Guest blog by Simon Beer…
Simon is co-founder of one of our site sponsors, Production Gear. He’s also had a CAA permission for aerial work since early 2014 and has been building and flying drones since mid 2012.
Starting as something of a hobby and a growing obsession I started building and flying drones in the late Summer of 2012. Like most chaps I’m in to gadgets, technology, cameras and if the combination of all of the above can fly then we’re looking at something that can only be viewed as the Holy Grail of boys-toys.
My first few attempts to build a flying machine were relatively successful if not slightly dangerous, these behemoths were simply built but all controlled by the ever so clever DJI flight controller – the Naza. It’s this very flight controller that became the first brain of the iconic series of drones that we all instantly recognise at the compact Phantom quadcopter.
The Phantom series is the most pictured drone in the daily press that is fairly or unfairly often labelled as the Phantom Menace. The lowly Phantom has been blamed for all types of mischief and was even used in an illustration by one popular red top as a swarm of weaponised unmanned aircraft flying over a desert. It’s fair to say that to many the colour and shape of the Phantom is instantly recognisable and is probably the countries, if the not the planets favourite and best selling drone.
As a disciple to DJI I’ve owned and / or flown every model of drone they’ve sold from the large S1000 octocopter down to the ever so small Phantom. Secretly I’ve huge respect for the lowly Phantom. I first received my Phantom 1 back in January 2013 and have been a huge fan of this diminutive drone ever since. I flew my Phantom 1 like crazy, upgraded it with T-Power motors, fitted a video transmitter, eventually a stabilised gimbal before I bought a Phantom 2 and the cycled repeated itself.
It was with the arrival of the Phantom 3 that I felt DJI had made the largest number of changes, it was honestly like I had been driving an 1980s manual car then suddenly jumped into a brand new, modern automatic car. The amount of tinkering that could be had with the Phantom 3 was minimal as DJI had cleverly incorporated a HD video transmitter, full telemetry which fed me a constant stream of data such as battery level, heading, height etc… The Phantom 3 was to me a fabulous drone, however not everyone thought so…
As reported in Forbes magazine back in May 2015 DJIs founder and Billionaire Drone Overlord – Frank Wang – didn’t share my sentiments and was notably present from the Phantom 3 product launch going on record to say “the product was not as perfect” as he had expected. Wang, a 35 year old Chinese national is an interesting character who keeps a twin size wooden bed in his office near his desk, on the door of his office hangs a sign that simply reads “Those with brains only”.
But it’s Wangs passion and drive that see DJI become a global technology giant often compared to Apple – which makes the Phantom 4 an interesting beast, you see the Phantom 4 is a collaboration between these two global tech giants. The white drone, sleek lines and packaging, the glossy marketing and now the DJI experience stores that are opening are all very Apple-esque indeed.
The full details and possible involvement in this collaboration have yet to surface, the facts we know are that the Phantom 4 is currently only available for pre-order from either DJI or Apple until March 23rd after this date DJIs existing network of dealers will then be able to start accepting orders.
The Phantom 4 is in itself another technological jump forward and offers us even more semi-autonomous functionality. Firstly over the previous generation of drone the Phantom 4 boasts an increased 28 minute battery life. The GoPro busting DJI camera has an F2.8 lens with improved optics over the Phantom 3 and can now shoot HD up to 120fps.
The real “killer” features include visual tracking which as the name suggests allows you to frame a human life form on your iDevice screen by tapping on them and watch as in all Terminator style glory your new unweaponsied drone follows them until the battery is depleted or a member of the resistance shoots it down.
The other new feature DJI are shouting about from the roof-tops is the obstacle sensing system, this sense and avoid system will bring the aircraft to a hover or simply avoid the hazard altogether by flying around it – depending on which mode you are flying in. The Phantom 4 also has a new “Sports” mode, maximum speed is increased by 25% to a staggering 45mph. DJI also boast a range of 3.1 miles, although in the UK you shouldn’t be flying it more than 500M away from yourself.
DJI have quietly included another “big news” upgrade which doesn’t seem to be exciting many other than me. To increase reliability and reduce possible situations where the drone decides to head off on its own DJI have for good measure included two compasses and two inertial measurement units. This redundancy along with improved positioning system and continued use of both GPS and GLONASS satellites makes this tiny powerhouse safer to fly than ever.
To date I sadly haven’t flown the Phantom 4 so I can’t say how it feels, how responsive it is, whether or not I can crash it into a tree or whether obstacle avoidance will prevail. What we do know is that DJI continue to innovate and the new features that are offered by the Phantom 4 elevate this drone to a level where it continues to compete or out shadow the competition who include Yuneec and 3DR.