Being a photographer, I am always keen to look at different ways that I can capture a photo. In recent years one option that has caught my attention is that of aerial photography. Primarily using a drone with a camera attached to get a much higher point of view for the photo. After much deliberation, I finally made the commitment and purchased a drone. With so many different options on the market with such a broad price point, it was not an easy decision. However, in the end, I decided on the DJI Phantom 4 for a couple of reasons.
Choosing A Drone
There are quite a large number of factors to take into consideration when purchasing a drone. While the price is often one of the biggest factors, some others are worth considering.
From my point of view, I was looking at four different questions to answer in making my decision. While each question could result in a different final choice, all together they did help me make a decision.
- How the drone and controller worked together?
- For what do I want to use the drone?
- What is the quality of the footage I can capture?
- How portable is the drone?
Below I want to take a look at how each question applied in my decision-making process. Then I will look at how each question related to my final purchase decision in buying the DJI Phantom 4
How the drone and controller worked together?
When capturing a photography or filming, I find that it is important to have some idea of the framing of the shot. The last thing you want is to do a whole lot of filming and find part of the primary target was not in the frame. Essentially, this means that the drone would need to be able to send a video signal out. Either directly to the controller or an additional display device.
Why DJI Phantom 4?
The DJI Phantom 4 is designed to work with a phone or tablet connect to the controller. While it is possible to fly it with just the controller, there is no additional benefit. By connecting my iPad mini to the DJI controller, I get a 7.9″ screen to see what the camera is seeing. Additionally, I have full control over the camera settings at any time.
What do I want to use the drone for?
The question of what do I want to use the drone for is quite easy to answer for me. All too often I find myself in areas looking to capture a photo from a perspective that I just cannot physically achieve. Sometimes it might be just out over the edge of a steep drop, or where just a couple more meters height would be ideal.
Another aspect I considered is that I want commercially use the images and video that I capture. That means that I needed to consider the laws around this as part of my research.
Why DJI Phantom 4?
Some other potential drones would fulfil my needs. However, most are not as versatile and would not always be practical always to carry around. A drone does work out to be the best solution in the majority of situations. So even though I would have in theory selected another drone but the DJI Phantom 4 was my choice.
The other consideration of meeting the laws around the commercial use of a drone is also important. In Australia, if a drone weighs more than 2kg you must be fully trained and qualified to fly your drone commercially. The CASA website has more information regarding this – Flying drones/remotely piloted aircraft in Australia.
The last point in part relates to my choice to purchase the DJI Phantom 4. The weight of the Phantom 4 is around 1.4kg, which places it in the under 2kg range. As such there are some lower guidelines to operate commercially in Australia.
What is the quality of the footage I can capture?
The whole point of purchasing the drone for me is to capture photo and video. I was immediately able to exclude some of the models available. Specifically, the models that did not have a built-in camera and anything with a fixed camera. I was looking for something that was the complete package so to say. Not something that might require additional investment to make it complete.
The other consideration is the quality of the image that will get captured. The higher the quality that you can capture the better, even if you might not use the higher quality all the time. It is better to have the facility to be able to do something and not need it, rather than find you need it and don’t have it.
Why DJI Phantom 4?
The DJI Phantom 4 can capture 4K footage. While this is something that I am not working with at the moment. It is obviously the direction that video especially will be going and having the facility to capture 4K will be beneficial.
Another aspect that makes the Phantom 4 an attractive option is the higher quality camera on a gimbal. You do not have full 360-degree control of the camera, but you get steady shots. Unlike some other models with either a fixed camera or a camera built into the body.
How portable is the drone?
If you are using a drone for anything more than just a toy in the backyard it needs to be portable. There needs to be minimal chance of breakage and every expectation that it will work as expected when you get to your destination.
While there are a few drones that have portability issues, namely those with fixed props and built-in prop guards. There are also others that do not provide effective transport cases either. Plus it is also nice to be able to keep everything together in one place
Why DJI Phantom 4?
The Phantom 4 is a rather logical choice because the portability of the drone is part of the package you buy. The packaging you receive the drone, controller and accessories in is essentially a carry case. It holds everything you need, including a space for an iPad, spare props, charger and two extra batteries. Of course, there are other options available, but if it works, I figure why not use it.
Buying the DJI Phantom 4
At the very beginning of my journey to purchase a drone, I set out with a budget of under $1,000. Once I decided on a DJI drone, the budget might have still been feasible, but I would have a limited choice. As you start comparing the features and options between DJI models, it’s hard to choose anything but the top models.
Choosing The Package
Depending on where you purchase a DJI drone there may be some great opportunity to save some money. While it is possible to buy the base drone package without any extras, there are extras you will want.
The package I opted for was the base package, two additional batteries and a three battery charging station. At the time I purchased the Phantom 4 in mid-2016 the prices was $2,399. With the same package currently selling for $2,174 in March 2017.
There were also some other accessories that I either needed to buy. While these are not essential, they are nice to have available or on hand if needed.
- 2 x 16GB Micro SD Card. @ $17.00 each
- Quick release neck strap for controller @ $17.00
- 2 x Addition pairs of props @ $19.00 per pair
- ND4 filter for the camera @ $55.00
- Retractable Lightning Cable for iPad @ $12.00
So the total investment in buying the DJI Phantom 4 for me was $2,555, considerably more than my original $1,000 budget. However, I think there is some real longevity in the Phantom 4 over other potential options that I could have purchased.
Other Potential Costs
The biggest additional cost to the drone itself if you do not already own one would be a tablet. While it is possible to use almost any tablet or phone, it does need to be an up to date model. The processing power required for the DJI Go app need consideration in your decision when buying a tablet.
I already owned an iPad Mini that works great. But you definitely may need to consider in your total investment if you do not own something suitable.
The other investment that I am considering is a proper backpack to make carrying the Phantom 4 easier. From my research, the most recommended option is the Manfrotto D1. The cost of this backpack is around $280 in Australia in March 2017. However, the provided case is still relatively suitable for my needs at the moment.
My big next step is taking the time to get out and capture some footage with the DJI Phantom 4. To date even though I have owned it for some time, there has just been a couple of short flights. The biggest challenge is finding inspiration for what to capture and getting the right weather conditions as well.