can finally get into a bit more detail in this Phantom 4 review. Over the weekend I took it to one of our favorite Drone Aerial Ops base locations, a nice small lake surrounded by fields and trees. Its a great location to try out different drone and camera moves – we use it for most of the systems we test. Here’s a quick edit of some of my first shots using the Phantom 4 with no post work or speed changes etc apart from a light grade, and yes I did maybe get a bit over-confident with the auto-fly/vision tracking mode!

The new vision sensing system is the big new thing and I’ll get into feature details later but overall whilst we found it to be a great tool to easily get close-proximity shots in some situations, it is certainly not a safety feature as it does not sense in all directions and it doesn’t sense everything! Shots still need to be planned carefully to take full advantage of the forward only facing sensors.

The flight time is great, and we found we had time to spare after finished our planned shots to just have fun! The tracking and auto-fly features certainly make the system easier to fly for a complete beginner (which we tested) – but they are no substitute for a good pilot. Sport mode is also awesome, the sheer speed achievable makes for some great fun! And I had a dabble with the 120fps 1080 mode (cue slo-mo dog shot) – its a bit soft much like the GH4 at higher frame rates, but is certainly usable alongside standard 1080 footage.

Phantom 4 New Features

Tap to Fly

23rd March with Horizon AP

On paper this is a pretty amazing feature, auto flying, however by itself it only does what pretty much any half decent pilot can do anyway. It does allow the pilot to focus on camera moves as the drone pilots itself – but as this is only in forward flight with the camera pointing forward, for the complex camera moves (tilts and pans combined) where it would be really helpful, it isn’t much use.

For beginners I wouldn’t recommend it as once set on a route, it takes a few seconds to exit the mode and re-gain control, which i count as loss of control, pre-planning is needed at the least. Now with sense and avoid, it becomes a much cooler tool…

Phantom 4 New Features

Visual Tracking

23rd March with Horizon AP

The combination of auto-fly/tap-fly with sense and avoid turns the Phantom 4 into something much more akin to the term ‘Drone’ than most – as in an autonomous vehicle. As I said before, being able to tap the screen and fly to a point is nice, but of no real use for most pilots as camera control is limited to forward facing tilts only. But when the drone can sense objects in its path and avoid them, the pilot can in theory pull off some pretty cool close-proximity flying with no real piloting experience and no risk.

But no. Again whilst the feature is awesome, pre-flight planning is a must. The system can only sense large objects, it cant see wires, or… tree branches (as you can see in my little test to the left!). It also can’t see in low light conditions, and I expect there to be other scenarios where its is not fully effective. I think that in the right scenario, this feature will lead to some awesome shots that would normally require a good pilot. But the pilot has to be aware of these limitations and plan for them in advance, or things will end with a crash!

Jack Wrangham

Author Jack Wrangham

Jack has been building, flying and drone mad since 2010. He holds CAA PFAW number 36 and is now a Director at the Drone Aerial Operators Group Ltd.

More posts by Jack Wrangham

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