The First Consumer Drone to Dodge Objects and Track Humans!
…but is the new DJI Phantom 4 worthy of the hype or is it just a P3Ps?
It seems “normal” these days to have leaks of specs and photos leading up to a new product release to the point that it is now rather obvious and somewhat expected. I hope things change soon because when there is great hype, I expect a great product to follow.
I have been a fan of DJI since buying my first UAV (drone) in the Phantom 2 which used a Go Pro HD Hero 3 or 4 as its main camera. I skipped the Phantom 3 and opted for the DJI Inspire 1 with the upgraded X5 camera which I am totally content with in regards to “fly-ability” and image quality.
When news of the Phantom 4 broke a couple of months ago, I was expecting it to be so good that I would buy one as a smaller, back-up or b-roll camera to the Inspire. I nearly bought a Phantom 3 because the image quality is superb and the specs almost match that of the Inspire.
What bothered me though, was the fact that the camera on the Phantom 3 standard/professional didn’t have a 360º view which was a deal breaker as legs getting in the way is what annoyed me with the Phantom 2/Go Pro set up.
So, what does the DJI Phantom 4 hold and is it enough for:
- Me to buy one as a second, smaller unit for filming and photography
- An existing Phantom 3 owner to upgrade
- A newbie to drone flying to jump in and buy one
DJI Phantom 4
The styling of the Phantom 4 leaves a bit to be desired as far as I am concerned. Giving it the “white-washed” look and then buffing it to look shiny and expensive isn’t needed in my opinion (although it does look good on the ground and the sleek curves may assist with the new Sports Mode).
More importantly than that, having flown the Phantom 2 500m out to sea on an overcast day, I can safely say that it easily “disappears” into the white/grey cloud and knowing which way it is facing can only be found using the screen. When that fails, you have no other option than to resort to RTH (return to home) or selecting Home Point and pulling back on the right stick.
The Inspire 1 is a lot bigger, has black parts and a distinctive shape which makes flying at distance a lot easier. Phantom 4 owners might do well to add a splash of colour/contrast to the back or front of the quad
- Avoids obstacles (forward facing) automatically
- Track moving subjects autonomously using “ActiveTrack”.
- TapFly allows you to fly with a tap of the finger on the app
- Smart Return Home will allow the Phantom 4 avoid obstacles as it returns to home
- 28 minute maximum fight time with maximum control range of 3.1mi (5km).
- Maximum speed of 44mph or 72kmh.
- Integrated gimbal for greater camera stability and smoother 4K footage
- Optimized Vision Positioning System raises positioning altitude up to 10 meters
Sense and Avoid
The Phantom 4’s new features means that it will sense danger looming in the form of a person, tree, car, building and so on and then avoid it by either stopping in its tracks or, if you use TapFly, it will move around or over the obstacle and continue on its way until it reaches it predesignated destination.
This is a superb feature and will no doubt entice a lot of new pilots to the hobby/sport/profession. One thing is clear though, you will still need to learn to fly the drone safely and sensibly because you WILL have to take control at some point.
The Phantom 4 will avoid obstacles from 15 meters (49.2 feet) away.
Another excellent feature and one that start ups like the “Lily” drone were trying to achieve but who are, at the time of writing, still trying to perfect it before releasing (much to the annoyance of a lot of backers to their crowd-funding efforts).
Active Track is exactly what I was hoping the Lily would do as this feature is perfect for skiers/snowboarders, cyclists, bikers and so on to use to capture the ultimate selfie when no-one else is around to help.
Active Track with the Phantom 4 is simple and uses the actual object is “sees” after scanning a 3D style image of that object, rather than tracking a wristband or the controller itself.
However, in a couple of video tests I saw, when the person being tracked turned their back to the drone or moved too fast for the Phantom 4 to keep up, it lost signal altogether. Maybe a mix of Active Track and a wristband would guarantee perfect tracking?
Either way, I can see this being incredibly useful in the future and perhaps I can only dream that there will be an upgrade to the DJI Go App/Inspire 1 to allow me to play too!
Tap Fly is another great feature that will allow you to simply tap on the Go App screen where you want the Phantom 4 to go, and it will go there and even avoid obstacles on its way as it goes.
The only caveat is that you pretty much lose control of filming as the P4 will be deciding on the route and not you…and it may make sudden movements as it continuously adjusts course. Nothing can beat the touchy/feel of using the joysticks for full filming control.
You still need to watch the drone and keep an eye out for birds, planes, helicopters etc and not ignore it altogether while you concentrate on filming…
Phantom 4 Camera
The Phantom 4’s camera is ultimately the same as the Phantom 3 Professional but it is the lens that has changed. Apparently, the new lens on the Phantom 4 will give sharper details and better colours. The P3 was already pretty good so the reviews will have to prove this once they start flooding in.
You can shoot 4K up to 30 frames per second but 1080p now has a faster frame rate of 120fps which is super cool for slow motion footage of sports, nature and so on…up to 5x slower.
My gripe is now that the legs on the P4 are longer, the camera sits back further than even the Phantom 2/HD-3D/Go Pro set up meaning more of the Phantom 4 will hit the footage…
Return to Home
The Phantom 4 still has the same return to home feature as its siblings, predecessors and Inspire 1 but now the Phantom 4 will avoid obstacles as it returns. This is a massive feature and one that will no doubt be welcomed by those that have set too low a height in the past for the return to home function.
Whoooosh! The Phantom 4 will now fly, using the new sports option, at speeds of up to 35.8-45mph (16-20 m/s)! This is due to the maximum pitch angle being increased to 45º which also increases the max ascent/descent but disables the vision system.
The stated flight time of the new Phantom 4 is said to be 28 minutes which is fantastic but dependent on a few factors such as wind speed and temperature. Still, nearly half an hour of flying is heaven to my ears, especially for some commercial jobs.
- The P4 is 100 grams (0.22 lbs) heavier than the P3 Pro
- New battery: 5350 Mah, 15.2V battery. Some flights from prototypes have been 30 minutes or more.
- Composite bottom for structural integrity
- Micro-SD card and micro-USB ports have been moved to body from gimbal plate
- Camera uses the same sensor, but has a better glass lens and can shoot 1080/120fps
- The motors have the same propulsion specifications but have been pushed out of the mount, which will allow for better cooling
- Grills are introduced as cooling vents on the bottom of the P4’s arms
- Redundancy: dual IMU’s and dual magnetometers (compasses)
- New propellers (quick release)
- Latches at end of each arm are for snap-on prop guards (which can obstruct vision sensors)
I think the Phantom 4 is a very substantial upgrade with some very meaty features but for me and what I do, it isn’t enough for me to upgrade. I am thinking that for those with a Phantom 3 Professional, the additional features of the P4 might be a bit of a gimmick and in the real world, for most people, not used that much.
Whilst the Tap Fly and Active Track features are pretty cool, I am not sure that I would use them knowing what I know about rules and legislation in the UK and USA. It would be too easy to become complacent and use these everywhere thinking that it is a “safe” mode.
Drones still fall out of the sky and you need to adhere to all the FAA/CAA regulations before flying this way. Boring I know but them’s the rules.
However, using these features in a controlled and sensible way (blimey, if the 20-something me could hear me now), the Phantom 4 could be a great tool and a lot of fun.
Sense and avoid is also good but only if you are flying forwards.
It won’t avoid objects outside of its 60º vertical and 30º horizontal viewing angles. When I was flying the Phantom 2, on many occasions I would be flying in any direction (sideways, backwards) due to the static nature of the camera which leads me onto a gripe of sorts.
The only time I hit anything was a tree when I first started flying, at low speed and a height of 1 metre and I was flying sideways! No damage done but I would have still hit that tree with the Phantom 4…
An upgrade-able (or at least removable for transport) camera like the Inspire 1 has would be a great addition and it is a shame that the P4 doesn’t have retractable legs for 360º filming. Plus, in a lot of the sample release footage I have seen so far, the rotors still get in the way.
In DJI’s release video below (and others), they have cunningly cropped the footage to make it narrower…check out the 45º tilt angle on the video at 1:04 and tell me the props/arms won’t show up in the footage…
Would it have been so hard to have the camera protruding further forwards with a counterbalance at the back to compensate? This would have at least helped with the new tilt angle.
Maybe even have a camera/gimbal that, after take off, lowers itself a few inches on a kind of piston-type set up to move itself down and away from the props? I will look forward to seeing real-world footage from the Phantom 4 before even considering buying one.
As I said at the beginning, I like DJI and their products but perhaps feel that this has been a little rushed to market unlike the adapter for the Osmo/X5 camera set up which we are still waiting for.
The fact that The Verge (video at bottom) released their video and review before DJI, plus I couldn’t view 3 of DJI’s important videos after getting their launch email suggests that maybe they did rush things…
…and it all looks a bit “Apple White” to me…
Who is the Phantom 4 for?
For me sadly, not. I actually enjoy the feeling of flying and am not quite ready for full autonomy yet…especially where I live and the work I do. The camera is great but the whole upgrade, look and feel and general usefulness of the Phantom 4 isn’t enough for me to part with £1229.
As a photographer, one of the main reasons I bought the Inspire 1 is the fact that the rotor arms and feet raise well above the camera letting me film a full 360º without getting the rotors in shot.
Anyway, for someone looking to buy a P3, the time is now as you can pick up some bargains. Upgrading from the Phantom 3 Professional? Not sure…you have to decide whether the new features will be used a lot or if you will get bored with them after a while.
Upgrading from a Phantom 2 or new to the world of drones? Not overly bothered about parts of the drone appearing in footage? Hell yeah! The Phantom 4 will scratch all your itches, do everything you want and more and if I was new to the game and especially as a hobby user, I would jump all over it.
Video Review from The Verge
See Phantom 4 footage at 3:12…lots of props showing and that is flying sideways (and 3:53 during a slow forward movement):
The Phantom 4 is an incredible drone if the features are what you want/need/desire…go for it! I certainly would have done if it was out 2 years ago when I bought the P2.
Click to Buy the DJI Phantom 4 from the DJI UK Website with FREE shipping
Buy the Inspire 1 with Single Remote instead : )