I’ve had the DJI Phantom 4 in my possession for a couple of weeks now and have taken it through its paces over that time. A few days ago, I took it out for a spin as well as my Phantom 3 Advanced to get a sense of how it handles and even made a video about it (see below). Instead of regurgitating what’s on that video on this post, I thought I’d use it to focus on a few features and maybe give a few pointers on which Phantom might be right for you.
Phantom 4 vs Phantom 3
As I mentioned in the unboxing post, the Phantom 4 (P4 from now on) is a much more refined package as compared to the P3. It’s got some subtle refinements that truly make it MUCH more pleasant to use. I’ve put some of them as dot points below.
- Obstacle avoidance
- Smart flight modes: TapFly and ActiveTrack as well as those added in the P3 update like Waypoints and FollowMe
- Feels much sturdier than P3
- Gimbal and camera integrated much better – no “jiggling platform” like the Phantom 3!
- New gimbal clamp is SO much easier put onand my favourite feature…
- Quick lock propellors – you just stick them on and give a little twist to secure!
Some of these things may seem minor, but seriously, the last 2 points alone probably would’ve made me buy the drone. It reminds of when Apple brought out the Lightning connector and suddenly it seemed ludicrous that there WASN’T a USB reversible cable (before USB-C).
It’s the same thing here. One you snap on the gimbal clamp or quickly attach the propellors, you wonder why this wasn’t how it always was! As a hobbyist, it just makes me want to actually take the drone for a flight so much more knowing that there is a less painful set up process. Also, DJI made the styrofoam case as a kind of reusable carrycase. It’s quite sleek and I’ve found it quite easy to get things out and fly. I’m guessing it wont last too long since it is styrofoam, but so far so good!
Intelligent flight modes
So this is really the talking point of the Phantom 4: the camera system can now detect and avoid obstacles while flying forward. That’s the key word here: forward, since that’s the only way the sensors point. You can still crash into things flying back or sideways (or up/down I assume).
Even with that caveat, the sensors make a HUGE difference. I mentioned in an earlier post how this is like the “iPhone” moment for drones and it is: now anyone can turn this thing on, to have to worry about learning the controls and just tap on screen and fly the thing!
That little feature is called TapFly and it literally works by tapping where you want the drone to go. The drone moves forward and avoids most obstacles on the way. You have a cool looking photo/video while not having to learn how to fly using the control sticks. Winning!
The second thing that I’ve always wanted to be able to do is what’s enabled by ActiveTrack. Essentially, you can drag your finger to make a box around anything on the DJI Go App and the drone will follow that object. It’s kind of incredible to think that the drone is able to figure out the object from the background and track it even if the object rotates! If the object is a person, it’ll even detect that and show a little “man” on screen to notify that it’s recognised a human. If you check near the end of the video, that was the first time I used ActiveTrack and it did such a gorgeous job!
The camera is slightly better with less fringing (according to DJI) but I found it hard to tell the difference. On the video side, however, things were super crisp! I assume that’s because I’ve gone from a 2.7K filming drone to a 4K filming drone.
One awesome thing I noticed was that in the normal “P” mode the drone tilts far less than the P3. This means that propellors hardly ever get into your shot! Was quite a pet peeve of mine on the P3. The downside is that in the normal mode, the P4 does feel more sluggish than the P3, but you can always turn on Sports mode and fly hard!
Which DJI Phantom to buy?
This is a bit of a hard one since all the Phantoms from the 3 onwards are quite awesome. I think essentially it comes down to what you intend to do with it. You have to balance out a few things like cost, the range you’re fly, how comfortable you are using the controller to fly and whether you’ll use it for photos or videos primarily.
- Much cheaper – especially the “Standard”
- Great picture quality
- Same videolink range as P4 (for the Advanced and Pro)
- Feels much faster in “P” mode
- Picture quality and dynamic range is a bit limited compared to Phantom 4
- Camera/gimbal assembly is a bit fiddly
- Propellors often come into video shots
- Videos look more jerky
- Can only fly via controller (no TapFly/ActiveTrack)
- Awesome camera quality
- Props and gimbal/clamp MUCH easier to deal with
- Super stable video
- Propellor/landing gear doesn’t seem to intrude into frame of camera
- Obstacle avoidance and easy, take it out of the box and fly capabilities
- Better dynamic range/white balance
- Sleeker/more sturdy build quality
- Cost – much more expensive than the Phantom 3
- Feels “sluggish” in default mode (though does help it produce smoother video)
- No obstacle avoidance at rear – can still crash when moving back/sideways
- 4K footage takes up a LOT of room (more a backwards compliment- its relatively good bitrate 4K on the Phantom 4, but the files are HUGE)
In essence, it’s hard to recommend one over the other because they both very good drones! I’d say personally, I am glad I upgraded to the Phantom 4 since those little things like the props, camera mount and not getting the propellor in the shot REALLY make it worth while for me. The ActiveTrack does allow for some really smooth film making without you having to touch the controller (just see the Youtube review for the footage – click here to go to where the ActiveTrack demo begins).
If the budget is more of an issue, the Phantom 3 range wont let you down and can be bought for MUCH less (the P3 Standard is about one-third of the price of a P4). They’re fast and responsive and if you’re primarily using it for aerial photography, the camera is almost as good as the Phantom 4.
Hope that helps!
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