DJI Phantom 4 Advanced review
When DJI announced the Phantom 4 Advanced (P4A), it was a bit of a surprise. The lineup of the Mavic Pro – the fold-up drone – plus the Phantom 4 and Phantom 4 Pro didn’t appear to need another model. The P4A replaces the Phantom 4 so the range isn’t increasing in size.
Yet the new drone’s specifications are hard to tell apart from the Phantom 4 Pro. There are differences, though, as you’ll see.
Phantom 4 Advanced: Price
Phantom 4 Advanced: Features and design
At a glance, you won’t tell the three Phantom 4 models apart. They all look great in their glossy white finish.
Look closer and you’ll notice the P4A has the same camera as the ‘Pro’ model.
This means it has a 20Mp sensor that’s capable of shooting 4K video at up to 60fps. It also has a mechanical shutter to eliminate distortion you get with an electronic shutter when shooting at high speeds. The sensor, which has a 1 inch diagonal, is roughly four times larger than the Phantom 4’s 1/2.3in sensor.
It has larger pixels, which capture more light, and has a maximum ISO of 12800 and allows for better contrast. Also, like the Phantom 4 Pro, the P4A supports the H.265 codec for smaller file sizes. It can record in either H.264 or 265 at 100Mb/s, but only in the older codec at 60fps.
So if you want to shoot slo-mo in 4K, you’ll need to choose H.264. Up to 128GB microSD cards are supported, unlike the 64GB of the Phantom 4.
This is one area where the P4A sticks with the Phantom 4 specification and doesn’t match the Pro. Where the Pro has rear facing cameras, the P4A has just forward- and downward-facing cameras.
However, there is one upgrade: the P4A can detect obstacles up to 30m away – that’s double the range of the Phantom 4.
With the increased capacity battery – the same as the Pro – the P4A has a claimed flight time of 30 minutes. That’s only a couple of minutes longer than the Phantom 4, but who doesn’t want a longer run time? The price of spare batteries will make you wince, though: ?172 is almost ?50 more than the Phantom 3 battery, which is more than the Phantom 2 batteries at ?91 each.
Phantom 4 Advanced: Performance
I wasn’t sent the Advanced+ model to test, so can’t comment on the upgraded controller with its built-in screen. Whether it’s more convenient than using your own phone or tablet is debatable: photos and videos are automatically saved in the app and are therefore easy to share, even if you do have to tap the thumbnails to download full-res photos. Oddly, DJI has recently launched a new DJI GO 4 app.
The original DJI GO app no longer supports the Phantom 4 range, but does continue to support every other DJI product back to the Phantom 3. To my eyes, the GO 4 app is identical and offers no additional functions or any interface changes.
The good news is that the app is well designed and easy to use, so if this is your first drone, you’ll find it a pleasure to learn.
It automatically records the launch location once enough satellites have been acquired, and will return to this point if you hold down the Return to Home button on the controller or tap the icon in the app. The Vision system is also enabled by default and will operate unless you change the mode. It functions a lot like a car’s reversing sensors: you’ll hear beeping as you approach an obstacle and this quickens when you’re very close.
The drone will come to a complete stop even if you keep pushing the sticks.
I tested this on myself as well as trees just coming into leaf and it generally worked well. It’s not a cast-iron guarantee it will avoid all objects, but it’s preferable to having no obstacle avoidance at all.
It also means that there’s less chance of crashing if you misjudge the height of a tree and how far away the drone is. Of course, while it’s fun to fly around manually (and use the ludicrously fast sport mode) you’ll get the best video if you use the automated modes. There are now so many you have to scroll across the screen, but once you’ve used up a couple of batteries’ worth of flying time you should have a decent grasp of how they all work.
ActiveTrack is one of the most useful as it can keep a subject in the centre of the frame even if it moves. It works on people, cars, even animals. Plus there are three modes: Trace, Profile and Spotlight.
The former follows behind or in front of the subject, avoiding obstacles (though not behind the drone, of course). Profile can fly to the side at various angles, which is great for both people and cars. Spotlight, though, is probably going to be your go-to mode as it keeps the focus on your subject while you fly at any angle.
There’s also the Terrain Follow mode which maintains a set height above the ground as you follow, say, a cyclist up a hill, and a new Draw mode lets you draw a waypoint route on the screen while, again, maintaining the same altitude. This is ideal for flying along the coast as you can control where the camera faces during the flight if you choose ‘Free’ rather than ‘Forward’ (and it’s the same in the TapFly mode). Tripod mode makes the control sticks much less sensitive and limits speed to 4mph so you can shoot more stable video (and photos), as well as fly indoors.
If you must take selfies, the gesture mode will recognise when you lift both hands in the air and the lights flash to give you a countdown so you can strike a more orthodox pose for the actual photo (this way the controller isn’t the frame). As you might expect, the quality of photos and videos is very good. And you’d expect that at this price.
But to get the best quality, you’ll probably need to tweak a few settings, and apply some sharpening afterwards in your photo or video editor. Fortunately the app puts all the photography controls at your fingertips – literally. Buttons on the back of the remote bring up the options on screen, and you can cycle through the options, from ISO to EV correction, white balance, shutter speed and aperture.
Via the settings, you can also enable a histogram that you can reposition just about anywhere on the screen, and this is a massive help as it’s almost impossible to judge whether a scene is correctly exposed by looking at a phone or tablet’s screen in bright conditions. The camera isn’t fixed focus like the 12Mp Phantom 4 and Phantom 3 range. This means you have to remember to tap on the screen where you want it to focus (it will autofocus after this but it’s best to make sure it’s focusing where you want it to).
It’s also worth noting that the 1in sensor has a 3:2 aspect ratio, rather than the 4:3 of the Phantom 4.
Ultimately, the image quality is a step up from the Phantom 4, but it won’t trouble a DSLR.