Hands up, who’s just received the long awaited marketing email from DJI introducing the new Phantom 4 pro and the Inspire 2?
The drone game just took a new twist! Personally I wasn’t expecting to see them this side of Christmas, what with all the issues with Mavic Pro shipping, but DJI have dropped a bombshell on the already tattered remains of the GoPro Karma launch.
Interested in drone services? Check out what we can do for you! From stunning aerial video to precise photos, we can provide the entire range of drone services that you need. See more at dgtl Concepts
With GoPro recalling all of the (few) drones it has shipped, its not looking good for the original action sports camera company. DJI on the other hand are really taking hold of the market.
So what do we know? As of 90 minutes ago, (writing this at 10:30 GMT) there are now three very desirable plug and play UAV flying platforms that DJI are selling. The long awaited upgrade to the legendary Inspire 1, the perky, practical and tiny Mavic Pro and last but not least, the Phantom 4K pro.
The DJI Phantom 4 Pro
Out of these, the P4 Pro is the one I was not expecting. The Phantom series is firmly placed in the prosumer market. It delivers great results and is a lot of fun to fly but its never going to give you the professional control needed for serious drone work. It also has the additional problem that it is a Phantom. And by that I mean that every news outlet in the world, when presenting a story on drones bad (usually) or good will use the phantom image. This has the knock on effect that if I was to turn up with my team to a drone job with a film crew or site survey and unloaded a Phantom, there would be some funny looks given.
Having said that, the capabilities of this new Phantom 4 Pro are seriously beefy. The new 1 inch, 20 megapixel camera can shoot 4K 60 and burst photos at 14 fps. Thats better than a Canon 5D mk4! The second new feature is five directional obstacle sensing which should keep your craft in the air even if you can’t see the pack of wild pterodactyls flying your way. This is an improvement of four directions over the original Phantom 4. It all ties into DJI’s Active Track software which allows the craft to focus on a subject in various ways and lets you perform manoeuvres which took skill and repetition to master on the older drones such as the Inspire 1.
Some of the other upgrades are the new lighter body and improved battery which extends the flight time up to 30 minutes meaning a one drone one battery approach is possible when shooting run and gun videos. Some of the more nerdier film makers among you will notice that the dual codec of H264 and H265 has been used to increase the bitrate capacity and the mechanical shutter removes the rolling shutter effect seen on many mirrorless or micro 4/3 cameras. I wish the Sony A7s series could do that!
Finally for the Phantom 4 Pro, DJI seem to have taken a leaf out of the GoPro book and included a monitor with the remote for the P4 Pro. The ultra bright screen will allow for viewing even in direct sunlight, a pain most pilots will have encountered. No more hiding under your jumper or under the car boot lid.
So overall its a pretty big step up for a craft which needed the least amount of upgrading. What it shows us is that DJI are not sitting on their laurels of the worlds best consumer drone manufacturer, but are pushing the boundaries, unlike a certain fruit named tech company used to do before they forgot that creative professionals still use USB 3 and SD cards.
So what about the DJI Inspire 2?
For me this has been a long time coming. The promised software updates to include the subject tracking never materialised, they upgraded the camera but that dropped the flight time. They spray painted it black and released it again. Still no improvement. They brought out a FLIR camera, and they priced it for the Saudi Arabs instead of for the start up companies who would be keen to use it. But now the time has come, they have had two years of listening to our discussion board ‘feedback’, and now they have shown their hand, presenting a UAV which is truly, a step up.
The Inspire 1 always had such great promise. The unique design kept the centre of gravity low which gave it incredible stability, the dual operator mode gave professionals the tools to capture incredible content with mind blowing ease and, my personal favourite, the drone gave off the look of a badass Star Wars character which really made a good first impression when arriving on set for a shoot (Remember people are fickle, clients like to see you have all the gear and care less about the idea part).
So what was wrong with the Inspire 1? Well as I alluded to earlier, the biggest problem with the Inspire 1, was the Phantom 4. Here was a drone which was smaller, had longer endurance and had DJI’s Active Track designed in. It also had the advantage of the obstacle avoidance. Now in two years of flying the Inspire 1 I have never hit anything, but I’ve certainly had a few squeaky bum moments that I probably wouldn’t have had with detect and avoid.
So the Inspire 2 has addressed these issues, they have added sense and avoid technology to the top, front and bottom of the craft. What isn’t apparent at the moment is why they forgot about the rear and sides? The next issue addressed is the flight time. They have altered the design of the craft to allow dual battery operation to give both redundancy and longer endurance. The official figures say the flight time will be 27 minutes (up from 18 minutes on the TB47 battery of the Inspire 1). Another nice little feature with the new battery design is the self heating function. Too many times have I gone to fly, either in the Alps or on a particularly cold day in the UK and the battery went from 15 minutes to critical in a few seconds. Its scary having that happen at the best of times, but when the craft is 300 meters way over a cliff, the only way of getting it back is to power full up and towards you, then hope and pray that the auto descent function doesn’t bring it down two meters short of the cliff top.
Next on the list of upgrades is the Active Track software. They have finally given us the tools to fly single operator and still get the dual operator control. With the addition of the extra FPV camera at the front, it means we can both see what the main camera is controlling, and the direction we are flying. It promotes greater control and awareness of the flying environment. The tap to fly function could really come in handy for single operator, one tap to set direction of flight, then the operator can concentrate on the camera controls to get that ‘oh so perfect’ ridge rise or sunset pan.
I guess probably the biggest upgrade to the Inspire 2 has been to the camera. They have really moved on from the days of the X3 with over sharp and annoyingly compressed footage. The new X4s and X5s cameras can record in 4K 60fps or 5.2K 30fps. This really is knocking on the doors of professional filming equipment. There are not many cameras of that size able to produce those stats. In fact the Sony FS5 can only record 4K 30 internally and requires an expensive field recorder to go higher. I’m not going to delve into the technicals of the camera because a) I don’t quite fully understand all the upgrades, and b) you can read it for yourself on DJI’s website. Suffice to say though, they really have done some cracking work.
The final thing I want to touch on really is the redundancy issue. I mentioned earlier about the dual battery meaning if one goes down, you should still have enough power in the second to safely navigate home. The other areas of improvement are dual IMU sensors and barometers making sure the flight controller always has the correct information. The propulsion system has a two channel link to the flight computer, both serial and PWM signals, and of course, the sense and avoid technology keeping the craft out of tree branches and those pesky flying dinosaurs. All of these features are really important to a professional drone operator in the UK. The UK legislation to do with commercial drone operation is getting stricter and companies have to show they have redundancies in place. Due to the lack of battery redundancies in the Inspire 1 and Phantom series, you can’t fly these craft in Central London even with a license. As CAA laws become stricter, the Inspire 2 may become our only option for flying near to cities and large gatherings of people. And if you’re not a commercial operator, then all this means is you’re more likely to keep your flying storm trooper in the air.
Inspire 2 vs Phantom 4 Pro vs Mavic Pro?
So as I write this section, I have a big decision ahead. As a company we need to purchase a new drone. Or two. So do we go for the light and nimble, put it in your pocket Mavic, the upgraded and pack a punch Phantom 4 pro, or the all you can eat all you can drink buffet that is the Inspire 2?
I guess everyone will have their own opinion, and to be honest I don’t know what mine is yet. I see value in all three, but I guess it all comes down to use.
In the UK we do commercial flights for film productions, building surveys and sports, you name it we have probably done it. So we need a craft which is flexible, professional, durable, has inbuilt redundancy and can record uncompressed Log footage to production standard. All this points to the Inspire 2, which is of course what we will get, soon. But what about France? We will be in the Alps from December to March filming British Universities and require a run and gun, light and nimble craft which will fit in our bags with an A7s, a gimbal and a few lenses. So of course the choice would be the Mavic Pro…
Only spanner in the works comes back to DJI’s problem of being the most desirable drone manufacturer in the world. They oversold the Mavic and unless you’re willing to part company with a small fortune to buy it off eBay or Gumtree, then we won’t be getting one till late January. This brings us back to the Phantom 4 pro. The improvements really are astounding and value for money, its comes in cheaper ~£1500 than a second hand early delivered Mavic Pro ~£2000.
So after writing this review I’m still no closer to deciding, all I do know is a month ago I was looking at the Mavic Pro vs GoPro Karma (for their ingenious handle design), and now I’ve lost an option and gained two more. What I do also know is given DJI’s track record on delivering units, the Phantom 4 Pro may say shipping inside of two weeks, but if you wait for more than a few days that may change to inside of two months.
Our friends at Heliguy have been party to some inside knowledge thanks to being a DJI Dealer and they have come up with some pretty handy stats guides to compare the new crafts. Have a look here:
For DJI info on Inspire 2 Click Here
For DJI info on Phantom 4 Pro Click Here
For DJI info on Mavic Pro Click Here