A few months ago I became a lucky owner of DJI Phantom 4 Pro quadcopter and after using it for some time, I would like to share my detailed opinion about it. I will focus on still photography features but will mention some video features as well as I’m recently shooting more and more video (although I’m not yet feeling confident enough to share it).
This is a review in progress. I will be updating it in the next few weeks with more info and sample photos.
Phantom 4 Pro is an upgraded version of Phantom 4 in almost every regard. It has a better camera (20 vs. 12 megapixels; controllable aperture vs. fixed), longer flight time (30 vs. 28 mins), better obstacles detection, better burst mode (14 vs. 7 fps), support for 5.4 GHz frequency, support for 128 GB SD cards… and much more. In fact, I’m surprised DJI didn’t decide to name it Phantom 5 as a number of new features and improvements is really impressive! And more importantly, these are true improvements, not some “features” invented by the marketing department.
Pricing and specs
Phantom 4 Pro comes in two versions:
- Pro – which costs 1499 USD and comes with standard Remote Controller (you need an external device, such as iPad, as a preview)
- Pro+ – which costs 1799 USD and comes with Remote Controller with very bright built-in screen (no need for external device as a preview)
I went for the first option so I have to use iPad as a preview screen and sometimes I regret that as in the strong sun light the brightness of iPad just isn’t enough sometimes while I heard that brightness of the Remote Controller with the screen is sufficient in that case.
Below are listed some key specs:
|Sensor size||1 inch|
|Max Image Size||20 MP|
|Obstacle Sensing||5 Directions of Obstacle Sensing|
|Max speed||72 kph|
|Lens||24 mm (equivalent of 35 mm), aperture f/2.8 – 11|
|ISO range||100 – 6400 (video) or 100 – 12800 (photo)|
How easy is it to fly?
It’s easy… but not as easy as some of you might think. Basically, you control a drone using two sticks (what makes it a bit similar to playing PlayStation or XBox consoles). Left one controls altitude and rotation, while right one is used to move forth and back, and to the sides. You control camera pitch with an additional wheel on the controller.There is also a lot of helpful features that
Phantom 4 Pro has a lot of helpful features that make crashing a drone a tad more difficult like:
- Auto take off/landing (where you just press a button and drone performs this task on its own if it considers it safe to do so),
- Return to home feature – where drone will automatically return to its take off location. You can activate RTH whenever you wish but it will also be done automatically as a safety measure if low battery level is detected or connection between remote controller and the drone is lost.
- Fantastic obstacles detection and avoidance. In my tests, it was even able to detect and avoid collision with tree branches when flying in the forest.
- Besides that, the drone will warn you whenever it encounters some problems like a strong wind, radio interference, poor GPS signal and so on.
There is also a simulator that should help in understanding the basics of flying the drone but as that simulator is quite simple and not all features available on the drone are supported by it, trying it won’t teach you everything. Besides, in simulator you don’t have view from the virtual camera so it’s just like observing the drone.
Training is highly recommended
But despite that I would still say, it’s advisable to spend some time reading (and understanding) the manual and then doing a few test flights in safe environments (like a place with no magnetic/radio interference and no water nearby) before taking it on a more serious photo shoot. Otherwise, you might quickly run into some sort of troubles (I mention two examples further below).
I had a small incident with Phantom when shooting in northern Finland. What happened was that after automatic taking off to 1.2 meters, my Phantom decided to go with a pretty high speed in a random direction. It took me a few seconds to take control over it and land it safely in a deep pile of snow. Now, this doesn’t sound very scary, but if you add to this the fact that I was on top of the mountain, there were a lot of tall trees around, some skiers and very strong wind… now, that’s a different story. Anyway, it wasn’t Phantom’s fault. The reason it went crazy was sudden magnetic activity in the atmosphere (Aurora I guess, but not visible as it was during the day). The worst thing is that Phantom actually warned me about that but I ignored that warning. Lesson learnt: don’t ignore the warnings the app shows you.
Also, it happened to me that I lost connection with my drone mid-flight. It was a bit scary but return to home feature worked brilliantly in that case. As soon as drone detected that it lost connection, it started its way home so everything was fine.
The number of modes in which you can fly your drone is overwhelming at first and it takes some time to understand and learn each of them.
My favourite ones so far are Tripod (in which drone is more stable but also moves much slower what makes it perfect for taking sharp photos and recording some footage) and Track (in which drone follows a moving subject like a person or bicycle for instance). I’m not recording a lot of fancy videos and for my needs, these two modes are most useful in most cases.
But besides them there are other flying modes available on Phantom 4 Pro:
- ActiveTrack – in active track drone tracks a subject (without using GPS reference) by using image recognition techniques. Drone avoids obstacles on its way.
- Tapfly – just tap a location on the map, and drone will automatically fly there avoiding any obstacles on its way
- Tripod Mode – as mentioned above, in this mode speed of the drone is reduced but it is also very stable what makes this mode perfect for still photography or very stable footage.
- Draw – you draw a path that your drone will follow
- Gesture Mode – in this mode drone will take photos when it recognizes specific gestures (so it’s a selfie mode)
- Point of Interest – drone will circle specified subject
- Home Lock – pull the pitch stick backwards to move drone towards its recorded Home Point
- Follow me – similarly to ActiveTrack a drone follows a subject. The difference is that drone, in fact, follows Remote Controller so subject needs to have it with him.
- Waypoints – set multiple GPS points and drone will automatically fly between them, while you only control the camera
DJI Go App
You connect with the drone, and control it, via DJI Go App that’s available for Android and iOS devices. Even though the app looks a bit complex at first glance, it’s very easy to use and is intuitive. It took me just a few minutes to understand it.
Basically, the whole screen is a camera preview with some text and icons overlaying it. Everything is grouped in a very clever way with flying settings (take off, landing, flying mode) on the left and camera settings (video/photo, exposure settings, shutter release button) on the right. On top of the screen there are some indications (like whether it’s safe to fly, GPS connection status, battery level) and on the bottom some “instruments” (distance, altitude, horizontal and vertical speed, map).
DJI Phantom 4 Pro is packed with a 20-megapixel camera which is a very big jump from 12 megapixels available on Phantom 4 and the camera is excellent. Also, the sensor size has been increased to 1 inch (from 2/3 inch) which should result in better noise at higher ISOs.
ISO range for photos is from 100 to 12800, but I would probably avoid using anything more than 800 given its small sensor size.
The photos are crisp, full of detail and colour as you can see in this review. Also, dynamic range is quite good. It doesn’t match Sony or Nikon cameras but if you’re shooting a scene with very high dynamic range, you can bracket thanks to the automatic bracketing feature (which lets you take 3 or 5 photos what should be enough in most cases).
You can shoot both in JPEG or DNG mode. Of course, I use the latter.
While I’m not an expert in this field, I would say that footage from Phantom 4 Pro is spectacular and has very professional and cinematic feel to it. There are many video settings – the highest available resolution is 4K at 60 FPS. You can also record 120 FPS slow-motion video at HD resolution.
For better dynamic range and more control over editing, there is D-Log profile available.
Here’s a little sample footage I recorded in Jatiluwih rice terraces, Bali:
DJI Phantom 4 Pro is an excellent tool both for photographers and videographers. With each of the trips, I tend to use it more and more. I simply love the different perspective it offers, also the photos and videos look very professional. I still don’t feel very confident flying it (I don’t want either to crash it or to damage something) but I think this confidence will come with time.
What I miss on Phantom 4 Pro is any kind of weather sealing. I guess it would make the drone much more expensive and more difficult to manufacture (and maybe it would simply weigh too much) but I missed a few photo opportunities because there was light snow or too much moisture.