Drone's are all the rage these days. Heck, I even ordered one a few weeks ago. As I thought through ordering I was texting with my friend, photographer, Thomas Delgado who has been using drones professionally for years now. He had such a great wealth of knowledge on the subject I asked him to write a guest post for the blog. As he was also in the midst of making his own decision about purchasing a new drone for his business the timing worked out great. Take it away Thomas!
It’s an exciting time in the drone market ; just last week DJI announced their latest updates to their line-up, updating their aging Inspire line, adding a pro model to their Phantom series, all hot on the heels of their initial entry into the ultra portable drone market with the Mavic Pro announcement just two months ago.
Despite the bobble they’ve made with the Mavic Pro release, shipping only a handful of units of their massive pre-orders and even issuing an apology for dropping the ball on delivery, I would say without hesitation that if you’re in the market for a drone, whether updating your craft or entering the world of UAS for the first time, now is the time to get your order in.
For this article, I’ll be focusing on the key factors in helping determine which drone is the best fit for you, drawing from the current DJI offerings. I’ll admit, I have very little experience with other brands, only a short stint with 3DR’s Solo before returning it and springing for the Phantom 3 Pro from DJI. Their’s is a proven platform that is only getting better with each update, adding groundbreaking features while further refining their already polished system.
My main considerations when researching new drones are, in no particular order:
Flight time Camera • Sensor Size • Resolution • Bitrate Codec / Raw Capture • Ability to accept filters • Adjustable Aperture Safety Features • Sensors • Intelligent Flight Features • Maximum Transmission Distance • Portability • Upgradeability • Versatility • Price
There are four lines offered from DJI that we are going to focus on; the Mavic Pro, Phantom, Inspire, and Matrice.
The Mavic is DJI’s newest line of drones targeted towards travelers and first time flyers; it packs the latest technologies into an ultraportable size (just over 1.5lbs, about the size of a water bottle) at a wallet friendly $999. Flight time clocks in at a healthy 27 minutes (21 minutes of normal flight returning with 15% battery ), plenty of power to push it towards the limits of its impressive 4+ mile range, reaching speeds of 40mph along the way. A host of sensors will help you avoid obstacles, while gesture recognition will make taking selfies a snap. If you want to save a few ounces and skip the remote controller, you can power this drone with just your cell phone, albeit with shorter range and reduced max speed. The fixed-focal-length-camera features tap-to-focus technology to capture 12mp images and power its impressive maximum 4k (4096×2160 24p) recording at 60mbps with the .h264 codec from its 1/2.3” sensor.
While just months ago, deciding which drone to purchase would have been an easy recommendation for amateur and semiprofessionals alike, the latest Phantom 4 Pro improvements make it much more difficult (on me a least. The Phantom 4 Pro features a larger sensor, new codec, and a higher bitrate which will be sure to tempt professionals looking for an edge in image quality. The Phantom line is basically the big brother to the Mavic Pro.
So I’ll try to make this simple: If you’re a hobbyist looking at the Phantom 4, I’d instead go with the Mavic Pro. It will be travel friendly with similar image quality.
If you’re seriously looking at the Phantom 4 Pro, here are the main differences: The Phantom 4 Pro ($1499, $1799 w/ built in 1080p, 5.5” screen) is a significant upgrade from the Mavic Pro and non-pro Phantom 4 model. Some of its features include 30 minute flight time, increased sensors for improved obstacle avoidance, superior image and video quality (packing in a 1” sensor for 20mp images, video at 4096×2160 24/25/30p @100Mbps using the .h265 codec), dual transmission frequencies, a mechanical shutter for improved video panning, and a top speed of 45mph. The optional built-in screen is designed with outdoor operation in mind, featuring 1000 cd/m2 of brightness.
I went ahead and ordered my new drone and decided on a Phantom 4 Pro. For me, it’s a perfect balance between image quality and price. If you’re looking to go up a notch and have the budget to do so, the Inspire 2 (Starting at $2999) is a significant step up in image quality AND price, depending on how you configure it. It also allows for true dual operators, with a FPV camera for the pilot in addition to the main camera. If your goal is the absolute best quality, you’re going to want to capture RAW with the X5S camera with interchangeable lenses. This will give you the most flexibility in post production, dwarfing the 100Mbps bitrate of the Phantom 4 Pro, recording 5.2K resolution at 30p, writing up to a staggering 4.2Gbps of RAW capture. You also have the option of licensing either from Apple or other companies for more file formats. You’re going to need to pony up for the proprietary media though; files this large won’t record to your every-day SD card. The Inspire 2 update brings a slew of sensors for obstacle avoidance, dual batteries for redundancy, a max speed of 67mph, range of distance, more agility, and the brains to offer several new flight modes. You can use smart tracking to capture complex shots while you fly solo, or take advantage of dual operators for even more advanced maneuvers.
The Matrice 600 is a commercial level drone, with a much larger payload, 6 props, 6 batteries, and the ability to take up DJI cameras or a host of 3rd party cameras thanks to it’s Ronin gimbal (sold separately). If you’re a professional film maker and have invested in your own camera systems, this would likely be the best option for you.
Boiled Down Recommendations:
If you are new to drone's, just having fun, and/or traveling a lot, the Mavic Pro is the way to go.
If you are a more serious drone user or using the drone for professional purposes (on a budget) go with the Phantom 4.
If you are very serious hobbyist and or professional with a larger budget go with the Inspire 2.
If you are Steven Spielberg (or are aspiring to be him) spring for the Matrice 600 :)