DJI Phantom 4 Review

DJI Phantom 4 Review - We review the DJI Phantom 4 - the top of the range consumer drone from DJI with a 12mp camera, 4K video recording, and a 3-axis gimbal for stable shooting.

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DJI Phantom 4 in Drones


DJI Phantom4 Drone

As drones have developed over the last few years, the photographic and video capabilities of the cameras attached to the drone has improved noticeably, which means the latest Phantom 4 from DJI could now be considered a photographic tool that could be used by any photographer. We find out how the new DJI Phantom 4 performs.

DJI Phantom 4 Features

DJI Phantom4 In Air Wide

Since the DJI Phantom 3 drone, or quadcopter, the camera has been an integral part of the DJI Phantom drone made by DJI, with a 3-axis gimbal providing the stabilisation needed while the drone is hovering or moving in the air. The 12-megapixel camera on the DJI Phantom 4 offers manual controls, including raw shooting, something you don't generally expect to find on a drone.

DJI Phantom 4 Upgrades compared to the Phantom 3 Professional:

  • HDR shooting
  • Obstacle sensing system
  • Updated Visions Positioning System
  • 2 Front-facing cameras
  • Improved sonar system for improved vertical hover accuracy
  • Reduced chromatic aberration (reduced by 56%)
  • Reduced lens distortion (reduced by 36%)
  • FullHD video can now be recorded at 120fps
  • Increased flying time, up to 28 minutes with longer battery life from the new battery
  • Upgraded remote controller
  • New sport mode for high-speed flying
  • Easier and quicker propeller attachment 
  • Improved design and gimbal system

The 12-megapixel camera features a wide-angle 20mm equivalent f/2.8 lens with a 94-degree FOV. The camera can shoot at shutter speeds between 8 seconds and 1/8000s. The camera is said to have improved chromatic aberration (reduced by 56%), and lens distortion has been reduced by 36% compared to the Phantom 3 Professional. HDR shooting is new to the Phantom 4.

An Obstacle Sensing System is completely new to the Phantom 4 - and the Vision Positioning System has been updated with additional cameras so that the Phantom 4 can detect objects in front of the drone - great if you worry about crashing the drone. You can enable this with options for the drone to go around or over obstacles or to hover when there is an obstacle.

The Vision Positioning System uses four sensors for improved hovering accuracy, to enable a more controlled flying experience. The sonar system has also been improved, working from up to 10 meters off the ground. These work together to give increased horizontal and vertical hovering accuracy over previous models.

As well as recording full resolution 4K video (CINE and UHD), the Phantom 4 also records FullHD high-speed video, with recording increased to 120fps, compared to 60fps max on the Phantom 3 (Advanced and Professional), although the FOV is reduced to 47 degrees when recording in this mode.

Flying time is increased to 28 minutes, compared to 23 minutes on the P3 Advanced and Professional and 25 minutes on the Standard. The battery is larger at 5350mAh compared to 4480mAh on the Phantom 3 series. The remote controller has also been updated, and has the same power as the Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced, with a powerful 6000mAh battery, compared to the 2600mAh battery in the Phantom 3 (Standard and 4K). 

The DJI Phantom 4 drone connects to the remote control using DJI's "Lightbridge Video Downlink" which is said to have a 3.1mile / 5km range (unobstructed, free of interference). This gives the remote controller with an attached device a 720p 30fps video feed so that you can see what the camera on the drone sees.

DJI Phantom4 Drone Camera

Key Features

  • 12-megapixel camera
  • 20mm equivalent, f/2.8 lens with 94° FOV
  • 3-axis Gimbal Stabilisation (pitch, roll, yaw)
  • ISO, Exposure, Resolution control
  • ISO speed ISO100 to ISO1600 (Stills), ISO100 - ISO3200 (Video) 
  • Single, Continuous, AEB, Timelapse, HDR stills shooting
  • 4K CINE 25/24fps, UHD 30/25/24fps video recording (60Mbps)
  • FullHD 1080p 120fps video recording
  • Adobe DNG raw recording
  • Long range HD live view
  • GPS and GLONASS
  • Visual Navigation and positioning
  • Automatic object detection and avoidance
  • Cinemat Automated Camera Moves and flight paths
  • TapFly using your smart device
  • ActiveTrack will automatically track a subject using object recognition
  • Over 26 minutes of flying time / Up to 28 minutes
  • YouTube Live Verified
  • MicroSD slot, max 64GB

DJI Phantom 4 Handling

DJI Phantom4 Controller

Once the remote controller (RC) and drone battery are both fully charged, and once you've put a MicroSD card in the drone, you can start using it. The power buttons on the RC and drone both need to be pressed once, released and then held for a few seconds in order to power on the devices. This is to prevent them accidentally being switched on. This can be a little confusing to begin with, but once they are switched on they make a re-assuring series of beeps. 

When the drone is in its case or being transported, it's advisable to fit the camera securing unit which holds the camera in place so that it doesn't swing around on the Gimbal when in transit. 

The drone feels extremely well built, with strong support legs underneath, which feature rubber padding. The drone's blades fit quickly and easily with small instructions on them to show which way round they go, as well as how to lock them into position. Two blades are marked with black circles, and these go on the drone where there are small black dots on the motors. The other two are silver and go where there are no black dots. 

There are two customisable buttons on the back of the remote control. You can set what the drone does when the RC (Remote control) signal is lost, with the default being "Return to Home". You can also set whether it will avoid obstacles on the way back to you. 

You can update the firmware from your smartphone using the adapter cable accessory that is provided in the box, which means you don't have to connect the drone up to a computer, thus speeding up the process, and ensuring your drone is running the latest firmware. 

DJI Phantom4 Drone Camera Close

Menus and shooting

There are a number of shooting modes: single, HDR, burst, AEB, and interval. You can adjust the ISO and shutter speed manually, as well as exposure compensation. The aperture value is fixed at f/2.8 and if you're shooting in very bright conditions, then you can add an ND filter to the camera. All settings are adjusted using the DJI GO app on your smartphone or tablet, and the app is available for Android and iOS devices. You can choose between 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios.

Screenshot 2016 06 27 10 01 46 Screenshot 2016 06 27 10 03 48
Photo shooting modes Manual controls


When using the app, a copy of the images taken and video recorded will be stored on your smartphone, with a 720p video copy being made. To access the full-size files, including 4K video, you need to access the MicroSD card. This means that you have quick access to photos and videos from your phone, which is great if you want to share them straight away or upload video to YouTube. 

Using the touch screen you can set any point of the screen as the exposure area, as well as control whether the camera is pointing down or forwards. You can set it to be horizontal, or pointing straight down, as well as any angle in between.

DJI Phantom4 Drone1

Battery life of the drone is improved over previous versions with between 26 and 28 minutes of flight time available, however this will depend on the wind conditions as well as how you fly the drone, and how much video recording you are doing. The Phantom 4 weighs 1380g with battery and propellers fitted and ready to fly (compared to 1280g for the Phantom 3). 

Flying the Drone

Flying the drone is surprisingly easy, you press the takeoff button on your smartphone, and slide a bar across your screen to take off (a safety feature so that you don't accidentally start flying). The drone automatically flies to a distance of 1.2 metres above the ground and simply hovers there waiting for your instructions. In windy conditions, the drone will automatically stabilise itself, and maintain its position without being blown away. You can also switch on beginner mode which limits the flight distance and height to 30m and slows the drone down, this makes it easy enough for even young children to fly the drone (under adult supervision). You can even use the TapFly feature, where you simply tap on the screen and the drone will fly to the subject selected by you. 

On screen, you can see what the drone's camera can see, so you can fly to where you need to take pictures or video, and you can adjust the angle of the camera from straight ahead to straight down. Using your smartphone as the control device in conjunction with the remote control sticks / paddles / joysticks is straightforward, however, if your smartphone's screen isn't very easy to see in bright sunlight, then you might need to adjust the brightness controls or think about a sun guard to give better visibility - especially as this is the main control for the drone's camera. Using your smartphone also means your phone is tied up while using the drone, so a small tablet or spare smartphone may be preferable, adding to the expense of the drone. 

DJI Phantom Go P4 Screenshot

The DJI GO app provides a wealth of information, including the flying mode, number of GPS signals available, whether the drone is safe to fly, remote signal strength, video signal strength, battery strength, estimated flight time remaining (green bar across top), shooting settings, remaining video / photo storage, sensor height, drone height, vertical / horizontal speed, GPS location (with Google map view), distance to obstacles, plus more controls for shooting.  

Particularly impressive is the Vision Position Systems built-in sensors that let you know how far away you are from objects (both in front and below the drone), providing extremely useful information when flying in narrow gaps or spaces. (See this coastal video for an example). The system isn't completely fool-proof, though, and can be switched off for high speed flying (at up to 45mph!), the system also doesn't have any sensors pointing backwards, so it's still possible to fly backwards into an object and crash the drone. The maximum speed has been increased to 20 m/s in Sport mode and the ascent and descent speeds are also increased, and what on the Sport or Attitude modes the drone is very responsive and quick, so care needs to be taken to ensure you don't crash the drone, particularly as you can switch off all the safety sensors. 

Screenshot 2016 06 27 10 04 34
Visual Navigation
Screenshot 2016 06 27 10 04 40
Settings
Screenshot 2016 06 27 10 04 49
Remote controller settings
Screenshot 2016 06 27 10 05 45
MC settings
Screenshot 2016 06 27 10 05 37
Flight modes
Screenshot 2016 06 27 10 05 31
Return to home settings
Screenshot 2016 06 27 10 05 55
Advanced settings
Screenshot 2016 06 27 10 06 12
Battery information and settings


The height of the drone can fluctuate at times, which can be a little disconcerting if you are flying over water or close to objects, and getting smooth results can take some practice. It's possible to adjust settings so that the drone responds more smoothly to controls, which will be important for those that want smooth video results. 

DJI Phantom4 In Air  Cropped Close



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Chris_L Plus
5 5.0k United Kingdom
18 Jul 2016 12:56AM

Quote:It's a shame there isn't the option to record HDR video

I've yet to use a camera that can record HDR video and can't think of a consumer camera that does that

The review neglects to mention the most important thing for video professionals - the log recording ability which, for video makers, is as important as being able to attach ND filters. Maybe you are mixing up HDR with LOG (like Sony S-LOG, Panasonic V-LOG etc.)? The DJI P4 does record log though.
joshwa Plus
8 868 United Kingdom
18 Jul 2016 8:16AM
Hi Chris,

No I'm not mixing up HDR with LOG. A few recent Canon DLSRs record HDR video ( Canon EOS 760D ), and a number of camera phones have HDR video recording - the HTC One had it in 2013.

As DJI Phantoms have used Sony sensors, and Sony make sensors capable of HDR video, it would make sense to see this implemented, particularly for consumers.

Thanks
Josh
Chris_L Plus
5 5.0k United Kingdom
21 Jul 2016 2:32PM
Looks to me that the "HDR" you are talking about isn't real HDR, it's simply tone mapping done by combining two exposures producing video with a standard dynamic range. It's a gimmick and it's processor intensive and usually done at just 720p as two video files have to be recorded at the same time.

Video enthusiasts love Panasonic's GH4, Sony's A7S. A7S II, A7R II, FS-700 etc and one major selling point of those cameras is the ability to record in LOG. You even pay extra to do it with a GH4 and users pay happily.

That's why DJI introduced LOG, not some pseudo-HDR - The same D-LOG that gave their Inspire 12 stops of dynamic range - not important enough to mention when reviewing the video features of the drone?!

Don't even think you bothered to turn it on for doing your test videos. If you review a flying camera it's something you should be testing... Come on Josh! Take it out again, I can't buy based on the above! Grin

It's a bit like ignoring that a stills camera shoots raw!
2 Nov 2017 10:20AM
Chris_L, you are right, it is just tone mapping, i think Panasonic's GH4 and other like that are real ones. BTW, more reviews are available for the best drones like this at http://www.fitdrones.com/

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