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Why a DJI Mavic cannot replace a Phantom for many drone pilots

A DJI Mavic cannot replace a Phantom for many drone pilots because it’s is lacking a number of critical features. For instance, the DJI Mavic does not offer a global shutter. It does not have landing gear that allows you to hand-catch the drone. It doesn’t offer you the ground clearance. Nor does it allow you to fly the drone in attitude mode.

As an avid drone pilot, drone mapper and owner of a large training school (Drone U), I’ve seen the back and forth in the community on the potential death and future of the Phantom line from DJI.  The three-part news coverage from DroneDJ has included the Phantom series manufacturing freeze, to report on Romeo Durscher’s haphazardly announcing the death of the Phantom to the news of a potential new Mavic to replace the Phantom.    There have been reports that the new phantom is canceled, while DJI stepped back their comments and said: “there was nothing to ever cancel.”

We all know, drone pilots are a little overdue for a new phantom. When a company like DJI,  that consistently pumps out new “versions” of existing drones to live up to the apple business model… this pr statement fell of deaf ears.

Why are so many drone pilots focused on the future of the Phantom?

The answer is simple, it is the only drone that can pretty much take on any drone job, dependent on pilot skill. The Phantom is the only consumer drone with attitude mode for buttery smooth video.  But also the phantom was the only consumer drone to have a global shutter for accurate and practical drone mapping, aka Photogrammetry.   Without another drone to offer all of the intelligent flight modes, attitude mode, 4k 60 filming, and a global shutter, drone pilots are wondering how they will replace used their phantom.

So why is the drone so powerful and why can’t the Mavic 2 series be a simple replacement for the Phantom series?

Why is the phantom the go-to choice for drone pilots?

  1. Adjustable Aperture: this feature allows photographers to professionally manipulate the image before the image is taken to ensure the best possible output imagery.  Update: While most drones now a days have an adjustable aperture it is the combination of the adjustable aperture with a global shutter.
  2. Global or “mechanical” Shutter: This simple feature transforms this videography powerhouse drone into a professional mapping tool.  Even Pix4d, photogrammetry and mapping software powerhouse showcases the problem of linear rolling shutter for drones and mapping here.
  3. Attitude Mode: Most novice and even intermediate “pilots,” will never create truly enlightening aerials without attitude mode. Attitude mode makes your drone act as a hockey puck on an ice skating rink.  Once the user inputs a flight move, the drone continues that move in that direction until another action is taken. Attitude mode just maintains altitude without GPS positioning. Attitude mode is the go-to solution for stopping fly aways, overcoming GPS errors and maximizing flight time.  In addition, have you ever tried getting smooth flight movements in GPS or tried subject tracking in GPS mode… it doesn’t work. Every advanced videographer I know pretty much will only fly in attitude mode.
  4. Weight and Design: With the phantoms X shape design, advanced flight modes, and weight distribution, it is able to handle flying in high winds and can handle advanced coordinated turns much better than a Mavic 2 Pro or Mavic Pro.  It wasn’t until I was flying a wake surfing competition with a Mavic, that I realized the Mavic could not handle advanced turns while subject tracking on the move. When I was trying to “Horseshoe,” around the front of a boat to expose the rider, while it was on the move, the Mavic could not hold a yaw control position.  Every time I would articulate around the front of the boat, it would over yaw once it was halfway through a turn. The phantom would always hold the turn without a problem. (You can tell when the turn is smooth due to the bow of the boat looking like it’s not moving.)
  5. Client Perception: Pull a Mavic out at any professional job, and chances are drone pilots will only be getting more client questions than applause from clients.  Bring a phantom or inspire on the job and every client already thinks you’re a professional. (Even more so if you have an M200/M600) Unfortunately, the phantom is seen as more professional than a Mavic. I’ve seen this attitude pervasive through our training community. Some pilots bring bigger drones just to park on a table without having the intention of ever flying it. Then they’ll take off a Mavic and get the shot. Pilot perception is real, and frankly, you always have to educate a client when you’re using such a small drone for a simple job.
  6. Hand Catching: While hand catching is much easier with a phantom due to the landing gear, it also allows the phantom to land on the beach, on the grass.  Most of the landing locations I just mentioned would literally ruin a Mavic because of how low the camera and gimbal sit to the ground. In addition to the increasing landing options brought by the phantom, the landing gear also allows for hand catches in windy environments. Whether you’re landing in 10 knots or you’re trying to hand catch a phantom while riding on a boat in the middle of the bay, it’s easy and it won’t chop your fingers off. Try hand catching a Mavic while on the move… Better yet, have you ever taken off from a boat thats on the move? That won’t happen without attitude mode.

The phantom line of drones has become the Toyota of all drones. The Phantom series has consistent and reliable, it always works, and when you crash it… it was easy to replace.  While many drone pilots are obsessed with the next best drone, now many pilots are worried about how they will replace a phantom if it crashes. Many of our clients have gone out and ordered the last remaining phantoms to ensure they will always have access to the world’s cheapest surveying tool.

DJI now has a major problem as they have opened the door to other manufacturers to create a drone that will allow pilots to map and to film.  If another manufacturer came out with a drone that had a CMOS sensor, with a global shutter and didn’t have geofencing… DJI would have major problems keeping up, or would they?

Frankly, the Phantom line of drones has become the Toyota of drones, the question is, Will DJI revive the best drone alive? In the meantime, the price of the phantom will continue to rise as supply dwindles.

Paul Aitken
Chief Pilot, Drone U.

Paul Aitken from Drone U hand catches his phantom 4 pro v2 in arizona.

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Feature photo credit: Jake Levesque.