DJI Phantom Review – Stuck in Customs

DJI Phantom Review


Welcome to my DJI Phantom 4 Review. As much as I think it’s worth a read it has since been replaced by a review of the DJI Mavic 2. A drone that I use all the time now as it is in many ways better than the Phantom series. Check out the Mavic 2 Review here.

Check The Latest Prices!

Starting at a reasonable price, these Phantoms are a great way to have fun and experiment with your photography and video. For other camera/software recommendations, see Trey’s Gear and Tools here on the site.

Video Review of the Phantom

Here’s a video review of this amazing quadcopter. Note this is a video review of the Phantom 4, which has roughly 90% of the features of the Phantom 4 Pro. I’ll note what is different in the Phantom 4 Pro below.

Common Question 1: Which DJI Quad should I get? The Phantom, the Mavic, or the Inspire?

DJI makes three quadcopter types. I use the Mavic 30% of the time for “quick shots and videos” and the Phantom 4 Pro the other 70% of the time for more serious photography and videos. Here’s a simple way to think about it, compare it to regular cameras.

  • Compact Camera: The DJI Mavic — It’s small, easy to carry, fast to launch, and takes more than good-enough photos during the daytime.
  • DSLR: The Phantom 4 Pro — It has a bigger sensor (4x as big as the Mavic and Phantom 4 non-Pro, but not as big as a DSLR, so forgive that part of the analogy), 20 megapixel photos, 4 direction collision detection, more shooting options, and a built-in bright tablet on the controller.
  • RED Camera: The Inspire 2 — This is a more serious rig that is much bigger and more cumbersone but allows two people to control (one to fly and one to operate the camera) as well as upgraded video functions. You can also check out my DJI Inspire 1 Review.

Common Question 2: What’s the difference between the Phantom 4 and the Phantom 4 Pro?

I recommend the Phantom 4 Pro. There are a lot of flavors of the Phantom and it can be a little confusing. Just get the best, and don’t worry if you are not a “pro” and just think of yourself as an amateur. All the Pro features are things that any amateur can benefit from. What do you get with the Phantom 4 Pro that is different than the Phantom 4?

  • 1 inch sensor, which is 4x bigger than the P3 or even the P4 (non-pro). This means collects 4x as much light and is much better in low-light situations. (Think sunrise / sunset with less noise!)
  • 20 megapixel photos vs. just 12
  • Integrated LCD screen. It’s extremely bright and convenient. No need to use your phone and it’s always ready to go and easy to see in the daytime. This is a problem with the other models because sometimes it’s quite difficult to see a phone screen in the daytime.
  • 24mm lens, so a bit of a tighter shot than the other 20mm
  • 2 more mins of battery time
  • A bit faster
  • 4 areas for obstacle avoidance rather than 2. This enables many more automatic flight modes.

First Video: A look at the power of the quad

Here’s my favorite compilation of video shots I’ve collected over the past three years. Enjoy!

Another Video

Here’s a good example of what you can do in about a week in a location!

Flying the Quadcopter in Sydney. It’s so easy and fun to fly! Love to Mick Love for taking this cool photo during our Google/HBO Game of Thrones photowalk event!

What’s it like to fly?

It’s REALLY easy and fun! Here’s the key thing that new people are surprised by… if you just let go of the controls, it stays steady in the air. It’s also connected to at least a dozen GPS satellites that helps keep it steady if there is a cross wind.

Now there’s a really nice tutorial built into the app that takes you through the basics. Anyone can do it… literally, anyone.

Let me back up a second. So, there are two pieces to the puzzle. There’s the quad and then there’s the DJI Go app that you run on your phone or tablet. I like running it on my iPad because the screen is so big and I like to see the live video. The app lets you do all kinds of stuff. Not only can you configure everything, but you can also use the app to take photos, record video, and more.

Photo Modes Galore

I do love taking video, but maybe I get the biggest kick out of taking photos from unique angles! And there are as many options for this camera that people are used to with modern digital cameras. You can even do auto-bracketing if you wanna make an HDR photo. Mega cool! You can shoot in RAW mode too, which gives you a lot more flexibility for post-processing. One complaint is it does take the photos a little slow. For a set of 5 brackets, it may take up to 3-4 seconds. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s definitely not as fast as my handheld cameras. A second complaint is that Autobracketing only steps by 0.66, so my 5 stops go from -1.33 to +1.33. I don’t know why this is not configurable. A third complaint (getting pedantic here) is that every time I fly, I need to go turn on Auto Exposure Bracketing again.

Other Awesome Features

This Phantom series of quads has So Many Features I could go on and on. The camera itself is 3-axis auto-stabilized, which makes for buttery smooth video. The controller is very fun too — it’s like an XBox controller and you can do almost anything right from the controller rather than clicking around the screen on the app. For example, it’s really easy to use the controller to aim the camera straight down or any angle you wish. There’s even a built-in flight simulator so you can practice! Fun! 🙂

Bonus Video – Phantom 4 Pro Footage

This is all footage from the Phantom 4 Pro that I shot here in New Zealand — all locations are less than an hour from my studio here in Queenstown (a little Queenstown plug there!). Music is “AMB – Set in Stone”

Second video – Beijing from Above

Here’s a video I made in Beijing. I actually got detained by the Chinese Police for this. If you click on that link, I have the whole story!

That music is by the great Jon Hopkins. The name of the track, fittingly, is “A Drifting Up.” Thanks to Chris Craker for the introduction.

Flying the Quadcopter – behind the scenes

Here’s a video that shows more about the Bora Bora one. Sorry it starts out with some stuff about my Sony A7r, so you can just skip that bit if you wish! 🙂 Note this was a video I shot back with the Phantom 2, so it looks a bit different and a bit more ropey.

A video and link to the review for the DJI Inspire 1

You can see more about the Inspire in this crazy video below I made in Hong Kong! 🙂 And a link to the DJI Inspire 1 Review.

Sample Photos

And here are some sample photos from my various quadcopters!

HDR Photo

I love aiming the camera straight down… I think this is also why I like looking out of a plane window so much… I want to do it all day long!



Oh my gosh – how beautiful is this place? Even though it is beautiful from the ground level, it’s really remarkable how surprising the view is from just a bit above. I showed this photo to several people that have worked there at the Four Seasons for many years, and they were absolutely shocked at the angle. I think taking photos from new perspectives like this is so exciting!



If you watch the behind-the-scenes video for this on the review page, you can see more how this shot was made… mostly just lucky!



Just what I always wanted, my own small deserted island! How cool! I find that when I do these straight-down shots that I prefer to have the GoPro set on the wide-angle mode because it makes it look like the quadcopter is much higher than it really is.



Now, I don’t love this shot, but I’m putting it up anyway. The light was starting to get low here, and this is when the GoPro doesn’t do so hot. There are many artifacts and other problems with this photo. But, I still kinda like it, despite the flaws.



I love that the top-down view is often kind of confusing. This was taken wide-angle, but I used the Profile Correction in Lightroom to make all the lines nice and straight again.



The amazing blues that the GoPro can capture!! This is a view of the Pacific ocean in the other direction off the island.



Here’s my Yoga teacher Sara doing some light paddleboard yoga in the morning! And here’s a shot of me!! hehe



This is one of my favorite shots and I didn’t even take off yet! This kind of shows how awesome the GoPro camera is!



Another crazy view from above that shows the lovely colors of blue. I also profile-corrected this one so the horizon was straight across. Sometimes I leave it curved though, because I like the effect.


The Homes Nearly Floated Away

Which one do you want to live in? I shot this from room 101, right below. I was laying on my back by that little plunge pool. Actually, one of my favorite ways to fly this thing is laying on my back!


Quadcopter Perspective

The perspective from up above is truly amazing. I find myself trying to picture what it looks like from above then launching the quad to confirm. It really makes you think about 3D space in a different way.


World Park

Here’s one from their little World Park where they have all the world’s monuments in semi-miniature. It’s a strange place, truly.


Trees on Roof

I didn’t even notice there were trees growing on top until I got the quadcopter up there!


Drum Tower

Looking down near the drum tower.


Ming Tombs

I like how they lay out the towers for the Ming Tombs in this pattern. I bet the original designers would have enjoyed seeing this perspective.



Getting up high in the 798 area gave a nice perspective on the industrial detritus.


Ming Tombs From Above

One of the Ming Tombs from above. This is honestly the straightest shot I’ve ever taken! I didn’t even have to rotate it 1% in Photoshop… and I was 1000 feet up in the air!


Drum Tower Axis

The amazing drum tower sits right in the middle, along the central axis.


Willow Path

A beautiful path of willows bends into the distance.


Beijing From Above

Here’s a view from over the Northeast Tower. This is the most popular area to take photos in Beijing… so I was happy to see what it looks like from a thousand feet up with the sweet DJI. I had this set to take a photo every 5 seconds while recording HD video!




from Trey Ratcliff at

from Trey Ratcliff at

from Trey Ratcliff at