Pro Tips, Reviews

Drone Wars: DJI Inspire 1 Pro vs. Phantom 4

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The Inspire 1 Pro and Phantom 4 are the newest, best drones available in their respective lines from DJI — how could you possibly decide between the two? This handy guide should make the decision easier. Let’s start with the biggest differences and work our way down to the nitty-gritty.

The Inspire 1 X5 and Phantom 4
The Inspire 1 Pro and Phantom 4
 

Cost

On this point, there’s no comparison. The Phantom 4 currently retails for $1,399. The retail price of the Inspire 1 Pro is $4,499, though it’s been on “sale” for $3,899 pretty much since it was introduced. And that’s just the beginning. Each Inspire battery (the bigger TB48) costs $199, versus the Phantom’s $169; aftermarket cases are 2-3 times more expensive for the Inspire than they are for the Phantom, and a second controller, which gives you the functionality that makes the Inspire worth owning (more on this below), will set you back another $650.

Winner: Phantom 4

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Advanced Features

The Inspire 1 Pro doesn’t carry the newer technology that the Phantom 4 carries. This means that you’re not going to get the luxury of features like subject tracking and obstacle avoidance. The latter is one of the most important features standing between drones and mass adoption (especially for companies like Amazon, who want to use drones for deliveries), so it’s possible that drones like the Inspire 1 will soon be considered obsolete due to their lack of this feature. In my anecdotal experience, the Phantom 4 also does a much better job of keeping itself locked at a point in space — this may be due in-part to its dual IMU setup, which gives the onboard computer more telemetry to work with. The Inspire tends to bob and weave, even in low or no wind, which translates into some unwanted motion in video.

Winner: Phantom 4

The Phantom 4's ActiveTrack Feature
The Phantom 4’s ActiveTrack Feature
 

Flight Time

The Inspire 1 is heavy. The Phantom 4 weighs a mere three pounds, whereas the Inspire 1 Pro is a formidable seven and a half. This is a big difference. The Phantom 4 can stay in the air for about 20 minutes and still have plenty of battery left in reserve, whereas the Inspire gets almost half of that, maxing out at around 12 minutes when saving for a healthy 30% of remaining power on the battery (and you don’t want to mess with low voltage on the Inspire).
 

 
If your flying requires you to cover long distances, or to stay in the air longer for things like timelapses, then the Phantom is a better choice. That being said, the Inspire can carry a much greater payload than the Phantom 4.
 

 
This can become important if you want to attach multiple GoPros, or other accessories, like lights, parachutes, GPS trackers, or petri dishes.

The Inspire 1 carries an LED light
The Inspire 1 carries an LED light

There are some great 3D-printed mods available for the Inspire 1 that allow you to attach all sorts of fun stuff. The photo here shows a GoPro mount that a friend of mine printed for me. Being able to attach accessories to your aircraft gives you additional flexibility when dealing with various missions.

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Inspire 1 3D printed GoPro mount

Winner: Phantom 4 on flight time, Inspire 1 on payload
 

Megapixels

The Phantom 4 has a 1/2.3″ size sensor, which translates into beautiful 4K video and 12 megapixel photos. The Inspire 1 has a micro four-thirds sensor that also delivers 4K video, but takes a beefier 16 megapixel photos. The chart below shows exactly how epic this difference is. The Inspire’s X5 camera also delivers an impressive 12.8 stops of dynamic range according to DJI, though I can’t find a hard number on the Phantom 4’s spec. The X5 also allows you to crank all the way up to ISO 25,600, which, while noisy, can allow you to almost see in the dark. The Phantom 4 allows up to ISO of 1600 for photo and 3200 for video. Both cameras feature DJI’s 3D noise reduction, which makes a noticeable difference in the image in low-light conditions.

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One magic trick the Inspire 1 Pro has up its sleeve is that you can remove the gimbal and camera entirely and transfer them onto an Osmo handle, giving you a handheld gimbal that, for me, has replaced both my Ronin and Ronin-M. In the work I do, setting up and dealing with the Ronin became a huge pain; the Osmo’s ease of use with the X5 camera, the form factor, and the quality of the video make it a real contender when doing handheld work.

Winner: Inspire 1

Image Credit: camforpro.com
Image from camforpro.com
 

Lenses

The Phantom 4’s lens size is about a 35mm equivalent of 20mm. The X5 ships with a 30mm equivalent, but you can swap the lens out as you please with a pretty wide variety of glass. I personally own lenses that give me 24mm and 50mm equivalents, which can both make pretty spectacular images and video. This point alone makes the Inspire 1 well worth the money — being able to change your lens size can give you all sorts of flexibility. For example, if you need to be tighter on a subject but can’t get the drone physically close enough, simply switching to a tighter lens solves your problem. Here’s a handy photo that shows the difference.

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Inspire 1 X5 lens-size image comparison.

And here’s a video showing two different lens sizes; although the difference is at times subtle, it can often be striking.
 

 
Winner: Inspire 1
 

Dual Operator

The  Inspire 1’s winningest feature is the ability to control the aircraft and the camera separately. The Inspire features retractable landing gear, which means that when using two controllers, the camera can spin a full one and a half times in either direction, giving you 360+ degrees of unobstructed view. The drone itself can remain stationary while the camera tracks with a subject, no matter where that subject goes.

Your second operator also has full control of the roll of the camera, meaning that you can scan the horizon from left to right while accommodating for the horizontal shift — which, if you’ve ever tried to do this on a Phantom, can be moderately frustrating. If you want to achieve truly cinematic moves, dual-operator is the way to go. Without a second controller, however, the range of motion you’re going to achieve with the X5 is fairly similar to the P4, save for the fact that the X5 can tilt higher up than the P4, so you can actually look at mostly sky when flying, if need be.

Winner: Inspire 1

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Inspire 1’s dual controllers

Another thing to note on the Inspire transmitters is that they include HDMI out, so you can use external monitors or FPV goggles. You can accomplish the same thing with the Phantom 4 transmitter if you purchase the $99 module and install it yourself. The Inspire transmitter also contains an internal GPS chip, which means that you don’t have to use a mobile device with a GPS chip of its own. This is important when using the “follow-me” function, as well as “dynamic home point.”

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Portability

With the Phantom 4 being nearly half the weight of the Inspire X5, the choice here is clear. What might not be immediately clear is the size of case the Inspire needs to go into — most aftermarket cases for the Inspire X5 are large. The Phantom 4 can easily be packed into a carry-on sized hard case; the Inspire X5 needs to be checked, and is going to take up most of the cargo space in a sedan.

Winner: Phantom 4


The Phantom 4 in a small case compared to the larger Inspire below.
 

Street Cred

There’s no doubt that the Phantom series drones are basically seen as toys (no matter how serious you may be). Between the price point and the ubiquity of the drone’s form factor in popular media — and also perhaps because of the number of cheap copies on the market — the Phantom looks like your 12-year-old cousin’s Christmas dream come true. The Inspire, however, is a beast that looks as menacing in the sky as it does on the scale. There’s no doubt that when you show up to work, the Inspire is a professional’s tool to the Phantom’s Amazon Prime Day special.

Winner: Inspire 1

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So which one’s right for you? If portability and longer flight times are your top-desired qualities, then the Phantom 4 is your best bet. If you value interchangeable lenses, high dynamic range, and advanced cinematography, then the Inspire is your bird. Both drones are quality products that are well-suited to their tasks. Wherever you fly, fly safe and fly often!
 

Gavin Garrison recently returned from shooting six-months’ worth of drone footage on the high seas in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. He has produced two seasons of the Emmy-nominated reality show Whale Wars, as well as Whale Wars: A Commander Rises (Discovery). Gavin received his master’s degree in film production from the University of Southern California; he is a Samsung Imagelogger and Pond5 Ambassador. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @gavingarrison and check out his new IG @dronefortwo.