DJI is the market leader when it comes to camera-equipped drones, no doubt about that. But is the DJI Phantom 4 Pro deserving of that “Pro” label? Let’s find out! I took the DJI Phantom 4 Proout for a spin over the past couple of weeks. Here’s my full review.
In January 2013 I immediately jumped into the pilot seat of the DJI Phantom 1. Back in those days you had to work hard to remove vibration from the video, and capturing useable professional footage out of the box wasn’t realistic. You also had only ten minutes of flight time and you needed third-party gadgets to really bring everything together. Nonetheless, I was a huge fan, and managed to utilize the footage in a few projects.
Fast forward 4 years, and wow, what a difference.
The DJI Phantom 4 Pro is a dream to fly and is clearly built with DP’s/occasional drone operators like me in mind. I have no intention on becoming a professional drone pilot, but on travel-heavy productions where having a dedicated drone operator is just not possible, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro is the perfect solution.
Let’s get it right out of the way: for you professional aerial operators out there with lots of spending cash, look no further than the DJI Inspire 2. You can read the cinema5D review on the Inspire 2 HERE. It is truly a beast of a machine, but lets get back to its charming baby cousin.
The DJI Phantom 4 Pro comes in a nifty styrofoam soft case that seems very capable for everyday transport – not checked baggage-friendly but easily tucked away into a Pelican case with other gear. I have no complaints about the packaging. Plenty of third-party hard cases are available online from retailers like B&H if you do plan on checking the Phantom 4 Pro body beneath the plane. As a reminder, please don’t check your lithium ion batteries.
The drone body only fits in the provided case when the propellers are removed. Luckily, the propellers are easily removed through DJI’s press and twist system. Think child-protected vitamin lid. Propellers on the Phantom 4 series feel safer, and they’re a vast improvement over the third generation in my opinion.
Calibration has improved dramatically over the years and it has now come down to simply placing the drone on each of its sides, corresponding to the picture indicated on the monitor – much more fun than the spinning-in-circles method from a few generations back. See the video below on the DJI Phantom 1 calibration system for a bit of healthy nostalgia:
Flying is easy if you have ever operated a DJI product, or even another drone model before. If you’re new to the world of UAVs, I would suggest keeping the “Flight Restrictions” set to “Beginner Mode”. This restricts the aircraft’s speed, and it will keep you from flying outside a 30-foot diameter circle from the home point, which is great for getting your early pilot hours. I used this mode on the first flight, but then immediately turned it off upon landing so I could take things up a notch for my second flight out of the box.
Obstacle sensing is improved in the Pro model, and the front sensors can now detect obstacles up to 98 ft away, with the infrared sensors on either side of the aircraft capable of detecting obstacles up to 23 ft away. I felt more secure flying with the new obstacle-sensing tech, but there were a few occasions where I did want to get closer to an obstacle to improve the shot and the aircraft would push back, even when I felt like I was in complete control. For these situations, you can switch on “Narrow Sensing” to give yourself the ability to fly a little closer to obstacles. Of all the Phantom generations on the market, I feel the most safe flying with the Phantom 4.
So, what makes the DJI Phantom 4 deserving of the Pro moniker? It really comes down to the new onboard camera equipped with a 24mm (35 mm format equivalent) lens, and its 1-inch sensor approximately four times larger than its predecessor, the DJI Phantom 4. The camera comes with a host of recording options in H.264 or the newer H.265 compression:
The camera also handles higher ISO settings a bit better, but I certainly wouldn’t call this generation low-light friendly quite yet. Like the Phantom 4, D-Log is also available in the Pro, allowing for wider latitude in the color grade (See image below).
Other flight modes present in the Phantom Pro 4 include: AR Route, TapFly Backward, TapFly Free in Tap Fly mode, Profile, Circle, Spotlight, ActiveTrack, Draw and Gesture. Most are self explanatory, and all seemed to work well with the possible exception of ActiveTrack, which would occasionally lose its target. But I found I simply preferred to fly the aircraft myself.
The DJI Phantom 4 Pro uses an improved, dual Lightbridge system that boasts a video transmission range of up to 4.3 unobstructed miles from the home point. I never had the guts to test the 4.3 mile range, but the new Lightbridge system does seem to have a more stable video transmission than past models I’ve flown. Very rarely I would see the transmission waver, and that would only occur when my line of sight would become blocked by thick trees.
I tested the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ version that comes with the 1080p monitor built into the remote and the screen which, while still reflective, is bright enough to make flying outside in direct sunlight doable without a sun hood. The “+” is DJI’s naming method for the combo that includes the monitor. Having the built-in monitor just feels more secure than using my own iOS device. The built-in monitor does come with a $300 up-charge from the base Phantom 4 Pro model priced at $1,499.00. It’s worth the price for me, but if you already have an Apple iPad Mini 4 laying around then it may not be necessary for you.
After a few flights, I experienced an issue where the gimbal would constantly tilt up and down once powered on. After a few minutes of head scratching, I eventually found that the gimbal was simply grazing the cable behind it and correcting itself. Simply tucking the cable back into the body solved this issue.
On the battery side, the Pro uses the same batteries as the non-Pro version, providing realistically about 26 minutes of flight time with the standard payload. I suspect in perfect weather with no wind you might get close to the 30 minutes of advertised flight time, though.
I did have one battery that would get stuck in the battery compartment of the DJI Phantom 4 Proand required significant effort to pry out using a credit card. I also found that the plastic camera guard also worked well to wiggle the battery loose (see above image). HERE is a video of an owner experiencing the same issue with the base model of the Phantom 4. It should be noted that this was an issue with my supplied battery and not the Phantom body itself. Other batteries worked fine and wouldn’t get caught.
The mini SD card, when incorrectly inserted logo up into the card compartment (see above image for what not to do), had a tendency to easily get stuck as well. For me, this was a little counter intuitive because my instinct was to insert the SD card with the logo face up — don’t do this.
While flying in cold weather in Lake Tahoe, I did experience two corrupted files on the mini SD card that came with the drone. After searching the forums for a solution, I discovered a program for both Mac and PC called DJIFIX, which allowed me to use the two corrupted video files in Premiere. Please note that this a third-party solution and not endorsed by DJI, so please use at your own risk. Perhaps the files became corrupted from the temperature (hovering around freezing) or some other issue, but I switched over to my own SanDisk-branded mini SDs for the remainder of my flying and never had the problem again. The Phantom 4 Pro is rated for use between 32° to 104° F (0° to 40° C).
I’ve always found the Phantom series most useful for aerial tracking shots of a subject, establishing shots of buildings and general beauty shots, and that doesn’t change with the Phantom 4 Pro. The gimbal is just not sensitive enough to allow for moves where the camera is tilting mid-shot. You’ll want to look at the Inspire series for those types of moves. For an orbiting shot around your subject, I would highly recommend switching over to the “Circle” mode.
These minor quibbles aside, the Phantom 4 Pro does what it’s supposed to do and does it well. This is the perfect solution for quick aerials in the field and it’s a blast to fly. Can it hold up head to head image wise against the larger and much pricier DJI Inspire series? No, but it’s not trying to. Considering the size and ease of setup, you really can’t find another drone in this weight class that can deliver this kind of image.