The DJI Phantom 4 may be the best consumer drone yet.
Its extensive features make it easy and safe to use, no matter your skill level. The obstacle avoidance works like a charm (if you are flying forward), active tracking is accurate and TapFly makes any flight path possible using only your smart device.
It’s rock solid in the air and even if it’s your first time flying a drone, it doesn’t feel like you’ll poke an eye out.
Ease of setup
The drone is pretty much ready to fly once you pull it out of the box (which is also the carry case). The only issue comes when you connect it to a phone or tablet and you have to do the software updates. This can take a couple of hours and it feels much longer than that when you want to get the drone in the air.
The Phantom 4 shoots in 4K and the camera (and drone) controls help to create smooth and stunning footage. It’s not going to be as good as the high end DJI drones but it is beyond enough for the average flyer.
The 4K is a step up from the Phantom 3 Advanced but is the same quality as the Phantom 3 Professional. The output quality is top notch for a camera that size, but certain areas appear to have been over sharpened by the software.
Tap to fly
The TapFly function is fantastic if you’ve never flown a drone before, or used a dual analogue stick controller. All you need to do is tap the screen and the drone goes there. If, like Warren, you’ve played a lot of GTA San Andreas you shouldn’t have any issues using the controller, and the TapFly function won’t get used as much.
The Active Tracking on the Phantom 4 is a step up from the older Phantom models. You use the app to highlight an object, person, vehicle or, in our case, a boat. The Phantom 4 then creates a map of the subject based on colour, shape and brightness of the subject against the background and tracks it wherever it goes. This works far better than I was expecting, though it does work better with a relatively clean background.
While the drone uses obstacle avoidance flying forwards when tracking, depending on the subjects movement, it can will fly backwards and side to side so you need to be aware of your surroundings so it won’t crash.
Previously, this feature was called “Follow Me” and it would use your phone to track you, mantaining the same distance away from you. As it was based on your phone GPS, the accuracy was dependent on your phone hardware. You would often end up being lost by the camera as the drone made flight corrections.
I was apprehensive about the obstacle avoidance technology. I was sure it would be one of those things that sound great in theory, but the function isn’t as great. I’m happy to report I was wrong. After testing in the office it was very easy to see that, when flying forward, the drone would not crash into anything, or anyone. When put to an extreme test outdoors, the drone while using the return to home feature, after disconnecting from the controller, was flying into the side of a hill. It quickly rose 8-10 metres to get over the trees before continuing its flight path.
The one thing to be wary of is it only avoids obstacles to the front. The lack of side and back sensors make it a free for all for crashing. While backwards tracking shots are beautiful, it is probably worth turning the drone around to check for obstacles before starting the shot.
Return to home
This is incredible. While flying the drone, it disconnected from the controller when it went out of range. The popup asking if we wanted it to come home was clear. It would be a challenge to miss the correct button. Automatically, the drone flies to 30m above the ground before moving forward. It continues to use obstacle avoidance, increasing altitude if required, returning safely to the launch site. In our test, it landed less than 15cm from where it took off. I am beyond impressed with this feature, especially knowing it won’t just go to a set altitude when there are things in its way.
Here is the downside to the Phantom 4; the battery life is appalling . It is better than previous models but still does not give you enough time in the air if you only have the one. The battery capacity is up to 5350 mAh from 4480 mAh and it is supposed to give you 28 minutes of flight time. Key words: supposed to. We found it substantially less that that. Outdoors you’ll get 15 minutes of safe flying time and up to another five minutes before the low battery and return to home warning shows up. Indoors is exactly the same story, where for us the battery lasted 21 minutes and 30 seconds before initiating a force landing.
The battery takes more than an hour to recharge so if you’re getting this drone we recommend also getting a second battery (and listening to the return to home alert).
At US$1,399, it’s pricier than the most expensive version of the Phantom 3 but the obstacle avoidance and stability while flying makes it worth the money.
This would be a fantastic upgrade to the previous Phantom models or as a first drone. It is not something I would recommend for professionals but for consumers wanting a safe, high-quality product, this should be at the top of your list. The one thing to consider before you purchase the Phantom 4 is the rules and regulations on drones where you live. Each country has different requirements. The US, for example, requires you to register your drone, and around the world flying near airports is banned. You don’t want to find out you can’t take your shiny new toy out of the box where you want to after you’ve spent all that money.
|Weight (including battery)||1380g / 3.04lb|
|Max Ascent Speed||6 m/s (Sport mode)|
|Max Descent Speed||4 m/s (Sport mode)|
|Max Speed||20 m/s (Sport mode)|
|Max Service Ceiling Above Sea Level||6000m (19685 feet)|
|Max Flight Time||Approx. 28 minutes|
|Operating Temperature Range||0C to 40C (32F to 104F)|
|Satellite Systems||GPS / GLONASS|
|Hovering Accuracy||Vertical: +/- 0.1m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/-0.5 m Horizontal: +/- 0.3m (when Vision Positioning is active) or +/-1.5 m|
|Gimbal Controllable Range||Pitch: -90° to +30°|
|Sensor||1/2.3” Effective pixels:12 M|
|Lens||FOV (Field Of View) 94° 20mm (35mm format equivalent) f/2.8 focus at ∞|
|ISO Range||100 – 3200 (video) 100 – 1600 (photo)|
|Electronic Shutter Speed||8s to 1/8000s|
|Max Image Size||4000×3000|
|Still Photography Modes||Single shot Burst shooting: 3 / 5 / 7 frames Auto Exposure Bracketing ( AEB ): 3 / 5 bracketed frames at 0.7 EV Bias Time-lapse HDR|
|Video Recording Modes||UHD: 4096×2160 (4K) 24 / 25p 3840×2160 (4K) 24 / 25 / 30p 2704×1520 (2.7K) 24 / 25 / 30p FHD: 1920×1080 24 / 25 / 30 / 48 / 50 / 60 / 120p HD: 1280×720 24 / 25 / 30 / 48 / 50 / 60p|
|Max Video Bitrate||60 Mbps|
|Supported File Systems||FAT32 (≤ 32 GB); exFAT (> 32 GB)|
|Photo||JPEG, DNG (RAW)|
|Video||MP4 / MOV (MPEG – 4 AVC / H.264)|
|Supported SD Cards||Micro SD, Max capacity: 64GB. Class 10 or UHS-1 rating required|
|Operating Temperature||0F to 40C (32F to 104F)|
|Operating Frequency||2.400 GHz to 2.483 GHz|
|Max Transmission Distance||FCC Compliant: 5km (3.1mi); CE Compliant: 3.5km (2.2mi) (Unobstructed, free of interference)|
|Operating Temperature||0C to 40C (32F to 104F)|
|Battery||6000 mAh LiPo 2S|
|Transmitter Power (EIRP)||FCC: 23 dBm; CE: 17 dBm|
|Operating Voltage||7.4V @ 1.2A|
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