Two days with Astro the Phantom 4 from DJI

DJI Phantom 4
Yep there he is, and yes if you look closely you can probably notice that the right rear light (if looking from this way) is missing a part. It fell off when Astro tumbled from my roof yesterday. I noticed it when looking through these photos and have found and replaced the parts.

Yes I name my technology. When you pay more for it than you would a puppy and it brings you, almost, as much joy, it deserves a name. So Astro he is. Astro is my upgrade of Elroy, my Phantom 2 with GoPro drone.

I have a few things to say about the Phantom 4 from DJI and I hope I don’t sound too much like I’m gushing, but Astro is awesome!

I’ve had only really one full day with the drone and it has exceeded my expectations completely. It’s ease of use from the push and swipe to take off and “Tap to fly” functionality, to it’s amazing “Return to home” feature that keeps an eye on battery life and automatically brings the Phantom 4 back to its starting point, landing it safely, the Phantom 4 is perfect for someone like me who has never quite been comfortable flying my drone too far away through fear it will run away. Of course, this fear is not unfounded. I’m always scared my $2000+ piece of equipment is going to go plummeting into the sea. I need to have more faith in the tech. So today I tested a few of Astro’s features out.

Astro in flight

Tap and slide to take off (and land)

A seemingly simple feature, but boy do I love it. Hit the button on the iPad screen, swipe to confirm you want to launch and watch the Phantom 4 spring to life and practically jump to an altitude of 1.2 metres, ready for your further instruction. It might sound silly, but I always get a bit anxious about taking off with my Phantom 2, a few times it has toppled to the side with propellors at full speed and taken chunks out of them forcing me to replace the props before attempting to take off again. With this feature the Phantom 4 takes care of it for you seemingly much easier, unless you happen to not put one of your props on correctly… those things can really fly all by themselves!

Return to home

Sure, when I tried return to home yesterday it didn’t work as I expected it to. But today I was armed with all the knowledge that reading the actual manual can provide. I used the return home feature a few times today and it worked perfectly. I’ll be honest and say it scares the buggery out of me every time I see the Phantom 4 come barrelling along at 30 metres above the ground and seems like it is going to overshoot the home point, but it doesn’t at all. The Phantom 4 stops in midair and begins a graceful descent to the earth from whence it came. Resting and stopping the motors. I reckon if it could smile at you it would do so every time it has safely returned.

I also ran the battery to its limit today. I got about 31 minutes of flight time from a full charge. The drone has this cool feature in the LightBridge software that shows you the point of return. It tracks how far away the Phantom 4 is from the home point and how far it can go on its current battery power before it needs the rest of the reserves to return home. Once it reaches that point the tech lets you know your drone is coming home and home it comes, landing right on the point from which it launched. I love this feature.

Sense and avoid

Who doesn’t send their Phantom 4 barrelling towards a bush making out like one of its features is a whipper-snipper mode? That’s what I did today in an abandoned lot with a lot of overgrowth. On approach the LightBridge software on your iOS device beeps at you letting you know there’s a risk of collision, then the drone stops dead in its tracks before it can hit the object. Even continuing to push the control stick forward, releasing it and pushing it forward again couldn’t make the Phantom 4 move closer towards the bush than it was willing to go. It’s a great feature, but as they warn, it’s not foolproof. The object needs to be within the scope of the front or below sensors. There’s nothing protecting you on rising, left and right panning or going in reverse. It’s kind of like the deflector shield on the starship enterprise. It’s looking forward and making sure you don’t fun into anything.

When in tap to fly mode the drone will apparently fly over these obstacles to reach its destination, but I haven’t tested that yet.

Active Tracking

Now this one worked and didn’t. Probably not helped by the subject I chose, or maybe I just needed to be a little higher to ensure my fast-moving subject remained in the frame. I tried tracking my dog, Bill, as he chased a ball, but here’s the thing… Bill is obsessive when it comes to his ball and he moves really fast when one is thrown away from him. The software locked onto him fine when I dragged the little box around him and when he stayed in the general vicinity the drone dodged and wove, sometimes coming close to decapitating humans, to keep him in his sights. But when Bill ran for the ball he was just too fast for the camera to keep up. As I said, I think next time I’ll go a little higher so we can have more frame for Bill to move in and to remove the risk of losing an ear… or I’ll track a slower-moving target. Painfully I also didn’t video this, I would loved to have seen how the video turned out given the erratic movements of the drone trying to keep Bill in its field of vision.

I was tempted to lock onto one of the cars that was heading out of the park, but in the end decided they might not like a buzzing device following them along… maybe next time I’ll do so from way on high.

Tap to Fly

Aside from the Tap and slide to take off, Tap to Fly has got to be the easiest feature to use. You get the drone high enough so you can see in the view finder where you want it to go and you tap the screen and then tap “GO” and it goes… you can control the speed it moves from a slider on the righthand side of the display from 1 metre per second to, I think, 8 metres per second. But if you’re flying with the wind you might just see that speed exceeded on your display. I sent Astro over to a quarry near my home to have a look around. Using the drones is a great way to see parts of your town you may never see otherwise. He flew over there and stopped when he reached the point I apparently tapped. I say “apparently” because it’s pretty imprecise in the view finder view. I didn’t try and see if you can use the map view for this function. There’s always next trip out.

Phantom 4 Flight Details

A mine in Maddingley

Round up

There’s a bunch more things to talk about and try, but right now I’m loving Astro the Phantom 4 for its ease of use. It also comes in a funky little lightweight styrofoam case that makes it an easy to get around. The Phantom 2 just came in a cardboard box with more cardboard inside, it wasn’t at all conducive to being an option for transportation, there were accessory cases you could by for that. It’s nice that it’s now part of the package. The camera is a delight to use. The new press and lock propellers make it much easier to remove them for storage in the case. The auto tightening props of the Phantom 2 sometimes had me reaching for the removal tool more often than one would like. Today I think I took Astro in and out of the case maybe six-seven times and I didn’t even mind.

Aside from the photos here, I’ve also taken video with the Phantom 4, but nothing too exciting, I’ll likely do a quick cut together of some of the 4K footage tomorrow just to give an example of it’s quality (which is quite sweet I might add). Sadly we don’t have the amazing views of Iceland or Sweden here in Victoria, Australia. We’re at the tail-end of the hottest summer on record and a LOT of the place looks brown and dead, but we will find something cool to video in the near future.

A photographer at heart, I’m looking forward to getting some shots that in the past had I seen would have me wishing for the power of levitation… now I will have it thanks to the Phantom 4 from DJI.

Astro in flight

Bacchus Marsh Farmer's District

Phantom 4 Flight Details

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