The first drone I ever flew (and crashed about 5 seconds later) was a DJI Flame Wheel. The first drone I ever owned myself was an original DJI Phantom. So it’s incredibly exciting to be a flying a drone that is so far ahead in its technology that it literally can sense and avoid objects in front of it. That’s all thanks to the DJI Phantom 4 drone.
What’s even more exciting is those Flame Wheel days were only about three years prior to the 2016 launch of the DJI Phantom 4 drone. I would have never guessed a Phantom 4 would exist as it does today even a year prior to its launch.
Editor’s note: While the DJI Phantom 4 drone was great when it launched, it’s now outdated for most use cases. Check out my guide to the best drones for photographers to see my top recommendations today.
- Buy it on B&H Photo for $1,199.
- Buy it from Amazon.com for $1,192.
- Buy it directly from DJI for $1,199.
For $1,199, you can get a Phantom 4. First launched in March 2016, it’s truly an incredible piece of equipment.
DJI Phantom 4 review:
The Phantom is pretty much ready to fly out of the box. There are auto-locking propellers you’ll have to put on. You also will fly with the RC transmitter, but to get that first person (FPV) view, you’ll need to use a smartphone or tablet to see what the drone’s camera sees. You can do that by connecting it to the DJI Go app.
DJI Phantom 4 review: sense and avoid
The real standout point here is two front obstacle sensors combining with advanced computer vision and processing to give the Phantom its “Obstacle Avoidance” feature.
In a nutshell, even if you have the drone pointed at a wall at full throttle, it will just hover in a locked position a safe distance from the wall.
The new technology means drone operators “don’t have to worry as much about their flying skills,” said Romeo Durscher, Director of Education at DJI. “Every crash I have had is because I made a bad judgment call. This gives the operator confidence in the machine and its flying capabilities.”
The obstacle avoidance does have limitations. Sensors are located only on the front and bottom of the drone, so it is not able to sense obstacles if it is flying backward or laterally.
But while the sense-and-avoid technology is not perfect (it also occasionally gets tripped up in really bright light), it’s a critical step in making other processes possible, and I anticipate future versions including obstacle avoidance sensors on more sides than just the front.
Editor’s note: The front-facing sensors were epic for the year 2016, but these days, even consumer drones that cost less than $1,000 have omnidirectional obstacle sensing — meaning they can detect and avoid obstacles in all directions. Check out Drone Girl’s guide to the best follow-me drones.
DJI Phantom 4 review: flight modes
I had so much fun testing out the flight modes on this drone. There’s Tap Fly, so you can actually tap an area of your smartphone and your drone will fly to where you tapped (sense and avoid ensures no crashes).
Another awesome mode is Active Track. It actually senses a subject you have pre-selected and follows them. This is great because it does “Follow-Me” without requiring more stuff. No wearable tracker, no other smart device — just yourself.
Sport mode is a fun intro to racing. In Sport Mode, your drone can fly about 45 mph. The one thing to remember here is that Obstacle Avoidance turns off in Sports Mode, so if you look like you are headed into a wall, yep, you’ll crash into that wall.
DJI Phantom 4 review: airframe
The Phantom 4 is a more modern take on the traditional Phantom. I am impressed by how durable the Phantom is. I had a little mishap, and let’s just say a Phantom ended up in a tree. With some prodding of the tree, we got the drone to drop to the ground, and there were no damages except grass stains that were easily wiped off. The camera, legs and propellers were all perfectly intact! I’m impressed how durable the Phantom 4 is!
I also love the carrying case it comes with. The Phantom is sized really well into a smaller-than-carry-on sized case that I have no problem traveling with my Phantom.
DJI Phantom 4 review: other things to note
- 28 minute flight time (up from 23 minutes on Phantom 3 Professional)
- Still photography modes now include HDR (Phantom 3 Professional did not offer this feature)
- Live view through DJI Go app
DJI Phantom 4 review: final thoughts
This drone is incredibly impressive. It’s easy to use, smartly designed, safe to fly, and produces incredibly quality video.
I’m not sure if the obstacle avoidance is worth the extra $200 since it should only be used as a last-resort safety feature given how it only has forward facing sensors. However, I really enjoyed the kinds of shots I got from the different modes. Modes like Active Track really give my video a professional quality if I needed to keep my subject in the center of the frame — something I simply couldn’t achieve flying manually.
For someone really looking for that top-notch film, the Phantom 4 is an incredible addition to DJI’s stellar lineup.
I love how it’s professional grade video, but it’s accessible and convenient enough for my friends to use at their picnic too.
Have you flown the DJI Phantom 4? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!