Perhaps the most rewarding sorts of creative challenges are those where you can create a world-class result on a shoestring while applying your creative skills to overcome hitherto impenetrable technical obstacles. The Phantom 4 drone is a tool that promises to enable these sorts of results every time you use it. With the ability to track a moving object by simply drawing a loop around it on the app screen and then pressing ‘go’, or the ability to smooth pan towards an object and intelligently stop and hover without hitting any objects in the flight path, the Phantom 4 makes getting shots you’d previously had to hire a helicopter for, or have a large dolly track and cherry picker to achieve, possible in about five minutes.
And the quality is superb: check out the results that can be achieved on DJI’s product preview clip above. On our flight test we were amazed at how precise and stable the Phantom 4 was, even in inclement Auckland gusty overcast weather that was approaching the advised 30-or-so kph upper limit; and upwards of the CAA-advised altitude ceiling of 120m the machine handled with remarkable precision. For the record, the Phantom 4 can be controlled with a ‘return to home’ auto-function from as high as 500m, which is handy, because at that range it’d be pretty hard to spot!
In terms of the technology on board, it’s a quality feel throughout, while still being robust and practical. Video is captured at up to UHD at 25fps, 4K at 30fps, and Full HD 1080p at up to 120fps for slow motion, with a lens that improves on the Phantom 3’s with reductions in distortion by 36% and chromatic aberration by 56%. The integrated gimbal keeps vibration out of the picture with a smoothness of tracking that truly is effortless to achieve. Stills are sharp with an FOV of 94 degrees and captured at an effective 12MP. With flight speeds of up to 75kph in sport mode you’re going to be able to go faster than you’ll practically need for image capture, but the excess of power that the drone has in all of its specs delivers a great sense of confidence in its ability to deliver on demand, and this feel of reliable sturdiness convinces that the unit is a polished, professional bit of kit.
Given all the Phantom 4’s power and prowess it’s impressive how simple set-up and operation is from start to finish. Assembly truly is child's play (our 10-year-old had the unit put together within a few minutes and was taking it on a maiden flight in manual mode minutes after installing the app onto the phone we used as our primary interface). Flying via the supplied remote control unit was ridiculously simple, and the ‘Tapfly’ mode only took a few minutes to figure out and implement, with a distant tree as target (there are step-by-step tutorials within the app to follow in real time out in the field), and ‘Activetrack’ mode was similarly actioned to chase a running target. However the app was the one area where perhaps the otherwise exhilarating user experience was let down: use as large a screen as possible and be prepared to squint a bit to navigate the on-screen controls. Managing your footage post shoot could be better too, but hopefully the UI for file management and previews can be improved on with updates to the app.
But overall it’s the ease of use that makes the Phantom 4 something of a groundbreaking game-changer. For the photographer this is a piece of kit that doesn’t get in the way of you doing what you are trying to do: capture footage. The machine will fly itself, stay stable, and do what you ask it to do, so that you can concentrate on shooting amazing imagery, from angles and vantage points that would not otherwise be possible for the enthusiast or pro without large-scale shoot investment in crew and materials. As software is improved and object avoidance becomes 360 degrees, DJI are paving the way for programmable tracking pans and POV flight shots that have to date required extremely arcane kit. With the Phantom 4’s two new ‘Tapfly’ and ‘ActiveTrack’ flight-control modes, you can master the art affordably and be ahead of the curve for when the next evolution hits, and with the opportunities this generation of drone is opening up for aerial photography, it’s an opportunity that’s hard to turn down.
Interested in experiencing the joys of flight for yourself? More information on the Phantom 4 can be found at pbtech.co.nz.