At beda:photo we don’t really do equipment reviews, mainly because we are photographers, not technicians or DIY enthusiasts, but once in a while we make an exception for an exceptional piece of kit, and the Phantom 4 Pro is certainly the neatest little drone we have flown in a long time. Add to that its massively improved camera and you have an aircraft that is easily the best in its class. The Phantom 4 Pro is not new to the market of course, having been around for a year or so, but we’ve recently upgraded from Phantom 3 Pros and are still evaluating this drone. So far, our experience has been that a system of apparently small increments in every department have totally transformed the DJI top end ‘prosumer’ drone into a very capable machine.
The first thing you notice when handling the Phantom 4 Pro is the new body shell. The slightly creaky, plasticky feel is gone, to be replaced by a much better finished and sturdier airframe (made from a magnesium alloy composite apparently) which has much greater rigidity, with new, raised motors to reduce the likelihood of getting props in the frame. This doesn’t seem like much, but it makes the difference, props in the frame haven’t been a problem at all so far. The camera and gimbal arrangements are also much better, with far less chance of damaging the vital parts in transit or with hard landings.
In tests so far, the 4K video footage has been superb, with little to choose between this and the Inspire Pros and the greater flexibility provided by variable aperture has made life much easier. You still need a full set of Neutral Density filters to get down to the kind of shutter speeds necessary for smooth video on a bright day, but in low light the detail and quality is much greater than the Phantom 3 Pro. This is mainly due to the significantly larger sensor, of course, which one would expect to have greater dynamic range and better detail capture. The ability to film at 120 frames per second at 4K is truly amazing and has made filming for slow motion much simpler, but the slightly bad news is that file sizes and processing times rise accordingly. You can’t have everything.
Another important point, of course, is that the Phantom 4 Pro has a manual/autofocus facility, which instantly provides the ability to focus on close up subjects (which the P3 lacked) or in fact anywhere within the frame. It will come as a bit of a shock for Phantom pilots not used to worrying about focus, but for Inspire pilots who are used to having an additional setting to take into account, it’s familiar territory and once again adds substantially to your creative options.
Still images from the Phantom 4 Pro are billed as the big breakthrough, and are indeed far superior to those from the Phantom 3 Pro, but frankly that isn’t saying much, so for meaningful comparisons we need to look elsewhere. Compare them to images from the X5 camera of the Inspire 1 Pro and you are immediately reminded that size isn’t everything. The P4’s 20megapixels compared to the X5’s 16mp don’t make up for the drop in quality. If you reduce the image size of the P4 photo to 16mp it’s still obviously inferior to the X5 output, but this is only to be expected as one camera uses a fixed plastic lens and the other uses some of the best four thirds DSLR lenses around.
That’s not to say that the stills from the Phantom 4 Pro aren’t good, however, as with a bit of post processing they can be brought up to an excellent standard and are easily good enough for any online use. Straight from the camera the images seem to be soft, dull and noisy, even at 100 ISO, but the good news is that they seem to be able to withstand a surprising amount of sharpening before displaying unwanted artefacts. The excess noise can be alleviated by reducing the image size and given that these DNG files start life at around 48mb there is plenty of scope here.
So, given that the Phantom 4 Pro produces great video and pretty good stills, what is there left to say? Well, quite a lot actually, as a day out with this drone will soon prove. The first thing to notice is how stable and docile the drone is in the air. It’s undoubtedly far better at holding position than any of its predecessors or the Inspires, which have an unnerving tendency to swing sideways in a breeze. On a recent job we flew the Phantom up to 400ft in a stiff breeze, and despite the warnings displayed in the app, the footage was completely stable. Flying this drone is a dream, as it handles precisely, with no noticeable delay in control response, and is quite comfortable in the tightest of spaces, simply stopping if it thinks it’s too close to any obstacle and waiting politely for further instructions.
In their product information, DJI list the maximum flight time as ‘approximately 30 minutes’ and we have to say that, for once, this seems spot on. In fact to someone used to having to plan every shot and pass with battery-hungry Inspires, it was quite a luxury to be able to do as many variations of a shot as we wanted without worrying about battery life. All in all, a very easy drone to work with, probably as trouble-free as it’s ever going to get.
See more drone footage at www.bedaphoto.com