Review: DJI's Phantom 4 sets new standard for affordable drones

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 2016
Right out of the box, you can tell that DJI's Phantom 4 is a complete reimagining of the entry-level lineup. From the sleek chassis to advanced automated controls, DJI has set a new standard, leaving competitors and its own legacy models in the dust.



Design



The shell of the Phantom 4 shines back at you with a sporty, glossy white finish. The motors stand tall with the quick release propeller mounts atop. Being raised, these stators are supposed to help get props out of the shot and brake faster at higher speeds in the new sport mode. The quick release props are actually an innovation born from the Inspire 1 series, so it's nice to see them sending this feature downstream.

Another noticeable upgrade is the integrated gimbal and camera. Anyone who has flown or owned a Phantom 3 or earlier will be immediately drawn to this part of the new design. There are gimbal motors on both sides of the camera instead of just one centrally located part.

Everything just feels better in yours hands and you begin to recognize the difference. This camera was born to be on this drone, not just stuck on the outside like the Phantom 3. The safety clip is even designed with more thought and consideration for proper storage, nothing is wobbling or shaking when you take it out of the box, everything feels sturdy and meant to be together.

Neatly integrated where the body and the landing gear meet, the two vision sensors make their appearance. The SD and Micro USB slots are integrated and centered beautifully on the left hand side of Phantom 4's chassis.




In lieu of a complete body change on the Phantom 4, it's only fitting that the intelligent flight battery has also been redesigned. This is nothing new for DJI owners because they have never released a quad copter that can re-use the previous model batteries (or almost any accessory for that matter). Battery charge time was a little longer than the Phantom 3 at about an hour to charge, though flight time is also a little longer at around 24 minutes.

The new charging port style on the battery is accompanied by one of the most noticeable differences in the entire package, an all white charger. This is definitely one of the more "Apple inspired" updates and something that perhaps they had some input on for displaying in the stores during the launch period. The new charger is also much like a lightning cable where it can be inserted in either orientation and still receive a charge.




Moving to the flight controller, the unit shares the same white finish as the body and the form factor is pretty much identical to the Phantom 3. However, there are a few differences in the buttons and switches on the P4 controller. Next to the video record button, the Phantom 4 has the switches for "P-S-A" instead of "P-F-A" on previous versions.

"P" is now the flight mode that has all of the Intelligent Orientation Control (IOC) settings like Waypoints, Active Track, Tap to Fly, Point of interest, and others. With the addition of all these new features like active track and the vision sensors, the new "P" mode is limited to flight speeds of 22 MPH. That's where sport mode comes in.

"S" is the new "Sport Mode" which allows you to get more aggressive with your Phantom than ever before. None of the intelligent flight modes are available in sport mode. "A" or Attitude (Atti) Mode is the same as before, keeping altitude control but allowing for complete manual control of the drone without GPS and no "return to home" feature.

DJI also changed up the "Play/Pause" button on the top right hand side of the controller by replacing it with just a "Pause" button. This new "Pause" button is used to make the aircraft hover in place and allow for manual control like normal in "P" mode. You would use this feature during the middle of an intelligent flight mode sequence in case of emergency.




Arguably one of the biggest improvements from the other Phantom models is the inclusion of a carrying case that securely closes for quick and easy transport. It can actually hold everything needed for flying including an iPad Mini (but not a regular iPad) and up to three flight batteries if you store one in the drone itself.

This case is a great bonus for Phantom 3 or earlier owners as the landing skids are longer and slightly wider on the Phantom 4, which makes it incompatible with cases not specifically meant for the P4; whereas you could have used a Phantom 2 case for a Phantom 3 as they shared the same body style.

Usage



DJI's main goal with the Phantom 4 is to make it more inviting and easy to fly. They definitely did a lot of things to make that a reality. I decided to fact check many of the claims with the upgraded features and am happy to report, most of them are true and accurate.

Upon starting the Phantom 4 up for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they also changed the tune of the startup noise. The old one offended my eardrums each time it started, the new tone is much more peaceful and welcoming.

Most experienced pilots know that you should also always calibrate your IMU when doing your initial setup out of the box and check the status after moving locations frequently. It was nice to see that as a part of the diagnostics in the advanced settings, they actually had a readable status for the IMU. Right out of the box, my readout said that one of the IMU's could be calibrated, so I did to ensure maximum performance.

It's worth noting that the Phantom 4 actually has two IMUs and two compasses (which should be calibrated each time you change your home point) for stability and control.




Visual navigation is the big new feature DJI introduced with the Phantom 4. As mentioned earlier, this feature is only available in "P" mode and works simultaneously with all the intelligent flight modes.

I'm no physicist, but in all likelihood the speed limitation is based upon the Field of View for these vision sensors (60 degree horizontal, 54 degree vertical). Since the sensors are fixed on the frame, if it went too fast, it might only see downward based on the angle of the nose at higher speeds and run into things just above it. The computer also needs enough time to process the landscape and going fast doesn't make that easier. It can see up to 50 feet in front of it at a time and at 22 MPH that's about 32 feet per second, just enough room for adjustments basically.

In active track mode I had success with this feature as well. It followed me through the streets of downtown Fort Lauderdale with no problem, avoiding trees and changing course.

With the limitations imposed by this fancy new Visual Navigation feature, it takes some of the "fun" out of flying. That's where sport mode comes in.

Sport mode is basically the replacement for that flight mode with a 10 MPH speed improvement thanks to the newer, more powerful motors. 
Allowing you to reach speeds up to 45 MPH, Sport mode allows you to get to places faster. Should you choose to upgrade your controller with the HDMI output module, you could set up your Phantom 4 with a FPV kit and give drone racing a try.

Something to look out for in Sport mode while recording video is that the props will absolutely get into the shot at full speed. Even though they increased the motor height, it didn't make a difference when flying that aggressively.




Active Track is one of the most talked about new features on the Phantom 4. I was able to follow a couple of moving boats and I also had it follow me while I was skateboarding. Don't fool yourself into thinking that it works flawlessly though. The best part of Active Track is that it works with the "vision" sensors so you can feel more comfortable letting the drone take control when you are able to lock onto something. When it was following me on the skateboard, it actually evaded a tree, changed direction and proceeded to catch up to me.

As mentioned, it's not perfect but it is a new technology with a lot of potential for growth. For example, the drone must be very close to an object to lock in recognition. The feature also loses subjects quite frequently. When I was testing the feature with me skateboarding for example, it had a hard time maintaining the target when I approached other objects like a table or moved too quickly.

Once Active Track loses a subject, the drone just stops and hovers.


Tap to Fly wasn't all that thrilling but is useful for situations where you want to focus on panning the camera, not flying. It basically just flew forward in the direction you tapped and then avoided obstacles like in any other mode. I suppose this is also useful for just getting smoother shots than manual maneuvering when you just want to fly straight ahead or to the left or right of the frame.




Conclusion



Placing the Phantom 3 side by side with the Phantom 4 helped me to immediately realize how big of a departure the new design is from the previous versions. The Phantom 3 is basically just a regular Phantom pushed to the limit with a modular camera system, while the Phantom 4 is built with more intent. In essence, Phantom 4 is the new standard for DJI, and should be the benchmark against which all entry-level drones are measured.

Score: 4.5 out of 5



Pros:

  • Integrated gimbal and camera for smooth, consistent footage
  • Active track mode makes moving and action shots much more feasible
  • Sport mode allows you to get places faster and is a lot of fun
  • Included carrying case

Cons:

  • Form factor is basically unchanged from earlier models.
  • Visual Navigation can only see obstacles directly ahead
  • Active Track mode has a hard time staying locked on human subjects above 75 feet
  • YouTube and Facebook live streaming output quality is limited to 720p


Where to buy



DJI's Phantom 4 is available for $1,319 from Amazon.com or $1,399 from B&H Photo.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 4,519member
    Great! You mean I can now live stream that hot teen sunbathing down the street so all my perv homies can get off too? And if her father tries to stop me I can have him arrested for destruction of property? Ain’t America wunnerful?
    edited June 2016 iqatedojackansizroger73tallest skil
  • Reply 2 of 18
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,001member
    lkrupp said:
    Great! You mean I can now live stream that hot teen sunbathing down the street so all my perv homies can get off too? And if her father tries to stop me I can have him arrested for destruction of property? Ain’t America wunnerful?
    From 50-100 feet up with a relatively low-resolution, very wide-angle camera?   What do you think you're going to see?    There's certainly enough free porn online to satisfy your homies that's going to look a lot better shot from three feet away.     How often do you see pervs at the beach with a telephoto lens shooting young women (other than ones they know) in bikinis?   Not very often, if at all.    And if you do?  Then what the drones do is no different than what's already being done.

    I really think people are over-paranoid about these drones.   Outside of a store or trade show, I haven't seen a single one in actual use as yet.   They're probably going to be banned in most places anyway.   The new Federal rules for commercial drones require that you have line-of-sight and that you can't fly them "over people", which is going to severely limit their use and you can't fly them within five miles of an airport, which I think is ridiculous - you should be able to fly a drone at least as high as nearby buildings.  I live near plenty of 23-story apartment towers, which are about 200' tall.      Even though I'm just a few miles from an airport, the planes obviously don't fly low enough to crash into any of those buildings, so using a drone at even 300' or below would be safe.    

    I would imagine most uses of drones for video are going to be at relatively low attitudes.   A sweeping shot of a wedding party...following runners or bike riders (or pets)...tracking shots of action scenes, etc.   I think most shots like this are going to be accomplished from less than 50' high.  
    jroystaticx57lordjohnwhorfin
  • Reply 3 of 18
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    lkrupp said:
    Great! You mean I can now live stream that hot teen sunbathing down the street so all my perv homies can get off too? And if her father tries to stop me I can have him arrested for destruction of property? Ain’t America wunnerful?
    links or it didn't happen. sounds like old crank material...
    lordjohnwhorfin
  • Reply 4 of 18
    linkmanlinkman Posts: 509member
    $1319? Still way out of my price range. DJI probably will never have a model that I'm looking to buy. Even the Lily https://www.lily.camera/ will be too spendy for me.
    jackansi
  • Reply 5 of 18
    grangerfxgrangerfx Posts: 326member
    linkman said:
    $1319? Still way out of my price range. DJI probably will never have a model that I'm looking to buy. Even the Lily https://www.lily.camera/ will be too spendy for me.
    Check out the Hubsan H502E. It costs about $107 and has GPS. No FPV or follow me but as a starter drone it cannot be beat right now. Anything less will fall out of the sky if it loses signal strength. This one comes home again and can hold its position. Your second drone, assuming you become a rabid fan of drones, should be a Phantom 4. Yes it costs a lot of money but unlike all the rest it absolutely performs and is worth every penny. I have about 60 flights now and am still on the original set of props. The video quality is stunning. Every time I fly it, I am amazed all over again.
    macgui
  • Reply 6 of 18
    linkman said:
    $1319? Still way out of my price range. DJI probably will never have a model that I'm looking to buy. Even the Lily https://www.lily.camera/ will be too spendy for me.
    Shoulda put more in that 401k and to the creeper - your disgusting - I did laugh at the intentional use of *her cause we all know it was *him you'd be leering down on
  • Reply 7 of 18
    Very cool review, thanks. It's crazy how quickly these toys improve and how fast the prices are coming down. 
  • Reply 8 of 18
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 4,519member
    lkrupp said:
    Great! You mean I can now live stream that hot teen sunbathing down the street so all my perv homies can get off too? And if her father tries to stop me I can have him arrested for destruction of property? Ain’t America wunnerful?
    links or it didn't happen. sounds like old crank material...

    Sure, no problem, right here on c|net no less.

    http://www.cnet.com/news/judge-rules-man-had-right-to-shoot-down-drone-over-his-house/
    jackansi
  • Reply 9 of 18
    staticx57staticx57 Posts: 389member
    lkrupp said:
    links or it didn't happen. sounds like old crank material...

    Sure, no problem, right here on c|net no less.

    http://www.cnet.com/news/judge-rules-man-had-right-to-shoot-down-drone-over-his-house/
    And no proof anyone was doing what you said. The guy was speculating as to what the operator was doing.
    nolamacguymacgui
  • Reply 10 of 18
    jackansijackansi Posts: 116member
    Some jerkweasel was flying one of these over my head just yesterday.  By the time I found where he was flying from he had the drone nearly "home".  When he saw me coming over to give him a piece of my mind he ducked inside with the drone fast.  It was windy enough out that the drone was having trouble staying in stable flight.  You're supposed to stay in visual line of sight (un-aided VLOS) and he was clearly way out with where he was flying it the first time.  He went past my property and the next before I lost sight of it behind a line of trees, he had two lines of trees blocking his line of sight.  Also not supposed to fly over anyone who is not directly involved with the flight.

    Later he was at it again and I got video of him flying over my property and pictures of him in control of it.  Local PD later said, frankly, that they didn't know what they could do about it.  So because it's new and rules are pretty loose, there is nothing to protect other private citizens from people like this that get a thrill out of invading other people's privacy.

    So here is the jerkweasel trying the land quickly because he noticed me heading over:  
    (had to use a 630mm adapted lens and a crop to stay on public property to get him, yes it's still blurry because it's a bear handling that lens without a tripod)


    edited June 2016
  • Reply 11 of 18
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    lkrupp said:
    links or it didn't happen. sounds like old crank material...

    Sure, no problem, right here on c|net no less.

    http://www.cnet.com/news/judge-rules-man-had-right-to-shoot-down-drone-over-his-house/
    all i saw was the guy charged w/ shooting claims the operator was spying on his sunbathing daughter. yet no charges on the operator, who provided flight data to counter this claim, so that still sounds like old crank material to me. i think its much more likely the guy shot down the drone then came up w/ a story why. 
    edited June 2016
  • Reply 12 of 18
    zroger73zroger73 Posts: 421member
    I had no idea I even wanted a UAV and had never heard of DJI until I passed a display of $479 DJI Phantom 3 Standard this weekend at Sam's Club. Somewhat of an impulse buy, I went back to pick one up the next day. I usually research purchases before I buy, but this was a rare exception. It wasn't until I got it home that I discovered DJI was a major brand and the Phantom 3 was one of the most highly recommended beginner models. A friend of mine who sold his Phantom 3 Professional still had 2 out of 9 batteries left, which he generously gave to me. They only had 15 and 8 cycles on them. After registering the UAV with the FAA and following all the rules, I've really enjoyed my new hobby. I don't care about spying on neighbors (of which I have few, anyway) - I'm more interested in seeing my local part of the world from a new and exciting perspective. By the time the "new" wears off, I'll have gotten my $500 worth. I'm not at all interested in the Phantom 4 for 3x the price the Phantom 3 Standard.
  • Reply 13 of 18
    muppetrymuppetry Posts: 3,306member
    jackansi said:
    Some jerkweasel was flying one of these over my head just yesterday.  By the time I found where he was flying from he had the drone nearly "home".  When he saw me coming over to give him a piece of my mind he ducked inside with the drone fast.  It was windy enough out that the drone was having trouble staying in stable flight.  You're supposed to stay in visual line of sight (un-aided VLOS) and he was clearly way out with where he was flying it the first time.  He went past my property and the next before I lost sight of it behind a line of trees, he had two lines of trees blocking his line of sight.  Also not supposed to fly over anyone who is not directly involved with the flight.

    Later he was at it again and I got video of him flying over my property and pictures of him in control of it.  Local PD later said, frankly, that they didn't know what they could do about it.  So because it's new and rules are pretty loose, there is nothing to protect other private citizens from people like this that get a thrill out of invading other people's privacy.

    So here is the jerkweasel trying the land quickly because he noticed me heading over:  
    (had to use a 630mm adapted lens and a crop to stay on public property to get him, yes it's still blurry because it's a bear handling that lens without a tripod)


    You certainly appear to be invading his privacy with your 600 mm lens, when I doubt that you have any idea whether he even pointed the 20 mm wide-angle lens on his aircraft in your direction. Do you get equally angry when Google imaging vehicles drive by, or news helicopters with long, stabilized telephoto lenses appear above the horizon? Everyone is trying to get photos of you, as you are clearly aware¡
    zroger73
  • Reply 14 of 18
    I recently had to sign an agreement/contract at a hotel to NOT fly drones because obviously the hotel management was worried about drones/picture takings/filming and hotel guests' privacy. Live Streaming certainly helps... let's say if you find something interesting from far away that you want to take a closer look (i.e. better pictures), you can then fly closer and take better pictures, etc.
    jackansi
  • Reply 15 of 18
    jackansijackansi Posts: 116member
    muppetry said:
    jackansi said:
    Some jerkweasel was flying one of these over my head just yesterday.  By the time I found where he was flying from he had the drone nearly "home".  When he saw me coming over to give him a piece of my mind he ducked inside with the drone fast.  It was windy enough out that the drone was having trouble staying in stable flight.  You're supposed to stay in visual line of sight (un-aided VLOS) and he was clearly way out with where he was flying it the first time.  He went past my property and the next before I lost sight of it behind a line of trees, he had two lines of trees blocking his line of sight.  Also not supposed to fly over anyone who is not directly involved with the flight.

    Later he was at it again and I got video of him flying over my property and pictures of him in control of it.  Local PD later said, frankly, that they didn't know what they could do about it.  So because it's new and rules are pretty loose, there is nothing to protect other private citizens from people like this that get a thrill out of invading other people's privacy.

    So here is the jerkweasel trying the land quickly because he noticed me heading over:  
    (had to use a 630mm adapted lens and a crop to stay on public property to get him, yes it's still blurry because it's a bear handling that lens without a tripod)


    You certainly appear to be invading his privacy with your 600 mm lens, when I doubt that you have any idea whether he even pointed the 20 mm wide-angle lens on his aircraft in your direction. Do you get equally angry when Google imaging vehicles drive by, or news helicopters with long, stabilized telephoto lenses appear above the horizon? Everyone is trying to get photos of you, as you are clearly aware¡
    I wouldn't have pointed my lens at him without reason.  I don't randomly go around with that thing taking pictures like he was doing with his drone.  Google street view doesn't come back roads the size of mine, so...  Also news helicopters? 135 miles from the nearest station that has one?  Not gonna happen.  The reason I live where I live is so that I don't have to put up with this crap.

    Nice that you ignored the fact he broke the rules of flight and somehow try to blame me for stuff.  You're a real hero.

    Next time it's not pictures of the operator I'm taking... it's a trophy.  Not a hard shot to make either.
    edited July 2016
  • Reply 16 of 18
    muppetrymuppetry Posts: 3,306member
    jackansi said:
    muppetry said:
    You certainly appear to be invading his privacy with your 600 mm lens, when I doubt that you have any idea whether he even pointed the 20 mm wide-angle lens on his aircraft in your direction. Do you get equally angry when Google imaging vehicles drive by, or news helicopters with long, stabilized telephoto lenses appear above the horizon? Everyone is trying to get photos of you, as you are clearly aware¡
    I wouldn't have pointed my lens at him without reason.  I don't randomly go around with that thing taking pictures like he was doing with his drone.  Google street view doesn't come back roads the size of mine, so...  Also news helicopters? 135 miles from the nearest station that has one?  Not gonna happen.  The reason I live where I live is so that I don't have to put up with this crap.

    Nice that you ignored the fact he broke the rules of flight and somehow try to blame me for stuff.  You're a real hero.

    Next time it's not pictures of the operator I'm taking... it's a trophy.  Not a hard shot to make either.

    They are guidelines for reacreationally flying model aircraft, not rules. To date the FAA has not made any rules for recreational flying and, in fact, are barred from doing so. No doubt that will change at some point, however. As to your other points: How do you know that he was randomly taking pictures? If you lived on a larger street would you be taking shots at the Google vehicles? If you lived closer to a news station, or if you discovered that news helicopters had a range of over 135 miles, would you be shooting at those too?

    So as it happens, it doesn't matter where you live in the US - you don't get to dictate what flies overhead or, even, takes photos of your property. And if you choose to shoot down even a drone, you are breaking Federal law, as some have already discovered. But if you wish to act on your paranoid hysteria and if your shooting turns out to be more accurate than your fact checking then please do report back on how it goes.
  • Reply 17 of 18
    jackansijackansi Posts: 116member
    muppetry said:
    jackansi said:
    I wouldn't have pointed my lens at him without reason.  I don't randomly go around with that thing taking pictures like he was doing with his drone.  Google street view doesn't come back roads the size of mine, so...  Also news helicopters? 135 miles from the nearest station that has one?  Not gonna happen.  The reason I live where I live is so that I don't have to put up with this crap.

    Nice that you ignored the fact he broke the rules of flight and somehow try to blame me for stuff.  You're a real hero.

    Next time it's not pictures of the operator I'm taking... it's a trophy.  Not a hard shot to make either.

    They are guidelines for reacreationally flying model aircraft, not rules. To date the FAA has not made any rules for recreational flying and, in fact, are barred from doing so. No doubt that will change at some point, however. As to your other points: How do you know that he was randomly taking pictures? If you lived on a larger street would you be taking shots at the Google vehicles? If you lived closer to a news station, or if you discovered that news helicopters had a range of over 135 miles, would you be shooting at those too?

    So as it happens, it doesn't matter where you live in the US - you don't get to dictate what flies overhead or, even, takes photos of your property. And if you choose to shoot down even a drone, you are breaking Federal law, as some have already discovered. But if you wish to act on your paranoid hysteria and if your shooting turns out to be more accurate than your fact checking then please do report back on how it goes.
    You need to go read up on this.  You're way out of date, boy.
  • Reply 18 of 18
    muppetrymuppetry Posts: 3,306member
    jackansi said:
    muppetry said:

    They are guidelines for reacreationally flying model aircraft, not rules. To date the FAA has not made any rules for recreational flying and, in fact, are barred from doing so. No doubt that will change at some point, however. As to your other points: How do you know that he was randomly taking pictures? If you lived on a larger street would you be taking shots at the Google vehicles? If you lived closer to a news station, or if you discovered that news helicopters had a range of over 135 miles, would you be shooting at those too?

    So as it happens, it doesn't matter where you live in the US - you don't get to dictate what flies overhead or, even, takes photos of your property. And if you choose to shoot down even a drone, you are breaking Federal law, as some have already discovered. But if you wish to act on your paranoid hysteria and if your shooting turns out to be more accurate than your fact checking then please do report back on how it goes.
    You need to go read up on this.  You're way out of date, boy.

    That's a quite pathetic response, even by AI standards which, these days, are not very high. I'm not going to dignify it by even trying to educate you further. 
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