So You Want to Fly a Phantom 4?

The latest in the Drones and Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Special Series, in which Kike profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on using drones, UAVs and remotely piloted vehicles for journalism and photography.

Since I started reporting about drones in 2013, I always knew this moment would come. While people thought about military drones and the negative things they could do to this world, my mind could not stop thinking of all the positive things they could bring to humankind, if used and developed wisely. Drones can be used for a myriad of things, including conservation, heritage preservation, humanitarian aid, and much more.


The DJI Phantom 4 Drone with Anti-Collision Sensors is able to avoid obstacles and track humans. Photo © KIKE CALVO


I had the privilege to attend the official introduction of DJI’s new drone, the Phantom 4. With a maximum speed of 44mph (72kmh), the new quadcopter brings cutting-edge technology: the P4 can avoid obstacles automatically; avoid obstacles automatically; fly with a tap of the finger using “TapFly”; avoid obstacles as it returns home; stay in the air for a maximum flight time of 28 minutes; fly a maximum control range of 3.1mi (5km); and track moving subjects automatically using “ActiveTrack.”


DJI Phantom 4 by Kike Calvo
The Director of Strategic Partnerships at DJI, Michael Perry, introducing the revolutionary Phantom 4 in New York. Photo © Kike Calvo


The Phantom 4 has a revolutionary magnesium core embedded into the aircraft that greatly increases its rigidity, minimizing unwanted vibrations. This ensures the precision and performance of the inertial measurement unit (IMU). Due to this, the aircraft weight is reduced. And what I really like is the inclusion of a redundant IMU and compass that enhance the system reliability. The Phantom 4 can constantly compare data received from both IMUs and then navigate itself using the most accurate data. The same is true of the redundant compasses.

Other major improvements include:

  •  The gimbal and camera system is integrated into the body, bringing it closer to the aircraft’s center of gravity. It is also made of a rigid and strong composite material.
  •  The camera’s chromatic aberration has been reduced by 56% from the Phantom 3.
  •  Lens distortion has been reduced by 36% compared to the Phantom 3 Professional.
  •  The Optimized Vision Positioning System raises positioning altitude up to 10 meters.
  • The new Push-and-Release propellers are faster to install and more secure than the Self Tightening propellers used previously. This security allows them to handle faster acceleration and harder braking.


DJI Phantom 4 by Kike Calvo
The newly designed gimbal and camera system is integrated into the body Photo © Kike Calvo



And if you are still thinking about what you read above regarding the sense and avoid capabilities, twin front facing optical sensors send a constant stream of information to the P4’s brain, so if it gets too close to an obstacle, it stops. If it finds a way to go around or over, it will. So may ask yourself: how small an object can the Obstacle Sensing System see? Well, the minimum pixel size detected is 500 pixels. The effective range of the Obstacle Sensing System is 0.7 to 15 meters.

Like everything in life, mastering the techniques to flying these vehicles requires time. Experiment with different RC toys and devices, and learn the fact that each platform has a different purpose, which of course means that it also requires a different set of skills from the pilot´s side.

Autonomous flying is becoming a reality. However, this intelligent new platform does not mean we shouldn’t keep trying to expand our knowledge and education about drones. As usual, learning as much as you can about the drone world will make you a safer pilot. And if you are not ready to jump into a Phantom 4, make sure you check my list of top ten drones for beginners. Walls and buildings will probably be no problem from now on, but common sense and a great pilot will always make our skies and flying safer.

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Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Award-winning photographer, journalist, and author Kike Calvo (pronounced key-keh) specializes in culture and environment. He has been on assignment in more than 90 countries, working on stories ranging from belugas in the Arctic to traditional Hmong costumes in Laos. Kike is pioneering in using small unmanned aerial systems to produce aerial photography as art, and as a tool for research and conservation. He is also known for his iconic photographic project, World of Dances, on the intersection of dance, nature, and architecture. His work has been published in National Geographic, New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair, among others. Kike teaches photography workshops and has been a guest lecturer at leading institutions like the School of Visual Arts and Yale University. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic blog Voices. He has authored nine books, including Drones for Conservation; So You Want to Create Maps Using Drones?; Staten Island: A Visual Journey to the Lighthouse at the End of the World; and Habitats, with forewords by David Doubilet and Jean-Michel Cousteau. Kike’s images have been exhibited around the world, and are represented by the National Geographic Image Collection. Kike was born in Spain and is based in New York. When he is not on assignment, he is making gazpacho following his grandmother’s Andalusian recipe. You can travel to Colombia with Kike: