It wasn’t that long ago that DJI wowed us with its first collapsable, ultra-portable but high-end Mavic Pro drone. For the first time, very high end technology was available in a product that cost less than £1000/$1500. It could have spelled the end for the more expensive Phantom 4 lineup, at least, until the company announced the Phantom 4 Pro.
While it may look the same as the older model, the Phantom 4 Pro has been equipped with technology that outsmarts its predecessor and the Mavic. It’s got a beefier battery, much better camera and obstacle avoidance from all sides.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro preview: Design
In the looks department, there’s very little different about the Phantom 4 Pro, when compared to the original Phantom 4. It’s a big, white plastic quad-copter that rests on some sturdy-looking legs.
Right at the top of these legs, on the front and the back, is where you’ll find two pairs of sensors. There’s a handful of others on the sides and underneath, along with the cameras that record video footage as you take off so that it can find its homing position when you tell it to come home after flying.
Unlike the Mavic, the camera system hangs beneath the drone on a 3-axis gimbal designed to keep the camera steady even in the roughest conditions. Each of the arms has either a red or white light at the ends which flash to make it easy to spot in the air.
Inside this familiar plastic shell is a high density 5,870mAh battery which can cope with up to 30 minutes of flight time. That’s up from 5,350mAh found in the Phantom 4. Because of it’s higher density, DJI was able to fit a more powerful battery into the same space as the original Phantom 4.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro preview: New Camera
While the drone’s shape is familiar, the camera system has been upgraded to take more professional quality images and video.
Behind the new eight element lens system is a huge one inch 20-megapixel sensor which features twelve stops of dynamic range to ensure images retain detail, contrast and colour even under intense lighting conditions. That means low light performance is improved from the original Phantom 4 quite significantly. It also means the sensor is almost four times bigger than the one built into its predecessor.
It’s also been given a new mechanical shutter to kill the rolling shutter distortion – a kind of stutter that appears some times when panning across scenes – to produce smoother, more fluid footage. This is, of course, helped by its ability to shoot 4K video at up to 60 frames per second. That’s twice the frame-rate available on the DJI Mavic Pro.
For the video codec nerds out there, you’ll be pleased to know the camera supports H.264 4K at 60fps and H.265 4K at 30fps, both with 100Mbps bitrate.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro preview: Autonomous flying
Part of what we loved about the less expensive and more compact DJI Mavic Pro was its autonomous flying and tracking capabilities. Those have been included in the Phantom 4 Pro, along with some new modes.
One new feature is Draw, which lets you just draw a simple line on the screen and the drone flies in that direction, sticking to its altitude. You can either have it do so and keep the camera locked into forward-facing position, or have the camera free to move in any direction.
Like the Mavic, it can recognise objects like bikes, people and cars, and follow them. You can choose Trace mode to follow behind or in front of an object, Profile mode to fly alongside the subject, or Spotlight, which keeps the camera locked to the subject while it flies around freely.
One really interesting feature is TapFly, which lets you just tap on the screen, then the drone flies in that direction or – with TapFly Backward – fly in the opposite direction. With both of those modes, the obstacle avoidance system works to ensure it doesn’t find itself caught in a tree or smashed into a cliff.
Return to Home has existed in previous drones, but it’s been upgraded in the Phantom 4 Pro. It can automatically choose the best route home based on the environmental conditions. It also records its route as you’re flying it and can trace its steps back to where it took off from.
When it returns, it can land in exactly the same place it originally set off from.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro preview: Obstacles, what obstacles?
Part of the appeal of DJI’s high performance drones is their built-in obstacle avoidance. While the £999/$1498.5 Mavic Pro has sensors built into the front and underside of the drone to avoid trees and other objects, the Phantom 4 Pro can detect obstacles from anywhere.
It has sensors built into the front and back as well as both sides, and can detect obstacles up to 98 feet in front or behind. It even has sensors built in to the bottom. In short, that means you don’t need to worry if you’re flying sideways, backwards, forwards or downwards, it’ll be able to detect anything coming up and avoid hitting it. You’ll be able to fly it through a narrow door way without banging in to the door frame.
What’s pretty amazing is that it can fly up to speeds of up to 31 mph and still have its obstacle avoidance system working. In Sport mode, however, the sensors switch off as the speed ramps up to 40 mph.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro preview: New Remote
For the first time with a Phantom, you’ll no longer need a smartphone to get a clear view of the live camera feed. At least, if you go for the more expensive “+” model. The Phantom 4 Pro+ remote has a built in 5.5-inch 1080p display which DJI claims is more than twice as bright as a smartphone screen.
It has uses an optimised version of the DJI GO app that you’d usually need to download an install on your iOS or Android phone. Because it’s optimised, there’s a lot less lag, meaning real-time video feed is much closer to actual real-time and isn’t subject to the usual delay.
Like the Mavic’s remote, the new Phantom 4 Pro controller uses the company’s Lightbridge connection technology to give the remote a range up to 4.3 miles. What’s more, it can stream video up to full HD right to the display. Even better: the remote’s battery lasts up to five hours before needing to be plugged in to recharge.
Otherwise, the remote is a large, white plastic affair with the usual two-joystick setup. The two other buttons on the top are the power button and the “Return to Home” button which tells the drone to come back to its starting point.
When the Mavic Pro launched, it seemed the Phantom line’s days were numbered. Then came this Phantom 4 Pro with its improved camera, battery life, brand new controller, flight modes and high-end obstacle avoidance.
Although it’s nowhere near as portable as the Mavic, the Phantom 4 Pro will undoubtedly attract those wanting more professional features and camera results.
With a price of £1589/$2383.5, it’s clearly more expensive than the Mavic Pro, but still good value for money considering the amount of drone you get for that cash.