The heir to the throne is finally here: in March DJI unveiled the Phantom 4 quadcopter. With a $1,400 price tag, it definitely isn’t one for the amateur hobbyist on a budget. Does it match up to this price with features, or is it just a rehash of its ancestor, the Phantom 3?
According to DJI, this is the drone that will change how people see quadrotors forever. It is supposed to have active object tracking and collision control. Does it stay in keeping with the expectations people have for it? That remains to be seen. Check out the comprehensive DJI Phantom 4 Quadcopter Review below to find out.
|Dimensions||8.7 x 15 x 12.8 inches|
|Weight (With Battery)||3,04 lb / 1380 g|
|Max Speed||20 meters per second|
|Ascent/Descent Speed||6/4 meters per second|
|Camera Sensor||1/2.3”, 12 megapixels|
|Video Capabilities||UHD (4K):
4096×2160 (24 / 25p)
2704×1520 (24 / 25 / 30p)
1920×1080 (24 / 25 / 30 / 48 / 50 / 60 / 120p)
1280×720 (24 / 25 / 30 / 48 / 50 / 60p)
|Still Images||JPEG, DNG ( RAW )|
|Range||3.1 mi / 5 km|
|Battery||LiPo 4S 5350 mAh 15.2 V|
|Flight Time||28 minutes|
|Charging Time||60 minutes|
The first impression when it arrives is that the box is insanely small. The shipping packaging and the actual drone box were tight together for faster shipping. The box is minimal in design, mentioning the presence of GPS and other features of the drone.
Upon opening the box, the drone is already packed into the Phantom 4 quadcopter case complimentary with the drone. It is light, made of Styrofoam, and has a nice handle on the outside for easy carrying.
When the case is open, the Phantom 4 quadcopter is there in plain sight, along with the charger, a converter cable for USB to micro-USB, user manuals, additional propellers and other starter materials. If you are an iPhone user, you are going to have to get yourself a lightning cable though, because that isn’t included in the case.
While the quad rotor itself was packed into the case with little space left, there are 2 extra batteries, filters and other extras in there too. The case is nice and compact, but is not protective at all. You will have to consider a replacement case as soon as you can.
Just like the older Phantom 3 quadcopter, the Phantom 4 RC quadcopter design is elegant and classy. The white plastic body has been made sexier on the outside, and is streamlined for more aerodynamic performance. Its dimensions are 7x12x12” and weighs only 3lbs. This weight is above the new limits imposed by the FAA though, so you will have to register it before flying.
The frame is slimmer than older models, and the trademark red stripes on the propeller arms seem to have vanished. The motors are exposed, and there is a lot of shiny steel or metal. The underbelly of the quadcopter is grey, breaking an all-white design policy. While it looks nearly the same as the older models from a distance, you can definitely tell that this one is a step up when you take a look at it up close.
There are plenty of new features in the DJI Phantom 4 drone, including collision control. This feature changes the world of drone flying as we know it. This feature was probably included for beginners and those speed demons out there. There are two cameras, one in the front and one below. They work in unison to figure out what the surroundings are like. If the drone is headed straight towards something that is crash hazard, the quadrotor detects this and warns the user. With a range of 10 feet of the object, the RC quadcopter might stop completely to avoid colliding.
The old GPS based methods of flight found on the Phantom 3 and older drones are still present. There is the standard waypoint navigation mode which allows for the setting of custom routes. There is orbit mode for 360 degree orbit around a stationary or moving target. Follow and track modes are available too. While they aren’t different from their predecessors, accuracy has been improved. The real beauty lies in the more autonomous and intelligent features of the Phantom 4 RC drone.
One of the most amazing of these is the TapFly feature for the drone. Before we delve into this, remember that this type of technology is the first in the field and is therefore going to be pretty spotty and untried. The mobile phone using the DJI Go app will have a live stream from the main camera of the drone during flight . This feature allows you to tap a location on the feed, and cause the drone to fly to that position. Turns are taken automatically with smooth braking as well, allowing for much better video footage to be captured.
There are now three different speed settings for the Phantom 4 quadcopter. Collision control (or intelligent object avoidance) can be activated to cause the maximum speed of the drone to settle at about 22mph, which is pretty snappy. Without the collision control feature activated, normal flight can cause the max speed to go up to 35mph. Then there is sport mode. This RC quadcopter has a dedicated speed only mode, where all the stops are pulled out and an incredible 45mph flight speed can be reached. It increases agility of the drone, at the cost of a little stability. If you are an expert at flying drones, you will be able to use sport mode for action shots and other professional activities.
Gimbal and Camera
The gimbal of the drone has gone through a complete redesign. The mount that protected against shocks is gone. It hasn’t been removed, but has been moved into the slightly fatter body of the Phantom 4. The DJI Phantom 4 camera has been made more secure as well, at the cost of rotational capability. The gimbal can no longer to a 360 degree spin like its older brother, the Inspire 1 can. The gimbal allows for modest horizontal movement and great vertical range. The old external microSD and MicroUSB ports have been moved into easy access points on the body as well.
Camera Design And Video Recording
The Phantom 4 quadcopter camera hasn’t changed much from the Phantom 3. It uses a 20mm FOV lens, with an f2.8 aperture size. Video can be recorded at ultraHD 4K quality, and the different modes for image storage include JPG, DNG Raw and Raw+JPG. The image capture resolution is 12MP, which is pretty decent.
According to DJI, the camera of the Phantom 4 has been modified for improved sharpness, but this doesn’t seem to be a very obvious change. The edge of the frame might look a little better, but it might not too. The difference isn’t noticeable enough to be a big deal. A tiny complaint though might be that there is some barely visible distortion around the edges of the stills and video. Overall, though, the DJI Phantom 4 camera is pretty darn great.
Video recording occurs at “cinema” 4K resolution, 4096x2160p, at a framerate of about 25fps. The setting for the video recording quality can be adjusted. The cinema resolution is best used if you are an expert pilot and videographer. This format of video recording offers a different aspect ratio to the typical sports camera, at 1.9:1. If you don’t have a 4K TV to show it off on, it is better to remain with the recording setting at standard ultra-HD 4K which has a 16:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 3840x2160p and 30fps. 2.7K is also an option with the same frame rate as the UHD 4K resolution.
For the people out there who just want faster fps, the older 1080p HD setting is still alive and kicking (for now). You can record video at a whole range of framerate settings from 24 to 120fps depending on your expertise. If you set the camera to record at a higher framerate, the entire drone stabilizes much more efficiently. Footage is typically very smooth indeed, and there is an option to playback the recorded footage in slow motion if you want to. For people with concerns about storage space or who simply want to take a trip down memory lane, the video can be recorded in the archaic 720p resolution.
Since the most common option when it comes to video editing and production is to have as high a framerate as possible, the typical selected resolution will be UHD 4K at 30fps. This is great for editing, but may not be the best choice if you are recording for fun. Video seems to look better when played back after having been recorded at 24fps.
Different Color Correction And Filter Settings
There are many color settings available during recording. The default setting seems to be the best, as it automatically tunes the recorded footage as needed, and editing can be done right after without having to do manual color correction later. The other color settings include premade filters like the classic black and white, along with Vivid, Art, Film, Beach and dream. For video editing professionals looking to grade the footage on their own during the post production phase, there is a LOG mode available as well. This means that the video is stored at a lower contrast, but has a higher dynamic range for more comprehensive color correction.
Overall, the video that is recorded is sharp enough for amateur to enthusiast use, and will work well for professionals. The compression rate of the video is 60Mbps, and it minimizes artifacts really well. Even in Sport mode, the quality of thee video is rather good. It is detail-rich, and has natural color for the most part. The compression is a little more obvious when replaying footage captured in Sport mode, but not by much. The contrast and color of each scene is very natural indeed. The RC drone also has adjustable knobs for the exposure of the lens on the transmitter itself.
Problems And Still Image Quality
A couple of problems do exist with the camera, though. The lens aperture is fixed, and the sensitivity is ISO100. This makes it a little difficult to get a good angle on a bright, sunny morning. Changing the shutter speed is a good way to remedy this by blurring sharp turns and making everything look more realistic. There are included ND filter in the carrying case for the RC drone, and you can get others from camera companies that have been made specifically for drones with cameras.
When it comes to the quality of still pictures taken, this camera has some pretty solid results. The sensor of the camera on the drone is the same as a lot of typical handheld camera, with a 1/2.3” sensor. The default image format is JPG, but can be changed to other modes as well. The photos are nice and sharp around the edges, and there is no distortion visible at all in this mode. When the RAW setting is turned on, a little distortion is visible. This can be remedied using software on a computer. If you really want amazing stills and video, the Phantom 4 quadcopter may not be the BEST choice out there. DJI has plenty of other drones with great image and video quality.
The DJI Phantom 4 remote control is not that different to the transmitter that came with the Phantom 3 Pro and Advanced variants. It has a built in smartphone/tablet clip that keeps any size of phone or electronic device secure on the controller. The button layout is also pretty similar to the older models. If you flew Phantoms before the 4th variant was announced, you may have noticed that the button on the top right elbow of the controller was unmarked. It is now marked as being the “pause” button. It is an emergency measure that activates the hover feature of the drone immediately.
The DJI Go application has to be used to fly the drone. You can connect the drone to the app pretty easily, but there are a few issues. Upon first bonding, the app limits you to Beginner mode. Now, we understand that DJI is a company in a country where English isn’t the first language, but having Beginner spelled as Begineer may not be the best tactic for instilling trust in American and European customers. It is a great application overall, and is one of those instances where there is simply too much of a good thing.
The amount of features and things to look out for and at on the screen at any given time can be pretty overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect. Sometimes, you just want to be able to simply fly the quadrotor without having to worry about all that added stuff. Piloting the drone feels like you’re at a star class restaurant asking for French fries. If your first drone EVER is the DJI Phantom 4, you are going to be in for a lot of headaches. At least you won’t be able to crash the thing by accident.
The physical joysticks on the controller can be used to move the RC quadcopter and control it in the air. The left stick, by default, controls elevation and rotation, while the right stick allows for acceleration and pitch. The Phantom 4 is incredibly agile, fast and responsive. The integrated dial that controls the gimbal mid-air is easy to mess around with and will allow you the full range of vertical panning.
The DJI Phantom 4 battery life has undergone a vast improvement over the older ones. DJI states that the drone can go through 28 straight minutes of flight , but this is just an overestimate. When the battery comes to about 10% of its maximum capacity, the drone goes into emergency mode and lands as fast as it can. The actual flight time is cut to about 23 minutes, which is still in the high range compared to most other drones. If you want continuous flight and a couple hours of fun, you may want to purchase extra batteries to make sure that you don’t kick the bucket mid-flight. Each battery is $150 or so in price.
- Easy to fly – one button takeoff and landing. The drone has a return to home feature as well as easy to use tracking and orbit modes. The app can be used to draw a radius around the target the drone has to stick to. The joysticks take a little learning, but are easy enough to master. Emergency hovering, landing and return to user features are also present for the beginners and the panic attacks.
- No more crashes – With 4 cameras in total for environment awareness, the RC drone can detect and circumvent most obstacles. Even if you try to force the drone to crash into something, it won’t. It will go into an emergency landing to prevent damage. The altitude sensors also prevent crash landings.
- Durable design – In the event of an accidental collision (highly unlikely) the design is durable enough to withstand more than a few scratches. Since the gimbal is no longer on the outside, there is less chance of it breaking too.
- Fast as a Ferrari – well, maybe it isn’t THAT fast, but the sport mode allows it to shoot along at 45mpg, which is as fast as most cars are allowed to go on a typical road. It’s easier to crash, but it’s worth the risk.
- Above average camera – Smooth UHD 4K video recording with the option for cinema 4K as well, all at 30fps, and 1080p HD recording at 120fps make for some amazing footage.
- Not omniscient – While you can let it avoid a lot of obstacles, going full speed through a forest may not be a good idea. The collision control works well 99% of the time. That 1% when it doesn’t is where you need to be cautious. Don’t let your own judgement slip away because you rely so much on the autonomous features.
- Initial setup is annoying – there is a 4 hour pre-flight charging period for the remote control. The RC quad is not ready to fly right out the box. The propellers are supposed to be easy to attach, but are actually very confusing.
- Scary initial setup – The app can be quite scary for the first time with a rather mediocre design and a lack of instructions for use in general.
Overall, the DJI Phantom 4 is an absolutely amazing drone. It is great at just about everything it is supposed to do. Before you get one though, remember that there are new rules in effect. The drone is heavy and big enough to be under FAA regulations. No flying in cities, near airports, near national monuments, near people and so on. The controller already has a lot of the federal No Fly Zones built in and the drone will actively avoid them. You will also have to register the drone with the FAA like you would a car. If you are a serious drone pilot looking for the next step in technology for UAVs, the Phantom 4 is made for you. For the beginner pilot, it may be better to save $1,400 on a cheaper, easier to use drone without as much complexity and risk.