The Chinese drone maker DJI already has a commanding position in the market for both consumer and commercial drones, but the company isn’t slowing down. In fact, it seems to be pushing out new product faster than ever, putting its foot on the throat of competitors already struggling to keep up.
Today DJI released the Phantom 4 Pro, an update to the Phantom 4 unit which came out just eight months ago, in March of this year. The Pro boasts a better camera, more advanced obstacle avoidance, greater battery life, and additional intelligent flight modes. It puts some space between the top of the Phantom line and the new Mavic Pro — a cheaper, smaller drone DJI released in October which, at least on paper, was just as powerful as its larger cousin.
Let’s start with the camera. It has a 1-inch CMOS sensor that shoots 20 megapixel stills and can capture up to 11.6 stops of dynamic range. Greater dynamic range means the camera’s sensors will be better able to balance and resolve differences between light and dark. This is a common problem in aerial footage, when you often have a brightly lit sky against dark terrain below.
Many drone cameras also struggle with the “rolling shutter” effect, which can give a Jell-O-like shake to footage, especially when filming quick pans or chasing fast-moving subjects. DJI says a new mechanical shutter on the Phantom 4 Pro will help to alleviate that. And it has added the ability to adjust the lens aperture, giving filmmakers greater control over depth of field in their images. The camera can now shoot 14 photos per second in burst mode and capture slow motion video at 60 frames per second.
The sensor package on the Phantom 4 Pro has also gotten a big upgrade. Prior to this, the DJI Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro had obstacle avoidance, but it only worked when you were flying forward. The Phantom 4 Pro has sensors on all four sides, meaning the drone can see and avoid obstacles while moving in any direction. This allows you to follow a subject autonomously while flying backwards or sideways. Thanks to the new sensors, top speed while in obstacle avoidance mode has been bumped from 22 miles per hour to 31 mph.
Another big change with the Phantom 4 Pro is that you can buy a remote with a built-in display. This was something competitors like 3D Robotics, Yuneec, and GoPro had all done, but DJI had always paired its drones with remotes that needed a mobile device for a screen. The new remote is much brighter than your average smartphone, and offers the perk of allowing you to fly without burning the battery on your primary communications device.
DJI says battery life on the Phantom 4 Pro has increased a touch, from 25 minutes to 30. And it built in a bunch of new bells and whistles to its intelligent flight modes. The new drone will fly autonomously through much tighter spaces and more complex environments. And you can have it navigate to waypoints simply by drawing a line on your map with a finger.
The Phantom 4 Pro costs $1,499, or $1,799 if you opt for the controller with the built-in screen. It’s available for preorder now on DJI’s website or at its flagship stores in Asia. The company says units will begin shipping next week. DJI is clearly hoping this unit has enough new features to entice serious hobbyists and professional photographers and filmmakers away from the cheaper, more portable Mavic Pro. But it’s also clear DJI isn’t too worried about cannibalizing some of its own sales by introducing multiple units with overlapping appeal. The company also released the Inspire 2 drone today, the fourth new unit it’s announced in the last two months. The company is in pure overkill mode right now, and no competitor seems to have an answer.