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Guest Post: DJI Phantom 4 Drone Review

Since the initial craze of the Phantom 4, our guest blogger, Will Lindsley has been clocking up a fair few flight hours in a bunch of countries, in a variety of conditions. Using that expereince, in this blog post, Will shares with us his take on the DJI Phantom 4.

Phantom4-Close-up-Glacier-Iceland

Editors Note : Will, the man behind ‘ManAndDrone‘ has created some great guides for flying and filming with drones. We feel they have some invaluable lessons on how to get the most out of your kit. He has kindly let us reproduce versions of them on our blog, this is part five of a series.

Time to Retire the Phantom 3? Maybe…

After most of the dust has settled it’s time to share my views on the Phantom 4 quadcopter

DJI have come a long way since the days of the Phantom 1 and GoPro. I remember back in 2014 I was going to purchase a Phantom 2 for use in conjunction with a GoPro but for whatever reasons my circumstances changed and I ended up purchasing a Phantom 3 on it’s much welcomed announcement earlier 2015. The Phantom 3 proved an invaluable tool for my video work, but it wasn’t without it’s faults.

Less than a year later and DJI announced the launch of the Phantom 4. Had they dealt with some of the main issues from the Phantom 3? Well much had changed, many improvements across the board most noticeably:

  •  Sleeker, stronger body design with an overall greater build quality.
  • New internal 3 axis gimbal system that feels and looks far superior to the Phantom 3.
  • Lens redesign with 8 elements, improvements to distortion, chromatic aberration and focus.
  • Same Sony sensor but with adjustments for improved colour and dynamic range.
  • Quick release propellers.
  • Larger batteries for an additional 5 minutes of flying time.
  • An additional 2 miles of range over the Phantom 3.
  • Obstacle avoidance system.
  • Active track software.
  • Hardware redundancy dual IMUs and dual VPS.
  • Upgraded motors for a supposed increase in camera stability.
  • 10MPH Faster with speeds of 45mph achievable.
  • Inspire VDU mount for controller.That seems like big list of improvements for less than £400 over the Phantom 3 Professional.. But let’s not be too hasty.Bad Points
  • 15 degree C limit until able to take off for batteries. Annoying function for me as I fly in cold places.
  • Standard colour profiles aren’t so good compared to the P3 and Inspire X3.
  • Batteries weigh more, so if you were hiking with 3 phantom 3 batteries, the same in Phantom 4 becomes more weight we don’t want to carry. For me, just taking two Phantom 4 batteries is not enough flight time.
  • Still no foldable legs or quick release gimbal.
  • Obstacle Avoidance system is welcomed but annoying if your a seasoned drone pilot (can be disable though)
  • Gimbal and lens cover is again fiddly.
  • If you’ve bought a Backpack with foam insert for your P3, it’s liekly that you’ll need a new one as the P4’s body shape is different, same for the battery compartments.
  • Propellers seem more bendy and fragile. this may be a deliberate design for mobility.
  • Quick release propeller system could be more secure.

Even though the craft now has dual IMUs, I’ve still had that dreaded tilt problem on occasion, with the gimbal having to correct the horizon. However the craft is on a slant and cannot be flown true. Have to bring it back to ground, turn-off and recalibrate. Not what you want if your on a tight time schedule.

Drone-iceland-Glacier
What’s clear is that DJI are aiming this at more of the beginner / budding enthusiast. The obstacle avoidance system is a hinderance if you are already well versed in flying the Phantom drones. If you’re a beginner or fearful of crashing, then it’s a welcome addition.
One thing I didn’t like on location was not being allowed to launch the drone below temperatures of 15 degrees C. It gets much colder than that in Iceland and other countries, this is surely just insurance for DJI to mitigate on returns. I’ve flown the Phantom 3 at -10 C in Canada and it was fine.. The voltage dropped a coupe of times into the red and the batteries would drain quicker, the risk was necessary for the rewarding shots. DJI do sell a battery warmer that heats the battery up to optimal temperature but it can use unto 7% of energy in the process. I would personally advise just waiting until the aircraft has warmed up on it’s own accord, which it does so pretty well. Additionally using a vehicles heaters can speed up the process.

The Phantom 4’s colour profiles are very much different to that of the Phantom 3’s. On the surface they appear worse than the Phantom 3’s, and unless you know what your doing it’s difficult to recommend what’s best. The only improvement I can see is that the photos look ever so slightly better than the P3’s.. This maybe down to the redesigned lens.. But it’s hardly a game changer. The right natural lighting conditions makes or breaks quality photos no matter if it’s a Phantom 3 or 4.

Regarding the colour profiles for video. The best I’ve found so far is D-Log, Art or Cine with a custom style of 0 on the Sharpness, -1 on the Contrast and 0 on the Saturation. Using Adobe Premiere CC with the Lumetri Colour System I’m able to bring the life back into the footage how I see fit. If you don’t plan on doing much post production work then I recommend you leave it on ‘None’.

What I like about the Phantom 4 though was it’s ability to handle the winds in Iceland even at the stage where in my mind “Should I really be flying in these conditions?!” Bare in mind I smashed the wilderness in Canada so I know what’s capable with these consumer drones. Okay so the footage came out a little shaky in parts, it was to be expected. The Phantom 4 only has a small wingspan. I managed to fly 4KM out in strong winds to a DC3 Plane wreckage (Iceland) from the main road parking lot.. I didn’t fancy the walk. The drone made it comfortably there at roughly 10 m/s.. with 55% battery to spare.. I had time to take a few pictures and head back. Video signal would cut out every now and again so it was a little difficult to know what I was capturing so I took several at random. Heading back the drone flew at 22 m/s surely it’s top speed with a little help from the wind, translates into roughly 50mph or 80kph.

Drone-plane-wreck-iceland
The quick release propellers are a nice touch, and they worked. Why I like this feature so much is the fact I work in cold environments on occasion so my hands can become numb if not using gloves.. I don’t have time to fumble with propellers. Changing props on the Phantom 3 with numb hands isn’t fun.

Conclusion – So Would I sell my Phantom 3 for a P4?
Yes is the answer. After two trips (Iceland & Norway) it has survived aircraft ‘hold baggage’ compared to my Phantom 3 which had died after the Mallorca Trip. The reason the Phantom 3 died is not because it wasn’t packed right, it’s because it is an extremely fragile piece of kit. The Phantom 4 oozes far higher on the build quality spectrum, I need this for travelling! The last thing I want is to turn up to a foreign country and find out my drone’s circuit board has worked itself loose after one plane journey. You could mitigate the potential damage of the Phantom 3 by taking it as a carry on.. I don’t have a small enough bag for it and won’t be looking to purchase one, especially now as the Mavic Pro has been announced.
As the lens diameter is the same as the P3’s I can still utilise my current ND filters.. this is very important as it means no more unnecessary spending. I still prefer the Standard colour profile and D-Log of the Phantom 3, however on balance with the Phantom 4’s durability I would say it edges ahead, just.

Having looked at DJI’s latest offering the ‘Mavic Pro’ it looks like that drone could be the one for hiking and use the Phantom 3, 4 or Inspire Drone on locations reached by car. I’d be happy to sacrifice just a little bit of quality for those mountain peak shot’s on foot.. It’s not something I enjoy carrying a bulky bag full of camera and drone equipment, so anything to reduce the overall weight.. Thank you DJI!
As the technology improves we’ll see more and more people using these things. Expect regulations to tighten, especially at tourist hotspots. Regardless, if your looking for a great all round drone you still can’t go wrong with the DJI Phantom 4.

Check these videos all flown with the Phantom 4 :

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