DJI Phantom 4 review: DJI’s eye in the sky is the one to fly

Hands up. I admit it. The first time I ever flew a drone solo, I crashed it into a tree. It was the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+, and when the aircraft eventually hit the ground (with a sickening crunch) the camera was wrecked. Had that drone been a DJI Phantom 4, which I’ve just been putting through its paces at my local park, it might not have happened at all.

DJI Phantom 4 review: DJI’s eye in the sky is the one to fly

Why? Because one of the Phantom 4’s big new features is collision detection and object avoidance. Using a pair of small, front-facing cameras, embedded in the joint between the drone’s legs and body, this drone can automatically detect obstacles in its flight path up to 50ft away, and will come to a dead stop when it sees them or adjust its trajectory and fly by.

It sounds like witchcraft, but after flying it directly at my head (I figured I could duck at the last minute if it didn’t work, saving me a visit to the drone doctor) I can confirm the tech works, and it works very well.

Instead of having to dive out of the way and muddy my trousers in the process, the Phantom 4 came to a dead stop right in front of me. I have to admit I flinched, but I needn’t have worried – no matter how hard I pushed the left joystick forwards, the Phantom remained stock still.

My confidence bolstered, I grew more bold. Next, I attempted to fly it directly at the unmoving (and very narrow) upright of a set of rugby goalposts. Once again, the Phantom 4 remained in the air successfully, but instead of stopping, this time the drone ghosted past the post as if it wasn’t there.

This is seriously impressive stuff, and it points the way to a future where anyone can fly a drone, capturing stunning footage via the drone’s 4K camera along the way. With drones frequently in the news right now, and mostly for the wrong reasons, the ability to take to the skies without having to worry about landing yourself with a £400 bill is something worth celebrating.

DJI Phantom 4 review: Follow me home

Collision detection and avoidance isn’t, however, the end of the story for the Phantom 4. DJI has also added a couple of other exciting new features. First on the list is Active Track, which enables the drone to follow you around you while you walk, run, ski or cycle.

It’s so simple to use, and so effective, it’s ridiculous. Just switch to Active Track mode using the DJI Go app on your phone or tablet, hover the Phantom three metres above the ground and five metres away from you, draw a box around yourself and press Go. That’s it: you can then proceed to make a fool of yourself running around a muddy rugby field trying to shake it off.

It works remarkably well, and while it is possible to lose the Phantom 4 – even for this not-particularly-fit tech journalist, plodding slowly around in a pair of jeans and a winter jacket – as long as you don’t make any sudden and violent sideways movements, the camera-based tracking should keep the Phantom 4 on track.

Tap Fly is the next addition to the Phantom 4’s armoury. Switch to this mode while you’re flying and the drone will travel directly to the location you tap on the screen, avoiding obstacles as it goes. A genuine step forward for usability, although it’s probably a feature you’ll grow out of as your skills as a drone pilot progress.

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