The DJI Phantom has emerged as South Africa’s most popular commercial drone.
In their State of Drone Report in South Africa 2018, Rocketmine and the the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), found the Phantom accounted for 29% of the 663 registered Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in SA. It is manufactured by Dà-Jiang Innovations (DJI), the Chinese drone giant.
"The Phantom was the product that put DJI on the consumer drone map and lead them to the top. It's now a trusted workhorse for smaller industrial applications,” said Alan Ball of Flying Robot,which manufactures racing drones in South Africa.
Coming in at second place was the DJI Inspire, with 13% of the total market share. Third place, with a 6% market share, belonged to the fixed-wing Sensefly’s Ebee.
Drones registered under licences are used in commercial work - from agricultural survey and 3D mapping to photographing weddings. There are 686 operators with Remote Pilot Licences (RPLs).
Here are the five reasons the Phantom is such a popular drone:
1. It has one of the best cameras on a drone now
When drones first hit South Africa, the image quality from their cameras was worse than that of most smart phones.
Then came the Phantom series. Its cameras were much better, and had the the capability of shooting in RAW format, which made editing easier. The Phantom 4 Pro, DJI’s latest model in the series, can shoot at 20 MB and 4K videos at up to 60 frames per second.
This has allowed drone photographers to sell their work commercially - providing perspectives that previously were only accessible from hanging out the back of a helicopter with a Canon DSLR.
2. It's longer flight time
The Phantom’s 30-minute flight time has made it possible for businesses to use it for more than just getting pretty pictures, they can gather large amounts of data. At a push, other models in its price bracket can eek out 23 minutes.
3. DJI gave access to its users to develop apps beyond video
A game changer was when DJI gave operators access to their Software Development Kit (SDK). Operators now could access the hard data behind the images. This allows them to do everything from the 3D mapping of mines, to search and rescue drones that can find people in fires, or alerting you if one of your crops are dying on your 100-hectare farm.
Using the SDK, mobile apps were developed that allowed operators to instruct drones how, where and when to fly. Apps also allow you to take greater control over your Phantom’s camera and gimbal.
Another reason is cost. At R30,000, the Phantom provides good enough quality footage at half the price of its comparative professional level drone like the DJI Inspire (R60,000).
Talk to any drone pilot and they all have a horror story of when their drone went ‘rogue’.
Since drones are remote controlled they need a signal to respond to from the pilot – when that signal drops, it can end up flying off into the distance.
So DJI built in a fly-home option. With GPS and a 5-way collision detection sensor, it can choose the right path and avoid obstacles when you don’t have the option to fly it back yourself.
Cheaper drones will often fall short here, and it’s an important point to consider when purchasing. DJI are streaks ahead with consistent video feed and reliable signal.
It should be no surprise then that the Phantom boasts some of the longest ranges on a consumer drone, with a flight distance of 7 kilometres. Its competitors like the Go Pro Karma can reach 3 kilometres.
The Phantom is based on a solid rig. It's big and bulky at 1,3 kilograms. Chuck in a bag load of accessories and you are starting to push the limits of carry-on luggage at the airport.
“The Phantom 4 is now getting a little dated when compared to the new tech on board the recently released Mavic Air. So hopefully we can anticipate another big leap forward when (or if) they release the Phantom 5."