DJI Phantom 4, review: the best drone on the market is now harder to crash

I have very recent the analysis of the Bebop 2, in fact I have been flying them together for a few days, and without underestimating Parrot's work - another price level -, what DJI achieves with its Phantom 4 we cannot find it in many commercial products: At a price that is not prohibitive, they present us with an almost perfect engraving machine, with fantastic flying skills, and intelligence that sets it apart from the competition. Yes, its autonomous functions are really remarkable.

Obviously it has improvable aspects, as we will be able to know in this article, and leaving aside its capabilities as a flying vehicle, in our country there are many limitations to safely fly a drone, which makes an incredible experience that many people could live, it see really limited. Something that also seems logical to me, these bugs are quite dangerous in the hands of people who have the budget but are not prepared or authorized.

We know that there are good, lesser-known competitors, but DJI has managed to maintain supremacy in a flourishing market. Phantom 4 is the best drone we can buy at its price

DJI is the drone market leader, and that was neither the first nor will it be the last, but it has managed to integrate the smartest solutions into a commercial product, in addition to selling it as if it were something relatively easy to use and maintain.It is not alone in the market, right now a Phantom has competition, it has it from names like Yuneec or 3D Robotics, but neither has such a round bet, or has managed to sell so well.

The Chinese firm sells it as the drone that everyone can fly, mainly because it is clever when it comes to understanding that it has obstacles in front of it, as long as we have it configured in the most intelligent recognition and operation mode. That's right, with a little preparation - it is not 5 minutes like in Bebop 2 - we are ready to take our first flights. The command seems complex, but in a few flights we understand that everything is at hand, well designed.

The learning curve and possibilities are too long in a DJI Phantom 4, with it we can from simple flights to mount authentic film productions, it all depends on our flight expertise, also on our capabilities understanding what can be done with a camera steering wheel, which records a thousand wonders. So far, excluding the autonomous functions, little difference with the Phantom 3.

The Phantom 3 was already the best option for many, the best flying camera in its market segment. Phantom 4 improves it in all options, including elements that make it safer, with greater performance in general terms. There is no doubt that DJI has managed to create an iconic product, although it is not aimed at the masses, and with its latest version it has significantly improved what they already had.

Phantom 4 is faster and smarter than the model it replaces. A firm step that makes it an icon in the drone market

You have to get used to this system of improving a product every year, in nothing we will have a DJI Phantom 5 that will bring out the colors to the fantastic model that we recently unpacked. But it is so, the Chinese have come to the idea that this is almost like the mobile market: ‘incremental 'improvements lead to better products. A pity that the business is taken so seriously and some accessories are not being compatible in new models.

DJI, we like that box

When we find the Phantom 4 box we already know that everything is studied here, even the transport system is taken care of to the millimeter. Okay, it's not the reinforced box that many would want for their professional jobs, but it's a light, well thought-out way to carry all the gear.

When I say everything, I mean what comes standard, and that is that as a negative point we will say that everything is measured to the millimeter, there is not much more in there: there would not have been a bad place for more charge, such as batteries (you can do a fix, but you have to adjust too much). It doesn't look very expensive to produce, and it's lightweight as it's made from 'extruded polystyrene', it has a very comfortable handle and a twist lock.

Professionals will end up buying a more consistent box, but the next one is very well designed. We have everything well collected and comfortable to transport

What are we inside? Obviously the Phantom 4 and its propellers, accompanied by a battery, the control stick, and a charger that has two sockets with which to charge the two elements at the same time. The connector for the phone is microUSB, so if you have an iPhone or USB-C, you have to find a cable.

Improving the design without losing the Phantom essence

From a drone design point of view, Phantom is already an icon, and is essentially very similar to the previous model. The new drone has a somewhat different body, thinner or thicker depending on where you look at it, which is more aerodynamic, more attractive.

See complete gallery »DJI Phantom 4 (10 photos)

The color bands on the arms also disappear, now all we see is an attractive glossy type plastic. As for the control knob, it is the same in design and functions, changing the plastic for the one used in the drone.

The Phantom 4's camera, gimbal and lower area are made of magnesium alloy. Those legs are wider and longer, better for landings, but worse for backwards compatibility. As for the gimbal, it is better anchored to the drone, with fewer moving elements and possibly greater resistance (weak point of the previous one).

Although it retains its Phantom appearance, it has undergone a major redesign. The gimbal is also new, more resistant

As we said a few lines above, if we look at it from above it is thinner than a Phantom 3, if we see it face-on, it is fatter. When we look next to each other we realize that the 3 is old, very good image work by DJI.

The main change when assembling it we have it in the propellers, there is a new anchoring mechanism that seems to us a very good option: it is pressed lightly overcoming a spring and rotates a bit until it reaches a stop, to remove it, just as , but in the opposite direction. Easier than before and according to DJI, safer even for Sport mode.

The gimbal has been redesigned: the flexible part is inside the chassis, and the camera is much more protected. What can you do? Well, tilt up and down, with less capacity left and right. In the case of vertical displacement there is a limitation that we can remove, which is there so that we do not remove the propellers, which occasionally appear in the videos.

The Phantom 4 weighs 1.36 kilos, a very successful fact, also very important when it comes to validating its use when we have to ask for a flight license or permit. On the device connections, we have on one side the microUSB port and the microSD card slot.

It is not seen, but much of the success of this product is in the double IMU (inertial measurement units) that it has inside. Together with the GPS-GLONASS and the VPS system, they make the drone as stable and safe as can be found on the market. The Vision Positioning System (VPS) is a set of cameras and sensors that constantly measure position and distance to the ground and front area, so you can continuously compensate for changes to stay in place.

No major changes to the control knob

The Phantom 4 controller is very complete and well thought out, but it really is the same one that we already knew in the drone last year. From him we direct his flight, also his camera, with the particularity of needing a mobile phone to see what he records, also activate the different options: the DJI Go application is necessary.

Fortunately most controls are on the remote, physically, as there are many things that are less effective to do with a touch screen. The way to unite phone and remote is via USB cable. My tests have been with a OnePlus X and a mid-range Samsung Galaxy, without problems, I could not say the same with the Xiaomi Mi Pad 2, something must go wrong with the USB-C cable.

There are a couple of buttons on the back that can be configured for what we want. The Phantom 3's Lightbridge downlink video technology is also maintained, which works really well, sending a clear and stable signal at 720p. The maximum transmission distance is supposed to be 3.5 kilometers, I have not exceeded 400 meters, but I have never had problems.

We need a phone or tablet as a screen. From the command we control flight, gimbal, and camera

If at any time the connection between the two is lost, the drone makes a “return to home”, which is to return to the take-off point automatically. Comment that the legal height limit is 120 meters and the application helps us maintain it, but we can remove the limitation.

We fly the Phantom 4

Like everything that happens with this prodigious clunker, it can be taken to the limits that we want, from flying it without having much idea, to squeezing them to incredible limits in the hands of an expert pilot. Especially in the audiovisual field is where you can get more juice.

If we want everything, it is simplified to connect the iOS / Android application, learn to use a little the sense of the two joysticks, and obviously, take off and land safely. If we are at another level, we can remove aids and put the Sport mode to move at more than 70 kilometers per hour. In that way it is much more sensitive to all our actions, not suitable for beginners.

Actually we can say that there are three speeds of use. When we connect all the aids, we cannot go from 35 km / h, in the normal flight mode the top goes to 56 km / h, and the fastest mode we have already mentioned in the previous paragraph.

DJI says that the Phantom 4 is five times more stable than its predecessor, we attest to this in strong Cadiz winds

I have told you that the range of use of the remote is fantastic, both in the transmission of the video signal, and in the control of the device. To me and my test mates, the guys from ICO Drones, we found it very safe to fly the DJI at times when we visually lose it.

The drone needs a GPS signal to start, as it seems logical, but if we go to mode A we can get around this restriction. It is primarily intended for indoor flying, entrusting the responsibility of safe flight to the Vision Positioning System: sensors and cameras that point down and forward.

Avoiding obstacles

The Phantom 4 has a pair of eyes on the front (right image), two sensors that are actually cameras and capture what is at 60 degrees in front of the drone. It also has sensors under the drone (left image), two acoustic and two other cameras, where there is no control is on the sides and the rear.

The typical tests work perfectly, you send it against a wall or a person, and the drone does not advance when it approaches less than two meters, but be careful, if you go backwards or sideways, there is no way to stop it.

You just have to be careful in the opposite direction to the camera, and on the sides. The rest are covered in smart sensors

If we are going to try things that are more difficult to detect, such as a path with large branches running through it, it also behaves quite well there. We have even tried to collide it head-on with the Parrot Bebop 2, and the DJI would not stop. There are more complications with very thin elements, such as ropes.

In its price range the DJI Phantom 4 has the most robust obstacle detection system, better than the one used by competitors like Yuneec. The people behind the recognition system are the German company Movidius, who also work on Google's Project Tango.

DJI GO, the application

To operate the Phantom 4 we have to have the DJI application on an Android / iOS device - sorry for other platforms, but this is the reality. Those who come from the previous model will already know it, and there is not really a major change in the main interface, nor in the configurations (obviously there are more functions, they are more extensive).

What's new is important, like the bars that show you the distance to the obstacles ahead. Being indoors doing the captures, the four sections are shown to me in red, and it begins to show them in yellow at a distance of 60 centimeters. It is really useful not only to avoid collision, it also helps us to know how close we are to the object.

To use it the best thing is to have a good screen, of generous dimensions, since there is a lot of information to show. We can choose to show us what the camera sees, and in small format, the map of the area. Or vice versa. If it is a screen with good levels of brightness, or we are looking for a parasol, we will appreciate it.

See complete gallery »DJI Go (21 photos)

The three main modes ...

As we already advance a few lines above, there are different flight modes that we physically change on the command, and then present different possibilities in the interface:

  • Positioning P mode is the one that helps the most, for those who want full obstacle detection. It is ideal for use with smart modes like Active Track.

  • Sport mode S, you get a drone much faster and more stable than a Phantom 3. The VPS and GPS are still active in it, but the obstacle detection system does not work, nor can it be started with the special modes Of flight.

  • Finally we have the A, from Attitude. It's the way the Phantom 4 doesn't stay stationary in one place, it will blow away in the wind if pushed, and it's all a matter of piloting skill. It makes sense if we want to blow it up in situations where smart systems won't let it start: indoors, darkness. I honestly haven't used it too much.

... and the three smart ones

  • Tap fly

What it does is use the image captured by the camera, projected on the touch screen of the mobile device, as a method of traveling to a point. Wherever we dial, the DJI drone will fly. It works with obstacle recognition on, and will try to avoid them.

  • Active Track

It is the way that chases you, rather, the camera chases you. The drone will try not to lose sight of you since you are the center of the recording. If we handle the drone, the camera will continue to point at us, or well, the element that we have decided to follow.

When capturing a person or object, it should be done tactilely, with a box. Unfortunately it doesn't work the first time, especially if what we want to recognize is small.

With people it works quite well, as long as they are well defined with respect to the background. The only problem is when you cross quickly under the camera and lose sight of you. There are not too many problems when there are several elements passing in front of the person to follow.

  • Follow Me

There is also a Follow Me mode, what it does is follow the remote control. Obstacle detection systems work in this mode. It is like Active Track but without defining the subject to follow.

No surprises in autonomy

It is not the section why DJI people should be more proud, it is really difficult to spend 20 minutes flying with it, more in the air conditions that I have had in my tests, that always increases consumption by throwing more than rotors. The increase in autonomy compared to a Phantom 3 is very small.

We can not say that DJI is very honest with the flight times, of the 28 minutes they boast, we could well say that they are 22, in the best conditions. If we get to play with autonomous modes and frills, or it is very windy, the batteries drop fast.

If it is for professional use or you have to go far to fly with it, think about investing in additional batteries

The batteries are quite expensive - around 160 euros -, they say that because they are smart, we can estimate that they take an hour and a half to be fully charged, while the remote control does it in 3.5 hours. Charging can be done at the same time, the charger has two outputs, one for each gadget.

If we put it in Sport mode and press the accelerator, the battery will rarely exceed 19 minutes of flight. The drone automatically lands when the battery drops below 10%, as a safety measure. If what we want is to use the drone as a camera, there is hardly any spending.

Fantastic video tool

Phantom 4 is a fantastic camera, even if it's not flying. It is capable of achieving very smooth 4K format recordings - 30 images per second -, with a lot of information even in difficult light situations, as you can see in our sample videos.

We have the option of playing with slow-motion shots with a very usable 1080p mode at 120 images per second. It is too creative a pot for my possibilities or experience: regardless of quality, imagine the recordings that can be made with its autonomous operating modes, or chasing people.

Recording in 4K is not a claim, it does it with great quality and fluidity. It is certainly one of the highlights of the DJI drone

The operation of the Gimbal is very good, we can move the camera from top to bottom with great sensitivity, or do it in a more robotic way. At the upper limit it is possible to place a stop so that the propellers do not come out. The movement to the left and right is very limited, we will have to move with the drone for it.


If you want to see original files, in this link you can download some raw

In pure and hard quality improvements, there is not much difference with a Phantom 3 Professional, but the reality is that they are not necessary either. The sensor it equips is a 12.4-megapixel Sony Exmor, paired with a 94-degree lens - equivalent to 20 millimeters - that has a fixed aperture of f / 2.8. Sensor size is like a compact or mobile, 1 / 2.3 inches.

  • The maximum recording mode is 4K in “full” format - 1.9: 1 -, that is, 4,096x 2,160 pixels at 24 or 25 images per second. We talk about recording at a rate of 60Mbps.
  • If we go down to the next 4K mode, at 3,840x2,160 pixels, we can add a mode at 30 images per second.
  • In between we have the same recording modes with a resolution of 2,704x1,520 pixels. What they call 2.7K, and both in this and in the superior we can play with a digital zoom.
  • A step below we have 1080p, still very good, in which we can use 60 or 120 images per second. Below is a 720p that I have not tested.

Connoisseurs of the older model say the new one has a better dynamic range, there is a better noise reduction system, and we have less lens distortion. It also exposes the images better, something with which we can play directly from the control, with a wheel, and it is important since depending on the position of the sun and the time, you have to know how to choose the best option.

Turning to photo, the images are quite good to be a sensor designed to record video and take wide-angle scenes. Those 12 megapixel shots are not wonderful, but they are very profitable if we take them in RAW DNG format. Here, as in mobile or compact, it is greatly improved when good light conditions.

See complete gallery »Photos (original DNG) (5 photos)

There is nothing that records better in its price, to level up we have to go to the DJI Inspire 1, which are capable of carrying the X5 camera systems of the house, with Micro Four Thirds sensors. At Yuneec they have models like the Tornado H920 with a GH4 on board. They can be swapped optics and have better sensors, but they are much more expensive.

Xataka's opinion

If you get the budget - they are 1,599 euros - and you will be able to take advantage of it without losing sight of the limitations we have in our country, this drone is the best you will find in its segment, the consumer one. But beware, its video and flight capabilities are also suitable for many professional jobs, in good hands it can do wonders.

For those who come from a Phantom 3, they may not be too interested in changing, but for the rest, few alternatives are going to offer us as much as the latest DJI product: it flies easily and very fast, it records 4K video like a charm, without forget that it is much safer thanks to its intelligent / autonomous systems.

Phantom 4 has a brilliant design, it can be an amazing working tool, also quite expensive toy

Let us not think that it is alone in the market, above the thousand euros we already have solutions from Yuneec and 3D Robotics that can offer very interesting things, but none is so round in all its possibilities, providing an autonomous flight component and a greater number sensors to avoid collisions.

These DJI people have set up the business as if the drones were mobile, let's not forget that before we know it we will have a new Phantom with many more sensors, more autonomy, smarter, and with more possibilities. If you are interested, enjoy it without thinking too much about how it will stay old, a world as young as that of drones is the law of life.

In favor

  • The amount of controls give you many possibilities, but it is easy to fly
  • The obstacle recognition system
  • The quality and smoothness of 4K mode recording
  • Very fast in Sport mode, stable in most conditions
  • Autonomous flight modes: tap to fly, active track, follow me

Against

  • The battery hardly exceeds 20 minutes of flight
  • Its price is quite high (although it is easy to justify it)
  • The price of accessories and batteries is high, it could come with some more
  • Spain is a fairly restrictive country for its use, study carefully what you want to do with it

The terminal has been loaned for testing by DJI. Can inquire our policy of relationships with enterprises.

In the making of the video we have Pedro Santamaría.

For piloting, flight advice and access to the flight field we have the company ICO Drones.

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