Let’s Get Things Straight
It’s 2017, and a lot has changed since the Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro first came out. If you’ve seen this article before, read it again! It has been completely rewritten to reflect the latest changes in the Mavic and Phantom 4 product lines.
Before getting into the details, you should know what we’re comparing. The original Phantom 4 has been discontinued, but it’s still available for purchase if you really want one (not that I would). There are now two current Phantom 4 models; the Phantom 4 Advanced and the Phantom 4 Pro. The Mavic Pro continues to remain the only drone in its product line, but there are lots of new accessories available that you NEED to consider before making your final buying decision.
DJI says that the Phantom 4 Pro and Advanced get 30 minutes of flight time, and the Mavic Pro only gets 27 minutes. However, this has not been the case in any test I’ve tried. I get a max flight time of around 26 minutes with the Phantom 4 Pro and about 22 minutes with the Mavic Pro.
The Mavic is much smaller than the Phantom 4, so does that mean it won’t hold up in the wind? Not at all. We put both of the drones through extreme winds using a powerful leaf blower, and both did better than you would expect. You can watch the video comparing the original Phantom 4 to the Mavic Pro below.
One thing we noticed with the Phantom 4, is that in high winds it tends to drift up much more than the Mavic Pro. We had to reshoot the video a few times because the Phantom 4 would just keep drifting up out of the camera view.
Comparing the Mavic Pro to the original Phantom 4, the Mavic seemed to hold its position better, but the video didn’t look as stable as the Phantom 4 did. This was only because the Mavic Pro has a narrower field-of-view than the Phantom 4, so any movements of the drone were extra noticeable. On the new Phantom 4 Advanced and Phantom 4 Pro, the field-of-view has been lowered, so it looks more like the Mavic.
In most situations, both drones will handle a typical wind gust better than they did in the test video because real wind usually doesn’t have as much turbulence and isn’t very focused. This test was more like what the drones would experience if a strong ocean breeze came along. The main advantage with the Phantom 4 is that it has a higher top speed, so it will keep its speed better when going into the wind.
Cost Of Accessories
You might not know it now, but when you get a drone, you’re going to need more than just the drone to utilize its capabilities fully. As crazy as it sounds, having an extra battery, for example, could be the difference that gets that excellent shot you were hoping for. These accessories don’t cost that much on their own but can add up once you have everything in your cart.
The first difference in price to consider is the cost of each battery since the average person will need anywhere from two to four depending on how much you fly in a day. Each Phantom 4 battery is $169 and each Mavic Pro battery is $89. This means If you buy just two extra batteries, you’ll be saving $160 by going with the Mavic Pro.
If you want to get a charging hub to charge more efficiently, going with the Mavic will save another $35 compared to the Phantom 4.
Another money saver is the cost of ND filters (You need them to reduce the light coming into the camera in the daytime, which makes the motion in your videos much smoother). With the Phantom 4, you’ll be spending $29 per filter, and you usually will want three different tints for different times of the day. With the Mavic Pro, you can buy all three filters in a set for $35, saving you a total of $52 on ND Filters.
So now if you got all the things I mentioned (which most of you will), just by choosing the Mavic Pro, you’re saving a total of $247 just on accessories. That’s enough to buy DJI Care and even a larger Micro SD card or two!
Note: Now that the original Phantom 4 is out of the picture, the remaining Phantom 4 models (Advanced and Pro) are identical regarding image quality. Just remember that if I say “Phantom 4” in this section, I will not be referring to the original Phantom 4 which has a lower quality camera.
This section is where the tables start to turn. Yes, the Mavic Pro can shoot amazing videos and the quality is good enough for most people including me, but the Phantom 4 definitely takes the cake in this area. Let’s take a look at the differences from a pure technical specs viewpoint since there are a lot of specs to cover.
Sensor size: 1/2.3 inch
Aperture size: f/2.2
Focus control: yes
Max SD card size: 126GB (tested)
Highest UHD video recording mode: 3840x2160 at 30fps
Highest true 4K video recording mode: 4096x2160 at 24fps
Highest FHD video recording mode: 1920x1080 at 96fps
Best video compression codec: H.264 at 60Mbps
Highest video ISO setting: 3200
Photo shutter: electronic
Max image size:4000 × 3000 (12 Megapixels)
Highest photo ISO setting: 1600
Phantom 4 (Pro/Advanced)
Sensor size: 1 inch
Aperture size: f/2.8 – f/11 (automatic or user definable)
Focus control: yes
Max SD card size: 126GB (tested)
Highest UHD video recording mode: 3840x2160 at 60fps
Highest true 4K video recording mode: 4096x2160 at 50fps
Highest FHD video recording mode: 1920x1080 at 120fps
Best video compression codec: H.264 or H.265 at 100Mbps
Highest video ISO setting: 6400
Photo shutter: mechanical
Max image size: 5472 × 3648 (20 Megapixels)
Highest photo ISO setting: 12800
What’s The Difference?
If you look at the specs, there’s a big difference between the two cameras. The camera on the Mavic Pro is great, but with the larger image sensor, faster image processor, full aperture control, and a mechanical shutter, it’s clear what camera would win in a head to head image comparison.
If you haven’t seen either of these drones in person, you might be wondering why they didn’t include the Phantom 4 camera in the Mavic Pro. There is a real reason for this. The Mavic has an entirely new camera and gimbal design that is much smaller than the Phantom 4. The size of the camera on the Phantom 4 is similar to what you would find on a GoPro, whereas the Mavic Pro camera is almost like the size of a smartphone camera. It’s tiny, but surprisingly it works.
Even if DJI did manage to fit a camera with a 1-inch sensor on the Mavic Pro, the excess weight and power draw from the bigger camera, faster processor, and larger gimbal motors would reduce the flight time.
Low Light Performance
If you’re buying a drone mainly for low light shooting, then you need to go with the Phantom 4. The Mavic Pro can shoot at night, but it’s not pretty. The Phantom 4 isn’t amazing at low light shooting like some full-frame cameras out there, but it’s way better than the Mavic Pro. You also get higher ISOs, and the ability to shoot in H.265 which will help when it’s time to clean the footage up in post.
Field Of View
As I mentioned before, the Mavic Pro has a narrower field-of-view (or FOV) compared to the Phantom 4. Shots that you take with the Mavic Pro will look like they were taken with a 28mm lens on a full frame camera. The Phantom 4 Pro and Phantom 4 Advanced aren’t as wide as the original Phantom 4, but it’s still equivalent to a 24mm lens which is 5.2 degrees wider than the Mavic.
I like the Mavic’s FOV because it allows me to get shots that are closer to the action without feeling like I’m “dangerously” close, but honestly, the difference is minuscule unless you were comparing the images together.
One thing I noticed about flying the Mavic is that you can point the camera up when hovering and you hardly see the propellers at all! The propellers also never seem to show up in forward flight, but the camera tends to point down more as you go faster, which is something that the Phantom 4 doesn’t do.
The last thing you should know about the Mavic Pro and Phantom 4 Pro/Advanced cameras is that they don’t have a fixed focus lens like the original Phantom 4. This means you need to tap the part of the image that you want to be in focus while in the DJI Go app.
Having an adjustable focus is good and bad. It’s good because you can focus on closer subjects and the background will look slightly more out of focus like a DSLR. It can also make the subject that you’re filming appear sharper.
The only bad part is, you have to remember to do it, or your images will come out blurry.
After going through this section, you should now see why the Phantom 4 Pro and Phantom 4 Advanced blows every other consumer drone camera out of the water (including the GoPro Hero 5 and Mavic Pro).
Obstacle Avoidance And Smart Features
The Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro both have obstacle avoidance functionality, Tap Fly, and Active Track, and more. Both of the drones can also identify rocks, railings, and other obstacles when landing, which means it won’t land unless it feels that the area is safe enough. They can also take pictures of the ground when you first start flying and use those images to land more accurately when returning home.
The Phantom 4 Pro is on an entirely different level compared to the Phantom 4 Advanced and Mavic Pro. It has cameras in the back and infrared sensors on the sides to give it 360-degree obstacle avoidance.
With all of these new sensors, you can fly backwards, forwards and even sideways with more confidence that you won’t crash. It can also travel 10mph faster than the other two drones when obstacle avoidance is turned on.
The Little Things
One thing you won’t have to worry about with the Mavic is buying a case. It’s so small that you could throw it into virtually any backpack or bag and not worry about it. The Phantom 4 is not easy to carry around. Since it won’t fold up, it doesn’t fit in most backpacks and will usually need its own custom case or backpack to protect it.
Here’s something you probably never thought about; most people won’t care about this, but the Phantom 4 does have larger motors and propellers, so you can lift signs, deliver packages, or who knows what else. It’s also big and white, so seeing it when flying line-of-sight in dark conditions is much easier.
Despite its small size, the Mavic controller fits in my hands quite nicely. I do prefer the feel of the Phantom 4 remote just because it’s more like a traditional RC controller, but I’m liking the controller for the Mavic more and more every day.
Both controllers have the same basic buttons, but the Mavic has a dedicated stop button for the intelligent flight modes which is nice if it’s getting ready to run into something that it can’t see.
The Phantom 4 does have one significant advantage, and that’s the optional controller. With the optional controller, you get a built-in tablet-like display, a focus button integrated into the shutter button, HDMI out, and an SD card slot for playing back your footage on the go.
The best feature of this controller is the insanely bright screen! It’s about two times brighter than the average phone. The only thing that I don’t like about this controller is the fact that you can’t use it with third party apps like you can with the standard controller. It’s also a $300 upgrade, so I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone.
Here’s where the Mavic Pro controller exceeds the Phantom 4. It has and LCD screen for basic flight info, it charges through the micro USB port, it has a more reliable connection to the Mavic Pro, and it’s super small. The only bad things about it are, there’s no way of mounting a tablet to it and mounting the phone usually takes twice as long as it does on the Phantom 4 controller.
Lightbridge vs OcuSync And DJI Goggles
What is Lightbridge you ask? About two and a half years ago, DJI announced the Inspire 1. The Inspire 1 was a cutting edge drone at the time, much like the Inspire 2 is today.
Lightbridge is the communication technology that DJI used in the Inspire 1, the Phantom 3, and now the Phantom 4. It was great when it first came out. Even one year after DJI put Lightbridge into the Phantom 3 there was still nothing that could match it.
Once the Mavic Pro came out, DJI started using OcuSync which was a replacement for Lightbridge. After I used OcuSync on the Mavic Pro, going back to the Phantom 4 (any of the Phantom 4 models), I could immediately see the difference between the two technologies.
What Makes OcuSync Better
Lightbridge is fine for general flying, but for me, it has always had more latency and interference than OcuSync. When I fly the Mavic Pro, I can go through 3 batteries, and the amount of interference or dropouts that I get is almost zero. Then I fly my Phantom 4 Pro, and I experience dropouts and lag on almost every flight. It usually isn’t that bad, and a first-time pilot would think nothing of it, but when you’ve flown with both of the drones, you can see that there’s a difference.
For me, the flying experience is the most important part of any drone. You need something that will be easy to use with the least amount of problems. You need to be in control at all times. If you’re shooting video, you should be able to see what it is you’re shooting with low latency and a consistent connection. For me, Lightbridge is great but it doesn’t give me that complete confidence like OcuSync does.
What If You Want DJI Goggles?
If you haven’t seen the new DJI Goggles, then you’ve got some investigating to do! With the DJI Goggles, you can stream up to 720p 60fps or 1080p 30fps video using the built in OcuSync system. You can use head tracking to control the direction of the camera. You can even use the DJI Goggles to watch movies and play games, but that isn’t important right now.
What is important, is the fact that DJI Goggles only stream video wirelessly to the Mavic Pro. This means you will need to use a USB cable and an HDMI cable to see the video feed and use features like head tracking.
So far, I have tried the DJI Goggles with the Phantom 4 and the video feed works, but none of the other features like head tracking or camera controls are functioning yet. My Goggles are a prototype though, so I’m pretty sure that the final version will work just fine with the phantom 4. The problem that I see with using the DJI Goggles with the Phantom 4 is the fact that you have to connect two cables to it, but yet you still have a less reliable connection than the Mavic Pro.
If I already had a Phantom 4, I would still buy the Goggles because of how nice it is being able to see what you’re doing in the sun, but if I didn’t already have the Phantom 4, this is probably what would make me go with the Mavic Pro.
The Real Price Difference
I already talked about the cost of accessories and how much you could save in that area, but what about the overall cost? Let’s add everything up and see what the totals are. Below I’ve put together what I think would be the most typical configuration for both the Phantom 4 and the Mavic Pro. Remember, you might not buy two extra batteries or all of the ND filters you need on day one, but after a few weeks or months, most people will eventually buy everything I mentioned, and maybe more.
Phantom 4 Advanced: $1,349
DJI Care: $150
2 extra batteries: $338
3 ND filters: $87
Mavic Pro: $999
DJI Care: $99
2 extra batteries: $178
3 ND filters: $35
Which Drone Should I get?
Do you need extra power to lift anything? Do you need to get the highest video quality possible from a consumer drone? Is portability important to you? Is price important to you? Do you want to take full advantage of the DJI Goggles? These are all questions that you should be asking yourself.
For 20% of the population, you might want to consider the Phantom 4 Pro or Phantom 4 Advanced since the camera is better (when viewed side-by-side) than the Mavic. Plus, the added sensors can save you one day if you do a lot of proximity flying.
For the other 80% of the population, I think the Mavic Pro is going to be your best bet. It’s super compact, the camera is good enough to get amazing shots, it has the best live video feed I’ve ever seen on a drone, and it works perfectly with DJI Goggles.