DJI Phantom 4 Review – 4K UHD UAV Camera Drone Quadcopter
After already garnering plenty of popularity with its previous Phantom drones and the Phantom 3 Professional drone in particular, the Chinese manufacturer has now added a number of new twists to the Phantom 4 in the form of the above-mentioned safety mechanisms, superior video recording capacity and even better flight control specs than ever before. Just like many other reviewers, we definitely have a lot of positive things to say about the Phantom 4, even if it’s not entirely perfect, as we’ll shortly see.
Furthermore, the operating range of the new Phantom 4 is downright superb, with the ability to travel a distance of several miles while being navigated and also do so at some impressive stated speed of 45 miles per hour, though if pushed it can reach as fast as 50mph. Additionally, this really is a drone that just about anyone can fly. From getting started to taking off to navigating around all sorts of landscapes, the DJI technology inside the Phantom 4 makes all of these things as painless as possible for even complete newbies. Along with the above-mentioned safety systems means that you’re much less likely to crash your new $1400 Phantom on the first day you take it for a spin.
Then of course there are the recording and photo capture abilities of the Phantom 4. For starters, we love the mobile app interface which in the Phantom 4 allows you to get a view of the drones camera while it’s flying but also to adjust control settings and so forth while also observing key status indicators for battery power and flight information. Doing all of this is as easy as connecting the controller to your Android or iOS mobile device with the app installed and you’re good to go.
This same control app can also be set to allow the Phantom 4 to move autonomously via DJI’s Intelligent Flight modes, allowing for things like the drone following you through GPS signals or to orbit around a certain position. Many of these same things are also possible in the Phantom 3 Pro drone but with version 4 there is also a very cool new “ActiveTrack” feature which lets the UAV follow a boxed in and selected subject through the controller display. Tap Go when a moving subject has been selected and the drone starts going after it.
All of these above flight recording and control features depend on the superb 4K video and photo camera which comes with the Phantom 4. This 35mm format equivalent 20mm 4K video shooter can capture decent ISO levels and manages a photo still shooting capacity of 12 megapixels. As for video recording, it offers up DCI 4K resolution at 4096 x 2160 pixels at 25fps and 4K UHD at 3840 x 2160 pixels and 30 frames per second. These are pretty respectable settings. We also love the cameras ability to shoot in 2K at 2704 x 1520 pixels and Full HD along with 720p HD. In fact, the 720p resolution is what is fed to your in-flight controller screen in real-time during Phantom 4 aerial missions, for some reasonably sharp video resolution for easy navigation.
Finally, we love the sharpness and vibrant color of the still images the Phantom 4 grabs. Capable of delivering photos in both RAW and JPEG formats at the aforementioned 12 megapixels, the Phantom 4 is a rather unique photo shooting tool.
Secondly, while it’s not exactly a major issue, we don’t entirely like the fact that you need a tablet or smartphone to connect to the Phantom’s controller for display functionality or decent navigation of any kind. While on the one hand this means more versatile navigation display size options, it also means taking your shiny new iPad screen or whatever other smart display you decide to use out into the field with your drone and whatever weather you’re going to be flying in. That means extra risk of something getting broken and money getting spent on repairing or replacing it. In this regard, Yuneec beats DJI with their built-in navigation screen.
Additionally, the landing gear and camera of the Phantom 4 are fixed into its body, making transport of this rather hefty little drone a bit more cumbersome than it could have been. Also more importantly as far as the fixed camera goes, it can’t be upgraded, replaced or simply removed for other uses on a hand-held gimbal, as was the case with previous Phantom drones and their removable cameras. Thus, in the Phantom 4, you won’t be able to tack in your GoPro Hero 4 Black action camera if you have one handy. Overall we also think the design of the Phantom 4 is a bit on the bulky side. We’ve definitely seen other drones from both DJI and competitor brands which manage to look sleeker and more powerful.
• Speed: 20m per second, or about 45 miles per hour
• control accuracy: Vertical: +/- 0.1 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/-0.5 m
Horizontal: +/- 0.3 m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/-1.5 m
• Max altitude: 19685 feet
• Flight time: 28 minutes but variable depending on conditions
• Connectivity: USB, HDMI, 1 x charge port
• Camera: Gimbal integrated 12 megapixel video/photo camera with FOV degrees of 94 and 20mm f/2.8 Focus and 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor
• Camera Resolution: up to DCI 4K at 4096 x 2160 pixels for video, Full HD at up to 120 fps, 720p at 60 fps and up to 12 megapixels for photos
• Recording Media: Micro SD
• Max capacity: 64 GB. Class 10 or UHS-1 rating required
• Automated Flight features: Return-to-home, Orbit, Waypoint, Follow
• Weight: 3 lbs (with battery and propellers)
• Dimensions: 7 x 11.5 x 11.5″ inches
• Controller: Dedicated controller with third par mobile device screen and DJI Go app
The camera is also located in the same place on a bottom-mounted gimbal with a pitch of -90° to +30° degrees. However, in the case of the Phantom 4 drone, that same gimbal is non-removable. Both camera and gimbal are stuck where they are with no upgrade or switching options for other types of recording cameras from different brands. We consider this to be a bit of a negative in fact and preferred the interchangeability that was the case in the Phantom 3 Professional drone and previous models even, all of which could easily take on a third party 4K action camera from another brand .
We should also note that the red bands along the propeller arms are now gone, with the arms now ending in grey exposed metal where the rotors attach. Also, the controller has undergone a superficial overhaul in that it now matches the drone’s white glossy body color instead of having the previous matte plastic design.
Additionally, we should note that the Phantom 4 now also comes with a whole new carrying case, which looks tough, sort of cool and has been built with much better strength and compactness than the carrying case that the Phantom 3 came with.
Once the above is done, powering up the Phantom 4 is also pretty straightforward. Simply set the drone down onto a level surface, turn on the power button at the rear of the battery and then press it again. The drone will start beeping and the gimbal will calibrate itself to make sure its capturing level images. With this done, you simply need to make sure your phone or tablet is securely connected to the controller clip and attached to the controller electronics via USB so that you can launch the DJI Go app and have it recognize the drone which is now active. With these steps in place, you’re ready to fly.
Overall, the camera on the Phantom 4 is a seriously decent performer which offers excellent still shot sharpness, superb and colorful 4K video footage and also delivers decent video in its other resolutions with little in the way of fish-eye effect.
Flight itself can be managed through two distinct ways. On the one hand, you can navigate the drone through the control sticks built into the remote control for some pretty good manual flying. Or, you can open up the automated flight functions of the drone and let it fly alone, either by going into follow modes or orbit mode as we’d already described above. For takeoff and landing, the drone works completely automatically if desired and both can be started through the control app.
For those manual controls we mentioned, the left control stick is designed for moving the drone up or down vertically while also being able to spin it on its axis. As for the right stick, it moves the drone forwards or backwards or left to right. These sticks are also used to control speed and combined together to make the drone fly in more unique ways such as ascending while also taking off at an angle in a certain direction. DJI has even included a digital flight simulator in their DJI Go app so that you can take some simulated flights through your phone or tablet screen to get the hang of controls.
The intelligent flight modes in the Phantom 4 include Course Lock, Home Lock, Waypoint, Point of Interest, Active Track and Follow Me Mode. Course lock will set the Phantom on a straight line path based on the orientation of its nose whenever the setting was started, letting you yaw the drone while keeping the camera locked into a certain point. As for Home Lock, it will help you get the Phantom back, meaning that if you’re not sure in which direction the nose is pointing, Home Lock can be activated to control drone movement relative to your position via GPS. With this setting, pulling the right stick closer will bring the Phantom closer and pushing it forward will cause the drone to move away.
Waypoint on the other hand is designed to let you reproduce a specific flight path repeatedly. This means flying a certain path manually and then essentially saving it for the drone to fly it again as many times as you like with excellent precision. This particular intelligent flight option might be particularly useful for surveyors or videographers who are looking to repeat the same video or photo shots accurately multiple times. As for Follow Me mode, it basically does exactly what its name suggests; setting the drone so that it follows the remote control as it moves around on the ground. Obstacle avoidance kicks in here to make sure the drone flies safely as it follows, without blundering into random objects like trees and buildings.
Finally, as for Active Track, it does something very similar to Follow Me mode but instead of being set to follow the drone controller (and thus you as user), Active Track can be aimed at a third party subject as defined by you in the control screen of your smartphone or tablet through the DJI Go app. One thing to keep in mind for this last and entirely new intelligent flight feature is that it works only for rather large objects and will have a hard time even following a car at distances of more than 200 feet.
Overall, the Phantom 4 is quite easy to fly and almost anyone can learn to handle it in just a single session of flight practice. The operating distances from controller it can reach are impressive at more than 4,500 feet and the overall flight time of 28 minutes while recording is also something we love since it outdoes anything we’ve yet seen in other drones we’ve reviewed. Furthermore, the controller is very attuned to the drone itself and we didn’t notice problems with latency in commands. We also loved this drone’s top speed of nearly 50 miles per hour and its high takeoff speed as well. Both are a major step up from what we saw in older Phantom drones. We should also note that the Phantom 4 will come back to you and land itself when its battery reaches a charge of just 10%. This means that practical flight time is actually closer to 23 minutes but this is still better than the total flight times of previous drones which stood at 20 to 25 minutes but then also added in landing time when charge became low.
• Superb flight time
• Great controls and ease-of-use
• Assortment of intelligent flight features
• Great flight safety mechanisms
• Well built
• Excellent 4K video and photo camera
• Still no controller display screen, needs external display
• Camera and gimbal can’t be removed so no camera upgrade or change