DJI, as the leading drone manufacturer of the industry, kept launching new products throughout 2016. In November 15, DJI updated its two major product lines: Phantom and Inspire by launching the latest Phantom 4 Pro as well the long-anticipated Inspire 2.
I have done a lot of reviews on these two amazing drones as soon as I got my hands on them, and this review is going to focus on the camera of Phantom 4 Pro, to see how much it has been improved comparing to its predecessor.
Appearance: there is nothing changed in terms of the shape and color of Phantom 4 Pro’s gimbal, but the size is bigger, meaning a ND filter used on P4 cannot be used on P4P anymore.
Image sensor: the image sensors in all previous Phantoms are 1/2.3 inch. But Phantom 4 Pro is the first Phantom to use a 1 inch sensor, whose size is almost twice as the previous ones, and it’s also one of the greatest improvements to P4P’s camera.
Resolution: upgraded sensor means higher resolution, which is up to 20 megapixel in Phantom 4 Pro. Compared with Phantom 4’s 12 megapixel, P4P’s size of a single pixel increases from 1.55μm to 2.4μm, bringing higher signal-to-ratio and wider dynamic range.
As you can see, image shot by Phantom 4 Pro has more details and sharper edges, all these make the image cleaner and clearer.
We took the same image test card with both P4 and P4P, and this is how they look 1000% larger.
Note: due to limited conditions and we didn’t put the entire test card in the frame, the numbers in the pictures cannot reflect two cameras’ actual resolution. But considering P4 and P4P shared the same situation, at least we can see the difference of resolution between these two cameras in a qualitative instead of a quantitative way.
This is the image of a building after being magnified. We can see that Phantom 4 Pro was able to capture more details, such as the reflection on the glass.
Image shot by Phantom 4 Pro has more details and sharper edges, all these make the image cleaner and clearer.
Low light performance: as the size of each pixel in Phantom 4 Pro increases, so does the amount of light captured by each pixel, resulting in less noise of an image. When shooting photos, Phantom 4’s adjustable ISO range is 100-1600, while P4P is up to 100-12800. Below are screenshots from a 4K video taken by P4P, without post processing.
Screenshot by P4P 4k 30p ISO 1600
Screenshot by P4P 4k 30p ISO 1600
We compared the two drones’ performance in low light environment under the same ISO setting. The two jepg images below are shot by Phantom 4 and Phantom 4 Pro respectively.
Because ISO 1600 is the best Phantom 4 can do, the following images with higher ISO are from Phantom 4 Pro only.
Moiré: moiré pattern occurs when a scene or an object that is being photographed contains repetitive details (such as lines, dots, etc) that exceed the sensor resolution. As a result, the camera produces a strange-looking wavy pattern as see below. Moiré can be effectively reduced by installing a low pass filter in a digital camera, but this will also impact the sharpness of the images it shoots.
As the test result shows, both Phantom 4 and Phantom 4 Pro did a great job in controlling moiré. No moiré is shown below, despite the density of buildings in the pictures, and the ones shot by P4P has clearer lines.
P4 iso 100 f2.8 1/700s RAW
P4P iso 100 F5.6 1/320s RAW
Note: the purpose of the above two photos is to show P4 and P4P’s performance in reducing moiré. Though the exposure and color temperature differs, they are insignificant, since the two factors don’t have any effect on moiré.
Auto Focus (AF): AF is a new feature in Phantom 4 Pro. Unlike Phantom 4, whose focus extends to infinity, P4P has a built-in AF lens through which you can tap the screen of your mobile device to focus as see below:
Adjustable aperture: Phantom 4 Pro has adjustable aperture with a range of f2.8-f11. Compared to Phantom 4’s fixed aperture, having an adjustable aperture means when ideal exposure is not possible by adjusting shutter speed in strong lights, you can still realize it by adjusting aperture.
Mechanical shutter: for the first time, mechanical shutter is built into Phantom 4 Pro, supporting a maximum 1/2000s shutter speed, which can be lifted to 1/8000s with electronic shutter. So when the shutter speed is higher than 1/2000s, P4P will automatically shift to electronic shutter. But mechanical shutter can significantly reduce jello effect and distortion when shooting fast moving objects, as it’s shown in the two photos below, where the blades of the fan are totally distorted shooting with Phantom 4’s electronic shutter.
For you information, I’d like to make some explanation of the difference between mechanical shutters and electronic shutters.
Mechanical shutter: definition
- Rolling shutter (CMOS, DJI): definition
- Global shutter (CCD): definition
Why does Phantom 4 Pro use mechanical shutter—cut distortion when shooting high speed moving objects (explain how) (though not much a difference in terms of video shooting)
4K slow motion shooting: 4K(4096×2160) 60p slow motion shots are now available with Phantom 4 Pro. Since high resolution, high frame rate and high dynamic range are the trends of the development of digital cameras, it’s very impressive that as small-sized as P4P camera can shoot 4K@60p videos at 100Mbps.
H.265 coding format: the new H.265 video coding standard has been added to P4P’s image processing system.
H.265, upgraded from H.264, is a new video coding standard launched by ITU-T VCEG. It has higher compression efficiency, and keeps an excellent image quality under a relatively high compression rate.
But H.265 does have drawbacks. For example, the H265 encoder isn’t compatible with many post processing software, including AE, PR, Edius , DaVici Resolve, FCP.
Conclusion: Phantom 4 Pro’s camera has been greatly improved in terms of image sensor, resolution, frame rate and low/high light performance, which is a good alternative for individuals and small size aerial photography studios who really care about image quality.