As I stare up at the faint spec that is my drone, I’m pretty sure I’m breaking the law. At least I’m not alone.
On a brisk February afternoon, DJI and partner B+H invites journalists, seasoned drone pilots and newbies onto the deck of the historic Bathhouse Studios in Manhattan to fly DJI’s new Phantom 4 Pro drone.
This update to the popular and quite good Phantom 4 drone that I tested last year adds back and side sensors so you don’t fly into trees and a powerful 20 MP, 4K camera. It costs $1,499.
Theres no time for classes today. DJI guides usher groups of six anxious flyers onto the Bathhouses spacious outdoor deck to fly.
Situated in the center, sits the white Phantom 4 Pro. At a glance, it seems similar to the last Phantom, save what looks like some additional small black holes in the chassis for the new sensors.
The DJI instructor hands me a large white remote fitted with an iPhone 6. They didn’t bring the new remote that integrates anti-glare viewfinders, GPS and an SD-card slot. Shame.
Launching the drone hasnt changed. I just push the two joysticks in toward each other and then pull down until the quadcopters four rotors start. Next, I push the left joystick straight forward to send the Phantom 4 Pro racing into the sky.
Its going fast and soon Im over 150 feet above the deck. Instantly, I grow nervous. This relatively squat Neo-Italian Renaissance-style building is surrounded by taller east-side buildings. At least were not in mid-town where 18 stories are a relative minimum.
My DJI guide encourages me to send the drone even higher (FAA rules state we cant fly these drones any higher than 400 feet). At roughly 200 feet, the screen and DJI Go App, which has a ton of information on it, reports some turbulence, and I worry about whether I should start to bring the drone down. But its not flying out of my control and the built-in gimbal is keeping the camera and image feed that I see on the iPhone screen steady.
Speaking of that image, the quality delivered by the 20 MP camera is stunning. Its crisp, clear, colorful and has zero distortion, even at the edges.
The image quality delivered by the 20 MP camera is stunning.
I shift the left joystick to the side to turn the Phantom 4 Pro around and get a spectacular, sweeping view of midtown Manhattan. I briefly consider trying to fly it to the rooftop of my own office a few blocks over so I can steal it. Then the DJI guide taps my shoulder and tells me its time to land.
The drone has drifted just a tad during my short flight, so I need to center it over the clear space on the deck. I pull back on the left stick to send it quickly toward the ground. As I do, the DJI guide asks me to center it, almost over my head. Ive flown drones before, so I adjust a bit more so its away from me, then position it a few feet in front of me, turn the drone around one more time so the camera is facing me and then land gently.
Theres a brief round of applause from the crowd thats either congratulating me on my smooth flight or simply glad that Im finally done so they, too, can potentially break the law.
It was a good first flight with DJIs latest pro-sumer drone, and I cant wait to fly it some more for a full review. But please don’t tell anyone that I flew a drone in mid-town Manhattan.